Is conditioning deep rooted and what must be our way to deal with it?
#1
Hello ppl,

From the past few years, my conversations with people have been convincing me more of a particular hypothesis in my mind.

Conversation instances:

#1:
"I know touching a vessel with non vegetarian food in it does not and should not do anything to me. But I just cant explain the discomfort that I go through when I see someone with it on my table."
- A rational person in most respects.

#2:
"I know about all the arguments that there is little evidence of existence of God, but without Him, I cant imagine life. I think I have no reason to survive"
- This person further claimed that God came ahead of his family and his friends! Again quite a rational person.

#3:
"I know I should not dump that girl based on caste and it is meaningless. But I think there is an underlying meaning to it. Our ancestors must have done it for a purpose. My mother believes in it and they know our marriage will fail. It is just hard for me to deny all of that"
- A brilliant (at science) friend in a shocking (to me) revelation of his caste based prejudices.

#4:
"I know that you keep saying girls are as good as boys. I think women have no capacity to education. And no matter how much you tell me otherwise, I cant seem to accept it"
- Many fathers I have tried to convince, come up with this line of argument.

#5:
"I GET all your points that Homeopathy's affects are at best as much as a placebo's affects, dude. I GET IT. But that does not take away the active cases of people's experience. I do not think one can use names like 'scientific method' and disagree with people's experience. And at the end, I just cannot agree to homeopathy being a quackery even if you show that it refutes chemistry, does not pass clinical trials. I think the evidence is not enough"
- My good atheist/humanist friend on the nature of homeopathy

#6
"Uncle, my Science Miss has taught me that lighter things are better things in life. They succeed in life and go up. Harder and heavier things go down, because they are unwilling and do not adjust in life. I think the Science Miss is correct because she is my Miss"
- One of my cousins when she was young

All these are conversations where I am trying to convince the opposite party of their unskeptical stands (ranging from hours to years!). I have concluded an hypothesis that the major cause for a lack of skepticism is the horrifying indoctrination that happens at childhood.
Note that I do not want to deconstruct their arguments. I have done that. My point here is to address the issue due to which they exist. I think kids are very impressionable, and ways of life that are forced on us have deep roots. As we grow up, we tend to protect our irrationalities. The smarter ones rationalize to protect, the not so smart might get offended to protect. All the people in the above conversation agree to being skeptical, but they think it does not apply when it comes to their pet irrationality. This kind of selective exclusion of judgement scares me.

I feel privileged to have a skeptical nature (for most things) and if the opposite is pointed to me, I am ashamed and I re evaluate! I feel wrong to argue with any of these people for their inductive reasoning and the conditioned behavior.

At one point I wonder, is it even true that we can reason with people who are conditioned to the extreme?
Is it true that reason is a good enough tool to persuade people to be skeptical about inductive reasoning?
Do all people have an equal capacity to be skeptical?
Do I have a right to ask parents to stop teaching kids blatantly irrational ideas?

I thought of one solution. I thought if I could fight fire with fire in these methods, it may work. If indoctrination is a root cause for all the trouble, then I want to indoctrinate the idea of skepticism to younger people. I think this indoctrination is one method that repeatedly can kill bad ideas and maintain good ideas. I want to advocate the philosophy of science along with nature of skepticism to kids. I hope that in their repertoire of fundamental axioms skepticism will serve as the filter that filters bad ideas.

My question (mainly to neuroscientists) is do you think it will work?

OR

Are the biases of people independent of their indoctrination?

Thanks smile
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#2
Dude, you make a point about the "indoctrination". Children tend to be more trusting and gullible than adults. Also they look up to their parents and their immediate social circle to take up the initial "guidelines" that will lay out their emotional and thinking background. A child brought up in a rigid, orthodox family will in all likelihoods turn out like his/her parents. But that is not to say that external factors like newspapers, journals, television, other friends can influence them to rethink their stance. It is unfortunate however that we hold onto passionately (either by our choice or not) the things we learnt in our childhood. It is difficult to unlearn years of propaganda about dietary choices, superstitions, religious practices, prejudices and biases, but it can be done. The idea is to plant the seed of doubt in children.
"how can you be sure that (example of instance) is true? Why don't you find out?"

" Do I have a right to ask parents to stop teaching kids blatantly irrational ideas?"
I don't think so. Their kids, their rules. We can only appeal to the children at an age when they can make rational decisions that won't jeopardize them. Eg. like the atheist kid who got disowned by his parents for his unbelief.

