The Righteous Mind; Overcoming blind intuition


Why Won’t The Listen? ‘The Righteous Mind’ by Johnathan Haidt

Great article and sounds like a great book!

Some quotes from the article, and some of my thoughts.

people are fundamentally intuitive, not rational.

Which is why it takes effort: we need to be constantly on our guard to make sure we’re not committing logical fallacies, because we are prone to doing so! But the first step is being self-aware, the first step is ACKNOWLEDGING that we’re prone to… all these things the article mentions. Only then you can start to evaluate yourself. Think about your own thinking, behaviours, beliefs.

“We were never designed to listen to reason. When you ask people moral questions, time their responses and scan their brains, their answers and brain activation patterns indicate that they reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they’ve decided.”

Because in a historical context, if we were to always logically and painstakingly weigh all the pros and cons before acting, we’d be dead. We’ve evolved to make quick, snappy judgements. So again, once we’re aware of this we can guard against it, now that we have the luxury of time and knowledge to weigh the pros and cons properly.

Evolution pushes us to give us what works in a given environment. It doesn’t push to give us the truth or the most factually accurate answers. Just what works (at that time).

“The problem isn’t that people don’t reason. They do reason. But their arguments aim to support their conclusions, not yours. Reason doesn’t work like a judge or teacher, impartially weighing evidence or guiding us to wisdom. It works more like a lawyer or press secretary, justifying our acts and judgments to others. Haidt shows, for example, how subjects relentlessly marshal arguments for the incest taboo, no matter how thoroughly an interrogator demolishes these arguments.

To explain this persistence, Haidt invokes an evolutionary hypothesis: We compete for social status, and the key advantage in this struggle is the ability to influence others. Reason, in this view, evolved to help us spin, not to help us learn. So if you want to change people’s minds, Haidt concludes, don’t appeal to their reason. Appeal to reason’s boss: the underlying moral intuitions whose conclusions reason defends.”

Is your belief holding up your reasons? Or are your reasons holding up your belief?

Admittedly, because no one is a blank canvas, it’s pretty difficult to erase all beliefs and start with reasons (as decartes tried to do), from the ground up. No assumptions. Not very possible in the practical sense. So probably, a compromise: acknowledge that most of the time it’s your belief propping up your reasons. So be on the look out for beliefs that keep having the reason knocked out (and keep scrambling for new ones) yet continues to float in your psyche without reasons. Maybe for those you should make a closer inspection and knock away all assumptions and start from ground up. See what you get.

“Liberals don’t understand conservative values. And they can’t recognize this failing, because they’re so convinced of their rationality, open-mindedness and enlightenment.

This reminds me of the article about more education and intelligence making people, ironically, more set in their (wrong) views. Honestly? I’m in constant fear that I’m making this mistake. That I’m being as hypocritical and close-minded as the people I charge with being hypocritical and close minded.

“In his view, for instance, liberals can teach conservatives to recognize and constrain predation by entrenched interests. Haidt believes in the power of reason, but the reasoning has to be interactive. It has to be other people’s reason engaging yours. We’re lousy at challenging our own beliefs, but we’re good at challenging each other’s.

I totally agree with this. While I like to hope that I read all decent, well thought out articles indiscriminately, the truth is obvious that most of the time, I will gravitate towards articles that share my views. The chances of me getting to a well thought out article that challenges my view is slim– not because they don’t exist, but because my tolerance for not-well-thought-out articles that support my view is much higher than for articles that don’t support my view. Meaning I would wade through several mediocre or lousy articles if they share my view to get to that one good one, but I probably wouldn’t do the same for an opposing view.

If 90% of the view points I hear are similar to my own, that means my views are not only not being challenged, they’re being affirmed. And that produces a subconscious effect whether I like it or not. So to friends who don’t share my views… please help me by challenging my beliefs.

“First, we need to help citizens develop sympathetic relationships so that they seek to understand one another instead of using reason to parry opposing views. Second, we need to create time for contemplation. Research shows that two minutes of reflection on a good argument can change a person’s mind. “

To truly want to understand an opposing view point– that’s really difficult. You may say, “I want to understand why you think that.” but at the back of your mind, a voice adds, “so I can correct your mistake/so I can show you why I’m right.” Even if you’re not interested in correcting others… there’ll still be a small voice going, “… but I know I’m right.”

