Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for January 10th, 2022

Rosy splotches and an upright flounder*

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At Allen Park on December 17, 2021, I cautiously maneuvered among some prickly pear cacti (Opuntia engelmannii) to take pictures of aging and deteriorated pads. The one above looked to me like it had the measles, while my imagination insisted on comparing the pad below to an upright flounder. Or maybe it was a worse-for-the-wear owl seen from the side.

* I’m pretty sure that of all the hundreds of millions of people who’ve ever spoken and written English, not one has previously used the phrase that serves as this post’s title.

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The academic literature on the use of facts to correct delusions shows very mixed results. It sometimes works, it sometimes works in a limited way, and it sometimes doesn’t work at all. The effects sometimes seem to last over a longer period, and sometimes they don’t. It depends a lot on the issue being tested, how it’s done, and what we’re expecting to shift, from factual knowledge to policy preferences to beliefs.

That makes perfect sense when we bear in mind the theory of cognitive dissonance and consider what we know about how we think. We naturally look for confirming information, and discount disconfirming information. When the evidence reaches a tipping point and there is sufficient weight against our current view, we switch. The dissonance is emotionally unpleasant, and while we’re attached to our current opinions, it becomes less unpleasant to shift than to cling onto them.

The message is that we can’t always solve delusions with more facts alone, but that we definitely shouldn’t give up on them entirely. People are marvellously varied, and different approaches work with different people in different situations. Of course, facts don’t exist entirely outside of their context: as we’ve seen, many measures are more complex than they seem, require cautious interpretation, and selection of other, equally valid facts can paint a very different picture. But this is not an excuse to give up on the value and power of the best facts we can muster. They can indicate an underlying truth that we shouldn’t carelessly discard because they are imperfect.

That’s one of the conclusions Bobby Duffy reaches in the closing chapter of Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 10, 2022 at 4:35 AM

Posted in nature photography

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