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Something to ponder

June 15, 2009

The quote in my last post is a great segue to something I’ve been doing some contemplation over the past few weeks and wanting to explore and share, and that is the human phenomenon of Cognitive Dissonance.  It’s one of those things that hides out in the background, going mostly unnoticed in our lives, yet it’s there at play.  Broadly speaking one of the key components to cognitive dissonance is the ability to actually hold two contradictory ideas in our mind simultaneously.  When the two are actually present at the same time there is discomfort and discord and so to avoid this (cope with it) we often rationalize and justify the discontinuity, or we isolate the two in a way that the twain shall never meet.  And this is where the quote “We don’t want to believe what we know,” lives.  Something comes up to challenge where we stand, and we rationalize it, explain it away, or simply dismiss it out of hand.  It doesn’t even matter if it’s right in our face, we can do a great job of sweeping it under the rug and not seeing it, explaining away the discomfort.

Another aspect, mused upon by Scott Adams on his blog once, is that cognitive dissonance also gives rise to resistance to and the inability to hear and to entertain other explanations or viewpoints other than those we already hold.  New ideas and new information, or information that simply doesn’t match up, are filtered through this barrier, making it the rare few that make it through.

Given that we are human beings, we have cognitive dissonance.  It’s not a question of “if,” it’s a question of “where do I have cognitive dissonance?”  The great thing is that once we recognize we are having it we are free to just let it be and to actually, well, listen, learn and grow.  I think if we all spent more time getting that cognitive dissonance is at work in all sorts of instances, we’d grow our understanding of the world, of possibilities, and of each other.  And that can only make the sandbox in which we play bigger.

And that would be a fantastic place to be in.

3 comments

  1. I don’t know if the link will show up, but this post reminded me so much of the Ted talk by Barry Schwartz on the loss of practical wisdom.

    Fits in rather well :)


  2. […] ability to rationalize just about anything, a threat to our views on the world can emerge.  The cognitive dissonance makes us feel uncomfortable.  And, especially, if that view is tied to our identity, our identity […]


  3. […] often most definitively is, twisted or incoherent or be full of blind spots and even hypocrisy.  Cognitive dissonance is powerfully obfuscating indeed.  Still, at least on a superficial “answer off the cuff” […]



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