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Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Absolute thinking - the Truth as a Belief system

Recently, an Aeon article made me aware of a new concept: absolute thinking. Whenever you read random online comments, you quickly discover this concept: (very) simplified comments to (very) complex issues. Possibly, such comments express irony, or are provocations for creating angry responses ("trolling").

The problem is that "human beings, regardless of race, religion or culture, are likely to embrace any belief that is absolute. This is because absolute beliefs are simple, easy to comprehend, and false positives that offer us a false sense of security." (PsychologyToday, 2011) Note LO: markings in quote by me.

Politicians always face this same dilemma: absolute thinking versus nuance. There might even be a correlation between the (apparentincrease in absolute thinking and the decline in IQ since the 1970s. The 45th President appears to be an expert in absolute thinking; his nuance is mostly absent, ignored or neglected.

Absolute thinking is the connection between my concept of the 7 Belief systems and extreme beliefs. All extreme beliefs require absolute thinking and the loss of all nuance. Absolute thinking is an example of the Truth as a Belief system: the right to your own personal truth. Also see my 2018 blog: You don’t have a right to believe whatever you want to (Aeon).

These quotes from a 1999 study on absolute thinking and health show this connection:
  • "Absolutist thinking has been identified in therapeutic studies as a style of thinking which is believed to promote emotional distress, particularly anger, when people are confronted by situations which do not conform to their demands concerning what ought to happen."
  • "It is not a discrete thought process, however, but a key aspect of a framework of beliefs and reactions which are thought to make people vulnerable to poor psychological and physical health when faced with personal, domestic or work problems."

Absolute thinking might be of American origin. Aeon: "The term cognitive miser, first introduced by the American psychologists Susan Fiske and Shelley Taylor in 1984, describes how humans seek the simplest and least effortful ways of thinking. Nuance and complexity is expensive – it takes up precious time and energy – so wherever possible we try to cut corners."

I wonder whether American gullibility stimulates absolute thinking and extreme beliefs. These may be the hidden psychological drivers of American mass shootings. The perpetrators seem to follow their own truths. The huge availability of guns cannot be its main explanation (NYT-2017). 

“Absolutes are coercion. Change is absolute.” An intriguing quote by Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), American poet, philosopher, writer, and activist.

Absolute (1984) by Scritti Politti - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless stated otherwise