Posts Tagged ‘robert sapolsky’

Paranoid Poetics

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

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While waiting on hold to untangle a shipping issue with Amazon, I read this blog post about this article (featuring my hero Robert Sapolsky), and got to thinking about paranoia. This is a common equation in my brain:

Customer Service + Internet Multitasking = Dire Thoughts

The article is about research into stress, but the way it got boiled down into particularly tough media gristle is a textbook example of cognitive dissonance in action. That’s where you believe something and then get evidence contradicting that belief. People don’t like to hold conflicting thoughts in their heads, so while some shift their beliefs in the face of new evidence, for others, it only strengthens their conviction, much like doomsday cultists who decide that their prayers staved off the predicted apocalypse, leaving them free to devise a new date for the end of the world.

Back in college, we’d throw this and other psychological terms around (as one does), and we always shorthanded it as “Cognitive D.” Oh man, we’d say while wading through the dense and heady verbiage thickets of then-vogue pomo theorists, Cognitive D! I believe there was a zine or two that went by that name, and maybe a punk band that played in various basements, although those days are hazy (a psychological state that deserves its own shorthand—how about Rosy M or Foggy M, depending on your filter?).

I’m particularly intrigued by the people who use evidence against their beliefs as fuel for the fire, in much the same way that god-proselytizers feed on disdain or anger or slammed doors; it strengthens their resolve. I think it’s because I have relatives who see conspiracies in contrails and believe that FEMA is building a crematoriums.* “I wouldn’t just drive up to visit in an unfamiliar car,” my sheriff’s deputy cousin told me once, when discussing these outliers, “especially not with California plates.” One great uncle used to materialize in our kitchen like smoke, wearing copper bracelets and raving about making runs to Mexico for Laetrile. If he were alive today, he’d be drawn to the tea partiers, although I think he might be too freaky for them; he was the kind of guy the people I sidle away from with a fixed grin sidle away from with a fixed grin.

All of this is to say that Amazon kept me on hold long enough while kibbitzing with FedEx that I wrote a little poem for you:

Cognitive D: Ode to the Paranoid

You double down on
Certainty
With evidence to the
Contrary—
Can’t let facts crack
Convictions—
Let faith be reason’s
Conqueror!
Your heart’s packed tight with
Conspiracy,
While your head fights off the
Cognitive
D, until there’s no dissonance,
only emptiness.

But it’s no fun to write poetry alone. So please share your creative outpourings on this or other psychological phenomena. If Coozledad ever gets his wireless working again, reaction formation would be a natural one for him to tackle.

I’d also like to see your pysch terms for new phenomena. What would you call the realization when:

–>Only coworkers and bores are on IM?

–>Your boss asks you a question on a conference call, but you’ve been too busy reading about the poor choices of celebrities to know what he’s talking about?

–>It becomes clear that the old flame you’ve friended on facebook is (a) a galt’s gulcher, (b) a rabid bible quoter, or (c) an annoyingly happy newlywed with a baby on the way?

*OH, GREAT. When I googled “fematoriums,” this post was the top hit. So not only do I repeat myself, I’m also the SEO champ for that particular conspiracy theory. Yay, me. I win the internets!

Image via

Hero Worship: Robert Sapolsky

Friday, February 27th, 2009

sapolsky baboon

First off, he’s funny. And he can write: not just clear science without condescension or pretension (an overlooked gift), but glorious essays that may begin and end in science, but offer zinging tangents and hilarious revelations along the way. (more…)



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