Wednesday, April 13, 2005

LBDES: Conviction of Correctness of Feelings

As part of the Looking Back Down Explorer Street series of posts...

A bunch of notes on the topic outlined in the following paragraph.

If we feel that something is the case, there's a tendancy for it to be accompianied by the conviction it's correct. As you might expect. Except the criteria your brain subconsciously applies, to determine how much conviction you have in a belief, is flawed, and this means if you want a better judgement you have to consciously determine what level of conviction you should have in your beliefs. There's also a natural conviction that the belief shouldn't be questioned, though I hope I don't need to say that there's nothing that simply "shouldn't be questioned" and I won't talk about this more (though I know there are people who believe this).

The crtieria can not, it seems, be affected consciously (though other conscious critiera can be be given precendence over it, see below). It seems to be subconscious and because of this, "hard-coded" and thus an evolutionary adaptation, and thus, like all other evolutionary adaptions, is a heuristic "designed for" the nature of the environment at the time the adaption was created. For this reason it can't make use of the kind of knowledge that culture can develop, and we should be surprised that it's imperfect.

(I made some notes on this tendancy. One saying almost exactly what I've just said. Another noted the line in the Radiohead song There There that goes "Just cos you feel it doesn't mean it's there". I also noted that, on the importance of evaluating your feelings, or more specifically, your perceptions, that the theoretical physicist Brian Green thinks doing so is important, because not doing so is a major reason people are held back from making breakthoughs.)

Since it isn't a reliable indicator of correctness, other means are required to evaluating feelings. We can, for one thing, simply become aware that feelings aren't always right, and try to always keep this in mind.

The following are some examples of these convictions of correctness.

We have a natural conviction (feeling) that we we feel our memory is accurate, it is. It is now well understood that our memory often "plays tricks" on us (though I haven't yet noted down any references for this). The only things related to this I've noted down are the following. Lafcaio Hearn made the point that it's important to preserve first impressions, because you can't see the same thing through the same eyes twice. I also noted that "[m]ost of our own past is as a story whose details we recall" (this is the full text of the post found here).

There is the conviction that we are aware of what we are doing. Not a constantly held conviction, but in the sense that if we asked whether we are aware of what we do, we we would probably say of course we know what we are doing. But in fact it can be very difficult to maintain awareness of what you are doing and particularly that you're switching over to another task - which if you had awareness of, you'd realise that there were things you still had to do as part of the current task.

There is a tendancy to think that an insight or solution that is fairly simple, and to which there's no obvious impediment to thinking of it, would be easily thought of. I don't think this is the case. There's lots of stuff that's only obvious in hindsight. I gave an example, involving the purchase of a bus ticket, of the kind of simple thing that can be unobvious. This example can also be seen as an example of the lack of awareness you can have of what you are doing.

(As a comment on that last link, I suspect that a lot of the things we presume we've figured out ourselves are actually things we've picked up from others. In other words, that copying skills and knowledge from others plays a much larger role than we tend to think, as argued in Susan Blackmore's book The Meme Machine. And this isn't a bad thing -- if its how it is, it's how it is and always was.)

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