#051 DFQ

Cognitive Dissonance: From Flat Earth to Round Earth

In cognitive science, the term cognitive dissonance is often used. Cognitive dissonance is interesting because it refers to what happens in your brain when information is presented to it which doesn’t seem to fit.

For example, just suppose the current state of information in your brain (the balance of memes) was such that you believed the earth was flat. Just suppose your brain was a happy co-operative of flat earth memes filling your brain and dominating your outlook.

This, of course, seems naive to us now but not long ago most smart people saw things this way. Now, suppose someone called Fred comes along and says, “No, the earth is round!” and tries to explain to you why you should change your view. You would begin to experience cognitive dissonance.

If, though you thought the earth was flat, you were not superstitiously committed to that view you might only experience a mild case of cognitive dissonance. Then, as you followed the evidence Fred presented, you might find your view evolving from flat earth to round earth.

If, on the other hand, you not only believed the earth was flat but you also PTV-believed your flat earth view was absolutely right, then you might have a dose of strong cognitive dissonance, so strong that it might be easier to burn Fred at the stake than to change your view from flat earth to round earth.

The Father of Modern Science
This kind of thing is not just a silly story but actually does happen. One of the most notorious examples was that of the Father of Modern Science, the brilliant 17th century mathematician, Galilei Galileo.

Galileo had constructed his telescope to show how the earth revolved about the sun and not the sun around the earth. Since Copernicus advanced this hypothesis it had caused great controversy. Galileo now had proof.

When he demonstrated this, many highly intelligent people even refused to look through the telescope, so frightened were they of what they might see. Some people had such a strong dose of cognitive dissonance that they forced Galileo to his knees and made him withdraw his evidence and recant his discovery.

In 1633, Galileo, now 70 years old, sick and completely blind, was forced by the pope to make the arduous journey to Rome to stand trial for ‘heresy’. Urban VIII, taking time off from cannibalising the Colosseum to build his Barberini palace, accused Galileo of causing “the greatest scandal in Christendom” for contradicting the Scriptures.

Galileo thought of himself as a devoted Catholic. He argued that the bible was not a scientific text and that we should not expect its ‘scientific statements’ to be taken literally. He argued that it presents no challenge to faith that both nature and the bible are divine texts and cannot contradict one another.

On 21 June, after a long trial, he was found guilty of heresy, by the Inquisition. Not only that, he was bullied and actually forced into covering up his evidence. The pope demanded that he be tortured if he did not obey: The said Galileo is in the judgement of the Holy Office vehemently suspected of heresy, namely, of having believed and held the doctrine which is false and contrary to the Sacred and Divine Scriptures that the sun is the centre of the world and does not move from east to west, and is not the centre of the world.

Weary and broken, the old man knelt before the pope and made his confession: “I, Galileo, son of the late Vincenzo Galilea, Florentine, aged seventy years … must altogether abandon the false opinion that the sun is the centre of the world and immobile”.

His trial was a grave and solemn milestone in the history of the Church perhaps only surpassed, in poignancy, by the trial of Jesus before Pilate.

Galileo was a brilliant mathematician and a pioneer of science which tries not to rely on superstition. He advocated the idea that “The Book of Nature” is written in mathematical characters, a view which is enough to make him a founding father of the scientific method.

The universe which Galileo observed at the end of his telescope totally dwarfed the one that people were seeing with their ordinary vision. He tried to show that it was important to consider the value of new observable phenomena as a way of escaping from weak truths and moving to better ones.

The 17th century, superstitious, ecclesiastical, Roman brainusers experienced such cognitive dissonance from Galileo’s discoveries that, to their everlasting shame, they chose to abuse and bully an old man rather than to change their own mind.

The cognitive dissonance endured so strongly that it was only in 1993 (after a 12-year Pontifical Commission!) that, in a belated burst of Christian charity, the Vatican brainusers finally forgave Galileo for letting the sun out of the closet.

Better late than never, I suppose.

Santo Galileo?

So, I would like to promote, seriously, the cause of the canonisation of Galileo Galilei.

If the Vatican really wanted to square the ledger with Galileo they could not only ‘forgive” him but also add him to the roster of saints.

Perhaps Santo Galileo could become the Patron Saint of Science.

Surely, x10 ‘miracle’ of his telescope (actually x20!) and the objective revelations it has given to all mankind surpasses the small subjective miracles that seem to satisfy The Vatican to qualify most contemporary candidates for canonisation.

