[Paleopsych] making gross errors

Paul J. Werbos, Dr. paul.werbos at verizon.net
Sat Jan 1 15:40:50 UTC 2005

At 02:42 PM 12/31/2004, Michael Christopher wrote:

> >>If no one knows anything, how can we possibly expect
>NOT to be making gross errors, regularly?<<
>--Good question. And most of us don't have direct
>contact with the problems we discuss, so we HAVE to
>rely to a large degree on second and third hand
>information. Which introduces the element of bias,
>especially at times when large groups are becoming
>more and more polarized, convinced the other is evil
>as opposed to merely operating out of a different set

Indeed. The sheer complexity of the flow of information has
created a whole lot of 4th hand distortions, in MANY
areas of knowledge... but the filtering at each stage
is a major part of the problem.

There is some kind of spiritual collective intelligence effect, I would argue..
and even some biological approximations to that...

But there is also what Janis called "Groupthink," which is
a serious problem in our society as a whole. Corporate cultures
which prize loyalty and victory without concern for the search for
objective truth tend to be vulnerable to such aberrations in general.

My statement here was not intended as a disguised comment on the Iraq war 
as such or on the
blue state red state polarization. But certainly there have been times
when the projections we send to the Middle East have made me cringe with 
as with Gore's comment in the 2000 debates "make no mistake,
whatever else we do, I stand by Israel..." (There are times when how one
phrases or formulates a legitimate concern really do matter...  If he
had said "I will not tolerate genocide or actions intended to open the door 
to genocide
on either side..." and elaborated... it might have all gone very differently.
That may have been a decisive moment in history.)

>of axioms about human nature. And axioms about human
>nature are notoriously difficult to change, since they
>tend to grow out of one's personal sense of identity
>more than out of observation of a large number of
>specific instances of human behavior.

Certainly there are key axioms in people's logic which
are making problems seem intractable. For the immediate
dangers in the Middle East, the best-informed people I know
point to the simple belief that "dialogue" is unnecessary, unproductive
and essentially evil. That's one hell of an axiom to try to cope with.
Yet fundamentalists in the US or fanatics of almost any stripe tend to
share that same axiom, an axiom which almost REQUIRES either
a nervous breakdown or gross hypocrisy in the end, if the people
are really committed to the axiom.

Is that axiom an axiom about behavior? Really, it is more an axiom
in people's religious beliefs ... or in their inner vision of what the choices
of lifestyle are. Both aspects need to be considered. For all the horrors
of extreme fundamentalism... we should remember that there are
people in Iraq for whom "Islam" also means a comfortable existence
where the boys hang out with their buddies for hours, unthreatened,
in local tea houses or lodges -- and they don't want to be forced to turn into
the Borg, efficient wired-up robots in high-density housing without any 
real life
whose closest approach to nature is pictures in a perverted shopping mall...
Even Russia has recently shown the RESULTS of fears that Exxon would
corrupt their government, and REDUCE personal freedom even more than
the alternatives we complain about. Instead of condemning these folks
for their legitimate fears, we might think about how to address them 
Yes, they do bad things to themselves when they cringe with fear and
revert to reactionary forms of government, but can we work to find 
Yet to do that, we need to understand them better. Pure partisan ways
of thinking, without tempering by the objective search for truth,
have a way of blocking the understanding.

But then again -- axioms about humans and the human mind are also an important
part of the equation. It does make a difference what we believe about the soul,
and its connection to the affairs of the world. It makes a difference whether
people subscribe to primitive views of heaven versus hell, or proscriptions 
against abortion.
And it makes a difference whether people understand how the human mind -- 
brain or soul
or both -- is hard-wired to try to learn to do its very best and to 
overcome its initial mistakes,
using symbolic reasoning at times to escape from local minima.

With complex institutions like the Catholic Church, for example, truth
demands that we try to extract what is truly positive and hopeful, and what 
is truly dangerous and untrustworthy,
both at the same time. Both aspects of the church have been important to 
human development for
centuries now.

I have occasionally made quick comments about mullahs and TV preachers...
which may have been too quick at times. There is of course a diversity in 
all groups.
The specific Saudi mullahs who generate Al Queida membership espouse
axioms of thought and action which are nonsustainable -- inconsistent with 
human survival
and, in my view, inconsistent with spiritual survival. (I recall the part 
of the letter from Paul
where he says that those who have the law and not the spirit... have 
nothing, which is a polite
way of putting it.) But Al-Sistani in Iraq seems to have a certain degree 
of spiritual authenticity,
more than anyone else I have heard of in the Middle East in this century.

But that leads into a point which is very difficult to discuss. Even in 
psychology, there was a debate about "thanatos," a death impulse. Real or not?
(It's not part of our modern mathematical formulation of Freudian 
What about evil and such? Hard to ignore such question when discussing the 
Middle East.
And THEIR axioms about Evil are certainly part of what destabilizes the 
In fact -- many people in the Middle East have reverted back to Zoroastrian 
so extreme... I could picture Mohammed asking, in exasperation, "Why did I 
even TRY
with these people? They just fall back on the same old stuff I tried to 
help them out of..."
(And I can imagine Jesus saying the same about TV preachers trying to 
convert everyone
to being Pharisees. But curiously enough he actually warned about that sort 
of stuff
well in advance... "Many will come in my name...")

And so... there IS stuff going on in the Middle East which I would regard
as very real but very destructive (self-destructive) on the spiritual level.
When Al-Zarkawi takes such deep pleasure in personally dripping himself in 
blood and announces that
"Iraqi blood tastes better than American blood"... we have to be sober 
about what we are facing.
People may be hurting themselves more than anyone else, because of THEIR 
misguided axioms about
how things work, but it could hurt everyone if they push the entire area 
into orgies of self-destruction.

Again, I have been very impressed by a few subtle points in Modesitt's 
recent science fiction,
  the Ethos Effect.

>  At times, the
>study of human beings is actively discouraged (or
>dismissed as "psychobabble" or "academic elitism") in
>favor of folk theories about what human beings are and
>what behavior means. We could all do with a dose of
>humility. I suspect neither side in a polarity has the
>full view, and the more each reacts against the other,

I am not entirely sure which polarity you are referring to in these sentences.
There are many.

In fact... when I think about the barriers to deeper knowledge of the human 
in US universities today... much of it reminds me of what that friend once 
said about
"how do you do therapy on a jellyfish?" But then again, the schism between
science and the soul is not a jellyfish thing. That is the deepest polarization
in our understanding.

Humility is certainly a key part of the search for truth.
But... this leads into very large issues... and I have written to many words
already here, I suspect...

Happy New Year...


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