self-delusion; do they not realize it?

Uncategorized

I know I’ve done a bit of rabble-rousing with my last few posts, but this is another one that was spurred by the ethnography I recently read about Mormonism.  In it, the author talks about how Mormon parents think about their kids in discussing the life trajectory of Mormons as relates to Mormonism.  The part that struck me as so interesting was the fact that so many Mormon parents believe that their kids are “closer” somehow to god or Jesus or that the veil isn’t as “thick” (whatever “thick” means relative to the “veil”).

The book included an account of a mother talking to her infant (less than 1 year old) and saying the word “Jesus.”  The infant then happened to look at a picture of Jesus hanging on the wall.  The mother interpreted this as evidence that the child “knew” who Jesus was.  Of course, the 10,000 other times she said “Jesus” and the infant looked at the dog or the TV or her husband were conveniently forgotten.  This is clearly confirmation bias.  But the mother had no clue that it was.

The same book included stories about how slightly older kids will say things that suggest they are familiar with Jesus, like, “Jesus taught me to do that.”  The parents, of course, interpret this as the kids being closer to Jesus and/or god.  But having a 3 year-old who has an imaginary friend (his friend is a monster) has illustrated to me that kids simply say things like this.  My son’s friend monster has taught him all sorts of things, told him to do some pretty crazy things, and, strangely, makes stuff disappear whenever my son can’t remember where he put it.  So, if you convince your kid that some guy named Jesus is actually their invisible friend, why should you be at all surprised then that kid then starts attributing things to Jesus?  Yet, the parents don’t make the connection: They are the ones who taught their kid to believe in this guy Jesus (and/or god), so why are they surprised when their hyper-creative child starts saying Jesus taught them things?

This, of course, leads me back to the title of the post: Do they not realize that they are self-deluding?

47 thoughts on “self-delusion; do they not realize it?

  1. I was trying to figure out why this is familiar. I remember a song “Look at the Baby” by Janeen Brady (of Brite music, songs for a mormon child fame). The song appears to be online, the lyrics are not (that I found from a brief search).

    Anyway, in the song, it is suggested that the baby is looking at angels, is closer than the older children. (It’s been over 30 years since I listened to the album, so I could be misremembering).

    The amount of growth for the infant human is amazing. I’ve watched a handful of programs about the intellectual differences between humans and apes. Even at 2 or 3 humans show increased comprehension at simple tasks.

    In terms of delusion, it reminds me of the people who see images of Christ in a grilled cheese sandwich ( or what have you). It doesn’t necessarily seem exclusively mormon…

  2. Yeah, I don’t think this is exclusive of Mormonism. I’m just amazed that Mormons (and others) don’t see the self-delusion for what it is.

  3. I think a short quote from Teryl Givens’ recent book is all that needs to be said here:

    “Belief is fluid. So is doubt. Disillusion and readjustment work in both directions. Those who come late on the road to Damascus, and see the light at last, remember all those times they ignored quiet promptings, and their paradigms shift accordingly. The past begins to make sense, as they reinterpret those annoying doubts and second-guessings as the Lord’s gentle proddings. In contrast, those who find their faith unsustainable and so abandon their faith journey, move in the other direction. Those quiet intimations they once took to be God’s spirit, those countless minor miracles they took to be answers to prayer, they now interpret as passing moments of self-delusion, wish-fulfillment, and the stuff of mere coincidence.”

    So, to answer your question – “do they not realize they are self-deluding?”

    My answer is – no more than you are profxm.

  4. So, Seth, you’re suggesting that I’m self-deluding? How, precisely?

    The only way I could be self-deluding is if your “paradigm” is in fact REAL, right? As in: There is a god and those kids are seeing through the veil. By denying it, I’m deluding myself.

    Um, yeah, that seems highly implausible. Keep in mind, I have a 3 year-old. Which reminds me…

    My son was in the tub last night and my wife was watching him. I was in the other room watching a show and someone on the show said, “Jesus!” My son looked at my wife and said, “Uh oh, he said Jesus.” My wife responded, “What’s wrong with that?” And my son, who has no idea who Jesus is, said, “Jesus is a bad word.”

    If the veil is so thin, why isn’t my son talking about Jesus all the time? Or angels? Or pointing out all of the supernatural entities around him? Oh, right – because he has no idea who Jesus is and there is no veil. Or is he deluded too?

  5. It only seems highly implausible to you because of your own self-reinforcing paradigm.

    I find a universe without God to be implausible.

    Now if you’re willing to “prove the negative” today, maybe we can move on.

    Otherwise this whole discussion is just a lot of hot air, and a thinly veiled excuse for getting laughs at the expense of others.

  6. I’ve already answered you, and I have no interest in providing you with further excuse for cheap snickering.

  7. Seth, you didn’t really answer my question. You’re accusing me of self-delusion, but I asked about my son.

    Now, of course, if you want to insist that I have simply fail to notice all of his references to seeing Jesus and angels and heavenly messengers because of my “delusion” that there is no god, that would be quite the assertion. Given my close involvement with Mormonism until my mid-twenties, I’m pretty sure I would have noticed if my son had said, “Hey, Dad, can you see this guy with the long hair? Yeah, he’s asking me why we don’t go to church.” It hasn’t happened.

    Also, we can go with probability and preponderance of evidence if you’d like. If I’m deluded, which is what you are saying, then so, too, are the roughly 7 billion non-Mormons on the planet. And all of the kids being raised by non-Mormons are having these “thin-veil” experiences yet their parents are unable to recognize them. Including kids being raised as Hindus in India; kids being raised Muslim in Saudi Arabia; and kids being raised atheist in China. All of them are seeing Mormon Jesus and maybe Moroni or other resurrected beings and are mentioning it all the time, but we “deluded” parents are unable to recognize what is happening.

    Yeah, probability and preponderance of evidence suggest this is a religious/Mormon delusion, not a secular delusion. This isn’t a 50/50 probability, Seth. You may have your answer – that 99.9% of the world’s population is deluded and only Mormons see the truth – but that seems highly improbable to me. And, no, this isn’t an argumentum ad populum, so don’t go there. This is a: 99.9% of people are not reporting seeing supernatural entities that are rooted in Mormon beliefs, just Mormons are. So, those entities are highly unlikely to be real.

  8. profxm, there is no point in even entertaining your question.

    Plenty of Mormons don’t have the experiences that the person in your example had. Some do. You’re comparing yourself who didn’t – with someone who claims she did.

    I see no point in that whatsoever.

    Besides, I was responding to the last point you made in your post about “these people” where it was pretty clearly an attempt to generalize your observations to all faith claims.

  9. Porfxm, if you are looking for a clear example of self-delusion, one that just screams self-defeating behavior, just follow Seth’s posts.

  10. @10 Perhaps, but technically you haven’t backed up your point any more clearly than Seth did when accusing ProfXM of self-delusion. ProfXM made a very interesting point in the OP, and it would be a shame for the debate to devolve into two camps saying “I know you are, but what am I?” at each other.

    You can back your criticism with specific points, and Seth, you can respond to ProfXM’s questions about his son and about people selecting a single incident as significant while discarding thousands of non-confirming incidents.

  11. Problem is chanson – I really don’t think there is much more to be said on this.

    Religion is a paradigm whereby people invest meaning in the occurrences of their lives. Non-belief is a paradigm where people remove such meaning to some extent.

    What scientific test could you devise to determine which of them is right? I don’t think there is one.

  12. Religion is a paradigm whereby people invest meaning in the occurrences of their lives. Non-belief is a paradigm where people remove such meaning to some extent.

    I disagree. I think that insisting on specific non-evidence-based conclusions — rather than making an effort to be open to anything the evidence may say, even if it contradicts your current conclusions — shuts down curiosity, which is one of the two greatest human virtues, IMHO.

  13. Alright, fine… atheists don’t see themselves as close-minded. That’s not surprising.

    But neither do religious people. Aren’t both systems open to exactly the same praises and condemnations in this instance?

