Cultural Categorization and the Relationships That Cause Dissonance.

Despite what this picture implies and the startling conclusion of an entire era called the Enlightenment, the human brain is not a well oiled machine of cold logic. Thinking is not efficient and humans are incapable of being unbiased without a community of diversity.

Dr. Willingham (2009), in his book Why Students Hate School, states that the brain is slow and inefficient in thinking. It takes humans a lot of effort to think. This fact does not render the brain as ineffective, it does many things at extraordinary tempo. A human walks into a room and the eyes immediately take in hundreds of pieces of data and categorizes the data in a way to give a complete snapshot of the room. In other words, a local hipster walks into the new hip coffee shop that also serves cocktails made from mint that grows in Antartica, and honey squeezed from individual bees. That hipster will not have to spend 30 minutes analyzing what he or she sees. Despite chairs and tables being different in ascetic and the barista having distinctly different tattoos, the hipster’s brain efficiently categorizes the subtly different chairs and tables away in the category entitled Ikea and the tatted up man behind the bar into the category as the giver of zest.

Automaticity is the process of the hipster walking into a brand new coffee shop and adjusting with ease. According to Wayne H. Brekhus (2012, pg. 88) automaticity is “effortless, immediate, subconscious, thought wherein we efficiently process information without much thought or review.” We, humans, process information into categories without thinking.

We, humans, process information into categories without thinking.

While incredible, this automatic categorization should be seen as equally terrifying. The same process of automaticity that occurred with hipster entering the brand new coffee shop transfers to what happens when two pedestrians cross paths on the sidewalk. Its what happens when a conservative comes across an article on global warming and a liberal scrolls past an article on on the problem with high taxation. Instead of the brain taking in the data and deliberately trying glean more information from the stranger that just wandered by and instead of reading and thinking about the articles we let are brain do what it does well. We engage automatic cognition.

Now the opposite of automatic cognition or automaticity is deliberate cognition; the process of slow conscious thought. In 2010 Karen Cerulo with other cognitive neuroscientists studied when and how a human brain switches from automatic cognition to deliberate. What they found was disruption. The efficient categorization that happens in automatic cognition switches to deliberate cognition when disruption happens. A disruption can be defined as a breach in routine or a piece of data that causes dissonance with in a category.

Paradigm Shifts

What does this mean?

Thomas Kuhn, a twentieth century scientist, said a paradigm shift is a tantamount to a major conversion in religion. He continued by stating a paradigm shift is necessary when the current paradigm requires inconsistent, reactive patchwork to fill the numerous holes or implausibilities.

This begs the question of what is the current paradigm in human thinking. It is one that is still based in the enlightenment; the the logical and rational human as the archetype. The apex in this paradigm is thinking and individualism, and through an individual’s cognitive ability anything can be explained, restored, and seen as absolute. As one of my graduate students said in a class discussion, “ I have been told that there is nothing that thinking cannot solve. In my brief academic career I have been told that logic is king.”

Unfortunately, one need not look far nor deep to see gaping holes in this particular paradigm. Exhibit A, the 2016 presidential election. People voted from a visceral, culturally conditioned, place and not a place of rationale. Politics in general is a category that almost single handedly demolishes the rational human. Both liberal and conservative were, and are unable, to deal with facts.

Automatic cognition according to a study by Zerubavel (2015) forces humans to observe some facets of reality while disregarding other aspects. Zerubavel(2015, pg. 10)the brain is able to “hide things in plain sight” that do not align with the human’s culturally conditioned perception. If perception is everything and perception is only partial, it is safe to say the rationale man is at best a six cylinder engine of logic firing on one cylinder and at worst a highly relational organ that has been forced into the box of reason.

If the paradigm of the logical man is failing, the shift lies not in the in the individual. Rather it is the individuals looking outside themselves and embracing the outer disruption. For in disruption we find the ability to think deliberately. The thing about disruption or cognitive dissonance is that it requires some intentionality. It requires people placing themselves in situations where constant disruption can happen. This means on the simplest level an individual reading literature that forces them to look at the “hidden things in plain sight,” and let it marinate in the cognitive juices. On more complex level it means a circle of diversity. One needs to answer the question of who is sitting around his or her dinner table. Stop looking at different as the enemy and push to see different as the agent of deliberation. Ultimately, the paradigm shift comes to fruition when an integrated society is embraced and considered antidote to a society of individual, rational zombies.