"Do all people have an equal capacity to be skeptical?"
No, I think. Everyone has an inherent sense of questioning, but most people accept the rituals as part of their routine as opposed to others who bring them under the knife. Eg: I see Christ's "sacrifice" as vicarious redemption via a human sacrificial offering that offers no redemption at all, while others just don't care about all this. They just sit at Church and sing prayers without questioning it.
"It's alright, I rarely meet anyone who's able to read it properly. Although personally, I never thought that it to be an odd of a name. Once I give people the pronunciation, they tend to remember my name by easily associating me with it. A unique face, a unique moniker."
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#3
I think indoctrination of rationality is an oxymoron. Rationality means acceptance of an idea through logical evaluation, while indoctrination means plain acceptance. So I don't see how rationality can be indoctrinated.

Also the examples that you have given, none of the subjects seem rational. The point of being rational is to be open minded for evaluation of claims. But they seem totally close minded. So I don't see how can they be considered rational.

Lastly, I think confirmation bias, preference for good over right and conferring incorrect weightage to consequences (inherent in humans) is a bigger cause for irrational behavior.

So my question to the neuroscientists would be, how to tackle the above?
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#4
(17-Apr-2012, 01:23 PM)Kanad Kanhere Wrote: I think indoctrination of rationality is an oxymoron. Rationality means acceptance of an idea through logical evaluation, while indoctrination means plain acceptance. So I don't see how rationality can be indoctrinated.

Yes, but cant being skeptical be indoctrinated. If there was one axiom I tell the kid that is most holy and takes precedence, it is being skeptical. Wouldnt the scientific method, freethinking be a natural consequence? Of course, humanist, secular may take more time. I am still understanding many of these concepts :(

Quote:Also the examples that you have given, none of the subjects seem rational. The point of being rational is to be open minded for evaluation of claims. But they seem totally close minded. So I don't see how can they be considered rational.
They are not rational about particular points, not all. Calling them irrational is uncalled for, as generally they are very reasonable on most other accounts. Confirmation bias is the right word I guess. There is a part of them that actively denies a theory if they have not seen evidence for it naturally (due to environment, class privileges, indoctrination).

Quote:Lastly, I think confirmation bias, preference for good over right and conferring incorrect weightage to consequences (inherent in humans) is a bigger cause for irrational behavior.

So my question to the neuroscientists would be, how to tackle the above?

Sometimes the person knows it is wrong and the consequences can be occasionally harmful, yet they seem to not agree to a point of view. I find it hard to blame them for this reluctance, because I can clearly see that reason has convinced them, yet they feel somethings wrong. I just do not know what to do at this point and I give up! :(
It is quite sad to win battles and not win the war in an argument!
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#5
nick87:

Quote:Their kids, their rules. We can only appeal to the children at an age when they can make rational decisions that won't jeopardize them.
I know that. But faith schools does not seem to think all that. Teachers with a religious bent seem to actively include material that is religious for 'the benefits' of the kids. I remember Moral Science classes as random unreasoned Hindu rules appreciation classes (like why boys must not talk to girls and it is ghora apavaada!).

My point is: why not also include a philosophy of Science class and talk about the methodology, history of science,and experimental fun; and let them decide what they want to pursue. I think it would be a good Moral Science class, though unintended.

Instead of Paapa/Punya (Sin/Blessing) technique, let us use Skeptical/blind faith technique and introduce them to the cornerstone of scientific philosophy of naturalism.

Isn't that a good course in its own right? I, for one, find it hard to spread freethinking with the face-on style of FIRA by debunking older individuals' viewpoints and go from top. I would rather spread freethinking in subtle ways by teaching young students and go bottom up.

Isnt that a valid alternative?



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#6
(17-Apr-2012, 02:16 PM)Why Wrote:
(17-Apr-2012, 01:23 PM)Kanad Kanhere Wrote: I think indoctrination of rationality is an oxymoron. Rationality means acceptance of an idea through logical evaluation, while indoctrination means plain acceptance. So I don't see how rationality can be indoctrinated.

Yes, but cant being skeptical be indoctrinated. If there was one axiom I tell the kid that is most holy and takes precedence, it is being skeptical. Wouldnt the scientific method, freethinking be a natural consequence? Of course, humanist, secular may take more time. I am still understanding many of these concepts :(

I can't think of such a golden rule. The closest a rule can come is "Weigh the logical merit of all theories, look for empirical evidences wherever possible". As Nick87 mentioned, this behavior can be encouraged, but indoctrination - don't see how that can be done.

