Monday, July 29, 2013

Knowing truth

I have talked before about truth and how my own belief in truth makes me act differently than sociopaths who may not believe in any objective or knowable truth. I was reading a talk by LDS President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "What is Truth" and was reminded of the recent "discovery" that sociopaths feel empathy, that so rocked people's previous conceptions about sociopaths that I received over a dozen emails about it. President Uchtdorf first tells the story of the blind men and the elephant:

One of the men finds the elephant’s leg and describes it as being round and rough like a tree. Another feels the tusk and describes the elephant as a spear. A third grabs the tail and insists that an elephant is like a rope. A fourth discovers the trunk and insists that the elephant is like a large snake. Each is describing truth. And because his truth comes from personal experience, each insists that he knows what he knows.
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It seems to be part of our nature as human beings to make assumptions about people, politics, and piety based on our incomplete and often misleading experience.
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So often the “truths” we tell ourselves are merely fragments of the truth, and sometimes they’re not really the truth at all.

Sociopaths can be equally susceptible to such



I thought of this talk when I saw this comment posted on someone's Facebook status about Edward Snowden being a whistleblower.

Snowden is not a whistleblower. He took no advantage of whistleblower protections. none. Zero. Nada. Zippo. His goal was self aggrandizement. Which pretty much failed. He's a crook. And should have the courage to face consequences. But he's weak. And scared. And stupid. He's seeking protection from Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, and the like. He will be remembered as a crook. Which is what he is. I'm no fan of prism, but snowden is a delusional young boy. And a coward. Whistle blowing dies not equal exposing state secrets. Ask Manning.

Particularly this part of the talk:

The “truths” we cling to shape the quality of our societies as well as our individual characters. All too often these “truths” are based on incomplete and inaccurate evidence, and at times they serve very selfish motives. Part of the reason for poor judgment comes from the tendency of mankind to blur the line between belief and truth. We too often confuse belief with truth, thinking that because something makes sense or is convenient, it must be true. Conversely, we sometimes don’t believe truth or reject it—because it would require us to change or admit that we were wrong. Often, truth is rejected because it doesn’t appear to be consistent with previous experiences. When the opinions or “truths” of others contradict our own, instead of considering the possibility that there could be information that might be helpful and augment or complement what we know, we often jump to conclusions or make assumptions that the other person is misinformed, mentally challenged, or even intentionally trying to deceive.

Things said with such certainty and with such scant support (either about sociopaths or any other thing that people assert as "truth") remind me of the Bertrand Russell quote: "One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision."

17 comments:

  1. This shows that our minds are filled with cultural
    misperceptions that mar our objectivity.
    Also, the negative traits we see in others, are
    preexistant in our own minds. Perception is reality.
    We think the problem is THOSE PEOPLE it's not. It's
    our inborn REACTION to "those people."
    If we have an adverse reaction to anything "outside"
    us we should examine our own mindset because the out-
    side is only reflective of the inside.
    You can't have a better world without better men.

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    Replies
    1. That's why it is wise to exercise judgement without succumbing to the mired image perceptions drive us to behave like.

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  2. The sad thing is, emotional bleating and arm-waving for purposes of securing social rapport with like-minded individuals will always be the easy way out. It's low risk, high reward. People respond positively to displays of confidence and conviction, and most people aren't discerning enough to be able to tell when that conviction is based on profound stupidity, ignorance, or a destructive lifestyle with long-term personal and interpersonal consequences. All they see is 'this person MEANS something and makes me FEEL something.' And usually the audience desperately start looking for that meaning, and if that fails they just make one up. In a way, the feelings come first, and then the person tries to justify them with facts and explanations.

    On the flip side, people that view a comment like that and put said individual onto their mental 'dipshit' roster tend to be less vocal about their disdain, creating an appearance of support as long as the arm-waver is halfway proficient at rhetoric. At worst the individual can expect a public debate and shaming, but as the adage goes, all press is good press because being able to stir up and 'control' conversation lends the appearance of social authority to people who are undecided about where they stand on any given topic.

    Dealing with the truth is remarkably difficult. What people want is consistency, not truth, and consistency requires making reality conform to perception rather than the other way around. They want a narrative for their lives written by a famous author, not a lottery of random events that lacks a point. And so unfounded convictions will always exist because someone's always trying to make the world fit into their personal story.

