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Formula for an Ignorant Opinion
An Essay on Beliefs and Their Formation

By: Scott McDougal

Introduction -

Recently, Donald Trump was elected president.  Many of his constituents hold the position that his policies protect their values (This would have been true if a Third Party or Democratic candidate would have been elected as well).  An example of such a value may include the right to bear arms / gun control, and I will use this value as an example thread throughout this essay.  In its place, one could certainly use another issue such as abortion/reproductive rights, size and scope of government, immigration, crime, unemployment rates, living wages, etc.…This essay is an attempt to bring clarity to how one’s values may be acquired, and subsequently held in place, by means unbeknownst to those that have them.  So, if you staunchly stand by your convictions, please continue…

Our Search for Happiness

In 1943, Abraham Maslow postulated that humans derive happiness from fulfilling a hierarchy of needs.  Maslow’s theory has been shown to be accurate across cultural boundaries and still widely considered to be an accurate summation of how our species acquire and maintain happiness.  The hierarchy is listed in order of the most basic (first needs required) to the least necessary and most complex.  They are; Physiological, Safety, Belonging, Esteem and Self Actualization. 

Each need must be met before the individual is motivated to seek the next one.  The most basic and first need that must be met is the Physiological Need.  The Physiological Needs are quite simply the needs that will keep one alive.  Examples of such needs are: food, water, shelter, warmth and defense from predators.  If these needs are not met, the individual will feel anxiety and distress until the needs are indeed satisfied.  There is evidence that suggests that once the Physiological needs are met, each subsequent need that is met, returns less happiness in shorter intervals. 

The hierarchy does escalate as each need is met, but it is in the fulfillment of the Physiological Stage that many people fail to cognitively advance without taking along sediments of angst from the previously unfulfilled first stage and projecting those onto issues that reside in different stages, though they do not require it.  It is this psychological sediment that need not be a primary part of our new operating system. 

Early on in mankind’s struggle, only the first stage was encountered.  Peoples of hunter/gatherer communities and even those of early agricultural communities were trapped in a never-ending cycle of avoiding starvation and dying from exposure.  We are now in a time when those struggles are nearly irrelevant in the western world.  Even if we are homeless, jobless and destitute, there are systems in place to provide those needs for us.  However, these fear-based responses still persist in our every-day life and we fear things that lack sufficient evidence of validating those fears.  This is why fearfully ladened speech is so easily consumed and propagated as if it were fact.  To our own detriment, we are a species that is pre-conditioned to believe fear, first and foremost.  It is possible to alter these conditioned fear cycles, however that requires abandoning complacency. 



Your Opinion is Given to You.

Multiple studies have shown (not without criticism) that your ability to choose is not pure, that in fact, you do not have 100% pure autonomy in making decisions.  When you decide on anything, there seems to be a sort of unexplained pre-cognition happening in the brain before you are aware of your own decisions (see reference section for one of many fascinating studies examining this phenomena).  It is fun to hypothesize what may be happening here.  Perhaps this is simply programming that the brain is referring to past information before action is known by you.  In which case, you are never truly objective, because past information is often outdated and proven to be wrong. 

Another interesting study (I only refer to ones that have been peer-reviewed to ensure the highest authenticity) indicates that your preferences are happening prior to your choosing.  It makes sense on the surface, as in “those are the things I like and I remember I like them,” but on closer inspection we see that again, they circumvent, or ignore objectivity.  At no time were you an objective clean slate and then carried forward data.  You have always had a root operating system of fear, even if your disposition is the aggressor.  In which case, the primal fear from the first stage of your need hierarchy is masked.  The aggression is an avoidance of the fear response and not an absence. 

Using the example of “gun control,” regardless of one’s opinion, it can be seen that the information is not truly objective.  However, the argument continues with an assumption of it being objective.

Confirmation Bias, Reductionism & Cognitive Dissonance

Attention! This perhaps is the easiest thing to recognize if you watch your thoughts closely.  There are three phenomena that happen in the mind, that most likely distort the information that leads to opinion making (as in voting for President).  If not mindfully witnessed and accounted for, you are potentially making opinions that are highly ignorant.  These phenomena are: Confirmation Bias, Reductionism and Cognitive Dissonance.  If you have conversations at work, watch the news or engage in social media, the chances are very high that you are repetitively guilty of both missing these phenomena and perpetrating them yourself.  For the sake of demonstration, I will use the “gun control” debate to illustrate each. 

