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Whose Reality is Most Congruent With Actual Reality? How Do We Know? What Are the Consequences?

Two questions are begged by the fact that each of us lives in our own private reality constructed for us by our own brains.

  1. Which realities best correspond with actual reality?
  2. How would we know?

The answer to the second question is, in a word, science.  More broadly, it is the scientific method, in which falsifiable theories are proposed, tested as objectively as possible given the circumstances, and then submitted for review by the scientific community at large.

The scientific method is, in my opinion, one of the two greatest inventions of mankind. The other is the rule of law. Both are designed to leverage for mankind’s mutual benefit the “flaws” of reason that allow us to see the speck in each other’s eyes while remaining blind to the log in our own. Both lift all boats by raising the tide of human understanding and social interaction. The first yields technologies and awareness that improve the quality and longevity of life. The second yields social standards that improve “liberty and justice for all.”

Speaking of “given the circumstances,” in the study of human nature it’s not possible to do the sort of experiments and destructive testing that are possible in the “hard’ natural sciences.  This is why the social sciences seem to be moving in the direction of interdisciplinary research; gathering and synthesizing all possible information from all possible sources to create a “Nomological Network of Cumulative Evidence” from which new theories might be generate and the evidence with which to refute or confirm them might be found. 

The answer to the first question is, in a word, conservatism.

Hear me out.

According to my Cognitive Theory of Politics

Just as there are different physical body types like ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph, so too, I propose, are there different cognitive processing types – operating systems, as it were, like Mac and PC, or brain types – that operate on essentially the same inputs only to produce starkly different outputs. It is counter intuitive, amid all of the variation we see among humans, to assume that we’re all born with identical wiring schemes

The two main brain types are liberalism and conservatism.  Note that these are NOT THE SAME as the ideologies, principles, and policies that are ALSO called liberalism and conservatism.  My contention is that liberalism and conservatism are, first and foremost, psychological profiles, from which follow the patterns of thought and behavior –  the ideologies, principles, and policies – commonly called liberalism and conservatism.

Also note that in any discussion about human thought and behavior we’re talking about statistically significant trends and tendencies, averages and aggregates.  We are talking about spectrums of thought and behavior, bell curves that often overlap.  We are NOT talking about binary dichotomies.  We are NOT saying anything like “All conservatives think this way” or “All liberals behave that way.” For a superb discussion of this idea, and of the idea that left and right are primarily psychological profiles, see the book Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences.

I believe that, were my Cognitive Theory of Politics to be tested by the scientific community with the scientific method, interdisciplinary research, and peer review it would be found to be largely true.

I contend that brain types are defined by two core parameters; 1) Cognitive Style, and 2) Moral Foundations.

Cognitive style comes in two basic flavors, described in the book The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization, by Arthur Herman, in which Plato and Aristotle serve as metaphors for them. In a nutshell, Herman describes them in these two excerpts from his book:

Despite their differences, Plato and Aristotle agreed on many things.  They both stressed the importance of reason as our guide for understanding and shaping the world.  Both believed that our physical world is shaped by certain eternal forms that are more real than matter.  The difference was that Plato’s forms existed outside matter, whereas Aristotle’s forms were unrealizable without out it. (p. 61)

The twentieth century’s greatest ideological conflicts do mark the violent unfolding of a Platonist versus Aristotelian vie of what it means to be free and how reason and knowledge ultimately fit into our lives (p.539-540)  

In short, Plato believed that everything in the real world, including individuals and societies, are but a pale shadow of their potential ideal selves, and it is the role of the enlightened among us to help us see the ideal and move toward it.  Aristotle agreed that humans should always strive to improve, but human nature has real limits that place actual constraints on what’s possible. and we risk doing more harm than good if we try to shape it into something it cannot be. Rather, we must work within those constraints, and maybe even leverage them to our advantage, as we continually strive to do better.

In other words, it is NOT TRUE that the ideological spectrum is defined by change and progress vs order and stability, or reason vs faith.  Everyone, equally, regardless of ideology, wants change and progress.  Rather, it IS TRUE that the spectrum is defined by brain type, from which follow beliefs about the source and nature of knowledge, and  HOW BEST TO ACHIEVE progress. The platonic cognitive style tends to place its faith in abstract reason, called “technical” knowledge by Michael Oakeshott, as the path to moral truth, whereas the Aristotelian cognitive style tends to place its faith in the combination of reason AND empirical experience, Oakeshott’s “practical” knowledge, as the surest guide.

