The Plague of Our Time: Naive Realism

Everyone, not just healthy memory blog readers, should have a basic understanding of how our cognitive processes function. Absent this understanding, people are unknowingly likely to be naive realists. Naive realism has a restricted view in social psychology with respect to the perception of other people, but the broader meaning of naive realism is that people have direct knowledge of the world.

If you are a regular reader of the healthy memory blog, or if you only have read the immediately preceding post, you should be disabused of this notion.  Our cognitive processes build models of the external world.  These models are used by our memories to help us deal with the future.  Through learning these models are refined, but they are never complete and always need to be subject to change.  Absent any other information, we have the tendency to believe.  So as the result of our upbringing, schooling, and social acquaintances, we have a vast store of unexamined beliefs.  Our brain responds whenever information discordant with stated beliefs is encountered.  Remember Kahneman’s System 1 System 2 distinction.  System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. They are so fast that they are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1.  System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors to slip through. System 2 can be thought of as thinking.  Discordant information requires thinking.  The easiest route is to disregard the discordant information and go the cognitive miser route.

Our memories are highly fallible, and these shortcomings need always be taken into consideration.  Scientific reasoning provides methodologies for minimizing the fallibilities and shortcomings.  The scientific method provides the Gold Standard for accepting or rejecting beliefs.  Near the beginning of the eleventh century, al_Haytham, an Islamic scholar who lived in Basra and Cairo, wrote the Book of Optics,which included a theory of vision and a theory of sight.  According to one authority, “Ibn al-Haytham was the pioneer of the modern scientific method.  His book changed the meaning of the term “optics” and established experiments as the norm of proof in the field.  His investigations were not based on abstract theories, but on experimental evidence, and his experiments were systematic and repeatable.  Unlike the Greeks, in his theory of vision rays of light came from the objects seen rather than from the eyes that see them.  Some of the European contributors to the development of the scientific method are Robert Grosseteste (c. 1125-1253), Roger Bacon (c. 1214-1294), Galileo (1564-1642), Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Rene Descartes (1596-1650), and, of course, Isaac Newton(1643-1727).

The scientific method advances slowly, the speed of which has been accelerating.  It is primarily responsible for the development of our society today.  Actually, our society would have benefited from a greater application of the scientific method.  Unfortunately, too many do not believe scientific findings.  For example, in the United States, one of its major political parties refuses to accept the evidence for global warming.

Most of our problems stem from ideologies, and the True Believers (see Eric Hoffer) in these ideologies.  Ideologues do not need to think.  Their ideology informs them what the truth is and what to believe.  Any one or any organization demanding following ideological beliefs are to be avoided like the plague, because they are they plague incarnate.

Moreover, ideologues are the bane of democracy.  Democracy requires the consideration and evaluation of beliefs and evidence.  And they require compromise and negotiation, two requirements that are the bane of ideologues.

It needs to be understood that in our lives we never encounter absolute truth.  Rather we try as best we can through learning and science what are the best models to believe.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” (Socrates)

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. 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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