  14. Aren’t both systems open to exactly the same praises and condemnations in this instance?

    Probably to a large degree. But it’s also potentially the equal-and-opposite fallacy: if there are two sides, and one is doing something, then the other one must be doing it equally.

    I have always argued that at least trying to be open to new evidence that contradicts your current assumptions is better than not trying, because people can appeal to this goal, and it gives you some motivation to consider the new evidence.

  15. I suggested that Profxm read Seth’s posts as an example of self-delusional behavior. To my mind that is providing a source. I didn’t attack Seth personally, nor did I call him a name. I did call him out for the very thing he accused Profxm of doing.

  16. I did call him out for the very thing he accused Profxm of doing.

    Exactly, that’s my point!! His accusation against ProfXM was unfounded, so if you just say the same thing in the other direction, observers have nothing to go on for evaluating the discussion except “go my team!!”

    No, but seriously. I’ve seen two of your lectures at Sunstone, and they were among the best I’ve attended there. Let’s not be phoning it in for MSP. 😉

  17. Sure Parker, and my comment was even less of an attack on profxm. It was a response to the stated tone of the post itself.

  18. Seth @12

    Religion is a paradigm whereby people invest meaning in the occurrences of their lives. Non-belief is a paradigm where people remove such meaning to some extent.

    that is an utterly nonsensical statement. Non-believers don’t invest meaning in the occurrences of their lives? bullshit. Non-believers invest all sorts of meaning in things like falling in love, finding meaningful and rewarding work, mourning their parents’ deaths, achieving social justice, etc, as the case may be.

    What I hope you meant to say, Seth, but what you are too careless or thoughtless to realize or to say, is that “Religion is a paradigm whereby people invest supernatural meaning in at least some (though by no means always all) of the occurrences of their lives. Non-belief is a paradigm where people remove such meaning to some extent.”

    Meaning is not inherently supernatural; it’s not always manifest and obvious, something we must all acknowledge because things arrive with a label explaining what they’re supposed to mean, what we better make them mean. Meaning is generally something humans create, and, as you note, invest in events, ideas, relationships, etc.

    Were it not so, we could not be delusional.

  19. I’m going to step around the discussion and ask something more basic: how can someone delude him/herself?

    I don’t dispute that one can be deluded. But to me, delusion has a sort of implication that necessarily forecloses the possibility of one doing it to themselves.

    I mean, I guess this really gets into the discussion of whether one chooses his/her own beliefs. Since to me, it doesn’t seem like one does, then to say that one strongly believes in something that is nevertheless strongly contrary to the “evidence” (where evidence is a subset of the possible things that could persuade someone, obviously) doesn’t imply or allow for the possibility that one could do that to himself.

    (This is especially the case if we look at the clinical idea of delusion. Delusions occur in the psychological sense usually because of a way that the person’s brain/neurology/chemistry is functioning [or malfunctioning]. We wouldn’t say they choose their brain functioning.)

    So, when the topic asks: “self-delusion: do they not realize it?” it seems an easy answer: of course not. The very definition of delusion (strong conviction and belief) implies that one cannot realize when s/he is deluded.

    This very much does open up the possibility for anyone of us — including profxm, myself, chanson, Parker, etc., — to be deluded. Because even if the evidence is contrary to our belief, our delusion wouldn’t let us see this. Under our delusion, we would necessarily think that the evidence favors our position.

  20. seth @9:

    Besides, I was responding to the last point you made in your post about “these people” where it was pretty clearly an attempt to generalize your observations to all faith claims.

    So? What’s wrong with that?

    I actually have faith-based experiences. There are things I believe rather than know. I don’t discuss them here, but I have supernatural experiences.

    here’s the thing, though: I always consider the possibility that they’re delusions. I don’t have a coherent explanation for all the things I experience. I work to create a system of meaning that accounts for all the things I have learned and seen and done and felt and believed, but I always leave open the possibility that they are delusions, utter figments of my imagination.

    and I sure as hell don’t expect anyone to accept my reality as theirs just because my reality seems so darn real to me.

  21. Andrew… Good point. However, what I was suggesting is that the parents, who already hold the beliefs (probably through socialization, but potentially through conversion and then later socialization) teach their kids to believe these things. Then, when their kids begin to “manifest” the beliefs in certain ways, the parents, apparently unaware of their role in this, see the children’s behavior as confirming of their beliefs. Thus, I’m not suggesting that they are conscious of their “delusion,” but rather that they reinforce their own “delusion” because they set up the reinforcing behaviors. They set up the reinforcing behaviors intentionally (by teaching the kids to believe and act the way they do), but they fail to realize that they are then using those very behaviors that they taught the kids to engage in to justify the very beliefs that motivated them to teach their kids the behaviors in the first place. Ergo, (sub-conscious) self-delusion.

  22. Andrew @20:

    But to me, delusion has a sort of implication that necessarily forecloses the possibility of one doing it to themselves….

    The very definition of delusion (strong conviction and belief) implies that one cannot realize when s/he is deluded.

    Except that delusion doesn’t mean “strong conviction and belief.” It means “the state of being deluded,” and the dictionary definition of delude doesn’t back you up there at all. check this out: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/delude?s=t

    Notice this example: “His conceit deluded him into believing he was important.”

    Even the more specific psychiatric definition doesn’t foreclose the possibility that one can delude oneself: “a fixed false belief that is resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact.”

    If you don’t believe people can delude themselves, you perhaps haven’t been paying attention when people talk about their dysfunctional romantic relationships. “Oh, no, she’s not cheating on me–she would NEVER cheat on me!” or “I know he left me, left the church, and filed for divorce, but he could see the error of his ways! He could come back to me, and we could get remarried! Especially since our temple marriage is still intact!”

  23. to be more clear: delude means “to mislead the mind or judgment of; deceive.” And people do realize every day that they have deluded and deceived themselves. Often, they have to work pretty darn hard to perpetuate the delusion. It’s not always some thought groove people simply fall into and can’t escape.

  24. re 22,

    profxm,

    If you put the sub-conscious there, then I can see where you’re coming from. But, I dunno…”self-delusion” seems to imply more of a conscious aspect that the concession of subconscious-ness eliminates.

    For example, when you say:

    Thus, I’m not suggesting that they are conscious of their “delusion,” but rather that they reinforce their own “delusion” because they set up the reinforcing behaviors.

    I don’t think they intentionally reinforce their own delusion (precisely because they aren’t even conscious of it.)

    So, when you say this:

    They set up the reinforcing behaviors intentionally (by teaching the kids to believe and act the way they do)

    I would point out that the only thing that is intentional is their socialization process, NOT the reinforcement aspect of it. The reinforcement aspect must be unintentional because the delusion itself is subconscious. It’s a side effect of trying to teach their kids.

    re 23,

    Holly,

    my bad, I wiki’d for “delusion” instead of dictionary.com-ing for it. That actually makes a lot of sense — wikipedia skews far more to the psychiatric, which would at best align with definition 4 on dictionary.com:

    “Psychiatry. a fixed false belief that is resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact: a paranoid delusion.”

    Anyway, changing definitions, I still think that there’s something not quite right.

    Let’s look at your example that you yourself pick.

    His conceit deluded him into believing he was important.

    Now, we can get into all sort of discussions about the locus of identity, ego, etc., but IMO, one’s “conceit” is not the same thing as one’s self. So, if one’s conceit is deluding oneself, that is not self-delusion.

    If you don’t believe people can delude themselves, you perhaps haven’t been paying attention when people talk about their dysfunctional romantic relationships.

    Actually, your example here doesn’t seem to me like self-delusion at all.

    Oh, no, she’s not cheating on me–she would NEVER cheat on me!” or “I know he left me, left the church, and filed for divorce, but he could see the error of his ways! He could come back to me, and we could get remarried! Especially since our temple marriage is still intact!”

