Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Never Enough Cognitive Dissidents Department

Jaye Ramsey Sutter's blog inspired me:

I can understand cognitive dissonance wearing people out. But by the same token, I must admit it doesn't bother me much. In fact, it seems like I've been awash in cognitive dissonance my entire life--that my life, in fact, is a large, dissonant cognition, if you will.

When Ronald Reagan promised in 1980 to cut taxes and increase military spending, I sat up and noticed.

When the Sunday School teachers at my Assembly of God told me, in all earnestness, that all men have one less rib than women do, I took note and puzzled over the fact.

When the Iran-Contra scandal broke, and a small army of government officials claimed that the assassinations, drug-running, and deals with dictators were all done in the name of American freedom and democracy, you bet I caught that.

When I began to be exposed to perceptual psychology, and came across the realization that we can't always trust our perceptions, and that our very brains will trick us in order to make sense of what we perceive--I gave that fact a big red "URGENT" stamp.

When quantum mechanics revealed a world utterly alien to common sense, and yet too accurate in its predictions and too consistent in its logic to be dismissed, I acknowleged it as another piece of the puzzle.

When post-modernism became the vogue, and people started using the phrase "Reality isn't what it used to be" with decreasing irony, I was ready to say, "Duh."

When a Bush aide (Rove, maybe?) stated that "we create our own reality," I was not in the least surprised. I was prepared for it in ways the Democratic Party is only now starting to realize.

But that doesn't change the wisdom that there are certain externalities that cannot be brushed off by creating one's own reality, no matter how thoroughly imposed that reality might be upon the masses. Everything you perceive about, say, a mountain--its seemingly eternal size, its color, its solidness--might be questionable. You may realize that mountains are heaved upwards over millions of years, or built up from ash cones and lava flows over hundreds of years. You may realize that the mountain's color is due to light reflected off its surface atoms, filtered through the eye, and interpreted by the brain, and that therefore its "color" is not "real". You may even stop to contemplate that 99% of the volume of that mountain is empty space, with colliding electrons giving the illusion of solidness. But don't be hasty to conclude that the mountain is not real. If you try to fly an airplane through it, you will crash.

And so, in an age of cognitive dissonance, where it is easy to manipulate facts to start a war but impossible to manipulate your way out of the war, I can say with confidence:


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