Human beliefs and belief systems are important and necessary methods to help us to make sense of our worlds, and to plan our futures. Unfortunately, they are all wrong — to a greater or lesser degree.
In the original article, Everything You Think You Know, Just Ain’t So, I briefly introduced a few of the cognitive limitations that humans face when they try to build a coherent understanding of the universe.
It was only a very brief and superficial introduction, barely touching on sensory and cognitive limits, powerful emotional overtones, common perceptual illusions and biases, and a few of the frequent logical fallacies to which we are prone. I did not discuss genetic influences and limitations, nor did I spend time revealing the many external human groups who wish to influence what we feel and believe.
To understand why everything you think you know just ain’t so, it is necessary to imagine how you came to feel and believe the things you feel, believe, and think you know. How you were scammed.
We were born into a physical and cognitive environment of competing intellectual, moral, and emotional systems. For most of us, our parents took an active interest in assuring that we came to believe in the same general worldview and moral philosophy as they themselves believed. As we grew older, our larger intellectual and moral environment was shaped and limited by our parents, friends, and the various institutions that influenced our existences and upbringings.
In other words, we were all programmed. This programming consisted as much of what we were not allowed to learn as of the things we were expected to learn. We were limited — lobotomised as it were — by the things that were kept from us. And we were shaped to an extent by the emotional, moral, and intellectual environment in which we were immersed.
All of the logical fallacies, cognitive and perceptual biases and illusions, emotional influences on cognition, and innate perceptual and cognitive limitations that were discussed in the earlier article — these constitute the materials with which the environment must work to shape and control your beliefs.
One very important window into this dynamic but constrained internal world, is the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a state of confusion caused by contradictory mental or perceptual phenomena that cannot be easily resolved.
It is an unpleasant mental state that is usually escaped by rejecting all but one (the winner!) of the contradictory ideas. Often the “last man standing” inside the mind is the idea that was constructed the earliest.
But if the mind is in a state of adolescent or young adult rebellion against what it was taught in childhood, sometimes later ideas can displace earlier, longer-entrenched ideas. When that happens, the person “changes his mind.” This mental conversion is often accompanied by a sense of mental freedom and emotional release.
Such emotional and cognitive conversions can occur among entire cohorts at roughly the same time, often in a school setting, or in a similarly artificial and peer-pressure influenced setting.
Mass conversions of this type tend to occur among children, youth, and young adults who were raised in an atmosphere that was either overly constrained, overly negligent, or excessively limited and/or sheltered.
In the last few dozen of the articles at Al Fin the Next Level blog, we looked at “the dangerous child” concept. Dangerous children are raised in such a way that they are far less likely to be influenced by either peers, authority figures, or institutions, in the shaping of their moral, emotional, or cognitive beliefs. To understand why, you would need to look at the articles at that site, which paint only a brief glimpse of the overall Dangerous Child approach.
The problem of mass delusion, mass gullibility, and mass conformity, is not limited to one society, culture, religion, or civilisation. It is ubiquitous among human societies, and has its roots in basic human nature and genetics.
First you have to understand that you might be wrong. Eventually you may come to accept that you are almost certainly wrong. About everything.
What comes after that epiphany will determine whether you step out bravely into a future that you learn to construct for yourself (so far as possible).
You should also understand that accepting that you know nothing can also be an entry point into any number of cults or oppressive collectivist movements and belief systems. That is the lazy man’s way out of the conundrum.
The Dangerous Child is trained to master dangerous skills of body, mind, and emotion. These are empowering skills which make the child more independent at a much earlier age than most conventional educators and child psychologists believe possible or advisable.
You can choose to believe them, if you like the way successive generations of young people are slipping into lifelong incompetency and dependency.
Alternatively, you can choose to take the human mind — with all of its limitations and foibles — and learn to make the most of it. Most of us are starting on this path at a rather late date. But better late than never — and not only for just our own sakes.