Monday, March 15, 2010

Inerrant Cognition

1+1=2; 2+2=4; 3+3=6; 4+4=8

This simple arithmetic is proven and factual. One would think it outrageous to question the results. What if 2 was actually not 1 and 1? I’m not saying we should throw our mathematical foundations to the wind or purposing some deep philosophical banter on mathematical outputs. I am talking about cognition. Cognition is the way we process thoughts, the way we think. So if I see a man fighting two other men my cognitive opinion would be that the one man was outnumbered because 2 is greater than 1. This is the thought process that I would go through in forming my opinion. This is cognition. Within cognition you can have biases though. Cognitive bias would be a thought process with a particular bias. I’ve heard the expression, “You’ll always find what you’re looking for.” This is always said regarding a particular attitude. If I expect to fail at something or go into something with a negative attitude then it is highly likely that I will fail or that that something will be negative. If I tell myself in the morning that today is going to be a bad day, it most certainly will be a bad day. In order to terry on any further a few key terms should be clarified. The cognitive bias may include selective perception and subjective validation (G.P. Sipes).

Selective Perception - Expectations effect perception.

Subjective Validation - Assigning meaning to dubious connections in order to prove one's beliefs.

Illusionary Correlation- When we believe there is a relationship between two things, we are likely to notice and recall instances that confirm our belief.

How can these two terms affect my cognitive bias and ultimately cognitive process? My in-laws (to be) have this cottage in Michigan that we spend a lot of time at. We also meet with several friends a couple times a year to just hang out and have fun too. This cottage is haunted. There is a ghost named Andy. He used to live in this cottage and built it from the ground up. Now, some weird things have happened up there, so much that I do not doubt his existence by any means. I cannot explain ghost experiences nor will I take a position to call people who claim to have these experiences crazy, for that would put me in an all-knowing judge position, which I am not. So I am not going to say ghost do not exist, neither will I say Andy does not have a presence at the cottage (partially because I have a superstitious fear). This does not doubt the subject’s existence at any level; this is about doubting the frequency of correlated events. Correlation does not guarantee causation. This is something that should be understood as we move through this idea. An example to better illustrate the meaning of correlation not guaranteeing causation is I were to be toying with my own breaker box at home in Indianapolis, IN. At the very moment that I turn off the breaker witch for my kitchen the power for the entire city goes out. If correlation did guarantee causation then it would be correct to associate my kitchen breaker switch with the entire power of a city going out. If you were to be interviewed by the local media and admit that this city-wide power outage was your fault due to hitting the breaker switch to your kitchen a small van with padded walls may pull up. This would be ludicrous to make this association right?

If a subject expects a certain outcome then it is likely their perceptions of stimuli will be tainted by those strong expectations. The same is true of a strict belief of faith in something that can sway justification of what would otherwise seem odd associations. Ultimately, if we believe our own cognition, even if it is erroneous, we will justify instances that support that belief or faith. I do not doubt that there is a possibility that hitting a certain switch can cause power to go out. That simple relationship is very plausible. When other factors are introduced, such as the switch being connected only to a single apartment unit and the power going out for an entire city, this correlation seems more improbable. A relationship between two factors does not assure causation though; it simply brings about a possibility. This possibility has to be tested in order to prove causation. This is what experimentation is. Experimentation is taking these dubious correlations and testing them for accuracy. Without experimentation we would be left to our own thought patterns, which can be swayed by our own beliefs, faith, or expectations.

I don’t doubt Andy is present at the cottage, but I doubt the amount of credit that is given to him for happenings at the cottage. It is almost to the point where if the television turned on the first assumption made would be that Andy turned it on. Meanwhile someone is sitting in a chair in the back of the room amused that no one even considered that maybe he just turned it on with the remote. The expectation is Andy is mischievous so all things are caused by him. The belief is that Andy likes toying with the cottage inhabitants so it is justifies that he causes all things. Again, I don’t doubt his existence or some correlation of events, but I doubt everything attributed to him is valid. This is a group guaranteeing correlative causation, in error.

Now that I have the juices flowing and probably your agreement in this area I’d like to cause a little discomfort (imagine that). I was watching a video several weeks ago and this man who was there when the twin towers went down was talking about how many crosses he saw that day and how he knew God was there because of it. This sounds zealous and very nice; however, I suppose this falls or can fall into the same realm as my friend Andy and the cottage. Within the modern infrastructure of architecture the likelihood of seeing two plains intersect is great. The intersection of any two plains or surfaces makes a cross. Some say this was one of the most powerful symbols they’ve seen in their lifetime. Is it? Is it a powerful symbol or an inerrant cognition?

This is the part where you push yourself away from the desk or close the laptop, make some noise in disgust, and think me irreverent. Like I do not doubt Andy’s existence at the cottage I do not doubt God’s presence on that day, mostly because He promises He is omnipresent and will never leave us. God is really always there if you think about it. The cross is attributed to God’s presence all too often when it may actually have no association. Because of faith and expectations we justify images (idols) as the manifestation of God. This thought process can lead us down a path that may not be correct at all. Upon hearing that a man say a lot of crosses with light beaming in from behind them in the broken construction of the twin towers my reaction is not one of great jubilation. Not because I have no heart though. My jubilation is subsided because I do not allow myself to let correlation guarantee causation. The light came form the spaces in the debris, the cross from the modern construction. Maybe this was a coping mechanism that worked for him in that circumstance, but now you have a man who always wears crosses and questions those followers of Jesus who do not have this religious paraphernalia plastered all over themselves and their personal effects. I think that if we think God shows up in only forms of light and crosses that we limit him and his bigness. God exist, the Holy Spirit is always present. Some events can be correlated and explained by God’s presence, but not all of them. When we allow this correlation to exist we put ourselves in a position to be seen just as delusional as the little man who swore his breaker switch to his kitchen turned off the lights for the entire city.

May you challenge your cognition, the way you think. May you not justify things only by your expectations. May you be challenged to think about thinking, about your own thinking, attitudes and ideals towards things. May you break free from small system thinking and be free to a large world where God exist in more than the little things and in more than the big things, where He exists in everything.

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