Cognitive Dissonance

potter__s_chaos_legion_by_dinosaurusgede-d2xlq9vI’m currently reading a fan-fiction called Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (awesome by the way), and I found this gem 41% in.  It’s a conversation between Harry and Dumbledore about death. Dumbledore is saying that he is OK with dying, and Harry is arguing that it is crazy to say that you are OK with it.

See there is a little thing called cognitive dissonance, or in plainer English, sour grapes.  If people were hit on the heads with truncheons once a month, and no one could do anything about it, pretty soon there’d be all sorts of philosophers, pretending to be wise, who found all sorts of amazing benefits to being hit on the head with a truncheon once a month.  Like, it makes you tougher, or it makes you happier on the days when you’re not getting hit with a truncheon.  But if you went up to someone who wasn’t getting hit, and you asked them if they wanted to start, in exchange for those amazing benefits, they’d say no.  And if you didn’t have to die, if you came from somewhere that no one had ever heard of death, and I suggested to you that it would be an amazing wonderful great idea for people to get wrinkles and old and eventually cease to exist, why, you’d have me hauled right off to a lunatic asylum!  So why would anyone possibly think any thought so silly as that death is a good thing?  Because you’re afraid of it, because you don’t really want to die, and that thought hurts so much inside you that you have to rationalize it away, do something to numb the pain, so you won’t have to think about it -“

This is a very poignant explanation for cognitive dissonance in my view.  Can you try to apply the truncheon logic to more situations in your life?  I can think of a few.  I might explore them some more.

I’m a vegetarian, vegan wanna-be

vegetarian Ok, so my fist post will probably not be a Pulitzer prize winner, but I thought I’d start with the thing that I find creates the most cognitive dissonance among clever people.  Especially those who stand in favour of climate change and believe in science.  I guess it is proof again that cultural patterns are of such a strong nature that we sometimes cannot comprehend a world where certain practices and behaviours do not exist, never mind what science says.  We do readily engage in confirmation bias, clinging hopelessly to the few straws that prove that our behaviour is correct.  “My great aunt Bella lived to the ripe old age of 98, and she smoked 2 packs a day.”, or “She lived to 98 and ate her steak every day.” Both are equally stupid assertions.  We all know that in science there are levels of evidence, and one one-sided case study does not make an argument.  Fair enough.  People do not go out to disprove and change their most treasured habits.  If that were the case we would be living in utopia already.  I guess my biggest gripe with the issue of meat eating is the level of ignorance among people who should know better.  Sure, there are those that know, and decide not to act, living with their cognitive dissonance (quite willfully and uncomfortably).  But unfortunately there are those that should know, but know nothing.  Just yesterday a student asked me how I am able to be a vegetarian.  He could not fathom what I eat.  Really?  Then the more shocking question came:  “Why are you a vegetarian?”  I promptly gave a list of reasons, and I could see the glaze settling over his eyes like some primal coding kicking in and taking over – no, you will not listen to reason, you cannot live without it, refocus.  Ok, so how are things with Miley Circus.


Here are just two facts among the hundreds.  If they are true we should be rioting because of the inaction in the world.  (1). We have 7 billion people on this planet, it takes between 10kg and 20kg of food to produce just 1kg of meat.  (2). The only food that contain cholesterol are animal foods.  There is no cholesterol in plant food.  I rest my case.

(Don’t worry I’l definitely have more to say on this later)