by nathanial burton-bradford
The ability of people to communicate with one another or understand one another requires a common basis for cognition. The participants must perceive the same thing; share an understanding of reality--Lincoln's first principles. Without a common perception of the world, people cannot even recognize what other people are trying to say. Their conversations might as well take place between persons riding on trains going in opposite directions. Education must convey the truths that govern all things.
Given our existential existence, reality proves extremely illusive. We can only interpret the limited energy we can process in its various forms and construct images that reflect an organization of that energy into comprehensive algorithms that adapt us to the world in which we live. The distance between light bouncing off a tiger and the perception that one is in danger requires a host of processes that took forever to evolve. Complexity led natural selection to devise a dual system for constructing reality, each providing a different strategy for interpreting energy. Thinking is an artistic process.
The brain has two separate spheres, left and right, that function differently yet compliment one another. They provide the biological basis for familiar dichotomies like left/right, liberal/conservative, fact-based first principles/word-based first principles, and deductive/inductive reasoning. For reasons not yet clear, people tend to favor one or the other of the dichotomies. Great artists may utilize both to the fullest effect but few people do. Cognitive dissonance follows and trains continue to pass in the night.
In discussing the shape of various dichotomies I will not refer to the left or right side of the brain. The left side of the brain does not give rise to liberalism and I am not tracking specific behaviors to any part of the brain. I only address the functioning of dichotomies in cognitive dissonance.
The dynamic duo (left/right side of the brain) designs a fair piece of human nature. One side takes experience holistically without attempting to reduce it to algorithms. It employs inductive reasoning. The other side applies deductive reasoning to develop the algorithms that make science and art possible. The two sides communicate and when the resulting algorithms reach a certain level of development, they become part of one's operating system.
The results may vary dramatically. My observations conclude that some people perceive reality through the Word and others perceive reality as a collection of Facts. A sacred text, authority, a dictator, or some static meme defines the Word. Without analysis, comparison, distinction, or other test for the meaning of experience, inductive reasoning may explain undifferentiated experience with constructs such as God. Ironically, the Word as a means of defining the holistic experience creates a constraint system that requires one to put square pegs into round holes for the sake of certainty--hence the paradox of conservative thinking. Inductive reasoning permits holistic observation but the adaptations for resolving the multiplicity inherent in holistic experience may create dogmas that require everything to conform to the Word, not the Word to reality. Filtering experience through prior constructs alters the perception of reality.
Deducing facts can be just as tricky. They are based on tests of identity, reliability, and the ability to disclose predictions. We can believe that fire requires fuel, heat, and oxygen because of the fact that if we remove one of the three, the fire goes out. Most facts are not that easy to ascertain. The scientific method makes its share of mistakes. Mathematics and other definitions of fact also create constraint systems that filter reality.
I define cognitive dissonance as the difference between reality and what we perceive as reality. While this may be overly broad, it serves my purpose: why communication is so difficult. I include in "communication" reading the signs nature gives us. Natural selection does not favor us with a wisdom that distinguishes short-term from long-term adaptations in the short term--the paradox. If the short-term adaptation uses up the resources needed before natural selection eliminates the short-term adaptation, the species does not survive. Those who look for the short-term solution will perceive reality differently than those taking the long view.
Because of its tool-making capacity, the human species has a large stake in avoiding short-term fixes. We may adapt to our tools instead of the biological world that sustains us to a point where our genes can no longer adapt to the new environment our tools create. Given a lack of wisdom and natural disasters, surviving natural selection is something of a miracle, like winning the lottery. Natural selection takes no prisoners.
Fact-based reality, as in science, may afford means of correcting error. Some of the information required to discover deductive error may come from inductive reasoning, just as misreading holistic experience may surface through deductive reasoning's handling of detail. The two approaches to ascertaining reality require integration to achieve an equilibrium that permits specific responses to the present challenges of survival while avoiding those adaptations that prejudice continuation of the species. Technology may increase food production at the expense of healthy soil, which in time will decrease food production. Without holistic oversight, side effects of technology--the unintended consequences--may reduce chances of survival.
The competition between individuals to survive drove biological evolution. However, individuals cannot compete with communities that employ divisions of labor based on merit where everyone participates in the production and distribution of the things produced. Hence, natural selection gave us tribes. The ability to cooperate is part of our genetic makeup. Paradoxically, the power of the tribe to protect individuals resulted in wars between tribes. Speculatively, the destructive power of tribes may well have prompted natural selection to favor the invention of God as a way of reducing tribal conflicts through a common "father.'
Natural selection also influences group survival. In the acquisition of resources, the composition and functioning of one group may marshal resources better than other groups. Individuals must decide how much of their personal search for wealth they are willing to sacrifice to maximize the group's efficiency--the social contract. How much will they benefit from the group's ability to provide? As if relationships are not already complicated enough, the relationship between the group and the individual adds another layer of adaptations natural selection may influence. The perception of how individuals and/or groups should relate to one another also colors reality.
Hundreds of years of wars between tribes and then nations and the sacrifices people were forced to make to support them for the benefit of king or church focused the last few centuries on the relationship between group and individual. The American Constitution and subsequent guarantees of individual rights were supposed to resolve that relationship, first in America and then the world. Such was our hubris. Individualism has now reached a point where the functioning of necessary cooperative efforts is at risk.
Cognitive dissonance has reached a point where America is becoming ungovernable as partisan politics turns the dichotomies into something like an inquisition to eliminate the evil other. Instead of dealing with our factual problems, a holy war for dominance of one philosophy over the other ensues. Who pays taxes becomes a question of who deserves to keep their profits, the keepers of the faith, rather than what government needs to do for everyone. A battle of Words provides a distraction from on-the-ground needs and the waste and fraud that is robbing the government of needed revenue--an apology for greed.
The mediation of the three contests, individual versus individual, group versus group, and individual versus group takes the form of government, culture, and moral codes. Once biological competition has evolved a competent species, unbridled competition between individuals weakens everyone. The earliest codes address that problem. When tribes were small and isolated, little need for codes between tribes existed. Raiding one another provided another resource. The consequences of technology have drastically altered relationships between groups. In the atomic age, cognitive dissonance between modern tribes threatens life.