Existential Cognitive Dissonance
Existential cognitive dissonance is said to be clinical cognitive dissonance in its existential or absolute form. This is has also been referred to as 'Cosmic Cognitive Dissonance' by Russell Wright, the author of this concept. (Also See Epimemetic Philosophy)
This theory predicts that "culturally determined subconsciously reinforced unhealthy religious and moral belief systems" arise from the intolerable fact that physical death is inevitable.
The second cause of ECD (existential cognitive dissonance) is "purely existential" and transcends the inevitability of death as a factor. Almost all unhealthy belief systems and dogmatic religious doctrines are cemented into place by the fact that our very existence cannot be accounted for nor easily explained. Human beings prefer definitive answers and will choose pathological certainty over pathological uncertainty. It is more comfortable for most people to have "explicit" answers that are reinforced by dogma and charismatic (pathologically certain) leaders, than to live in perpetual uncertainty.
This creates an obvious internal contradiction that is somehow not obvious to the believer. The scientific term for this internal psychological contradiction is: cognitive dissonance.
In Wright's theory, this well known "cognitive dissonance" (internal contradiction) creates a cognitive dissonance vacuum that needs to be relieved (and filled) at a deep mesolimbic level in the same way the ordinary cognitive dissonance needs to be relieved by deeper delusions. If relief is not forthcoming, a psychologically dangerous break from grounded reality is proven to be inevitable. This is why humans will confabulate (often to their detriment) the reasons for their ordinary, irrational and extraordinary behaviors (*see When Prophecy Fails by Leon Festinger). This ECD delusion happens in the day to day life of ordinary people, not just in the lives of 'spiritual' people who are seeking relief from ECD by joining cults, following gurus, or engaging in various meditational or ritual (repetitive) practices.
It is the opinion of ECD theory that repetitive cult-like rituals, trance states and exoteric spiritual practices can be useful and good only when the "user" is fully cogniscient of the fact that he/she is in a consistent operational state of Existential Cognitive Dissonance, and that such rituals will not help one "magically" escape physical death. When the student or 'seeker' becomes aware that he has pursued secular and spiritual practices only to relieve himself from the discomfort generated by ECD, he is able to transform existential cognitive dissonance into existential cognitive consonance. Spiritual practices may even be helpful to this end, if they are no longer being used as merely (and only) an escape mechanism.
Existential means: - of or from or pertaining to or characteristic of the cosmos or existence. Cognitive dissonance means: See Cognitive dissonance. This theory suggests that just as Cognitive dissonance is caused by internal psychological contradictions which causes people to behave in ways that help them relieve the uncomfortable feelings of dissonance . . . there is also a form of internal contradiction that is existential and absolute.
It is also suggested in this theory that most human beings are unaware of their own internal existential cognitive dissonance (existential suffering). This is because such dissonance is (for most people) an underlying mode of operation. This mode of operation is unconscious and results in ongoing behaviors that are reactions to an underlying existential blind spot. This concept could be consonant with age old mystical terms for suffering used by (for example) Buddha and other mythical saints such as Christ. Esoteric terms, phrases and memes used to describe ECD include: wheel of karma, Samsara, Tamas, Sin, Fall From Grace, etc.
The ordinary citizen is almost ENTIRELY preoccupied with relieving the pain of day-to-day cognitive dissonance with drugs, work, exoteric religion, pop culture, video games and a myriad of other distractions and sedations. It is because of this "distraction therapy" that few human beings seldom approach the "ROOT" of human overall dissonance (ie. ECD). Like ordinary cognitive dissonance, ECD effects almost all decisions that people make but with a general caveat: existential cognitive dissonance causes people to believe things that may be harmful to themselves and others in order to avoid asking uncomfortable larger questions.
Until a person has a (memetic) "mirror" held up to this cognitive blind spot, they will continue to confabulate their own behaviors, clueless as to why they do most anything at all. Of course like Confabulation, they will give verbal reasons for the things they do, but these reasons will be wrong. What makes matters worse is that nobody knows when they are in a moment of confabulation. A blind spot is called a "blind" spot for this reason.