    These folks actually believe this (for a variety of quirks from mental functioning — not choice). It’s not like they don’t believe it, and then they force themselves to believe it. They may assuredly be misled or deceived (by a number of said mental quirks…cognitive dissonance, wishful thinking, etc.,) , but they did not do the misleading themselves.

    I guess my question would be: Does a magician fall for a magic trick that he himself has performed?

  25. (Ultimately, I think my issue isn’t with “delusion” in particular” but with “belief” in general — I don’t think that people consciously choose their beliefs in general, so even when the beliefs are particularly strange or particularly contrary to evidence, I don’t think they consciously choose it.

    People may end up believing all sorts of things…even profoundly mistaken, naive, or incorrect things…but I’m skeptical that someone consciously chooses any of it.

    Since this is a position that reasonable people can disagree on, I guess I’m OK with dropping that point as an ideological incompatibility.)

  26. but they did not do the misleading themselves.

    Of course people mislead themselves, all the time. One of my friends told me that she looked for evidence that her husband was NOT cheating on her. People told her he was and offered evidence. She didn’t want to believe it; so rather than follow the evidence where, it led, she looked for evidence that led elsewhere.

    He was cheating on her, and eventually she couldn’t deny it. But she worked, very hard, to delude herself, for a very long time.

    And how many times have people told someone, “Look, your ex is a lying, worthless piece of shit who’s not good enough for you, and more to the point, is never coming back to you. Just be glad they’re gone.”

    But the forlorn lover just thinks, “Oh, we were perfect together, and they WILL be back!”

  27. Andrew, I’d say you’re partially right – people choose some of their beliefs, but don’t choose many of their beliefs. I don’t know that anyone has quantified the proportions here, but I think it is correct to say that both are happening.

  28. I don’t think that people consciously choose their beliefs in general, so even when the beliefs are particularly strange or particularly contrary to evidence, I don’t think they consciously choose it.

    I don’t know what to say to this. I mean, I don’t choose to believe the Book of Mormon is false; I simply can’t believe it’s true. But I choose to accept the evidence on climate change, though I desperately wish it weren’t true. I choose to strive for certain attitudes about evidence. I accept that I fall prey to confirmation bias, but I try to change my mind in the face of evidence that I ought to change it.

    I maybe didn’t and can’t choose or unchoose many of my beliefs, but I can choose a lot of my attitudes. there are attitudes I have deliberately tried to cultivate.

    And there have been times when I have been able to look back and say, “Yeah, I was kidding myself there.”

    That is a common idiom and a well understood psychological phenomenon. I, um, really can’t believe that someone would really argue that self-deception is not possible.

  29. re 29, then 27

    Holly,

    I know that others’ mileages may vary, but as for myself, I don’t necessarily think I consciously choose attitudes. In other words, I don’t choose to be skeptical about the things I am and credulous about the things I’m not. It just happens. I don’t choose to be pessimistic at (many) times and optimistic at (comparatively fewer) times. It just happens.

    I recognize the goal of trying to cultivate different attitudes, as you say, but to me, that’s like gambling. I can gamble more or less, and it might be that I win the jackpot with enough exposure (and unlike with actual gambling, the only thing I’m “spending” is time and energy, rather than money), but to me, I never think it would be appropriate to say that I chose to win the jackpot.

    I understand it is a common idiom, and I often find myself being in the minority viewpoint (haha, maybe I’m just profoundly “self-deluded” on this point), but I think there’s a lot of common idioms that are often incorrect. Humans’ track record with folk (insert any science here) is pretty terrible, and many of our folk psychological understandings are crashing into modern neurological and psychological findings — especially our intuitions regarding beliefs and agency.

    ALL THAT BEING SAID, I do find your example in 27 to be an example of something that I can definitely see (have seen) as happening, and it does certainly seem to fit as a good criteria for self-delusion. I could probably come up with some quibbles on how much of various stages in that process are conscious, but as it stands now, I will buy that is an example of self-delusion.

    The problem now is…I don’t see that as being quite comparable with the situation profxm describes. Perhaps because there are a lot more reinforcing factors (within society, institutionally, interpersonally, etc.,) in profxm’s case than in your forlorn lover example (where to the contrary, most of the forlorn lover’s friends are probably really sick and tired of her trying to make things work out with her cheating husban.)

  30. Andrew @30

    The problem now is…I don’t see that as being quite comparable with the situation profxm describes.

    That is as may be. However, I was never attempting to defend the full appropriateness of profxm’s question. I was responding to your @20, and attempting to show that your ideas about what delusion is–to wit, “But to me, delusion has a sort of implication that necessarily forecloses the possibility of one doing it to themselves,”–whether consciously chosen or not, were in error.

    I recognize the goal of trying to cultivate different attitudes, as you say, but to me, that’s like gambling. I can gamble more or less, and it might be that I win the jackpot with enough exposure (and unlike with actual gambling, the only thing I’m “spending” is time and energy, rather than money), but to me, I never think it would be appropriate to say that I chose to win the jackpot.

    Choosing to win the jackpot is a matter of chance in a way that attitudes are not, though I admit there is an element of chance in them, since the culture you are born into has a large say in what many of your attitudes are.

    but as for myself, I don’t necessarily think I consciously choose attitudes.

    I bet you come pretty close, and I bet if I knew you well enough, I could find an example of it.

    For instance, I would not be surprised if you study something or other you’re not sure about, that you’re just curious about. Life is short and there are more fields of study than you can possibly cover in your whole life and more people than you can possibly talk to, but you’ve decided, I’m going to study this field with more questions than answers; I’m going to make my peace with this troubled group of people.

    And perhaps if you truly don’t, you should think about trying it. I think that the famous joke from Through the Looking Glass about “believing six impossible things” is famous and funny for a reason–I think we shouldn’t try to believe as factual things we believe are impossible. But we can try to cultivate attitudes of curiosity and openness and tolerance. We can gain some measure of control over how we feel about the world…. though I admit it’s much harder in your teens and 20s and gets a lot easier in your 30s and 40s, which is one of the few good things about aging.

    And to use another example from MSP: do you think that there is a measure of choice in the extent of Seth’s homophobia and the way he discusses his opposition to LGBT rights? You suggest as much here:

    http://mainstreetplaza.com/2013/03/07/nocoolnametoms-25-new-scripture-mastery-verses/comment-page-1/#comment-114486

    See, when you try to present your opposition to gay marriage in terms of “real harm” to YOUR family and YOUR children’s future, you shouldn’t be surprised when people want you to back that up, and when they aren’t amused when they find that you can’t or just don’t want to.

    However sincere and unchosen his basic bigotry, do you think he has any choice in the extent to which he takes it and makes it an issues others must deal with?

    Huh. I do like that example, actually. Do you think that racism and bigotry are choices made by cultures and individuals, or do you think bigoted beliefs are always beyond choice and therefore cannot be unchosen, or is there another option that covers how you feel about them?

    Do you think that an individual who explicitly chooses to cultivate attitudes that are not racist or bigoted–who, when they find themselves thinking a knee-jerk racist or homophobic or misogynist thought, says, “Nope! Stop it, self! Not gonna think that way any more!”–is doing something equivalent to choosing to win the jackpot?

    And are you really telling me that you don’t do something similar from time to time?

  31. re 31

    Holly

    I was responding to your @20, and attempting to show that your ideas about what delusion is–to wit, “But to me, delusion has a sort of implication that necessarily forecloses the possibility of one doing it to themselves,” whether consciously chosen or not, were in error.

    Fair point. The only reason I responded thusly is because, IMO, if there is a narrow exception to my general idea, then that’s *just* a narrow exception. So duly noted — only Sith deal in absolutes, so I probably should deal less in absolutes. That still doesn’t imply the phenomenon is as present as people *broadly* suggest it is.

    Choosing to win the jackpot is a matter of chance in a way that attitudes are not, though I admit there is an element of chance in them, since the culture you are born into has a large say in what many of your attitudes are.

