The Shoulders Of Holograms

‘My technique is don’t believe anything. If you believe in something, you are automatically precluded from believing its opposite.’ – Terrance Mckenna apparently

Whose the biggest know-it-all you know?

They meet someone new and get the impression he’s a dick.

The potential dick and the know-it-all chat for a minute and go separate ways.

It’s concluded that someone new is a dick.

Humans are usually good at first impressions. Heaps of data is processed and instantaneously transformed into an opinion. This speed would have been important to our ancestors.

The table is set.

Subsequent information is based on this initial impression.

Your know-it-all parts the Red Sea of information. Any word or gesture that can prove them right will. The rest is discarded.

If this all happened 20 seconds later perhaps someone new thought of something funny. The first impression changes and everything else is a little funnier. Or perhaps he said something insightful but the know-it-all didn’t notice, too busy proving them self right.

Human’s are bad at updating first impressions. This isn’t about judging a book by it’s cover though. This same structure underlies all thinking.

. . .

An opinion functions like a magnet, attracting information that agrees or repelling information which doesn’t.

Fodder for almost any belief can be found (with wifi at least) – confirmation bias.

There’s no limit to the amount of information that can be swept under the rug, opposing arguments can even help prove us right – backfire effect.

I know my opinions. I think they’re smart and formed by careful reasoning. Under the microscope though I have no idea where they came from. Trying to find their origins is like rummaging through a bottomless laundry basket. If the bottom is found it usually means a simplistic narrative has been placed over complex messiness.

The origins of individual opinion would be disconcerting. Chances are they start at like age 12. I was an idiot when I was 12 and so were you. A cool kid liked Dragonball Z instead of Pokemon so I watched DBZ. It’s still epic. My mum liked Magic Johnson and now the referees hate the Lakers. My dad didn’t like the sound of a politicians voice in the 90’s and now I vote for the opposite political team.

How about someone in the public eye. This person and their lifetime of experience is reduced to a single sentence reported second hand. You and I say dumb sentences all the time but brains don’t put a strangers comment in context – one sentence out of a million. Instead it makes an instantaneous association, then tries to prove it right.

These initial ideas slipped past the goalie quite arbitrarily but being first gave them unwarranted magnetism. They attracted or repelled subsequent information. Humans tend to think in dichotomies, either a 1 or a 0.

A brain does this because it’s lazy. Opinion polarisation is there to protect against cognitive dissonance.


This happens when individuals think. So it also happens when lots of individuals think. When beliefs are added together you get academic disciplines, political movements and scientology.

Maybe someone was a good idea salesman 100 years ago. Maybe the cool politician liked idea A instead of idea B, or the guy with loads of cash did too. Maybe 1/100000 of the evidence we have now was available then. The bottomless laundry basket of an idea or belief system is messier than you can suppose.

Regardless the anchor was set.

The majority of people have a conventional intellectual disposition, rather than heretical. Either way people are drawn to intellectual tribes. Skeptics will criticise abstract ideas with no filter for textbooks. Heretics will criticise consensus with no contrarian filter. The medium is the message.

An idea repeated enough gets believed, consensus begets consensus.

Put too simply ideas become forked from the initial anchor – looking like a family tree.

Of course individual and shared opinion isn’t entirely shaped by the anchor – we do change our minds. It’s just harder and therefore infrequent. This distorts the final shape of an idea.

Even harder if they haven’t been edited recently, lots of people share a opinion, our ego and intellect are conflated or if we’re passionate.

Oft repeated labels (think ‘ism’s’) evoke the most emotion and therefore the most irrationality. Labels, especially radioactive ones end thinking and turn ideas to stone, turbocharging the magnet.

The operating system of most minds are slogans.

There is a bandwidth problem through. There’s only so much information a head can hold, so sometimes it has to defer to the collective.

But the trick is to examine the ‘evidence’ before adding it to the tally, both individually and collectively. Inject your brain with temporary belief amnesia and check in with first principles too, seeing if that final shape is right.

Don’t stand on the shoulders of holograms.


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