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Looking Inside the Human Mind

The best fiction is often the result of character development that creates an arc of intellect and emotion, finely tuned, elaborately structured, and with broad spectrum or range. Such characters bore deep into our own consciousness as if in the story telling, the author has found a way to channel our own thoughts.

The advances in psychology and cognition research continues to reveal more about the way our emotions and intellect are networked. A recent article in The Edge worth reading on the subject is by Jonathan Haidt and titled: MORAL PSYCHOLOGY AND THE MISUNDERSTANDING OF RELIGION

Here’s an excerpt:

“The basic idea is that we did not evolve language and reasoning because they helped us to find truth; we evolved these skills because they were useful to their bearers, and among their greatest benefits were reputation management and manipulation.

Just look at your stream of consciousness when you are thinking about a politician you dislike, or when you have just had a minor disagreement with your spouse. It's like you're preparing for a court appearance. Your reasoning abilities are pressed into service generating arguments to defend your side and attack the other. We are certainly able to reason dispassionately when we have no gut feeling about a case, and no stake in its outcome, but with moral disagreements that's rarely the case. As David Hume said long ago, reason is the servant of the passions.”

The problem is the expectation that truth can prevail over “face” and over “opportunistic” behavior. The cultural aspects further confound the role of truth in the mix of competing interest. This is one reason why good novels will always have an audience as the best stories work out the way truth and the interest that truth must compete with attract our attention as readers. That is no surprise. People want it all at the same time: truth, face, fairness to others, and grace under fire. When we say a character is flawed, we are saying that he or she will turn truth on its head if the case of a larger benefit turns up.

How much truth can people accept from their leaders, generals, religious figures, scholars and teachers? The verdict on this question remains for another day.

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