    But that’s what I’m trying to convey. I’m trying to convey precisely that level of chance/probability/uncertainty/unchosenness. It’s not just “culture you are born into.” It’s your neurology, your genetics, your chemistry, etc., All of these things that are commonly lumped together as “you”…”you” had no say over. I guess you experience things differently, since this doesn’t just feel right to you. But I’m OK with that.

    I bet you come pretty close, and I bet if I knew you well enough, I could find an example of it.

    For instance, I would not be surprised if you study something or other you’re not sure about, that you’re just curious about. Life is short and there are more fields of study than you can possibly cover in your whole life and more people than you can possibly talk to, but you’ve decided, I’m going to study this field with more questions than answers; I’m going to make my peace with this troubled group of people.

    I’ll counter your example with my experience.

    Firstly: “curiosity” is something that is not chosen, IMO. So, I couldn’t just say, “I want to be curious about x” and then be curious about it. So, from the get-go, if I pursue something about which I’m curious, that comes from an attitudinal state that I did not choose.

    To be sure, I can force myself to study something I’m not curious about. But then I’ll be “bored out of my mind.” Which is not the same thing. (It may happen that something down the line eventually piques my interest so I am no longer bored, but I don’t think I can say that I *consciously choose* to have that happen.)

    But moving forward, suppose that I want to study a field or that I seek to make my peace with this troubled group of people. This is where the lottery comes in — I can’t ever consciously choose when…or even if I ever “get” it. When I ever understand. When I ever “make peace”. (Or even “if”.) I’m gambling through repeated exposures, but whether and when it clicks is not something I choose.

    And perhaps if you truly don’t, you should think about trying it. I think that the famous joke from Through the Looking Glass about “believing six impossible things” is famous and funny for a reason–I think we shouldn’t try to believe as factual things we believe are impossible. But we can try to cultivate attitudes of curiosity and openness and tolerance. We can gain some measure of control over how we feel about the world…. though I admit it’s much harder in your teens and 20s and gets a lot easier in your 30s and 40s, which is one of the few good things about aging.

    I thought the point of that joke wasn’t that you shouldn’t try to believe as factual things that we believe are impossible because it might actually happen. I thought the point of the joke is that we shouldn’t try to believe as factual things that we believe as impossible because we can’t consciously choose what we believe, so trying to is absurd In a book of absurdity, the idea that one could just believe six impossible things before breakfast is absurd to the max.

    To the extent that we can *try* to believe (or, in a less extreme situation, we can try to cultivate attitudes of curiosity, openness, and tolerance), we are gambling. We have no guarantee of success, and any success that we do have is just luck at the roulette wheel (or pick whichever game you would like instead) of brain chemistry, neurology, genetics, culture, etc.,

    I don’t deny that change is possible. And there are often events and experiences that we have that are “big” enough to have a profound effect. And as far as conscious choice goes, there is something to be said for “loading the dice” (if we are using a dice-based gambling game) or “stacking the deck” (card-based) by choosing what material we expose ourselves to. But at no point do we consciously choose (IMO) — “I’m going to be persuaded by this.” It might happen or it might not, but it’s gambling.

    And to use another example from MSP: do you think that there is a measure of choice in the extent of Seth’s homophobia and the way he discusses his opposition to LGBT rights? You suggest as much here:

    *snipped link and quote*

    However sincere and unchosen his basic bigotry, do you think he has any choice in the extent to which he takes it and makes it an issues others must deal with?

    I actually think that Seth is a really great example of how much many of our actions are on autopilot. Seth continues to comment here and other places in a predictable MO — he typically seeks an environment that he knows or should know will be “critical” to his viewpoint, he posts comments that are going to be controversial/inflammatory/critical in that environment (maybe just because they are extremely terse, pointed, etc.,), he’s called out for those comments, etc.,

    In this way, he’s kinda stuck in a loop. Maybe it satisfies him to do this; maybe it doesn’t. But regardless, he’s stuck in that loop.

    (Your reactions to Seth are part of that loop, by the way. My responses to Seth are part of the loop as well. We’ve gone through this dance over and over and over again…maybe we think something will change, but it doesn’t. Maybe the reason it doesn’t change is because it’s not something we choose in the first place and whatever criteria that must be met to force a change have not been met.)

    I generally perceive more choice in actions than in beliefs or attitudes. So, in general, I perceive that “however sincere and unchosen his basic bigotry” (obviously, he wouldn’t concede that what he has is “bigotry,” but that’s a different point), he probably does have more of a choice in the extent in which he takes it and makes it an issue others must deal with. The latter are actions…the former is attitudes, beliefs, feelings, etc.,

    …however, even I recognize that our actions don’t exist in vacuums. Even though I perceive more “freedom” in actions, I perceive that actions are motivated and informed by attitudes, beliefs, feelings, etc., So, I certainly think that *I* fall into patterns of actions — despite my better judgment or hindsight or retrospection or introspection or whatever else– as a response to my attitudes, beliefs, feelings, etc. (any of which may, yes, be delusional!) And I would not be surprised if the same is true for Seth.

    Do you think that an individual who explicitly chooses to cultivate attitudes that are not racist or bigoted–who, when they find themselves thinking a knee-jerk racist or homophobic or misogynist thought, says, “Nope! Stop it, self! Not gonna think that way any more!” is doing something equivalent to choosing to win the jackpot?

    I don’t think they are choosing to win the jackpot, but this example wouldn’t even be an example of that! Per your example, they haven’t even won the jackpot! They are still thinking knee-jerk racist, homophobic and/or misogynist thoughts. They haven’t even “chosen” to stop that. They have not even managed to cultivate non-bigoted attitudes yet — because deep down, their knee-jerk reactions are the same as they always were.

    It is commendable that they may not act upon those knee-jerk reactions. But this is not winning the jackpot. To use a gross analogy that should nevertheless drive how the situation seems to me: what they are doing is materially no different than the gay man who internalizes whatever heterosexist stuff is in the culture and who recognizes that he may have “knee-jerk” attractions to men but still insists, “Nope! Stop it, self! Not gonna think that way any more.”

    …The difference is that most of us recognize little to no freedom in our sexual orientation. We perceive that there is no jackpot possible in “orientation change” (not that we would want one.)

    But many folks tend to think of beliefs/attitudes/feelings/etc., in a different category. And I think that’s appropriate. I certainly think that these things are more “changeable” than orientation. But it’s more changeable in the sense that there are more “winning picks’ in the lottery, not in the sense that one actually *chooses* to win the jackpot.

    So, yeah, I’m telling you that I don’t do something similar from time to time.

  32. Andrew @32

    But that’s what I’m trying to convey. I’m trying to convey precisely that level of chance/probability/uncertainty/unchosenness. It’s not just “culture you are born into.” It’s your neurology, your genetics, your chemistry, etc.,

    Yep, that’s very true in late adolescence and early adulthood. I remember how unchosen my life felt in my teens and early 20s, when I suffered with severe (and for many years undiagnosed) chronic depression.

    And what I am here to tell you is that as you age, you discover that there are techniques and practices that help you choose a lot of things and overcome many of the elements of chance created by things like neurochemistry.

    if I pursue something about which I’m curious, that comes from an attitudinal state that I did not choose.

    To be sure, I can force myself to study something I’m not curious about. But then I’ll be “bored out of my mind.”

    I was never talking about choosing to study things you’re not curious about. I am curious about more things than I can possibly study. But maybe that’s just me. I have to choose what I’m going to study, and sometimes I choose different things. I never chose to study what I wasn’t curious about, even when I was Mormon. I read all that crap because I really wanted to understand it.

    I am also curious about other people’s interests and areas of curiosity, which makes a difference. I dated a guy who was really into guns. I was not curious about guns, but I was curious about his interest in them. I went to the shooting range with him and fired an assault rifle because I wanted to be able to understand, as well as I could, his curiosity and interest. I never did become curious about guns, but I remain curious about the interest of certain types of men in guns.

