Over the years, psychologists and scientists have uncovered many of the mysteries of the human mind that used to be securely hidden in our brains. What they have found is basically that we are all hopelessly flawed – even our memories and perceptions are biased!
Today, let’s journey deep into our psychology and explore how the human mind explain this molten hell-scape we find ourselves in.
1. Confirmation Bias
Ah, the ol’ confirmation bias. Probably the most known and most important cognitive bias to understand. It’s our tendency to discount information and/or arguments that go against our beliefs and look for and validate information and/or arguments that confirm our beliefs.
Confirmation bias is a foundational trait of human cognition. It’s even built into our perceptions and memories! We see what we want to see and we remember events the way we want to remember them. And as a result, we find it easy to see this bias in “the other side” but we are blind to our own.
Why can’t you get the other side to see the validity of your arguments through your “rational” and “objective” reasoning? Because they see differently from you, they remember differently from you and they think differently from you. They literally process information about the world in a fundamentally different way than you.
It’s not that they are stupid and biased, it’s that we are all stupid and biased.
You simply cannot change people’s minds through arguments and reasoning. We have already decided what to believe – reasoning, arguing and explaining are all post-hoc.
First you come to a conclusion, then you find the arguments.
2. Concept Creep
The definition of psychological or sociological concepts relating to abuse and harm have gradually expanded over time as the instances of the original meaning of the concept have decreased.
Everything in our lives is comparative – it’s not the absolute but the comparison that matters. We are not happier than our ancestors despite the fact our lives are infinitely more comfortable, easier and safer than theirs. We literally experience the same levels of comfort, ease and safety as them because the absolute level of comfort, ease and safety doesn’t matter. What matters is how your level of comfort, ease and safety compares to your past experiences or the rest of society.
If you have never tasted anything but candy your entire life, a piece of carrot will taste like shit. Alternatively, if you have only eaten carrots your entire life then a piece of candy will taste like heaven. The absolute taste of the carrot or the candy doesn’t matter. The comparison is the only thing that matters.
Here are a few obvious examples of psychological concept creep:
- Anxiety disorder
It’s not that these disorders are becoming more common – it’s that our lives are becoming safer, easier and more convenient. As our lives become safer – it takes less to traumatise us, as our lives become easier – it becomes harder to focus and as our lives become more convenient – it becomes harder to bear hardships.
Here are a few obvious examples of sociological concept creep:
The world is not becoming more racist, more misogynistic, more violent, more abusive and more hostile. In fact it’s getting much better on all of these fronts at an insane rate. However, racism, misogyny, violence, abuse, bullying, etc. are much broader concepts than they used to be.
So it seems to many people that that is exactly what is happening.
Splitting is the reduction of events, people, things and ideas into the binary modes of “good” or “bad”. In other words, it’s the eradication of “grey areas” and nuance – a recipe for depression, anxiety and fanaticism.
Our brains don’t like nuance – we hate it. Because our brains are not wired to deliberate and decide based on careful consideration. The human brain is a machine for jumping to conclusions. Especially when we feel threatened. One thing to remember about us humans: we constantly mistake our beliefs for ourselves. Thus an attack on our belief system is often misconstrued as a direct attack against us.
Splitting is a convenient defence mechanism.
We are tribal animals. All humans long to belong to a group – so much so that the group we belong to can often become an extension of ourselves. An attack on the group is an attack on us. Groups form strong cohesion when there is a clear enemy. Thus we have very strong tendency to create us vs. them dynamics.
Groups are ideologies. Ideologies co-opt our brains for their own purposes. We become soldiers in their war – recklessly sacrificing our identities, mental health and even our lives for their purposes. People don’t have ideas, ideas have people.
To be expelled from the group is death (remember that we are hunters and gatherers and so that used to literally be the case). So we conform, and succumb to groupthink and mob mentality.
5. Memory Distortion
Our memories are constantly changing. We unconsciously distort them to better conform with new information, our emotional reactions, our self-esteem, our identity and our ideology. In other words: you are constantly editing and changing your memories to better align them with the story you tell yourself about yourself.
Memories are not recordings – they are reconstructions. Memories are not whole things that are stored in one area of the brain. Instead, memories are made up of different bits and pieces which are stored in many different areas of the brain. When we remember them, we have to re-build them from those many different bits and pieces.
In the re-building process details get lost and added in to conform with new information, other memories, suggestion, bias, beliefs, emotions etc. There is no distinction between our memories and our imagination.
So often we argue about memories – was there yelling or a slightly raised voice? A mean look or an innocent expression? An accidental bumping or shoving? Something hurtful or something innocent?
Chances are both parties truly believe their version of events. We remember what we want to remember and how we want to remember it.
6. Pluralistic Ignorance
Pluralistic ignorance: “nobody believes this but everyone believes that everyone else believes this”. When an idea becomes dogma it becomes difficult to break out of it despite it being believed by a very small minority of people.
This phenomena is present in all groups where people do not feel comfortable speaking their mind and it’s especially strong in groups where people have attached their identity to the ruling ideology. This is the work of Moloch.
In other words: “evil prevails when good men do nothing”.