I Feel Good; This Must Be Right
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | December 2016 (edited 2018)
Feelings are not a fool proof method for decisions. Our biased reliance on our own intuition can lead us astray, especially when we rely on our thoughts over proven and compelling research.
I have no exalted claim on truth. I spent several decades exploring the human condition, gathering insights and refining my opinion; but new discoveries continue to arrive, often discounting my previous findings. I am not exempt from errors, flawed premises, or misguided meanings. My understanding of life, pain, sorrow, and joy is constantly evolving. The truth is not emblazoned with labels and can’t easily be separated from inaccuracies. One of the greatest discoveries for the wise is the knowledge that life is full of paradoxes, behaviors that are healthy but can be damaging, nourishment can be laced with toxins. Many because of these complexities, simply intelligent action by relying on intuitions. If it feels good, it must be right. This onslaught of unsupported truths poisons our minds. We our ripe to relive history, condemning scientific discoveries and supporting evidence as immaterial, chasing the moment and damning the future.
Psychology is tragically flawed but wonderfully enlightening. When we stumble upon truth, it often doesn’t appear different than a falsehood. Truths are not majestically wrapped distinguishing them from misguided meanings. As individuals, we must develop enough wisdom to discern what is worthy of acceptance and what we should reject. Sadly, much of this wisdom comes from the heels of painful miscalculations. We think we are doing right; but with hindsight we realize the well-intended actions led to the disaster.
Judgments, when facts are deficient, often lean on underlying feelings. Underlying currents of feeling seem unflappable. We feel certain of the correct actions we should take and which explanations we should accept. If it feels good, we believe it. If it feels bad, then we don’t.
These emotionally driven judgments are flawed, influenced by bias, filling the gaps of knowledge with flimsy subjectivity. In areas of personal expertise, feelings may be effective, drawing on our extensive exposure to corresponding events, perhaps infusing impulses in these areas with great wisdom. This is the premise of Malcolm Gladwell's best seller Blink (2007).
Our previous painstakingly examinations impact the conscious and unconscious mind, fine tuning biases, feelings become accurate tools of discernment. Hidden knowledge from years of contact frees cognitive load from the strenuous demands of reflection and consideration. An all-pro running back doesn’t carefully analyze the movement of a linebacker before bouncing to the outside; he instinctively knows, moves and evades the tackle.
But even with expertise, hidden biases still intrude. Experts with strong investments stubbornly resist opposing evidence, carrying faulty premises to their grave. New information confronting cherished beliefs doesn’t feel right because it challenges a life’s work. Naturally this would stir unpleasant affect, so we deny, fight and scream.
"Experts with strong investments stubbornly resist opposing evidence, carrying faulty premises to their grave."
Many courageous revolutionaries died confronting generally accepted beliefs supported by other intelligent persons. The truth rocked stability, shaking the foundations of power, and creating pockets of doubt; truth is threatening. Newness creates confusion, inviting chaos by disturbing once commonly accepted meaning. A truth doesn’t simply displace a falsehood, but fractures a foundation, critically challenging all meaning assembled based on that falsehood. Our beliefs create order with the unknown. When truth disrupts that order, it’s seldom welcomed.
We create order with beliefs; but beliefs are words often simplifying ungraspable complexities. Calming delusions infiltrate our visions of reality dull the ravages of anxiety. Our fragile selves seek protection from the dangers of reality. When a truth illuminates a protecting delusion, we take arms and ferociously defend the falsehood. The blindness feels right, and wisdom feels stupid, so we condemn insight. Like the prisoners in Plato’s cave, we demand the shadows are the beginning and the end, missing the reality of the figures casting the images on the walls of the dungeon.
Our lives are beautiful—ugly at times. We must accept life—our life—with its beauty, flaws and struggles. I desire my thoughts, writings, and efforts to encourage closer inspection of commonly accepted beliefs, not to cause disruption, but to encourage growth where stagnation has begun to settle. We learn by approaching thoughts that occasionally disturb. Discomfort isn’t sufficient reason to reject but a reminder to skeptically examine—take a closer look to examine a proposed premise and our conflicting belief. I am pleased when a writing unearths emotion, not hatred, but the gentle pushes from inside a reader to look again at their preconceived notions and consider alternate explanations that may break them free from confining beliefs holding them back.
Gladwell, M. (2007). Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Back Bay Books.
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