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Paradox or contradiction?

Paradox or contradiction?


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If someone does not believe in ghosts, for example, why do they experience feelings of fear at the thought of such things? Is such thinking paradoxical?


Jung on Paradox

Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on this site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members.

Jung on Paradox

“… the paradox is one of our most valued spiritual possessions,…”

“… paradox is the natural medium for expressing transconscious facts.”

“… The paradox… reflects a higher level of intellect and, by not forcibly representing the unknowable as known, gives a more faithful picture of the real state of affairs….”

“Things have gone rapidly downhill since the Age of Enlightenment, for, once this petty reasoning mind, which cannot endure any paradoxes, is awakened, no sermon on earth can keep it down. A new task then arises: to lift this still undeveloped mind step by step to a higher level and to increase the number of persons who have at least some inkling of the scope of paradoxical truth…. We simply do not understand any more what is meant by the paradoxes contained in dogma… “

“And what you do not know is the only think you know

And what you own is what you do not own

And where you are is where you are not.”

A student was recently quite put out when I read a portion of Eliot’s “East Coker,” which contained the three lines quoted above. She said, in an aggrieved tone of voice, “But that doesn’t make any sense!” She was experiencing a “mind cramp,” an affront to the logic and rationality that are so prized in our culture. Our “petty reasoning minds” really don’t like paradoxes, as Jung recognized.[6] But he also recognized the value of paradox. This essay considers Jung’s attitudes toward this core feature of spirituality and why paradox is so important. We’ll begin with some definitions, offer examples and then consider the nature of paradox and its importance.

Years ago, when I asked students what “paradox” meant, one witty student (a devotée of the television series of the time) said “That’s when Casey meets Kildare.”[7] Nice try, but no: “paradox” has nothing to do with doctors. It comes from two Greek words para and dokein, meaning “to seem contrary to.”[8] A paradox is “a statement that may be true but seems to say two opposite things… a person or thing that seems to be full of contradictions…any inconsistent or contradictory fact, action or condition.”[9]

Jung recognized paradox is a “characteristic of the Gnostic writings”[10] that “did more justice to the unknowable than clarity can do,…”[11] because paradox refuses to rob spiritual “mystery of its darkness,”[12] and it serves to retain the unknowableness that is an inherent part of mystery. As I noted in an earlier blog essay,[13] modern Americans do not like mysteries, but the Gnostics did, in their understanding that the nature of Divinity is the mysterium tremendum, a tremendous mystery.

Jung also felt paradox could be a “better witness to truth than a one-sided, so-called ‘positive’ statement.”[14] As such, in its ability to embrace contradiction and both sides of an issue, paradox “… is the natural medium for expressing transconscious facts,”[15] and thus is “… one of our most valued spiritual possessions.”[16]

Besides its value in spiritual and religious contexts, Jung saw its utility in his researches in alchemy: “paradox and ambivalence are the keynotes of the whole work…”[17] of alchemy, and one whole section of Jung’s magnum opus, Mysterium coniunctionis, is on the “paradoxa.”[18]

Some Examples of Paradoxes

Volume 14 of Jung’s Collected Works is full of examples of paradoxes, e.g.: the physical and intellectual (mind and matter) virtues and vices corporeal and incorporeal corruptible and incorruptible visible and invisible spirit and body life and death good and evil truth and falsehood unity and multiplicity poverty and riches war and peace conqueror and conquered toil and repose sleep and waking childhood and old age male and female strong and weak hell and paradise those things that are and those that are not those things that may be spoken of and those which may not be spoken of[19] black and white cold and hot dry and moist a “running without running, moving without motion…”[20] a “good poison…”.[21] All of these are what Jung called “the conjunction of opposites…”.[22]

Some paradoxes Jung drew from religion (an area of life that Jung felt to be full of paradoxes given its focus on the unknowable). For example, the Virgin Mary’s virginity is a paradox (how could a woman who became a mother still be a virgin?).[23] The Self (Jung’s term for the divinity within every person), “…is a union of opposites par excellence… absolutely paradoxical in that it represents in every respect thesis and antithesis, and at the same time synthesis.”[24] In cabala (mystical Judaism), the relation of Malchuth to Kether is paradoxical—the lowest (Earth) to the highest (the Divine).[25] The Gnostics’ statement “learn to suffer, and you shall understand how not to suffer…”[26] is another example of paradox.

Jung’s alchemical studies, in volumes 12, 13, 14 and 16 of his Collected Works, also contain examples of paradox. The Philosopher’s stone,[27] the massa confusa of the collective unconscious,[28] the arcane substance,[29] the “Spirit Mercurius”[30]—all these are paradoxical in nature, containing contradictions or embodying opposites.

More modern examples come from cutting-edge science. Quantum physics, for example, is full of paradoxes: What is the nature of light? Is it a wave or a particle? Both.[31] In the same way, we live in a reality that is both determined and indeterminate.

As I noted above, my student found paradox hard to handle. She wanted to hear what made sense, and paradoxes generally don’t. They affront our bias toward rationality. By their very nature, paradoxes are challenging to the logical mind. They induce the “mental cramp”[32] that Jung recognized as a feature of our confronting the unconscious. He also recognized that paradoxes are “indescribable,”[33] and “difficult,”[34] requiring “extraordinary intellectual and moral effort”[35] if we are to take them seriously and not dismiss them as nonsense. “… Jung warned that “the difficult operation of thinking in paradoxes… [is] a feat possible only to the superior intellect–…”[36]

Jung also understood that paradox can be dangerous.[37] For “spiritual weaklings” paradoxes can be more than they can handle. It takes spiritual strength to “sustain paradoxes,”[38] and for those with such strength, paradox can provide “the highest degree of religious certainty.”[39] Jung regarded the early Church Father Tertullian as one example of a spiritually strong person, in his statement “I believe because it is absurd.”[40] Jung felt that, when confronted with paradox, “spiritual weaklings” are likely to “break out into iconoclastic and scornful laughter,…” treating the great mysteries of faith as “… obsolete, curious relics of the past…”[41]

While dangerous to those with “petty reasoning minds”[42] and spiritual weakness, paradoxes are immensely valuable in their ability to express psychological truth and to hold the tension of opposites.[43] Jung understood that life is polarity: the constant ebb-and-flow of the enantiodromia—a concept Jung borrowed from Heraclitus[44]—is how life manifests. Paradoxes are a way, perhaps the only way, to express “the polarity of all life.”[45]

Our Attitude toward Paradox

Jung had great appreciation for paradox, but he recognized that, in this (as in so much else), he was very much “odd man out” in modern Western culture. Ours is a culture that has lost itself “… in a one-sided over-development and over-valuation of a single psychic function….”,[46] i.e. thinking. We prize rationality and our ability to figure things out, via logic and reason. In this we fail “… to acknowledge the paradoxicality and polarity of all life…”.[47] The result is a “one-sidedness” that Jung felt was a “mark of barbarism.”[48]

Jung dated our one-sided bias toward rationality to the Age of Enlightenment. From that time (the 18 th century) “Things have gone rapidly downhill…”[49] as more and more people became focused on thinking, logic and reason, to the exclusion or denigration of feeling, intuition and sensation. Over time, this has resulted in most modern Westerners no longer understanding “… any more what is meant by the paradoxes contained in dogma and the more external our understanding of them becomes the more we are affronted by their irrational form, until finally they become completely obsolete, curious relics of the past…”[50] By “dogma” Jung was referring to religious creeds and belief systems. When these systems become obsolete, people fall away from organized religions, and we see this today, especially in Western Europe and certain areas of the United States, particularly in New England.[51]

The decline of organized religions is only one manifestation of our current inability to appreciate paradox. Another is our intellectual hybris[52]—our belief that we can figure out all the problems of life. In an earlier blog essay[53] I noted Jung’s belief that the major problems of life can never be solved with the logical, rational mind, because such problems transcend the limits of human reason.[54] We cannot grasp with the intellect the transcendent mystery that we live within. Many of my students don’t like hearing this: they keep trying to “figure it out.” Like most contemporary Americans, they need to appreciate paradox and they ask me “Why bother with this? Why is this important?”

In multiple works Jung gave reasons why paradox is important. In our general dealings with life, our ability to appreciate paradox will give us “… a more faithful picture of the real state of affairs.”[55] than we would get just from our use of logic or reason. In interpreting reality, paradox can be “… a better witness to truth than a one-sided ‘positive’ statement” can be.”[56] Having an appreciation of paradox is also an excellent antidote to our human tendency to hybris, intellectual arrogance: when we come upon a paradox and experience a mind cramp, we are reminded of the limits of human reason. In this way, Jung felt, paradox can help us “heal the irreconcilable conflict …”[57] in our modern attitude.

Jung recognized how valuable paradox is in psychology. In holding the tension of opposites, paradox is a valid, effective way to foster growth. It supports the “widening of consciousness beyond the narrow confines of a tyrannical intellect,…”[58] and it enriches life, because only paradox “… comes anywhere near to comprehending the fullness of life.”[59] Jung understood that we are more than disembodied minds, more than just thinkers, more than just the “Rational Economic Man” so beloved in economic theory.[60] We feel we sense we intuit we live in the interstices of opposites, and by recognizing this and appreciating it, we can experience the wholeness that Jung saw as one goal of the individuation process.

Paradox is also central to spirituality and religion—two realms that were very important in Jung’s philosophy. Jung believed that every human being has an innate spiritual or religious impulse,[61] a deep desire to know or sense a connection to the Whole, to contact the Divine, to awake to the Self, the inner divine core in one’s being. Given this innate impulse, we quest for meaning in life. But the nature of the Divine is transcendent, i.e. more than we can comprehend with the intellect alone. We must approach the Divine and the quest for personal meaning with more than logic. For this quest we need paradox—the irrational non-logic that allows for the expression of transcendental truth. We must admit paradox into our lives, for only it allows us to approach the “sacred figures”[62] that live within, and only paradox does justice to the unknowable.[63] By its very nature the unknowable cannot be expressed with logic and clarity only ambiguity, contradiction and ambivalence can “give adequate expression to the indescribable nature”[64] of transcendental situations.

We don’t like mind cramps. We recoil from confronting contradictions. We avoid situations that affront our reason. In this our cultural bias serves us poorly, because much of the richness of life is found in the transcendental realms of life. Paradox helps us navigate through these realms, and Jung would urge us to develop our spiritual muscles and hone our psychological insight so as to appreciate the value of paradox.

Bibliography

Hollis, Martin & Edward Nell (1975), Rational Economic Man. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Jung, C.G. (1959), “Aion,” Collected Works, 9ii. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1969), “Psychology and Religion: West and East,” CW 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1953), “Psychology and Alchemy,” CW 12. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1967), “Alchemical Studies,” CW 13. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1963), “Mysterium Coniunctionis,” CW 14. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Practice of Psychotherapy,” CW 16, 2 nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Liddell & Scott (1978), Greek-English Lexicon. New York: Oxford University Press.

[1] Collected Works 12, ¶18. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.


Organizational Consultation XVII The Chartering Process (Part Two)

The appreciative chartering process enables members of an organization to assess the range and implications of existing intentions, as well as discover new intentions that emerge naturally from, and in alignment with, existing intentions. Chartering is like appreciation. It focuses on both the past and future, while also being firmly grounded in present day realities.


