Traps of the Mind (Part 2)

In the last article, I talked about how the brain has evolved for survival rather than accuracy. Now we'll look at some specific biases or shortcomings of the way the mind interprets our inner and outer experience.

Cognitive Dissonance
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald

If we are to believe Fitzgerald, it is probably safe to say that there are few truly first-rate intelligences amongst us. Holding two opposed views in mind at the same time is very difficult to do because the brain experiences cognitive dissonance and wants to resolve mental conflicts, and it often does so without our awareness.

In their book, "Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): How We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts," Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson define cognitive dissonance as:

     "... a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions (ideas, attitudes, beliefs, opinions) that are psychologically inconsistent, such as 'Smoking is a dumb thing to do because it could kill me' and 'I smoke two packs a day.' Dissonance produces mental discomfort, ranging from minor pangs to deep anguish; people don't rest easy until they find a way to reduce it." (p. 13, italics added)