(17-Apr-2012, 02:16 PM)Why Wrote:
Quote:Also the examples that you have given, none of the subjects seem rational. The point of being rational is to be open minded for evaluation of claims. But they seem totally close minded. So I don't see how can they be considered rational.
They are not rational about particular points, not all. Calling them irrational is uncalled for, as generally they are very reasonable on most other accounts. Confirmation bias is the right word I guess. There is a part of them that actively denies a theory if they have not seen evidence for it naturally (due to environment, class privileges, indoctrination).

Kindly note that I haven't referred to anybody as "irrational". I just said that from the examples that you have given, they come out fairly close minded and hence can't really be considered rational.

Conditioning affects us is a given. But the point of being rational is to be able to let your decisions be NOT affected by your conditioned emotions. You might feel disgusted after looking at a disfigured face, but if you enact based on that feeling that is wrong and not rational.

(17-Apr-2012, 02:16 PM)Why Wrote:
Quote:Lastly, I think confirmation bias, preference for good over right and conferring incorrect weightage to consequences (inherent in humans) is a bigger cause for irrational behavior.

So my question to the neuroscientists would be, how to tackle the above?

Sometimes the person knows it is wrong and the consequences can be occasionally harmful, yet they seem to not agree to a point of view. I find it hard to blame them for this reluctance, because I can clearly see that reason has convinced them, yet they feel somethings wrong. I just do not know what to do at this point and I give up! :(
It is quite sad to win battles and not win the war in an argument!

The sentence in the bold is typically caused by "preference for good over right". Most people think that principles etc. are just useless. Hedonism is deeprooted in humans to some extent.
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#7
Quote:I can't think of such a golden rule. The closest a rule can come is "Weigh the logical merit of all theories, look for empirical evidences wherever possible". As Nick87 mentioned, this behavior can be encouraged, but indoctrination - don't see how that can be done.
I guess I must read more philosophy :(
From Bertrand Russel's viewpoint, I was quite convinced that being skeptical is a good stand. Emphasize naturalist world views (the 'look for empirical evidence' bit, right?) and be skeptical of ideas ('Weigh the logical merit' bit, I think).
In terms of meaning, I am agreeing what nick87 and you are saying. But to teach kids, I need a sort of catch phrase that passes off as a golden rule and I think 'skeptical' seems reasonable.
I guess indoctrination seems contradictory, perhaps an axiom is more like it. It is a self applying axiom (I know Shri^n has blown this to hell! The 'skeptic is skeptical about being skeptic' and all that jazz...)

Quote:But the point of being rational is to be able to let your decisions be NOT affected by your conditioned emotions.
I would perhaps call them potentially rational people. I am talking about a form of classical conditioning that a lot of people exhibit. From my experience, I can convince them some times, if I repeatedly bring up the topic or a bunch of like minded friends agree with me. It sort of convinces the other person to re evaluate the strategy very seriously. But anyway, I digress. I can leave that to them, Nirmukta and FIRA. They can decide for themselves and I am more interested in the reasons why they have such conditioning and try to catch it at the root!

Quote:The sentence in the bold is typically caused by "preference for good over right". Most people think that principles etc. are just useless. Hedonism is deeprooted in humans to some extent.

OK.

Coming back:
Either way, my question is pertinent in today's context where profs engage in controlling behaviour at premier institutions and engage in abysmal moral policing at other colleges.

Stereotype threat looms at large and we miss simple explanations.

When I see such news, I wonder if a competing skeptical mindset (to their religious ideologies) would have helped in reducing such blatantly biased people.
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#8
At the very outset, a distinction maybe useful between the merely quirky,quaint,exasperating behavioural patterns arising out of cultural conditioning, and the more explicitly supremacist and demonstrably detrimental patterns. There is only so much time we have to engage acquaintances in argument, and only so much goodwill to stake, and therefore we may need to choose our debates with some care.

One instance of the spectrum from quaint and exasperating to supremacist and detrimental, can be illustrated as follows: I grew up listening to Carnatic music and till this day I find that it gives me more pleasure than any other sort of music, which interests me only for a time before I come home to Carnatic. ---> Once you hear what Carnatic music has to offer, you would be left with little doubt of its inspiration from another realm. ---> The monstrosities that go by the name of music in the present day are symptomatic of civilizational decline which a return to Carnatic roots alone can remedy.---> Actually it is not just about music, and what society really needs is a full return to preceptor-disciple traditions.

