Spiritual Insurrection

Cognitive Illusions

Only a collective epiphany can save us now.

Charles Peterson

The human eye has a blind spot – a small portion of the visual field, about the size of a pencil eraser – where the optic disk is located. We aren’t normally aware of this blind spot, but with one eye closed, any object passing through this small area will disappear momentarily. Our visual field appears seamless because of an optical illusion: Our mind conspires to fill in the blank area with the colors of what surrounds it. We have other blind spots too – a whole series of what psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls “cognitive illusions” – that our minds and our culture work to obscure.

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman, a Nobel laureate for his work in behavioral economics, uncovers several mental blind spots. There is, for example, the “focusing illusion”: When we focus on a single factor like how much money we make, we inevitably overestimate its importance to our overall well-being. This explains why surveys consistently report that people think they would be happier if they were wealthier while also proving on the contrary that rich people are no more happy than the less wealthy. The same distortion of reality happens when we focus on any single factor, from whether we live in California to whether we own the latest gadget.

Some cognitive illusions are more pernicious than others. Kahneman has identified one cognitive illusion in particular that overturns the core assumptions of capitalism. He calls it the “endowment effect”: we exaggerate the value of objects that we possess. In one experiment, Kahneman collected a random group of students. Half the students were given a coffee mug and the other half were asked to buy those very same mugs from their classmates with their own money. Typical economic theory would say that the two sides would haggle and eventually come to a mutually agreeable price – that the market would self-regulate. In a review of Thinking, Fast and Slow, Freeman Dyson explains what actually happened: “The average prices offered in a typical experiment were: sellers $7.12, buyers $2.87. Because the price gap was so large few mugs actually sold.” Sellers ground the market to a halt, overvaluing their mug simply because they possessed it. “The experiment convincingly demolished the central dogma of classical economics,” Dyson writes.

Kahneman’s “illusion of validity” describes the tendency of experts to trust their own judgment. Dyson refers to the example of the “Apgar score” (a statistical formula that uses heart rate, breathing, reflexes, muscle tone and color to judge the health of newborn babies) to illustrate this illusion. Turns out that the Apgar score “does better than the average doctor in deciding whether the baby needs immediate help.” In other words, a basic formula anyone can do consistently outperforms the opinion of a trained medical professional.

Applying the illusion of validity undermines experts across all disciplines, including economics. After studying the “investment outcomes of some twenty-five anonymous wealth advisers” over the course of eight consecutive years, Kahneman discovered that they performed just about as well as random chance. Their management of financial flows, Kahneman concluded, is a “dice-rolling contest, not a game of skill.” And yet, Kahneman also found that these same experts will persist in believing their intuitive judgments are correct, forcing them on us all, even in the face of tremendous counter-evidence. As Dyson puts it, “the illusion of validity does not disappear just because facts prove it to be false.” Breaking through this barrier is the essential crux and challenge of cultural jammers.

We live in a world where a constellation of cognitive illusions – that infinite growth can be sustained on a finite planet, that consumerism can make us happy, that corporations are persons – are dragging us into an ecological apocalypse. These cognitive illusions won’t disappear because they’ve been proven false – they must be overcome at a deeper level. We need something other than rationality, statistics, scientific thought … we need something more, even, than what has passed for activism thus far. We must spark an epiphany, a worldwide flash of insight that renders our blind spots visible once and for all. This collective awakening begins the moment we look inward and ask ourselves: Am I caught inside a grand cognitive illusion?

Micah White

82 comments on the article “Cognitive Illusions”

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Anonymous

2012, far from being the end of the universe, is actually an acceleration point for the spiritual frequency of the universe and an auspicious opportunity for humans to evolve their consciousness to understand reality, devoid of cultural cognitive delusions that are causing the seeming destruction of The Earth. Some beings will not be capable of throwing off their willful ignorance to ride the rising tide of evolution and will be left behind in confusion over this new reality dawning. Others, who are more evolved and who are continuing to be open to even greater evolutionary possibilities, will begin to have epiphanies at an accelerating rate, and will seize the moment to become the co-creative dynamos we are destined to be. This is the greatest time in history to be alive on The Earth.

Anonymous

that sounds sorta' nice, I do hope you are correct. However I would like to see more positive news now, there seems to be a degeneration of humanity and the planet currently,. where is the positive change?? Where will it come from?

Anonymous

Maybe the biggest illusion is how humans overvaluate themselves. It only takes a while of honest observation to conclude that humans are inherently evil, even among saints (those are useful to cover the evil priests) for example. Another one: even Hitler would be nice with his family and friends, just like criminals can be with theirs and we're with ours. Now lets take this article and read between the lines how it advocates depopulation with arguments like UN in Rio + 20 just, absurdly, approved yesterday. So, fellow demons, oops, humans: humanity is nothing more than a bunch of %*&$#. And that’s teh only possible world. Sleep with one eye opened.

Knotworkpathway

Even if there was an economic collapse so what? Then we live with less, find new ways to live. Stop bitching about inane bullshit and complaining about download speeds and delayed text messages. We have exploited the third world for so long if we end up in a similar boat it wouldn't be surprising. Maybe its what we need, maybe it would be good for us.

Some people would want to cling to the illusion and that would be the cause of their unease and panic. Imagine the mass hysteria on the street of people who can no longer afford to eat fast food multiple times a day or put gas in their cars. Jobs would disappear from Starbucks and Walmart would have half empty shelves mostly of bulk goods.

People would grow their own vegetables and become physically active, would have more time to be and appreciate the simple things in life that are covered over by the spectre of the digital apparatus, the mind control paradigm of desire and excess ready at a click to bemuse our pop-psyche lives with consumerist fantasies and grandeur's delusions.