Moral Foundations come in many flavors, but so far six have been identified as the most influential, described in the book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt.  They are Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Liberty/Oppression, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation.

Moral foundations are evolved psychological mechanisms that operate like automatic, subconscious, social radars, constantly scanning the social environment around us for patterns of thought and behavior that represented opportunities or threats to our genetic ancestors, and sending flashes of affect forward into consciousness when such patterns are detected.  We experience them as gut feelings, or intuitions, of like or dislike, approach or avoid, and fight or flee.

The liberal psychological profile leans toward the Platonic cognitive style and the first three moral foundations The conservative psychological profile leans toward the Aristotelian cognitive style and all of the moral foundations in equal balance. Note that there are Aristotelian liberals and Platonic conservatives, but the general tendencies are as I’ve described.  Remember, too, that these are statistically significant trends and tendencies with lots of overlap. Platonic vs Aristotelian is not a binary, either/or, dichotomy.

In terms of both parameters, by virtue of its tendency toward empirical experience and its employment of all of the social radars, the conservative psychological profile is better connected to actual reality – that which the scientific method tells us is true about human nature – than is the liberal psychological profile.

This explains a lot. It explains, for example, why…

  1. Conservatives understand liberals better than liberals understand conservatives.
  2. Conservatives have a better innate grasp of fundamental human nature than do liberals.
  3. American popular culture misunderstands conservatism.
  4. The public policies of the liberal unconstrained vision “have the worst track record in the history of ideas”.
  5. The public policies of the conservative constrained vision have the best track record in the history of ideas, both in forms of government, and in economics.




9 thoughts on “Whose Reality is Most Congruent With Actual Reality? How Do We Know? What Are the Consequences?

  1. I fully agree that the scientific method and rule of law are at the heart of modern advancement and prosperity.

    The reason the scientific method is so powerful is that it enabled mankind, for the first time, to objectively discover truth from error and fact from fiction. Thereby establishing a foundation of knowledge that can then be built upon. Prior the 17th century, truth consisted of whatever Kings and Clerics determined it to be and their false narratives were nothing more than foundations of quicksand.

    The scientific method was also powerful because it, unlike ancient natural philosophers, required experiment and testing to affirm or disprove the hypothesis. For example, Aristotle, for all of his brilliance, made many errors that could have been illuminated through experiment.

    Therefore, the two critical elements of the scientific method are objectivity(lack of pre-determined conclusions) and experiment. On both fronts, your statement that conservatism is superior to liberalism is unsubstantiated.


    As you so insightfully point out, “each of us lives in our own private reality constructed for us by our own brains.” With our ‘closed epistemic world’, especially regarding politics, how could any of us possibly distinguish between objective ideas and a giant loop of confirmation/disconfirmation bias? I know, experiment perhaps?

    Experiment and testing :

    Firstly, as you state, your version of conservatism and liberalism ‘brain types’ is “NOT THE SAME as the ideologies, principles, and policies that are ALSO called liberalism and conservatism.” Since it is the actual policies that create the outcomes in the real world and your ‘brain type’, as you state, is not the polices, then your conservative ”brain type has no claim to be the causal force behind these positive results. It is quite common for someone have a good approach to solving a problem, but horribly botch the execution. There is such a long and winding road between the ‘brain type’ and the actual positive outcome, that a causal link is fairly impossible, not to mention you also have the problem of induction which severs all links to your suppositions. Two more goodies from Hume that present problems for your hypothesis – correlation is not causality and causal connections of the past will not necessarily be true in the future.

    Secondly, you state: “I believe that, were my Cognitive Theory of Politics to be tested by the scientific community with the scientific method, interdisciplinary research, and peer review it would be found to be largely true.” You are explicitly admitting that your hypothesis has not been tested, therefore, any claims to truth are weak and speculative, at best.

    So far, despite my repeated requests, you have offered not a signal stich of actual evidence to support your claim that your version of conservatism is superior to liberalism. Instead, you offer lists of authors, some of whom do not even agree with your conclusions. A quintessential example of Narrative Bias/Fallacy. If anything, these responses completely destroy any lingering notion that you are taking a ‘scientific’ approach to the issue.

