Friday, February 29, 2008

Conceptual Inertia

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents."

- "The Call of Cthulhu", H. P. Lovecraft

The capacity of our short-term memory can constrain us as we evaluate our choices and beliefs. It is known that humans can only hold about 7 items in their minds simultaneously. As our attention turns to new items, we will almost invariably forget one or more of the items we were considering previously. As for knowledge that is stored more permanently, such as facts accumulated during a four month long university course, the way in which our memory of facts learned at the beginning of the course as opposed to recently decays is similar to a first in, first out stack. This effect can encumber our ability to change our beliefs, especially when we are faced with obstacles such as confirmation bias or emotional attachment. As a way of overcoming this, I often take note of facts or viewpoints that I am surprised by or disagree with to consider at a later time when my reaction has cooled. I also try to read about many different fields. I usually can't predict when I will have opportunities to update my beliefs. Contrary to Mr. Lovecraft's opinion, I believe that the world would be a better place if we could more efficiently discern truth and change our minds.