If this stops with the first sentence, I would perhaps leave it at treating it as a benign-enough matter of taste. If more and more exceptionalist claims are made, then I may initiate a discussion on cultural pluralism. If the exceptionalism veers towards supremacism of any kind, then it is time to unremittingly demand explanations and evidence, like "The accomplishments of your school of music in the aesthetic realm are impressive and undeniable…but why of late has musicianship become almost dynastic and operating within the confines of elitist exclusivity?" The point is that many such conversations lend themselves to a pluralistic approach where a mix of indulgence when tolerable and clear expression of incredulity when not, can be judiciously employed and surprising number of instances may not demand resorting to hostility of any sort.

Some approaches that can help prevent avoidable hostility are:

-Instead of starting sentences with something like "It is stupid of you to ignore the consequences of... ", start with "Here's something you may have missed...". This way we come across as offering help and information rather than simply levying criticism and reproach. For instance, while talking to say a Satya Sai Baba cult sympathizer,here are some questions to pose to them from a standpoint of "Here's one angle of looking at it you may have missed..." rather than "You are wrong and here's why!".

- So that differences of opinion are addressed on their merits rather than being conflated and confounded by deeper divides, it may help to keep one's identity small. In other words, erecting a believer-freethinker divide when realistically both interlocutors may occupy different positions on a larger gray spectrum, seems an avoidable divide, especially when there are already enough differences to grapple with. For instance, in the article mentioned above, the questions raised could just as well be posed by a conscientious believer or agnostic and one needn't have been a hard atheist to pose them, and therefore refraining from proclaiming oneself as an 'atheist' may offer significant tactical advantages by way of enabling more conversations to further the cause.

Speaking of persons with impressive scientific track-records holding surprisingly primitive beliefs, it does not make very good press when those who call them out on this sort of cognitive dissonance are more often than not, not fellow scientists of comparable credentials. For example, when a fence-sitter reads about journalist Christopher Hitchens and the very recent neuroscience PhD Sam Harris lambast a Francis Collins or a Kenneth Miller for 'suffering from cognitive dissonance' and not being 'intellectually fulfilled scientists', then the first question that arises to anyone who believes that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, is "In what way has this harmed their Science?". If advocates of reason wish to counter this, the only way going forward is to make their supposedly superior commitment to Reason count in tangible ways in terms of better Science, better Art and better living in general. Even more than such debates with those whom one sees as superstitious scientists, perhaps greater priority ought to be accorded to ourselves becoming as good as we can in what we do.

Often any intervention we may attempt is circumscribed by notions of 'personal space' and 'civil liberties'. If justifications of unorthodox choices in matters such whom to marry and how to raise one's children, can be provided invoking by civil liberties, then the same liberties can be invoked to justify orthodox choices as well! Even when we enjoy a certain comfort level with our interlocutors and can take the liberty of offering our views on these personal matters, one runs into 'mental blocks' which can manifest as misoneism, and, as has rightly been pointed out here, are a bigger hurdle than any lines drawn by 'civil liberties'. Michael Shermer's recent book, "The Believing Brain" attempts to synthesize a diverse body of findings on what renders us prone to form beliefs first and seek evidence at leisure if at all. There is also another less widely discussed body of scholarship, discussed briefly here, which holds that a bias-centric explanation seems to ignore an important aspect of bigotry as an 'emergent property' of crowds and certain kinds of mobilization. Whatever the intermingled origins of deep-seated beliefs, they are nevertheless fully caused and this maybe reason enough to 'cut conservatives some slack', as Tom Clark suggests here.

What this means for us is that we will always be faced with judgment calls about when to hold people accountable for the burden of our incredulity by saying, "I don't understand how you could possibly believe that." and when to recognize genuine compulsions by instead starting with "I kind of understand where that comes from, but...". In settings of online mobilization, articulating uncompromising stances with a good dose of bravado to maintain morale may well be recommended, but in more mixed real-life settings, we may have to necessarily strive to cultivate 'the courage to change the things we can, the patience to bear the things we can't and the wisdom to know the difference'.
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#9
Arvind,

Your post # 8 has many gems. It is articulated very well and has good food for thought. Thank you.
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