    I thought the point of that joke wasn’t that you shouldn’t try to believe as factual things that we believe are impossible because it might actually happen.

    And I thought the point was that it’s just a waste of time. That you can try as hard as you want, and you won’t still believe it. Alice never believes the things she sees and experiences. She plays along because she feels she has no choice and/or is just so weirded out that the wants to see what someone will do next, but the world she falls into underground is always nonsensical. This is why at the end of “Wonderland” she tells the people conducting the trial that they’re “all just a bunch of cards” and, at the end of “Looking-Glass,” upsets the dinner and says, “I can’t stand this anymore!”

    (Your reactions to Seth are part of that loop, by the way. My responses to Seth are part of the loop as well. We’ve gone through this dance over and over and over again…maybe we think something will change, but it doesn’t. Maybe the reason it doesn’t change is because it’s not something we choose in the first place and whatever criteria that must be met to force a change have not been met.)

    Speak for yourself, young man. I deliberately choose to engage with Seth. I choose to take opportunities to make him feel and look foolish. I am very much aware that I could change my attitude about him. I could decide that, given how foolish he clearly is, engaging with him is not worth my time. I frankly find it fun to make fun of him. I could decide that that’s not worthy of me, and I could make it so.

    Do you think that an individual who explicitly chooses to cultivate attitudes that are not racist or bigoted–who, when they find themselves thinking a knee-jerk racist or homophobic or misogynist thought, says, “Nope! Stop it, self! Not gonna think that way any more!” is doing something equivalent to choosing to win the jackpot?

    I don’t think they are choosing to win the jackpot, but this example wouldn’t even be an example of that! Per your example, they haven’t even won the jackpot! They are still thinking knee-jerk racist, homophobic and/or misogynist thoughts. They haven’t even “chosen” to stop that. They have not even managed to cultivate non-bigoted attitudes yet — because deep down, their knee-jerk reactions are the same as they always were.

    OK, here’s the thing: I made a distinction you collapsed. I wrote, @29

    I maybe didn’t and can’t choose or unchoose many of my beliefs, but I can choose a lot of my attitudes. there are attitudes I have deliberately tried to cultivate.

    I was born in the 1960s, around people who were as racist and sexist and homophobic as Mormon Republicans typically were at that time.

    And I was 15 years old in the 1970s and didn’t know a single gay person in real life when I decided that I wasn’t going to be weirded out by gayness. I’d read about it, I’d read gay authors, I thought about what they had to say, I thought about the sorts of condemnations I heard of gayness at church, and I decided that I would accept it.

    I won the lottery in regards to all sorts of attitudes I was raised with. Took a lot of practice and work–took a lot of cultivation of attitudes until the cultivation took hold–but I did it.

    I have successfully cultivated attitudes about people I interact with in ways I cannot control my beliefs about the Book of Mormon. And I was drawing attention to that difference in my initial claim.

    The equality of human beings is always possible. I can choose attitudes that affirm that belief more fully.

    the divine authorship of the book of Mormon is impossible for me to believe in. I could walk around saying, “Well, I can leave that question open; I can say that maybe I don’t know enough.” I could cultivate a different attitude about how impossible I find it to believe. I could say it’s my fault–that I have some sort of deficiency. I know plenty of people, especially young people, who do.

    Or I could chose to say that it’s actually a good thing that I can’t believe that nonsense. I think that’s one thing that galls Seth: Not just that we don’t believe, but that we congratulate ourselves for not believing. We choose to be open about the fact that we think we’re intellectually superior to him.

    or I could just not give a shit one way or the other. A lot of people do that too.

    But the thing is, as I grew into adulthood, I did decide what attitude to have about my unbelief. I did make deliberate choices about my attitudes about the ideas I was taught and believed that I should believe in my youth.

    It is commendable that they may not act upon those knee-jerk reactions. But this is not winning the jackpot. To use a gross analogy that should nevertheless drive how the situation seems to me: what they are doing is materially no different than the gay man who internalizes whatever heterosexist stuff is in the culture and who recognizes that he may have “knee-jerk” attractions to men but still insists, “Nope! Stop it, self! Not gonna think that way any more.”

    …The difference is that most of us recognize little to no freedom in our sexual orientation. We perceive that there is no jackpot possible in “orientation change” (not that we would want one.)

    Although you acknowledge it, I still have to underscore the fact that basically no one successfully changes their sexual orientation…. but people change their beliefs all the time. They realize that global warming is real, that the Book of Mormon is fake, that the KKK is evil and not something they want to support.

    So, if someone did decide that every time they had a racist thought, they would replace it with an affirmation of equality, until they had changed not only their beliefs but the neural connections of their brains, so that they didn’t even think thoughts that had once been habitual, they would have “chosen to win the lottery,” as you put it?

    But many folks tend to think of beliefs/attitudes/feelings/etc., in a different category. And I think that’s appropriate. I certainly think that these things are more “changeable” than orientation. But it’s more changeable in the sense that there are more “winning picks’ in the lottery, not in the sense that one actually *chooses* to win the jackpot.

    The gambling metaphor there at the end loses me.

    So, yeah, I’m telling you that I don’t do something similar from time to time.

    Fair enough. If that’s how you understand you, I concede.

    But come back and talk to me in 20 years and tell me if it still holds true at that point.

    Mental discipline is a difficult skill that very few people ever master. But gaining whatever limited expertise you can with it is a very rewarding endeavor, and one that gets easier with age.

    I think this relates to another one of profxm’s posts about belief and the comments there: http://mainstreetplaza.com/2013/02/27/the-mormon-apogee-of-affirming-the-consequent/

    Seth wanted to make this parallel between faith and love and how choice is involved.

    As I wrote there: http://mainstreetplaza.com/2013/02/27/the-mormon-apogee-of-affirming-the-consequent/comment-page-2/#comment-113363

    I’ve fallen in love at first sight. There are people I love unconditionally, and there are people I cannot talk myself out of loving, and there are people I will love as long as I am able to feel anything at all.

    Loving people has not required one iota of faith.

    Building relationships, however, has required a great deal of trust.

    I understand when people say they love the church. I don’t understand when they say they trust it or its leaders.

    The leaders are not trustworthy. And why should they be? So much of what they say and do is based on the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith is not trustworthy. The book he tried to pass off as scripture is not trustworthy.

    Sure, you can talk yourself into trusting all that. It’s probably especially easy for the type of people who are somehow able to talk themselves out of loving someone. Doesn’t mean it’s a wise decision or the basis for a moral life or an approach to life anyone else should take seriously or respect.

    I don’t choose who to love, but I do often choose who to trust. Sometimes my trust is misplaced; generally, things go OK.

    Some people might say that trust is not a choice. I would feel sorry for such people.

    In the same way that I cannot choose whom I love but can choose whom I trust, the fact that I cannot chose some of my beliefs does not mean that I cannot choose many cognitive processes and responses around belief. I do choose them. I have sought out techniques and practices that help me choose them. It’s been pretty powerful and useful to learn to identify my attitudes, my thought processes, my habitual emotional responses, and choose other ones.

    I heartily recommend that you try it.

  33. p.s. I would amend “Some people might say that trust is not a choice” to “some people might say that trust is never a choice.” I guess there are a few slimeballs I probably couldn’t trust even if I worked at it–Dick Cheney, for instance. But in general, I think that we can and should choose to trust, and that we should use the experience of having our trust justified or betrayed to help us make even wiser choices about trust and where to bestow it.

    in that thread I just linked to, LDS anarchist argued that faith is this skill or kind of muscle that you can exercise and develop, entirely on the basis of supernatural feedback. Real world evidence should be discarded if it contradicts any sort of supernatural feedback.

    Trust is also a skill or kind of muscle that you can exercise and develop, but what helps you do it well is actual verifiable real world evidence–provided you actually work to recognize and understand and, of course, verify that evidence.

    and of course the idea that trust is something worth cultivating is an attitude I have chosen to have; I have chosen to approach trust as something that will make my life better if I learn to bestow it as wisely and as generally as possible.

