#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. 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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…

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  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.

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