How motivated reasoning may be the bane of my existence

Guy McPherson, facilitator

Please see original workshop description for details before posting here.

This workshop details the process by which motivated reasoning leads to errors in logic. For example, McPherson’s assumption that a finite planet cannot support infinite growth does not lead to collapse of the industrial economy. Confirmation bias associated with citing dozens of other individuals similarly does suggest economic decline leads to economic collapse. Additional examples will be described and evaluated within the context of motivated reasoning.

Comments 30

  • I guess I’m struggling to understand the point of this. Especially since the concept of “confirmation bias” has been floating around the “collapse blogosphere” for over a decade.

    But as I see things, in considering how “motivated reasoning” (MR) might be considered the bane of your existence, I will assume you believe it can be found in a few economic assumptions you’ve made in the past, as well as a few slides still in your latest presentation……?


    The list of names of people who claimed economic collapse would have already happened by now…..or in the next sixteen days.

    Economic collapse somehow being able to prevent civilization from crossing the tipping points that are now behind us.

    Peak oil being considered a counter to climate change.

    Your decision to build your homestead in the desert hinterland.

    I suppose we could attempt to list every mistake you’ve ever made, and see whether or not it was a result of MR, but I don’t think that many people care whether or not you got the exact dates right, given most us don’t have faith in anyone being able to accurately make such prediction anyways.

    Is/was it foolish to make certain economic predictions in the past? Probably, but god knows you’re not the first, and you sure in the hell won’t be the last.

    I see this whole MR endeavor to be rather regressive in light of what is known to us today. The short history of collapse preparedness, has centered round three primary factors: Permanent economic contraction, energy/resource scarcity and climate change/ecological destruction.

    Up until about seven months ago, you, me as well as most everyone, saw a declining economy only continuing its tailspin until fiat currency collapse, energy scarcity only continuing to get worse, then a little better, then much worse, and climate chaos coming in a distant third and eventually whipping us off the face of the earth.

    All that’s really changed, is the sequencing. Climate change just leaped-frogged over the other two, in becoming the meta narrative of the rest of our lives and subsequently rendering everything else but a footnote in the soon to be forgotten annals of a failed species.

    But for me, we’re either witnessing unprecedented non-linear rates of climatic change, or not. And since we are, that means famine is now in the driver’s seat. If we could all go back in time, I’m sure we would all do things differently, based on what we know today.

    The threat and timing of NTE is all I’m interested in. This the only reason I blog on NBL and is the only reason I’m writing to you now. If someone wants to attempt to show how MR has influenced our thinking in regards to THIS, then please by all means do. I have been watching this slow motion nightmare unfold for twenty five years, and frankly, there is nothing I would love more, than for someone to show us how we’re mistaken. But as an empiricist, if the evidence isn’t empirical, then it’s just as nonsensical as all the other dogma, and hasn’t much use on an otherwise scientific blog.

    Of course this opens the door for geo-engineering, which is at the threshold of its own paradigm shift, and what’s outrageous, is we can’t honestly argue against it………given the alternative.

    Welcome to the next round of hopium…….

  • Neither motivated reasoning nor confirmation bias is part of my everyday vocabulary, but I have consulted wikipedia, and now think I understand that MR has become the bane of your existence because your audiences engage in it and fail to respond sensibly or productively to what you have to tell them because they are so strongly motivated to believe in economic recovery,continuing comfort and secure futures with excellent college education and long life for their children.

    If so, then MR is the bane of your existence because no matter how clearly you document your facts, your audiences would rather “kill the messenger” than accept the logical consequences of them.

    If that is so, then we are talking about this because we would like the information you offer to be received and used more productively to bring about changes leading to better, more peaceful, more humane use of our remaining time on earth (more durable living arrangements).

  • another jean – ditto

    I have figured out how I want to use my remaining time on earth. And that is doing exactly what I have been doing – growing my garden and raising chickens.