A Paradox in the History of U.S. Slavery

A paradox in the history of slavery in the United States is that many of the opponents of slavery were themselves slave owners (Johnson and Johnson, 2002). One example is George Mason, a slave owner who was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and authored Virginia’s Bill of Rights. He refused to sign the Constitution because it did not free the slaves, and did not have adequate safeguards against slavery. Yet he kept his slaves, planning to free them when he died, but on his deathbed his children persuaded him not to do so, as they argued it would leave them penniless.

Another example is Benjamin Franklin, who at one time owned at least six household slaves. Franklin was a slave owner from as early as 1735 until 1781. His ownership of slaves was not the only way he benefited from slavery. As the editor of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he profited from the domestic and international slave trade, benefitting financially from the advertisements for runaway slaves and slave auctions paid for by slave owners and traders. However, he also published antislavery ads from Quakers. In 1759 he joined Dr. Bray Associates (by donating money), a philanthropic association affiliated with the Church of England, that among other things conducted schools for Black children. Franklin freed his slaves in 1781 and also promoted the idea that freed slaves should be educated so that they could survive and participate in society.

In 1787, Franklin became the President of the Philadelphia Abolition Society (i.e., Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage). The Society was formed by a group of abolitionist Quakers and Anthony Benezet in 1774 and, as the first abolitionist society in America, served as an inspiration for the formation of abolitionist societies in other colonies. In "Address to the Public," a letter of Nov. 9, 1789, Franklin argued against slavery, stating that slaves had long been treated as brute animals beneath the standard of human species. Franklin asked for resources and donations to help freed slaves adjust to society by giving them education, moral instruction, and suitable employment. A few months prior to his death, he wrote strongly against slavery, calling it an ‘atrocious debasement of human nature.” By that time, Franklin believed that the slave trade should be illegal and that all slaves should be freed. On Feb. 3, 1790, less than three months before his death, Franklin petitioned Congress to provide the means to bring slavery to an end. While most everyone would agree that Franklin was against slavery, he certainly owned slaves for a substantial period of his life.

A third example is George Washington. Washington grew up on a plantation on which slaves were the major source of labor. Washington (and Madison) rejected the notion of innate Black inferiority (Leibinger, 2001, p.183). His history as a slave owner, however, began when he was 11 years old. Upon his father’s death, he inherited 10 slaves. By the time of Washington's death in 1799, the population of slaves at Mount Vernon was 317, including 143 children. Of that total, Washington owned 124, leased 40 more, and controlled 153 dower slaves (Hirschfeld 1997 pp. 16–17 Morgan 2000 pp. 281–282, 298). He freed all his slaves in his will. While he owned slaves throughout his life, he also opposed slavery during much of that time. Late in his presidency, George Washington told his Secretary of State, Edmund Randolph, that in the event of a conflict between North and South, he had "made up his mind to leave Virginia and move up north” (Wiencek 2003 pp. 361–362). In 1798, he said, "I can clearly foresee that nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our union" (Hirschfeld, 1997, pp. 72–73).

The next year, he instructed his secretary Tobias Lear to sell his western lands, ostensibly to consolidate his operations, and put his financial affairs in order. Washington concluded his instructions to Lear with a private message in which he expressed repugnance at owning slaves and declared that the principal reason for selling the land was to raise the money that would allow him to free his slaves (Twohig 2001 p. 128 Wiencek 2003 pp. 273–274). Upon being freed, some of Washington's former slaves were able to obtain land, support their families, and prosper as free people. In his will, Washington also authored a bill of rights for Black Americans, in which he stated that they were Americans, had the right to live in the United States, should be taught to read and write, and had the right to work productively as free people. Washington seemed to believe in an integrated society in which whites, Blacks, and Native Americans all owned land in the same communities and lived in harmony as equals.

It is interesting that the State of Virginia produced the most eloquent spokesmen for freedom and equality in the entire United States (e.g., Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison), yet they were all slaveholders and remained so throughout their lives (Morgan, 1978). Today their behavior seems paradoxical, yet it is not clear how paradoxical it appeared to them at the time. It perhaps provides us with the choice of whether we view them as heroes or villains.

Ellis, Joseph. (2002). Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation(p. 158). New York: Vintage Books.

Hirschfeld, Fritz (1997). George Washington and Slavery: A Documentary Portrayal. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press. ISBN 978-0-8262-1135-4.

Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. (2002). Multicultural education and human relations: Valuing diversity. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Leibinger, Stuart. (2001) Founding Friendship: George Washington, James Madison, and the Creation of the American Republic(p. 183). Charlottesville, Virginia: University of Virginia Press.

Morgan, Edmund. (1978). The Challenge of the American Revolution. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc.

Morgan, Kenneth (2000). George Washington and the Problem of Slavery. Journal of American Studies, 34(2), 279–301. Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/S0021875899006398. JSTOR27556810.

Twohig, Dorothy. (2001). That Species of Property: Washington's Role in the Controversy over Slavery(pp. 114–138). In Higginbotham, Don (ed.), George Washington Reconsidered. Charlottesville, Virginia: University of Virginia Press. ISBN 978-0-8139-2005-4.

Wiencek, Henry. (2003). An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America. New York, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0-374-17526-9.


A Paradox of Koan Study and Why Psychology Should Take Note

It has been suggested by other authors that Zen could be used as a tool to manage creative dilemmas. This paper explores how contradicting experiences may be handled by investigating how Zen practitioners handle koans. I propose that the outcome is usable in other contradicting situations such as management of paradox, double-binds, and cognitive dissonance. The outcome suggests that a particular mindset of non-dual awareness may be instrumental in how Zen practitioners approach contradiction. Which is illustrated by koan practice, that reveals how dilemmas are worked on in the Zen tradition. This difference is then theoretically applied to other situations. There is still a gap in the current psychological knowledge about the contemplative practices. It is necessary to take a closer look at the concepts used. Labeling something as “meditation” may not encompass the richness or context of the phenomenon and could overlook crucial factors giving rise to confounding results.


2 Answers 2

Juxtaposition is a term for the placement of two things close together for simultaneous examination (and contrasting effect).

Oxymoron relies on the juxtaposition of two words that have conflicting meanings that would normally negate each other Jumbo shrimp was an excellent example of this. A more tongue-in-cheek example is military intelligence.

Paradox is more of a logical device than a literary device in which two or more axiomatically true items are juxtaposed to be in contradiction to one another. Unlike an oxymoron, it does not have to be based solely on the literary meaning of those terms.

There is a classic religious paradox, namely, Can God create a substance so heavy that He Himself could not lift it? The paradox being an omnipotent being can lift anything, because he is omnipotent he can also create anything because he is omnipotent. So, how can both states be true simultaneously. The answer: they can't. But, which one is untrue? You cannot say, because, both parts are axiomatic and untestable.

Oh, and, do your own homework next time. :-P

Wiktionary has a reasonable explanation of the term juxtaposition. They explain the origin and the general idea and its special use in grammar, mathematics, art and rhetorics. For example,

Oxymoron: This is a special literary device, also called a figure of speech. Wikipedia explains the term sufficiently with examples such as "living dead" or "mad wisdom".

For paradox also see Wikipedia. It is mainly a contradiction, but there may be more to it than the mere contradiction.

When using such terms a juxtaposition, oxymoron and paradox you should have a clear idea of the basic meaning of these terms. Literary terms have not the precision of mathematical terms and often there is some overlap. So oxymoron and paradox clearly have an overlap. If it is the first time you use such terms you should have a book about stylistics and figures of speech where such things are more fully explained with a lot of examples and comments. This is much better than meagre one-sentence definitions in dictionaries. If you don't know such books ask librarians in public libraries or persons who know about such things. There are good and interesting books on these topics and there is botchwork.


The paradox of knowing

People appear to know other people better than they know themselves, at least when it comes to predicting future behaviour and achievement. Why? People display a rather accurate grasp of human nature in general, knowing how social behaviour is shaped by situational and internal constraints. They just exempt themselves from this understanding, thinking instead that their own actions are more a product of their agency, intentions, and free will – a phenomenon we term ‘misguided exceptionalism’. How does this relate to cultural differences in self-insight? And are there areas of human life where people may still know themselves better than they know other people?

To know others is wisdom, to know one’s self is enlightenment.
Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu

For the past twenty-odd years, the main discovery in my lab has been finding out just how unenlightened people are, at least in the terms that Lao Tzu put it. People appear to harbour many and frequent false beliefs about their own competence, character, place in the social world, and future (Dunning, 2005 Dunning et al., 2004). If ‘knowing yourself’ is a task that many philosophers and social commentators – from both Western and Eastern traditions – have exhorted people to accomplish, it appears that very few are taking the advice seriously enough to succeed.

But here is the rub. Although people may not possess much enlightenment, according to Lao Tzu’s criteria, they do instead seem to display a lot of wisdom. At least when it comes to making predictions about the future, people achieve more accuracy forecasting what their peers will do than what they themselves will do. Through their predictions, they seem to possess a rough but valid wisdom about the general dynamics of human nature and how it is reflected in people’s actions. They just fail to display the same sagacity when it comes to understanding their own personal dynamics. As psychologists, they appear to be much better social psychologists than self-psychologists.

The ‘holier-than-thou’ phenomenon
in behavioural prediction perhaps best illustrates this paradox of greater insight into other people than the self. The phenomenon is defined as people predicting they are far more likely to engage in socially desirable acts than their peers. Across several studies, we have asked people to forecast how they will behave in situations that have an ethical, civic or altruistic tone. For example, we ask whether they will donate to charity, or cooperate with another person in an experiment, or vote in an upcoming election. We also ask them the likelihood that their peers will do the same. Consistently, we find that respondents claim that they are much more likely to act in a socially desirable way than their peers are (Balcetis & Dunning, 2008, 2013 Epley & Dunning, 2000, 2006).

But here is the key twist: We then expose an equivalent set of respondents to the actual situation, to see which prediction – self or peer – better anticipates the true rate at which people ‘do the right thing’. Do self-predictions better anticipate the rate that people act in desirable ways, with people, thus, showing undue cynicism about the character of their peers? Or do peer predictions prove more accurate, demonstrating that people believe too much in their better selves?In our studies we find that people’s peer predictions are the more accurate ones. Self-predictions, in contrast, are wildly optimistic. For example, in one study, a full 90 per cent of students in a large-lecture psychology class eligible to vote in an upcoming US presidential election said that they would. They then provided another student with some relevant information about themselves, such as how interested they were in the election and how pleased would they be if their favoured candidate won. Peers given such information predicted that only 67 per cent of respondents would vote. Actual voting rate among those respondents when the election arrived: 61 per cent (Epley & Dunning, 2000, Study 2).

Time and again we have seen such a pattern. For example, 83 per cent of students forecast that they would buy a daffodil for charity in an upcoming drive for the American Cancer Society, but that only 56 per cent of their peers would. When we check back, we found that only 43 per cent had done so (Epley & Dunning, 2000, Study 1). In a Prisoner’s Dilemma game played in the lab, 84 per cent of participants said they would cooperate rather than betray their partner, but that only 64 per cent would do likewise. The actual cooperation rate was 61 per cent (Epley & Dunning, Study 2).

Accuracy as correlation
But wait, a careful reader might say. People might prove overconfident about their own behaviour, but surely they know more about themselves than other people do. This accuracy just reveals itself in a different way. Namely, if we look instead at the correlation between people’s predictions and their actions, we might find a stronger relationship for self-predictions than for peers. More specifically, people may overpredict the chance that they will vote. But those who say they will vote will still be much more likely to vote than those who say they will not. Forecasts from peers will fail to separate voters from nonvoters so successfully.

