Application: Tea break

The topics below build backgrounds for the next sections, but they don’t directly use the model. They are stories to be told in tea breaks.

1

There are many advice and philosophies that advocate refuting the perceived phenomena, for example:

  • Taoism & Buddhism: the bad equals the good; there is no need to be scared of the bad
  • Science: before proving it right you must prove it wrong first; everything can be, and should be, explained.
  • Evolution: being hurt is an opportunity to mature and become flexible
  • Skepticism: there is nothing we can be sure of
  • Postmodernism: talking about meaning is meaningless; everything is just a language game

Under the right conditions and personalities, they may add unnecessary tensions to interpersonal relationships, and become maladaptive thoughts. For examples, the person may:

  • Constantly “misunderstand” others to help them appreciate the opposite, or wonder about a thing one knows that one knows very well to encourage their curiosity
  • Feel guilty for doing the urgent thing when a solid understanding of the subject isn’t acquired yet
  • Deliberately worsen a bad situation in order to learn something new, or hiding important information to test their flexibility and intelligence
  • Do silly things to test whether one will regret for doing in future or not
  • Use synonyms with bad connotation to describe a good thing (and then feel guilty for being “evil”)

There should be a study on how schools of philosophy interact with personalities, because sometimes the desire to be flexible and adaptive may be inflexible and maladaptive, not because you have unfortunate life events in your childhood. It’s still basic cognitive therapy, but the core beliefs/automatic thoughts can be so complex that it would take a lot of time and money to pay for a therapist to find out; and usually they can’t understand it anyway. Wanting to capture the ultimate truth should help us form and maintain healthy relationships, not exclude them.

It makes effort to help harder, since the receiver will always feel that they are doing the exact thing being advised.

2

In social psychology, naïve realism is the human tendency to believe that we see the world around us objectively, and that people who disagree with us must be uninformed, irrational, or biased. It is considered as one of the four major insights in the field.

The three tenets that make up a naïve realist:

  • Believe that they see the world objectively and without bias.
  • Expect that others will come to the same conclusions, so long as they are exposed to the same information and interpret it in a rational manner.
  • Assume that others who do not share the same views must be ignorant, irrational, or biased.

The last two tenets are the necessarily results of following logic. The question is: would the first one is too?

In my understanding, logic only studies the relationship between statements, not the truth value of the premise. For example, if we have a deduction:

All men are motorbikes.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is a motorbike.

Then logic only confirms whether the conclusion fits the premises. Even if the premises are made by scientific methods, then a logician will still assume that there is a small chance that they are wrong. (“Logician” here means a person who respects and follows logic in general, not necessarily someone working in the field of logic.)

However, if they has checked and tested the premise many times, then they have to believe that their action to see the world is objectively and without bias. This is more true in the case that logician acknowledges their human biases and distortions, and has done everything in their best to check that. The belief that they are objective and the belief that they may be wrong aren’t mutually exclusive. That belief, therefore, is a necessary consequence of believing in logic.

To put it in another way, there are 3 additional arguments in parallel with the specific problem the logician has to deal with:

  • A: They follow the laws of logic
  • B: They know that they may be wrong
  • C: They are objective and has no bias

I think A is sufficient to conclude C (in fact it may be that A ⇔ C). B is an additional filter to make sure (a) A actually exists, (b) the premises of the specific problem are correct, and (c) no implicit premise is missing. But at the same time it makes the logician less confident at the moment they need to be. B makes A believable and makes C unbelievable, even though A and C are the same.

3

When an independent researcher thinks that they have a revolutionary idea, they face two questions: how to articulate the idea in an organized fashion, and how to make sure that they are correct. They are aware of their situation: for one revolutionary idea there are thousand pseudo-revolutionary ones, and there is basically no way for the contemporaries to differentiate them. Sooner or later, they will be classified as crank.

Because negative emotions get priority processing in the brain, the skepticism will always be overwhelming in the reviewer’s mind, making them cannot read the researcher’s idea and responses as how they really are. Always, always, the reviewers will find a new hole to attack. In their eyes, they are helping the researcher to see the holes in their logic, but in the researcher’s eyes, they are avoiding the counter-evidence.

