Sum, ergo Cogito

Or, given that Descartes wrote the original conception in French, je suis, donc je pense.


"In any field, find the strangest thing and then explore it." ~ John Archibald Wheeler

Philosophers focus on what we think about what exists, genetic epistemologists like Piaget and cognitive psychologists focus on how we set about thinking, and psychologists focus on why we think what we do.

We all exhibit some philosophical tension in our belief systems–simultaneously holding beliefs that slightly contradict others of our beliefs. (Yes, yes, I'm usually against making universal statements. Maybe you do not exhibit philosophical tension, but I doubt that I'm the only person who entertains mutually discrepant views. Why else would TPM online have set up the philosophical health check? It's fun, try it!)

It's interesting to trace individuals' motivations for belief along with their chains of rationalizing cognitive errors. These 'rationalizing beliefs' protect individuals from awareness of the shaky foundations of their beliefs.

Here's an example. I have to work with this guy (groan). Let's call him X. I have deciphered the pattern from discussions over an extended period:


  • Imperative motivation: parents who self-protectively denied X's experiential reality.

  • Personalized motivation: construction of a belief system that conforms to child-appropriate, victim-centered conclusions drawn from personal life traumas.

  • Expressed motivations: desire to think for self–not to think in the box, not to 'never have an original thought', not to think 'with the crowd'; not to feel 'stupid'.

  • Manifestation: a plethora of magic-thinking, pseudointellectual mythologies and 'spiritual' beliefs disguised as skeptical rejection of religion, and coupled with authority-blaming inventions.

  • Sources of supporting misinformation: 'alternative' opinions selectively drawn from websites and books written by similarly anti-expert individuals driven by grudges.

  • Maintenance of misinformation: refusal to consider any information that does not conform to emotion-distorted world view.

  • Maintaining illogic: plethora of ad hoc pseudoexplanations and fallacies of logic
    » [accepted explanations] "examples of group-think"
    » [expert explanations] "misguided explanations better explained by [X's] illogical pseudoexplanation."
    » [experts] "have never had an original thought in their lives."
    » [experts] "just protecting one another."
    » [experts] "just don't care about people [X]."
    » [experts] "will do whatever perversion they can get away with [X's sense of injury]."
    » [lack of evidence for believed-in supernatural entities] "people choose not to see what is there because they don't believe."
    » [alien abductions] "must occur because claimants' descriptions are comparable with respect to broad details"
    » [scientists] "all say the same thing." (As though this is a bad thing!)
    » [epidemiological evidence] "pure coincidence, disease frequency simply altered spontaneously."
    » [epidemiological evidence] "one potential negative outcome (X) is worse than tens of thousands of negative outcomes (others)."
    » [epidemiological evidence] "lack of connection between A and B is a cover-up, the two really are connected."
    » [holocaust] "statistics propagandistically altered by the Jews" (I'm not Jewish, but this one particularly infuriated me.)
    » [global warming] "a fiction – climate has altered without human interference during the planet's history."
    » [Jesus] "never existed (Something about which we might be able to agree. However, even if Jesus never existed, the 'teachings' have their origin in some human mind or other.)."
    » [creation] "the God-explanation is wrong – operation of a cosmic intelligence is responsible for creation, biological evolution, and connects us all."
    » the list could go on an on.
X not merely lacks education, he is so uneducated that he simply appears not to understand how logic operates or how knowlege differs from personal opinion. He is not completely without intelligence and certainly not wholly nasty, but his belief system is one of the most infuriating I've ever encountered.

X is not your average fundamentalist Christian, but his cognitive disorder is certainly reminiscent of the thought patterns of those who have not rejected the dogmatic, illogical myths that they were taught. In his case, he has rejected the unreligious atmosphere in which he was raised and he did so merely to seek an alternative mythology.

X certainly illustrates why psychologists say that personality disorders, which are merely the holistic manifestation of thought patterns, are very difficult to treat. I think that psychologists do not place sufficient emphasis on the fact that personality disorders are first, last, and foremost cognitive disorders of worldview. I also think that they have omitted one of the commonest of all personality disorders from their list, perhaps because the disorder is so common that it is viewed as normative rather than aberrant. I think of it as Fundamentalist Religiosity Disorder, or Arrested Cognitive Development in Emotionally Childish Individual, or Conservative Antisocial Disorder (CAD). As I've emphasized, it's similar to X's cognitive disorder except that its content is not even officially termed delusional.

Cluster A (odd or eccentric disorders)
Paranoid personality disorder
Schizoid personality disorder
Schizotypal personality disorder
Cluster B (dramatic, emotional, or erratic disorders)
Antisocial personality disorder
Borderline personality disorder
Histrionic personality disorder
Narcissistic personality disorder
Cluster C (anxious or fearful disorders)
Avoidant personality disorder
Dependent personality disorder (not the same as Dysthymia)
Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (not the same as Obsessive-compulsive disorder)



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