Last December, I needed to do a long drive across Southern Ontario to pick up my girlfriend. This was meant to be a 12 hour round trip by car covering roughly 1000km.
I love thinking about human psychology. In particular, I love thinking about things humans do that are non-obvious, but pervasively drive their behaviour.
I can think of two general principles that drive a great deal of human behaviour, yet are non-obvious.
I have to start this post with some self-reflection. It's easy to believe that only stupid people get swept up in cults. I heard a few years ago, however, that in fact intelligent people are in fact more likely to join a cult (article, reference).
As a practising Christian, I've therefore spent a lot of time considering whether I'm just another naive cult member.
I used to come across linear algebra problems in math class that seemed impossible to solve. Consider trying to find the value of x, y, and z given this set of two equations:
4x + 3y + z = 8
x + y = 2
If I plug this into Wolfram Alpha, all it can tell me is "y = 4 - x". That doesn't solve for x, y, and z like we want. The problem is intractable.
When I was younger I believed in the Internet. I believed the Internet was a brave place, where knowledge and culture was disseminated freely. I saw it as a place where you could tap into unparalleled knowledge and improve yourself.
I love the feeling of reading a great Bible passage and having that chilling realization that I've still got so much to learn in life. It's called being "convicted". I associate it with positive feelings by now, since I know that if I follow the train of thought, and make some changes in my life, I'll feel so much better later.
I am a dishonest debater.
I remember being around 7 years old and arguing with my brother. Some adult had told us in the past not to run when crossing the road, and I agreed. My brother, a little older and a little more rebellious, still wanted to run across the road. One day, he did, and I confronted him.
"Don't run across the road" I (proudly) stated.
"Why not?" he (reasonably) asked.
At some point in my life, I started going to meetings, and slowly started gathering good and bad experiences. Also, for some reason, during university I actually studied how to have productive meetings, and I’ve kept a few tidbits of wisdom from that course.
I hold this truth to be self evident: most meetings are a waste of time.
But there’s a corollary: it’s also hard to identify which of your meetings are a waste of time, and why. It’s hard to predict in advance whether a meeting will be productive.
Consider the "strawman" logical fallacy (wonderfully illustrated in video here):
- Person A presents her argument (call it A).
- Person B voices his disagreement with argument S (an exaggerated or incorrect version of A).
I'm a Christian and a feminist. Membership in both groups is a key part of my identity. If you talk to someone with a simplistic understanding of these groups, though, they might be surprised that it's possible to be a member of both groups!
The problem is that we aren't very good at differentiating subgroups that happen to share the same label. We lump Catholics, Pentecostals, and Unitarians into one group called "Christians". We even lump Canadian Christians and American Christians into one group!