    Moreover, the world is only divided into two psychological profiles because you pre-determined that outcome from the very beginning. It’s like a medieval scholastic determining that the earth is the center of the universe, because that’s what he believed before he began his research. Did it ever occur to you that people are divided into two large categories because that the hypothesis with which you began? If you give people two choices, they are likely to pick one or the other. How would your results differ if you didn’t begin with that assumption?

    You explicitly recognize how non-binary and complex the world is repeatedly throughout the article and then go back to your linear, binary division of it because that fits nicely into your pre-determined perspective of the world. That is the exact opposite of the scientific method and is a classic narrative fallacy.

    Yes, the human brain has moral intuitions and cognitive styles, no question. However, it doesn’t process information like a computer, it stores and accesses these inputs, “perspectives, outlooks, world views, ideologies, visions, moral matrices, predispositions,” in a narrative form. In order to cope with the complexity of the world, our minds converts these inputs into a narrow, one-dimensional, linear narrative. What you are arguing, in effect, is that your linear narrative is superior to the other linear narrative in a binary world and that is a debate that will never reach a conclusion because the other side is arguing the same thing in opposition, let alone help us all solve problems in the real world.

    Lastly, why on earth would you want to “approximate reality” when attempting to solve political issues and not just deal, as the scientific method does, with actual reality directly in an objective and systematic way?


    Posted by tomrossman2017 | August 6, 2017, 3:18 pm
  2. It’s funny, I told a friend who I have shared your insightful writings with that there was a 99% chance you would respond this way. The reason I knew this is that I have a tremendous amount of experience with dogmatism and when a dogmatist has his ‘closed epistemic world’ challenged by facts and critical thinking, he literally has no framework by which to understand it.

    Bottom line: You still have not produced a single scintilla of scientific or empirical data to support your claim. Lots of anecdotal information, but as we all know, the plural of anecdote is not data! Hume is rolling over in his grave.


    Posted by tomrossman2017 | August 7, 2017, 5:39 pm
    • Has it occurred to you I might be right about that? Did you ever consider, for even a second, that I might have a point? I sincerely doubt it.

      Even this response of yours exemplifies what I’m talking about. I list entire books full of evidence, which you dismiss as not evidence, or as anecdotal, and then accuse me of providing no evidence. Your world view is a self-fulfilling prophecy of “If I don’t like it or if it refutes my position then by definition it’s not evidence.” It’s a Catch-22; a problem for which the solution is prevented by the circumstances which created it.

      Your thinking is pedantic, formulaic; “rationalist,” to use Haidt’s term. Read up on “The Rationalist Delusion” in his book The Righteous Mind. For that matter, read the whole book. It is a summary of the state of the art of the evidence and data of social science research.

      Read the first chapter of Rationalism in Politics by Michael Oakeshott. You think only Oakeshott’s “technical” knowledge counts as true knowledge; as “evidence.” You dismiss his “practical” knowledge as irrelevant.

      Read the chapter on knowledge and reason from A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell. Your understanding of it is that of the “unconstrained’ vision.

      Read about he difference between Plationic rationalism and Aristotelian empiricism in The Cave and the Light by Arthur Herman. You’re a Platonist.

      Read about WEIRD thinking in The WEIRDest People In The World, by Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan.

      What you accept as evidence rejects at least half, if not much more than half, of all human knowledge, as irrelevant.

      The problem is not that I have not given more than ample evidence. The problem is that you don’t know it when you see it.


      Posted by The Independent Whig | August 7, 2017, 7:01 pm
      • Then, after you’ve familiarized yourself with how the leftist and conservative minds actually work, take a good, long, hard look at history, and what actually happens when left and right run things. When the left runs things they go to hell in a handbasket. From the guillotines of the French Revolution to the hundreds of millions dead from Russian, Chinese, and Cambodian communism, to the opppression of Italian fascism to the Holocaust of German Nazism, never, in the history of mankind, has leftism, when it got the chance to run a country, created anything but mass murder, poverty, and oppression.

        ON the other hand, when the conservative mind does have a say in things, history shows – all of this, and all of the above, empirical evidence, by the way, just so you know – that the result has been the greatest freedoms, quality of life, and overall prosperity, at all levels of the socio-economic ladder, that the world has ever seen.

