Science Forum

Science Forum

  1. Standard memberScriabin
    Done Asking
    Washington, D.C.
    11 Oct '06
    26 Jun '08 20:17
    Virtually all political "discussions," on or off the internet, TV, etc., appear to me to be useless because of the way our brains work with respect to politics. It is a matter of neuroscience, neurology, psychiatry and psychology.

    Some of us fall into the erroneous notion that the mind as thought of by philosophers, cognitive scientists, economists, and political scientists since the 18th century -- a dispassionate mind that makes decisions by weighing the evidence and reasoning to the most valid conclusions -- bears some relation to how the mind and brain actually work.

    Here is what clinical evidence and brain scan analysis shows:

    1. information that feels threatening to us, even if we won't admit it, make our brains associate that information with negative emotions;

    2. what passes for reasoning in politics, especially in debates online like these or in blogs, is most often rationalization, the motive being an effort to reason to emotionally satisfying conclusions;

    3. the part of the brain that lights up when looking at and resolving conflicts has been shown by clinicians to light up when there is a conflict between what a reasonable person could believe and what a partisan would want to believe; and

    4. Folks reason with their gut rather than analyze the merits of things. Even when you present partisans with a reasoning task through a carefully crafted, even neutral statement, what you get back invariably is an emotional response rationalizing what the partisan wants to believe.

    This is, btw, why Republicans in recent times have been successful in US elections while Democrats have failed. It is, in fact, the scientific explanation for Thomas Frank's humorous rant in What's the Matter With Kansas.

    It isn't the politics of presumption, as the Republican response to Frank goes -- and to Sen. Obama's slip while speaking in real time instead of in political speak in San Francisco (the "bitter" voter thing). Frank and Obama are not elitists -- look for the cartoon in the June 26th Politico at on that point -- rather they are making the usual Democratic mistake of trying to appeal to the mind instead of to feelings and emotions.

    Now, what I'm saying here I'm not making up -- it isn't just my "opinion." Rather, it is a summary of the results of clinical trials and brain scans while folks are exposed to political materials. The views of those subjected to this analysis are determined beforehand and then they are scanned while reading a series of statements designed to provoke either agreement or disagreement.

    The results show that when partisans face potentially troubling political information, they become emotionally distressed, whether consciously, unconsciously or some combination of the two.

    So we try to turn away from the source of unpleasant emotion -- fight it, contradict it, ignore it,. whatever works. This is why almost all of what one can see in these online debates, here and everywhere on the internet, TV, etc. involves faulty reasoning -- reasoning twisted to avoid unpleasant emotion, to confirm pre-existing, comfortable emotions. We're wired that way; we can't help doing this. We're all in love with straw men, the slippery slope, and we'd much rather beg the question than face unpleasant news about our point of view.

    In fact, there is evidence that once partisans find a way to reason to false conclusions, they not only turn off the negative emotion switches in their brains, they turn on the positive emotion switches -- so they feel good reasoning to false conclusions; they feel self satisfied, justified, and entirely in the right.

    We get a jolt of positive reinforcement for biased reasoning. These are the same switches, incidentally, biologically speaking, as those thrown when drug addicts get their fix.

    We're all political junkies.

    So, bottom line, none of us use substantive, logically valid arguments in politics.

    Yet none of us have the emotional security or intellectual chops to admit it even to ourselves.

    There isn't a discussion or debate about politics anywhere in today's environment. What we have here is a failure to communicate: what we have is a license to rant.