A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Trick is Not to be Confused

If an argument devolves to detail vs. detail with the underlying assumptions and presumptions hidden from view, then there is little convincing to be done. An example from Thom Hartmann’s radio show: a McCain spokesperson was saying that Head Start was no good because by third grade many of the differences measured in performance between Head Start kids and those who had only a kindergarten experience began to melt away.  There is so much wrong with the statement that I hardly know where to begin, but suffice to say that there are ways that such a result could occur that would demonstrate an even greater benefit from Head Start than was being claimed.  Hartmann offered statistics said to show a significantly better life experience for Head Start participants; higher high school graduation rates, lower incarceration rates, by and large more acculturated and responsible adults, the combined effect of which was an “investment ratio” of about $1 spent on Head Start producing $9 in social gain. The lady left livid. We can assume that both bits of data are true, so what’s the deal?

If the underlying presumption is that never should one dollar should be “taken” from a productive person (defined as someone with a dollar) for the purpose of “giving” that dollar to a non-productive person (defined as someone without a dollar), then the only detail that matters is that which either supports or can be twisted to support the view.  If the underlying presumption is that we need to have as much correct information as possible when we make decisions with wide-ranging consequences, then the emphasis must be on understanding what makes research represent and model reality.  I am not saying that Hartmann’s only goal is to discover what is real before acting in the world, but I am certainly saying that the McCain spokesperson had already decided what was real long before the data offered its suggestions.

Here is the problem, or rather, THE PROBLEM: In the design of human cognition, presumptions create the basis for responding consistently in a confusing and disorderly world.  Questioning presumptions and modifying them from the suggestions of neutral data is a high-order learned activity that often leaves people with feelings of unease and anxiety; but is an essential ‘new’ skill if we are to reconnect with the biophysical reality huffing and puffing at our door.

An argument among unevaluated presumptions is ultimately meaningless regardless of how many suffer in the process.  The word of the Pope is infallible! Every species must be preserved! God (mine) directs all events! Blue is a better color than red!  Abortion is evil and must never be allowed! Sex is a religious sacrament! Sex is dirty! There are as many presumptions as humans can imagine – and every imagining can be believed as fervently as any other.

Our imagining was once in the service of the ecological relationship; reality was not at the door threatening to come in, it was the substance of hominid and human lives.  The detail that was imagined about came from the wind, from the shape land, from the sounds of night and from the very textures of the soil.  An imagining was a tool to bring many experiences together and communicate with others.  A ghost haunting a forest margin is a handy device to summarize a multitude of experiences and organize behaviors in effective response to the quite real dangers there.

Note: I spend and have spent a great amount of time in wilderness.  The sensation that “comes over” me as I go into deep intuitive mode “feels” like information is coming from a surrounding sentience.  The projecting of consciousness process and human intention onto our environment has long been a human quality. From this come ghosts…and gods.

Our PROBLEM today is that we still form presumptions from the preponderance of the personal data and the strength of experience just as we did when these sources could be trusted, when the Reality of the biophysical world was our reality.  But today, the preponderance of the data is controlled by media, religion and ‘education’ (which has come to be controlled by wealth and power) not by events themselves.  Our presumptions, with which we evaluate and act, are being designed and delivered by people who are advantaged by the beliefs we hold and the actions we take.

So long as we get our presumptions from the media, et al., our presumptions and actions will be based on self-referenced “reality” which is no reality at all.  We can still use the media as an information source, but we have to see it as a deceptive source to be carefully vetted and never, never as a way to form our systems of assumptions that measure truth.

How to evaluate, reconsider and inform our presumptions is a life long process.  The essential practice is to find various contact points with biophysical reality and give them daily observance.  There is no other base from which to build.  Religious practice, academic study, reading widely, looking at all points of view are all useful ways to expand the range of well founded understandings and comprehensions, but are, of themselves, useless to form an essential metaphysics.  

It is necessary to dip into our species’ biology, to reestablish our biophysical contacts and to develop a spiritual relationship with the immediate universe in which we live and that is the sustaining stability that allows our existence.  How to do those things is the substance of these writings.

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