I’ve finished my university courses and have graduated… which means I have a lot of time on my hands. I’m giving myself a 2-week break to relax and look for a job. In the meantime, I’ve been spending a lot of time on the internet researching conspiracy theories (WTF are you thinking!- I know) Of course, this isn’t a conspiracy blog and I won’t be getting into specifics… I’m not here to tell you what to believe. But what I’d like to talk about today is the way we deal with challenging ideas.
The further and further I went down the rabbit hole (so to speak), the more my beliefs and ideas were called into question. I started to panic. Ideas that I had held so dear and thought were true were being challenged… and the evidence was quite substantial. What if everything you thought was true was a lie? How would you act? In my case, I’ve been researching and following so-called “conspiracy theories” for quite some time… so I’m used to this. When faced with such horrific ideas about reality, I can’t sleep for a few days, I ruminate and I think to myself, “how am I going to change my life according to this new information?”. Of course, I don’t believe everything I read. But it’s only after much investigation that I submit to the fact that maybe- just maybe- my ideas about the world might be wrong. Maybe everyone isn’t like me- maybe everyone isn’t so good. Maybe there IS an evil cabal that controls the world and wants to destroy you (lol we’re all laughing- it’s funny.. but what if it’s true?!). After a while of crying, ruminating, not being able to sleep, and thinking, comes the last part- acceptance. I get back to my normal life, accept the evil truths, and go back to normalcy. But life can never be the same when your ideas are challenged. You act and think differently.. maybe you choose to listen to different music and watch different programs, hang out with different people, and perhaps, eat differently. When faced with challenging beliefs, we can often face a phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance is something everyone does. When faced with ideas that challenge our own beliefs and preconceived notions, it is extremely uncomfortable (like, REALLY uncomfortable). Our brains hate that. The brain needs a consistent and stable state to function properly (much like homeostasis). Our beliefs and ideas determine our lives and what actions we take, so if we were to constantly change opinions, our lives would be chaotic. The brain protects us from that with mechanisms like cognitive dissonance. I think this is an evolutionary adaptation- you can’t be constantly changing your ideas and beliefs, especially after you have internalized them and live according to them. But rarely, when some ESPECIALLY convincing evidence comes into view- we are faced with a decision. When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviours, something must be done to eliminate the dissonance. We can discount the dissonant beliefs, avoid them and lessen them in our mind, or, the hardest part, we can change OUR beliefs to align with the dissonant ones. When you make a decision to avoid cognitive dissonance, accept the new information, and change your beliefs accordingly, your brain faces a traumatic situation. It is hard to do that but I think it is important. The goal of cognitive dissonance is self-preservation. But using cognitive dissonance as a means of self-preservation can actually accomplish the opposite- keeping one in an echo chamber of sorts, unable to adapt to new information, and in a state of denial about the world. At what point does self-preservation become self-harm? When should we confront hard truths and face them head on?
Why is it that people who confront their beliefs head on are seen as “conspiracy theorists” and crazy? Why is someone labelled “crazy” for believing we never went to the moon, or the Illuminati is real, or there is an evil cabal of Satanists at the top that control the banks and the whole world? What if those things were true? Are we in denial? Just because the information isn’t made popular in media, does that mean it isn’t real? We see people who believe in such things as lunatics… but we have no evidence to contradict them. What if we listened to them, researched their information, and came to find out they were right? Of course, we could also find out they were wrong- which would be a welcome relief.
In life, there will always be information that challenges our beliefs. Instead of going into cognitive dissonance as a protective mechanism, I think all of us should take some time to face those uncomfortable truths and perhaps examine our beliefs and opinions and change them if they need to be changed. It may be uncomfortable in the short term, but in the long run, it allows you to adapt to a changing world and grow as a person- and that is truly a better way of self-preservation.
Anyways, I think I’ve had enough of conspiracy theories for now. Time to relax and watch some movies in my PJ’s.
Take care of yourselves,
-The Wild Psychologist