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Whose truth?
Old 01-29-2007, 02:02 PM   #1
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Whose truth?

Wife and I had an interesting discussion last night inspired by a television character saying "Truth is relative...pick one that works".

I've opined previously on "hairballs" we all have that may interpret our observations and perceptions to create 'truths' that we believe in. A number of studies have demonstrated that fairly complex decisions are made frequently without the consideration of available facts...we already have a construction inside of us that has previously interpreted some aspect of the "problem" to be solved and has already come to a conclusion. I call these constructions "hairballs".

A great example is to sidle up to a depression era person and ask them if they'd like to buy some shares of stock. You'll see a nice hairball emerge pretty quickly. Even if what you were to propose to them was a very nice value and had a lot of things going for it, that "stocks bad - depression" link in them has made the decision already. Your subsequent facts will be of little interest to them as their hairball goes into overdrive.

So anyhow, I was recalling this...ummm.... "marketing workshop" I was involved in some years ago. Some details may be off, but the premise is clean.

There was an exercise where a bunch of people were recruited to take part in a two day survey. A sampling was rounded up, paid for their services, and put into a minivan to be taken to a central location for the study to take place. On the way, they stopped and hopped out at a convenience store to get drinks and snacks - paid by the driver to promote the whole thing. While they were within site of but far enough away from the register to do anything stupid, a couple of guys (all staged) came in and "robbed" the store. Quick in and out, cashier just handed them a wad directly from the open register. Everyone had a good 15-20 second look at them while a fairly decent color 'security camera' (way better than the 15fps black and white jobs) recorded the whole thing.

Everyone was settled down, moved back into the van and taken to the facility, where they were casually asked about the robbery (as if you needed to prod them to get them to start talking about it...). The time was about an hour past the incident.

Heres where variable truth comes to play. None of them accurately described the incident, the participants, or even the actual events. There was one guy, two guys, three guys, tall/short/black/white, it took 2 minutes, 10 seconds, the guy behind the counter looked like he knew them/was scared/looked like he was going to go for a gun...it was all different.

Talk about screwing up your faith in eyewitnesses. Now I know why a lot of cops suggest that an eyewitness is the least reliable source of information.

So they proceeded with the fake study stuff, then had the people come back in the next day for round two. Again while things were being "set up", they were casually asked about the events of the day before. Even further embellishment. Stories were tweaked, "improved", additional things remembered, details altered.

It was fascinating to see people create and progressively spin "their yarns".

What they didnt do (and I'd have liked to see it) is show these folks the actual tape of the incident and see how they responded to the gross differences between what their brains recorded and tweaked and what, in the absence of surprise and duress, actually happened.

The real twist? The workshop leader pointing out that our own brains had performed interpretations on the "reality" that we saw, and even created some pre-judgements about the individuals involved based on their appearance and behavior, and would further process those events over time to create differences in our perception of the whole activituy. In effect, we couldnt even say for sure that our own direct and independent observations would be accurate and remain so.

This was sort of an elaborate version of "the whisper game", to be sure.

Which brings me to the point of noting that we all have our hairballs, ways of looking at things, visceral reactions and progressive interpretations. A lot of the time these get in the way of communicating, learning and even getting along. Principally because our "truth" feels threatened when it encounters other "truths".

To wit: we've had some folks feel that other members feel a certain way when theres no obvious indication that they in fact do. Some folks feel that the whole board has a 'taint' or 'direction' to it, yet when the evidence is measured, its not really that way.

Perhaps if we spent a little more time considering our hairballs and those of others, and spent the time to really read and comprehend what they're saying rather than projecting on individuals and the group as a whole...we'd learn a lot more and be better for it.
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Re: Whose truth?
Old 01-29-2007, 02:20 PM   #2
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Re: Whose truth?

I'm not sure exactly what you're referring to, but I'm on board!
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Re: Whose truth?
Old 01-29-2007, 02:20 PM   #3
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Re: Whose truth?

Start with a conclusion and select facts to back it up. People around me do it all the time. Whether it is a hairball caused by previously interpreted aspects, or just what Mawma and Daddu told 'em was so, I can't speculate. At this point I'm just mad because I'm under attack for simply not being absolutely sure about my opinion on everything, as if being a stubborn blockhead is something to strive for!