    A person's soul isn't something you can try to measure with some kind of 'better' or 'worse' value metric. There's all kinds of psychological tricks and explanations for the phenomena that we observe as a result of this basic component of human perception, but what it comes down to is objectivity is an illusion like the moon's reflection on a lake, and no amount of swimming will cross the distance to the moon's surface. This shit's way more complicated because it approaches the fundamental issue that humans are only incidentally in control of their own lives, and we're only just now developing the tools to be able to see that for ourselves in the way our bodies operate and in how our society operates in a memetic sense.

    It's gonna be one hell of a decade.

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    Replies
    1. Same poster. As an afterthought, it's often easy to find the emotional themes of a person's life in the convictions they hold the most blindly. If you want to know what a person will respond to, look at the ways they try to shape the world with their perceptions.

      For example, in the Snowden commentary it's easy to see that the person has a strong need for authority and probably covets it. They view themselves as the moral yardstick which the righteous should try to measure themselves to, and probably have some idealistic 'in a perfect world, everyone should aspire to this image' rolemodel that they express on a regular basis, be it a person, an organization, or an abstract idea. The person also views itself as a yardstick of truth, which is really what conviction is all about.

      If any of those elements broke down in that poster's life in a big way, they'd probably suffer a psychotic episode in response to having their identity maimed. And they're all on blatant display in the public emotional vomit that is facebook's news feed if a person has the eyes to spot them. That's always amused me and made me a bit uncomfortable, how much people are willing to put themselves on display for a bit of social approval.

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    2. Anonymous "as an afterthought" makes your "same poster" superfluous. But thanks anyway.

      Could you tell me what in M.E.'s article triggered your anger. Or was her earlier article on Snowdon on your mind? Or is all this wrong, since it was really the first rather innocous comment that triggered your anger?

      I cannot follow you from soul to mimetics I find the meme concept interesting and occasionally helpful. But for whatever reason I fail to grasp how you are using mimetics in the context of your last paragraph or for that matter how this last relates to the first two?

      Are you trying to suggest that Snowdon is a demagogue who does not realize the complexities and sensiblities of the larger "American interest", if you allow me to simplify the larger post 911 security world that way?

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    3. At what point do I seem angry? This legitimately fascinates me.

      Did you read anger into my brief sketch of the Snowden poster's psyche? Or was it a simple 'nobody can be arsed to type something that long if they're not motivated by some passion'? I also find it interesting that you took a discussion wholly aimed at the content delivery and decided to make it about the content. I did not at any point actually make a comment on Snowden's situation. Although I can, if that'll soothe your passive aggressive hostility.

      I was discussing, briefly, how the person whose comment ME uses in an example in the blog above is actually revealing far more about themselves than they are making a political and moral statement on Snowden's qualities, and how this phenomenon is symptomatic of the world we live in and will only become more prevalent. ME's post was about the fact that in our highly mimetic culture, ideas are slung around without any nod to their actual truth or falsity at an incredible rate, and the implications this has for stereotypes like the sociopath becoming self-sustaining because they're accepted at face value, and backed by mindless conviction, by the very nature of our culture. It also had a side-commentary of 'this is a perceptual trap that everyone falls into', but that's not the point.

      As far as my brief mention of soul vs the more technical nature of the rest of my discussion on people, I was chatting about how the majority of people tend to reduce the world to a 'good vs bad, us vs them, haters vs chill people, etc' approach which perpetuates this process because their judgment of people then winds up being binary. You're either in or you're out, like the first commenter said.

      What I continued to say is that there's really no way out of this trap into the fabled realm of "Objectivity" because people and situations are far more complex than our flawed facility to perceive them, and appeals to objectivity have more of a social function (judgment by a specific value system as represented by an individual's interpretation of it) than any actual capacity for making a purely 'rational' judgment because even we ourselves are more complex than our ability to understand. Even if we think we're being objective, we're not. Is an attempt to make progress good? Sure, but it's as unattainable as swimming to the moon in our current state as human beings.

      It was mostly a comment on the fallacy of a 'better world' in the first comment because 'better' is arbitrary and probably has systemic problems that we're not capable of perceiving in our limited view of it from where we are now.

