The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Cognitive Matters

I sometimes get entangled in a web of contradictory perceptions. Those are not hard to get out of because contradictions tend to be obvious and leave gaps between the perceptions. It's when the threads overlap, when the contradictions blur, that it is difficult to get free.

This is called cognitive dissonance.

I read articles in the Boston Globe from time to time. Not because I am from Boston... or Massachusetts... but because they sometimes have very interesting stories and editorials. I mostly disagree with the latter. On Sunday, I came across this story:

It's about something called "cognitive fluency" and its partner "cognitive disfluency". Since it is about how people make judgments and decisions, it interested me. Basically, if I understand it correctly, cognitive fluency is where we more easily accept that which we recognize as familiar. A way of expressing this that I thought useful was this:

‘If it is familiar, it has not eaten you yet.’

That's speaking in evolutionary beneficial terms. But it applies the concept to the basic instinct for survival. That is, I think, the root instinct of all animal life. All other instincts are derived from that one, in my opinion, and can be traced back to it.

So you are saying, all well and boring, but what about this contradiction thingie you started with? That pops up with the cognitive disfluency theory. It says, the more unfamilar something is, the more we are likely to make a better judgment of it. That is, the unfamiliar forces us to examine it more closely. It didn't say this but I inferred that the unfamiliar triggered a danger reaction. An "It isn't familiar so it may eat me" reaction, if you will. Which makes us cautious and deliberate in reacting to it.

And this, I think, allows one to perceive those "gaps" I wrote about.

The methods they used to test the theory are interesting and involved the use of clear fonts versus blurred or complex ones. The same problem would be perceived and "handled" (by the brain) in a distinctly different manner when it was presented using a simple, clear, font than when it was presented in a blurred or difficult to read font. What I found especially interesting was that the better (subjective term, I know) judgment was made when the problem was presented in a more difficult to read form.

I cannot explain these concepts adequately in the limited space of a blog. The article is fairly long and it, of course, does not fully explain them either. But I recommend you read it if you are interested in how people think, why they make the choices they do, and how others use that knowledge to manipulate you.

Since most of my working life was spent in troubleshooting, or problem solving, how we perceive a problem and make decisions about resolving it is fascinating to me. Some people are good at problem solving, some aren't. Within those that are good at it, some are better than others and can do it across a wide field of disciplines. Some can even resolve problems within disciplines with which they are completely unfamiliar.

If you were to ask me... "Just what is intelligence?" I might use the above paragraph to answer it.


Pearl said...

This kind of stuff absolutely fascinates me...


Douglas said...

Pearl, me too. What bothers me is that someone may figure out just how to "herd us sheep" with this kind of research.

Michael said...

I think with 'hotness' or 'sexiness', I would go for the prototypical hottest, sexiest choice. Same with products, I think - I got an iPod, I got an iPhone, and now I'm seriously considering an iPad.

But as for beauty, in terms of people, food, cars, buildings, dogs, or clothes, I prefer to appreciate eccentricity and avant garde-ness. Ease doesn't get me all the time.

Do you hate it too?
"If you're going through Hell, keep going."