We like to think that we are rational and reasonable people. Logics. Goals. This belief, however, can work against us. It can make us think we have the absolute reason, a capitalized REASON that refuses to accept any argument and is actually quite unreasonable.
Julia Galef warned us: “Do you want to defend your beliefs or do you want to see the world as clearly as possible? Because sometimes it's not possible to do both. " He was referring to one of the most dangerous cognitive biases we can experience: reasoned reasoning.
What is reasoned reasoning?
Reasoned reasoning is a bias by which our unconscious desires, beliefs, fears and motivations shape the way we interpret facts. It is the tendency to adjust reality to what we already know and reject those arguments or facts that go against our beliefs, beliefs and ideas.
It is an unconscious tendency whereby we adapt the way we process information to previously drawn conclusions, to fit our belief system. As a result, we lose objectivity: we take on some information as our allies, defending them with the sword, while we perceive those that do not correspond to our vision as an enemy to be defeated.
The trap of reasoned reasoning and intellectual laziness
In the 50s, Princeton University psychologists asked a group of students from two universities to look at a tape showing a series of controversial referee decisions during a football match between teams from their respective schools.
After viewing, students were more likely to perceive the referee's decisions as correct when favoring their university team, but when they favored their rival they tended to classify them as incorrect. The researchers concluded that the students' emotional interest and their sense of belonging to the university affected the way they analyzed the game.
The distorted view extends to all spheres of our life. Our judgment is influenced by the side we want to win, and this applies to everything that touches us closely. It affects what we think about our health and relationships, determines who we vote for or what we consider right or not.
If we don't believe in climate change we will discredit all studies showing that the planet is suffering from our actions. If we drink a lot of coffee, we will discuss studies indicating that it is harmful. If we don't believe in meditation, we will reject studies indicating its benefits. And so on… Ad infinitum.
Basically, we process information in a way that fits our previous beliefs and desires, to maintain the internal status quo and not be forced to change. If they show us evidence that goes against our beliefs, we are less thorough when it comes to analyzing them and it is also likely that we will banish them from our minds.
Indeed, perhaps on more than one occasion, reasoning with a person, we recognized that we were wrong and accepted his arguments, but then we went back to supporting the initial idea.
The problem is that we are not aware that we are not rational, that we do not evaluate information in an objective way but that we select data with pliers, eliminating everything that does not fit into our vision of the world. All this leads us to a circular reasoning, to an intellectual immobility where there is no room for growth.
Nietzsche had already warned us: "we have an energetic tendency to compare the new to the old, to simplify the complex, to ignore or totally eliminate the contradictory [...] A sudden resolution to ignore, voluntarily isolate ourselves, close the windows, say no inwardly to this or that thing, do not let anything come close to us, a sort of defensive position against many things of which we may have knowledge, a contentment of darkness, with the horizon that isolates us, to say yes to ignorance and take it for granted ".
Why are we convinced that we are right?
1. Emotional bond. Emotions are powerful incentives that act below the level of our consciousness by orienting our thinking. Consequently, if we want something to be true, we will look for evidence that affirms it and ignore those that refute it.
2. Avoid cognitive dissonance. When new information contradicts our belief system, a cognitive dissonance occurs that generates anxiety. Many times, in order to avoid the arduous intellectual work that involves taking a different perspective and changing our points of view, we simply remain tied to our vision, victims of intellectual laziness.
3. Maintain a positive image of ourselves. Our beliefs, values and ideas are part of our identity. When new information challenges them, we can feel our ego is under attack. If we have a fragile ego, we will have a tendency to lock ourselves up to "protect ourselves". As a result, we will reject the opposing arguments and become even more attached to ours.
4. Presumption of objectivity. We start from the fact that we are rational people and we assume that we are also objective, we assume that our ideas are objective. In this regard, a study conducted at Stanford University revealed that calls to be more "rational", "impartial" or "open-minded" actually have the opposite effect by generating resistance to new information, making us think they want to manipulate us. They put us on the defensive and "shut down" our rational mind.
5. Cultural validation. We share many of our ideas, beliefs and values with other people. These commonalities make us belong to certain groups that provide us with bonds of affinity that protect our identity, as they end up validating our worldview. Accepting ideas contrary to the group to which we belong can generate a sense of uprooting that makes us feel bad.
The solution? Develop the explorer mindset
When we think about something, two different systems are activated. The first system is fast, intuitive and emotional, so it is prone to succumb to all kinds of cognitive biases. The second system is activated later, being more thoughtful, logical and precise.
This allows us to separate the emotional reaction, and what we would like it to be, from the facts. It allows us to think: “I wish climate change wasn't a reality, but maybe it is. I better analyze the evidence. "
Reasoned reasoning does not allow for this type of analysis. Skip straight to conclusions based on emotions, expectations and beliefs. To avoid this prejudice, Julia Galef proposes to develop the explorer mentality.
She is a curious mindset, open to change and willing to explore new ideas. This mentality does not come close to the different or to what contradicts his thoughts and expectations, but he feels an interest in it and investigates it in more depth.
This mindset allows us to be aware that our self-esteem does not directly depend on how many reasons we may have. This means that, in order to be more logical, objective and rational, we don't really need to be more logical and rational, but to learn to separate ourselves from the ego and understand that, if we are wrong, it means that we have learned something new. And this is a cause for joy.
Remember the phrase of Confucius: “neither approve a person to express a certain opinion, nor reject a particular opinion to come from a certain person”. We need to open up to ideas and value them. We should not assume that some ideas are more valid just because they come from us. Then, and only then, can we grow.