Sunday 4 December 2022

Why don't people abandon wrong ideas? The memory hole, and self-hypnosis by word-webs

I am fascinated by how people cleave to wrong ideas - despite everything. 

I regard myself as something of an expert on this subject! Because I have had many wrong ideas in my life (presumably I still do); and have sometimes taken a long time (decades...) to abandon them and acknowledge their wrongness - yet I still remember 'what it was like' to have these ideas, and to hold to them.

In other words; my claimed expertise comes from the fact I have changed my mind, quite often and often deeply, about fundamental matters concerning the nature of reality (i.e. metaphysics), and that I fully acknowledge this fact. 

Whereas most people never change their minds about anything; and when they do - will not admit they have done so!  

When I do finally abandon a long-held but wrong idea (such as atheist-materialism); I know for sure that it was wrong, exactly because I see it from both sides. 

Typically, I have taken my wrong ideas very seriously, and have pushed them hard - before abandonment. (e.g. I was a proselytizing atheist-materialist; and tried hard to live in accordance with my convictions).

Therefore; after abandonment - I know experientially why I believed it and what is wrong about it. 

This is the state that some call 'certainty'; when one knows something, and is not easily shaken-off or pushed-from that knowledge - because the new knowledge includes that the person trying to change ones mind is unable to see all around the question. 

[By the way; this does not (at all!) mean I can persuade others to do the same, to repeat my own trajectory - on the contrary, I am more than ever sure that this is something each must do for himself. Because arguments that were (and perhaps still are) decisive for me; may be incomprehensible or off-centre for others; and can nonetheless always be picked-apart by the skeptical resister, shown to be incomplete (requiring further assumptions) and relativized -- simply because all possible arguments can be thus dismissed.]   

There are - it seems to me - innumerable ways in which a person can stick to belief, despite... But a couple are of particular interest to me. 

One is that people have been habituated by the modern world - in particular the mass media (and now social media) to an overwhelming flood of constantly changing stimuli - 'facts', opinions, arguments, theories, images etc. 

The result is that people don't take any of it seriously - which means that they continue to believe whatever is consistent with their deepest assumptions about the world. 

In other words, immediate reactions wash-out very quickly; and over the long-haul people believe what fits their metaphysical assumptions - and everything else just sluices over them. Yet most people do not know their own metaphysical assumptions, and indeed deny that they have any! Instead they assert that these assumptions are simply true-facts about the world. 

Therefore, people just continue to believe... whatever fits with whatever unconscious, underlying assumptions that have passively-absorbed from 'society and culture'. Everything else just passes-through their minds; even facts, theories, 'evidence' that they 'believed' at the time it was presented. 

This, I think, is what accounts for the 'memory hole' phenomenon - which is as real for individuals, as for the mass media. 

In other words, dissonant knowledge is simply forgotten, and may later be denied; because it cannot be made-sense-of in terms of the underlying and unconscious/ denied assumptions. 


Another, much more intellectual, way of holding onto wrong ideas; is a kind of thinking, discourse and writing that I call 'self-hypnosis'. 

This is what makes possible sustained wrongness among the most highly educated, intelligent and idea-orientated sectors of the population. It is, in my view, what created and sustained the centuries-long mistakes of theology, philosophy, law, science, medicine, and so forth. 

What happens is that an intellectual comes-up against a problem: he wants to believe several things that cannot be fitted together by normal, common-sense reasoning. 

He wants to obey some authority, adhere to some principle or rule, or say that some-thing exemplifies several properties/ attributes which seem incompatible.  

Of course, at lower levels, intellectuals just make wrong arguments - with false-steps (non sequiturs), incorporating false evidence etc. Just generate sound bites. Just critique ad hominem and assume that they have thereby dealt with the argument. Just avoid defining and defending their own beliefs; and attack some aspects of whatever they disagree with (often straw man projections) - on the (unstated) conviction that this proves already-existing assumptions... 

But at higher levels, the intellectual may instead weave himself an hypnotic word-web, cast a conceptual spell that draws himself into an accepting (an exalted) state of mind... 

He draws into consideration all the elements that need to be combined; he alludes to possible causal pathways or networks, to multiple considerations of qualitatively different kinds... The aspects that require reconciliation are introduced, juggled and balanced into patterns, compared and extrapolated... 

And at the end of this (which may continue for hundred, thousands, tens or even hundreds-of-thousands of words!) he has made himself believe the incompatible, the empty, the contradictory. 

In effect the high-level intellectual hypnotizes-away his own doubts about some idea, theory, 'fact' - he 'squares the circle', dissolves incompatibility, synthesizes a medium within-which all makes sense

To my mind; all apparently makes sense because of the effect of self-hypnosis. 

The intellectual generates a diminished state of consciousness, an impaired state of delirium, and therefore can sustain his belief in ideas that would otherwise be recognized as wrong.   

I regard a great deal of Christian theology in exactly this light: as acts of self-hypnosis. 

