Wednesday, December 08, 2010

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself..." and Blogisattva Awards

"-And you are the easiest person to fool," wrote Richard Feynman in "Cargo Cult Science," which I had mentioned earlier, here.  David Brooks, who normally writes political columns that are risible for their lack of depth and disingenuous (his Bobos in Paradise bit has been widely debunked) ,  reports evidence in support of Feynman's maxim.

Classic research has suggested that the more people doubt their own beliefs the more, paradoxically, they are inclined to proselytize in favor of them. David Gal and Derek Rucker published a study in Psychological Science in which they presented some research subjects with evidence that undermined their core convictions. The subjects who were forced to confront the counterevidence went on to more forcefully advocate their original beliefs, thus confirming the earlier findings.  
This explains many things.  Here's Gal and Drucker's own words...

A seminal case study by Festinger found, paradoxically, that evidence that disconfirmed religious beliefs increased individuals’ tendency to proselytize to others. Although this finding is renowned, surprisingly, it has never been subjected to experimental scrutiny and is open to multiple interpretations. We examined a general form of the question first posed by Festinger, namely, how does shaken confidence influence advocacy? Across three experiments, people whose confidence in closely held beliefs was undermined engaged in more advocacy of their beliefs (as measured by both advocacy effort and intention to advocate) than did people whose confidence was not undermined. The effect was attenuated when individuals affirmed their beliefs, and was moderated by both importance of the belief and open-mindedness of a message recipient. These findings not only have implications for the results of Festinger’s seminal study, but also offer new insights into people’s motives for advocating their beliefs. 

 I am very seriously thinking of plunking down $35.00 just to buy this article.  It's interesting that the researchers were talking about religious beliefs here specifically.  I don't know - I haven't read the article - if this falls into the class of "cargo cult science" articles of which Feyman spoke, but I believe he was speaking largely of clinical psychology, not the behavioral work whose importance has increased after Feyman's death.

What I do know is this: I could get this way if I am not mindful of the tendency for this to happen. In a certain sense, we should not trust our beliefs and opinions, but also, we can and should trust that we can question and reevaluate our beliefs and opinions.   The position on questioning beliefs and opinions of course, is a belief and an opinion, but is often supported by the evidence of experience: if one tests a belief or opinion, whether the test confirms or denies the belief or opinion, it confirms the idea that we can and should trust our beliefs and opinions; it seems difficult to falsify except if you life in a Tale of Despereaux  kind of existence, where people want to sanction you for going out of the box and questioning.  For whatever reason, that kind of coercion didn't take with me.  Maybe it had to do with my ancestors and why they left Poland.  I come from a long line of feisty folk.

I see that the Blogisattva Awards finalists are out. I truly congratulate all of them for being recognized by their peers in the Buddhist Blogosphere.  While in the past I had been a finalist in one or two categories, I'm very happy, actually not to be a finalist this year.  It's good to see works from other bloggers, for one thing.  For another thing,  I haven't participated much in that kind of thing.  Also in the back of my mind is I'm thinking of actually meeting some of these folks at the Buddhist Geeks Conference.  I think I could probably provide a perspective they might not have. 

Still, a part of me  - a part I have to question - says, deep down, "How come they didn't recognize me???"   Well, the reason for that, aside form the relatively minor role circumstance plays, is that I simply didn't write the posts that did get recognized.  So what?   I hadn't written the posts to get recognized in the first place; rather, I think - after about 5 years - I'm just starting to get what it means for "me"  to do this Buddhist blogging thing.   And it's to try to promote wisdom, generosity, and compassion in blogging in a way that elicits in the reader's mind a  vast emptiness and no knowing.  And to record how practice infuses my life. And finally, or perhaps as a result of the last bit, how to find practice in the everyday. And in particular, how science and Buddhism really  are reconciled, from an equally rigorous scientific viewpoint and Buddhist viewpoint.    That's the perspective I could probably provide to others, I hope.

And dammit, that's hard; it's a skill!

And I  fail at those kinds of things, and so it's obviously ridiculous of me that other bloggers should hold other bloggers to a standard based on what "I" think is good blogging; it's laughable for me to have that thought.  And I do and I laugh.

 "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself-and you are the easiest person to fool."




3 comments:

Kyle Lovett said...

There were quite a few good blogs that didn't get in since we only went on what people submitted this year. People usually don't feel right about nominating themselves, and some that might have been up for consideration weren't.

I think it's a good learnign experince for next year if anything. Problem is, there are well over 400 Buddhist blogs, so a few people going though all of them without some "public" input. I don't know.

All in all I'm still happy how it went.....and look at it this way, your blog is one of about only 7 or 8 I read daily. :-)

Mumon said...

Kyle,
Thanks for the encouragement; seriously though I can IMAGINE the hard work and labor all involved put into this affair, especially since reading other people's blogging is often like going to an academic conference: 90% of what's presented is not going to be (at least immediately) useful to you.

Actually, in academic conferences, it's worse: most publish as a requirement to get a degree, to check the box. So if you're looking for the "best" research, it's like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Thanks again.

Lorem Ipsum said...

The Awards aside, for a moment, I've seen that kind of stuff in other fields, notably politics. It seems counter-intuitive at first, but actually the fact that you're less sure of the ground you are standing on does seem to make you shout more loudly.

This might come across as a shameless piece of self-promotion, but I've just linked to you in a recent post: http://zenandgarden.blogspot.com/2010/12/science-and-sense-bases.html . Hope that's ok.