This assertion is plausible, but it surprisingly fails empirical test. When we look at accuracy from a correlational perspective, we find that peers at least equal overall the accuracy rates of those making self-predictions (see also Spain et al., 2000 Vazire & Mehl, 2008). In one of our voting studies, peers who received just five scant pieces of information about another person’s view of an upcoming election predicted that person just as well (r = .48) as did people predicting their own actions (r = .51) in correlational terms. Other researchers report similar findings: All it takes is a few pieces of information for
a peer to achieve accuracy rates that equal the self. The behaviour can be a performance in an upcoming exam (Helzer & Dunning, 2012) or performance on IQ tests (Borkenau & Liebler, 1993).

And, if the action is one that people find significant, and if peers are familiar with the person in question, then peer prediction begins to outdo self-prediction. Roommates and parents, for example, outpredict how long a person’s college romance will last, relative to self-prediction (MacDonald & Ross, 1999). Ratings of supervisors and peers outclass self-ratings in predicting how well surgical residents will do on their final surgical exams (Riscucci et al., 1989). Ratings of peers do better at predicting who will receive a promotion in the Navy early relative to self-impressions (Bass & Yammarino, 1991).

Misguided exceptionalism

Taken together, all this research suggests that people tend to possess useful insight when it comes to understanding human nature. But this research also suggests that people fail to apply this wisdom to the self. In a sense, people exempt themselves from whatever valid psychological understanding they have about their friends and contemporaries. Instead, they tend to think of themselves as special, as responding to a different psychological dynamic. The rules that govern other people’s psychology fail to apply to them. We have come to call this tendency misguided exceptionalism.

What is it about their understanding of other people that respondents exempt themselves from? We contend, with data, that people recognise that others tend to be constrained in what they do. There are forces, both internal and external to the individual, which are out of their control but that influence how they behave. The smell of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies does break people’s willpower.

The opinions of the crowd place pressures on other people to conform.
But these constraints are for other people. When it comes to our own behaviour, we tend to emphasise instead our own agency, the force of our own character, and what we aspire, intend or plan to do. Relative to others, we believe that our actions are largely a product of our own intentions, aspirations and free will (Buehler et al., 1994 Critcher & Dunning, 2013 Koehler & Poon, 2006 Kruger & Gilovich, 2004 Peetz & Buehler, 2009). We consider ourselves free agents generally immune to the constraints that dictate other people’s actions.

Much recent empirical work reveals this differential emphasis for the self. People think their futures are more wide-open and unpredictable, and that their intentions and desires will be more important authors of their futures than similar intentions and desires will be for other people (Pronin & Kugler, 2010). When predicting their own exam performance, people emphasise (actually, too much, it turns out) their aspiration level, that is, the score they are working to achieve (Helzer & Dunning, 2012), but they emphasise instead a person’s past achievement (appropriately, it turns out) in predictions of others. College students consider their future potential – or, rather, the person they are aiming to be – to be a bigger part of themselves than it is in other people (Williams & Gilovich, 2008 Williams et al., 2012). People predicting who will give to charity consider the prediction to be one about a person’s character and attitudes – that is, until they confront a chance to give themselves, in which case they switch to emphasising situational factors in their accounts of giving (Balcetis & Dunning, 2008).

Misunderstanding situations
Ultimately, this misguided exceptionalism and overemphasis on individual agency means that people fail to apply an accurate understanding of human nature to themselves, one that would make their predictions more accurate. People, for example, are surprisingly good at understanding how situational circumstances influence people’s behaviour. In one study, we described a ‘bystander apathy’ study to students. Students were shown an experiment in which a research assistant accidentally spilled a box of jigsaw puzzle pieces. These students were then asked the likelihood that they would help pick the pieces up relative to the percentage of other students who would help. Of key importance, participants were shown two variations of this basic situation – one in which they were alone versus one in which they were sitting in a group of three people.

Those familiar with social psychology will recognise that people are more likely to help when they are alone rather than in a group (Latané & Darley, 1970). In the group, people are seized by the inertia of not knowing immediately whether to help, and thus taking their cue to do nothing based on the fact that everyone else, lost in the same indecision, ends up doing nothing, too. But would our participants show insight into this principle? Not according to their self-predictions. Participants stated that they would be roughly 90 per cent likely to help either alone or in the group. They did, though, concede that other people would be influenced, and that the rate of helping would go down 22 per cent (from 72 per cent to 50 per cent) among other people by introducing the group. Of key import, when we ran the study for real, we found that placing people in a group had a 27 per cent impact (from 50 per cent down to 23 per cent) on actual behaviour. Again, peer predictions largely anticipated this impact. Self-predictions did not (Balcetis & Dunning, 2013).
This belief that self-behaviour ‘floats’ above the impact of situational circumstances and constraints can lead people to forgo decisions that would actually help them. Consider the task of staying within a monthly budget. In one study, participants were offered a service that would provide them with savings tips plus a constant monitoring of their finance. For themselves, participants felt the service would be superfluous. It would have almost zero impact on their ability to achieve their budget goals. What mattered for them instead was the strength of their intentions to save money (Koehler et al., 2011).

But, in reality, a random sample of participants assigned to the service was roughly 11 per cent more likely to reach their budget goals. And, a group of participants asked to judge the impact of the service on other people estimated that the service would matter that others would be 17 per cent more likely to reach their goals. Again, predictions about others better reflected reality than predictions about the self, in that people could recognise the impact of an important situational aid on others, but felt they themselves were immune to those influences (Koehler et al., 2011).

Cultural influences
This overemphasis on the self’s agency suggests possible cultural differences in the holier-than-thou effect. And, indeed, such cultural differences arise. It is the individualist cultures of Western Europe and North America that emphasise autonomy, agency and the imposition of will onto the environment (Fiske et al., 1998 Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Far Eastern cultures, such as Japan, emphasise instead interdependence, social roles and group harmony – that is, social constraints on the self. Might those cultures, thus, be relatively immune to the ‘holier’ phenomenon?

Across several studies, we have found that people from collectivist cultures display much less self-error than did those from individualist ones. For example, young children attending a summer school on Mallorca were asked how many candies they would donate to other children if they were asked, as well as how many candies other children on average would donate.

A week later, the children were actually asked to donate. Children from more individualist countries (e.g. Britain) donated many fewer candies than they had predicted, but those from more collectivist countries (e.g. Spain) donated on average just as many as they had predicted. Both groups were accurate in their predictions about their peers (Balcetis et al., 2008).

Does the self have any advantage?
Extant psychological research, however, does suggest one area where this general story about self- and social insight will reverse. People may be wiser when it comes to predicting the public and observable actions of others rather than self, but they do appear to have privileged insight into aspects of the self that are not available for other people to view. People know that below the surface of their public appearance is a private individual who feels doubt, anxiety, inhibition and ambivalence that he or she may not let wholly come to the surface (Spain et al., 2000 Vazire, 2010 Vazire & Carlson, 2010, 2011). Of course, this individual does not see this roiling interior life in others.

As a consequence, people may lack awareness that the what’s inside themselves is similarly churning and stirring within others. Thus, for example, people often consider themselves more shy, self-critical, and indecisive than other people (Miller & McFarland, 1987). College students harbour reservations about excessive drinking, but not recognising that others also feel this same reluctance, they go along with the crowd to excess on a Saturday night (Prentice & Miller, 1993). In a similar vein, college students harbour much more discomfort about casual sex than they believe their peers do, with each sex overestimating the comfort level of the other sex when it comes to ‘hooking up’ (Lambert et al., 2003).

Concluding remarks
Thus, current psychological research suggests that people may be wise, at least when it comes to understanding and anticipating other people, but they stand in the way of letting this wisdom lead to their own enlightenment. However, if research reveals this problem, it also suggests a potential solution to it. What we presume about other people’s behaviour and futures is likely a valuable indicator of what awaits us in the same situation – and may be much better indicator of our future than any scenario we are spinning directly about ourselves. When predictions matter, we should not spend a great deal of time predicting what we think we will do. Instead, we should ask what other people are likely to do. Or, we should hand the prediction of our own future over to another person who knows a little about us.

Whatever we do, we should note that perhaps we are, indeed, uniquely special individuals, but that it is too easy to overemphasise that fact. In anticipating the future, we should be mindful of the continuity that lies between our self-nature and the nature of others. It is in recognising this continuity that we realise the path that leads to our wisdom may be
a pretty good path to our enlightenment, too. At the very least, that thought does remind one of another Chinese proverb that has survived the centuries, perhaps best indicating its worth – that to know what lies for us along the road ahead, we should be sure to ask those coming back.

David Dunning
is at the Department of Psychology, Uris Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
[email protected]


A Paradox of Koan Study and Why Psychology Should Take Note

It has been suggested by other authors that Zen could be used as a tool to manage creative dilemmas. This paper explores how contradicting experiences may be handled by investigating how Zen practitioners handle koans. I propose that the outcome is usable in other contradicting situations such as management of paradox, double-binds, and cognitive dissonance. The outcome suggests that a particular mindset of non-dual awareness may be instrumental in how Zen practitioners approach contradiction. Which is illustrated by koan practice, that reveals how dilemmas are worked on in the Zen tradition. This difference is then theoretically applied to other situations. There is still a gap in the current psychological knowledge about the contemplative practices. It is necessary to take a closer look at the concepts used. Labeling something as “meditation” may not encompass the richness or context of the phenomenon and could overlook crucial factors giving rise to confounding results.


Contents

To function in the reality of society, human beings continually adjust the correspondence of their mental attitudes and personal actions such continual adjustments, between cognition and action, result in one of three relationships with reality: [2]

  1. Consonant relationship: Two cognitions or actions consistent with each other (e.g. not wanting to become drunk when out to dinner, and ordering water rather than wine)
  2. Irrelevant relationship: Two cognitions or actions unrelated to each other (e.g. not wanting to become drunk when out and wearing a shirt)
  3. Dissonant relationship: Two cognitions or actions inconsistent with each other (e.g. not wanting to become drunk when out, but then drinking more wine)

Magnitude of dissonance Edit

The term "magnitude of dissonance" refers to the level of discomfort caused to the person. This can be caused by the relationship between two differing internal beliefs, or an action that is incompatible with the beliefs of the person. [3] Two factors determine the degree of psychological dissonance caused by two conflicting cognitions or by two conflicting actions:

  1. The importance of cognitions: the greater the personal value of the elements, the greater the magnitude of the dissonance in the relation. When the value of the importance of the two dissonant items is high, it is difficult to determine which action or thought is correct. Both have had a place of truth, at least subjectively, in the mind of the person. Therefore, when the ideals or actions now clash, it is difficult for the individual to decide which takes priority.
  2. Ratio of cognitions: the proportion of dissonant-to-consonant elements. There is a level of discomfort within each person that is acceptable for living. When a person is within that comfort level, the dissonant factors do not interfere with functioning. However, when dissonant factors are abundant and not enough in line with each other, one goes through a process to regulate and bring the ratio back to an acceptable level. Once a subject chooses to keep one of the dissonant factors, they quickly forget the other to restore peace of mind. [4]

There is always some degree of dissonance within a person as they go about making decisions, due to the changing quantity and quality of knowledge and wisdom that they gain. The magnitude itself is a subjective measurement since the reports are self relayed, and there is no objective way as yet to get a clear measurement of the level of discomfort. [5]

Cognitive dissonance theory proposes that people seek psychological consistency between their expectations of life and the existential reality of the world. To function by that expectation of existential consistency, people continually reduce their cognitive dissonance in order to align their cognitions (perceptions of the world) with their actions.