My Grandpa got over the depression hairball quickly, and because of it my Grandma is enjoying the type of retirement others can only wish for. I use that exact example to try and nudge people into not just drinking the CW kool aid. Doesn't seem to work.

An article went around work regarding some political stuff. It was interesting to see that each person I talked to read something entirely different, and that it agreed exactly with their predisposed world view. The article was actually a pretty objective factual account, but people saw what they wanted to.
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Re: Whose truth?
Old 01-29-2007, 02:27 PM   #4
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Re: Whose truth?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cute Fuzzy Bunny
Perhaps if we spent a little more time considering our hairballs and those of others, and spent the time to really read and comprehend what they're saying rather than projecting on individuals and the group as a whole...we'd learn a lot more and be better for it.
Where's the fun in that? I enjoy highlighting your many hairballs pushing your buttons.
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Re: Whose truth?
Old 01-29-2007, 02:30 PM   #5
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Re: Whose truth?

Paying off the house is irrational, use that equity to get a better return on the mortgage!
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Re: Whose truth?
Old 01-29-2007, 02:39 PM   #6
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Re: Whose truth?

Quote:
Originally Posted by wab
Where's the fun in that? I enjoy highlighting your many hairballs pushing your buttons.
Oh I'm sorry, I missed that. Can you let me know when you're doing it? I've noted many child-like attempts to create somewhat interesting side discussions that I've allowed from time to time...was that it?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Laurence
Paying off the house is irrational, use that equity to get a better return on the mortgage!
Indeed. Many of our discussions are about decisions already rendered, the array of intelligent sounding reasons we've assembled around those predispositions, followed by angry retorts when the air is let out of them.

One of the classic responses (and man do we get it here) is to excessively simplify something or create a set of parameters that excludes incompatible conclusions.

The mortgage thing is a great example. Some folks want to cut it down to a "how much will it cost, how much can I make" decision, while some hairball is thumbing the string in their brain that says "I'm afraid of debt", "I'm afraid of losing my house", or "I'm a vulcan and will keep my plan even into its 10th year of not working out".
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Re: Whose truth?
Old 01-29-2007, 04:24 PM   #7
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Re: Whose truth?

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

--- Supposed to be an old Irish saying
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Re: Whose truth?
Old 01-29-2007, 04:50 PM   #8
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Re: Whose truth?

my psych teacher staged a similar "robbery scene" with us in high school only it was a raging student who came into the classroom, screamed something at the teacher then stormed out. or at least that's how i remember it.

there is a buddhist story of a man going up river in his boat after a day of fishing. coming down river another boat is headed right towards him. he steers to navigate out of the way but the boat heading downstream has him in it's sights.

the man is getting very frustrated and angry and curses the pilot of the other vessel. he's screaming at the top of his lungs and his face has turned red in excitement and he's angry enough to kill. the other boat gets closer and closer and finally, as it passes, just missing his boat, the angry man sees that there is no one piloting the other boat.

it was just a boat adrift on the current which happened his way.

"there are places where the mind dies so that a truth which is its very denial may be born."~~albert camus
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Re: Whose truth?
Old 01-29-2007, 04:52 PM   #9
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Re: Whose truth?

CFB,
Great thread.
Much of this ties into the whole business of "Cognitive Dissonance" (one of the many interesting things I picked during my time as a psychology undergrad). People unconsciously process information in ways that will reduce the actual or potential conflict caused by holding mutually incompatible beliefs. It has some intersting ramifications. Knowing about the whole thing can at least help one be conscious of the bias built into our info processing system.

A Wiki short read:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance
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Re: Whose truth?
Old 01-29-2007, 05:00 PM   #10
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Re: Whose truth?

so then is the trick of knowing or at least sharing truth not believing in anything?
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Re: Whose truth?
Old 01-29-2007, 05:45 PM   #11
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Re: Whose truth?

I have heard these described as "reality tunnels" or "reality filters". We get bombarded with information and part of our brain's function is to filter this information so that we can function. Our truths are the "reality filters". Some things are easier to agree on. I think we could all agree on that in New York City, on a cloudless day, the sun would rise in the east and set in the west. That is a truth shared by most people. Note the social conventions of east and west. Other truths are not shared, such as the robbery scenario.

A more controversial truth is the answer to "Is the sun rising good or bad?" If you were a mugger or someone who likes the night, it would be bad. If you were trying to grow a plant or get a tan it would be good.