  • I like Daniel am perplexed. Ever since certain contrarian commenters for whatever reason ceased highjacking discussion here at NBL, it has been a real pleasure to read the thoughts of people who don’t need to rehash the increasingly obvious overshoot and instead talk about how to live with that information. Part of that entails a very natural curiosity to explore how it unfolds; also how to deal with the not-untypical situation where we are surrounded by people who refuse to see the dangerous trends already underway; how to reconcile our own innate hopes with what we know to be hopeless; and our almost-irrepressible urge to do something to prevent or at least slow a process that is resolutely beyond our control.

    I’m not sure how these workshops will foster that conversation although if the above comments are any indication, perhaps this one, at least, will stimulate some worthwhile observations.

  • i posted a comment in the original (non-breakout) section which essentially parallels Daniel’s assertion above, but from the perspective of humanity in today’s world.

    Yeah, humanity has been engaged in “magical thinking” (ie. stupidity) since advertising went mainstream (and probably well before that too, with hucksters offering tonics to cure all ills and the tobacco industry saying for decades that smoking is actually good for you).

    We’ve seen however that in the medical field and psychiatry (and often elsewhere, like in the practice of voodoo) that unfettered belief that something is the case can often lead to an actual outcome – otherwise known as the placebo effect.

    All this is to point out the “design flaws” of our species. We’re subject to the seven deadly sins, all kinds of biases, and mental illness that ranges from barely noticeable to catatonia. It is precisely this, and the fact that getting anything as large as humanity to do the same thing at the same time takes decades (like in agriculture and industrial civilization) and won’t (maybe “can’t) be “undone” in a short period of time.

    So people like us who have been honestly paying attention and following the steady decline of the planet in many aspects (doomers, as i’m called) are merely at the forefront of knowledge with respect to climate change and its implications. This site has brought me closure and peace while at the same time providing impetus to continue the fight for our survival for as long as we can.

  • Daniel Says: I suppose we could attempt to list every mistake you’ve ever made….

    Failure, given attention,
    Shows how not to make an invention;
    “Just take your medicine,”
    Said Thomas Edison,
    But this time, there is no prevention.

  • Why always this kind of “worshipping of “logic””, as if it was the only philosophical path or something ?

    “logic” is a very tiny part of Maths or science, and one of the most obvious if not boring one.

    Not to mention that you call “logic” is exercice is sophistics, most of the time.

  • Pure logical thinking cannot yield us any knowledge of the empirical world; all knowledge of reality starts from experience and ends in it. Propositions arrived at by purely logical means are completely empty as regards reality. – Albert Einstein

  • .
    How Motivated Reasoning May Be The Bane Of My Existence

    Recast theses, no matter how deft,
    Are moot, and don’t carry much heft;
    They aren’t sublime,
    They’re a waste of my time,
    And we don’t have a lot of that left.

  • @ulvfugl

    Nice quote, but one should also remember that this “worshipping of logic” is a very “anglo saxon” thing, or analytic philosophy tradition (as sometimes opposed to “continental”), it isn’t at all the only “western” approach.

    Plus if the “logic” approach brought something, it is Gödel theorem more than anything else.(further to the principia mathematica “ideal” tentative by Russel and Whitehead)

    Russel mentions an exchange with Poincaré in his “my philosophical journey”(forgot exact title), where after mentioning his paradox (about the set of all sets) Poincaré said “ah so logic is at least intersting now, it brings paradoxes”

    Or this extract from Nietzsche more or less around it :

