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Re: [XTalk] Re: Cognitive Dissonance

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  • Steve Black
    ... Yeah I ve heard this before. I don t think *anyone s* Jesus sits particularly well with our middle-class self-centredness - Crossan s doesn t, Horsley s
    Message 1 of 11 , Dec 1, 2002
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      >on 11/30/02 12:32 PM, Steve Black at sdblack@... wrote:
      >
      >> Another example...
      >> I suspect that NT Wright comes to his conclusions because of
      > > theological commitments - [snip.
      > > Rikk wrote...
      >Intriguingly, Clive Marsh once commented that of all the recent HJ
      >researchers NT Wright seemed to be the only one who was aware of the problem
      >of finding a Jesus who was all too commensurate with one's own vision of
      >what it meant to be human. Wright himself once remarked that the Jesus he'd
      >found was not very comfortable at all, challenging his (Wright's)
      >middle-class self-centredness at all kinds of levels.

      Yeah I've heard this before. I don't think *anyone's* Jesus sits
      particularly well with our "middle-class self-centredness" -
      Crossan's doesn't, Horsley's doesn't - fact I can't think of any of
      the "modern" Jesus' that does. So this claim doesn't strike me as all
      that unusual.

      Wright's Jesus may "challenge" him socially and economically (which
      are all very good things to be sure!!), but it doesn't do much
      challenging on a "confessional" level as far as I can see. His Jesus
      sits quite well on a confessional level in just about any evangelical
      church. He *does* do a good job making his evangelical Jesus more
      political. This is a good thing, in my mind.
      --
      Steve Black
      Vancouver School of Theology
      Vancouver, BC
      ---

      I was blind
      all the time
      I was learning to see

      -Robert Hunter From "Help on the Way"
    • David C. Hindley
      ... personal level in sorting out personal motivations in attempting to achieve greater personal honesty intellectually. It might provide a window into why
      Message 2 of 11 , Dec 3, 2002
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        Steve Black says:

        >>I am not sure this model really does much for us. It might be helpful on a
        personal level in sorting out personal motivations in attempting to achieve
        greater personal honesty intellectually. It might provide a window into why
        some scholars *might* reject and affirm what they do. But it certainly
        doesn't provide any thing that will help us actually evaluate any given
        argument.<<

        Actually, I can also see its practical application in the study of the
        psychological aspects that might have driven the progression of historical
        events. For instance, it has been used to illuminate the process of
        reinterpretation of prophesies in Jewish scriptures (_When Prophecy Failed:
        Cognitive Dissonance in the Prophetic Traditions of the Old Testament_, by
        Robert P. Carroll, Seabury Press, 1979, no review located; "Ancient
        Israelite Prophecy and Dissonance Theory," Robert P. Carroll in _Theology
        and Sociology : a Reader_, edited by Robin Gill, Cassell, 1996_, pp.
        238-253; "Christian Missions and the Theory of Cognitive Dissonance" John G.
        Gager, ibid, 276-292).

        While Carroll applied it to prophetic literature proper, I can see it
        employed in the analysis of the psychological motivations for mass religious
        re-identifications, such as appears to have happened in the time of the
        Maccabee rebellion against Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and that which occurred
        again within Judaism, including early Christianity, after the destruction of
        the Temple and defeat of the Jewish rebellion between 66-73 CE. Grad
        students looking for a dissertation subject might want to take note that
        such concepts are wide open for future research.

        >>Cognitive Dissonance can be generated by faulty (or at least questionable)
        ideas as well as by sound ones. As Peter Berger said, 'imaginary sticks can
        draw real blood'. An emotional reaction may tell us about
        social/intellectual location, but it will tell us nothing about factuality
        or non-factuality.<<

        Cognitive Dissonance is generally studied from the point of view of a
        subject *after* s/he has made a decision between alternative views (either
        as a practical necessity, or due to the acceptance of a doctrinal system, or
        due to imposition by authority figures). It is true, though, that the truth
        value of the available choices is irrelevant to the issue of what behaviors
        are employed to reduce the resulting dissonance.

        >>An example ... I might experience Cognitive Dissonance when I hear about
        alien abductions, the shroud of Turin, out of body experiences, and so
        forth. My reaction doesn't say anything about the reality or non-reality of
        any of these. To say something regarding that, I will need *arguments*. Why
        I draw the arguments that I do might (or might not) reflect an attempt to
        deal with Cognitive Dissonance, but that still says nothing about the actual
        arguments.<<

        But for most people accounts of alien abductions or the existence of the
        shroud would not cause much in the way of dissonance. First of all, most
        people do not feel compelled to choose alien abductions in opposition to
        less extreme alternative explanations (astrophysical or psychological,
        etc.). Now if you woke up one morning and had the unshakable feeling you had
        been abducted, that would cause dissonance because the previous explanatory
        complexes that might have mitigated against choosing an abduction hypothesis
        might seem insufficient to explain a personal experience. It has become
        *personal* and hence emotionally charged.

