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A Beautiful Mind


Posted on 2012.10.03 at 00:00
Current Location: 67114
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You know, not everybody like onions. What about cake? Everybody loves cake! - Donkey

In the year 1526 English playwrite John Heywood (of Rome wasn't built in a day fame) stated, "wolde you bothe eate your cake, and have your cake?" spawning the Opportunity Cost concept; the sacrifice related to the second best choice available to someone who has picked among several mutually exclusive choices.

While I don't outright object to commonly perceived mutual exclusion, I do understand that oftentimes it is simply a matter of looking at something in a different light - shifting our paradigms - questioning societal norms. In doing so, many things are possible, even things in which we thought were not. After all, having one's cake and eating it too is a universal pursuit of happiness. I have a feeling that those who utter it in an unflattering light disregard the mechanics behind its intended functionality - or worse, inability to dynamically adjust their perspective.

In critical thinking, there is no virtue in rigid adherence to a position that is not supported by evidence.*

Interesting use of the word virtue; moral excellence, which we know is based upon values - that very fluid derivative of our ever-changing worldview when we reevaluate our beliefs based upon new information. And for those of us who have reached post-conventional values, who autonomously comprehend universal rules which are rational and logical - we do automatically reject "rigid adherence" as a lifestyle choice.

Why? Its simple, really: More options. Options like both having your cake, and eating it too. Micro-Hare Krishna aka "Spoonboy" from The Matrix knew the truth, which can be practically applied in our everyday lives with simple change in perspective that wholly applies in everything:

Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead...only try to realize the truth. There is no spoon. Then you'll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.

In the above example, "bending oneself" not only allows for more options, it saves us from ourselves when we run across information which my run contrary to our beliefs. In that scenario there are really only two conclusions - either the new information is incorrect, or our beliefs are. While its far easier to discount the new information than it is our beliefs, we run the risk of living in ignorance - entirely acceptable to some people (I'm just gonna believe what I believe), but not to others. How then to reconcile the two?

I used to be rather close-minded. drax0r spent a long time gently goading me into questioning my own closely-held ideals. Not to get me to agree with him, but in order for me to understand why he believed what he did, and get me to understand why I believed what I did through analyzing, conceptualizing, defining, examining, inferring, listening, questioning, reasoning & synthesizing. The largest hurdle for me to tackle at the time was the idea that just because a majority of people believed it, didn't make it any more realistic. Think about that for a moment - could all those people be...wrong?

And yet if the "majority" of people are just going to believe what they believe without applying critical thinking skills to it (and questioning their own beliefs), then yes. In fact, I know so few people who question their own beliefs, that the assertion that my ideas are ridiculous because no one else thinks that way proves my very point. What the "majority" of people think is not evidence against my argument - its damn near proof. When I was a lad in shortpants my mother used to ask me, "If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you do it to?" Can anyone here explain what she was trying to illustrate? If the only reason you believe something is because everyone else does...You may as well jump off a bridge.

Because of our inborn tendency to conform to what others think, we cannot assume that agreement leads to truth without knowledge about the manner and condition under which the agreement was arrived. As with other errors in our thinking, we need to develop strategies to recognize and compensate for our human inclination to conform to groupthink.*

Recently, a tendency-toward-depression friend (who unsurprisingly also suffers from black and white thinking) posted something rife with cognitive distortion overgeneralizations. The counterproductive thing about explaining self-fulfilling prophecies to people who perpetuate them is that they don't believe you. Had they the critical thinking skills to connect the dots in the first place, well...suffice it to say they wouldn't suffer from self-fulling prophecies. Again, from the THINK texbook:

People who are depressed may cling to the irrational belief that the only alternative to not having perfect control is having no control. Because they feel they lack any control over their lives, they tend to attribute their misfortune or sadness to other people's actions. A side effect of this negative behavior is that their behavior often alienates other people, thereby confirming a second irrational belief common to depressed people that they are worthless and unlikable. Thus, their distorted expectations lead to a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Be more like spoon-boy.

As for me? I'm going to eat cake.


suzanne1945 at 2012-10-03 13:49 (UTC) (Link)
Love this post! Amen, brother! Societal mores, rules, and laws have there place in keeping order for the larger good. That does not mean they are the (best, most rational, true). One must apply critical thinking to these and reassess. Sometimes they are partial valid and just need tweeking. More often, they are only a band-aid to cover the ills of the masses.
ehowton at 2012-10-03 16:57 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! Of course I also find that some traditional thinking is actually sound once I deconstruct it - which is just as fascinating as running across those which are not. I guess it doesn't matter which conclusions each of us comes to so long as we put forth the effort of due diligence, and then respect each other's end result.

Cake anyone?
michelle1963 at 2012-10-07 23:28 (UTC) (Link)
Re: I'm just gonna believe what I believe.

I ran into a recent example of this in of all places, my critical thinking class. I cannot remember how the class reached the point of talking about whether homosexuality was a choice or biological, but nonetheless, we did. A rather lively debate. One student, who if she can get her act together (she's rather young and unfocused) will go far, said, "Who cares? They aren't hurting anybody. Why should it bother anyone else?"

