The important of Baloney Detection

In Figuring, Maria Popova asks — ”How does a person come into self-posession and sovereignty of mind against the tide of convention and unreasoning collectivism?”

The ”sovereignty of mind” that Maria speaks about is not a brash self-assertion that cocks a snook at parents, habits from the past, and the Establishment  It is living completely in accordance with the ”Baloney Detection Kit.”

In The Demon-Haunted World — Science as a Candle in the Dark, the wise Carl Sagan devotes a chapter to the ”The Fine Art of Baloney Detection.” 

The Kit that Carl proposes to help us smell fallaciousness and fraud consists of the following --

  • Confirm facts independently (as much as possible).

  • Dialogue with knowledgeable people from differing points of view.

  • Do not get swayed by authority.

  • Think up different hypothesis.

  • Do not back any view owing to personal attachment to ideas. In other words, it is important to introspect and examine oneself for biases, prejudices, and preferences.

  • Whenever possible, quantify.

  • Examine every link the argument-chain for weakness. Every link must hold up.

  • When faced with multiple plausible hypothesis, pick the one that explains with the most simplicity.

  • Propositions must be falsifiable. In other words, propositions must be testable. 

We would do well to keep in mind that our Brain is not a dispassionate, passive computer  David Eagleman concludes a chapter titled “What is Reality?” (The Brain — The Story of You) writing —  “Your brain serves up a narrative — and each of us believes whatever narrative it tells us....Even more strangely, it’s likely that every brain tells a slightly different narrative....Each brain carries its own truth.” The Brain, while incredibly useful, is not completely reliable in Baloney Detection. Baloney Detection is not an innate cranial trait, but a temper of mind that must be assiduously cultivated. 

Friedrich Nietzsche writes (The Philosopher: Reflections on the Struggle Between Art and Knowledge) that ”life requires illusions”.  Carl, with immense compassion, acknowledges that we are ”human”. Many of us need Santa Claus explanations to live. Having said this, he encourages us to ”rouse reserves” to combat Baloney because it is often created "collaboratively....with....premediation" to deceive, profit, and acquire power over people. When the Kit is not used and we drop our guard, Carl cautions, sometimes we find that “gullibility kills".

i am unlikely to be challenged when i say that Carl spent his lifetime helping us acquire ”sovereignty of mind”

i am thinking of Carl and Maria right now. i am grateful that they are my Teachers. 

Dirty Harry, John Gray, and Self-Deception

The thug shoots around and kills a few, hurts many, and terrorises everyone. As he stands gloating, the smoke clears and in a corner sits Clint. ”I know what you're thinking, punk. You’re thinking "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well to tell you the truth in all this excitement I kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you've gotta ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?....Go ahead, make my day.”  (dialogues from Dirty Harry and Sudden Impact)

Something similar happens in my mind when i read John Gray — the Professor who taught at Oxford, Yale, Harvard, and retired after a stint at the  London School of Economics. The proponents of liberalism, the destroyers of gods, the champions of free speech and all that — Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, and similar thinkers stand alone having swatted away many — the smoke clears and John turns up saying ”Go ahead, make my day.” 

Described as a misanthrope-thinker by some, John marshals an array of arguments that, to the unprepared, can cause panic. In Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, he gets to the heart of the matter early by pointing out that ”belief in progress is a superstition.” Instinctively, this may seem like a thoughtless statement, but i have not come across convincing refutations of John’s ideas.

In a 2013 conversation with Johannes Niederhauser, John Gray touches on self-deception.” Speaking about a former Prime Minister of the U.K, he says — ”People regard him as a liar, but I believe that's too much of a compliment. I think he lacks the moral development to engage in falsity. Whatever he spoke, he believed.”  i think this lies at the heart of much of John Gray’s intellectual positions — the idea that we are prone to self-deception. And as we give more room to this, our lives become a large-scale delusion — we end up becoming numb inside, stop thinking and, at best, become passive time-servers. At worst, we become tyrants — at home, at work, in society. John, i think, will agree with Charles Dickens (Great Expectations) that ”all other swindlers upon the earth are nothing to the self-swindler.” 

Self-deception encourages us to live in echo-chambers, makes us deaf to everything except our own ideas, makes us spin fantasies that masquerade as facts, and prevents learning.

This is why Ramakrishna Paramahamsa cautioned that we would do well to not indulge in ”theft in the heart.”  And Somerset Maugham observed in The Painted Veil that ”it is always despicable to lie to oneself.”

i am thinking of self-deception this morning — the need for me to ”protect this mind of mine” (Shantideva in The Way of the Bodhisattva) .