        >>other example ... I suspect that NT Wright comes to his conclusions
        because of theological commitments - that he suppresses what is essentially
        Cognitive Dissonance to achieve his construction. Now if this is true (and
        it may not be - it is merely my hunch) it still doesn't say anything about
        what he says. The only relevant question is if he makes a good case or not.
        Because he never says anything like "this is true because I want it to be" -
        but proceeds upon evidence and interpretation, we can now look at his work
        and judge whether he has made his case or not. His motivations might be
        interesting, but hardly significant to our "verdict".

        So it seems to me that the Cognitive Dissonance model might help us achieve
        better honesty, but beyond that, I am not sure it has much more to offer.<<

        Now you are talking. If we believe the biblical accounts are "true" but also
        know that the everyday world casts doubt in the miraculous world the bible
        is steeped in, we *should* experience dissonance. The difference between N.
        T. Wright and a snake-handling fundamentalist of the Appalachian mountains
        is that N. T. Wright has developed many relatively sophisticated, and
        essentially rational, approaches in order to reconcile his complexes of
        belief and those related to his acceptance of historical-critical method.

        But I am more concerned with examining the means by which dissonance can be
        reduced. Because they are essentially practical solutions, they can have a
        distinctly Machiavellian aura about them. Approaches can range from very
        reasoned to very knee-jerk or reactionary. For example, the theory predicts
        that forced or accidental exposure to new information that tends to increase
        dissonance will frequently result in *misinterpretation and misperception of
        the new information* by the person thus exposed *in an effort to avoid
        dissonance increase*. This is *serious business* if employed by a
        professional critic or anyone who professes to employ the
        historical-critical method. My opinion on this matter is that such
        misrepresentation or misperception is more likely to occur in an emotionally
        charged atmosphere than a rationally charged atmosphere.

        Also, dissonance introduced by disagreement expressed by other persons may
        be reduced by changing one's own opinion, or by influencing the others to
        change their opinion, and by rejecting those who disagree. The first option
        could be applicable if the alternative position proves persuasive, but also
        if the compliance is induced. The second option can be as innocuous as
        presenting a reasoned response, to as reactionary as immediately raising a
        rallying cry against the opposing position. The third option is also
        problematic, especially if the disagreeing opinion contradicts some sort of
        consensus, since immediate marginalization of the proponent of the new
        opinion arbitrarily cuts off criticism at the knees.

        If anyone remembers it, A. Powell Davies provided some very interesting
        observations on the early DSS controversies, including the sometimes
        bitterly intense opposition to them on many grounds and the generally
        extreme rejections of suggestions for their interpretation that went against
        the hitherto prevailing consensus regarding the nature and theology of
        Judaism around the turn of the Christian era (_The Meaning of the Dead Sea
        Scrolls_, 1956, Mentor Books paperback).

        It goes the other way as well. Galileo had one heck of a problem bucking the
        consensus, but partly because he refused good advice to publish his theories
        as hypotheses rather than matters of fact, and when forced to do so (on the
        advice of his friend, the Pope) he did so by publishing his theory using a
        fictive dialogue, in which the other party was a sarcastic parody of the
        Pope as the embodiment of irrational dogmatism (who was not that way at all
        in real life, and who henceforth refused to speak to Galileo after officers
        of the Inquisition informed him of the parody).

        Having chosen the Copernican model, which appealed to him on account of
        reason, Galileo would have been experiencing dissonance since many of his
        contemporaries, who he needed to interact with everyday but who were not
        ready to let empirical evidence overrule accepted dogma, were quite opposed
        to this kind of idea. While many of his astronomical ideas were quite right,
        Galileo let his emotions rule the means he chose to propagate his theory,
        and forced his opponents to react in an equally emotional manner, thus
        guaranteeing his condemnation by the Inquisition.

        The theory states that the effectiveness of efforts to reduce dissonance
        will depend upon the resistance to change of the cognitive elements involved
        in the dissonance and on the availability of information which will provide,
        or of other persons who will supply, new cognitive elements which will be
        consonant with existing cognition. Yet it is also proposed that the presence
        of dissonance can lead to seeking of new information which will provide
        cognition consonant with existing cognitive elements as well as to avoiding
        those sources of new information which would be likely to increase the
        existing dissonance.

