Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sympathizing with my mind

It is tiring.  Boring, too.  Hefting back open my mind over and over in an attempt to stay accessible to possibilities.  I read John Tukey and everything he wrote enriches my life.  I read John Kemeny and new vistas open up.  I can't avoid remembering the sources of insight, the authors that have helped me grow.  So, it is only natural that past experiences have given me both guidance but also prejudice in the matter of where to look for ideas that ring true.  But people, me and others, change.  No one hits a home run all the time.

Sometimes, my favorite authors may write things that don't help.  They may confuse or err.  I try to stay alert to those times when another voice, sometimes one I have rejected several times before, have a message I need, one that this time clarifies, gives perspective, shows the way.  

One of my favorite words is "counterintuitive".  Some things are counterintuitive.  Trying threading a pipe into a socket when the two have left-handed threads.  Try using your mouse in the opposite hand.  Try driving in Britain on the left-hand side of the road or just getting in the car to drive only to find the steering wheel on the opposite side of the car. Sometimes, what feels right isn't, what ought to be is wrong.  

Wray Herbert in On Second Thought:

Constant switching can be perilous, in everything from financial matters to romantic judgments, so we have become averse to hopping around. But this powerful urge for steadiness can also lock us into a bad choice. Just imagine Carruthers' ski party standing out there on the slope, chatting with the members of the other ski party. At this point, they could have made the decision to turn around and go home. Perhaps the snowpack seemed too unstable, or a certain gully looked worrisome. The skiers were no doubt taking in all this information, but they were not deliberating the pros and cons with their full mental powers because they had really already made their choice. The heuristic mind doesn't like to second-guess itself once it has momentum, and these skiers already had two hours of trekking invested in this decision. It would have taken a lot of mental effort to process all the logical arguments for turning around and going home. So they didn't. They stuck to their plan because they were cognitively biased toward going ahead rather than switching gears. They were stubborn, but not in the way we commonly use the word to mean an obstinate attitude. Their brains were being stubborn, in the most fundamental way, right down in the neurons. We default hundreds of times a day, simply because it's effortful to switch plans. We stay in relationships that are going nowhere simply because it's easier than getting out. We buy the same brand of car our father did and hesitate to rearrange our stock portfolio. And we uncritically defer to others who make decisions for us—policy makers, who make rules and laws based on the assumption that we will act consistently rather than question.

Herbert, Wray (2010-09-14). On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind's Hard-Wired Habits (pp. 6-7). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

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