It’s not too difficult to admit that you can be wrong– after all, we know our limits; we’re only human. But to go from that abstraction to being able to admit that you may be wrong about a specific belief of yours– that’s harder. If you’re sure of that belief– you think it’s something you know— it’s pretty difficult to get rid of that voice at the back of your head reminding you that you ‘know’ it. And if you can’t let go of that, it would be pretty difficult to ever be able to see how someone ‘knows’ something that is the opposite of what you ‘know’. You can’t truly see through someone else’s eyes, can’t truly walk in their shoes, if you’re standing firmly in your own shoes, in your own skin. You’d still be postulating and projecting what you think they see from over there, while you’re over here.

I know I’ve moved away from truly wanting to understand and closer to just wanting to defend my own views. Mainly because i got too frustrated and impatient. Hopefully I can move myself back to that point.

Keep reminding myself of this lesson: You have nothing to lose.
If your view is right, you have nothing to lose by gaining a deeper understanding of why other people don’t think so.
If your view is wrong, you have everything to gain by being able to correct your view.
So don’t hold back.

If someone holds a different view from you, the best testimony to your view is if you can understand 100% why they think that, and be able to point out were they ‘went wrong’. Rather than dismissing it as ‘they’re just deluded/not being honest with themselves/ignorant.’ They certainly don’t think that. Which means you’re still not thinking what they’re thinking. And therefore not fully understanding why they think it.

” Evolution itself has evolved: as humans became increasingly social, the struggle for survival, mating and progeny depended less on physical abilities and more on social abilities. In this way, a faculty produced by evolution — sociality — became the new engine of evolution. Why can’t reason do the same thing? Why can’t it emerge from its evolutionary origins as a spin doctor to become the new medium in which humans compete, cooperate and advance the fitness of their communities? Isn’t that what we see all around us? Look at the global spread of media, debate and democracy.”

Tolerance vs Harmony; Campus Crusade


A while ago there was a bit of a religion-related up-roar regarding some comments the Campus Crusade for Christ group in NUS made on their posters and websites.

Specifically, it had 2 posters promoting missions trips to Thailand and Turkey which read, “Thailand is a place of little true joy. Buddhism is so much of the Thai national identity and permeates into every level of society and culture that only one hundred Thais accept Christ each year” and “much of the population (in Turkey) is M, much prayer and work is needed in this place.”

When I saw the angry comments fly online, I felt slightly puzzled. Why were people so enraged? It’s not like you didn’t know that Christians think their religion is the only true one. It’s not like you didn’t know Christians think that knowing Christ is the best thing that can happen to you, the thing that will bring you ‘true joy’. It’s not like you didn’t know what the objective of mission trips are.

So as long as people keep quiet about their true intentions, you’ll close one (or two) eye(s), but once they dare proclaim it, you’ll call them out on it??

I had a thought: is this an example of how the racial and religious harmony we claim to have in Singapore is not true harmony or acceptance? But rather a superficial veil hiding mere tolerance or apathy? A bit like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ huh: as long as you don’t get in my face, as long as you PRETEND you’re not doing anything, I’ll pretend along with you.

And if so… is this situation a necessary compromise for living in a society with too many differing view points (especially religious)? or is it hypocrisy, plain and simple?

Related articles:
The Online Citizen
The Straits Times
Edvantage 
Related blog entires:

Alvinology

The Bible and Homosexuality; Amazing Presentation


All Christians need to watch this.

And all Christians who are struggling with the issue of homosexuality (regardless of their orientation) will be very glad to have watched this.

Matthew Vines, a 21-year-old gay Christian, took two years off from college to study the scriptures and find out what they really say about homosexuality. Earlier this this month, he gave a 1hr presentation on the material that he’s studied.

The article, The Bible and Homosexuality: Why I left College and Spent Two Years Finding Out What the Scriptures Really Say, here, and the full video of the presentation below

If you’ve read up on this issue before, many of his argument points won’t be too unfamiliar but still I think he makes the most compelling case I’ve heard thus far. He pulls everything together very well and presents everything in a systematic, objective yet powerful way. 

