The Man vs. Brain project (yes, it is a project, not just random shit) is devoted to examining the thinking processes that make us think the way we think. Right now, I’ve got a backlog of issues that I’m thinking about, like immigration, how we choose clothes for work, the cognitive model behind those little socks people wear to make it look like they’re not wearing socks at all, how to systematically make unconscious processes into controlled, rational thinking tools etc.
Here’s a list of new candidates for the Man vs. Brain treatment, and some initial thoughts:
- Climate change: This is a very interesting one, because it’s not just a question of the science, but how strongly people feel about it. My gut tells me the strength of feeling has got nothing to do with climate science, it’s more to do with a clash of ideologies – after all it can’t be a coincidence that the supporters of climate change theories tend to be ranged to the political left, and find the climate change deniers tend to be ranged to the right (left and right in this context being academics, environmentalists, charities and younger vs. business interests, conservative political interests and older.) That could be a guess – my own confirmation bias at work – but I haven’t come across many people crossing over between those two categories, which suggests there’s a social and emotional dimension to the climate change debate that outweighs a logical exploration of the data.
- Political debates: Again, this is a really chewy one. Debating, especially in politics, is held in high regard as the only way to make a decision that is fair – however, debating is a very bad decision making process, because it’s designed to function like a game, with winners and losers. There are no winners and losers in a logical, rational decision making process – only consequences of choices made. In politics, this creates a phoney debating process, where the one thing we know before the debate begins, is regardless of what is said during the debate, none of the participants nor the majority of the audience will walk away having changed their opinion from how they felt about the debating topic before it began. Arguments don’t convince people to change their mind like that. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have concepts like ideology or be able to predict where one political party might stand vs. another. When people commit to politics, they commit to a set of rules that govern choices they’ll make for issues they haven’t even heard of. It’s the denial of logic, in advance. So why do we have debates?
- Pros & Cons: Making a list of pros and cons, positives and negatives, features, comparisons… it’s a process everyone can easily understand and feels perfectly logical. But is it? When you consider the process, it’s actually riddled with logical flaws. That’s mostly a function of the fact people seldom construct and objective set of criteria to list as pros and cons, they normally define their choice criteria based on an unconscious desire for the results to favour the choice they want to make. To explain, consider Apple computers vs. PCs. Depending on the way you feel about price, reliability, flexibility, software availability, games, what you want to use it for (etc.) then you could easily construct a list of pros and cons that will deliver one clear winner… both. What that means is the pro and con list is merely an emotional support – you’ve already chosen, now you’re constructing a faulty logical argument to support the choice you want to make.
- Sex: Not sure about this one, but sex is a topic that’s very interesting from a thinking point of view, because depending upon a whole range of emotional social factors, everyone has a different expectation of sex and sexuality. When, where and what you do for sex varies wildly, from lifts to bedrooms, one night stands to “only when we’re married”, full blown porn star action to lights off, lying flat on your back. And a million shades in between. It’s a fascinating world where our rational minds create complex sets of rules to govern our choices, but sex isn’t a rational choice. It’s a tough topic though, because we suffer an emotional response to even reading words like “fisting”, right? Thinking about it… that’s gotta hurt (mentally).
I’m always on the look out for more ideas – I’m setting up an opt-in mailing list (check back soon, I’ll announce it on Twitter) called “Crowd vs. Brain” to get suggestions. I’m also recruiting contributors to my forthcoming writing projects too – so if you fancy a bit of thinking about thinking (or metathinking) then be sure to sign-up.
All I have to do it think about why I haven’t done it yet (the mailing list… not climate change, political debates, listing pros and cons or sex).