Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cognitive Dissonance

What is cognitive dissonance (CD) and the critical role it impacts on human spirituality? This post is about CD arising from dissonance between the primal fear of mortality and survival at all costs. To understand that CD is one of the root causes, that contribute to related-religious violence by extremists and other religious related problems.

What is cognitive dissonance
In psychology, cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling or stress caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a fundamental cognitive drive to reduce this dissonance by modifying an existing belief, or rejecting one of the contradictory ideas.

Cognitions which contradict each other are said to be "dissonant," while cognitions which agree with each other are said to be "consonant." Cognitions which neither agree nor disagree with each other are said to be "irrelevant." (Festinger, 1957). "Cognitions" include knowledge, attitude, emotion (known as ambivalence), belief, or behavior.

The introduction of a new cognition that is dissonant with a currently held cognition creates a state of "dissonance," the magnitude of which relates to the relative importance of the involved cognitions. Dissonance can be reduced either by eliminating dissonant cognitions, or by adding new consonant cognitions. The maximum possible dissonance is equal to the resistance to change of the less "resistant cognition"; therefore, once dissonance reaches a level that overcomes the resistance of one.

This leads some people who feel dissonance to seek information that will reduce dissonance and avoid information that will increase dissonance. People who are involuntarily exposed to information that increases dissonance are likely to discount that information, either by ignoring it, misinterpreting it, or denying it. wiki Note the True-believe syndrome.

True-Believer Syndrome
True-believer syndrome is a term coined by M. Lamar Keene in his 1976 book 'The Psychic Mafia'. Keene used the term to refer to people who continued to believe in a paranormal event or phenomenon even after it had been proven to have been staged. It has since been applied, more loosely, to refer to any belief without empirical or logical foundations.

Keene considered it to be a cognitive disorder, and regarded it as being a key factor in the success of many mediums. The term "true believer syndrome" is not used professionally by psychologists, psychiatrists, or medical professionals and is not recognised as a form of psychopathology or psychological impairment.

Cognitive Dissonance and Beliefs
Cognitive dissonance manifest uncomfortable feelings, pains and stress. This is a result of primal instincts established to ensure survival and preservation of the specie. Reducing the cognitive dissonance will remove the psychological pains that is programed to lead one to avoid danger and increase the chances of survival.

On the conscious level, it is by 'trial and error' that humans adopt the right strategies to reduce these uncomfortable feelings, to maintain psychological homeostasis and equanimity. It is also an inherited trait from our ancestors that humans believe the way they do at present, to avoid psychological pains. Those who do not resort to beliefs would not had survived to pass on the next generations.

To avoid cognitive dissonance, humans would have to rely on beliefs, which are irrational and without proofs, to provide an immediate solution to soothe very painful psychological pains. Humans throughout the ages had resorted to various beliefs to remove cognitive dissonance in the midst of the fear of the unknown. Many beliefs are related to human spirituality.

Cognititive Dissonance is Subconscious
The state of cognitive dissonance is activated at the subconscious level. Due to the neural and psychological structure, CD is permanently etched in the subconscious mind of humans. Humans are not conscious of their details of cognitive dissonance. Their only conscious awareness of CD is when it is manifested as uneasiness, anxiety, and other very painful psychological feelings.

Cognitive Dissonance in Spirituality
Humans resolve the painful manifestations of cognitive dissonance using the black-box and 'trial and error' approach and rely on variou beliefs.

One of the beliefs that can remove cognitive dissonance and to soothe immediate psychological pain is the concept of a god, which provide comfort and ensuring eternal life in heaven. Once a person accept the existence of god, CD is removed which generate a sense of psychological homeostasis, equanimity, a peace of mind, to enable attention to spiritual development.

Belief in god, is not a direct activity of spirituality but rather a supporting process that remove cognitive dissonance, to achieve a peace of mind to develop spirituality via the generic spiritual process.
There are many other spiritual paths that directly tune and improve the generic spiritual process which at the same time inhibit cognitive dissonance. (details required)

Cognitive Dissonance and God
How did cognitive dissonance arise that lead to a belief in god and religion?