But well, I’m not Christian so maybe my reaction wouldn’t be representative of a Christian reaction. So don’t take my word for it, watch it and see for yourself!

I’ll Pray for You


Sometimes, I find myself envying the Christian (or religious) option of saying that phrase, like when a friend is sharing about something that’s troubling them, especially when it’s not something you can do anything about.

That single phrase puts across so succinctly so many aspects that I’d struggle to express in secular terms. It conveys:

– that you empathise with and feel their worry
– that you really wish and hope that things are all right or will be alright
– that you’re concerned for them and they’re in your thoughts
– that you’re sending positive vibes and feelings their way
and all this would provide a measure of comfort and reassurance to the other party in itself, never mind the added bonus for a believer in intercessory prayer that brings God further into the picture.

Previously (before I became this interested in the issue of religion), I used to wonder to myself if I should feel offended, grateful, or simply ignore it when Christian friends of mine said that phrase to me.

Offended: “No, please don’t pray for me. I don’t need the help of a god I don’t believe in, or having you feel good about yourself for praying when in reality you’ve done nothing to help.”

Apathetic: “Oh, it’s just something they say. Don’t think too much about it, smile and be polite.”

Grateful: “Whatever differences in beliefs, that phrase still shows and expresses concern, and that you’ll be in their thoughts in a positive way. So be grateful for their kind wishes and that they’d care enough to do that.”

Most of the time I’d choose to be positive and go with the last one.

Just some random thoughts.

Disclaimer: I’m not saying that you can’t express the same things with secular language; in fact you can probably do it in a better and more meaningful way. But for someone like me who often feels awkward and don’t know what to say even when I sincerely do emphatise very much with the other person, such a simple phrase that can be used in all situations and conveys so much seems to do the job very well. 

Questions to Ask Yourself


If you are, then I'm happy for you.

or merely changed what you're running from?

If you don't trust yourself, you can't expect others to. And the basis of any human interaction and relationship is trust.

Lying to others is bad. But lying to yourself is far worse.

very, very much.

But if you've managed to do it, won't you teach me how?

I didn’t make these with the objective of posting them here, but was rather pleased with the results (yay more relatively successful attempts with watercolours) so I decided to share.

 

BBC Horizon: Out of control?


“Science series. People like to think they are in control of their lives – of what they feel and think. But scientists are now discovering this is often simply an illusion”

More about the subconscious than free will or being in control, but still an interesting watch.

For an awesome lesson on how much we don’t notice (ie out much is filtered out and summarized and simplified for us so we can function everyday), watch this awesome ad.

Free Will: Articles and Some Thoughts


I came across this special issue by the Chronicle of Higher Education dealing with the question “Is Free Will an Illusion?” It features 6 short essays on the topic. Pretty interesting, give it a read!

I’ve been vaguely fascinated by the topic of free will for some time. I found myself, through my own random musings, being lead more in the direction of determinism, or denying free will, which at first alarmed me because such a position felt so counter-intuitive; surely most people would reject such a position as ridiculous. Imagine my surprise and delight when I found, upon reading up more on the subject, that this was actually a pretty common position amongst those who have explored these issues!

My thoughts on free will started from thinking about religion and belief. To me, free will was religion’s ‘trump card’, the reason why suffering exists, why God cannot simply pluck us out of disasters, and essentially why I’m going to hell: because I choose to reject God.

I argued that no one chooses that. No one would ever say, “Yes, I know God is my Creator, I know he is Truth and I know the consequence of rejecting Him. But in accordance to my right to free will, I can choose to reject Him, and I do.” No body chooses to reject the truth.

I’ve heard some arguments from the religious about why God doesn’t just reveal himself to all that run as such: If God were to do that then people would be forced to believe in Him, but God wants us to come to Him of our own free will.

So… knowledge eliminates free will but ignorance allows it??

When you say, “I don’t believe in God.”, it hardly feels like a choice. Given my background, the way I approach problems, all that I know and I that I’ve read up till today… couldchoose to say instead, “I believe in God.’? No. The reason why I don’t believe in God is that the concept doesn’t make sense to me. I can’t believe in God, at least not right now knowing and having experienced all that I have. Just take the case of those who deconvert– they certainly didn’t choose to lose their faith, and often times they really, really, really want to keep believing, but found that they couldn’t do it anymore.