  34. p.p.s. In case it’s not entirely clear, I am saying that your statement @32

    if there is a narrow exception to my general idea, then that’s *just* a narrow exception. So duly noted — only Sith deal in absolutes, so I probably should deal less in absolutes. That still doesn’t imply the phenomenon is as present as people *broadly* suggest it is.

    is partly a function of inexperience and youth, and that while it might take 20 years, there is a good chance that you will change your mind.

  35. re 33,

    Holly,

    And what I am here to tell you is that as you age, you discover that there are techniques and practices that help you choose a lot of things and overcome many of the elements of chance created by things like neurochemistry.

    Most interesting. I thought I was done with growing up, LOL, and that from here on out, it would be minor changes, but I guess not…(that probably sounds exactly like what a young immature person would think, in hindsight…)

    I was never talking about choosing to study things you’re not curious about. I am curious about more things than I can possibly study. But maybe that’s just me. I have to choose what I’m going to study, and sometimes I choose different things. I never chose to study what I wasn’t curious about, even when I was Mormon. I read all that crap because I really wanted to understand it.

    OK, I get what you’re saying. I feel similarly — so many things I am interested in, not enough time to study it all!

    I am also curious about other people’s interests and areas of curiosity, which makes a difference. I dated a guy who was really into guns. I was not curious about guns, but I was curious about his interest in them. I went to the shooting range with him and fired an assault rifle because I wanted to be able to understand, as well as I could, his curiosity and interest. I never did become curious about guns, but I remain curious about the interest of certain types of men in guns.

    I also has something like this, which is why social sciences of all kinds interest me — and even keeping up with Mormonism and trying to figure out what appeals to the so-called “TBM”.

    And I thought the point was that it’s just a waste of time. That you can try as hard as you want, and you won’t still believe it. Alice never believes the things she sees and experiences. She plays along because she feels she has no choice and/or is just so weirded out that the wants to see what someone will do next, but the world she falls into underground is always nonsensical. This is why at the end of “Wonderland” she tells the people conducting the trial that they’re “all just a bunch of cards” and, at the end of “Looking-Glass,” upsets the dinner and says, “I can’t stand this anymore!”

    Then I would think we are in agreement, but maybe I’m misunderstanding you now, or misunderstanding what you had originally wrote in 31 related to this.

    Speak for yourself, young man. I deliberately choose to engage with Seth. I choose to take opportunities to make him feel and look foolish. I am very much aware that I could change my attitude about him. I could decide that, given how foolish he clearly is, engaging with him is not worth my time. I frankly find it fun to make fun of him. I could decide that that’s not worthy of me, and I could make it so.

    Hehe, my bad. But this read to me a LITTLE like, “I can stop anytime I want to; I just don’t want to.” Alternatively, I could see Seth answering similarly, “I deliberately choose to engage…”

    In fact, I could see myself answering similarly (in the moment). But when a conversation sours, and I’m really sick of it, in the aftermath of that, I usually think, “Why did I feel like I had to continue that..?”

    But I’m probably just projecting hardcore here to suppose that anyone else feels like that.

    (let’s hope my blockquote in a blockquote below works)

    OK, here’s the thing: I made a distinction you collapsed. I wrote, @29

    I maybe didn’t and can’t choose or unchoose many of my beliefs, but I can choose a lot of my attitudes. there are attitudes I have deliberately tried to cultivate.

    My apologies. In my view, beliefs, attitudes, feelings, etc., are comparable in terms of choice, so I often lump them together. I’ll read more carefully in the future.

    I was born in the 1960s, around people who were as racist and sexist and homophobic as Mormon Republicans typically were at that time.

    And I was 15 years old in the 1970s and didn’t know a single gay person in real life when I decided that I wasn’t going to be weirded out by gayness. I’d read about it, I’d read gay authors, I thought about what they had to say, I thought about the sorts of condemnations I heard of gayness at church, and I decided that I would accept it.

    I guess I can only really take your experience at face value here, because it just doesn’t seem like my experience. I mean, I was definitely not born in the 60s, but I still think that I’ve grown up in areas even in the nineties and noughties where my beliefs, opinions, attitudes, and feelings (sorry for lumping these together, but I don’t yet see the difference…I’ll keep reading on) were different than the majority culture…yet…I haven’t perceived a conscious “decision” to accept certain things contrary to the majority.

    I won the lottery in regards to all sorts of attitudes I was raised with. Took a lot of practice and work–took a lot of cultivation of attitudes until the cultivation took hold–but I did it.

    I have successfully cultivated attitudes about people I interact with in ways I cannot control my beliefs about the Book of Mormon. And I was drawing attention to that difference in my initial claim.

    The equality of human beings is always possible. I can choose attitudes that affirm that belief more fully.
    the divine authorship of the book of Mormon is impossible for me to believe in. I could walk around saying, “Well, I can leave that question open; I can say that maybe I don’t know enough.” I could cultivate a different attitude about how impossible I find it to believe. I could say it’s my fault–that I have some sort of deficiency. I know plenty of people, especially young people, who do.

    Or I could chose to say that it’s actually a good thing that I can’t believe that nonsense. I think that’s one thing that galls Seth: Not just that we don’t believe, but that we congratulate ourselves for not believing. We choose to be open about the fact that we think we’re intellectually superior to him.

    or I could just not give a shit one way or the other. A lot of people do that too.

    But the thing is, as I grew into adulthood, I did decide what attitude to have about my unbelief. I did make deliberate choices about my attitudes about the ideas I was taught and believed that I should believe in my youth

    Suppose that you tried to cultivate the attitude that “it’s your fault that you can’t believe in the book of Mormon” (rather than the attitude that you currently have)…would you believe in that attitude? How long would it take for you to believe in that attitude? Is there a point at which you could say? Or is it something variable? Does it just happen over time with enough effort and cultivation?

    What has motivated you to have the attitudes that you currently have? What stopped you from being HollyWelkerPrime, who has the similar experiences and backgrounds that you have, but who has attitudes closer to Seth’s?

    I guess I am starting to see the difference between “attitude” and “belief”, but they still seem to reinforce each other in ways (and it seems to me as well that there are elements about attitude that aren’t quite so volitional…but maybe your answers to the last few questions can enlighten me there?)

    Although you acknowledge it, I still have to underscore the fact that basically no one successfully changes their sexual orientation…. but people change their beliefs all the time. They realize that global warming is real, that the Book of Mormon is fake, that the KKK is evil and not something they want to support.

    Duly noted.

    So, if someone did decide that every time they had a racist thought, they would replace it with an affirmation of equality, until they had changed not only their beliefs but the neural connections of their brains, so that they didn’t even think thoughts that had once been habitual, they would have “chosen to win the lottery,” as you put it?

    I don’t see it that way. In the lottery/gambling example, I will re-emphasize how I would see this course of actions. I would see it as stacking the deck or using a loaded dice. Even if one’s actions directly impact the probability of success, changing the probability is not the same as choosing the result.

    To try to re-explain that last part of the gambling metaphor that you said lost you (unfortunately, the analogy is probably going to get increasingly more weird now):

    But many folks tend to think of beliefs/attitudes/feelings/etc., in a different category. And I think that’s appropriate. I certainly think that these things are more “changeable” than orientation. But it’s more changeable in the sense that there are more “winning picks’ in the lottery, not in the sense that one actually *chooses* to win the jackpot.

    Well, let’s say that we are just playing a lottery game where you pick 1 number. (we’ll call this game “One in a Trillion”.) We might say that trying to consciously change your orientation is like buying tickets with letters on them — no matter how many tickets you buy, you will never win because each attempt is completely invalid for the task.

    On the other end, choosing your action like “raising your arm” is more like having a cheat code tell you the winning number in advance. You will be successful, barring that you aren’t suffering from some sort of muscle or neurological malfunction.

