Thursday, January 16, 2014

No, Socrates, No

The results of the study: introspection is not reliable. When we soul-search, we contrive the findings.

The belief that reflection leads to truth or accuracy is called the introspection illusion. This is more than sophistry. Because we are so confident of our beliefs, we experience three reactions when someone fails to share our views. Response 1: Assumption of ignorance. The other party clearly lacks the necessary information. If he knew what you knew, he would be of the same opinion. Reaction 2: Assumption of idiocy. The other person has the necessary information, but his mind is underdeveloped. He cannot draw the obvious conclusions. In other words, he's a moron. Response 3: Assumption of malice. Your counterpart has the necessary information — he even understands the debate — but he is deliberately confrontational. He has evil intentions. This is how many religious leaders and followers treat disbelievers: if they don't agree, they must be servants of the devil!

In conclusion: nothing is more convincing than your own beliefs. We believe that introspection unearths genuine self-knowledge. Unfortunately, introspection is, in large part, fabrication posing two dangers: first, the introspection illusion creates inaccurate predictions of future mental states. Trust your internal observations too much and for too long, and you might be in for a very rude awakening. Second, we believe that our introspections are more reliable than those of others, which creates an illusion of superiority. Remedy: be all the more critical with yourself. Regard your internal observations with the same scepticism as claims from some random person. Become your own toughest critic.