I recently came across a report on a series of studies which attempted to see how people handle a task where they are instructed to have no external distractions and to entertain themselves only using their own thought (Titled “Just think: the challenges of the disengaged mind”). A disclaimer: Many social psychology studies are bunk, and there has been heavy criticism about how p-values are used in psychology. I fully admit that in all likelihood these findings aren’t particularly reliable; especially because of the number of participants is not very high. Though, since this is a relatively non-political issue, this risk of bias isn’t as bad as it could be. In any event, even a broken clock is right twice a day and this is likely one of those cases.
The idea that many or most people are highly aversive to contemplative thought and proper self-understanding matches my personal observations so at the very least this is a topic worth considering regardless of the individual merits of this study. This sort of observation about the mass-man is one that goes back thousands of years. Looking at what they did and found could perhaps be thought-provoking if nothing else. Jokes aside here are some excerpts:
In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.
You don’t have to delve heavily into a statistical analysis to note that even 1 person, let alone many, shocking themselves to prevent entry into a contemplative state is rather unexpected and somewhat disturbing. Well, unexpected if you aren’t sufficiently reactionary to embrace the inner misanthrope. Here are some more details:
Would [study participants] rather do an unpleasant activity than no activity at all? In study 10, participants received the same instructions to entertain themselves with their thoughts in the laboratory but also had the opportunity to experience negative stimulation (an electric shock) if they so desired. In part 1 of the study, participants rated the pleasantness of several positive stimuli (e.g., attractive photographs) and negative stimuli (e.g., an electric shock). Participants also reported how much they would pay to experience or not experience each stimulus again, if they were given $5. Next, participants received our standard instructions to entertain themselves with their thoughts (in this case for 15 min). If they wanted, they learned, they could receive an electric shock again during the thinking period by pressing a button. We went to some length to explain that the primary goal was to entertain themselves with their thoughts and that the decision to receive a shock was entirely up to them.
Many participants elected to receive negative stimulation over no stimulation—especially men: 67% of men (12 of 18) gave themselves at least one shock during the thinking period [range = 0 to 4 shocks, mean (M) = 1.47, SD = 1.46, not including one outlier who administered 190 shocks to himself], compared to 25% of women (6 of 24; range = 0 to 9 shocks, M = 1.00, SD = 2.32). Note that these results only include participants who had reported that they would pay to avoid being shocked again. (See the supplementary materials for more details.) The gender difference is probably due to the tendency for men to be higher in sensationseeking (12). But what is striking is that simply being alone with their own thoughts for 15 min was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock that they had earlier said they would pay to avoid.
One guy was either a masochist or had some seriously troubled history if he preferred 190 shocks to contemplation. There are some substantial gender differences here. Not sure what accounts for that, or if the author’s explanation is correct. It could be.
Research has shown that minds are difficult to control (8, 22), however, and it may be particularly hard to steer our thoughts in pleasant directions and keep them there. This may be why many people seek to gain better control of their thoughts with meditation and other techniques, with clear benefits (23–27). Without such training, people prefer doing to thinking, even if what they are doing is so unpleasant that they would normally pay to avoid it. The untutored mind does not like to be alone with itself
It is very likely good practice for everyone to spend some time training their mind for better contemplation and/or meditation.
I have previously written about the commonality of aversion to introspection and self-understanding in my previous article “Accepting truth.” While I focused more on society-wide actions of those in denial, I believe the finding discussed above and concepts like it are related, but more focused on the individual rather than on broader culture.
There are plenty of genuinely intelligent people [i.e. google employees] who adhere religiously to the most obviously counter-factual beliefs, such as absolute physical and mental parity between the sexes. For these people, intelligence isn’t the problem. Knowledge might be a problem, but not one that they couldn’t resolve if they decided proper understanding of the truth was their goal. There is plenty of information available for study.