  1. Confirmation Bias is a term that is used to represent the way in which people unconsciously find information that supports pre-existing beliefs.  In essence, if you are either conservative or liberal on a specific issue, you will overlook evidence to the contrary position and find supporting opinions only.  So, for our example; someone that is in favor of more “gun control” law may overlook a statistic that says robberies are less likely in areas with open carry permissions.  Whereas someone that is anti-gun control may overlook the fact that the sample taken was from an affluent area (where crimes are less likely even in similar areas without open carry permissions).  There is a theme here of self-protection, which erroneously harkens back to the first stage of hierarchical needs mentioned above.  Instead of searching and testing for validity, the mind supports its own pre-existing beliefs because, after all, we are still alive so that belief structure must be working!  This is no longer the environment that we live in.  Each decision does not correlate directly to survival.  So, they require much more deliberate self-monitoring.
  1. Reductionism is potentially the most pervasive, and subversive reason why almost all people are unable to successfully navigate a Socratic debate.  It is the masquerading of catch phrases and simplified ideas as real knowledge.  We ALL have huge, gaping holes of ignorance.  Yet, we parade around repeating ideas as if they have substance.


 I think most of us know, deep down that we are cosmically ignorant about the dynamic nature and inter-workings of governing.  We all seem to ignore this and passionately defend our ideologies with exponentially dumbed down versions of arguments.  Every time you speak to someone or write something on social media, reductionism is happening, and it is not your friend.  It is only those people that mindfully approach a decision with no emotion as the catalyst, and contemplatively consider the depths of each tentacle in the argument, that can make a truly informed opinion.  It is of great value to note, that there are NOT two sides to every argument, but countless sides.  It is only in primitive, binary thinking that it appears to be two. 

 Again, using “gun control” as an example, we say things such as, “Democrats want to take away our guns and that’s our second amendment right,” subsequently pointing to a quote from a politician to seemingly support our argument.  The arguments rarely go any deeper.  Reductionism.  Saying such a thing most likely indicates that a counter argument has never been validated, such as: when the Bill of Rights was adopted in 1791, they had no way of knowing that the military would develop The Laser Avenger or the Active Denial System (Military Weapons, guess what, you can’t get those at the gun shop).  They had muskets.   Thinking that owning a Tec-9 for each hand and being able to defend yourself from the United States Military is simply bad math.

By the reductionist argument the Second Amendment guarantees that all weapons should be legal, the logic would extend to just that, all weapons.  In which case, would it be ok for that new neighbor that looks at your daughter to long to have his own rocket propelled grenade?  Or, for any of us to carry a nuclear suitcase bomb too? Perhaps regulating large clips and automatic weapons aren’t “taking our guns away”, but is rather a sensible approach, given that you really cannot defend yourself against a hostile military and their contemporary weapons.  Hey, personally I’ve shot an AR-15 and it’s pretty cool.  I own a gun. 

Additionally, from a political perspective, this is the cycle:  the NRA donates to conservative candidates… the candidates terrify the constituents into believing all their guns are going to be taken away…gun sales go up….NRA Membership goes up….$$$ for NRA, the cycle continues.  This an excellent example of how demagogues rely on the ignorance of the voters, and plays directly on their fears. 

This was a rather long look at our example of gun control, but it is my hope that you understand that the issue itself cannot be reduced to such simple catch phrases or ideologies.  This like all issues, is VERY complex and multifaceted.  The notion that we could boil an argument down to something like “it’s our second amendment right,” is naïve.  We owe it to ourselves to constantly monitor our tendency towards reductionism as it holds in place our groundless fears.  If you have found yourself feeling defensive and argumentative regarding gun control, then you have quite possibly fallen into the very psychological traps that this essay is exposing.

