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O perigo do viés de confirmação e das certezas absolutas

por Samuel de Paiva Pires, em 04.05.17

Robert Burton em entrevista à Scientific American:

 

BURTON: A personal confession: I have always been puzzled by those who seem utterly confident in their knowledge. Perhaps this is a constitutional defect on my part, but I seldom have the sense of knowing unequivocally that I am right. Consequently I have looked upon those who ooze self-confidence and certainty with a combination of envy and suspicion. At a professional level, I have long wondered why so many physicians will recommend unproven, even risky therapies simply because they "know" that these treatments work.

 

(...)

 

BURTON: The present presidential debates and associated media commentary feel like laboratory confirmation that the involuntary feeling of certainty plays a greater role in decision-making than conscious contemplation and reason.


I suspect that retreat into absolute ideologies is accentuated during periods of confusion, lack of governmental direction, economic chaos and information overload. At bottom, we are pattern recognizers who seek escape from ambiguity and indecision. If a major brain function is to maintain mental homeostasis, it is understandable how stances of certainty can counteract anxiety and apprehension. Even though I know better, I find myself somewhat reassured (albeit temporarily) by absolute comments such as, "the stock market always recovers," even when I realize that this may be only wishful thinking.


Sadly, my cynical side also suspects that political advisors use this knowledge of the biology of certainty to actively manipulate public opinion. Nuance is abandoned in favor of absolutes.


LEHRER: How can people avoid the certainty bias?


BURTON: I don't believe that we can avoid certainty bias, but we can mitigate its effect by becoming aware of how our mind assesses itself. As you may know from my book, I've taken strong exception to the popular notion that we can rely upon hunches and gut feelings as though they reflect the accuracy of a thought.


My hope is the converse; we need to recognize that the feelings of certainty and conviction are involuntary mental sensations, not logical conclusions. Intuitions, gut feelings and hunches are neither right nor wrong but tentative ideas that must then be submitted to empirical testing. If such testing isn't possible (such as in deciding whether or not to pull out of Iraq), then we must accept that any absolute stance is merely a personal vision, not a statement of fact.


Perhaps one of my favorite examples of how certainty is often misleading is the great mathematician Srinivasava Ramanujan. At his death, his notebook was filled with theorems that he was certain were correct. Some were subsequently proven correct; others turned out to be dead wrong. Ramanujan’s lines of reasoning lead to correct and incorrect answers, but he couldn’t tell the difference. Only the resultant theorems were testable.


In short, please run, do not walk, to the nearest exit when you hear so-called leaders being certain of any particular policy. Only in the absence of certainty can we have open-mindedness, mental flexibility and willingness to contemplate alternative ideas.

 

(também publicado aqui.)

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publicado às 23:21

Das psicoses latentes que ameaçam o Ocidente

por Samuel de Paiva Pires, em 03.08.12

Carl Jung, The Undiscovered Self:

 

«Everywhere in the West there are subversive minorities who, sheltered by our humanitarianism and our sense of justice, hold the incendiary torches ready, with nothing to stop the spread of their ideas except the critical reason of a single, fairly intelligent, mentally stable stratum of the population. One should not, however, overestimate the thickness of this stratum. It varies from country to country in accordance with national temperament. Also, it is regionally dependent on public education and is subject to the influence of acutely disturbing factors of a political and economic nature. Taking plebiscites as a criterion, one could on an optimistic estimate put its upper limit at about 40 per cent of the electorate. A rather more pessimistic view would not be unjustified either, since the gift of reason and critical reflection is not one of man's outstanding peculiarities, and even where it exists it proves to be wavering and inconstant, the more so, as a rule, the bigger the political groups are. The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that are still possible with the individual, and this necessarily leads to doctrinaire and authoritarian tyranny if ever the constitutional State should succumb to a fit of weakness.

 

Rational argument can be conducted with some prospect of success only so long as the emotionality of a given situation does not exceed a certain critical degree. If the affective temperature rises above this level, the possibility of reason's having any effect ceases and its place is taken by slogans and chimerical wish-fantasies. That is to say, a sort of collective possession results which rapidly develops into a psychic epidemic.  In this state all those elements whose existence is merely tolerated as asocial under the rule of reason come to the top. Such individuals are by no means rare curiosities to be met with only in prisons and lunatic asylums. For every manifest case of insanity there are, in my estimation, at least ten latent cases who seldom get to the point of breaking out openly but whose views and behavior, for all their appearance of normality, are influenced by unconsciously morbid and perverse factors. There are, of course, no medical statistics on the frequency of latent psychoses – for understandable reasons. But even if their number should amount to less than ten times that of the manifest psychoses and of manifest criminality, the relatively small percentage of the population figures they represent is more than compensated for by the peculiar dangerousness of these people. Their mental state is that of a collectively excited group ruled by affective judgments and wish-fantasies. In a state of "collective possession" they are the adapted ones and consequently they feel quite at home in it. They know from their own experience the language of these conditions and they know how to handle them. Their chimerical ideas, upborne by fanatical resentment, appeal to the collective irrationality and find fruitful soil there, for they express all those motives and resentments which lurk in more normal people under the cloak of reason and insight. They are, therefore, despite their small number in comparison with the population as a whole, dangerous as sources of infection precisely because the so-called normal person possesses only a limited degree of self-knowledge.»

