Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The meta-cognition deficit

I rarely link to David Brooks on MoJ, but I find today's column on the meta-cognition deficit to be especially fascinating: "Very few in public life habitually step back and think about the weakness in their own thinking and what they should do to compensate."  It seems to me that members of religious communities are equally (if not more) susceptible to this problem, particularly to the extent that we dress up our thinking about an issue with fixed language of theological absolutes.  I'm wondering whether, for example, the Church's slow embrace of religious liberty was, in the end, a cognitive problem.  Other churches that I have attended have shown a reluctance to step back and acknowledge the extent to which their social positions had become affixed with one political party's platform (churches on both the "left" and the "right").  I have always explained these tendencies as a product of cultural osmosis where we lack the will to rise about our surrounding culture, but I suppose it may also stem from a lack of mental toughness, an unwillingness to think honestly about the path we're on and how our easy assumptions have led us astray.

http://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2010/08/the-metacognition-deficit.html

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Could part of the problem be attributable to the will? We may stubbornly cling to certain beliefs because we are unwilling to conform our lives to another way of thinking, even if that other way is more reasonable.

Posted by: Michael Scaperlanda | Aug 24, 2010 2:22:54 PM

Could part of the problem be attributable to the will? We may stubbornly cling to certain beliefs because we are unwilling to conform our lives to another way of thinking, even if that other way is more reasonable.

Posted by: Michael Scaperlanda | Aug 24, 2010 2:22:54 PM

I recommend Cordelia Fine's book A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives. The reviews from PW and Scientific American on Amazon.com give excellent summaries.
http://www.amazon.com/Mind-Its-Own-Distorts-Deceives/dp/0393331636/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1

Also excellent is Jonah Lehrer's book How We Decide, which I read because David Brooks mentioned it in a column and it sounded fascinating.
http://www.amazon.com/How-We-Decide-Jonah-Lehrer/dp/0547247990/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1282692795&sr=1-1

One of the "problems," if it is a problem, is that there's apparently more going on in the unconscious mind than have been imagining (especially since Freud went out of fashion). Decisions, including moral decisions, seem to be made before a person is consciously aware of them. And although some think that being coldly rational would help us make correct and unbiased decisions, there is a story in the Lehrer book about a man who had surgery that damaged his brain and left him without emotions. The man is simply incapable of making the most trivial decision -- for example, choosing a restaurant. He will weigh the choices endlessly trying to come up with a "rational" decision, but he just can't reach a conclusion.

Apparently the human mind is not constructed for "meta-cognition." It would be fascinating for someone to suggest exactly how to go about it. Someone I once knew had three rules to live by that perhaps come close to being a plan. See what you think:

1. Always treat people who are different from you as if they were better than you.
2. Always suspect you could be wrong.
3. Never vote Republican.

Posted by: David Nickol | Aug 24, 2010 8:05:10 PM

Couldn't agree more. I've been blogging for over four years, arguing regularly with both the left and right over that time and I am continually astounded at their complete failure to understand the depth of the metacognition deficit they suffer. I wondered if I might be similarly afflicted?

To find out, I recently spent several hours in quiet meditation specifically to ponder the weakness in my own thinking and what I should do to compensate. After several hours of reflection and deep introspective analysis I had an epiphany - there was no weakness in my thinking. No one was more surprised than me to learn this, but I admit - it was a relief to understand that I am in fact - right.

Since then, I've decided to dedicate myself to helping others to understand the depth of their metacognition deficit by explaining clearly and forcefully exactly how wrong they are.

Posted by: mw | Aug 25, 2010 12:14:22 AM

Brooks' ode to self-doubt is, on its own terms, pretty good. But as a column BY Brooks, it would carry more weight with me if he'd included, or follows up with, some examples of errors of his own that he discovered in retrospect.

Posted by: cynic | Aug 25, 2010 2:50:27 PM

Since then, I've decided to dedicate myself to helping others to understand the depth of their metacognition deficit by explaining clearly and forcefully exactly how wrong they are.

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It would be fascinating for someone to suggest exactly how to go about it. Someone I once knew had three rules to live by that perhaps come close to being a plan.

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For societies that subscribe to that theory of liberalism. However, Bradley's piece (at least the part quoted here) claims to apply to all societies as a moral duty, with little justification beyond the fact that it is an a priori truth.

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