But there were others, who held on to their belief that homosexuality is a choice. So I brought out my old biology hat, and explained to them the study that in which researchers had run PET scans on the brains of straight males, straight females, and homosexual males. The result? The homosexual male brains were different from both the straight males and females.

Even after listening, the two students who had most vehemently presented their belief that homosexuality was a choice, shook, their heads at me, and said, "No. It's a choice."

Me: "So you're going to disregard scientific research?"

No answer to my question; just a repetition of their convictions: "No. It's a choice."

I found it quite bizarre.

And the scary part is that both of the students who held to their belief in the face of evidence to the contrary, are actually rather bright.
ehowton at 2012-10-08 03:50 (UTC) (Link)
It took me years to ask myself questions I didn't want to know the answer to. Societal brainwashing. Its not just IQ. Its part curiosity, and part courage. Surely all three must be present to push past the envelope?
michelle1963 at 2012-10-08 13:08 (UTC) (Link)
Agreed. Yes even the most intelligent can be afraid to really analyze cherished beliefs. Especially when those beliefs are interwoven with self-identity.

Looking at one seemingly innocuous (at least from my perspective) question such as whether homosexuality is a choice or biological, can cause a cascade effect. If the person believes homosexuality is a choice based on a religious idea that homosexuality is a sin, then entertaining the idea that homosexuality is biologically based, may lead one to question other aspects of their religious doctrine, and oh dear, analysis may reveal other beliefs to which there is contrary evidence. If one continues, s/he will eventually question whether God exists, the existence of an after-life and have to face the possibility that when s/he dies, s/he is done.

Scary stuff to believe you've got one shot, and what you make of it is totally up to you.
michelle1963 at 2012-10-08 13:29 (UTC) (Link)
With societal indoctrination, many fail to question why the rule exists, what purpose it was designed to serve, and finally if the other two questions are answered, if the need for it still exist, and are there exceptions?

While there are many examples, I am going to use the most in-your-face example I can think of- incest. Does anyone ever bother to question why it would be wrong to marry a sibling? A cousin? Incest is so taboo in our culture that when it comes up, people recoil in horror and can't think beyond their emotional reaction.

There was once a very good reason to avoid marrying a close blood relative before we could control reproduction - which has only occurred in the last 50 years or so. The manifestation of hereditary diseases increases when reproduction occurs amongst closely related individuals. A quick look at the history of the European royals confirms this.

But is it inherently wrong to fall in love with a close blood relative? Other than reproduction concerns, no one has yet been able to provide a logical answer as to why this is an issue. Most people don't know the basis for the taboo in the first place.
ehowton at 2012-10-08 17:38 (UTC) (Link)
What a fascinating example! While you bring up a good reason why not to engage in incest, The Old Testament seemingly had good reasons to allow it; propagation of species and bloodlines, for example. Then again most of the patriarchs had not only multiple wives but also concubines, and were allowed to "seed" their brother's wives, etcetera as circumstances permitted.

I have to admit to being a little freaked out when I first read Antigone and the King (where we get the phrase "Oedipus complex") but that said I could totally understand where something like that could come about - love after all, is love - it does not stop because something is discovered after the fact. Absolutely a good scenario in which to question it. My sophomore introduction to the concept was in Gore Vidal's Caligula where Caesar was in love with his sister, but had to marry someone else for political reasons. Of course Rome and all that, but also his sister was hot! If people marry for money and position and alliances and yes for hotness (trophy wife anyone?) isn't marrying for love better, no matter who that person may be? Why would it be wrong if it were a sibling - if reasons were neither reproductive nor political. And now that I'm thinking about it, would that not be a much more lasting bond? Probably far less divorce per capita if you loved someone on more than just a vow of marriage?

Many things which are deemed ethically wrong are from a solely Puritanical point of view. I read somewhere that Catholic priests used to be polygamous until one of the Popes, in attempting to consolidate the wealth and power of the church outlawed marriage to stop any inheritance being passed on. Point is, there are lots of reasons for things, and just because I don't know what they are doesn't mean they don't exist.

I just read the wikipedia entry on incest, and while fascinating, even the pre-Christian ancient cultures/religions which banned it, don't reveal "why" it was not permitted. Curious!
michelle1963 at 2012-10-09 12:22 (UTC) (Link)
Your Biblical and literary knowledge far surpasses mine. Excellent!

I suspect that even in ancient times, people could see patterns of inheritance, and the proliferation of genetic diseases in circumstances where the gene pool was small. After all, while they did not have as much knowledge as we do, their brains functioned as well as ours do. Even if they attributed a genetic to disease to some god or another being angry and cursing a family line ~ patterns could become apparent.

Fascinating about the Catholic priests! The power of the church throughout the history of which I am familiar, and its attempts to maintain and expand power are blatant. It is not unfathomable that such thing as demanding priests become celibate occurred.
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