On one hand, the criticism is correct. When the idea is so convoluted and has many holes and many wrongs, to the point that even its author cannot fully convince themselves yet, then no one could be convinced. But on another hand, it’s evident that the reviewers dismiss or distort the ideas, and violate the core value of science: respect the person, critique the idea. Although most of them just don’t understand what the researcher says and have to find a label to justify it, some of them are overtly hostile, not just making humors with no intention to offend. Trying to cover for them is a lie the researcher punches in their own face.

The researcher is disappointed, because all the good values that they have assumed and expected in the reviewer are collapsed: objective, non-bias, curious, open-minded. At first they will still try to cover for the personal attack, hoping that it’s just a misunderstanding, because such a basic fallacy cannot exist in a person who call themselves as a researcher. But in the reviewer’s eyes they are just spamming and stalking, and any evidence that they are not crank will be read without enough care. Despite the emotional investment to communicate, a satisfactory answer will never arrive.

Yes, Darwin was denied before appreciated, but who cares? Who cares about fame or recognition, they just want to verbalize what they see. Yet the reviewers insist that they are arrogant, attention seeking, bias, high, etc. They knew ahead that the prejudice will come, but all the efforts to satisfy them are dismissed. The more they work hard to keep that from happening, the more likely they get it. The self-fulfilling prophecy is completed.

When the trust is finally broken, then psychologically speaking, this is betrayal. Because memories of the constructive feedback will activate the negative ones too, we can merge all reviewers into a generalized one, although technically they are different people with different personalities. This generalized reviewer betrays the trust that they are rational, yet at the same time supports them to see the holes in their reasoning. This act of betraying in an effort to help, I will call it intellectual betrayal.

Because the situation is now reduced to the interaction of two persons, I’ll refer to the researcher as “he” and the reviewer as “she”.

Like any kind of betrayal, it creates resentment. Resentment is a kind of self-punishment: its evolutionary purpose is to protect the self from future hurts. The brain keeps thinking about the outcome that should have happened, be unable to forgive itself for the mistake it was unable to do anything better. It doesn’t consider the fact that it is impossible at that moment; it only cares that we could have done it differently. In the case of intellectual betrayal, it’s a perfect response that should have been answered to hostile comments. It keeps punishing itself, wishing for another chance to re-answer it.

Generally, in any type of conversation, both sides instinctly know that they are just seeking for perfect combination of words. This is especially true for people who refuse to be open-minded. If a founder of a startup wants to catch the attention of a future investor, they only have 15 seconds to deliver their elevator pitch. If a naïve realist cannot reach a consensus with another naïve realist, both will have a little dissatisfaction for unable to put the finger on the thing they can’t agree with. To satisfy her, he has to dig into what she said, carefully analyze it, see what she wants to hear most, burrowed in the negative words.

So we get to a funny situation: the act of solving the resentment prolonging it, and only by prolonging it that he can find important information to create the values she is looking for. The more he resents at her the more values he creates, and the more she violates her core values the more they are protected. Unlike normal betrayal, in which the betrayed person has to draw boundaries and gain control over the betrayer, this time she deserves to be pleased, and only when she are pleased the betrayal can finally stop. He knows he will be betrayed at the beginning, but still continues to trust her because he believes the truth will win through.

Therefore, he will oscillate between “nah, I can do it” and “why does this happen to me? I did nothing wrong”. Because the chance to present it to her has been closed, he will resent. But because all of these things has no relation to the actual research, he doesn’t feel afraid to face it. (She too will oscillate between “what kind of smoke did you use” and “oh boy this is so sad”.)

And as if the situation is not bad enough, our memory makes it worse. After the perfect answer is found, our attention is switched to other important things, and so when it’s time to use the perfect answer in a new occasion, we forgets. What is left is a mix between the confidence for having solved it and the frustration for can’t remember it and don’t know why we can’t remember it. You may also have a dissatisfaction for having to accept an alternative answer just because it’s available at hand, not because it truly convinces you. And not only we may be unable to recall the thing we know very well when being asked suddenly, under stress we can forget as well. So the frustration of not remembering it can itself be a reason for not remembering it. Getting into a vicious cycle is never feel easy.

The problem can only disappear when he reaches the last stage of the research, when all fragmented, isolated ideas are connected. But it will take months or years to finish, and until then resentment can still pop up from nowhere. If the researcher still cannot convince himself, then he will still have some dissatisfaction when articulating it. The idea will still be confusing, and sooner or later the reviewer will misunderstand it.

