Robert C. Priddy

Writings on diverse themes from philosophy, psychology to literature and criticism

  • Robert Priddy

    In this blog I post information and critical views concerning ideologies, belief systems and related scientific materials etc. I am a retired philosophy lecturer and researcher, born 1936.

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Archive for August, 2011

Cognitive processes in religious and other dogmas creates major delusion

Posted by robertpriddy on August 25, 2011

Some overarching ideas are like hydra – the more we entertain them, muse over them, think our way into their meaning and possible consequences – the more they spread and entrench themselves in our minds. In fact, they entrench themselves in the memory circuits of the brain and every time they come to mind they reinforce the neural connections. Many entertain not just a ‘big idea’ but commit themselves unduly to an entire ideology. It is often germane to an ideology that it ‘totalities’ itself as the one and only way to understand whatever it claims to cover. Among such totalistic or ‘exclusive’ ideologies, we find of course totalitarian belief systems, from Nazism, Leninism, Maoism, to an even partially-fundamentalist theology. Their explanations invariably require that other (conflicting) belief systems be negated, denied and preferably ignored.

The countless ganglia of the human brain – as neurological research is now penetrating to a far greater degree than ever – can be dominated by a build-up of connections so as to cause the relative exclusion of whatever is not dwelt on enough to make comparative impressions (i.e. as strong memory connections). This is how major and near-total indoctrination is possible or – in a more expressive term – ‘brainwashing’. What is washed out is anything that contradicts or throws doubt on the dominant ideology.

The more one concentrates on an ideology, the more it tends to take over a person’s mind-set until a way back from the whole of it becomes more and more tortuous and difficult to trace. When people make an exclusive ideology too predominant as a doctrine, they interpret life and the world only on the premises it enshrines, and invariably it rejects without reasonable discussion explains way all or most other competing doctrines in the process, then a cognitive disorder id developed. The person may be or appear quite sane and normal in other respects, but has a seriously distorted perception nonetheless. This can lead to dangerous and anti-social actions too.

Contrariwise, as interest shifts to other concerns and ideas are side-tracked, the neural connections are weakened. There are, however, other causes which can overcome even an obsessional dogma or indoctrination, of course. Major psychological shocks can cause a person to have to rethink it all, or people can be influenced by other, stronger ideologies and not least by education and even specific ‘deprogramming’. People may have other resources (previous education, or other cognitive skills and experiences) to fall back on which, once activated, give them a critical or doubting perspective on their main beliefs. 

Believing in a largely unsupported system of ideas can be taken so far that – in common parlance – the ‘mind flips’ into unrealistic modes. Some become pathologically obsessional, paranoidal, and so on up to megalomania and related conditions. To be mentally deranged is to suffer a malfunction of normal thought operations involving a loss of common sense, reality sense and the use of self-corrective reflection. It occurs in all degrees of seriousness and triviality and probably very few persons indeed are entirely free of it in some form. Yet a large or crucial part of a person’s mental life can develop in such a way that one’s ideas – and even perceptions – become very far removed from common sense and reason.

The more ‘official’ term for mental derangement nowadays is ‘cognitive disorder’. There are numerous kinds of cognitive disorder.

1) Illusory correlation. This is a misjudgement of how likely an event is. To confuse one thing as the cause of another is also an illusory correlation.

2) Memory bias. A number of biases can affect memory (Schacter (1999). These include false memory in recalling one’s past attitudes or behaviour as more similar to one’s present attitudes than is factual.

3) Egocentric bias. This can occur when one wants to hold a positive self-image so as to avoid negative facts about oneself. The conflict of negative and positive facts about oneself is known as ‘cognitive dissonance’, which there can be a strong tendency to avoid.

4) Ignoring relevant information is a cognitive bias, which occurs when one gives undue importance to a minor but salient feature of some problem. One’s judgement is warped through irrelevant information. Examples are found where there is ‘framing effect’. In social theory, a frame means a sets or system of interpretations – often a collection of root assumptions or set of stereotypes which people use to understand and act on events. Framing involves selective influence over how one understands words, phrases in description, labelling, or presentation of a problem. An unduly narrow perception or description of a situation or issue is a case of framing, whether wilful or unconscious, whereby attention is directed away from important facts or aspects of a matter.

5) Assymetric insight: This illusion “is a cognitive bias that involves the fact that people perceive their knowledge of others to surpass other people’s knowledge of them. The source for this bias seems to stem from the fact that observed behaviors of others are more revealing than one’s own similar behaviors. Relatedly, people seem to believe that they know themselves better than their peers know themselves and that their social group knows and understands other social groups better than that social group knows them.” (Wikipedia –

6) Self-serving bias: A self-serving bias occurs when people attribute their successes to internal or personal factors but attribute their failures to situational factors beyond their control. The self-serving bias can be seen in the common human tendency to take credit for success but to deny responsibility for failure. “It may also manifest itself as a tendency for people to evaluate ambiguous information in a way beneficial to their interests.” (Wikipedia
See also

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