    Changing beliefs is somewhere in between. Maybe limiting what you read or what you observe or trying to watch how you respond is like having more lottery tickets than you otherwise would have, or maybe it is like finding out that the winning number is actually between 1 million and 100 million.

    If you find out that the winning combination is between 1 million and 100 million, your chances of winning are increased dramatically, but even if you win, you didn’t really choose to win the lottery.

    I have sought out techniques and practices that help me choose them. It’s been pretty powerful and useful to learn to identify my attitudes, my thought processes, my habitual emotional responses, and choose other ones.
    I heartily recommend that you try it.

    I actually do look for such practices, but they don’t seem to change much for me. Maybe it’s a practice-makes-perfect sort of thing, or I just haven’t found things that are right for me.

  36. Most interesting. I thought I was done with growing up, LOL, and that from here on out, it would be minor changes, but I guess not…

    Oh heavens. Every decade is different. 29 maybe isn’t as different from 19 as 19 is from 9, but it’s still pretty darn different.

    Don’t get me wrong: I liked being 24 in all sorts of ways. For starters, I was skinny and pretty. More importantly, it was a very eventful year for me: I graduated from college, started grad school, started teaching, fell in love, got engaged, got my heart well and truly broken for the first time. I learned a lot. But even with all that I learned, I wasn’t nearly as smart as I thought I was, and I sure as hell wasn’t done growing up when that year ended.

    HUGE changes can happen as you age, especially if you don’t resist them. Honestly, the emotional and intellectual insight that comes with age is one its primary rewards. It sure as hell ain’t the physical changes.

    Suppose that you tried to cultivate the attitude that “it’s your fault that you can’t believe in the book of Mormon” (rather than the attitude that you currently have)…would you believe in that attitude? How long would it take for you to believe in that attitude? Is there a point at which you could say? Or is it something variable? Does it just happen over time with enough effort and cultivation?

    Andrew, I chose that example because that is an attitude I had for many years. It’s not like I have no experience with how to hold that attitude or what it felt like. I know it intimately. That’s what I accepted as truth about myself when I was a missionary. I thought the BOM was bullshit, everyone else thought it was awesome; I was the odd one out, so I had to be defective. I could probably thrust myself back into a situation where enough people around me believed that that I began to think something was wrong with me for not thinking that way too.

    But I’m not going to do that again. I’m not going to adopt an attitude I worked to shed. That’s part of the getting older and wiser thing: the fact that I could do something is tempered by the realization that I can choose not to.

    What has motivated you to have the attitudes that you currently have? What stopped you from being HollyWelkerPrime, who has the similar experiences and backgrounds that you have, but who has attitudes closer to Seth’s?

    What? I have no idea what you’re asking.

    I’m also still not finding your gambling analogy useful, particularly since I have acknowledged that certain fundamental beliefs defy change in many ways. But as I have said, the fact that we can’t change whether we believe that the earth revolves around the sun doesn’t mean that we can’t change our attitude about astronomy. I considered majoring in it at one point…. and then decided that I would rather pursue other things, that I would let it diminish in importance.

    Hehe, my bad. But this read to me a LITTLE like, “I can stop anytime I want to; I just don’t want to.” Alternatively, I could see Seth answering similarly, “I deliberately choose to engage…”

    In fact, I could see myself answering similarly (in the moment). But when a conversation sours, and I’m really sick of it, in the aftermath of that, I usually think, “Why did I feel like I had to continue that..?”

    But I’m probably just projecting hardcore here to suppose that anyone else feels like that.

    Oh, I could totally walk away from MSP if I wanted to. There have been times when I was super busy and so I have. I have also walked away from other venues and conversations for good. I could even stay at MSP and avoid threads Seth has already commented on. Giving up the pleasure of taunting and needling Seth would be a piece of cake if I decided I needed to do it.

    Giving up mooning over the last guy to break my heart? Now THAT was hard; I was pretty smitten. But having had some experience recovering from a broken heart and having learned some things that help with that, I went to work changing my attitude about not having him in my life–which is not the same thing as changing my feelings about him; I still can remember why I dug him–and while it frankly took longer than I would have liked, I managed to do it pretty successfully.

    I actually do look for such practices, but they don’t seem to change much for me. Maybe it’s a practice-makes-perfect sort of thing, or I just haven’t found things that are right for me.

    Well, OK. But your failure is not necessarily a good reason to assert that relatively few people manage to make the techniques work for them, is it? Because as I understand it, that is what you have been asserting.

  37. p.s. Re: the question “What has motivated you to have the attitudes that you currently have?” etc–it’s not that I don’t understand THAT question. but I get hung up on trying to figure out how you’re using prime, or why you assume that at one point I had a significant number of attitudes closer to Seth’s. So overall, I still don’t get what you’re trying to uncover with that question.

  38. re 38,

    Holly,

    (responding to your comments kinda in reverse)

    I don’t assume that just because someone used to believe in church doctrines, etc., that they necessarily were comparable to current TBMs. I use HollyPrime precisely because I don’t assume “that at one point [you] had a significant number of attitudes closer to Seth’s” — since I don’t assume that, I need an alternate Holly.

    (In the flip side, I don’t assume that just because a theist used to be atheist or agnostic that their experience or recollection thereof is comparable to, say, my experience. Since I’m not a TBM, I can’t comment from experience about how it feels for former TBMs to try to speak about their former experience, but I know it often seems to me that when former atheists tell me about their former atheism, it seems hugely inapplicable.)

    re 37,

    I actually do look for such practices, but they don’t seem to change much for me. Maybe it’s a practice-makes-perfect sort of thing, or I just haven’t found things that are right for me.

    Well, OK. But your failure is not necessarily a good reason to assert that relatively few people manage to make the techniques work for them, is it? Because as I understand it, that is what you have been asserting.

    Maybe if I understand the distinction between attitudes and beliefs properly, I’ll put it like this: my attitude about my belief about the non-conscious and nonvoluntary nature of beliefs is to assume that, until shown otherwise, this is how most humans operate. Or, in other words, I am not “unusual” in this respect. This is contrary to assuming that I’m the odd person out, or the minority on this point, or defective, or inept, or inexperienced, or just young. (Although all of these are possibilities, I admit).

    (To use a counterexample that also hits on the “things change as you grow older point”…I know a lot of people who say that as you grow up, you’ll probably want to settle down………and then go back to church. I see no reason to deny that this may happen for some people, but I do not anticipate it happening to me, and even if the failure of this happening to me doesn’t seem like grounds for asserting that this happens for relatively few people, I am going to generally default to the opinion that I am closer to everyone else than the alternative that I am a defective snowflake. Maybe that is a self-delusion? 😉 )

    What has motivated you to have the attitudes that you currently have? What stopped you from being HollyWelkerPrime, who has the similar experiences and backgrounds that you have, but who has attitudes closer to Seth’s?

    What? I have no idea what you’re asking.
    I’m also still not finding your gambling analogy useful, particularly since I have acknowledged that certain fundamental beliefs defy change in many ways. But as I have said, the fact that we can’t change whether we believe that the earth revolves around the sun doesn’t mean that we can’t change our attitude about astronomy. I considered majoring in it at one point…. and then decided that I would rather pursue other things, that I would let it diminish in importance.

    The thing that I’m trying to get at is that I still see “attitudes” as being very closely tied to “beliefs”, “feelings,” etc., — if not still directly substitutable with one another So, I don’t see how your “attitude” about astronomy will not be tied to certain beliefs or feelings — which may not be chosen. (Or maybe they can?)

    If you’re basing your attitudes on choice, then I don’t understand what has motivated you to choose how you have chosen (vs. any other possibility.) If it’s something like beliefs and feelings you already have, then that makes sense. But if not, then it seems like it’s arbitrary.