        Since the major sources of resistance to change for a cognitive element are
        the responsiveness of such cognitive elements to "reality," as well as the
        extent to which an element exists in consonant relations with many other
        elements, it seems to me that the best way to approach new theories and
        hypotheses is to emphasize the free availability of a variety of reasoned
        opinions on any one topic. This is because the maximum dissonance which can
        exist between two elements is equal to the resistance to change of the less
        resistant of the two elements, the less resistant cognitive element will be
        changed in order to reduce the dissonance when the dissonance exceeds this
        magnitude. In time, the more reasonable opinions will tend to be adopted.

        However, toleration of reactionary and knee-jerk evaluations of these new
        ideas, not matter how authoritative the evaluator may otherwise be, is
        counter-productive and actually dangerous to progress in any particular
        field. It is not enough to assert that it is the logical fallacy of "Ad
        Hominem Tu Quoque" to reject an opinion on these kinds of grounds alone. It
        may be true that inaccurate or inconsistent opinions expressed by a
        proponent of an idea do not invalidate the idea, it is not true that we
        *have* to accept all ideas as of equal value. Is anyone here ready to place
        J D Crossan or N T Wright on the same level as a Christian fundamentalist
        apologist or a new age channeling theory proponent?

        In summary, I would assert that an understanding of Cognitive Dissonance and
        the ways that individuals or groups attempt to reduce dissonance can and
        will help us be better critics, both in the way we look at historical
        processes as well as how we evaluate the actions and reactions of critics
        (including ourselves) in relation to the critical work they or we express.

        I am aware of a more recent book on the subject of CD that should bring the
        theory up to date for those interested: _Cognitive Dissonance: Progress on a
        Pivotal Theory in Social Psychology_ (Science Conference Series) by Eddie
        Harmon-Jones (Editor), Judson Mills (Editor) (Hardcover, March 1999).

        Respectfully,

        Dave Hindley
        Cleveland, Ohio, USA
      • Steve Black
        ... Thanks for the clarification. I think I misunderstood you as saying something you were not saying. This above example is an excellent one showing how this
        Message 3 of 11 , Dec 3, 2002
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          >Steve Black says:
          >
          >>>I am not sure this model really does much for us. It might be helpful on a
          >personal level in sorting out personal motivations in attempting to achieve
          >greater personal honesty intellectually. It might provide a window into why
          >some scholars *might* reject and affirm what they do. But it certainly
          >doesn't provide any thing that will help us actually evaluate any given
          >argument.<<
          >Dave Hindley wrote...
          >Actually, I can also see its practical application in the study of the
          >psychological aspects that might have driven the progression of historical
          >events. For instance, it has been used to illuminate the process of
          >reinterpretation of prophesies in Jewish scriptures[snip]

          Thanks for the clarification. I think I misunderstood you as saying
          something you were not saying. This above example is an excellent one
          showing how this theory CAN be useful.
          [snip]

          >
          >So it seems to me that the Cognitive Dissonance model might help us achieve
          >better honesty, but beyond that, I am not sure it has much more to offer.<<
          >
          >Now you are talking. If we believe the biblical accounts are "true" but also
          >know that the everyday world casts doubt in the miraculous world the bible
          >is steeped in, we *should* experience dissonance. The difference between N.
          >T. Wright and a snake-handling fundamentalist of the Appalachian mountains
          >is that N. T. Wright has developed many relatively sophisticated, and
          >essentially rational, approaches in order to reconcile his complexes of
          >belief and those related to his acceptance of historical-critical method.
          >[snip]

          To paraphrase (and simplify) what I hear you saying here... We live
          in a world with many "contrary" thoughts and ideas to our own - no
          matter what our ideas might be. How we "deal" with these "contrary"
          ideas reflects the integrity of our intellectual processes and will
          determine the value of our "results".

          >
          >I am aware of a more recent book on the subject of CD that should bring the
          >theory up to date for those interested: _Cognitive Dissonance: Progress on a
          >Pivotal Theory in Social Psychology_ (Science Conference Series) by Eddie
          >Harmon-Jones (Editor), Judson Mills (Editor) (Hardcover, March 1999).

          I'll put this on my ever growing "to read" list.


          --
          Steve Black
          Vancouver School of Theology
          Vancouver, BC
          ---

          If you get confused, listen to the music play...
          -Robert Hunter From "Franklin's Tower"
        • Robert M. Schacht
          ... David, Thanks for these references. ... Who sez? Dissonance will be experienced mainly(?) by those rationalists who are bothered by anything that they
          Message 4 of 11 , Dec 3, 2002
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            At 09:39 AM 12/03/02, David C. Hindley wrote:
            >...For instance, it has been used to illuminate the process of
            >reinterpretation of prophesies in Jewish scriptures (_When Prophecy Failed:
            >Cognitive Dissonance in the Prophetic Traditions of the Old Testament_, by
            >Robert P. Carroll, Seabury Press, 1979, no review located; "Ancient
            >Israelite Prophecy and Dissonance Theory," Robert P. Carroll in _Theology
            >and Sociology : a Reader_, edited by Robin Gill, Cassell, 1996_, pp.
            >238-253; "Christian Missions and the Theory of Cognitive Dissonance" John G.
            >Gager, ibid, 276-292).

