Understanding Cognitive Dissonance

Scott Adams, as noted here on occasion, is a very bad philosopher. But when it comes to things he has actually studied in depth, like cognitive dissonance, he is often brilliant.

I was recently able to use his heuristic for detecting cognitive dissonance to understand a bizarre response to something I said to a friend: I mentioned to him that a certain program he was involved in was actually racist.

Scott has noted that a "tell" for cognitive dissonance is a completely over-the-top misrepresentation of what the person causing the cognitive dissonance said.

So, my friend (who is not a racist) was faced with a tough choice: he could address the criticism I actually made, but that would mean admitting he had been duped into supporting a racist program (despite not being a racist), since there is no way to deny the program is racist, once you actually follow the argument showing that it is.

Or, he could hallucinate that I had said something else entirely.

Now no one likes to admit that they have been duped. And thus, the response I got back? "Oh, so you are saying that I am responsible for racism!"

My suggestion that he was unwittingly supporting a racist program was hallucinated into a claim that he himself was the creator of racism!

This absurd disconnect between what I said and what he claimed I said is a sure sign that cognitive dissonance is being suppressed by an hallucination.

PS: Every time I try to spell the word "suppress," I have to try about five variations before I get it right!


  1. I agree with you here, that Adams bit is brilliant. Agreeing with you can be painful to admit (just ask Knapp). So now I am hallucinating a gawd-awful banner on your blog.


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