So why is this widely available information either ignored or rejected immediately by intelligent people without any real consideration and on an emotional basis? In a word, it has to do with acceptance and acceptance is only tangentially an intellectual trait. Acceptance can seem like a deceptively easy thing to do. In some cases it is, but in many cases it is not. Furthermore, the difficulty of accepting some particular truth can vary substantially between different people and groups of people. For example, it is objectively not a nice thing that IQ differs by race. As a group, blacks aren’t as smart as whites. There aren’t as many super-intelligent women (i.e., at the far right of the bell curve) as men either. As a white male, it is easy for me to accept these truths because it does not reflect negatively on my identity. Accepting a negative, or perceived negative, aspect of another group (the other) is inherently easier than accepting something negative about oneself or one’s group. If you are a black guy, or a woman, these same truths are substantially more difficult to accept. These people don’t want to accept a statement like “you know, maybe I have limitations.” Who does? Accepting things that sound bad or are bad about the self aren’t easy for anyone.
More immediately than the examples above, everyone has their own personal foibles that they don’t necessarily want to face. This is what is happening to these leftists. They are coming up against realities and truths which objectively aren’t particularly nice, and they can’t manage to cultivate a state of mind that is able to accept potentially negative qualities of themselves or others in their in-group. They don’t have the mental fortitude for that level of self-acceptance of limitations; group or individual. Instead of acceptance they just go crazy and get angry then lash out. They are lashing out at other people, but what is really happening and is important is that they are rejecting truth. They do not want this truth and use anger as a method to hopefully, but futilely, try to make unfortunate realities not exist. In a very great number of cases, though not all, anger could be defined as a rejection of truth. Or at least it can be stated that the proximal cause of anger is the rejection of truth; especially truths about the self.
Given this diseased state of mind, what does the average leftist try to do? Generally, they try to promote their own degeneracy and disease of mind as if it were normal. As if it was good and true. They are not accepting their own problems, and instead of accepting them and then working to resolve them or make them better, they become angry that other people accurately understand their problems to be dysfunctional. They desire to force people to accept things that should not actually be accepted. At least, things that shouldn’t be accepted as good even if they can be accepted as undesirable but perhaps unfortunately unavoidable. On top of that, they then go on to try to spread their dysfunction such that it actually exists within everyone in society rather than just in small sub-populations. For them, mere tolerance of dysfunction is not good enough. This is why they are so angry: They are directing their own self hatred out at others in an effort not to address their own shortcomings. They want to be drowned in a sea of dysfunction so vast that their own issues seem minor by comparison.
This, I think, can describe the internal process of people who are made miserable by being asked to just think for 15 minutes. The first things that come up are going to be the things they are concerned with but very much want to avoid.
A critical step in accepting unkind truths about yourself or your group is self-forgiveness. You have problems, but you forgive yourself and learn to love yourself despite them. In other words, they must recognize their own self-worth long enough to tolerate the critical self-analysis needed for discovering truth. (Note: you don’t have to think a given individual has value in order to recognize that they need to believe as much in order to advance themselves towards greater understanding). This allows the unkind truth to exist in full understanding without destroying the self or the ego or otherwise leading to despair. In fact, no amount of realistic self-understanding can take place without self-forgiveness because the negative truths can’t be held onto long enough without rejection to give them the proper analysis they are due. Without that analysis those truths can’t be understood, and if they are not understood then it is impossible to discern solutions and ultimate transcendence past those issues. In other words, to let those problems go and move on. Once you can recognize and accept the problems in yourself, it is easier to recognize and accept the problems in others. It becomes possible to at least entertain the possibility that negative truths exist about individuals or groups and it should no longer feel so imperative to shut down any evaluation of evidence before it even starts (like they do at google).
What we are likely seeing when people refuse to sit and think for even 15 minutes is an unwillingness to tolerate discomfort in mind that must come with complete self-understanding, which by necessity must also include negative self-concepts. This mental discomfort is apparently enough that at least some people prefer getting shocked than experience it. How much better of a place would the world be if more people could train themselves to be more tolerant of their own mental discomfort? At the very least, I think we wouldn’t have to spend so much time arguing about easily demonstrable truths.