    “These Englishmen are no race of philosophers. Bacon signifies an attack on the spirit of philosophy in general; Hobbes, Hume, and Locke have been a debasement and a devaluing of the idea of a “philosopher” for more than a century. Kant raised himself and rose up in reaction against Hume. It was Locke of whom Schelling was entitled to say, “Je méprise Locke” [I despise Locke]. In the struggle with the English mechanistic dumbing down of the world, Hegel and Schopenhauer (along with Goethe) were unanimous—both of these hostile fraternal geniuses in philosophy, who moved away from each other towards opposite poles of the German spirit and in the process wronged each other, as only brothers can.* What’s lacking in England, and what has always been missing, that’s something that semi-actor and rhetorician Carlyle understood well enough, the tasteless muddle-headed Carlyle, who tried to conceal under his passionate grimaces what he understood about himself, that is, what was lacking in Carlyle—a real power of spirituality, a real profundity of spiritual insight, in short, philosophy.* It is characteristic of such an unphilosophical race that it clings strongly to Christianity. They need its discipline to develop their “moralizing” and humanizing. The Englishman is more gloomy, more sensual, stronger willed, and more brutal than the German—he is also for that very reason, as the more vulgar of the two, more pious than the German. He is even more in need of Christianity. For more refined nostrils this same English Christianity has still a lingering and truly English smell of spleen and alcoholic dissipation, against which it is used for good reasons as a medicinal remedy—that is, the more delicate poison against the coarser one. Among crude people, a subtler poisoning is, in fact, already progress, a step towards spiritualization. The crudity and peasant seriousness of the English are still most tolerably disguised or, stated more precisely, interpreted and given new meaning, by the language of Christian gestures and by prayers and singing psalms. And for those drunken and dissolute cattle who in earlier times learned to make moral grunts under the influence of Methodism and more recently once again as the “Salvation Army,” a twitch of repentance may really be, relatively speaking, the highest achievement of “humanity” to which they can be raised: that much we can, in all fairness, concede. But what is still offensive even in the most humane Englishman is his lack of music, speaking metaphorically (and not metaphorically—). He has in the movements of his soul and his body no rhythm and dance—in fact, not even the desire for rhythm and dance, for “music.” Listen to him speak, or watch the most beautiful English woman walk—in no country of the earth are there lovelier doves and swans—and finally, listen to them sing! But I’m demanding too much . . .

    Or the follow up :

  • Gail, I’m with you. I don’t see the point of these “workshops” and I don’t want to participate in them.

    Meyers-Briggs??? Are you kidding me? Even phrenology was more complex than that.

    I was so much enjoying the moment-by-moment posting by people whose opinions I respect so much. Now it’s fragmented into irrelevant subjects and personal obsessions.

    Where will I find the links to the latest scientific studies of climate change?


    New diagrams. Very interesting.

  • Taking steps to nap better, reduce stress, exercise reducing toxins will all have a very
    positive effect. I noted his findings inside the early 1980s in
    my head but never experimented with carefully watch
    my foods. Now a candidiasis is exactly what it sounds just like an overgrowth
    of yeast.

  • yt75, I’m very glad that someone here understands that stuff. Let me have a little time to think it over before I respond….

  • BC Nurse Prof: It sure looks like they’re goin’ down the “geo-engineering” road by the end of the article. “Swell . . .”

  • I agree with Gail and BC Nurse Prof. I don’t see the point, nor the benefit, of this form of blog response. We now have four different blogs to pour through in order to respond to a specific question which Guy asks. Now only that, we have to pour through a display and apparent competition of academia-speak.

    The question which frustrates Guy, and I think frustrates many of us, is why aren’t people taking this shit seriously and acting on it. Why can they not leave their old paradigm behind when new information proves it to be incorrect.

    I live my life, especially under the circumstances of NTE, from a more informal space. I’d rather get rid of the academia crap, sit around a fire with friends (i.e. all of you), a glass of wine or tea, and speak our minds and hearts. We can get into all the *meaning* of the terms and ideas which are so ineloquently stated in the initial blog without imposition of such a didactic manner and formal construct of communication. Perhaps Guy can start a fifth blog asking the same question but with the more informal method of response, commenting, as the means of communicating with each other.

    To turn this into an intellectual exercise seems unnecessary and does not, imo, facilitate greater understanding of the dynamic questioned, nor facilitate deep-resonance interaction of the people who come to Guy and his blog for community – exactly the thing he finds so lacking in those others. If this is all orchestrated to help Guy understand and accept the actions of those people who are climate change deniers and, ultimately to feel in his soul the value of his work no matter what the reaction of others, and to bring some element of joy back into his life, I can think of a bunch of better ways to help him than this.

  • yt75, that Nietzsche piece seems incredibly dated to me, almost mediaeval. He did say a lot of absolutely amazing things and I’m not knocking him, but none of that piece seems of much relevance now, IMO.

