“Our whole life is startlingly moral. There is never an instant’s truce between virtue and vice.” -Thoreau


If you’re playing dice, and you throw seven 7s in a row, you might consider it remarkable, although the likelihood of throwing a 10, 2, 3, 6, 12, 4, and 9, is the same as that of throwing seven 7s. Why is it then that we remember the one and forget the other? It is because our survival as a species depends upon our ability to recognize patterns, the result being that we take advantage of some patterns (such as the seasonal changes that indicate the best time to plant); avoid other patterns (such as the increased risk of being hit by falling rocks during ice melt in high mountains); and imagine still others (as in the case of throwing seven 7s).

I felt frightened when I learned how prevalent randomness is because I took it to mean that I had less control over my destiny than I imagined. I later concluded that, whereas a realistic recognition of what is and isn’t a pattern might not make me feel as safe, it gives me more actual control. Take the case of a ballplayer who pitches a no-hitter while wearing red underwear, and concludes that his future success is more dependent upon red underwear than regular practice. Or consider those who are so enslaved by OCD that they wash their hands a certain number of times at certain intervals, weigh their food to achieve a multiple of that same number, and so on. Belief in an untruth takes energy from productive thoughts and activities and puts it into thoughts and activities that are a waste of time if not destructive.

Another error we humans often make in interpreting reality is that we limit our judgment of what causes an event to that which we either most want to be the cause or most fear to be the cause. For example, a person who is deathly afraid of cancer might interpret every ache and pain as advanced cancer, whereas another person—one who once had cancer—might believe that remission was brought about by chanting the Hare Krishna mantra 1,065 times a day.

Sad to say, a wrong conclusion that is irrationally drawn is less susceptible to being overturned than a wrong conclusion that is rationally drawn. The reason for this is that if you draw a wrong conclusion through rationality, you’re more likely to be open to changing your conclusion through rationality because it is with rationality that your allegiance lies; whereas if you draw a wrong conclusion through an allegiance to that which lacks a rational foundation, how are you to be reached?

19 comments:

Stephen Hayes said...

if you reach a wrong conclusion through an allegiance to that which lacks a rational foundation, how are you to be reached? Clearly, these people can't be reached through logic. Maybe an emotional approach? I find that people generally believe what they need to believe and logic has very little to do with it.

Snowbrush said...

"I find that people generally believe what they need to believe and logic has very little to do with it."

As David Hume put it, "Reason is slave to passion." However, things that we don't want to believe (and therefore do our best to disregard) have a way of kicking us in the teeth. A person can carry wishful just thinking so far.

Linda said...

It is hard to reason with a person ruled by wishful thinking. All their desires are immutable truths.

Elephant's Child said...

I am fairly comfortable with the random nature of life. Trying to control those things I can sometimes wears me out, so it is nice to just go with the flow on the others. Laziness? Perhaps.

Lisa said...

Why are you always so damn interesting Snow ? You never fail to make me think !

angela said...

I find people want to believe in th best outcomes most of the time. I think we need that or we would all just be lining up to shoot ourselves. I like to believe in the best outcome, but lately I'm being sorely tested. I hope I pass

rhymeswithplague said...

I know you include me in that group, but I am pretending that you do not.

Rick Watson said...

I wish I weren't wishing my life away.
R

kj said...

Hi snow, I think that ball player who pitches a no hitter is likely to keep wearing his red underwear but not at the expense of practice. Reminds me of a favorite expression: trust in god but tie up your camel :-)

Random chaos is an established pattern in nature, in our heartbeats. There is evidence of strength in what seems like randomness

As to beliefs, rational of not, I have mine . I believe in positive visualization and I don't tend to question why things unfold. I don't hold back from seeing connections and synchronicities: 8 years ago my daughter both bought houses and moved at the same time and now this has happened again , this time we both have found improbable 'dream' houses we should not have been able to afford. Coincidence? I don't think so.

I believe I am an open minded person. I have strong opinions but I benefit from seeing another perspective. But I am also intolerant, and I think this goes to your final point . I cannot for the life of me understand how anyone could rail against the harm of global warming or the benefit of finding a humanized solution to immigration . I could offer up more examples easily. And, I find it is rare when I find someone with rigid (irrational) beliefs where we are able to reach common ground. I don't even try as much as I used to

There may be disagreement about which camp of rationality or irrationality I belong in :-)

Thought provoking post, mr snowbrush xo

Love
kj

Charles Gramlich said...

People do indeed waste huge amounts of time on wrong beliefs, sometimes quite obviously wrong ones. I always say that humans are primarily emotional, not rational. All of us can stand a little 'waste" in our lives but some folks allow it to completely overtake their worlds and as a result accomplish virtually nothing that helps to move themselves and the human race forward.

The Blog Fodder said...

Many people believe they are being rational and logical when in fact they are believing what they want to believe and ignoring the rest. There are a great many facts, many of which we are unaware of. Which are included and which excluded make a difference. Once we have made up our minds based on the then available facts, we tend to filter out those which don't match up. No matter how hard we try, we are still human.

