View Single Post
Unread July 17th, 2006, 01:09 PM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 271
Default Re: Emotions versus Reason?

Continuing . . .

Alex: You would need to look at anthropological data on the evolution of cognition and family structure to know whether that hypothesis is credible...
I have. There are no firm theories on that - just guesses. My hypothesis is consistent with those guesses. There seems to be a gradual increase in the ability to hold complex mental representations. This is mostly based on the appearance of religious symbols and other forms of art in the record. I see this as the ability to conceptualize, to imagine.

>> Me: Another problem is that our enlightened intellect is not as powerful as we like to believe. And, we may use it just as often to justify existing beliefs...
Alex: Sure. There is a literature on 'confirmation bias'.
Yes, and my hypothesis explains how confirmation bias works. Our beliefs are generally arranged in a hierarchy with a few higher order beliefs at the top - at least within the various belief compartments in our mind. Thousands of less important beliefs that depend on our acceptance of the beliefs above them in the hierarchy are arranged below (figuratively).

If you believe you're going to heaven or hell when you die - then you pretty much accept the higher order belief in the Christian God who ordains all that. If you believe that paying taxes to support the poor is a good idea - then you pretty much accept the higher order liberal belief that we are all in this together and bear some responsibility for each others' well-being.

When we are first exposed to a new idea we do a quick emotional check to see if it is incongruent with any of our important higher order beliefs - if it resonates or not. That resonance (or dissonance) we feel is the emotional experience of our belief-testing system in action.

A Christian would probably feel dissonance when exposed to the idea that some famous atheist was a highly moral person. A secular humanist is likely to feel a resonance when exposed to the idea that abortion is a private decision that's best for the preganant woman to decide.

If a new idea does challenge one of our existing higher order beliefs, if we decide to accept it (say due to its compelling logical validity) we will have to change many of our lower order beliefs that depend on it. We don't do such things lightly. By the time we are adults, it takes a major life-changing event for us to change any serious higher order beliefs - like a belief (or disbelief) in God for example - but that sometimes happens.

That's why it feels bad even when we are just exposed to ideas that contradict our higher order beliefs. Incongruent ideas make us feel insecure - like the world is unpredictable. They mean that the foundation for all our lower order beliefs that we depend on to generate appropriate emotions for our every-day behavior decisions are in danger.

OTOH it feels good when we are exposed to ideas that confirm our higher order beliefs. It makes us feel secure. It makes us feel like the world is predictable and that we are in firm control of our destiny in a world that is understandable on our terms.

For example, as a fairly liberal atheist, I admit to a perverse satisfaction when the hypocracy of some notably religious person is exposed. If they are Republican and religious, like Tom Delay, so much the better. An interesting question is if I would make a better (fairer) or worse juror at his trial - than a typical Christian. I think I could do a pretty good job of factoring in my distaste for him as a person - and separating that from the facts of the trial. Could a typical Christian just as easily do the same?

We decide to accept or reject a new idea according to how it makes us feel - because so much is at stake. Logic is a weak force in this arena. Once we make that emotional decision we will use our intellect to justify it. That's what people are usually doing when they say that they are reasoning - especially about any emotional decision.

Note that if we feel no emotional resonance or dissonance from exposure to a new idea - that means that it is independent of our higher order beliefs and we are free to examine it logically.

I'll order some Prinz from Amazon. Thanks.


Last edited by Margaret McGhee; July 17th, 2006 at 07:57 PM.
Reply With Quote