Wednesday, January 10, 2007


From the Wikipedia article on Schemas:
Schemas are an effective tool for understanding the world. Through the use of schemata, most everyday situations do not require effortful thought -- automatic thought is all that is required. People can quickly organize new perceptions into schemas and act effectively without effort. For example, most people have a stairway schema and can apply it to climb staircases they've never seen before.
Schemas provide shortcuts in thinking that allow us to get through the day. Not only on the physical level, as above, but in highly complex and abstract thinking, we rely on the generalizations we have made before. None of us gets up every morning and re-evaluates our entire set of opinions. Do tax cuts increase revenue? Does my mother love me? Is good really better than evil, somehow? Are the people at that church generally resentful? Is milk good for you? It would be a tiring world if we attempted such things even once a year.

No, we plod along day-to-day pretty much believing what we did yesterday. Even those of us who think of ourselves as questioning everything have only a short list of what is up for grabs on any given day. Even if we challenge ourselves ten times more often than the average Penelope, the amount is still small when compared to the whole.

We seldom question things at all unless some troubling bit of data doesn't fit. Even those we usually ignore, so long as they don't seem to have any practical effect. New cups come in, we hang them on the old cuphooks. Only if they don't fit and start crashing to the floor do we tend to question whether there might be something wrong with the hooks themselves.

This is very powerful in political and social ideas, which is why everyone wants you to adopt their particular schemas. Once you have the idea firmly in your head that the conservatives are just out to get Bill Clinton, then reports of anything he does wrong can just be put into that harmless (to Clinton) filing folder. If you believe Clinton regularly lies to protect his own butt, then you will put the same news story into that filing folder and reject his explanations. If you believe there is no God, then nearly all of what you encounter can be easily fit into that schema; if you believe there is One, nearly everything can be easily fit into that.

This is why so much money is spent on advertising, and political consultants, and public relations. Because it works. Even on you. You hate that; I hate that. But it's true.

Sometimes events or ideas are so powerful, or our expectations help us so little, that we are forced to consider other alternatives. But most argument and discussion consists of trying to get people to even consider an alternative explanation. Most of us figure that if we can jam it into the old system somehow, why bother to consider whether it might fit even more nicely in another?

Because you want to get it right, that's why.


Kate said...

The problem with trivia girls/guys is that they don't question what is actually the TRUTH. "If my sheet says it is right it is right. If the Internet says it is true then it must be true." There is no quality control; there is no intelligent evaluation of sources. There is an overwhelming conviction that to admit they are wrong (or could be mistaken) would be a sign of weakness.

The real trouble is that "some people got it right" which means that:
1) "Some people" are going to persist in believing that Prague, Czechoslovakia is still a great place to buy kolaches OR
2) "Some people" have enough experience with this particular game to accept that the maps being used are fifteen years old and plan to answer incorrectly because they know what the "correct" answer is. They have accepted the lies and have begun to fabricate and perpetuate their own. Obviously, no one else challenged the question.

Not sure which is worse; but if you're worried... I can still sleep at night.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

For those of you puzzled at that outburst, kate is a friend of my son's and I commented over at her blog. The Trivia Night question was something like "what country forms the entire northern border of Hungary? The "correct" answer was Czechoslovakia, which no longer exists. The judge would not reconsider. I expressed sympathy.

Oddly, it does sort of connect to the schema post, doesn't it?

Woody said...

I hate some simple tests, because I know of multiple answers that could be considered correct or of more current information than is expected on the exam. I even see this in Jeopardy! sometimes. I'm with Kate on being accurate rather than guessing what the teacher or exam expects.

Regarding asking others to consider alternatives in light of their firmly held beliefs, I told some liberals the other day that I was smarter than they are because I wasn't going to waste my time trying to convince them that they were wrong.

D.E. Cloutier said...
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D.E. Cloutier said...
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D.E. Cloutier said...

I think you have to factor "styles of thinking" into the equation. The five principal styles of thinking in the West: Synthesists, Idealists, Pragmatists, Analysts, Realists.

Pragmatists like me are quick to accept new ideas. Whatever works is usually fine with us.

D.E. Cloutier said...

P.S. I actually began adulthood using the synthesist style of thinking: Take idea A, merge it with idea B, and create something new--idea C. Jerry Brown thought like a synthesist during his years as governor of California. Sometimes he was brilliant; other times he was impractical "Governor Moonbeam."

I intentionally became a pragmatist. The pragmatist style of thinking came about because of the Industrial Revolution. The pragmatist style of thinking works best in business and works best in a global marketplace with a variety of different cultures.

David Foster said...

A concept that may be relevant here is "confirmation bias"...meaning the desire to seek out information confirming the hypotheses one already holds. This phenomenon frequently appears in accident investigations.

Woody said...

David, I can drive by wrecked cars pulled over to the side of the road, look at the involved drivers standing there, consider their gender, nationality, and car condition, and know instantly who was at fault. I think it is a gift of mine. What were you saying about confirmation bias?

Woody said...

AVI, I'm often curious about comments which you delete. No confirmation bias here, but I figure that the comments were from liberals who used bad language.

terri said...

woody...when it says "comment deleted by the author" it usually means it was deleted by the author of the comment, not the author of the blog.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

terri is correct. I have never deleted a comment. From the time stamps, I would guess that they were posts by dec that he saw an error in or decided he could put better. A salutary reminder to all of us that preview is your friend.

Woody said...

Interesting. I didn't know that commenters could delete their own comments once posted.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

That little trash barrel below your time stamp is your delete button. Just think, you could have seemed even more intelligent over the years.