Sunday, July 31, 2016

Feelings vs Facts

Last week John Oliver did a hilarious take-down of speakers at the Republican Convention who expressed their "feelings" that things were awful in the country. If you haven't seen it, go there now, then come back.

I bring it up because of the segment with Newt Gingrich:

Gingrich says, "The current view is that liberals have a whole set of statistics which theoretically may be right, but it's not where human beings are."

And despite our laughter and disdain, Gingrich is probably right.

The reason this is so is explained by cognitive scientist George Lakoff in his book, Don't Think of an Elephant! : Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, who speaks of "a set of myths believed by liberals and progressives:"
These myths come from a good source, but they end up hurting [progressives] badly.

The myths began with the Enlightenment, and the first one goes like this:

... If we just tell people the facts, since people are basically rational beings, they'll all reach the right conclusions.

But we know from cognitive science that people do not think like that. People think in frames. The strict father [conservative] and nurturant parent [progressive] frames each force a certain logic. To be accepted, the truth must fit people's frames. If the facts do not fit a frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off. Why?

Neuroscience tells us that each of the concepts we have – the long term concepts that structure how we think – is instantiated in the synapses of our brains. Concepts are not things that can be changed just by telling us a fact. We may be presented with facts, but for us to make sense of them, they have to fit what is already in the synapses of the brain. Otherwise facts go in and then they go right back out. They are not heard, or they are not accepted as facts, or they mystify us. Why would anyone have said that? Then we label the fact as irrational, crazy, or stupid. That's what happens when progressives "just confront conservatives with the facts." It has little or no effect, unless the conservatives have a frame that makes sense of the facts.

Similarly, a lot of progressives hear conservatives talk and do not understand them because they do not have the conservatives' frames. They assume that conservatives are stupid.

1 comment:

Uncle Ted said...

And there is this, from The Unpersuadables by Will Storr:

By the time you have reached adulthood, your brain has decided how the world works—how a table looks and feels, how liquids and authority figures behave, how scary rats are. It has made countless billions of little insights and decisions. It has made its mind up. From then on, its treatment of any new information that runs counter to those views can sometimes be brutal. Your brain is surprisingly reluctant to change its mind. Rather than going through the difficulties involved in rearranging itself to reflect the truth, it often prefers to fool you. So it distorts. It forgets. It projects. It lies.

He’s talking about your brain and mine, not just Republicans’ brains. -- Virginia Ted