Rational Sense

by Larry Bish on April 24, 2012

You might have wondered recently why so many people, perfectly good, hardworking, intelligent people, consistently act like paranoid schizophrenics; distorting, rejecting and opposing science, promoting disproven belief systems against their own self-interest.  A lot of research has been done on this question. The compelling results indicate that the brains of strictly conservative people work in decidedly different ways than the brains of those not so strictly conservative–ways that, however unfairly, do not seem flattering in an evolving society. Part of these “different ways” includes a weak ability to deal with cognitive dissonance, which means they handle challenges to their beliefs more by denying the veracity of the challenges than by questioning the beliefs. In times of immediate threat, times that demand quick decisions, we want and need brains in charge of things that function in precisely this way. Unfortunately, once the threat has been answered, this type of brain will tend to react to any change as a threat. Another field of study I’ve been reading about has to do with brain function on another level even more specific to biological processes. This research has turned up significant, even compelling, evidence that much more of the processes dealing with our reactions to perceptions takes place subconsciously than ever before imagined; so much more that the very idea of consciousness as a ruling authority over behavior might be incorrect. That is to say, researchers are seeing strong evidence (very strong) that decisions are made in the unconscious and appear to our conscious awareness afterward. In other words, it only seems like you, the idea you have of yourself as an individual, a personality, make decisions. These scientists suspect (and some, like Sam Harris, propose that decisions get made according to genetic make-up informed by the schema in your brain of all the successes and failures that have happened to you–and all the dangers, pain, pleasures, modeling from parents and the whole of your experience. This information puts a whole new face on the importance of parenting, for one thing, and challenges much of what we have thought true concerning matters of accountability as it relates to our justice system. The problem here, of course, is that what they’re finding as much as neutralizes itself because so many people will simply reject it. Ain’t that wild?  I have a theory that the people outside social norms (in prison, for example) may, in some ways, help comprise those naturally disposed to more adeptly deal with change and challenges to their present belief systems–if I can manage to help them see their dilemma I might wind up sending people out into the community more aware of their situation and how to deal with it. This may also help them respond to the world with better understanding and in a more forgiving way. They might, in a sense, leave jail better people than the people who put them there; smarter, not in IQ, the measure used in school which ignores at least 12 areas of intelligence (and probably more like twenty), but in emotional intelligence, a measure of intelligence by which many people with a high IQ come up  idiots.

Harris, S. Free Will: Simon and Schuster (2012)

Sowell, T.  A Conflict of Visions: Idealogical Origins of Political Struggles: Basic Books (2007) New York, NY

Tavris, C.  Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful   Acts:  Harcourt, Inc. (2008),  New York, NY

Mooney, C. The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science–and Reality: John Wiley and Sons (2012) Hoboken, NJ

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