Thursday, March 27, 2008

Self-Deception

I am reading David L Smith's "Why We Lie" these days, and it is an interesting read. He traces the roots of deception in human social interactions, as well as the phenomenon of self-deception, to the way humans have evolved. He gives examples of deception existing at all levels in nature, and then comes to the fascinating study of self-deception, which as far as we know, exists mostly in humans (if we exclude the well-known example of ostriches burying their head in the sand).

Self-deception has many forms: denial, self-censoring, repression, willful or naive ignorance of one's unconscious drives, self-righteousness, pretension, delusion, etc.

Mr Smith considers self-deception as primarily an evolutionary adjustment so as to appear truthful in one's interactions. Deceit is punished, in animals as well as in humans. In this context, self-deception can be a an evolutionary strategy: By appearing genuine, we escape detection (we are not aware that we are lying, so the tell-tale signs of lying are absent), so we fool the lie-detector filters of others by fooling ourselves first. An example is the heart-felt "I love you" which we in retrospect can see as a temporary sexual attraction. But because we ourselves believe it so strongly, we are easily able to convince the other person and get what we want.

This is as far as the book goes.

I think there is another reason behind self-deception (which is also based on our evolution). Self-knowledge, or honesty about oneself, can be very debilitating in two ways: first, it makes us behave in a less-greedy/less-instinctually-driven ways, which in itself lessens our genes' propagation potential. As we recognize our basic nature, we can then choose to override or eliminate it. In either case, we then are no longer running after potential mates, no longer trying to gain power or money, and as such we let others get ahead in the genetic race for survival and pleasure.

The second way in which a lack of self-deception can hurt is this: self-knowledge, or honesty about oneself, can lead to depression or suicide if one is not intelligent enough to recognize that the traits one has are the ones one was born with, and that those traits are the end result of evolution. That one need not blame oneself or anyone else for one's physical and mental constitution at birth (some exceptions comes to mind: e.g. a drinking mother which by her alcohol intake causes some congenital defect in the child, or a lazy father who does not feed the mother enough so as to produce a weak malnourished offspring).

Suppose I have warts on my face and have other characteristics which are considered "ugly". Suppose I admit to myself that I am in fact ugly and unattractive. This admission can lead to severe depression and suicide, if a compensatory mechanism (e.g. of cosmetic surgery, "inner beauty", intellectual accomplishment, etc.) or a supporting community (which downplays or ignores my ugliness) is absent.

In the absence of such compensations, one usually refuses to admit that "I am ugly". Similarly for a fool to clearly see that he is a fool, someone who can't do anything right, can be very depressing. Most people lie to themselves about their flaws so as to have an overall good feeling about themselves.

This good feeling, or at least the avoiding of its opposite depressive feeling, is a very important factor for most people which makes life at least somewhat tolerable, which makes one go on living and not give up, and which makes people achieve their potential in other ways.

It is, in other words, the "power of positive thinking".

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like that Richard fellow suffers from what he's talking about; iow, delusion, self-deception.

A horrid case of it. Monstrous.

Anonymous said...

A human full of creative-spiritual wisdom, full of knowledge, truth, love and cognition, knows that from the truth everything originated, originates and will originate for all eternity. Therefore, he identifies himself with each and everything. In his spiritual consciousness, he will always be - in his innermost part - one with each and everything. In his interior, in his spiritual consciousness, he will identify himself with everything in the universe, in the same manner that the other one, who thinks materialistically, identifies himself with his body, with his money, his possessions, his confused speaking and teaching, and with the sound of his voice. But when the human identifies himself with everything in the universe, no hate and no greed may dwell within him anymore, because he makes no more selfish differences. He has just become one with the essence in everything. Other people may claim something as their exclusive property, but he who thinks spiritually identifies it with the truth within and, therefore, owns everything internally. All fright has left him, while he identifies himself with the truth. This truth of Creation and of the spirit, with which he is one, even directs his enemy's hand that will rise against him, in such a way that it falls back to (the enemy) himself. The spiritual one is protected and sheltered, and the whole nature is well-disposed toward him, and yes, even his enemies have to serve him in the end. With their attacks, they cause the spiritual within him to unfold to even greater strength and power and to overcome all that is evil, vile and degenerated. Ultimately, the enemies only contribute to the recognition of the truth and growth of those who think spiritually. They wish evil, troubles and bad things to those who think spiritually; they are of the opinion that they could destroy them through critique, know-it-all manner, lies and defamation, through complaints and false teachings, through condemning and making a fool of him; however, they only cause damage to themselves, because their acting gives testimony of intellectual foolishness and ignorance, from which he who thinks spiritually learns even more and becomes even greater and more powerful in his spirit and consciousness.

harmanjit said...

"They wish evil"

"With their attacks, they cause the spiritual within him to unfold to even greater strength and power and to overcome all that is evil, vile and degenerated."

# Thanks for your kind comments. :-)

srid said...

The second comment can also be found here: http://www.karinya.com/semjase1.htm
186-198

Anonymous said...

yes, very good

how old is our age of technology here on earth? 100 years? How big is this universe? How old? how many billions or trillions of years old?

Where do you think our technology will lead us in the next 10,000 years of development? Outer space? In search of other planets?

Scientists say much of human DNA is foreign to planet earth. Perhaps that is because we are related to extraterrestrials who settled here and mixed with terrestrials.

Have a look at the biggest coverup in human history by religious & political powers alike.

http://www.futureofmankind.co.uk/meier/gaiaguys/Meier.htm

Anonymous said...

welcome

Mohan said...

Completely agree with you on this one, Harman.

Self deception seems to be a defense mechanism, just like religious faith.

I don't read a lot of books, but my guess at why this exists is this:

For any species, survival of the species is the only end that matters. To ensure survival under changing circumstances, different traits might be preferred at different times. Hence, it might be pragmatic for the species as a whole to preserve variations in the gene pool.

In humans, I believe that the social characteristic ensures this. The complex social dynamic ensures collaboration, and individuals with certain temporal drawbacks(such as warts on the face!) are not eliminated, and can survive & procreate.
Who knows, in tomorrow's world, the same drawback might be a strength...(maybe the warts produce chemicals that keep away poisonous insects?)

Susan said...

"I think there is another reason behind self-deception (which is also based on our evolution). Self-knowledge, or honesty about oneself, can be very debilitating in two ways: first, it makes us behave in a less-greedy/less-instinctually-driven ways, which in itself lessens our genes' propagation potential."

- Not quite sure how self knowledge lessens the instincts or greed...infact a similar agruement can be given in favour of self deception. With the deep conditioning of the social or moral values, one might create a false impression about him or her being less of what he/she actually is and try living upto it. For example one may try not being greedy and share things. Infact I would say it is pretty much possible that your conditioning (say for example in case of many, particualrly women, in india or a person who wishes to try celibacy for religious or other reasons) against sex is so strong that you yourself believe that you do not have any physical needs and its even a sin to think about it. once such self deceptive ideas are gone, one would clearly recognize one's instincts.


"As we recognize our basic nature, we can then choose to override or eliminate it. In either case, we then are no longer running after potential mates, no longer trying to gain power or money, and as such we let others get ahead in the genetic race for survival and pleasure."

- Sure, we can try to eliminate or override these intincts if it can get us to a better state. but is that as simple as "choosing to do so"? i dont think so, atleast not in case of the stronger instincts. first of all knowing oneself completely is itself a huge task and even after you have succeeded in removing certain false beleifs about yourself, you cannot be sure there arent any more left. And may be it would be easier for one to fulfill the instincts once they are clearly known than to eliminate them.