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Some Thoughts On Thinking


This may sound like a strange question, but do you think about thinking?

Believe it or not, it's a real thing.  It's called cognitive science, and it employs a lot of people covered in sheep skins sitting around thinking about thinking.  They ask the really tough questions, like how do we think?  Why do we think?  What do we think about?  And most importantly, why do we think what we think?

Philosophers since ancient times have killed a lot of goats and pulverized a lot of trees pondering these questions.  They have proposed reams of hypotheses, outlined scads of analyses, and probably smoked a lot of opium trying to figure out how and why people think.

Personally, I think the answer for the most part is, "They don't."

In any event, to get my degree as a professional communicator, I had to take a full year of cognitive science classes and write a bunch of papers about the use of role-playing, gate-keeping, linking, and remembering.

While this may all seem a bit tedious, even pointless, it plays a major part in your life.  Thought modelling is the basis for algorithms, which more or less control every aspect of our lives these days.  Behavioral responses are linked to cognitive processes that determine your suseptibility to advertising, marketing and other forms of mass stimuli.  Like it or not, folks who think about thinking can predict almost without fail how you will react to certain input by collecting your online data.

Now I could go on for hours about this topic, but I want to focus on a model I made that offers insight into personal opinions.

The illustration at the top is a visualization tool for how I think about opinions.  While much of the world is told to think of opinions in two dimensions - left/right, red/blue, etc. - I think of opinions in three dimensions with six aspects.  I have found that every opinion I've ever had or encountered falls somewhere within this matrix.  It doesn't matter what the topic is, and doesn't care what your political or ideological beliefs are.  In fact, the belief structure is the box in which the matrix is contained.

Take something as mundane as pork bacon.  The box would be your religious ideology.  Those with religious strictures against eating pork would fall somewhere in the -X/+Y range, and may actively try to keep others from eating pork bacon (+Z) or not care what you do (-Z).  I personally think pork bacon is God's gift to Mankind (+X), but I won't force anyone else to eat it (-Y), but I will actively seek sources to purchase it despite living in a predominantly Muslim country (+Z).

Now take something as contentious as abortion rights.  You might feel strongly that it is an individual choice (+X/+Y), but you would not participate in rallys or take political action (-Z).  On the other hand, you might believe it is murder and an offence against humanity (-X), you are very passionate about that belief (+Y) and you would join in a protest to block a clinic (+Z).  The box is most likely a religious belief system.

If we assign a set of values to the aspect, say 1 through 5 moving out from the intersection, we can plot a whole range of opinions and even begin to see which ones are contradictory.

More importantly, at least from a commercial point of view, we can find a pattern that can be matched with your behavioral pattern, and suddenly we have a predictive model of you, and we can use it to target your weak spots.

The box can be any set of overarching beliefs that affect our opinions.  It could be as large as a weltanschauung, or as small as a personal taste.  It could be an Aristotelian Materialist box that colors everything you think, or a salty foods box that affects your opinion on various cuisines.  It really gets fun when you place a whole lot of small boxes inside a weltanschauung box, and start producing a set of sets model for any given individual.

The latter is essentially what is happening this very moment as you and I post on social media and make purchases with credit cards and search for items on Amazon.  Each collecting organization sells its data on us to other organizations, then they overlap the data by name, location and demographic information, and POOF!  They've made a little digital you inside a supercomputer somewhere in Silly-Con Valley.

Your thought and behavior matrix is as unique as a fingerprint, but it is also predictive.  For instance, if you are +X/+Y/+Z about bacon, I can predict some of your shopping habits.  Additionally, based on other data in your personal matrix, I can create a table of probabilities that predict how you will react to certain stimuli.  If your box is Materialist, then you are receptive to ads for luxury items, entertainment and day spas.  If your box shows a strong interest in self-sufficiency and practicality, you are receptive to ads for DIY products and urban real estate.

And that's just the beginning.

This type of model is used by social media giants to decide who gets cancelled.  It's not just what you say or believe, but the effect you have on others.  The giants are strongly -X/-Y/+Z, and they are hunting folks who are +X/+Y/+Z.  As the list shrinks, their quantitative criteria will move closer and closer to the null point, or intersection of the axes.  Even better, they can influence you to edit your thoughts and behaviors to move yourself closer to the null point, a process known as herding.

Think you can't be herded?  How many cash transactions have you made in the past month?  There was a time when people got really upset at the idea of a cashless society.  Now, most folks hardly use cash at all, not because of some rule or law, but because we have been herded there with online shopping, cards of every conceivable type, and the use of online credits to buy services, like ride-hailing and game tokens.

Your online behavior has allowed a group of corporations to create a set of carrots to lead you in directions that make them happy, so they don't have to pull out the stick and spook the rest of the herd.  Even more thought-provoking, they have convinced you that it makes you happy, as well.

This behavior modifiaction stuff is fun and profitable!

The moral of this story is that we should all spend a bit more time thinking about thinking.  How do you think?  Why do you think what you think?  What do you think?  How does your thinking affect your behavior?

Try making your own opinion matrix.  Think of random opinions you have, plot them out in the matrix.  After a short time, you'll start seeing patterns in your thinking.  When you find the pattern, think about what belief system (box) is skewing your thinking.  Become cognitive of your own cognition.

The benefit, other than self-awareness, is that you can use this tool to create artificial creatures that are absoltely consistent in what they say and how they behave online.  This might be a useful skill in the near future.

Think about it.


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