The creation and establishment of psychological consistency allows the person afflicted with cognitive dissonance to lessen mental stress by actions that reduce the magnitude of the dissonance, realized either by changing with or by justifying against or by being indifferent to the existential contradiction that is inducing the mental stress. [2] In practice, people reduce the magnitude of their cognitive dissonance in four ways:

  1. Change the behavior or the cognition ("I'll eat no more of this doughnut.")
  2. Justify the behavior or the cognition, by changing the conflicting cognition ("I'm allowed to cheat my diet every once in a while.")
  3. Justify the behavior or the cognition by adding new behaviors or cognitions ("I'll spend thirty extra minutes at the gymnasium to work off the doughnut.")
  4. Ignore or deny information that conflicts with existing beliefs ("This doughnut is not a high-sugar food.")

Three cognitive biases are components of dissonance theory. The bias that one does not have any biases, the bias that one is "better, kinder, smarter, more moral and nicer than average" and confirmation bias. [6]

That a consistent psychology is required for functioning in the real world also was indicated in the results of The Psychology of Prejudice (2006), wherein people facilitate their functioning in the real world by employing human categories (i.e. sex and gender, age and race, etc.) with which they manage their social interactions with other people.

Based on a brief overview of models and theories related to cognitive consistency from many different scientific fields, such as social psychology, perception, neurocognition, learning, motor control, system control, ethology, and stress, it has even been proposed that "all behaviour involving cognitive processing is caused by the activation of inconsistent cognitions and functions to increase perceived consistency" that is, all behaviour functions to reduce cognitive inconsistency at some level of information processing. [7] Indeed, the involvement of cognitive inconsistency has long been suggested for behaviors related to for instance curiosity, [8] [9] and aggression and fear, [10] [11] while it has also been suggested that the inability to satisfactorily reduce cognitive inconsistency may - dependent on the type and size of the inconsistency - result in stress. [12] [7]

Selective exposure Edit

Another method to reduce cognitive dissonance is through selective exposure theory. This theory has been discussed since the early days of Festinger's discovery of cognitive dissonance. He noticed that people would selectively expose themselves to some media over others specifically, they would avoid dissonant messages and prefer consonant messages. [13] Through selective exposure, people actively (and selectively) choose what to watch, view, or read that fit to their current state of mind, mood or beliefs. [14] In other words, consumers select attitude-consistent information and avoid attitude-challenging information. [15] This can be applied to media, news, music, and any other messaging channel. The idea is, choosing something that is in opposition to how you feel or believe in will render cognitive dissonance.

For example, a study was done in an elderly home in 1992 on the loneliest residents—those that did not have family or frequent visitors. The residents were shown a series of documentaries: three that featured a "very happy, successful elderly person", and three that featured an "unhappy, lonely elderly person." [16] After watching the documentaries, the residents indicated they preferred the media featuring the unhappy, lonely person over the happy person. This can be attested to them feeling lonely, and experience cognitive dissonance watching somebody their age feeling happy and being successful. This study explains how people select media that aligns with their mood, as in selectively exposing themselves to people and experiences they are already experiencing. It is more comfortable to see a movie about a character that is similar to you than to watch one about someone who is your age who is more successful than you.

Another example to note is how people mostly consume media that aligns with their political views. In a study done in 2015, participants were shown “attitudinally consistent, challenging, or politically balanced online news.” Results showed that the participants trusted attitude-consistent news the most out of all the others, regardless of the source. It is evident that the participants actively selected media that aligns with their beliefs rather than opposing media.

In fact, recent research has suggested that while a discrepancy between cognitions drives individuals to crave for attitude-consistent information, the experience of negative emotions drives individuals to avoid counterattitudinal information. In other words, it is the psychological discomfort which activates selective exposure as a dissonance-reduction strategy. [17]

There are four theoretic paradigms of cognitive dissonance, the mental stress people suffer when exposed to information that is inconsistent with their beliefs, ideals or values: Belief Disconfirmation, Induced Compliance, Free Choice, and Effort Justification, which respectively explain what happens after a person acts inconsistently, relative to their intellectual perspectives what happens after a person makes decisions and what are the effects upon a person who has expended much effort to achieve a goal. Common to each paradigm of cognitive-dissonance theory is the tenet: People invested in a given perspective shall—when confronted with contrary evidence—expend great effort to justify retaining the challenged perspective.

Belief disconfirmation Edit

The contradiction of a belief, ideal, or system of values causes cognitive dissonance that can be resolved by changing the challenged belief, yet, instead of effecting change, the resultant mental stress restores psychological consonance to the person by misperception, rejection, or refutation of the contradiction, seeking moral support from people who share the contradicted beliefs or acting to persuade other people that the contradiction is unreal. [18] [19] : 123

The early hypothesis of belief contradiction presented in When Prophecy Fails (1956) reported that faith deepened among the members of an apocalyptic religious cult, despite the failed prophecy of an alien spacecraft soon to land on Earth to rescue them from earthly corruption. At the determined place and time, the cult assembled they believed that only they would survive planetary destruction yet the spaceship did not arrive to Earth. The confounded prophecy caused them acute cognitive-dissonance: Had they been victims of a hoax? Had they vainly donated away their material possessions? To resolve the dissonance between apocalyptic, end-of-the-world religious beliefs and earthly, material reality, most of the cult restored their psychological consonance by choosing to believe a less mentally-stressful idea to explain the missed landing: that the aliens had given planet Earth a second chance at existence, which, in turn, empowered them to re-direct their religious cult to environmentalism and social advocacy to end human damage to planet Earth. On overcoming the confounded belief by changing to global environmentalism, the cult increased in numbers by proselytism. [20]

The study of The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference (2008) reported the belief contradiction that occurred in the Chabad Orthodox Jewish congregation, who believed that their Rebbe (Menachem Mendel Schneerson) was the Messiah. When he died of a stroke in 1994, instead of accepting that their Rebbe was not the Messiah, some of the congregation proved indifferent to that contradictory fact and continued claiming that Schneerson was the Messiah and that he would soon return from the dead. [21]

Induced compliance Edit

In the Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance (1959), the investigators Leon Festinger and Merrill Carlsmith asked students to spend an hour doing tedious tasks e.g. turning pegs a quarter-turn, at fixed intervals. The tasks were designed to induce a strong, negative, mental attitude in the subjects. Once the subjects had done the tasks, the experimenters asked one group of subjects to speak with another subject (an actor) and persuade that impostor-subject that the tedious tasks were interesting and engaging. Subjects of one group were paid twenty dollars ($20) those in a second group were paid one dollar ($1) and those in the control group were not asked to speak with the imposter-subject. [22]

At the conclusion of the study, when asked to rate the tedious tasks, the subjects of the second group (paid $1) rated the tasks more positively than did either the subjects in the first group (paid $20) or the subjects of the control group the responses of the paid subjects were evidence of cognitive dissonance. The researchers, Festinger and Carlsmith, proposed that the subjects experienced dissonance between the conflicting cognitions. "I told someone that the task was interesting" and "I actually found it boring." The subjects paid one dollar were induced to comply, compelled to internalize the "interesting task" mental attitude because they had no other justification. The subjects paid twenty dollars were induced to comply by way of an obvious, external justification for internalizing the "interesting task" mental attitude and experienced a lower degree of cognitive dissonance than did those only paid one dollar. [22]

Forbidden Behaviour paradigm Edit

In the Effect of the Severity of Threat on the Devaluation of Forbidden Behavior (1963), a variant of the induced-compliance paradigm, by Elliot Aronson and Carlsmith, examined self-justification in children. [23] Children were left in a room with toys, including a greatly desirable steam shovel, the forbidden toy. Upon leaving the room, the experimenter told one-half of the group of children that there would be severe punishment if they played with the steam-shovel toy and told the second half of the group that there would be a mild punishment for playing with the forbidden toy. All of the children refrained from playing with the forbidden toy (the steam shovel). [23]

Later, when the children were told that they could freely play with any toy they wanted, the children in the mild-punishment group were less likely to play with the steam shovel (the forbidden toy), despite the removal of the threat of mild punishment. The children threatened with mild punishment had to justify, to themselves, why they did not play with the forbidden toy. The degree of punishment was insufficiently strong to resolve their cognitive dissonance the children had to convince themselves that playing with the forbidden toy was not worth the effort. [23]

In The Efficacy of Musical Emotions Provoked by Mozart's Music for the Reconciliation of Cognitive Dissonance (2012), a variant of the forbidden-toy paradigm, indicated that listening to music reduces the development of cognitive dissonance. [24] Without music in the background, the control group of four-year-old children were told to avoid playing with a forbidden toy. After playing alone, the control-group children later devalued the importance of the forbidden toy. In the variable group, classical music played in the background while the children played alone. In the second group, the children did not later devalue the forbidden toy. The researchers, Nobuo Masataka and Leonid Perlovsky, concluded that music might inhibit cognitions that induce cognitive dissonance. [24]

Music is a stimulus that can diminish post-decisional dissonance in an earlier experiment, Washing Away Postdecisional Dissonance (2010), the researchers indicated that the actions of hand-washing might inhibit the cognitions that induce cognitive dissonance. [25] That study later failed to replicate. [26]

Free choice Edit

In the study Post-decision Changes in Desirability of Alternatives (1956) 225 female students rated domestic appliances and then were asked to choose one of two appliances as a gift. The results of a second round of ratings indicated that the women students increased their ratings of the domestic appliance they had selected as a gift and decreased their ratings of the appliances they rejected. [27]

This type of cognitive dissonance occurs in a person faced with a difficult decision, when there always exist aspects of the rejected-object that appeal to the chooser. The action of deciding provokes the psychological dissonance consequent to choosing X instead of Y, despite little difference between X and Y the decision "I chose X" is dissonant with the cognition that "There are some aspects of Y that I like". The study Choice-induced Preferences in the Absence of Choice: Evidence from a Blind Two-choice Paradigm with Young Children and Capuchin Monkeys (2010) reports similar results in the occurrence of cognitive dissonance in human beings and in animals. [28]

Peer Effects in Pro-Social Behavior: Social Norms or Social Preferences? (2013) indicated that with internal deliberation, the structuring of decisions among people can influence how a person acts, and that social preferences and social norms are related and function with wage-giving among three persons. The actions of the first person influenced [ clarification needed ] the wage-giving actions of the second person. That inequity aversion is the paramount concern of the participants. [29]

Effort justification Edit

Cognitive dissonance occurs to a person who voluntarily engages in (physically or ethically) unpleasant activities to achieve a goal. The mental stress caused by the dissonance can be reduced by the person exaggerating the desirability of the goal. In The Effect of Severity of Initiation on Liking for a Group (1956), to qualify for admission to a discussion group, two groups of people underwent an embarrassing initiation of varied psychological severity. The first group of subjects were to read aloud twelve sexual words considered obscene the second group of subjects were to read aloud twelve sexual words not considered obscene. [30]

Both groups were given headphones to unknowingly listen to a recorded discussion about animal sexual behaviour, which the researchers designed to be dull and banal. As the subjects of the experiment, the groups of people were told that the animal-sexuality discussion actually was occurring in the next room. The subjects whose strong initiation required reading aloud obscene words evaluated the people of their group as more-interesting persons than the people of the group who underwent the mild initiation to the discussion group. [31]

In Washing Away Your Sins: Threatened Morality and Physical Cleansing (2006), the results indicated that a person washing their hands is an action that helps resolve post-decisional cognitive dissonance because the mental stress usually was caused by the person's ethical–moral self-disgust, which is an emotion related to the physical disgust caused by a dirty environment. [25] [32]

