I spent last week wrestling other people’s demons. Could it be there isn’t a conspiracy? Could it be it’s not all about you? Why do we all jump so readily to self-centred conclusions?
In fact it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do. The human version of Occam’s Razor – the simplest theory is generally the best; people are indeed out to get you…
Or at least that’s what two thirds of our brain thinks. The brain stem and limbic systems react instinctively and emotionally – mostly to protect us. The poor old neo-cortex has its job cut out to plod to a slow deliberate alternative. And a good thing too for most of human history.
But we are made for finer things these days. The ‘love of thought’ has been an organised pursuit for at least 3000 years and language for much longer. So hats off to W.V.O. Quine for expressing so perfectly how our rational brains work:
“We adopt, at least insofar as we are reasonable, the simplest conceptual scheme into which the disorganised fragments of raw experience can be fitted and arranged.” From a logical point of view (1953)
It’s still instinctive and still guesswork, but at least we think it’s rational…
And that’s why we jump to conclusions. The human animal is wired to discern intent, develop belief and divine agency; even when it’s not there. It’s the simplest way to ‘fit and arrange’ those disorganised ‘fragments of experience’.
It’s happening to me, so it must be about me – except most of the time it isn’t. And Quine’s gimlet eye above invites us to take that thought very seriously.