Thursday, May 2, 2013

Need for cognition?

“If you think humanity is high minded, just check out google’s zeitgeist archives for the top ten search terms. Movie and pop stars, bands, top athletes, and current political events are the perennials, with nary a scientist nor scientific discovery among them (and this is after the most popular search terms, those that relate to sex, have been screened out).  
                     Christof Koch, “Consciousness” (neuroscientist, Caltech)

Some people like to have involved conversations about religion, atheism, skepticism, philosophy and science. Many of these people have an easy time tolerating ambiguity, enjoying abstract thinking or entertaining themselves with controversial subject-matter. For such individuals, thinking itself is an artful endeavor that becomes its own reward. These are the kinds of people who relish being in the throes of a florid argument--provided no individual is being personally attacked. An intense need for cognition is a prevailing theme in these people's lives.

 I’ve noticed that people who engage in the above style of thinking, discussion and debate are often reprimanded with the following criticism:  “Stop wasting your time thinking or talking about this” or “Move on to something else” or “This isn’t changing anyone’s mind anyways” or “No one cares” or “You’re just a novice anyways, save the attempted thinking for the professors”.

 Clearly, there are many people who feel uncomfortable or apathetic about conversations that involve the philosophical realm or the pursuit of inquiry to gain knowledge. This type of person has a very low need for cognition. What would they prefer to talk about? Their dog? The reality television show they watched yesterday? The weather? That funny scene in a movie or television show that they just watched? These are fine things to talk about (and everyone already talks about them INCESSANTLY)—but what makes them appreciably more worthy of attention?  There is an endless deluge of concrete minutiae people talk about, but, for some reason, NONE of it receives the same kinds of rebuke and “You’re wasting your time!” that an attempted philosophical or intellectual discussion receives.  It’s as if having a philosophical discussion is the ultimate waste of time—but talking about your favorite celebrity or music artist is NEVER reproached—this is just expected.

Perhaps it is just “normal” to have water-cooler discussions about celebrities and their latest escapades; it is “abnormal” to initiate a Socratic dialogue with a stranger at a bakery (or anywhere else, I guess). If one of these scenarios above is considered “wasting your time” isn’t the other one too? How many times in life have we heard conversations about the first subject? How many times have you seen two people going-at-it in full-fledged Socratic dialogue?

I see it like this: a person is inevitably going to spend their time thinking or talking about certain things in this life. We choose the content that we discuss, that which arouses our sense of intrigue or passion, and this ultimately feeds and programs our brains. The time we spend having a discussion about that person we think is stupid or about our favorite celebrity—could also be time spent thinking about or discussing a scientific principle or philosophical idea.

If you are an individual with a high need for cognition, you get far less pleasure having discussions about events and other people. Instead, you thrive on ideas and how they have sex with—how they merge with other ideas forming new tiers of thought—novel possibilities to better understanding reality. Every invention or theory starts with a trail of thinking—and many times it requires abstract thinking generated from a philosophical or intellectual dialectic. Many people are perfectionists so they say “Why bother if I’m not very good at this kind of foreign thinking?” It doesn't matter if the initial thinking is rudimentary, naive or marked by flaws in reasoning. We all have to start somewhere, and sometimes we struggle in the same spot for  years—even the most brilliant people in the world were once three-year olds. At least here, we are at a place to learn and expand intellectually.

Chit-chat is a kind of rubbish talk; it really cannot advance the mind—or conversation— to new possibilities. While we all participate in this kind of daily drivel, it does take the place of excruciatingly fascinating conversations that we could be having.

We can only hope that more and more people apply their minds to new ideas and to innovative thinking.  With this method, more solutions and possibilities can be explored.


  1. Your comment on perfectionists reminds me of an Philosaraptor pic saying...

    "If practice makes perfect and no one is perfect, why practice?"

    Funny but I was given an answer years ago. In my home town of Blackwell, OK, there was an antique shop ran by a guy named Bill. He has been in the business practically all his life. We would have long conversations on anything. He was great to visit. One thing he showed me was him placing a coin on a counter. The coin represented you. The counter could be anything you want to achieve or build yourself on. Suppose you tried to reach the end of the counter but only went somewhere part way. in the end, you did not acheive what you plan to do. However, you are further then where you were. You have advanced youself even if only a little. I took this to heart. He sold his buisiness and moved to Germany and beside from a couple of email exchanges back 2006 I never heard from him again. I don't know if he is still around. Many of the stories in about this life relected this example he gave me.

    Every book you read or knowledge you try to learn may not all stick to you but it can alter you in some way. In order for one be advance you have to start from some begining. it comes down to that old cliche of the road of ten-thousand miles begins with the first step. Sadly many people would rather take the apathetic route and be given the rewards of those who have traveled that distance. Why design new technology were you can use it now for your own amusement. Why read a thought provoking story like The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky while you can read the knockoff of Twilight. I think that there are enough people who still understand the value of such things and they would be the ones that will keep us going.