The study The Neural Basis of Rationalization: Cognitive Dissonance Reduction During Decision-making (2011) indicated that participants rated 80 names and 80 paintings based on how much they liked the names and paintings. To give meaning to the decisions, the participants were asked to select names that they might give to their children. For rating the paintings, the participants were asked to base their ratings on whether or not they would display such art at home. [33]

The results indicated that when the decision is meaningful to the person deciding value, the likely rating is based on their attitudes (positive, neutral or negative) towards the name and towards the painting in question. The participants also were asked to rate some of the objects twice and believed that, at session's end, they would receive two of the paintings they had positively rated. The results indicated a great increase in the positive attitude of the participant towards the liked pair of things, whilst also increasing the negative attitude towards the disliked pair of things. The double-ratings of pairs of things, towards which the rating participant had a neutral attitude, showed no changes during the rating period. The existing attitudes of the participant were reinforced during the rating period and the participants suffered cognitive dissonance when confronted by a liked-name paired with a disliked-painting. [33]

Meat-eating Edit

Meat-eating can involve discrepancies between the behavior of eating meat and various ideals that the person holds. [34] Some researchers call this form of moral conflict the meat paradox. [35] [36] Hank Rothgerber posited that meat eaters may encounter a conflict between their eating behavior and their affections toward animals. [34] This occurs when the dissonant state involves recognition of one's behavior as a meat eater and a belief, attitude, or value that this behavior contradicts. [34] The person with this state may attempt to employ various methods, including avoidance, willful ignorance, dissociation, perceived behavioral change, and do-gooder derogation to prevent this form of dissonance from occurring. [34] Once occurred, he or she may reduce it in the form of motivated cognitions, such as denigrating animals, offering pro-meat justifications, or denying responsibility for eating meat. [34]

The extent of cognitive dissonance with regards to meat eating can vary depending on the attitudes and values of the individual involved because these can affect whether or not they see any moral conflict with their values and what they eat. For example, individuals who are more dominance minded and who value having a masculine identity are less likely to experience cognitive dissonance because they are less likely to believe eating meat is morally wrong. [35]

Smoking Edit

The study Patterns of Cognitive Dissonance-reducing Beliefs Among Smokers: A Longitudinal Analysis from the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Four Country Survey (2012) indicated that smokers use justification beliefs to reduce their cognitive dissonance about smoking tobacco and the negative consequences of smoking it. [37]

  1. Continuing smokers (Smoking and no attempt to quit since the previous round of study)
  2. Successful quitters (Quit during the study and did not use tobacco from the time of the previous round of study)
  3. Failed quitters (Quit during the study, but relapsed to smoking at the time of the study)

To reduce cognitive dissonance, the participant smokers adjusted their beliefs to correspond with their actions:

  1. Functional beliefs ("Smoking calms me down when I am stressed or upset." "Smoking helps me concentrate better." "Smoking is an important part of my life." and "Smoking makes it easier for me to socialize.")
  2. Risk-minimizing beliefs ("The medical evidence that smoking is harmful is exaggerated." "One has to die of something, so why not enjoy yourself and smoke?" and "Smoking is no more risky than many other things people do.") [38]

Unpleasant medical screenings Edit

In a study titled Cognitive Dissonance and Attitudes Toward Unpleasant Medical Screenings (2016), researchers Michael R. Ent and Mary A. Gerend informed the study participants about a discomforting test for a specific (fictitious) virus called the "human respiratory virus-27". The study used a fake virus to prevent participants from having thoughts, opinions, and feeling about the virus that would interfere with the experiment. The study participants were in two groups one group was told that they were actual candidates for the virus-27 test, and the second group were told they were not candidates for the test. The researchers reported, "We predicted that [study] participants who thought that they were candidates for the unpleasant test would experience dissonance associated with knowing that the test was both unpleasant and in their best interest—this dissonance was predicted to result in unfavorable attitudes toward the test." [39]

Related phenomena Edit

Cognitive dissonance may also occur when people seek to explain or justify their beliefs, often without questioning the validity of their claims: After the earthquake of 1934, Bihar, India, irrational rumors based upon fear quickly reached the adjoining communities unaffected by the disaster because those people, although not in physical danger, psychologically justified their anxieties about the earthquake. [40] Same pattern can be observed when one's convictions are met with a contradictory order. In a study conducted among 6th grade students, after being induced to cheat in an academic examination, students judged cheating less harshly. [41] Nonetheless, the confirmation bias identifies how people readily read information that confirms their established opinions and readily avoid reading information that contradicts their opinions. [42] The confirmation bias is apparent when a person confronts deeply held political beliefs, i.e. when a person is greatly committed to their beliefs, values, and ideas. [42]

If a contradiction occurs between how a person feels and how a person acts, one's perceptions and emotions align to alleviate stress. The Ben Franklin effect refers to that statesman's observation that the act of performing a favor for a rival leads to increased positive feelings toward that individual. It is also possible that one's emotions be altered to minimize the regret of irrevocable choices. At a hippodrome, bettors had more confidence in their horses after the betting than before. [43]

Education Edit

The management of cognitive dissonance readily influences the apparent motivation of a student to pursue education. [44] The study Turning Play into Work: Effects of Adult Surveillance and Extrinsic Rewards on Children's Intrinsic Motivation (1975) indicated that the application of the effort justification paradigm increased student enthusiasm for education with the offer of an external reward for studying students in pre-school who completed puzzles based upon an adult promise of reward were later less interested in the puzzles than were students who completed the puzzle-tasks without the promise of a reward. [45]

The incorporation of cognitive dissonance into models of basic learning-processes to foster the students’ self-awareness of psychological conflicts among their personal beliefs, ideals, and values and the reality of contradictory facts and information, requires the students to defend their personal beliefs. Afterwards, the students are trained to objectively perceive new facts and information to resolve the psychological stress of the conflict between reality and the student's value system. [46] Moreover, educational software that applies the derived principles facilitates the students’ ability to successfully handle the questions posed in a complex subject. [47] Meta-analysis of studies indicates that psychological interventions that provoke cognitive dissonance in order to achieve a directed conceptual change do increase students’ learning in reading skills and about science. [46]

Psychotherapy Edit

The general effectiveness of psychotherapy and psychological intervention is partly explained by the theory of cognitive dissonance. [48] In that vein, social psychology proposed that the mental health of the patient is positively influenced by his and her action in freely choosing a specific therapy and in exerting the required, therapeutic effort to overcome cognitive dissonance. [49] That effective phenomenon was indicated in the results of the study Effects of Choice on Behavioral Treatment of Overweight Children (1983), wherein the children's belief that they freely chose the type of therapy received, resulted in each overweight child losing a greater amount of excessive body weight. [50]

In the study Reducing Fears and Increasing Attentiveness: The Role of Dissonance Reduction (1980), people afflicted with ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) who invested much effort in activities of little therapeutic value for them (experimentally represented as legitimate and relevant) showed improved alleviation of the symptoms of their phobia. [51] Likewise, the results of Cognitive Dissonance and Psychotherapy: The Role of Effort Justification in Inducing Weight Loss (1985) indicated that the patient felt better in justifying their efforts and therapeutic choices towards effectively losing weight. That the therapy of effort expenditure can predict long-term change in the patient's perceptions. [52]

Social behavior Edit

Cognitive dissonance is used to promote positive social behaviours, such as increased condom use [53] other studies indicate that cognitive dissonance can be used to encourage people to act pro-socially, such as campaigns against public littering, [54] campaigns against racial prejudice, [55] and compliance with anti-speeding campaigns. [56] The theory can also be used to explain reasons for donating to charity. [57] [58] Cognitive dissonance can be applied in social areas such as racism and racial hatred. Acharya of Stanford, Blackwell and Sen of Harvard state CD increases when an individual commits an act of violence toward someone from a different ethnic or racial group and decreases when the individual does not commit any such act of violence. Research from Acharya, Blackwell and Sen shows that individuals committing violence against members of another group develop hostile attitudes towards their victims as a way of minimizing CD. Importantly, the hostile attitudes may persist even after the violence itself declines (Acharya, Blackwell, and Sen, 2015). The application provides a social psychological basis for the constructivist viewpoint that ethnic and racial divisions can be socially or individually constructed, possibly from acts of violence (Fearon and Laitin, 2000). Their framework speaks to this possibility by showing how violent actions by individuals can affect individual attitudes, either ethnic or racial animosity (Acharya, Blackwell, and Sen, 2015).

Consumer behavior Edit

Three main conditions exist for provoking cognitive dissonance when buying: (i) The decision to purchase must be important, such as the sum of money to spend (ii) The psychological cost and (iii) The purchase is personally relevant to the consumer. The consumer is free to select from the alternatives and the decision to buy is irreversible. [59]

The study Beyond Reference Pricing: Understanding Consumers' Encounters with Unexpected Prices (2003), indicated that when consumers experience an unexpected price encounter, they adopt three methods to reduce cognitive dissonance: (i) Employ a strategy of continual information (ii) Employ a change in attitude and (iii) Engage in minimisation. Consumers employ the strategy of continual information by engaging in bias and searching for information that supports prior beliefs. Consumers might search for information about other retailers and substitute products consistent with their beliefs. [60] Alternatively, consumers might change attitude, such as re-evaluating price in relation to external reference-prices or associating high prices and low prices with quality. Minimisation reduces the importance of the elements of the dissonance consumers tend to minimise the importance of money, and thus of shopping around, saving, and finding a better deal. [61]

Politics Edit

Cognitive dissonance theory might suggest that since votes are an expression of preference or beliefs, even the act of voting might cause someone to defend the actions of the candidate for whom they voted, [62] and if the decision was close then the effects of cognitive dissonance should be greater.