Dosage of Dissonance

It may be that some of the material in this training gives you a certain amount of cognitive dissonance. It is difficult to design the ideal dosage of dissonance. What is fine for some readers and is just enough to help them to open up their mind will, on the other hand, be too strong for
others and cause them to close down.

For example, earlier drafts of this training were more provocative in tone and probably too much so. So I sought the opinions of a fairly wide range of brainusers – different ages, different cultures, different professions, different backgrounds.

After receiving the generous and valuable feedback of hundreds of readers (especially that of my father who was the fairest man I ever met) I completely rewrote the training and tried to find a better balance between the information I have left in and the information I have left out. Thanks to them it’s a better training course but the faults and mistakes you may find are still mine.

At the end of the day, dear brainuser, my own goal for this training has always been to generate enough cognitive dissonance to make it interesting reading but not so much as to close your mind.

DFQ #051:
Post here an example of cognitive dissonance you have experienced in your life recently?

Why was it so difficult for you to change your mind?

474 thoughts on “#051 DFQ

  1. As I am into two different field I have experience cognitive dissonance(CD) in choosing my professional line. And I also experience CD whenever someone express their opinion which is different from mine.

  2. I experienced cognitive dissonance around the idea mentioned by Stephen Hawkins that we are a totally different person than who we were in the past because the atoms that make us are totally different from one moment to the next.

    I did not want to be wrong about all my beliefs up to this point that we are essentially the same person throughout life. Also, I perceived it as an effort to take on this new idea because of the consequence of having to change alot of linking ideas.

  3. A recent experience was shift from a view that a charismatic leader at work was actually incompetent. When this was first proposed nearly had ready excuses for any examples that were put forward. Underpinning this was the fact we would have to accept we had wasted huge amounts of effort over the last five years and unpleasant confrontation must follow.

    I only dealt with the cognitive dissonance by detailed examinations of facts, measuring performance against standards. Part of the motivation was being able to see a BVS.

  4. We spent a lot of time selecting a school for our daughter. After great consideration we chose a school with a good academic record, excellent extra curicular activities and a good culture.
    Our daughter is becoming increasingly unhappy at school and would like to change schools because she feels she doesn’t fit in.
    Now considerable effort is going into helping resolve any issues so she doesn’t think you can walk away when things are hard and not keeping her in a place that is not a good fit for her.

  5. Can’t really think of any congnitive dissonance that I experienced. Maybe it is the experiences and learnings that I had as I was growing up which makes me open to new ideas – new things – maybe more than open – fascinated.

  6. Example:
    After a serious disease i tried to get back in my old (working) environment almost without a break. Like a boxer, who tries to get up after a knock down. After a few months my business partners told me, i am not the man i used to be. I was slowing others down, i was somehow a risk to the companies.
    I didnt believe it, kept going. I said to myself: THIS is what i want and i am sure, it is going to be fine.

    The picture i had of myself was quite strong. The entrepreneur, the leader of a team – does not quit. I was sure, that i “love” the things i was doing that time.
    Very strong picture and in the end, external events (blood parameters, somehow me getting tired of chasing my own fixed ideas) helped to get out of this dilemma.
    I quit and my life became a lot better 😉

  7. Not a recent experience but – Being told by my Padre/Chaplain during my military training that it was OK to kill another human being (ie. the enemy).

  8. One of the recent experience of life is about the government and leaders of my country,exposing corruption as one the greatert gold of the future.that is,chiting,killing and dehumanization of the masses.with this,i tried to get back to my old thought of what my parent told me when i was still a child coming up,that the country was uphold with good and ‘God’ fearing leaders.the congnitive dissonance is that,the experienced is hard for me to change becouse the government are not ready to change.

  9. This may seem a bit pessimistic but for many years I believed that animals and man had many definitive emotional differences but after studying animal behavior particularly ’empathy and compassion’. Through years of study I’ve learned that animals do possess a compassionate and emphatic nature like we humans.

    Today, I see all living creatures/organisms including man as part of a whole which makes up life as we know it.

  10. Post here an example of cognitive dissonance you have experienced in your life recently?

    My recent cognitive dissonance I am experiencing is that knowledge/information is not enough. Of course it is important but it is not everything like I use to think. Today knowledge is by itself around forty percent of relevance. Since i were a teenager I was eager to study and to know as much as I can, but I did not develop the tools to be a better thinker. I use to believe that if my knowledge improve and increase, my thinking will do the same accordingly.