The idea that the elephant is a combination of snake, spear and tree would be regarded as a crackpottery theory to a zoology. This will make the blind feel anxiety, because generally he doesn’t have the coping skills to deal with that. But if he has a determination to use logic, then ultimately the perfect combination of words will be found, and this will make him become fearless.

4

Let’s rewrite the previous section.

A fearless person will have to face infinite skepticism that they are wrong or arrogant. No need to make such comments: this fearless person has already feared that they are wrong or arrogant. Fears will come when we are aware that we are fearless. But the problem of distrust is the easiest thing to solve: one just needs to find a perfect combination of words and everyone will be satisfied. This can be captured by logic, and this is what makes the person become fearless.

On the journey to that perfect combination of words, the fearless person has to face these feelings:

  • The guilt of claiming that his work is revolutionary, and the fantasy that he will be famous
  • The resentment from hostile comments and dismissions
  • The rumination of being unable to answer the skepticism earlier and satisfying
  • The loneliness of seeing the people who want to support can’t understand, and the ones who can understand can’t spend time to support
  • The tip of the tongue or mental block under stress

Until the perfect combination of words is found out, those problems won’t go away. And by definition, at the early stage of any idea there is no way to remotely describe what he sees. And if he can describe it to himself, then it would be totally absurd to her. All he know is that he can do it.

There are many signs that he is on the right track: she believes he can do it, and he totally encourages her to have skepticism on him. What he can’t understand is why she has to be astonishingly surprised and shuts down all of her willingness to listen. He just can’t. What he sees is that his words, written or spoken black and white, can somehow be distorted, and he has to argue with the obvious things. From the bottom of his heart, he just wants to say: “huh?”

It is reasonable to describe the her reactions as bipolar, where trust and distrust happen at the same time. “I really want to support you, but this is so crazy”. But whatever her emotion is, he has to work on his first. To stop the guilt of being arrogant or attention-seeking, he needs to prove to himself that his nature are not like that. It requires a huge courage to accept that he is wrong, but when he already fears that he is wrong, then it also requires no less courage to accept that he is right.

As long as she still has a skepticism on him, her concerns are just… off-topic. Instead of telling him he is wrong, her advice only confirms that he is on the right track. Because in his eyes she has already solved her worries without him, his mind is too quick to focus on other important topics and forgets that he has to assure her that he is on the right track. When he is 99% sure that step 1 is correct, then he can’t allow him to be confident. But when he can be sure 100%, then the only thing his mind could think about is step 2, 3, 4, 5. As the result, he can’t remember why his belief is so strong. What is left is a mix between confidence, frustration and dissatisfaction.

He has to take the lead in this conversation. Under the skepticism that it is impossible, he has to say:

Nah, it’s easy. It’s actually possible. I can do it.

If he just says that he thinks his plan will work, then it’s him to feel unsure how it would work in each step, and no one will believe in his logic. But if it’s easy, then it’s a different attitude. It says: there are other things that is more important than that. He has to stop distorting her words, even though he always feel they are talking at the same thing.

For the skepticism that he is wrong, he has to readdress the worries in a different way, so that he can force himself to stop dismissing her feelings, and show her that there are more than one way to solve her worries. Ideally he may want to have a systematic understanding on logical fallacies and cognitive biases, so that not only he can answer his self-doubts, but also can help her express her doubts more succinct. If she can’t help him verbalize his fears, and he can’t help her verbalize her fears, then this is not only a blind leading a blind, but also a fight of the blinds. Or to put it like Yoda, “named must your fear be before banish it you can”.

This is what a fearless person should prepare before starting any project.

5

I think it’s so easy to become a buddha: one just needs to have a determination to become a good person. Anyone can do it. The teaching of the Buddha is to solve the sufferings a good person may have in their life, so that that determination is not eroded. If you ever feel like constantly walking in the mist and don’t know what you want to do, how about trying to become a good person? It will give you a sense of what you want to improve, appreciate, protect and connect with.

Being right also seems to be easier than being wrong: one just needs to have a determination to stay with logic. Anyone can do it. By then you can feel the fun of facing your own wrong. And when it’s fun to see how you are wrong, then basically you fear nothing.

Of course I know that it’s easier said than done, but the idea needs to be packed that way so that you can fake it until you make it.

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