Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


In Light of Tonight's Presidential Debate

"'I always tell the truth,' Stella replies. 'Although I sometimes confuse the facts.'"
― Katherine Applegate, The One and Only Ivan

True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society
A book from 2008 that's more relevant today than ever.

"Each of us thinks that on any given subject our views are essentially objective, the product of a dispassionate, realistic accounting of the world. This is naive realism, though, because we are incapable of recognizing the biases that operate upon us. . . . The bias we see in the news isn't strategic. It's real. It's real to us, at least, and that's as real as it gets. . . . We all harbor a different idea of what an objective news story should look like. . . . we all want objectivity, but we disagree about what objectivity is."
― Farhad Manjoo, True Enough

"If things go badly for me tonight, I want you to stay with Mr. Wynter; he will pay you a decent wage."
"Will he make me bathe?"
"No, he will debate the matter with you until you decide to wash."
"Ah. One of those."
― Eoin Colfer, Airman

"This isn't about what is . . . it's about what people think is. It's all imaginary anyway. That's why it's important. People only fight over imaginary things."
― Neil Gaiman, American Gods

"He wondered whether growing up was learning that most stories turned out to be lies."
― Holly Black, Doll Bones

"You should just sit them down and make them tell you. Make them be adults."
"You can't make anyone be an adult. Especially an adult."

"Small children believe themselves to be gods, or some of them do, and they can only be satisfied when the rest of the world goes along with their way of seeing things."
― Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane

"When a man wants the soul of something but has no soul or conscience himself, he's almost always impossible to stop. You have to sacrifice some of your own soul to beat him, which means that he wins by that much more."

"He was crazy, Michael thought, but he appeared to be nice-crazy, and not I'll-kill-you-I'll-kill-you crazy."
― John J. Stephens, The Fire Chronicle

"'Sticks and stones may break my bones,' as they say in the Middle Worlds, but with the right words you can build a world and make yourself the king of it."
― Joanne Harris, The Gospel of Loki

"That's the trouble with a story spinner. You never know what's real and what's made up. Even when they are telling the truth, they can't stop themselves from spinning it into something better; something prettier, with more of a pattern to it."
― Philip Reeve, Here Lies Arthur

"'I think I figured it out.' She sniffed, looking up at the stars. 'Hester asked me what the difference between a story and a lie was. At the time, I told her that a story helps folks. 'Helps 'em do what?' she asked. Well, I think I know the answer. A story helps folks face the world, even when it frightens 'em. And a lie does the opposite. It helps you hide.'"
― Jonathan Auxier, The Night Gardener

"The true test of a society isn't how many lies it has; it's how many it believes."
― Jason Carter Eaton, The Facttracker

"In practice, what propagandists are doing is simple to describe: they've mastered a new way to lie."
― Farhad Manjoo, True Enough

"If they think it's the truth, then they believe it, and if they believe it long enough, then it becomes the truth."
― Jason Carter Eaton, The Facttracker

A post from 2012 that's as relevant today as ever:

A Pre-Election Thought: Skepticism As a Habit of Thought

I've written about confirmation bias a few times in the past:
 - Objectivity: A Concept That Only Exists As Truthiness
 - I'm Going to Change Your Mind About Politics Through Facebook
 - America, Know Thyself (Part 3 of 3)

And I just came across a really nice, election-focused article about the concept that I'd like to share: Moderating Political Opinions

After reading my post--the top one above--about the book You Are Not So Smart, where I first referenced confirmation bias, a colleague/friend said she was depressed, that reading it made her cynical and hopeless about ever being able to truly communicate with another person.  I even said something similar in my review of the book:

I'm left feeling more than a little cynical, that there might be no point in ever trying to dialogue with another ever again because each person is trapped in his or her own island of delusions,

That was just the first half of the sentence, though.  Here's the rest:

but I more powerfully feel that this is essential self-knowledge that makes us more likely to be less entrenched in our stubborn convictions and give each other a fair listen.

This article makes the case how that can be so.  Some excerpts:
Moderating Political Opinions

For me political campaigns are a massive exercise in confirmation bias – watching both sides spin the same data in completely opposite directions.

There is no shortage of theories as to why this is the case, but there is also the separate question of what can be done to break, or at least moderate, this polarization. In a series of experiments psychologists have found that slowing down the process of evaluating a political question, and engaging people’s abstract thinking, moderates their political views. . . .

Confirmation bias is the default mode of human thinking – the cognitive pathway of least resistance that we will tend to follow. If you force people to slow down and think harder, even in a manner tangential to the question at hand, confirmation bias is moderated by deeper evaluation. . . .

These experiments . . . demonstrate very interesting principles – that many people are capable of thinking more deeply and objectively about topics, even those that are highly emotional and political. In these studies external factors were used to increase abstract thinking and reduce confirmation bias in the short term. What if we can internalize these effects in the long term? . . .

This, in essence, is scientific skepticism. Skeptics are those who do not simply flow down the path of least resistance, giving in to the lowest energy state of thought, surrendering to cognitive entropy. Skepticism is about understanding the nature of cognitive biases and then doing the hard mental work of thinking complexly and abstractly about important questions.

The trigger for skeptical evaluation needs to be internal. In this way being a skeptic is partly just a habit of thought. The skeptic stops and asks, “wait a minute, is this really true?” When confronting an opposing opinion or interpretation of the evidence, the skeptic tries to understand the various points of view and will at least try to fairly assess each point, recognizing that many topics are complex, with good and bad points on all sides.

Being a skeptic is also about applying the findings of decades of psychological research to our everyday lives. . . .


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