Do governments really believe this collapse would lead to total anarchy? Or would we just go back to living slow time, to being natural beings of our environments instead of interloping expletives who seek the bondage and pillage of our planet for the gains of convenience noise and pollution. What great treasures have been lost to our minds eye at the detriment produced by having everything available to us whenever we demand it. How has our innate drive to living life been subsumed by the frenetic pulsation of cyber notions, half-finished epitomes to the disastrous consequences of a civilization gone awry.

How then be it as it may could we possibly lose? What is lost is the frivolity of the availably comfortable , what we have become accustomed to is not necessarily the standard that is best for actualizing our human experiences. Whatever that means. Its uncertain at this point. But clearly there is a downturn ahead if its not already here. Why not accept that it is a means to further understanding our human natures, instead of viewing it as a crippling depression which will slowly erode our safety nets and progress.

What is the purpose of a school system and funds for text books when children could own 1 iPod and just through playing with it we could deduce their interests from a young age and already have them growing into who they are instead of forcing them through structured settings and mandatory course curriculum's.

What is the purpose of fertilizing our lawns if not just to impress the neighbours. Is it really that much of a wow I just dropped some wicked acid feelings to come home and see your lawn is really really green? All that was needed was some roundup and a willingness to believe casually spraying poisonous toxins around was a great thing as long as it made the grass green.

It seems like the level of absurdity encroaching on our great civilizations has been building for some time, and the more absurd it gets the greater the denial and the lesser the reason. This is why militaries fear public uprisings, because they know about the extraordinary madness of crowds, especially in large numbers. When they're demands are to have equality to some ideal that was first brought into our consciousness in the 50's, the pressure has been too great. The successful operating frequencies of our civilization 1st world earth, have gone beyond the moon and eventually that line had to fall back down to earth and eventually an empty social citation will take on character and content rather than the shallow and superficial gestures of observation made by the tailored pamper wearing generations that inherited all the spoils of the world,

Whats more is less and what we search for cannot be found. When economies get worse humans should get better, because whats of value begins to emerge and what is of worth begins to be cultivated. The bubbles always pop eventually, but there are always more, a strong populace could recognize the illusions as they came and adapt as they gave way. What has true value is atemporal and will always remain ungraspable and unattainable. We can only create illusions and ideas to exalt the excesses of perception which seek to enshrine the temporal and impermanent into some kind of consumer model of human cognition driven by the urge to understand.

The urge that has been created in our generations through a consumerist paradigm have created the creeping malaise that now is upon us, the dissatisfaction with the illusion and our inability to usurp it in everyday life. That same desire however that has been bred into us by television has reached a metamorphosis through the internet. A gestalt of ideas, crescendo's of thought forms on the cusp of totality and integration of the entirety of things. A singularity point where our collective awareness depolarizes into a distilled sense of knowing. And here we find our power as living beings regained from the manufactured dreamscapes of the corporate media so over sold to us the perceptions they would seek us to wear of ourselves; and at what price did they pay the cost of our diminishing returns?. The true value could never be lost.

Relationship

and some like the same cars and anything else by sharing it for everybody, not your feelings but who is in control over the whole situation if not the control of feeling to overcome this territory of the fittest?! or its because people like fast cars or/and have an expensive taste, we all have to pay and by that be segregated because we cant afford it? or only the rich can drink the "best" rice wine ever, or drive the most beautiful of cars? because they worked, and gave their life away? how many life, one? his or her fortune? or the lives of the people who worked for his/her desires...is that what this world is, to be only, one,in the top, among others? or its because it was already there that you must obey its very complex and yet prehistorical economic system? or to built a new onw, filled with mistakes, but a more sociable one, where the state gets all for free, and the private bussiness cant grow to a certian level because that will make them to dificult to manage, like a new york state spaceship? well, can it be that the machine is too big to handle? and those in control know that and because they need another scpaceships and to give control away, they wont do it peacefull and by that control us by using the military against our own people, like what happend in Venezuela in the 2003, when Chavez military started to loose it and started to hit woman? or because it was in the media, and in the manipulated media it was a lie? please, socialist, capitalist, the world you guys live is old, the spaceship is already full, maybe with only those who want that it can work, so to make a divided government, one capitalistic, one socialist, one green, and one ohters, and share the wealth in all of those system will make this world a better one, so please, im not just saying, im also giving orders....just fight in the parliament and pressure the city of country to make changes around, votation is controlled so by no means it will make the difference, and by public and private pressure, by marches, by examples, by support, this world would be better, and soldiers, people who gave their trust to the queen or god or anyother entity, please, its not for them, its for us, some are just lost and have to be oriented, but not with death nor a broken jail system, nor the lack of economical support in the poorest places, but to encaurage the high, media and media high classes to help the syste to become a multisysmatic system and each of the places can have a saying, and not against nature, thats what some will say, no, though rulees against those who infringe sacred places and nature, a national rule, and thats the link that changes the world...and this is special to those in power, the oriental trade system, the Arabic trade system, the western trade system, the American and LatinAmerican trade system, the Australian trade system...maybe its just a science, but the missing element is earth and it changed with greed, so, yes, you guys have the control, and power, and we are just subject to your decisions, but hey, its time to change...please..from.a middle class poet-activist-and ridiculous preacher...

Anonymous

450 words of broken English just to insert slander against Hugo. You're not fooling anyone paid poster.

Anonymous

Sounds like the kind of "broken English" a couple of A.F. captains in Alexandria, not Egypt, and another one in Tel Aviv like to use in the Latin-themed scripts they produce for the trolls on your favorite online forums. Process fear - those are the standing orders of the day and every day.

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