        Yes. Indeed. Empirically. The Conservative mind is, in fact, superior to the leftist mind. To not see this is to be a denier of science, evidence, data, and reason.


        Posted by The Independent Whig | August 7, 2017, 7:22 pm
  3. Perhaps I have been unclear, I’m not saying that you are wrong, my point is that you haven’t scientifically proven your point.

    Further, I can PROVE that your evidence does not support your claims:

    Jonathon Haidt, whose work you reference constantly and explicitly state that it proves your claims, is NOT A CONSERVATIVE.

    Jonathan Haidt is a self-declared centrist: http://www.centristproject.org/haidtcall His summary of his views — “Just that centrists rule, or at least I wish they did.”

    Another central insight of Haidt: “our righteous minds were designed by evolution to unite us into teams, to divide us against other teams and then to blind us to the truth.”

    I have read most of the other books on your list as well and they are impressive, intelligent works, in addition to many other conservative tomes. However, they are chock full of anecdotal and inductive reasoning which as David Hume, one the greatest thinkers in the history of British empiricism, demonstrated is not scientific or empirical proof. Beyond that, they don’t even begin to reach the same league as Popper’s stricter standard of falsifiblity.

    We live in a complex world and it is highly doubtful that linear approaches to problem solving from either side will be successful in the real world, but then again, Jonathan and I could be wrong.


    Posted by Tom Rossman | August 8, 2017, 7:08 pm
  4. I’ll make it really simple. Here are the facts we know:

    1) Jonathon Haidt is not a conservative. In fact, he believes the OPPOSITE, that conservatives are “BLIND TO THE TRUTH.” Therefore, all of those dozens to hundreds of times you have claimed his works as supporting your claim, you were unwittingly disproving it. (this is a very simple concept, do you not honestly understand it?)

    It’s like saying that On the Origin of Species was proof the Old Testament was correct.

    2) You recognize that the world is complex, but yet you shove all of our complex moral and political ideas into a linear, binary box of conservative vs liberal, exactly as Haidt describes the delusional nature of the Righteous Mind. Just because Haidt renounced liberalism, doesn’t mean that he endorses conservatism. An assumption you make endlessly. In fact, that is the core premise of his ideas – that BOTH sides are incomplete and dangerous by themselves. They are both the perfect, self-reinforcing “closed epistemic world.”

    3) You recognize the Me-centric universe, but do not display the slightest bit of self-awareness of your own galactic bias. As the greatest 20th century psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, said, “we are often blind to our choices and blind to our own blindness.” Do you imagine that you won the genetic lottery and all your natural instincts and reactions are correct? How fortunate you are. Isn’t that how the Righteous Mind works ?

    4) Tribalism isn’t proof of anything other than groupthink. You can list a thousand, or a million conservative dogmatist to extol the virtue of the conservative point of view,. However, that is not evidence of anything , except that you are all drones connected to some giant conservative Borg collective and you all sit around telling each other how smart and special everyone is.

    It’s like asking a group of fundamentalist biblical scholars for evidence that christianity is the one true religion. What are they gonna say, no ?

    As Hume was for Kant, I am committed to ‘awakening you from your dogmatic slumber’ . The quest continues…


    Posted by Tom Rossman | August 10, 2017, 4:37 pm
    • Your point number one is just wrong. Whether Haidt is liberal, conservative, or anything else is immaterial. You’re also wrong that he thinks conservatives are blind to the truth. In fact, he has stated publicly that conservatives, compared to liberals, have a superior innate grasp is fundamental human nature. Furthermore, a controlled study he did, and described in his book, proved that conservatives understand liberals better than liberals understand conservatives, and the more liberal one is the worse is their understanding.

      Your entire argument rests on fallacy and falsehood. You simply fail to understand very basic, straightforward, easy to understand core elements of Haidt’s work. And based on that failure you criticize my ideas, which you similar fail to grasp.


      Posted by The Independent Whig | August 11, 2017, 12:21 pm

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A politically diverse group of social scientists, natural scientists, humanists, and other scholars who want to improve our academic disciplines and universities. We share a concern about a growing problem: the loss or lack of “viewpoint diversity.” When nearly everyone in a field shares the same political orientation, certain ideas become orthodoxy, dissent is discouraged, and errors can go unchallenged.

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Venn Diagram of Liberal and Conservative Traits and Moral Foundations

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