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publicado às 12:00

Oscar Wilde, O Retrato de Dorian Gray:

 

«Começou a perguntar a si mesmo se nós poderíamos um dia tornar a psicologia uma ciência tão absoluta que nos pudesse revelar as mais recônditas molas da vida. Com as noções de que dispúnhamos equivocámo-nos sempre a respeito de nós mesmos e raras vezes compreendíamos os outros. A experiência nenhum valor ético possuía. Era apenas o nome que os homens davam aos seus erros. Os moralistas haviam-na, em regra, considerado como um modo de advertência, haviam-lhe atribuído uma certa eficácia ética na formação do carácter, haviam-na exaltado como alguma coisa que nos ensinava o que devíamos seguir e nos mostrava o que devíamos evitar. Mas na experiência nenhuma força motriz existia. Era uma causa activa tao exígua como a própria consciência. A única coisa que ela deveras demonstrava era que o nosso futuro havia de ser o mesmo que o nosso passado, e que o pecado que nós uma vez havíamos cometido com repugnância o volveríamos a cometer muitas vezes, e com prazer.»

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publicado às 22:22

Das verdades estatais às neuroses do homem moderno

por Samuel de Paiva Pires, em 12.03.12

Carl Jung, The Undiscovered Self:

 

«Whereas the man of today can easily think about and understand all the “truths” dished out to him by the State, his understanding of religion is made considerably more difficult owing to the lack of explanations. (“Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Ho can I, unless some one guides me?” Acts 8:30.) If, despite this, he has still not discarded all his religious convictions, this is because the religious impulse rests on an instinctive basis and is therefore a specifically human function. You can take away a man’s gods, but only to give him others in return. The leaders of the mass State cannot avoid being deified, and wherever crudities of this kind have not yet been put over by force, obsessive factors arise in their stead, charged with demonic energy – for instance, money, work, political influence, and so forth. When any natural human function gets lost, i.e., is denied conscious and intentional expression, a general disturbance results. Hence, it is quite natural that with the triumph of the Goddess of Reason a general neuroticizing of modern man should set in, a dissociation of personality analogous to the splitting of the world today by the Iron Curtain. This boundary line bristling with barbed wire runs through the psyche of modern man, no matter on which side he lives. And just as the typical neurotic is unconscious of his shadow side, so the normal individual, like the neurotic, sees his shadow in his neighbour or in the man beyond the great divide. It has even become a political and social duty to apostrophize the capitalism of the one and the communism of the other as the very devil, so as to fascinate the outward eye and prevent it from looking at the individual life within. But just as the neurotic, despite unconsciousness of his other side, has a dim premonition that all is not well with his psychic economy, so Western man has developed and instinctive interest in his psyche and in “psychology”.»

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publicado às 23:18

Carl Gustav Jung, The Undiscovered Self:

 

"The seemingly omnipotent State doctrine is for its part manipulated in the name of State policy by those occupying the highest positions in the government, where all the power is concentrated. Whoever, by election or caprice, gets into one of these positions is no longer subservient to authority, for he is the State policy itself and within the limits of the situation can proceed at his own discretion. With Louis XIV he can say, “L’état c’est moi.” He is thus the only individual or, at any rate, one of the few individuals who could make use of their individuality if only they knew how to differentiate themselves from the State doctrine. They are more likely, however, to be the slaves of their own fictions. Such one-sidedness is always compensated psychologically by unconscious subversive tendencies. Slavery and rebellion are inseparable correlates. Hence, rivalry for power and exaggerated distrust pervade the entire organism from top to bottom. Furthermore, in order to compensate for its chaotic formlessness, a mass always produces a “Leader”, who almost infallibly becomes the victim of his own inflated ego-consciousness, as numerous examples in history show.

 

This development becomes logically unavoidable the moment the individual masses together with others and becomes obsolete. Apart from agglomerations of huge masses of people, in which the individual disappears anyway, one of the chief factors responsible for psychological massmindedness is scientific rationalism, which robs the individual of his foundations and his dignity. As a social unit he has lost his individuality and become a mere abstract number in the bureau of statistics. He can only play the role of an interchangeable unit of infinitesimal importance. Looked at rationally and from outside, that is exactly what he is, and from this point of view it seems positively absurd to go on talking about the value or meaning of the individual. Indeed, one can hardly imagine how one ever came to endow individual human life with so much dignity when the truth to the contrary is as plain as the palm of your hand."

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publicado às 23:59






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