When faced with flat criticism of our selves that challenges a core sense of our self-identity we experience cognitive dissonance (that spike of spite that stops agreement with oneself or others) and turns us all into Arthur Fonzerelli in our capacity to say, "I was wrong."
Yesterday I listened to a podcast from the James Randi Educational Foundation and their show "For Good Reason" with DJ Grothe where he intereviewed Carol Tavris. Tavris describes dissonance theory and confirmation bias. The former being the upsetting feeling we experience when faced with criticism that contradicts our self-image and the latter being the stories we tell ourselves to wish away the upsetting feeling.
Tavris also discusses tactics in conversation when faced with cognitive dissonance and how one might be tempted towards confirmation bias. What is the goal when challenging contrary ideas? Is it simply to debunk someone we disagree with or is it to alter that person's perspective so we both can find information that will afford a shared sense of knowledge? Debunking affords emotional release but often reinforces confirmation bias due to the cognitive dissonance it generates. Once again this illustrates the virtue of skepticism and how often "critical thought" can be simply criticism practiced for emotional equilibrium. Cognitive dissonance can be ameliorated by a lot of confirmation bias but the forward thrust of education is stifled because the confirmation bias one practices also creates dissonance in another which in turn leads to further confirmation bias etc ...
It was a good podcast and afforded me a healthy dose of cognitive dissonance where I had to wrestle with confirmation bias last night and consider how my past actions may have contradicted my desire for critical thinking.
When faced with the discomfort of competing ideas it seems wise to understand the discomfort rather than reacting to it.