And things get more complex when there is lots of contradictory data (see Tolerance for Ambiguity). The War in Iraq is a good example. There was an editorial that pointed out that Conservatives would see the pieces of data that pointed towards Hitler and WWII. Liberals would see the pieces of data that reflect their beliefs that the war reflected the Vietnam War. And each group believes that theirs in the only truth. (For the record, the article suggested that Iraqi should be viewed in light of the French experience in Algeria). And people will not remember key events that do not support their view. A lot of it is just how our brains are wired.

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Re: Whose truth?
Old 01-29-2007, 05:46 PM   #12
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Re: Whose truth?

Did the robbers use guns?

If so they are lucky they weren't shot by a good samaritan or off duty cop!
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Re: Whose truth?
Old 01-29-2007, 05:48 PM   #13
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Re: Whose truth?

The trick of knowing truth is to make the assumption that none of your previous assumptions are the best basis for the current situation.

Quote:
Originally Posted by lazygood4nothinbum
so then is the trick of knowing or at least sharing truth not believing in anything?
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Re: Whose truth?
Old 01-29-2007, 06:34 PM   #14
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Re: Whose truth?

Quote:
Originally Posted by samclem
CFB,
Great thread.
Much of this ties into the whole business of "Cognitive Dissonance" (one of the many interesting things I picked during my time as a psychology undergrad). People unconsciously process information in ways that will reduce the actual or potential conflict caused by holding mutually incompatible beliefs. It has some intersting ramifications. Knowing about the whole thing can at least help one be conscious of the bias built into our info processing system.

A Wiki short read:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance
Dad and I would abuse the phrase - when we'd see a man dressed in gang member attire quote Plutarch we'd wink at each other and say "Cognitive Dissonance!".
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Re: Whose truth?
Old 01-29-2007, 07:05 PM   #15
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Re: Whose truth?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Peaceful_Warrior
The trick of knowing truth is to make the assumption that none of your previous assumptions are the best basis for the current situation.
one of robert heinlein's characters in stranger in a strange land (aka my college bible) was known as a fair witness. according to the all knowing wiki: "A Fair Witness is an individual trained to observe events and report exactly what he or she sees and hears, making no extrapolations or assumptions. An eidetic memory is a prerequisite for the job, although this may be attainable with suitable training."

and how funny that wiki has the very example i was just about to cite: when asked what color is the house, a fair witness will only reply that the house is white on this side, making no presumption about sides not witnessed.

edit: eidetic memory = total recall (thought i'd save everyone the bother)
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Re: Whose truth?
Old 01-29-2007, 07:08 PM   #16
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Re: Whose truth?

Yeah, but if the fair witness found out he (or she) was in a psych. experiment, he might not grok the wall's color.
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Re: Whose truth?
Old 01-29-2007, 07:20 PM   #17
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Re: Whose truth?

probably even a fair witness can take a joke, but without belief, or at least faith enough to taste the paint, does the fair witness grok at all? does grokking or truth ever require a leap of faith which would be beyond the administrative duties of the fair witness or would that leap of faith deny that truth?
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Re: Whose truth?
Old 01-30-2007, 12:49 AM   #18
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Re: Whose truth?

I really grok this stuff man, don't bogart that .....
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Re: Whose truth?
Old 01-30-2007, 12:55 AM   #19
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Re: Whose truth?

No one would know more about hairballs getting in the way of truth than you, CFB.
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Re: Whose truth?
Old 01-30-2007, 02:40 AM   #20
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Re: Whose truth?

I haven't read that book in over 15 years. I think it may be time for me to revisit it after I finish reading all these baby books.

Quote:
Originally Posted by lazygood4nothinbum
one of robert heinlein's characters in stranger in a strange land (aka my college bible) was known as a fair witness. according to the all knowing wiki: "A Fair Witness is an individual trained to observe events and report exactly what he or she sees and hears, making no extrapolations or assumptions. An eidetic memory is a prerequisite for the job, although this may be attainable with suitable training."

and how funny that wiki has the very example i was just about to cite: when asked what color is the house, a fair witness will only reply that the house is white on this side, making no presumption about sides not witnessed.

edit: eidetic memory = total recall (thought i'd save everyone the bother)
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