    Why was it so difficult for you to change your mind?

    Nobody wants to admit that he or she is wrong.

  11. The situation that comes to my mind is the disbelief that I have on how some of the managers at work will do the bare minimal when it comes to leadership and mentoring of their employees.

  12. Understanding that for me to significantly advance my thinking by a magnitude that will enable me to become more successful in all aspects of my life, actually requires me to “unlearn” many of the edicts issued to me throughout my formal education from school,university and the Church.

    It was difficult for me accept this was necessary even though the evidence to support this was significant. To realise that the foundation stone of “Greco Roman” logic that my life to date had been built upon, had actually been the biggest inhibitor in reaching my full potential and needed to be removed, was difficult to accept as a result of finally understanding how much time has been wasted absorbed in the CVS.

  13. Many chocolate manufacturers produce human-shaped sweets. It seem there is nothing wrong with it. Children get used to eating such chocolates since early childhood. Doesn’t it subconsciously make us “eat” people in real life by our behaviour, attitude. And yet, everyone must have heard about the ritual of receiving communion during the service in church.(the consecrated bread and wine administered and received at Communion). Isn’t a child (an adult) taught , so to say, drink alcohol which is the evil…It was not difficult for me change my mind but it is difficult to do that for those who surround me. They stick to their CVS as they don’t want to question the correctness of this and other rituals. A number of rituals held nowadays have been distorted…THEY CAN HARM…

  14. The details of the story of Galileo were unknown and shocking to me. My education has always included looking beyond the human sense/perception to a more spiritual sense. That includes a spiritual rather than literal interpretation of the Bible. The School of Thinking training, since 1983, enhances looking beyond my personal knowledge to what else is possible. I’m grateful to continue SOT.

  15. Recent cognitive dissonance for me, doing this whole series of training, from X10 and beyond, there is a better way of thinking. I have found using the skills really do make a difference. I have a vivid memory of my late father having a book, I don’t remember the full title but it included “cognitive dissonance” which I know he read. I wish I could ask him about the book and his views.

  16. In a recent conversation with my wife, she pointed out to me that when, 40 years ago, I first got her to agree to my moving into the apartment she was given as a member of the NYU University Hospital staff, I was very insensitive to her situation; the demands of her job and the need she had for a peaceful sanctuary. I immediately denied the charge, but, over the course of a few days, as she patiently explained various facts and I tried to put into practice some of the SOT training, I realized that my vision of the past was incorrect.

    Why was it so difficult to change my mind? The false ego is very strong. One really fights to maintain his vision of himself as a good, sensitive, and caring person. I was certainly guilty of this in my cognitive dissonant attempt to maintain my point of view.

  17. I experience cogntitve dissonace almost every day. I love eating cakes every day and I know that is not good form nmy health/body but I feel happy when I eat cakes and I can’t immagine that is bad for me

  18. Last week I sat in a meeting about improving the training for the use of a piece of safety equipment, as the previous training did not meet the needs of the users.
    Some of the people present were from the original group that set up and delivered the original training.
    The Safety Team delivered the issues that the end users were experience and what they believe was needed to improve confidence and use of this item. No sooner had this person left, some of the original team sat and demanded that we keep the original material because “I though it was great”.

    What a great example of not wanting to move from CVS2BVS?

  19. I love roasted meat, I have been experiencing heart burn lately, my friends are saying it’s because of meat.
    Am having cognitive dissonance, because the zulu people eat meat all the time and they don’t complain. Am taking medication there is some improvements.

  20. The best example of cognitive dissonance I’ve seen is that everyone thinks they’re above average at most things. Majority of people say they’re an above average driver and the majority of people say they work harder than everyone else at their workplace. People will still say they’re an above average driver even after they’ve had a car crash.

    Most people will bend their own realities rather than diminish their perception of themselves.

  21. The other weekend I went out with some friends with the intention of going home early, after a little while was ready to leave but stayed out anyway. I felt sick the next day and provided no productivity. I find it difficult to do the right thing on occasion, even when I know with a high level of accuracy what the right thing is. I believe this is due to some conflicting meme’s in my brain creating cognitive dissonance.

  22. I like to have a can of soft drink when I get home from work, I know it may have too much sugar and may not be good for me but because I like it so tell myself it’s ok to have it.

  23. I experience cognitive dissonance quite often when discussing performance cars with others. Each and every person has a different view on different components and their function. Quite often opinions clash and further investigation can prove a more likely truth.

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