This effect was studied over the 6 presidential elections of the United States between 1972 and 1996, [63] and it was found that the opinion differential between the candidates changed more before and after the election than the opinion differential of non-voters. In addition, elections where the voter had a favorable attitude toward both candidates, making the choice more difficult, had the opinion differential of the candidates change more dramatically than those who only had a favorable opinion of one candidate. What wasn't studied were the cognitive dissonance effects in cases where the person had unfavorable attitudes toward both candidates. The 2016 U.S. election held historically high unfavorable ratings for both candidates. [64]

Communication Edit

Cognitive dissonance theory of communication was initially advanced by American psychologist Leon Festinger in the 1960s. Festinger theorized that cognitive dissonance usually arises when a person holds two or more incompatible beliefs simultaneously. [60] This is a normal occurrence since people encounter different situations that invoke conflicting thought sequences. This conflict results in a psychological discomfort. According to Festinger, people experiencing a thought conflict try to reduce the psychological discomfort by attempting to achieve an emotional equilibrium. This equilibrium is achieved in three main ways. First, the person may downplay the importance of the dissonant thought. Second, the person may attempt to outweigh the dissonant thought with consonant thoughts. Lastly, the person may incorporate the dissonant thought into their current belief system. [65]

Dissonance plays an important role in persuasion. To persuade people, you must cause them to experience dissonance, and then offer your proposal as a way to resolve the discomfort. Although there is no guarantee your audience will change their minds, the theory maintains that without dissonance, there can be no persuasion. Without a feeling of discomfort, people are not motivated to change. [66] Similarly, it is the feeling of discomfort which motivates people to perform selective exposure (i.e., avoiding disconfirming information) as a dissonance-reduction strategy. [17]

Artificial Intelligence Edit

It is hypothesized that introducing cognitive dissonance into machine learning [ how? ] may be able to assist in the long-term aim of developing 'creative autonomy' on the part of agents, including in multi-agent systems (such as games), [67] and ultimately to the development of 'strong' forms of artificial intelligence, including artificial general intelligence. [68]

Self-perception theory Edit

In Self-perception: An alternative interpretation of cognitive dissonance phenomena (1967), the social psychologist Daryl Bem proposed the self-perception theory whereby people do not think much about their attitudes, even when engaged in a conflict with another person. The Theory of Self-perception proposes that people develop attitudes by observing their own behaviour, and concludes that their attitudes caused the behaviour observed by self-perception especially true when internal cues either are ambiguous or weak. Therefore, the person is in the same position as an observer who must rely upon external cues to infer their inner state of mind. Self-perception theory proposes that people adopt attitudes without access to their states of mood and cognition. [69]

As such, the experimental subjects of the Festinger and Carlsmith study (Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance, 1959) inferred their mental attitudes from their own behaviour. When the subject-participants were asked: "Did you find the task interesting?", the participants decided that they must have found the task interesting, because that is what they told the questioner. Their replies suggested that the participants who were paid twenty dollars had an external incentive to adopt that positive attitude, and likely perceived the twenty dollars as the reason for saying the task was interesting, rather than saying the task actually was interesting. [70] [69]

The theory of self-perception (Bem) and the theory of cognitive dissonance (Festinger) make identical predictions, but only the theory of cognitive dissonance predicts the presence of unpleasant arousal, of psychological distress, which were verified in laboratory experiments. [71] [72]

In The Theory of Cognitive Dissonance: A Current Perspective [73] (Aronson, Berkowitz, 1969), Elliot Aronson linked cognitive dissonance to the self-concept: That mental stress arises when the conflicts among cognitions threatens the person's positive self-image. This reinterpretation of the original Festinger and Carlsmith study, using the induced-compliance paradigm, proposed that the dissonance was between the cognitions "I am an honest person." and "I lied about finding the task interesting." [73]

The study Cognitive Dissonance: Private Ratiocination or Public Spectacle? [74] (Tedeschi, Schlenker, etc. 1971) reported that maintaining cognitive consistency, rather than protecting a private self-concept, is how a person protects their public self-image. [74] Moreover, the results reported in the study I'm No Longer Torn After Choice: How Explicit Choices Implicitly Shape Preferences of Odors (2010) contradict such an explanation, by showing the occurrence of revaluation of material items, after the person chose and decided, even after having forgotten the choice. [75]

Balance theory Edit

Fritz Heider proposed a motivational theory of attitudinal change that derives from the idea that humans are driven to establish and maintain psychological balance. The driving force for this balance is known as the consistency motive, which is an urge to maintain one's values and beliefs consistent over time. Heider's conception of psychological balance has been used in theoretical models measuring cognitive dissonance. [76]

According to balance theory, there are three interacting elements: (1) the self (P), (2) another person (O), and (3) an element (X). These are each positioned at one vertex of a triangle and share two relations: [77]

Unit relations – things and people that belong together based on similarity, proximity, fate, etc. Sentiment relations – evaluations of people and things (liking, disliking)

Under balance theory, human beings seek a balanced state of relations among the three positions. This can take the form of three positives or two negatives and one positive:

P = you O = your child X = picture your child drew

"I love my child" "She drew me this picture" "I love this picture"

People also avoid unbalanced states of relations, such as three negatives or two positives and one negative:

P = you O = John X = John's dog

"I don't like John" "John has a dog" "I don't like the dog either"

Cost–benefit analysis Edit

In the study On the Measurement of the Utility of Public Works [78] (1969), Jules Dupuit reported that behaviors and cognitions can be understood from an economic perspective, wherein people engage in the systematic processing of comparing the costs and benefits of a decision. The psychological process of cost-benefit comparisons helps the person to assess and justify the feasibility (spending money) of an economic decision, and is the basis for determining if the benefit outweighs the cost, and to what extent. Moreover, although the method of cost-benefit analysis functions in economic circumstances, men and women remain psychologically inefficient at comparing the costs against the benefits of their economic decision. [78]

Self-discrepancy theory Edit

E. Tory Higgins proposed that people have three selves, to which they compare themselves:

  1. Actual self – representation of the attributes the person believes him- or herself to possess (basic self-concept)
  2. Ideal self – ideal attributes the person would like to possess (hopes, aspiration, motivations to change)
  3. Ought self – ideal attributes the person believes he or she should possess (duties, obligations, responsibilities)

When these self-guides are contradictory psychological distress (cognitive dissonance) results. People are motivated to reduce self-discrepancy (the gap between two self-guides). [79]

Averse consequences vs. inconsistency Edit

During the 1980s, Cooper and Fazio argued that dissonance was caused by aversive consequences, rather than inconsistency. According to this interpretation, the belief that lying is wrong and hurtful, not the inconsistency between cognitions, is what makes people feel bad. [80] Subsequent research, however, found that people experience dissonance even when they feel they have not done anything wrong. For example, Harmon-Jones and colleagues showed that people experience dissonance even when the consequences of their statements are beneficial—as when they convince sexually active students to use condoms, when they, themselves are not using condoms. [81]

Criticism of the free-choice paradigm Edit

In the study How Choice Affects and Reflects Preferences: Revisiting the Free-choice Paradigm [82] (Chen, Risen, 2010) the researchers criticized the free-choice paradigm as invalid, because the rank-choice-rank method is inaccurate for the study of cognitive dissonance. [82] That the designing of research-models relies upon the assumption that, if the experimental subject rates options differently in the second survey, then the attitudes of the subject towards the options have changed. That there are other reasons why an experimental subject might achieve different rankings in the second survey perhaps the subjects were indifferent between choices.

Although the results of some follow-up studies (e.g. Do Choices Affect Preferences? Some Doubts and New Evidence, 2013) presented evidence of the unreliability of the rank-choice-rank method, [83] the results of studies such as Neural Correlates of Cognitive Dissonance and Choice-induced Preference Change (2010) have not found the Choice-Rank-Choice method to be invalid, and indicate that making a choice can change the preferences of a person. [28] [84] [85] [86]

Action–motivation model Edit

Festinger's original theory did not seek to explain how dissonance works. Why is inconsistency so aversive? [87] The action–motivation model seeks to answer this question. It proposes that inconsistencies in a person's cognition cause mental stress, because psychological inconsistency interferes with the person's functioning in the real world. Among the ways for coping, the person can choose to exercise a behavior that is inconsistent with their current attitude (a belief, an ideal, a value system), but later try to alter that belief to be consonant with a current behavior the cognitive dissonance occurs when the person's cognition does not match the action taken. If the person changes the current attitude, after the dissonance occurs, he or she then is obligated to commit to that course of behavior.

Cognitive dissonance produces a state of negative affect, which motivates the person to reconsider the causative behavior in order to resolve the psychological inconsistency that caused the mental stress. [88] [89] [90] [91] [92] [93] As the afflicted person works towards a behavioral commitment, the motivational process then is activated in the left frontal cortex of the brain. [88] [89] [90] [94] [95]

Predictive dissonance model Edit

The predictive dissonance model proposes that cognitive dissonance is fundamentally related to the predictive coding (or predictive processing) model of cognition. [96] A predictive processing account of the mind proposes that perception actively involves the use of a Bayesian hierarchy of acquired prior knowledge, which primarily serves the role of predicting incoming proprioceptive, interoceptive and exteroceptive sensory inputs. Therefore, the brain is an inference machine that attempts to actively predict and explain its sensations. Crucial to this inference is the minimization of prediction error. The predictive dissonance account proposes that the motivation for cognitive dissonance reduction is related to an organism's active drive for reducing prediction error. Moreover, it proposes that human (and perhaps other animal) brains have evolved to selectively ignore contradictory information (as proposed by dissonance theory) to prevent the overfitting of their predictive cognitive models to local and thus non-generalizing conditions. The predictive dissonance account is highly compatible with the action-motivation model since, in practice, prediction error can arise from unsuccessful behavior.

Technological advances are allowing psychologists to study the biomechanics of cognitive dissonance.

Visualization Edit

The study Neural Activity Predicts Attitude Change in Cognitive Dissonance [97] (Van Veen, Krug, etc., 2009) identified the neural bases of cognitive dissonance with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) the neural scans of the participants replicated the basic findings of the induced-compliance paradigm. When in the fMRI scanner, some of the study participants argued that the uncomfortable, mechanical environment of the MRI machine nevertheless was a pleasant experience for them some participants, from an experimental group, said they enjoyed the mechanical environment of the fMRI scanner more than did the control-group participants (paid actors) who argued about the uncomfortable experimental environment. [97]

The results of the neural scan experiment support the original theory of Cognitive Dissonance proposed by Festinger in 1957 and also support the psychological conflict theory, whereby the anterior cingulate functions, in counter-attitudinal response, to activate the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and the anterior insular cortex the degree of activation of said regions of the brain is predicted by the degree of change in the psychological attitude of the person. [97]

As an application of the free-choice paradigm, the study How Choice Reveals and Shapes Expected Hedonic Outcome (2009) indicates that after making a choice, neural activity in the striatum changes to reflect the person's new evaluation of the choice-object neural activity increased if the object was chosen, neural activity decreased if the object was rejected. [98] Moreover, studies such as The Neural Basis of Rationalization: Cognitive Dissonance Reduction During Decision-making (2010) [33] and How Choice Modifies Preference: Neural Correlates of Choice Justification (2011) confirm the neural bases of the psychology of cognitive dissonance. [84] [99]

The Neural Basis of Rationalization: Cognitive Dissonance Reduction During Decision-making [33] (Jarcho, Berkman, Lieberman, 2010) applied the free-choice paradigm to fMRI examination of the brain's decision-making process whilst the study participant actively tried to reduce cognitive dissonance. The results indicated that the active reduction of psychological dissonance increased neural activity in the right-inferior frontal gyrus, in the medial fronto-parietal region, and in the ventral striatum, and that neural activity decreased in the anterior insula. [33] That the neural activities of rationalization occur in seconds, without conscious deliberation on the part of the person and that the brain engages in emotional responses whilst effecting decisions. [33]

Emotional correlations Edit

The results reported in Contributions from Research on Anger and Cognitive Dissonance to Understanding the Motivational Functions of Asymmetrical Frontal Brain Activity [100] (Harmon-Jones, 2004) indicate that the occurrence of cognitive dissonance is associated with neural activity in the left frontal cortex, a brain structure also associated with the emotion of anger moreover, functionally, anger motivates neural activity in the left frontal cortex. [101] Applying a directional model of Approach motivation, the study Anger and the Behavioural Approach System (2003) indicated that the relation between cognitive dissonance and anger is supported by neural activity in the left frontal cortex that occurs when a person takes control of the social situation causing the cognitive dissonance. Conversely, if the person cannot control or cannot change the psychologically stressful situation, he or she is without a motivation to change the circumstance, then there arise other, negative emotions to manage the cognitive dissonance, such as socially inappropriate behavior. [89] [102] [100]

