Cognitive Misers, Cognitive Spendthrifts, and Democracy

I fear that an earlier post, “Cognitive Misers and Democracy,” did not adequately explain the term “cognitive miser.”  It referenced previous healthy memory blog posts, but unless you went back and read those posts or are an assiduous healthy memory blog reader, I do not think that the term was clear.  To make the term clearer, I have created a new term, cognitive spendthrift.

Here is a quick synopsis of how we process information.  The default upon the receipt of new information is to believe it. This is Kahneman’s System One processing. This default value makes sense because if we questioned everything when we came out of the womb, we would not be able to survive.  When we receive new information, if it is in accord with previous information, it is accepted.  However, when discordant information is received, the brain responds so that it is obvious from brain recordings.  This is an example of Kahneman’s System 2 processing.  An important role for System 2 is to monitor the processing from System 1.  To resolve this discordant information requires thinking, searching for, and trying to discover additional information.   This is effortful System 2 processing.  This can require substantial effort. This is basically what scientists do.  They look for discrepant information, and then conduct research to resolve this discrepant information.  Of course this is an oversimplification of the process, but it is a very brief synopsis of what occurs.  And it is science, the systematic use of tis process, that provides the basis for the advancement of civilizations.

So, by default we are cognitive misers.  Moreover, we have defense mechanisms that makes us feel that we know more and perform better than we actually do, but these mechanisms will be discussed in another post (until then, enter “overconfidence” into the healthy memory blog search block).  Unfortunately the internet typically facilitates further biased searches, which exacerbate the problem further.The term cognitive spendthrift refers to someone who questions and thinks about many things.  The internet is an ideal too for cognitive spendthrifts when they use the internet to explore contrary opinions and new information.   If too much cognitive capital is spent, mental illness and other adverse consequences result.  Even scientists ned to be focused on a subset of questions that they can handle.

The healthy memory blog encourages growth mindsets.  Growth mindsets require the spending of cognitive capital to think and to grow, but this expenditure of cognitive capital must be expended with regard to a budget.  You grow within the constraints in which you are comfortable and continue to grow.

The primary point of “Cognitive Misers and Democracy” was to encourage people to think.  Democracy is important enough to warrant the expenditure of cognitive capital.  And politics is an area where beliefs can be deeply held.  But these deeply held beliefs do need to be questioned.  They always need to be amenable to change.  This is why I was so disturbed by the survey indicating beliefs and principals were more important than the willingness to compromise.  Without  any compromise, democracies cannot survive.

Watching the political debates in one of the parties this year suggests that some opinions are not even being governed by beliefs, but rather by anger and disenchantment.  I am not sure that the opinions these people offer even make it to the cortex.  They see to come directly from the limbic system,

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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