Strayer said...

I wanted my car to keep on running. I knew from past experience with cars, and common sense, this would not happen, that it would, as it achieved higher mileage, begin to wear down and break down. Wishful thinking has not kept it running as I had so hoped. Darn it! Maybe I should pray for my car.

Snowbrush said...

"Why are you always so damn interesting Snow ?"

I give most of the credit to a steady diet of strong drugs.

"trust in god but tie up your camel"

Voltaire said it better: "God is...on the side of those who shoot best." (Of course, the fact that Voltaire has since died surely proves that God doesn't like smart-ass philosophers.)

"I wish I weren't wishing my life away."

I'm wishing that you are a rich and powerful publisher who is so taken by my blog that you will arrange book and movie rights and expect nothing in return.

"Trying to control those things I can sometimes wears me out, so it is nice to just go with the flow on the others. Laziness?"

Or Taoism: "The dude abides, man." (from "The Big Lebowski," a wonderful movie rich in Taoism")

"I find people want to believe in the best outcomes most of the time."

Which might be why we are ignoring our pending fiscal and ecological disaster, at least in the US, where our motto is: "What we don't worry about can't hurt us."

"I always say that humans are primarily emotional, not rational."

Sad but true.

"I think that ball player who pitches a no hitter is likely to keep wearing his red underwear but not at the expense of practice."

But would he practice as much, find it easier to blow off practice, fall to pieces when his magic underwear falls to pieces or got left at home?

"Maybe I should pray for my car."

Or erect a tombstone with the simple sentiment: "R.I.P" You can then take all the leftover dirt from burying it and use it for a garden.

"Once we have made up our minds based on the then available facts, we tend to filter out those which don't match up."

The fly is in the pudding, as it were, which means that we are well-advised to leave room for humility.

"It is hard to reason with a person ruled by wishful thinking. All their desires are immutable truths."

It would appear so inasmuch as nothing in the way of religious belief is ever retracted, although the evidence against a certain proposition sometimes becomes so great that the meaning of the belief is transmogrified, as when that which was considered fact is re-made into metaphor.

"I know you include me in that group, but I am pretending that you do not."

You're a clever boy today! As others have hinted, I think we're all in that group, the difference being the precepts according to which we at least try to live. You look to religious faith, and it leads you to say, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed," implying that: "Cursed are those who have not seen and yet have not believed". I suppose it's fair to say that you and I each see the other as damned, whether in a manner of speaking (as in my evaluation of you) or literally (as I think might be the way you see me).

PhilipH said...

In the end, it matters not one jot or tittle.

When I was in the bookie game we saw all types: pessimists, optimists, superstitious, rational punters, sticking a pin in punter.

The rational punter tended to study form and listen to 'insider' gossip. The 'pin-sticker' punter was an optimist. Both of these tended to back losers more than winners. Both usually ended up losing money over time; the bookie tended to survive, but some smaller bookies went bankrupt.

We had a saying in the bookie game:
"On the turf and under it, all men are equal."

As I grow older my general attitude is simply to say "Fuck it" and leave it at that.

In which camp would you place Hitler, Einstein, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mother Theresa? Does it matter?

Stafford Ray said...

Hello Mate. Nice to see you are still challenging the irrational.

rhymeswithplague said...

There you go again, Snow, putting words into my mouth that aren't there, and I could really learn to resent it if I wanted to (I don't want to). "Damned" is hyper-Calvinist. "Damned" is ultra-Presbyterian. I'm neither. Where there's life, there's hope, that's what I say. Love conquers all. And other optimistic expressions. "Damned"? No, at least not yet. Lost? Quite possibly. But being lost is not the lost person's fault. Refusing to be rescued, though, now that takes cojones. And, I might add, is highly irrational.

Snowbrush said...

Hello, mate, yourself, Stafford. Good to see you.

"There you go again, Snow, putting words into my mouth that aren't there"

I don't know what you disagree with. In this response, you talk about what a horrible word damned is, but then you say,

"'Damned"? No, at least not yet."

clearly implying that I will be due to the fact that I'm "lost," and "refusing to be rescued," so how did I portray your beliefs unfairly? Am I on the road to hell, or am I not, and what is hell in your view, a "lake of fire," or simply some place where it's twilight all the time and everyone is miserable because God never goes there?

rhymeswithplague said...

As Tonto or somebody once said, white man speaks with forked tongue.

Hell is whatever it is, but if it's anything like having the shingles, I certainly don't want to go there. But if it's like twilight and we both end up there, let's form a group like this one (1:32).

Snowbrush said...

"But if it's like twilight and we both end up there, let's form a group like this one (1:32)."

Do you ever question where you will spend your next life?

I just now saw your comment on the blog instead of in my email. In my email, the link didn't show up, so I thought you meant to say a "group" like we have here in blogland, and I took that to be a very great compliment, although I was surprised that you seemed to be saying that you and I just might both end up in hell, and that's what got me to wondering if you ever worry about hell.