Cognitive Dissonance and tin-foil hats

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In Dean Radin’s book ‘The Noetic Universe’, which I recently reviewed, the author describes a fascinating psychology experiment with a doctored pack of playing cards. Here’s the description, taken from the book:

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A classic experiment by psychologists J.S.Bruner and Leo Postman demonstrated that sometimes what we see, or think we see, is not really there. Bruner and Postman created a deck of normal playing cards, except that some of the suit symbols were color-reversed. For example, the queen of diamonds had black-colored diamonds instead of red. The special cards were shuffled into an ordinary deck, and then they were displayed one at a time, people were asked to identify them as fast as possible. The cards were first shown very briefly, too fast to identify them accurately. Then the display time was lengthened until all the cards could be identified.

The amazing thing is that while all the cards were eventually identified with great confidence, no one noticed that there was anything out of ordinary in the deck. People saw a black four of hearts with red hearts. In other words, their expectations about what playing cards should look like determined what they actually saw. When the researchers increased the amount of time that the cards were displayed, some people eventually began to notice that something was amiss, but they did not know exactly what was wrong. One person, while directly gazing at a red six of spades, said; “That’s the six of spades but there’s something wrong with it - the black spade has a red border.”

As the display time increased even more, people became more confused and hesitant. Eventually, most people saw what was before their eyes. But even when the cards were displayed for forty times the length of time needed to recognise normal playing cards, about 10 percent of the color-reversed playing were never correctly identified by any of the people!

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The mental discomfort associated with seeing something that does not match our expectations is reflected in the exasperation of one participant in the experiment who, while looking at the cards, reported; “I can’t make the suit out, whatever it is. It didn’t even look like a card that time. I don’t know what color it is now or whether it’s a spade or a heart. I’m not even sure what a spade looks like. My God!”

Studies like this in the 1950’s led psychologist Leon Festinger and his colleagues at Stanford University to develop the idea of
cognitive dissonance. This is the uncomfortable feeling that develops when people are confronted by ‘things that shouldn’t ought to be, but are’. If the dissonance is sufficiently strong, and is not reduced in some way, the uncomfortable feeling will grow, and that feeling can develop into anger, fear and even hostility. To avoid unpleasant cognitive dissonance people will often react to evidence that ‘disconfirms’ their belief by actually strengthening their original beliefs and creating rationalizations to dismiss the disconfirming evidence.

The above experiment has stuck in my mind because it tallies with another photo I've put on this site recently, in a satirical but still serious article I wrote about the tragic events of 9/11 and the MH370 disappearance. Here is the photo again:

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As I mentioned in the previous article, the above picture shows the aftermath of, according to the official report, a Boeing 777 passenger jet plane crashing into the side of the Pentagon on 9/11. But it's plainly obvious that there is no 777 crashed airliner in the picture. A 777 passenger airliner is a huge vehicle, with massive jet engines, fuselage, wings and fuel tanks etc. If such a vehicle crashed into that building, there would be masses of smashed plane pieces everywhere, along with a huge gouge created by the plane's impact with the ground. None of that exists. When one wakes up to this plain fact, one wonders how anyone could believe that the shattered remains of a crashed Boeing 777 is in the picture. Our expectations of what is in the picture, as relayed by the media in dramatic and universal terms, has indoctrinated us to expect something that is clearly not there. Just as with the doctored playing cards, it's very easy to miss what's in front of you if you're sufficiently trained to expect something else. This is the power of cognitive dissonance. As George Orwell once said:

“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”


Such a struggle is present even when there is no fear of reprisals if one openly states that something is wrong. Unfortunately, in the Western World at the moment, there is evidence to indicate that saying 'the King of Diamonds has gone black', to put it metaphorically, can be a very risky activity. It's therefore understandable that most people are far more likely to 'go with the flow'. Unfortunately for us all, the glaring error is still there. There is no one so blind as those who do not want to see.