Sunday, August 3, 2014

Ignorant armies of the night.

In 2002, authors Wayne Gray and Christian Schunn published an article in the Proceedings of the Twenty-Fourth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, titled “Does Positivity Bias Explain Patterns of Performance on Wason’s 2-4-6 task?” The Wason being referenced was Peter Cathcart Wason, an English cognitive psychologist at University College in London. Wason was interested in the psychology of reason and was particularly concerned with why people make certain consistent mistakes in logical reasoning. One of his research projects was the 2-4-6 task referred to in the article written by Gray and Schuun. That project addressed preconceived notions, personal beliefs and hypotheses affecting rational thinking. Out of this work the term “confirmation bias” was formed, that in essence proved that people tend to filter reality through lenses that reinforce tightly held convictions. Wason concluded that people are far less concerned with truth than they were with finding evidence to support their beliefs, true or not.

In essence Wason proved the human tendency for choosing ignorance, and in particular the desire for being right, at all costs—the expected outcome of an out of control ego (the misidentification of the self). In a short handed, everyday way of understanding, the perception of we humans is distorted. Most everyone is looking through “Rose colored glasses,” only in some cases the glasses are not so rosy. A term that further explains this psychological inclination is vested interests. We don’t see the world as it is but instead view life in ways that insure protection of selfish concerns, in other words, “Greed.”

The picture above (and accompanying words) are the ending stanza of the short lyric poem Dover Beach by the English poet Matthew Arnold. It was first published in 1867 in the collection New Poems. The metaphor contained within this last stanza is an allusion to a passage in Thucydides’s account of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides describes the ancient battle that occurred at night, and in the darkness the attacking army became disoriented and many of their soldiers inadvertently killed each other. Critics, interpreting the poem, have suggested the metaphor expressed Arnold’s central understanding of the plight of the human condition.

Considering the state of current world affairs, it’s easy to agree with the research of Wason, the poetic conclusions of Arnold and wisdom of The Buddha: we see what we want to see. What we don’t see is the world as Suchness: a heaven on earth that is being turned into a Hell on earth by ignorant armies of the night. It is the fear of suffering that clouds our eyes.

Ajita asked: “What is it that smothers the world and makes it so hard to see? What is it that pollutes the world and seems to threaten it?” The Buddha answered: “It is ignorance that smothers, and it is carelessness and greed that make it invisible. The hunger of craving pollutes the world, and the pain of suffering causes the greatest fear.”

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