And the sustaining of wrong and irrelevant theological ideas across the centuries, and among even the most able intellectuals (theologians, bishops, teachers etc); has been made possible by the creation of these hypnotic word-webs by leading intellectuals (including geniuses); and the entering-into and acceptance-of these hypnotizing intellectual structures by following generations. 

Thus the original scheme of self-hypnosis, is sympathetically attuned-to, participated-in, and accepted-by others. 

Self-hypnosis becomes other-hypnosis.  

So, the same - ultimately-hypnotic - phenomenon; repeats itself in smaller ways and at lower levels, in the dissemination of metaphysical assumptions and world-views. 

Sometimes the intellectual is mainly trying to convince himself, to maintain what he regards as a necessary belief. 

At at other times the intent is manipulative or (to put it euphemistically) educative. The word-web is then directed at hypnotizing others, at the ignorant or at 'doubters' - and the web-weaver (the would-be hypnotizer) may not himself be in the delirious state of self-deception; but instead stands outside the web - trying to achieve an hypnotic result with the greatest effect and economy. 

Of particular relevance to the situation of 2022 among Christians is that Christianity has been a victim of web-weaving theology - the kind that covers incompatibilities and contradictions - from very early in its history; apparently from soon after the ascension of Jesus!

Once one can recognize this style of hypnotic-self-deception; one can see it at work in a great deal of Christian theology - in the Bible itself, in the early theologians and church fathers; as well as the modern intellectuals and pastors through-whom these texts of the past are being-transmitted. 

You must have sensed it yourself? 

Somebody - whether a Christian or not - asks a simple question, or observes an (apparently obvious) incompatibility or contradiction; and the response... is to try and spin an hypnotic word-web!

...At the end of which, there seems to have been (or, at least, that is what is stated) No Problem At All! 

Difficulties are , not solved; but dis-solved, by delirium. 

As I said; this has been going on for centuries - and now we found ourselves in a world where (if we refuse to be hypnotized, or to engage in hypnosis!) Christianity is a state of self-denying catastrophic incoherence and collapse; with corrupted and evil-seeking churches confronting a metaphysically-secularized and evil-assimilated mass of people - and yet still deploying the same old hypnotic-word webs to address desperate spiritual needs, describe what Christianity is, and assert what it will 'do for you'. 

Christians need to shake themselves awake from such self-induced trance states that deny the realities, and continue to push failed solutions to real problems, neat answers to unreal questions.  

We need to stop trying to fool-ourselves by such stale mind tricks; because only with a clear head, may we then be able to help those others who seek help - as they so urgently, so profoundly, need helping. 


Jonathan said...

Interesting observations. My whole life has been characterized by periodic epiphanies where I completely change how I view some part of life or reality. It makes me acutely aware of my own fallibility, because almost everything I believed 20 years ago was ridiculous. I hope I am closer to true wisdom now, but I am certain I still have many misconceptions. Not just little misconceptions, but whole wrong paradigms. (Hey, this is one of the few conversational subjects where I can use the word "paradigm" with a straight face.)

I gather that very few people are like you and me in that respect. Part of why I've been your faithful reader for a decade now.

It's clear to me that abstract thought is hazardous. While abstraction has given man deep insights about reality and immense power over nature, it's also made possible the rise of ideologies like Communism and the ability of governments to commit murder on a truly massive scale while believing in their own moral superiority the whole time. (Give me the old-fashioned barbarian who just wants to gloat as he vanquishes his enemies without pretending he's fashioning a better world.) It's fascinating to me how less intellectual populations are often more resistant to insane ideas. For instance, blacks in the US avoided the clotshots more than almost any other large group. Call it street-smart skepticism.

I'm pretty interested in understanding why some seemingly exceedingly smart people have utterly clownword worldviews, so I appreciate your thoughts.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jonathan - Good comment.

I suspect that old-fashioned attitudes are nowadays almost always an affectation in The West.

We are all of us in the position of those early 19th century Romantics who realized that we confront the world as individuals who must quarry-out our own salvation - we cannot passively follow paths that others have made.

Of course this is hazardous - but presumably God knows what he is about, and this must be the kind of life that people now alive most need.

Of course, there seem to have been more Romantics who went astray than arrived at a Christian destination; such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and (influenced by him) Nietzsche. Nietzsche arrived at an explicitly anti-Christian conviction - yet, for all its later pride and mania - his attitude of absolute personal responsibility was correct and his focus on truth was valid; and I (like Frank Berger) personally tend to believe that the post-demented (humbled, child-like), post-mortal Nietzsche would have accepted salvation when he knew that it was true.

For us moderns, that - surely - is the key; what we want after death and for eternity. The really horrible thing about so many modern Men (including those I have talked with honestly and in depth) is that they don't even want resurrected eternal life in Heaven - even if they could be convinced it was a real possibility.

A measure of the depth of corruption into value-inversion is that unbelief in eternal life (too good to be true, self-deception) is no longer the problem. Many people's deepest desire is for annihilation of themselves. These are the willing dupes of purposive evil.

Plus, of course, there are those relatively few (but concentrated among institutional 'leaders' and global strategists) who are actively evil, and who desire eternal life as demons, so as to indulge in their favourite vice, forever.