More “Mind Follows Heart”

On Alternet: More research confirms that “We want to believe we’re rational, but reason turns out to be the ex post facto way we rationalize what our emotions already want to believe.” 

In other words, say goodnight to the dream that education, journalism, scientific evidence, media literacy or reason can provide the tools and information that people need in order to make good decisions.

The Alternet article is called “The Most Depressing Discovery About the Brain, Ever,” which I guess it would be, except that it opens up competitive advantage to those who understand the phenomenon and take advantage of it. Think Hitler focusing on the Pas de Calais, and Stalin on explaining away intelligence reports that accurately reported German preparations for Operation Barbarossa (“You are right, Stalin. Germany will not attack the Soviet Union in 1941.” NKVD head Lavrentii Beria, a few days before the attack.) Eventually, though, reality intrudes, but you don’t have to leave it to chance: You are part of reality for your competition.

In OODA “loop” terms, we’re talking about the implicit guidance and control feed from Orientation to Observation, which leads to the behavior known as “incestuous amplification.” For an explanation by the guy who coined the phrase, click here.  It’s not that you need to be smarter than your competition in some IQ-score sense. That might not hurt, but it also might just give you better tools for rationalizing what you already believe.

If you see conflict as a contest between Orientations, then the most important thing is understanding how Orientation works and what keeps it from working. Winning the battle of Orientations doesn’t happen by accident. At times, you must relinquish and even discredit institutional positions deeply held by powerful organizational factions, including yourself.

I’ll bet you say you already do this. Suppose I show up on your doorstep and say “Oh really? Show me.” For example, just because other people and organizations see the world differently than you do doesn’t mean that your orientation is the more accurate. Incestuous amplification affects, infects us all.

So Marty Kaplan, author of the Alternet article, concludes that people who do not share his belief that we are experiencing catastrophic anthropomorphic warming are the victims of incestuous amplification:

I keep hoping that one more photo of an iceberg the size of Manhattan calving off of Greenland, one more stretch of record-breaking heat and drought and fires, one more graph of how atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen in the past century, will do the trick. 

Kaplan, of course, is himself denigrating evidence that doesn’t support his conclusion, such as the 16-year pause in warming and the conclusions of the IPCC. I don’t know where the truth in this particular debate lies and am just citing it as an example of how incestuous amplification / decision bias can affect us all.*

Finally a caution. Your conclusion that people who don’t agree with you are victims of”incestuous amplification” — orientation all locked up (the idiots) –might as easily reflect your inability to understand their orientation.  In his book Sources of Power, Gary Klein reviews the shoot-down of an Iranian Airbus by the USS Vincennes in July 1988. This chapter of the book is well worth your study because although the panel of experts that reviewed the incident concluded that it was a case of incestuous amplification — Klein calls it “expectancy bias — Klein makes a strong case that

As far as I can see, the decision to fire was fairly straightforward, based on mental simulation. The cues were all consistent with hostile aircraft … The story all fits.

In other words, Klein concludes that once you understand what the crew of the Vincennes had to work with, their shared mental model was reasonable and they made reasonable decisions. As I said, worth your study. What Klein doesn’t point out is that it’s not either-or. Once your mental simulation starts to work, that is, what it predicts seems to be happening, it’s easy to become attached to it. At that point, incestuous amplification rears its ugly head. This is exactly what happens in a deception operation, where your story will all fit by design. In other words, your orientation will be reasonable and you may make reasonable decisions in accord with it, but they will be the decisions your opponent wants you to make.

So beware of incestuous amplification, recognize that it exists but is not an explain-all, and put a lot of cold-bloodied effort into devising mechanisms for detecting and mitigating it.


*Fabius Maximus covers this issue in excruciating detail. If you’d like to argue the influence of humans on climate, please do it over there.

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4 thoughts on “More “Mind Follows Heart”

  1. ” For example, just because other people and organizations see the world differently than you do doesn’t mean that your orientation is the more accurate.”

    True, but accuracy is events based and only good in targeting. In other words, what is your target? What events do you find shallow and which do you find deep?. We will target both.

    On the other hand, precision is position based. It has been said that one should hold his friends close, but his enemies closer. So close and far is important.

    So to get inside another’s OODA loop, do you need to increase/decrease events of the mind towards accuracy or do you precisely position yourself closer or further away from the heart?

    At the end I guess you could say: In the terms of the book “Great Powers”, by Thomas P.M. Barnett, such is Globalization.

    Modern Warfare is all about targeting, shallow or deep and positioning close and far. Clearly, in the terms of having an advantage in targeting, the S.O.F. in the hands of the POTUS comes to mind. Less unclear is, in the terms of who has the advantage in positioning and by whose heart, whose organizational force are we dealing?

    Bush showed us what the Born-Agains can do.

    I guess it can be said that the Arabs were impressed, at least at first, in the force Bush sent. I don’t know what quarter this is, but those in this conflict showing up for the second half are less impressed, than those who showed up for the first quarter.

    And truth be told, I am just not sure that is the way we want to go. I mean sure, The USA may seem like the land of milk and honey, but do we actually want to go there?

    Has anybody been “there” lately?

    Things don’t look too pretty. Are the Southern States going to be our Gaza Strip?

  2. Relating to the article about the brain, I think that on a large scale, it may very well provide an explanation for the problems that the US is facing.

    To me, the biggest problem of all seems to be that the US has lost its capacity for self-correction.

    Nothing is learned from the mistakes of the past. The very concept of knowledge is in many circles, looked upon as a threat. Others have as their core ideology that the US is “exceptional” and not bound by any of the normal laws.

    In the case of Obama, I think it’s very interesting. It’s very clear that by his campaign and his many speeches that he recognized that there were deep, systemic problems in the US. His entire campaign revolved around the concept of “change” because he knew that the majority of Americans at the time wanted change.

    Once elected, for the most part, we got more of the same. Had the US Constitution been amended and Bush II been given a 3rd term, not much would have been all that different. There’s several reasons why.

    – First the so called “Deep State” is entrenched and perhaps there was only so much one person could do. There are the interests like the MICC, the lobbyists, and the corporations that fund them.

    – Second, the US Congress can be described as dysfunctional, actively blocking in many cases legislation from passing at all.

    – Third, Obama inherited a nation with very, very serious problems. Even if he had done what he said he was going to do, I think progress in some areas would have been limited simply because of how serious the problem is.

    But most damning for Obama, he did not make any real effort to make the “change” that he campaigned on a reality. He surrounded himself with people who would keep the status quo. The interesting question is, why?

    I think it’s is a mix of many things. Careerism is one, his wanting to be president again instead of taking actions that would have risked his being a one term president. Another may be that he never really wanted change – he just wanted to manipulate voters into thinking he did.

    However, I think the real reason is, he simply lacked the moral courage to stand up to the establishment, to be another Roosevelt, to take risks, and to truly do what he had been elected. Perhaps the Deep State cannot produce a candidate that can make changes at all.

    It’s a microcosm for what has been happening.

    – Chris

    • “But most damning for Obama, he did not make any real effort to make the “change” that he campaigned on a reality.”

      Really? I mean, just because the effort was not something either side hoped for doesn’t mean the effort wasn’t there. Healthcare, minimum wage, equal wage, immigration, stop the wars, Guantanamo, and starve off another Great Depression was all an effort. And I think much of the effort was real. I think it was his opponents that were not willing to change, and who could blame them? They are so much in-love with George W. Bush, the only way to satisfy them is to elect another George W. Bush. It’s a part of America’s exceptionalism.

      • “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, October 23, 2010.

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