Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Falling off the Ladder of Inference (Part II)

Please see Part I HERE
for the Introduction to the Ladder of Inference
and CranioRectal Inversion (CRI) #2     

Mental Tagging of Information

As I've defined the Ladder here, the third rung involves how we make sense of information so that we can store it and use it later – and how we make decisions about what to do in the present. That brings up an interesting element of this phase of the process: time and pressure. When factors place a limit on the time we have to observe, think, and then decided on a course of action, we encounter a whole other set of types of biases. If given more time and less pressure, we have the luxury of being more circumspect and discerning. Manipulators also take advantage of this kind of pressure, and unpleasant circumstances also affect how we both take in information but especially how we tag or categorize it.

Consider that the most neurally primal way of tagging memory to recall it later involves our sense of smell. If you know little to nothing about how the brain works, you can think about how close in proximity the nose is to the brain. It just so happens that data from one's sense of smell feeds directly into the emotional center in the brain anatomically through a crainal nerve. Sight and sound are not far behind, but olfactory sense becomes remarkably involved in long-term memory – a strongly emotionally driven process.

Consider also the fundamental function of the mind as well that has been often repeated in this discussion: the amazing thing about the human mind is not so much its ability to realize things and think. What is most remarkable, creative, resilient, enduring, and impressive is the manner in which the mind avoids information and thought that causes emotional discomfort. You might say that we are hardwired for denial which makes any objectivity quite a miracle in light of this very, very human trait. We like to ignore those things which we find distasteful or discomforting, and we like to focus on those things which enhance our feelings of well-being. We select what we take in from our environment as well as how we tag and store memory.

Interpretation: Yet Another Opportunity for Bias

The fourth rung on this interpretation of the ladder introduces another level of potential error, incongruence with objective reality, and self-serving mechanisms of the mind. Here we see more cognitive biases that line up with logical fallacies. Note again that fallacies attend to the study of error with a focus on logic, and cognitive bias focuses explaining the functional ways and means by which the mind departs from sound logic. Depending on the task, considering cognitive bias becomes more of a study of the wonder of how we arrive at logical conclusions. Again, I'm not so interested in where these things classify, because the biases build on one another and extend from one rung to the other. All of the previous processes guide and build upon how we draw conclusions from them.

The Lies We Believe

Basically, what we experience teaches us who we are, how the world works, and just how we fit into the process. We start out with very basic, “primitive,” self-centered beliefs as a starting point and then life proceeds to wake us up into bitter reality. We can learn collapsed, pessimistic views about who we are which is something that disappointments, failures, or chronic trauma teaches us. We can also learn lessons in life that give us a grandiose view of who we are and unrealistically optimistic “rules” and a basic “truths.” Somewhere in the middle there is balance that we learn through experience and healthy, interdependent relationships with others as we engage life.

The “leader” of the cult spoof Church of the Subgenius, J.R. “Bob” Dobbs says “Relax in the safety of your own delusions.” Have truer words ever been spoken, even if for the sake of slack? Sadly, that is where we will live our lives if our egos have anything to say. What is encouraging about this whole process of cognitive bias that it's at this place where we can really isolate and evaluate our thoughts as a good starting point. I stole the subheading from one of my favorite books on this topic (another subject to come under the grand heading of recovery from trauma).

And I would be remiss at this juncture if I passed up the opportunity to quote Sir Joshua Reynolds: “There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.” It helps to balance out the quote from Bob.

Action Follows Thought, then It's Déjà Vu All Over Again

And we arrive at rung six on my adaptation of the Ladder of Inference where we take all of what we've tagged and interpreted, misinterpreted, and concluded to choose a course of action (which can be inaction). When we act implicitly, without much or any active thought or consideration, we can shoot right up the ladder into bad decisions or ones that make no logical sense to another person. Our own, individualized process of arriving at choice and action makes sense to us and seems to work for us – though it usually involves no work whatsoever.

And because we proceed from what we already know, the next time a similar situation comes along, we have created a habit of using this same ladder unless we're given good cause to question some element of how we made it from the first rung to the last. We repeat mistakes without even realizing that they are mistakes – like the rest of the human race. But we can live more stable lives in the long run if we keep at the hard and oft' painful labor of thinking instead of enjoying the illusion of safety in delusion.

For Further Reading Until CRI #3:

As if two posts with a woman falling down stairs and feature quotes from J.R. “Bob” Dobbs, "The Club" member Reynolds, and Yogi Bera weren't frenetic enough, here's a silly skit that he did with Johnny Carson where he says, “Just the facts...” and more.  That Carson was a cute kid.