Most people are unaware of cognitive dissonance in even its most fundamental form, and therefore cannot catch themselves from arriving at conclusions based on wrong thinking and preconceived notions. (See the groundbreaking book on this topic by Carol Tavris called Misakes Were Made but Not By Me)
Once someone has made a decision and become invested in that decision (good or bad), their belief in their decision has become emotional and they begin to become invested in the idea that the choice was justified.
Once a choice (good or bad) has become emotional- people would rather send an innocent person to jail for the rest of their life than admit that they were wrong.
This is evident in several clinical studies investigating the wrongfully accused (See The Innocence Project)and how confessions were forced using preconceived positions of guilt. A police Instructor using the REID method of interrogation, when asked how he could be so "certain" that he is not "forcing a false confession" using his pseudo-scientific method of unconsciously leading the witness, was caught on camera to say: "Because I don't interrogate innocent people."
What he said was that the citizens he interrogates (and teaches officers to interrogate) are presumed "Guilty until Proven Innocent."
This is a preposterous level of arrogance, and yet it is the same socially presumed arrogance leveraged by Adolph Hitler of the Third Reich.
Furthermore, the idea that cops elect only to interrogate guilty people is the opposite of what our judicial system claims to uphold: "Innocent Until Proven Guilty."
Who is the true prisoner then? The interrogator or the interrogated?
From the perspective of neuroscience, it could be said that both the accuser and the accused are in a state of total suffering- especially if you can make the mental jump from the idea of "suffering" to the idea of "cognitive blind spot" or Confabulation based on confabulation theory and/or the "wrongfully accused".
Who (or what) have you judged incorrectly today? Would you even know if you did? Would you know when you are doing it?
Clinical studies have shown that you almost never know when you are doing it, because it is natural for the mind to use things like stereo-types and snap judgments in order to make quick decisions. It is the emotional decision-making part of our primate brains that seems to get in the way of us not only being more intelligent but more compassionate.
The fundamental message of ECD (and Russell Wright) is that human beings form strong preconceived opinions rather quickly. When they get attached to an opinion they effect the outcome even when they are wrong (which is often). Marriages are destroyed by the exactly same sort of cognitive biases and confirmation biases that get innocent people thrown in jail. Likewise scientific data prepaid by Big Pharma-funded interests is subject to extreme prejudice and confirmation-only bias. Many of the scientists who set up the experiments for Big Pharma to test experimental (potentially dangerous) drugs believe that they are doing the correct thing and that they are in no way biased. They are "caught in the context" so to speak, like most blind spots, even the most intelligent people are often powerless against them. Even when these Confabulations are countered by disconfirming evidence from independent research firms (with zero financial interest) the need to reduce the cognitive dissonance between "I am well meaning, intelligent scientist with integrity" and "I just killed 500 people by releasing a drug with horrible side effects" will overtake even a person with a High IQ. Most research scientist working for Big Pharma are justified in what they are doing, because if they admitted the flaw in their research, they would lose tons of money. Too much dissonance. The "need to be right" is the motivating factor in cognitive dissonance and dissonance theory. Believe it or not, most of these scientist are not evil people engaged in acts of conspiracy and cover-up. They are justifying themselves unconsciously. Very few of today's researchers are a part of Hitler's Research Lab where the scientists knowingly violated human rights by performing perverse experiments on live specimens.
It is often quite shocking to find out that you (an intelligent person) have done a stupid thing.
Due to the Slippery slope effect, once humans make up their mind about something one way or the other, clinical studies have shown that it is possible to "force a confession" from a suspect, especially when the police officer has made up his mind about the suspects guilt. Once he has made up his mind that the person he is interrogating is "guilty" (often based on departmental financial incentives)all of the officer's thoughts, deeds, and manipulative actions (straight from the REID Training Manual) create a Catch-22 that creates Cognitive dissonance in the suspect. For example, it is completely legal in many states for an officer to introduce false information, such as "your fingerprints were found on the murder weapon" even when they were not. (Yes, unbelievable but true- and we have signed a petition to make this illegal). Planting evidence will often create a huge amount of emotional dissonance in a suspect causing him to cave into a false confession because he is in shock or a stunned stupor. When people are numb, knees weak from shock, it has been shown clinically that they will admit to something they could not have done- or even to ask questions that the officer will take as a confession.
