connect11.jpgIf you spend some time on web discussion boards, you will soon see that most people don’t alter their ideas. Once they write down their thoughts, those thoughts are statements of who they are, and who they are is to be fostered through aliance and defended from attack.

It is actually painful to have cognitive dissonance. When reality impinges on our internal utopia, our brain hurts.

This is why Buddhists and others emphasize the importance of not being a wuss, to suck it up, and go into fear. Feel the burn. Practice saying ten times fast “I don’t know.”

How familiar are these concepts? Do they apply to you, or just to others?

Party Loyalty, apathy, habit, strong opinion with weak background information, impatient listening, bias, prejudice, superstition, egocentrism (self-centered thinking, self-serving bias), socio-centrism (group bias, the herd instinct, bandwagon effect), peer pressure, conformism, provincialism, distrust of reason, relativistic thinking, scapegoating, rationalization (in the sense psychologists use), wishful thinking, short-term thinking, selective perception / attention, selective memory, overpowering emotions, self-deception, face-saving, fear of change.

Thinking clearly is hardly a common-sense ability. We all have had forehead smacking moments where the person we are talking to is dead set stubborn on being a Jehova’s Witness about their ideas.  All talk and justification, faith and emotion growing stronger in the face of opposing evidence. No one is immune. The brain is wired to think emotionally. Cognitive dissonance hurts.

And we don’t have the tools to see our self deceptions. We need to learn them.

A seemingly separate issue is how to remain human while thinking logically. Have you noticed that some techy/geeky blogs are dry as triscuit?  Integrating ideas has stages, and these include integrating mental space with physical and emotional and sexual space.

So don’t expect your Baptist neighbor to stop feeling guilty about masturbating.

It all comes down to integration. Ideas are not our heirloom companions securely organized in our photo-albums.  Ideas aren’t held and felt in the gut. They are connect four pieces; it is how they link up that makes them work.

There are at least 4 broadly recognized stages of organising ideas:  These are not styles of thinking, they are levels of ability.

The four stages of thinking which have been proposed include: the dualistic stage; the multiplistic stage; the relativistic stage; and the constructed knowledge stage.

The model upon which these stages are based has been proposed by a number of researchers, including Perry (1970); Magolda (1992); and Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger & Tarule (1986).


According to the model, a dualistic thinker views knowledge as a collection of facts, presented by an expert and authority (the professor). In this stage, the role of the student is to receive the ‘truth’ from these experts and to learn these facts. New concepts and requests for their own ideas or interpretations of issues and information tends to confuse students at this level.


A student at the multiplistic thinking stage is able to allow that knowledge is diverse and that not all domains are comprised of facts or ultimate truths. In some areas, such as the social sciences or humanities, for example, there is much that is yet unknown, and experts may not always agree on what is true. Students tend to base their approach to learning in this stage on finding out what the individual professor expects of them, in order to provide answers which fit with the professor’s views, primarily with the goal of achieving good grades.


Relativistic thinking, the third stage of development, is where students begin to understand that the validity of ideas is often dependent on the context and that their own ideas can be equally as valid and important as those of others. An instructor or professor in this stage is viewed more as a supporting individual or a model, as opposed to an expert or authority figure.


In the final stage of development, the student reaches what is called the constructed knowledge stage, where integration of different ideas with one’s own takes place, evolving from a synthesis of existing knowledge as well as one’s own experience and ideas. In this stage, then, the student is viewed as autonomous, is able to work independently, and is open to other answers; the instructor or professor is now viewed as a colleague or a mentor.

Big problems in communication arise when a person talking from one level, or stage, talks to a person coming from a different stage. Rational scientists have nothing of interest to say to fundamentalist true believers. The true believer is mentally incapable of organising ideas at the rational level – the rational ideas are effectively meaningless to them.

But it doesn’t end at rationality. Rational people also have a level of cognition just out of reach. And when they hear information organized in this out of reach way, it seems irrelevent. A person may be literate enough to follow a cook book recipe, but unable to grasp the metaphor and irony in a piece of prose poetry.  Some define several levels of organisation more refined even than the constructed knowledge/systemic thinking stage.

The human capacity for self-deception is boundless.  We have to be on guard against ourselves, constantly seeking out internal inconsistencies.  We have them.  The trick is to deliberately seek out those mental places that makes us squeamish.  Uncomfortable truths are the most interesting.

We can’t know what we don’t know. And we don’t know how the next cognitive organization level works. When you were 3 you thought that if you dropped your Teddy on its head, poor Teddy would suffer. Explanations from your older brother had no effect. Consider that life might always be like this.  No matter how smart and learned we are, we sometimes are not capable of knowing just how out of it we are.  Jehova’s Witnesses-R-Us.  Sometimes we have to be insulted, several times, before considering looking at things a new way.

Knowledge and how to organise it isn’t democratic; there will always be better explanations than we have.  A spirit of adventure and appreciation for the unknown, alongside a willingness to be an idiot, are pre-requisites for learning.