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    4. Did you read anger into my brief sketch of the Snowden poster's psyche?

      A moderate form of scorn, disdain, spite. Maybe?

      I read it again. It is much more easy to grasp if one knows the object of your contempt. Or is that too strong a term too. Too emotional? Empathic rejection, fierce opposition? ... Critique, maybe?

      OK, I did not follow the link to Facebook to check the context. If I had, maybe, I would have more easily understood.

      Or was it a simple 'nobody can be arsed to type something that long if they're not motivated by some passion'?

      Ok, I read it differently now. But doesn't a more eleborate response to someone's false mindset needs a bit of passion? An educational passion maybe, if the person concerned had a chance to read the response? You could consider it not worth your attention.

      Concerning "passive agressive". Yes, I wondered if I should really start a response with a criticism, but then decided that the "thank you anyway", allievated it slightly.

      Nothing passive and nothing aggressive, really, about the desire to understand the object of your criticism.

      Delete
  3. Interesting M.E.

    Uchtdorf's speech I found interesting in connection with the article you linked to on twitter about the debate in the Mormon church.

    Good orator, but he looses me at the point he discusses the devil. Maybe I have to read it again but how does he suggest young Mormons can learn to differentiate between this (Please "Living God", give us blockquote html tags here):

    "The adversary has many cunning strategies for keeping mortals from the truth. He offers the belief that truth is relative; appealing to our sense of tolerance and fairness, he keeps the real truth hidden by claiming that one person’s “truth” is as valid as any other.

    versus this:

    "My young friends, as you accept the responsibility to seek after truth with an open mind and a humble heart, you will become more tolerant of others, more open to listen, more prepared to understand, more inclined to build up instead of tearing down, and more willing to go where the Lord wants you to go."

    I find it highly interesting to encounter a Mormon and to get some glimpes into the Mormon church, about which admittedly I do not know much. And the little I know may be a bit biased by other people*s fears. E.g. I may not completely understand why on earth the Mormon's bapticized a German painter I like, he was Jewish and killed during the Holocaust. In any case I realized that some Jewish people find that really threatening concerning a potential deception of their potential decendents in times ahead. ... The discovery led me into the legal field of dead people's rights. But I have no idea what it may mean to the average Mormon? Is he trying to get all his supposed ancestors into "heaven"? Is there some type of training connected with it?

    Restoration pretty hard to grasp. I have to take a closer look.

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  4. Mormons are in the process of collecting everybody's
    name who has ever lived. They store the names in an
    underground vault. I guess they think they're doing
    humanity a favour, like the Polish nuns who pray for
    the souls of the Jews killed in the Holocast in the
    Ashwitz concentracion camp.
    We have a wrong concept of time and place. Mormons
    are called "The Church Of The Latterday Saints.
    What can you obtain in the "Latterdays" that you can't
    obtain now?
    Time has meaning in the material world, but not the
    spiritual. Peace and joy are now or never. You don't
    have to fearfully proform religious rituals now to
    garner a place in a future Heaven and everybody else
    is going to Hell. That is a salvation dependant on
    works. The New Testament says salvation comes from
    grace.

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  5. May I suggest "Why I Am Not A Christian," also by the wonderful Mr. Bertrand Russell?

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    Replies
    1. Why should this person's opinion matter?

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    2. Because his arguments are logical and compelling, and he supports every premise he makes. Why else?

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  6. If truth is incomplete, or even false, due to perception, then what is left but to question?

    And if questioning is all we have, what questions should we ask to ensure that we are getting the most out of our lives, with respect to ourselves and those around us?

    These are questions that have been bothering me for most of my life and especially since I was diagnosed as sociopathic. Being self-absorbed certainly has its perks, but without a bigger picture, and without a picture that is unmarred by my perception, how can I truly grow? As with the elephant allegory, we all see from different angles and what we see may only be true insofar our perception reaches.

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    Replies
    1. Read your blog. Curious, have you had correspondence with M.E.?

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  7. i loved the elephant story... Elegant elephants, everywhere, enjoy eating eggs!

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  8. I just wanted to let you know that what you do really affects peoples lives and that people - like me - truly appreciate it.
    www.wedding-bliss.org |

    ReplyDelete

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