1. Humans are programmed to survive and avoid death at all costs. Whenever there is a threat, the primal fear of death is triggered. This is followed by psychological pains, anxieties and angst to assist human to steer away from the threat of death.

2. Unfortunately or fortunately, self-awareness emerge in humans, and humans become aware that death is a certainty. Humans may not be aware of this all the time, but whenever this awareness of mortality arises, it triggers the the primal fear of death. The awareness of mortality can cause terrific fear and psychological pains.

3. There is a strong psychological conflict between (1) and (2). Humans are programmed to survive and avoid death, but at the same time, they are aware that it is certain that they will die eventually. Thus a cognitive dissonance is created, i.e., humans do not want to face mortality, but know for certain they are not immortal. Whenever this conflict arises, humans feel uneasy and painful. Humans, therefore have to do something to remove this terrific terror in their mind.

4. Humans invented the god-of-the-gap and various beliefs based on faith to close the dissonance gap by giving assurance of eternal life in heaven and other psychological comforts. The basis is that a god exists to provide for all human spiritual requirements. For various reasons, believing that god exists is successful to remove CD. The continuing concept of god that works, has evolved through the ages.

5. A state of cognitive dissonance (CD) generated fears, terrors, anxieties and other psychological pains. Since reliance on the belief in a faith-based god, removes the above terrific terrors, any doubts or removal of the faith would bring back CD and the associated psychological pains.

The Necessity of God
Since a belief that god exists remove CD and its associated pain, belief in god is a very pragmatic necessity for the majority of humans. The basis is, as long as it works, it should be a part of human life. Personally, humans should continue to believe in god as long as their psychological inclinations are suited to this belief.

Rationality and God
Since humans continue to evolve and acquire the faculty of higher reason, many had began to question the existence of god. This is inevitable because the belief in god had been abused to exploit the masses by organized religions.
When the existence of god is questioned with logic and proofs, doubts in raised in the mind of believers. Doubts will cause cracks and allow CD to creep in which could result in terrors and psychological pains due to the primal fear of mortality.
Because no things can be proven with certainty, believers who relied on faith (no proofs) will find it difficult to counter rational arguments for the existence of god. If they are unsuccessful in providing rational arguments for god's existence, then CD will manifests and psychological pains will ensue.
To retain their belief in the existence of god, believers of the past would literally got rid(kill) of the sources that threaten to bring back CD arising from the primal fear of mortality. This why there was the inquisition and various religious related violence even to the present day.

Consequence of Sustained Cognitive Dissonance
Sustained unresolved cognitive dissonance will invoke negative psychological impact on a person. Prolonged stress that continually excrete excess cortisols damages the brain and cause many associated psychological and medical illnesses. (to research on this). This is the reason why CD must be removed with immediate effect and subdued at all costs.

Cognitive Dissonance and the non-theist
How do non-theists tackle and resolve the cognitive dissonance state. Many non-theists use various rational self-psychotherapy to reduce the cognitive dissonance arising from the primal fear of mortality. Others will rely on the development of their generic spiritual process to inhibit the impulses of this dissonance(details required)

Other Spiritual Issues Related to CD
1. proselytize - to reinforce beliefs to strengthen inhibition of CD
2. apostasy - to remove doubts
3. silence doubts by threats of violence
4. .... to list others

It is quite understandable why human fight over ownership of physical objects, assets, land, and various national issues of immediate threat to human lives. The big question is, how on earth did humans kill other humans (millions), over mere beliefs which rely heavily on a god whose existence is questionable. Religious problems persisted because cognitive dissonance occur at the subconscious level and thus not brought to the surface to be resolved.

It is critical that humans are taught to understand what is cognitive dissonance and bring it to mind whenever religious issues are discussed or needed to be resolved.

Related Posts in this Blog

Notes and Related Reference
Cognitive Dissonance - wiki
Video - Cognitive dissonance, a rough explanation.
Blindsight: Is there any connection with cognitive dissonance

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