The anterior cingulate cortex activity increases when errors occur and are being monitored as well as having behavioral conflicts with the self-concept as a form of higher-level thinking. [103] A study was done to test the prediction that the left frontal cortex would have increased activity. University students had to write a paper depending on if they were assigned to a high-choice or low-choice condition. The low-choice condition required students to write about supporting a 10% increase in tuition at their university. The point of this condition was to see how significant the counterchoice may affect a person's ability to cope. The high-choice condition asked students to write in favor of tuition increase as if it were their completely voluntary choice. The researchers use EEG to analyze students before they wrote the essay, as dissonance is at its highest during this time (Beauvois and Joule, 1996). High-choice condition participants showed a higher level of the left frontal cortex than the low-choice participants. Results show that the initial experience of dissonance can be apparent in the anterior cingulate cortex, then the left frontal cortex is activated, which also activates the approach motivational system to reduce anger. [103] [104]

The psychology of mental stress Edit

The results reported in The Origins of Cognitive Dissonance: Evidence from Children and Monkeys (Egan, Santos, Bloom, 2007) indicated that there might be evolutionary force behind the reduction of cognitive dissonance in the actions of pre-school-age children and Capuchin monkeys when offered a choice between two like options, decals and candies. The groups then were offered a new choice, between the choice-object not chosen and a novel choice-object that was as attractive as the first object. The resulting choices of the human and simian subjects concorded with the theory of cognitive dissonance when the children and the monkeys each chose the novel choice-object instead of the choice-object not chosen in the first selection, despite every object having the same value. [105]

The hypothesis of An Action-based Model of Cognitive-dissonance Processes [106] (Harmon-Jones, Levy, 2015) proposed that psychological dissonance occurs consequent to the stimulation of thoughts that interfere with a goal-driven behavior. Researchers mapped the neural activity of the participant when performing tasks that provoked psychological stress when engaged in contradictory behaviors. A participant read aloud the printed name of a color. To test for the occurrence of cognitive dissonance, the name of the color was printed in a color different than the word read aloud by the participant. As a result, the participants experienced increased neural activity in the anterior cingulate cortex when the experimental exercises provoked psychological dissonance. [106]

The study Cognitive Neuroscience of Social Emotions and Implications for Psychopathology: Examining Embarrassment, Guilt, Envy, and Schadenfreude [107] (Jankowski, Takahashi, 2014) identified neural correlations to specific social emotions (e.g. envy and embarrassment) as a measure of cognitive dissonance. The neural activity for the emotion of Envy (the feeling of displeasure at the good fortune of another person) was found to draw neural activity from the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. That such increased activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex occurred either when a person's self-concept was threatened or when the person suffered embarrassment (social pain) caused by salient, upward social-comparison, by social-class snobbery. That social emotions, such as embarrassment, guilt, envy, and Schadenfreude (joy at the misfortune of another person) are correlated to reduced activity in the insular lobe, and with increased activity in the striate nucleus those neural activities are associated with a reduced sense of empathy (social responsibility) and an increased propensity towards antisocial behavior (delinquency). [107]

Modeling in neural networks

Artificial neural network models of cognition provide methods for integrating the results of empirical research about cognitive dissonance and attitudes into a single model that explains the formation of psychological attitudes and the mechanisms to change such attitudes. [108] Among the artificial neural-network models that predict how cognitive dissonance might influence a person's attitudes and behavior, are:

    [108]
  • The meta-cognitive model (MCM) of attitudes [109]
  • Adaptive connectionist model of cognitive dissonance [110]
  • Attitudes as constraint satisfaction model [111]

Contradictions to the theory Edit

There are some that are skeptical of the idea. Charles G. Lord wrote a paper on whether or not the theory of cognitive dissonance was not tested enough and if it was a mistake to accept it into theory. He claimed that the theorist did not take into account all the factors and came to a conclusion without looking at all the angles. [112]


Organizational Consultation XVII The Chartering Process (Part Two)

The appreciative chartering process enables members of an organization to assess the range and implications of existing intentions, as well as discover new intentions that emerge naturally from, and in alignment with, existing intentions. Chartering is like appreciation. It focuses on both the past and future, while also being firmly grounded in present day realities.


A Paradox in the History of U.S. Slavery

A paradox in the history of slavery in the United States is that many of the opponents of slavery were themselves slave owners (Johnson and Johnson, 2002). One example is George Mason, a slave owner who was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and authored Virginia’s Bill of Rights. He refused to sign the Constitution because it did not free the slaves, and did not have adequate safeguards against slavery. Yet he kept his slaves, planning to free them when he died, but on his deathbed his children persuaded him not to do so, as they argued it would leave them penniless.

Another example is Benjamin Franklin, who at one time owned at least six household slaves. Franklin was a slave owner from as early as 1735 until 1781. His ownership of slaves was not the only way he benefited from slavery. As the editor of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he profited from the domestic and international slave trade, benefitting financially from the advertisements for runaway slaves and slave auctions paid for by slave owners and traders. However, he also published antislavery ads from Quakers. In 1759 he joined Dr. Bray Associates (by donating money), a philanthropic association affiliated with the Church of England, that among other things conducted schools for Black children. Franklin freed his slaves in 1781 and also promoted the idea that freed slaves should be educated so that they could survive and participate in society.

In 1787, Franklin became the President of the Philadelphia Abolition Society (i.e., Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage). The Society was formed by a group of abolitionist Quakers and Anthony Benezet in 1774 and, as the first abolitionist society in America, served as an inspiration for the formation of abolitionist societies in other colonies. In "Address to the Public," a letter of Nov. 9, 1789, Franklin argued against slavery, stating that slaves had long been treated as brute animals beneath the standard of human species. Franklin asked for resources and donations to help freed slaves adjust to society by giving them education, moral instruction, and suitable employment. A few months prior to his death, he wrote strongly against slavery, calling it an ‘atrocious debasement of human nature.” By that time, Franklin believed that the slave trade should be illegal and that all slaves should be freed. On Feb. 3, 1790, less than three months before his death, Franklin petitioned Congress to provide the means to bring slavery to an end. While most everyone would agree that Franklin was against slavery, he certainly owned slaves for a substantial period of his life.

A third example is George Washington. Washington grew up on a plantation on which slaves were the major source of labor. Washington (and Madison) rejected the notion of innate Black inferiority (Leibinger, 2001, p.183). His history as a slave owner, however, began when he was 11 years old. Upon his father’s death, he inherited 10 slaves. By the time of Washington's death in 1799, the population of slaves at Mount Vernon was 317, including 143 children. Of that total, Washington owned 124, leased 40 more, and controlled 153 dower slaves (Hirschfeld 1997 pp. 16–17 Morgan 2000 pp. 281–282, 298). He freed all his slaves in his will. While he owned slaves throughout his life, he also opposed slavery during much of that time. Late in his presidency, George Washington told his Secretary of State, Edmund Randolph, that in the event of a conflict between North and South, he had "made up his mind to leave Virginia and move up north” (Wiencek 2003 pp. 361–362). In 1798, he said, "I can clearly foresee that nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our union" (Hirschfeld, 1997, pp. 72–73).

The next year, he instructed his secretary Tobias Lear to sell his western lands, ostensibly to consolidate his operations, and put his financial affairs in order. Washington concluded his instructions to Lear with a private message in which he expressed repugnance at owning slaves and declared that the principal reason for selling the land was to raise the money that would allow him to free his slaves (Twohig 2001 p. 128 Wiencek 2003 pp. 273–274). Upon being freed, some of Washington's former slaves were able to obtain land, support their families, and prosper as free people. In his will, Washington also authored a bill of rights for Black Americans, in which he stated that they were Americans, had the right to live in the United States, should be taught to read and write, and had the right to work productively as free people. Washington seemed to believe in an integrated society in which whites, Blacks, and Native Americans all owned land in the same communities and lived in harmony as equals.

It is interesting that the State of Virginia produced the most eloquent spokesmen for freedom and equality in the entire United States (e.g., Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison), yet they were all slaveholders and remained so throughout their lives (Morgan, 1978). Today their behavior seems paradoxical, yet it is not clear how paradoxical it appeared to them at the time. It perhaps provides us with the choice of whether we view them as heroes or villains.

Ellis, Joseph. (2002). Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation(p. 158). New York: Vintage Books.

Hirschfeld, Fritz (1997). George Washington and Slavery: A Documentary Portrayal. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press. ISBN 978-0-8262-1135-4.

Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. (2002). Multicultural education and human relations: Valuing diversity. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Leibinger, Stuart. (2001) Founding Friendship: George Washington, James Madison, and the Creation of the American Republic(p. 183). Charlottesville, Virginia: University of Virginia Press.

Morgan, Edmund. (1978). The Challenge of the American Revolution. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc.

Morgan, Kenneth (2000). George Washington and the Problem of Slavery. Journal of American Studies, 34(2), 279–301. Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/S0021875899006398. JSTOR27556810.

Twohig, Dorothy. (2001). That Species of Property: Washington's Role in the Controversy over Slavery(pp. 114–138). In Higginbotham, Don (ed.), George Washington Reconsidered. Charlottesville, Virginia: University of Virginia Press. ISBN 978-0-8139-2005-4.

Wiencek, Henry. (2003). An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America. New York, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0-374-17526-9.


Paradoxes are indeed invalid arguments, but what makes them special is that they rest on seemingly unproblematic assumptions. We know, for example, that Achilles will in fact outrun the tortoise (Zeno's Paradoxes), we know that the surprise exam will take place (Surprise Exam Paradox), and so on. Because we know the conclusions of those paradoxes are false, we know that something is wrong with the arguments. The task then is to identify the assumptions that lead to the false conclusion.

Paradoxes can be called 'invalid' and ignored, but if taken seriously they can help us diagnose and fix problems with existing logico-mathematical frameworks. Axiomatic set theory and type theory owe much to Russell's Paradox, for example. The above mentioned Surprise Exam Paradox has led to lots of interesting developments in epistemic, dynamic, and public announcement logics. There are, of course, the classical ones, like the Sorites, the Liar, and so on. Each has opened some interesting door.

I claimed that paradoxes are invalid arguments. Sequitur's contribution inspired me to add that someone might ask: "invalid according to which logic?" I'd say classical bivalent first-order, but there are possibilities for significant 'paradox-preserving' deviations from that. What's important here is to realize that: you can't simply change the logic and claim that the paradox is resolved. Suppose classical logic C gives rise to paradox &Pi, but intuitionistic logic I does not. You cannot simply dispose of classical logic, adopt an intuitionistic one, and claim that you have handled the paradox. Even after doing that, fact will remain that &Pi is a paradox for C!, so one needs, if interested, to address why C enables the paradox.

Take paradoxes seriously, because they indicate that (at least) some thing is not as true as it seems.


Jung on Paradox

Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on this site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members.

Jung on Paradox

“… the paradox is one of our most valued spiritual possessions,…”

“… paradox is the natural medium for expressing transconscious facts.”

“… The paradox… reflects a higher level of intellect and, by not forcibly representing the unknowable as known, gives a more faithful picture of the real state of affairs….”

“Things have gone rapidly downhill since the Age of Enlightenment, for, once this petty reasoning mind, which cannot endure any paradoxes, is awakened, no sermon on earth can keep it down. A new task then arises: to lift this still undeveloped mind step by step to a higher level and to increase the number of persons who have at least some inkling of the scope of paradoxical truth…. We simply do not understand any more what is meant by the paradoxes contained in dogma… “

“And what you do not know is the only think you know

And what you own is what you do not own

And where you are is where you are not.”

A student was recently quite put out when I read a portion of Eliot’s “East Coker,” which contained the three lines quoted above. She said, in an aggrieved tone of voice, “But that doesn’t make any sense!” She was experiencing a “mind cramp,” an affront to the logic and rationality that are so prized in our culture. Our “petty reasoning minds” really don’t like paradoxes, as Jung recognized.[6] But he also recognized the value of paradox. This essay considers Jung’s attitudes toward this core feature of spirituality and why paradox is so important. We’ll begin with some definitions, offer examples and then consider the nature of paradox and its importance.