  1. Cognitive Dissonance happens when the mind tries to hold two contradictory beliefs as being true.  One may even purposefully ignore contradictory evidence in an effort to be right.  The attempt creates an internal angst and the mind then avoids situations where it will feel said angst.  For example, if you support Donald Trump and you know he said , “No, I have no age, I mean, I have an age limit. I don’t want to be like Congressman Foley, with, you know, 12-year-olds,” and you also have a daughter that you protect from people like that.  These two conflicting ideals subconsciously cause angst.  That Angst may manifest as anger towards people that do not support Trump.  Full disclosure:  I googled this example to illustrate meaning.  In no way, do I intend for this example to be debated.  Doing so is Reductionistic.

As another example: If someone smokes, they may say that quitting smoking causes weight gain and their family has a history of obesity and cardiovascular disease, so they don’t want to gain weight.  They insinuate that they are being health conscious but at the same time ignore the ill effects of smoking.

A quick example of cognitive dissonance using the “gun control” debate would be that you think there should be no gun control, but you also think someone that seems mentally unstable (imagine they are your neighbor that has a history of saying lewd things to women) should not own guns.

Television News and Your Beliefs

Drug addiction, food and sex have all been shown to create reward pathways in the brain by their influence over neurotransmitters such as Serotonin, Dopamine and GABA.  Television does the same.  Watching TV, especially modern news programs, create reward pathways.  As with any addiction, we see that using the word “reward” is a misnomer, being “rewarded” with pleasure does in not indicate righteousness.  In fact, being “rewarded” in this way was most likely the mechanism that encourage us to seek food and reproduce.  Much like how we have outgrown the stage one need to fear things that are unusual, we also do not have the need to be rewarded in this way for things that will hurt our physiology.

If you happen to watch channels such as Fox News, MSNBC, CNN etc., your brain is being purposefully manipulated.  The moving graphics, sounds, colors and aggressive voices all stimulate activity in the brain.  The stimulation is paired with messages of fear and these fearful thoughts are coupled with the reward pathways created from the sights and sounds.   The more you watch, the more you want and the more you believe.  It’s not important that it’s factual.  It’s important that you continue to hear the same catch phrases.  Once those pathways are in place, one will likely report those same catch phrases as truth, not knowing that they are rewarding themselves as an addict.  It becomes then in one’s best interest to propagate information from the news as truth, to receive the stimulation from the reward pathway.



What all this means is that we should practice mindful, moment to moment discernment.  This discernment should ALWAYS recognize our own limitations first.  Then, we proceed as objectively as possible, noticing when our emotions subjugate our thinking. 

This essay was inspired by the prideful convictions that so many of us Americans put forth during and after this election cycle.  It is my most sincere wish that this writing helps us all to look at our beliefs more closely and understand that we as humans do not make decisions from mathematical computation, but rather hold beliefs that were created in our non-conscious. These beliefs will always seek to find proof in our environment, though conflicting evidence may be present.  It is of utmost importance that we understand that our biology is still developing.  We are in the middle of the human story, not at the end.  We are still primitive.  It is the arrogant belief otherwise, that is at the heart of so many of our problems.


Please understand that with all information, it is the responsibility of the reader to explore the contents validity.  In doing so, you are encouraged to notice how you already hold beliefs and how verifying information is polluted by your own selection bias.  This essay is an amalgamation of several concepts, and as such is not intended to be a complete analysis of each, but rather an opportunity for you as the reader to become familiar with the concepts listed herein.  This essay is also a first draft, with no additional drafts anticipated.  Being a first draft, it is certainly not a comprehensive or exhaustive piece of work without flaws.  I’m fortunate that spell checking is so simple. :)  I have attached a few references in case anyone is interested in exploring some of the peer-reviewed research that attempts to validate  the concepts mentioned within this essay.


Matsuhashi, M., & Hallett, M. (2008). The timing of the conscious intention to move. European Journal Of Neuroscience, 28(11), 2344-2351. doi:10.1111/j.1460-9568.2008.06525.x

Tay, L., & Diener, E. (2011). Needs and subjective well-being around the world. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology101(2), 354-365. doi:10.1037/a0023779

Vega-Flores, G., Gruart, A., & Delgado-García, J. M. (2014). Involvement of the GABAergic septo-hippocampal pathway in brain stimulation reward. Plos One, 9(11), e113787. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0113787

Zajonc, R. B. (1980). Feeling and thinking: Preferences need no inferences. American Psychologist35(2), 151-175. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.35.2.151

Published in Sustainable Health


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