  2. First of all, I must congratulate You, suva. I read your blog and watch your videos for some time now, and I must admit that you really know what you're talking about and it's really nice to listen or read your thoughts. I must say I do agree with them most of the time, and for me it is a marvelous and bumpy road You took to change your way of thinking being a creationist in the past. It really brings hope that reason will win this bloody battle with religion.

    Damn, that was one long introduction :) What I want to say is that I believe I have a sad, but in my humble opinion correct diagnosis for why people don't want to think. And it contains two cases:

    The first one is what I firstly thought was the majority, but I believe I was wrong. It's the most plain, and really, obvious. People are stupid. Maybe not all of them, and probably even not the majority of them, but some of us, a big chunk I would say, are stupid. And stupid people don't like to think. So they believe those who think are odd, weird, nerds etc. And initially, this group was the only one that disliked insightful discussions and things like that. But as I wrote earlier, I don't think they are the majority. So why does it seem so?

    Well, it's all about the second group. And this is really sad, in my opinion. These are people that are intelligent and smart maybe, but choose to become dumb. Well, it's not so hard in today's world, when almost all mainstream media flood us with tons and tons of garbage, but still, this should not be the case. Sadly, those people, living surrounded by people who seem to be idiots (and many of them are just like them, in fact) decide, often subconsciously, that they need to merge with the garbage around them. They start to look as the stupid people, they start to talk like them, they change. And after couple of years, they are unable to participate in real discussion or interest themselves in anything worthwhile. The society, surroundings, media, all of these are against them staying intelligent. And most people don't want to be the weird ones. So they merge with society. And eventually, they become dumb.

    I am terribly sorry for such a long comment, but I always talk too much on the cases I find interesting. I hope You keep up the good work and make me think about cool stuff again :)

    Best regards
    Simple biotech student from across the ocean :)

  3. Suva wrote: "These..people..relish..a florid argument--provided no individual is being personally attacked."

    The more attached people are to a belief, be it religious, political, or otherwise, the more they PERCEIVE such argument as a personal attack--an affront to their identity or to what they hold sacred. Are you ever amused by the fervour of certain anti-religious comments by self-described atheists? It's actually sad.

    Doesn't the adjective Suva chose to describe such arguments reveal their true potential in personal and civic life? Flowers are neither B&W nor ugly as arguments all too often become.

    @Reyvinn & Johnsutton: Ever hear of the 'conspiracy of mediocrity' by 20th C American philosopher/artist/scientist Walter Russell: "Genius is self-bestowed, mediocrity is self-inflicted." I think it all boils down to how the primary conflictual desires get (un)consciously met in ones life: to be normal on the one hand, but special on the other.

    @Suva/Renee: I absolutely love what you write. BTW, I posted this on your YouTube Channel comments--not sure if you read it but I think it may interest you:
    Ben Perry wrote: "...had any productive conversations with deists/theists?"
    I responded: Productive in what sense?  While it seems 'militant atheists' (who gave them that name?) direct 'attacks' only entrench fundamentalist belief, some Christians are welcoming the challenge. In the 4th of a 5 part series on this called 'After Atheism', James Carse, author of 'The Religious Case Against Belief' argues that belief is often the enemy of religion as it "tends to conclude a discussion rather than initiate one".

    1. Thank you for taking the time to send me this.

  4. Most peoples' minds are "wired" primarily for socializing, not for questioning. What's important to them is fitting into the group, and at least pretending to believe in many of the same things as the perceived majority. This makes sense from an evolution perspective since for most of our past the cohesion of the group was of utmost necessity in order to survive. With the development of civilization the freedom to debate and disagree arose with the luxury of not having to constantly fend for food and supplies or ward off predators. Thus intellectual "elitism" is still looked on with suspicion by conservatives and the emotion-driven masses. It comes from the fear of causing a lack of harmony within the group. Those of us born with the desire to think our way through life are seen as outsiders and are never fully trusted by the mainstream. Socrates was sentenced to death for upsetting the state's status quo, and Galileo was put under house arrest because he threatened the church's dogmatic rule.

    It is interesting to note that during the Classical Period and the Age of Enlightenment philosophers and scientists were looked on with admiration as long as they didn't question the rule of the church, until Romanticism led to our age of celebrity worship where derisive terms like geek and nerd came into vogue.

    1. Wow, very excellent response here. Lots to consider that I didn't think about. I really appreciate your input homonculus888

    2. My pleasure, Renee...I mean Suva! :)

      (Just changed my displayed name to the real one "Mitch" since the other one seems awkward.)

  5. Hi, im from Brasil and would like to translate your excelent text to share with friends, if you allow.
    If so, how should I put the credits? Just Suva or another reference?
    Congratulations for the text!
    (It's also an argument to talk with my girlfriend that says to me all that phrases of the beginning...)

    1. Yes! You most definitely may, and please include my blog name A Slice of Mind (web address.
      Thank you Sergio for stopping by to read it and sending me a positive message. I really, really appreciate it and glad you enjoyed it. Hope you stop by again :)