Years ago, when I asked students what “paradox” meant, one witty student (a devotée of the television series of the time) said “That’s when Casey meets Kildare.”[7] Nice try, but no: “paradox” has nothing to do with doctors. It comes from two Greek words para and dokein, meaning “to seem contrary to.”[8] A paradox is “a statement that may be true but seems to say two opposite things… a person or thing that seems to be full of contradictions…any inconsistent or contradictory fact, action or condition.”[9]

Jung recognized paradox is a “characteristic of the Gnostic writings”[10] that “did more justice to the unknowable than clarity can do,…”[11] because paradox refuses to rob spiritual “mystery of its darkness,”[12] and it serves to retain the unknowableness that is an inherent part of mystery. As I noted in an earlier blog essay,[13] modern Americans do not like mysteries, but the Gnostics did, in their understanding that the nature of Divinity is the mysterium tremendum, a tremendous mystery.

Jung also felt paradox could be a “better witness to truth than a one-sided, so-called ‘positive’ statement.”[14] As such, in its ability to embrace contradiction and both sides of an issue, paradox “… is the natural medium for expressing transconscious facts,”[15] and thus is “… one of our most valued spiritual possessions.”[16]

Besides its value in spiritual and religious contexts, Jung saw its utility in his researches in alchemy: “paradox and ambivalence are the keynotes of the whole work…”[17] of alchemy, and one whole section of Jung’s magnum opus, Mysterium coniunctionis, is on the “paradoxa.”[18]

Some Examples of Paradoxes

Volume 14 of Jung’s Collected Works is full of examples of paradoxes, e.g.: the physical and intellectual (mind and matter) virtues and vices corporeal and incorporeal corruptible and incorruptible visible and invisible spirit and body life and death good and evil truth and falsehood unity and multiplicity poverty and riches war and peace conqueror and conquered toil and repose sleep and waking childhood and old age male and female strong and weak hell and paradise those things that are and those that are not those things that may be spoken of and those which may not be spoken of[19] black and white cold and hot dry and moist a “running without running, moving without motion…”[20] a “good poison…”.[21] All of these are what Jung called “the conjunction of opposites…”.[22]

Some paradoxes Jung drew from religion (an area of life that Jung felt to be full of paradoxes given its focus on the unknowable). For example, the Virgin Mary’s virginity is a paradox (how could a woman who became a mother still be a virgin?).[23] The Self (Jung’s term for the divinity within every person), “…is a union of opposites par excellence… absolutely paradoxical in that it represents in every respect thesis and antithesis, and at the same time synthesis.”[24] In cabala (mystical Judaism), the relation of Malchuth to Kether is paradoxical—the lowest (Earth) to the highest (the Divine).[25] The Gnostics’ statement “learn to suffer, and you shall understand how not to suffer…”[26] is another example of paradox.

Jung’s alchemical studies, in volumes 12, 13, 14 and 16 of his Collected Works, also contain examples of paradox. The Philosopher’s stone,[27] the massa confusa of the collective unconscious,[28] the arcane substance,[29] the “Spirit Mercurius”[30]—all these are paradoxical in nature, containing contradictions or embodying opposites.

More modern examples come from cutting-edge science. Quantum physics, for example, is full of paradoxes: What is the nature of light? Is it a wave or a particle? Both.[31] In the same way, we live in a reality that is both determined and indeterminate.

As I noted above, my student found paradox hard to handle. She wanted to hear what made sense, and paradoxes generally don’t. They affront our bias toward rationality. By their very nature, paradoxes are challenging to the logical mind. They induce the “mental cramp”[32] that Jung recognized as a feature of our confronting the unconscious. He also recognized that paradoxes are “indescribable,”[33] and “difficult,”[34] requiring “extraordinary intellectual and moral effort”[35] if we are to take them seriously and not dismiss them as nonsense. “… Jung warned that “the difficult operation of thinking in paradoxes… [is] a feat possible only to the superior intellect–…”[36]

Jung also understood that paradox can be dangerous.[37] For “spiritual weaklings” paradoxes can be more than they can handle. It takes spiritual strength to “sustain paradoxes,”[38] and for those with such strength, paradox can provide “the highest degree of religious certainty.”[39] Jung regarded the early Church Father Tertullian as one example of a spiritually strong person, in his statement “I believe because it is absurd.”[40] Jung felt that, when confronted with paradox, “spiritual weaklings” are likely to “break out into iconoclastic and scornful laughter,…” treating the great mysteries of faith as “… obsolete, curious relics of the past…”[41]

While dangerous to those with “petty reasoning minds”[42] and spiritual weakness, paradoxes are immensely valuable in their ability to express psychological truth and to hold the tension of opposites.[43] Jung understood that life is polarity: the constant ebb-and-flow of the enantiodromia—a concept Jung borrowed from Heraclitus[44]—is how life manifests. Paradoxes are a way, perhaps the only way, to express “the polarity of all life.”[45]

Our Attitude toward Paradox

Jung had great appreciation for paradox, but he recognized that, in this (as in so much else), he was very much “odd man out” in modern Western culture. Ours is a culture that has lost itself “… in a one-sided over-development and over-valuation of a single psychic function….”,[46] i.e. thinking. We prize rationality and our ability to figure things out, via logic and reason. In this we fail “… to acknowledge the paradoxicality and polarity of all life…”.[47] The result is a “one-sidedness” that Jung felt was a “mark of barbarism.”[48]

Jung dated our one-sided bias toward rationality to the Age of Enlightenment. From that time (the 18 th century) “Things have gone rapidly downhill…”[49] as more and more people became focused on thinking, logic and reason, to the exclusion or denigration of feeling, intuition and sensation. Over time, this has resulted in most modern Westerners no longer understanding “… any more what is meant by the paradoxes contained in dogma and the more external our understanding of them becomes the more we are affronted by their irrational form, until finally they become completely obsolete, curious relics of the past…”[50] By “dogma” Jung was referring to religious creeds and belief systems. When these systems become obsolete, people fall away from organized religions, and we see this today, especially in Western Europe and certain areas of the United States, particularly in New England.[51]

The decline of organized religions is only one manifestation of our current inability to appreciate paradox. Another is our intellectual hybris[52]—our belief that we can figure out all the problems of life. In an earlier blog essay[53] I noted Jung’s belief that the major problems of life can never be solved with the logical, rational mind, because such problems transcend the limits of human reason.[54] We cannot grasp with the intellect the transcendent mystery that we live within. Many of my students don’t like hearing this: they keep trying to “figure it out.” Like most contemporary Americans, they need to appreciate paradox and they ask me “Why bother with this? Why is this important?”

In multiple works Jung gave reasons why paradox is important. In our general dealings with life, our ability to appreciate paradox will give us “… a more faithful picture of the real state of affairs.”[55] than we would get just from our use of logic or reason. In interpreting reality, paradox can be “… a better witness to truth than a one-sided ‘positive’ statement” can be.”[56] Having an appreciation of paradox is also an excellent antidote to our human tendency to hybris, intellectual arrogance: when we come upon a paradox and experience a mind cramp, we are reminded of the limits of human reason. In this way, Jung felt, paradox can help us “heal the irreconcilable conflict …”[57] in our modern attitude.

Jung recognized how valuable paradox is in psychology. In holding the tension of opposites, paradox is a valid, effective way to foster growth. It supports the “widening of consciousness beyond the narrow confines of a tyrannical intellect,…”[58] and it enriches life, because only paradox “… comes anywhere near to comprehending the fullness of life.”[59] Jung understood that we are more than disembodied minds, more than just thinkers, more than just the “Rational Economic Man” so beloved in economic theory.[60] We feel we sense we intuit we live in the interstices of opposites, and by recognizing this and appreciating it, we can experience the wholeness that Jung saw as one goal of the individuation process.

Paradox is also central to spirituality and religion—two realms that were very important in Jung’s philosophy. Jung believed that every human being has an innate spiritual or religious impulse,[61] a deep desire to know or sense a connection to the Whole, to contact the Divine, to awake to the Self, the inner divine core in one’s being. Given this innate impulse, we quest for meaning in life. But the nature of the Divine is transcendent, i.e. more than we can comprehend with the intellect alone. We must approach the Divine and the quest for personal meaning with more than logic. For this quest we need paradox—the irrational non-logic that allows for the expression of transcendental truth. We must admit paradox into our lives, for only it allows us to approach the “sacred figures”[62] that live within, and only paradox does justice to the unknowable.[63] By its very nature the unknowable cannot be expressed with logic and clarity only ambiguity, contradiction and ambivalence can “give adequate expression to the indescribable nature”[64] of transcendental situations.

We don’t like mind cramps. We recoil from confronting contradictions. We avoid situations that affront our reason. In this our cultural bias serves us poorly, because much of the richness of life is found in the transcendental realms of life. Paradox helps us navigate through these realms, and Jung would urge us to develop our spiritual muscles and hone our psychological insight so as to appreciate the value of paradox.

Bibliography

Hollis, Martin & Edward Nell (1975), Rational Economic Man. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Jung, C.G. (1959), “Aion,” Collected Works, 9ii. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1969), “Psychology and Religion: West and East,” CW 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1953), “Psychology and Alchemy,” CW 12. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1967), “Alchemical Studies,” CW 13. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1963), “Mysterium Coniunctionis,” CW 14. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Practice of Psychotherapy,” CW 16, 2 nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Liddell & Scott (1978), Greek-English Lexicon. New York: Oxford University Press.

[1] Collected Works 12, ¶18. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.


2 Answers 2

Juxtaposition is a term for the placement of two things close together for simultaneous examination (and contrasting effect).

Oxymoron relies on the juxtaposition of two words that have conflicting meanings that would normally negate each other Jumbo shrimp was an excellent example of this. A more tongue-in-cheek example is military intelligence.

Paradox is more of a logical device than a literary device in which two or more axiomatically true items are juxtaposed to be in contradiction to one another. Unlike an oxymoron, it does not have to be based solely on the literary meaning of those terms.

There is a classic religious paradox, namely, Can God create a substance so heavy that He Himself could not lift it? The paradox being an omnipotent being can lift anything, because he is omnipotent he can also create anything because he is omnipotent. So, how can both states be true simultaneously. The answer: they can't. But, which one is untrue? You cannot say, because, both parts are axiomatic and untestable.

Oh, and, do your own homework next time. :-P

Wiktionary has a reasonable explanation of the term juxtaposition. They explain the origin and the general idea and its special use in grammar, mathematics, art and rhetorics. For example,

Oxymoron: This is a special literary device, also called a figure of speech. Wikipedia explains the term sufficiently with examples such as "living dead" or "mad wisdom".

For paradox also see Wikipedia. It is mainly a contradiction, but there may be more to it than the mere contradiction.

When using such terms a juxtaposition, oxymoron and paradox you should have a clear idea of the basic meaning of these terms. Literary terms have not the precision of mathematical terms and often there is some overlap. So oxymoron and paradox clearly have an overlap. If it is the first time you use such terms you should have a book about stylistics and figures of speech where such things are more fully explained with a lot of examples and comments. This is much better than meagre one-sentence definitions in dictionaries. If you don't know such books ask librarians in public libraries or persons who know about such things. There are good and interesting books on these topics and there is botchwork.


Watch the video: The paradox of choice. Barry Schwartz (July 2022).


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