Confused Suspect: "I have no memory of holding that weapon! Could I have blacked out and killed this person?"
Officer: "Sure, it happens all the time."
In this case, the officer puts this person in jail who is not freed for 18 years. The cosmic joke (Existential Cognitive Dissonance) is that the officer is the guilty one, and does not even know how deluded he actually is, and he is paid for his speed and manipulative prowess.
When the wrongfully accused are released there are no state apologies, not financial support and in most states all credit, credibility and past records have been liquidated. There are no programs to help these people- not even a formal letter of apology" "Hey we locked you up for one half of your life, sorry about that."
Why are there no apologies? Same reason as everything else above. Cognitive dissonance and the need to relieve the guilt via self-justification. The system is defending itself from the overwhelming number of wrongfully accused cases at the moment- and they cannot afford to be seen as wrong. People need to believe that the "system works" and that the "Authorities" are not just as blind as they are. Not all officers are so anxious to get a confession that they will use Slippery Slope tactics and other such Jedi Mind Tricks.
Run-of-the-mill cognitive dissonance becomes existential cognitive dissonance as soon as we imprison or enslave ourselves, other people, or other races- all the while remaining blind to the fact that such behaviors are motivated by our own existential suffering and cultural determinism and NOT motivated by fairy-tale stories or Confabulations we tell ourselves or others. It is possible to easily spin tall tales and lie to ourselves individually (like Hitler did in World Ward 2) using religious confabulation, agnosia, and self deception . . . and we may even lie to our community by achieving Communal reinforcements and communal buy-in from a group of peers or religious followers. Do not underestimate the power of this irrational pattern, as it was part of our sexual evolution in groups and clans. The skilled persuaders and leaders throughout history have inevitably been able to convince others of things that are not true universally. (See Neuromarketing, propaganda, and Epimemetic Philosophy by neuromarketer and inventor Russell Wright). In other words, Truth is not one of the strong selectors for Memes.
Powerful leaders suffering from ECD are extremely dangerous in that they believe what they are saying and they will be able to convince others that what they are saying is true. Because they are completely unconscious that even their apparent "pathological certainty" is their attempt to relieve their own existential cognitive dissonance (or massive suffering) that is intrinsic to their magnetic personality. In order to achieve "buy-in" from the community all sorts of of unconscious preconceived religious or political beliefs and Memes may be introduced and perpetuated that have nothing to do with the facts. The stories told (and perpetually reinforced) by leaders throughout history are often meant to keep our moral blind spots hidden. History is written by the winners, and it is remembered poorly. The more times a story gets told, the more it changes to match the self-justifications of the teller himself.
Failure to recognize moral blind spots that arise more directly from cognitive dissonance inevitably leads to crimes against humanity.
This is why it is necessary to become a mental escape artist. The best suggestion is for you to study and experience everything you can about your own mental and emotional blind spots and attempt to get honest about your own cognitive dissonance and catch yourself "justifying" a cherished idea, choice, or belief- especially when that belief contains a lot of certainty. The more certain you are that you are "right" the more wrong you are likely to be in many cases- especially where complex decisions are concerned.
Existential Cognitive Dissonance can be dealt with in several ways using several methods- all of them are designed to help you hold a mirror up to your cognitive blind spots. Once you begin to have a deep seated recognition of the laws of confabulation, and you begin to question your own convictions- as soon as you find it easy to let go of "being right" you are moving towards Existential Cognitive Consonance. As you move fully into this awareness you will almost feel as if you are Awake for the first time. You will always "find out" the answers to questions for yourself, and you will no longer have a pathological need to "be right."
Certainty has nothing to do with it. Unless you are certain that you are wrong.