Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Why Don't We Like It When The Universe Makes Us Smarter?

The widespread human aversion to correction is one of the most peculiar of all peculiarities. People don't like being shown to be wrong - so much so that they'd rather intransigently yoke themselves to a comfortable falsehood than open themselves up to a refreshing new fact or an illuminating experience of improved reasoning. There are multiple causes of this, with some degree of overlap - the usual offenders are:

1) Lazy-thinking - the path of least resistance is, by definition, the easiest method of approach. It takes time and effort to acquire knowledge and develop your reasoning skills, and relatively few people bother to do this with any aplomb.

2) Status and ego - some people find it hard to admit they're wrong, so would rather stubbornly close themselves off from revising their erroneous opinions.

3) Tribal identity - many views and beliefs are bound up in the identity of a particular group or allegiance, particularly religious and political views, which overwhelmingly bias individuals against changes of mind.

4) Emotional biases and confirmation biases - reasoning ability can be impaired by emotions, and conformation bias occurs as we look to justify our views by seeking out information that supports what we already believe.

There are others too, but those are the main four, and between them they have quite a stultifying effect on human beings' ability to be correct about things. The only cure for this sort of thing is to wake yourself up to how painstakingly, ludicrously irrational this is - I mean, why *wouldn't* you want to be correct about as much as you can be? And related to that, why *wouldn't* you want to be shown an improved way of thinking about a situation or learn a new fact? 

Learning new facts and improving your reasoning is the universe's way of making you smarter - it is one of the things that people should embrace most, yet it is so often one of the things from which people casually shy away.

Here's what I'd advise you to try: from now on, the next time you get even the faintest hint that you're wrong abut something, or that your interlocutor appears to be making a point that could bring about a fresh perspective for you, embrace it - be enthralled by it, and look at it as an invitation to open a door you'd previously only known to be closed.

You see, when we want to be, I think we humans are fairly adept at sensing weaknesses in our own position when up against smarter people. I don't think the feelings and sensations are alien. As an experiment of self-discovery, let me encourage you to try to own those feelings when they arrive. The next time you sense you've been holding on to a view or belief that needs correcting or revising, stop and take ownership of how it makes you feel.

You may feel threatened, or embarrassed, or obstinate, or defensive, or angry with yourself, or even ashamed that if you change your mind you're going to upset people close to you. I promise you, you will feel at least one of those things. But don't worry - it's the universe's way of inviting you to be smarter, and encouraging you to embrace and be glad of the opportunity.

And if that doesn't turn out to be enough to help you engage in the opportunity, remind yourself that what the universe is asking you to do is nothing different to what you've already being doing all your life - enjoying new discoveries and welcoming fresh perspectives. You don't mind being right on whether it's okay to drop litter, or on what the hottest planet in our solar system is, or on the properties of plutonium, or on whether theft should be illegal - you're just being asked to follow what you've started to its logical conclusion and remain consistent with it at every juncture.

Every time you become a better thinker, or less wrong about something, or more rational, you've made gains for life - you've taken another step on the journey of mental exhilaration. Don't fight it: thirst for it, enjoy it, and embrace it with open arms.