I also wondered about when a decision counts as a choice.

If you’re ignorant and have no knowledge–say you’re given three blank doors with no clues as to which contains the prize– is it an exercise of free will when you pick one?

Or when you’re in possession of a lot of information about two different options– say you have to pick between two types of medical procedures– is it an exercise of free will when you weigh all the pros and cons and pick which one you think is best? But given the information that you had, and coming to the conclusion of which looked like the better option, could you have not picked that option?

Maybe free will and true choice only exist when there are no right or wrong implications to the choice, that is, when it is a subjective choice. For example, choosing between vanilla or chocolate ice-cream. Seems I could easily choose one or the other freely. But then again… that’s determined by some sort of internal bias– chocolate tastes better to me, or I’ve subconsciously come to prefer chocolate because there’s a subconscious, cultural implication that vanilla is for girls and sissies. If you hate durian or classical music, can you really choose to love them?

All just preliminary thoughts on a very complex issue. Hope to continue reading more and thinking more about it. :) :)

Although I’m not sure I fully support his dating analogy, the basic message is the same: it’s not a choice and no one chooses to reject God.

Silence and Apathy


“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King

I really like this entry, Sword and Shield. Especially the first paragraph, which I identify with a lot.

“I was never one to worry. I was never one to be concerned. I didn’t even have goals, dreams or aspirations. I just went with the flow, happy to get by.”

That was me, too. I was carefree, pretty easy going (or you could say ‘apathetic’) about most things. Let bygones be bygones. There were Issues that I was concerned about and obvious ‘wrongs’ in the world that I wished would be righted, of course. But for most part I assumed the world would get on with it, that these wrongs would surely be righted in time, no excessive worrying needed on my part.

The one thing that riled me up was usually conservation issues, because as I learnt more from my classes, it became apparent how ignorant the majority of the population are to these issue, how completely blind they are to that fact that these things truly matter, that there weren’t lofty ideals but a life and death reality, of mankind, our planet and all living things.

It was very different for me for idealogical issues. Those I tended to shrug my shoulders and trot out the excuse of my ignorance.

Perhaps the worst were those issues I WAS sure about, but never thought to take a stand on. Because I assumed that the world and society would get along fine. That, however slowly, society was always marching in the direction of progress. You can’t rush these things, just wait.

Obviously as a gay person I have to know all about its taboo nature in society; I necessarily have to face, it if not everyday, then at least pretty often, right?

And yet somehow I still remained blind. I was frustrated by the inconveniences in my life, but not outraged by any injustice. I would happily go for the occasional LGBT-related event, but do little more then smile from the sidelines. I accepted it. I saw it as something that was merely social taboo, not the fault of any one or anything, but just convention. Just the way it’s always been. And a way that is changing, slowly but surely.

Most people my age have no problems at all with it, I thought. It mostly only the older generation who are more conservative, more set in their views and who have little contact of any kind with the LGBT world. All they know of them are the occasional stereotype falsehoods portrayed in the media. In other words, the problem will slowly but surely fade away as there is greater exposure and education regarding LGBT issues.

Recently, it has come as a great blow to me to realize– to really realize– that quite a few of my close friends do think it is an ‘abomination’, that I am an ‘abomination’. Not that I didn’t ‘know’ of their disapproval, I just never thought about it, and the full meaning of it never sunk in. To be honest, I just didn’t care.

I was ‘tolerant’ and ‘accepting’, I ‘respected’ other people’s beliefs. What they thought and believe is their business, as long as they’re not standing in my way. And despite my friends obviously breaking my stereotype of being ‘old, ignorant and uneducated’, I still viewed LGBT rights in the world as something inevitable that was coming soon, that there was nothing but out-dated thinking standing in the way, and mostly due to inertia.

When they tell me that…they’ve in fact never searched into this issue at all (despite holding their unwavering views about it), and despite having known me and my orientation for so many years… I feel like a failure. In all these years, I’ve never caused them to even wonder about or question their position.

I suppose that ends now. Silence and apathy can be as deadly as hate and ignorance. Social change only happens because people dare to ask for it. The least I can do is make sure that people in my circle have access and exposure to the other side of the coin, that I help to disseminate the voice of this social movement.