            David,
            Thanks for these references.


            >If we believe the biblical accounts are "true" but also
            >know that the everyday world casts doubt in the miraculous world the bible
            >is steeped in, we *should* experience dissonance.

            Who sez? <g>
            Dissonance will be experienced mainly(?) by those rationalists who are
            bothered by anything that they can't rationalize.
            I was educated in logical positivism, and as such, I often experienced
            cognitive dissonance, because the world refused to accommodate itself to my
            preconceptions. But as a graduate student, I read a book by Robert McC.
            Adams, who later became director of the Smithsonian. In the introduction to
            one of his books, he wrote, "We must be able to develop a tolerance for
            ambiguity," or words to that effect. I think what he meant was not that we
            should become irrational, but that when two apparent facts existed in
            contradiction with each other, we should hold that contradiction as a
            reminder of the work remaining to be done.

            Do physicists experience cognitive dissonance over the issue of whether
            light is energy observed in waves, or a particle?

            >...But I am more concerned with examining the means by which dissonance can be
            >reduced. Because they are essentially practical solutions, they can have a
            >distinctly Machiavellian aura about them. Approaches can range from very
            >reasoned to very knee-jerk or reactionary. For example, the theory predicts
            >that forced or accidental exposure to new information that tends to increase
            >dissonance will frequently result in *misinterpretation and misperception of
            >the new information* by the person thus exposed *in an effort to avoid
            >dissonance increase*. This is *serious business* if employed by a
            >professional critic or anyone who professes to employ the
            >historical-critical method. My opinion on this matter is that such
            >misrepresentation or misperception is more likely to occur in an emotionally
            >charged atmosphere than a rationally charged atmosphere.

            "Rationally charged"? Can you provide an example of a "rationally charged"
            atmosphere that is not emotionally charged?

            >...Having chosen the Copernican model, which appealed to him on account of
            >reason, Galileo would have been experiencing dissonance since many of his
            >contemporaries, who he needed to interact with everyday but who were not
            >ready to let empirical evidence overrule accepted dogma, were quite opposed
            >to this kind of idea. While many of his astronomical ideas were quite right,
            >Galileo let his emotions rule the means he chose to propagate his theory,
            >and forced his opponents to react in an equally emotional manner, thus
            >guaranteeing his condemnation by the Inquisition.

            Isn't this an example that Kuhn used as an exemplar of paradigm shift? I
            thought you weren't going to go there.
            (On the other hand, if we decline to discuss controversial theories, what
            will we have left to discuss?)

            >Since the major sources of resistance to change for a cognitive element are
            >the responsiveness of such cognitive elements to "reality," as well as the
            >extent to which an element exists in consonant relations with many other
            >elements, it seems to me that the best way to approach new theories and
            >hypotheses is to emphasize the free availability of a variety of reasoned
            >opinions on any one topic. This is because the maximum dissonance which can
            >exist between two elements is equal to the resistance to change of the less
            >resistant of the two elements, the less resistant cognitive element will be
            >changed in order to reduce the dissonance when the dissonance exceeds this
            >magnitude. In time, the more reasonable opinions will tend to be adopted.

            An irony of the Copernican revolution is that, from the perspective of ship
            navigators, the system of epicycles was more "realistic" than the
            Copernican model, because they were able to navigate more precisely using
            it (I don't remember why; perhaps the details of Copernican orbital models
            were not yet refined enough to provide better results.)

            >...In summary, I would assert that an understanding of Cognitive
            >Dissonance and
            >the ways that individuals or groups attempt to reduce dissonance can and
            >will help us be better critics, both in the way we look at historical
            >processes as well as how we evaluate the actions and reactions of critics
            >(including ourselves) in relation to the critical work they or we express.

            Actually, I agree (except that I still want to use Kuhn's idea of paradigm
            conflict.)


            >I am aware of a more recent book on the subject of CD that should bring the
            >theory up to date for those interested: _Cognitive Dissonance: Progress on a
            >Pivotal Theory in Social Psychology_ (Science Conference Series) by Eddie
            >Harmon-Jones (Editor), Judson Mills (Editor) (Hardcover, March 1999).


            Thanks for this reference, too.
            Bob
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