    If you choose your actions (“I will not pursue astronomy”), that is not the same to me as choosing your attitude about astronomy, even if over time, your attitude might nevertheless change (“let it diminish in importance”). I’m still having a tough time separating the “attitudes” from “feelings” here, which is why I asked this series of questions. I think it would be key to understanding a story you have later on (I guess this comment won’t be perfectly reverse chronological after all…:)

    Giving up mooning over the last guy to break my heart? Now THAT was hard; I was pretty smitten. But having had some experience recovering from a broken heart and having learned some things that help with that, I went to work changing my attitude about not having him in my life–which is not the same thing as changing my feelings about him; I still can remember why I dug him–and while it frankly took longer than I would have liked, I managed to do it pretty successfully.

    “I went to work changing my attitude about not having him in my life — which is not the same thing as changing my feelings about him.”

    ^Here, I can easily separate the two IF I view the difference as being in terms of content. Clearly, attitude about “not having him in my life” is different than feelings about “him”. But I don’t see how your attitude about “him” could be separated from feelings about “him”…or your attitude about “not having him in my life” could be separated from your feelings about “not having him in my life.”

    Andrew, I chose that example because that is an attitude I had for many years. It’s not like I have no experience with how to hold that attitude or what it felt like.

    Good point. But the thought that comes to mind is that you don’t have experience with holding that attitude after rejecting it. So, the discussion that you could do it seems hollow if you’re resolute in choosing not to (because you’re not going to adopt an attitude you worked to shed.)

  39. This is a really fascinating discussion!

    On the one hand, I agree that people can consciously choose to expose themselves to ideas and evidence that may contradict their currently-held beliefs. On the other hand, I think that the ability and inclination to introspect (to analyze one’s own beliefs and biases) isn’t really something that is consciously chosen.

    On the other other hand, one’s ability to self-analyze is not something that is set at birth and fixed for life. Holly’s right that it changes with age. One reason is that the longer you live, the more chance there is that something will happen that really makes you stop and think. Something that maybe not only makes you question your beliefs, but also helps you to recognize how you form your beliefs — and analyze whether your strategies are valid.

    This is one reason why I support quality public education for everyone. A good education should challenge you, and set you on the path of thinking critically — including being able to recognize and analyze your own belief strategies.

    Speak for yourself, young man. I deliberately choose to engage with Seth. I choose to take opportunities to make him feel and look foolish. I am very much aware that I could change my attitude about him. I could decide that, given how foolish he clearly is, engaging with him is not worth my time. I frankly find it fun to make fun of him. I could decide that that’s not worthy of me, and I could make it so.

    Does this really fall into the category of civil discourse? (See the welcome page.) I assume you realize that he’s a person and not a toy….

  40. Andrew @39:

    But I don’t see how your attitude about “him” could be separated from feelings about “him”…or your attitude about “not having him in my life” could be separated from your feelings about “not having him in my life.”

    Who says attitudes and feelings are separate? I AM talking about learning to manage emotions–and the subsequent ideas they produce–and I am saying that emotions are much easier to manage than basic beliefs about the nature of reality.

    This really is well documented, Andrew. You can learn to forgive, to set aside anger, to cultivate happiness, to remain calm even when threatened, to approach the world with gratitude. Helping people do these things is part of the basis of both religion AND cognitive therapy AND cognitive behavioral therapy and a great many other therapies.

    Cognitive therapy and its offspring are extremely common in the US–and pretty successful.

    You should google this and maybe read some books on it. Even if you don’t have some problem in your own thinking you want to correct, understanding how other people approach this can help you understand this phenomenon you currently find so baffling.

  41. Chanson @40: Of course I realize that Seth is a person and not a toy. Of course it’s possible that my statement doesn’t fall within the category of civil discourse. But of course I don’t think that his avowed practice of being contrary and offering, as truculently as he can, opinions he doesn’t hold because he finds our “echo chamber” so contemptible, is civil discourse either. I suppose you could say that this is an example of someone “just [doing] the same thing in the other direction,” as per 17, but I try to limit my “toying” to Seth, while he responds to everyone with spleen. It’s his basic mode here.

  42. Me @41:

    Who says attitudes and feelings are separate?

    Oh–I get it–I wrote @37:

    I went to work changing my attitude about not having him in my life — which is not the same thing as changing my feelings about him.

    I was using different ancillary words to help distinguish between different main things. But you are right that I could have used attitude or feeling interchangeably there.

    HOWEVER….

    The guy and the fact that he was once in my life and the fact that he is no longer in my life are all separate things. I can have distinct feelings (or attitudes) about all of them. I can work to have distinct feelings about all of them. I can feel glad that I met him, glad that we had a relationship, sorry that he hurt me, and eventually OK with the fact that we both moved on.

    I don’t just have to feel or think about him forever they way I felt about him when I met him or when we broke up. My feelings and attitudes can evolve–and I can decide what I want my feelings and attitudes to be, and I can actually get pretty darn close to feeling the way I want–and sometimes even surpass my goal and feel way better things I wasn’t expecting.

    Good point. But the thought that comes to mind is that you don’t have experience with holding that attitude after rejecting it. So, the discussion that you could do it seems hollow if you’re resolute in choosing not to (because you’re not going to adopt an attitude you worked to shed.)

    Why? I could engage in lots of unhealthy behaviors and atttitudes I’ve worked hard to shed. I could, if I really wanted to, become anorexic again, which involves all sorts of weird attitudes and feelings about food. I actively choose not to. I could also decide that I’d rather eat what I want whenever I want and get super fat. I choose not to do that either.

    What really rings hollow, Andrew, is your sense that “your attitude about your belief about the non-conscious and nonvoluntary nature of beliefs is to assume that, until shown otherwise, this is how most humans operate” when I am pointing to you to the fact that this ability to shape your own attitudes or feelings is not only the basis for most psychotherapy in the western world today, but has a long record of success, dating into antiquity.

  43. I haven’t read through the comments all the way, but I wanted to present my own two cents on this:

    When someone believes in something so completely that it is hard to see aspects of the world around them without at least thinking about the role that those beliefs have in what they see, then it is hard for them to not have a bias about the things that they notice.

    At that point, it isn’t so much about delusion, but that they have placed so much emphasis on those beliefs that it clouds good judgement and reason. They have convinced themselves of the truthfullness of a fallacy (though, since I’m not an expert in debate, I’m not certain which one applies, but basically its “I have had this experience myself, therefore the same must be true everywhere else and with everyone else”). I would submit that convincing yourself that a lie is true is different from a delusion, though I’m not sure if there is a relevant difference.

  44. In terms of the OP, I see the myth of “children closer to God” in the same way that psychoanalysis talks about children as “not cognizant of their own bodies.” An infant has no sense of itself, even when it looks in the mirror until…what…a year old or so? When Christians relate this non-self-cognition behavior to having a less “thick veil,” I basically think they’re giving mythological description to an actual phenomenon. Now, if a Christian says, “He looked at Jesus! He knows who Jesus is…!” — I see this as adding superfluous mythological description — because first of all, the picture of Jesus most Mormons have hanging up in the their living rooms is NOT what Jesus looked like…

    chanson @ 40

    On the other other hand, one’s ability to self-analyze is not something that is set at birth and fixed for life. Holly’s right that it changes with age. One reason is that the longer you live, the more chance there is that something will happen that really makes you stop and think.

    On the other other other hand, age can also lead one to pass over things one has already encountered and not think about new or different aspects. I love hanging out with children or younger people seeing something for the first time. Or following a cat around when it first moves into a new house and investigates every nook and cranny. Helps me feel like the world is “new.”

  45. On the other other other hand, age can also lead one to pass over things one has already encountered and not think about new or different aspects. I love hanging out with children or younger people seeing something for the first time. Or following a cat around when it first moves into a new house and investigates every nook and cranny. Helps me feel like the world is “new.”

    Absolutely. Age can also lead you to get set in your ways and very resistant to giving new ideas a fair hearing. I don’t mean to give the impression that age and experience confer only advantages or that youth confers only disadvantages in one’s outlook.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *