What is cognitive dissonance and why we need to confront it if we want to truly be self aware


`If you desire self-awareness and you wish to “Know Thyself,” as Socrates exclaimed a few thousand years ago we must confront a problematic function in our psychology.  You may be doing it right now.  This phenomenon is known as Cognitive Dissonance.  It is important to note that Socrates firmly believed that to understand the world you live in you must first understand yourself or know yourself.  For the world is an extension of you.  The world you live in and interact with is the inside of your head before you. 


What is cognitive dissonance?

Cognitive dissonance is psychological conflict resulting from incongruous or conflicting beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously. I love Aesop’s Fables; stories are the best way to remember lessons. There is an Aesop fable which demonstrates cognitive dissonance in action.  It is the fable of “The Fox and the Grapes:”

A Fox one day spied a beautiful bunch of ripe grapes hanging from a vine trained along the branches of a tree. The grapes seemed ready to burst with juice, and the Fox's mouth watered as he gazed longingly at them.

The bunch hung from a high branch, and the Fox had to jump for it. The first time he jumped he missed it by a long way. So he walked off a short distance and took a running leap at it, only to fall short once more. Again and again he tried, but in vain.

Now he sat down and looked at the grapes in disgust.

"What a fool I am," he said. "Here I am wearing myself out to get a bunch of sour grapes that are not worth gaping for."

And off he walked very, very scornfully.

Everyone has experienced that type of situation in their lives at some point.  It has been demonstrated in children as young as four years old.  Cognitive dissonance appears to have developed through evolution.  There have been studies done with some of our distant cousins, specifically, capuchin monkeys who were shown to experience cognitive dissonance.  I believe that with the level of information now available it is a phenomenon we encounter almost daily.  If we genuinely want to know ourselves and then understand the world around us, we should seek and confront these discords. If you are someone who places a high value on truth, then the first truth we should find is truth within ourselves.  Until we actively face up to the conflicts within us, we can never see truth outside of ourselves. 

What is the truth?

This is the ultimate question.  Truth can be relative.  What is thought to be true at one time in history proves to be false in another time? Mores and truths change.  A recent example would be marijuana use.  Just a few short years ago if you got caught with a joint, you could face jail time.  Now, in July 2018 Canada is expected to become the first major industrial county to completely legalize it.  Times change and so does the truth.  One could say that there are absolute truths out there, such as gravity.  No matter where you are on this planet gravity works.  Whether you’re at the North Pole or in China gravity works the same.  But even that truth can be relative when it comes to black holes throughout the known universe.  What about the unknown universe? 

To resolve or not resolve

If you wish to continue living life on autopilot and be a slave to your mind, then I would recommend to not examine the internal conflicts and dissonance that you currently have and will continue to develop.  If you wish to take full advantage of this short precious life you have received than an important step is to look within and ask yourself why I believe the things that I believe.  From where did these beliefs arise?  Was it due to a parent or teacher or any authority figure from your childhood imprinting this in your mind and it then became a part of your belief maps. 

We are bombarded with an incredible amount of information.  Within our grip, the majority of us have a supercomputer in their pocket or your holding it right now as you read this.  This is an unprecedented time in human history.  We have never had this level of access to so much information.  However, what is true and what is false or fake?  Will these truths change with time?

In the next post, we will examine some methods to confront and resolve the cognitive dissonances that exist within you right now.  

Until next time,

Rich Decker – Mindful Accord