    Yes, Russell, Whitehead, and I think before them Frege, was it, and before that, Auguste Comte, sort of fascist imposition of bureaucratic orderliness upon everything, everyone trying to pin down reality with logic and formulae, and then Gödel blew it apart, and then late Wittgenstein, and then post-modernism, and now quantum reality… I got the Einstein quote here

  • Guy, here’s what I say to you with great love and respect. I would like to turn things around with my interpretation of your words.

    You are attached to the outcome, the results, of your work. You think the results are not what you would want them to be. Yet, here we all sit, in communion with you. And so many others that you have touched and awakened as well. But your reaction to this, is that we are not enough, you want to wake up the world. This leads to your judgment and questioning of those who reject your message. How many people would have to believe in your words for you to feel that ‘bane’ lifted. Is it a certain number of people? Or certain people? Either way, I suggest this is *your* issue. Rather than judging those who do not understand, ask yourself why you need their understanding? Is it really the simple answer – that if enough understand, they will bring down Civ, save the world, save themselves? Why have you chosen this as your bane?

    The following is a quote from the Bhagavad Gita that I’ve carried with me.

    “You have the right to work, but for the work’s sake only. You have no right to the fruits of work. Desire for the fruits of work must never be your motive in working.

    Renounce attachment to the fruits. Be even-tempered in success and failure; for it is this eveness of temper which is meant by yoga.

    Work done with anxiety about results is far inferior to work done without such anxiety, in the calm of self-surrender and a place of loving action. Seek refuge in the knowledge of Brahman [consciousnss]. They who work selfishly for results are miserable.”

    Guy, you will always find more to do; there will always be things left undone. You have, in fact, Changed. The. Lives. Of. Each. Of. Us. I ask you to allow yourself to feel the life force in that. You have walked away from Empire, now walk away from that which Empire created within you.

  • @ulvfugl
    Don’t think so, not so dated at all, the “worshipping of logic” or thinking that a “syntactic knowledge enveloppe” will be found is still very much alive (and especially on the net for invoking “logic” as a criteria for being right or wrong), as well as the artificial intelligence dream for instance (or current “singularity” stuff).

    Plus the Maths crisis at the turn of the XIXth/XXth century was something very “serious”, corresponding to a real quest to consider math writings as maths objects themselves, and was truly done in an “open mind” fashion.

    Comte is a completely different thing, it is more in the “spiritual XIXth century environment” or reaction to “XIXth decadence”, and more related to “reason”, his thing being called “positivism”, or in other words there is some objective knowledge, and the rest, let’s just keep on building the positive knowledge cathedral, something like that.

    Anyway, for me the most current thinker today (even if refered to more as a poet) remains Rimbaud (from “one season in hell” and “the illuminations” basically), like for instance in :


    ‘The flag goes with the foul landscape,
    and our jargon muffles the drum.’
    In the great centers we’ll nurture
    the most cynical prostitution.
    We’ll massacre logical revolts.

    In spicy and drenched lands!–
    at the service of the most monstrous
    exploitations, industrial or military.
    ‘Farewell here, no matter where.

    Conscripts of good will,
    ours will be a ferocious philosophy;
    ignorant as to science, rabid for comfort;
    and let the rest of the world croak.
    This is the real advance. Marching orders, let’s go!’

    And I find it very intriguing that Rimbaud and Nietzsche (very close) happen right before or around the same time as the math crisis.

  • Okay, yt75, interesting food for thought… ;-)

    I see a line from Comte to logical positivism, right up to the 1950s…yes, the 60s, we were blessed with a revival of Rimbaud, via the two Dylans…

    But you see, I have wrestled and wrangled my way through as many of the thinkers of the world as I have been able to encounter, and many I have not been able to give sufficient time to, so there are many major gaps… but from what I have grasped, so far, here is my modest insight, very briefly…

    The ancient Greeks knew the two kinds of knowing, mythos and logos, ( additional links must come below in separate comments )

    and once you understand this, and see it corresponds with Romantic and Classical, Poetic and Prosaic, and so many other divisions, things begin to make sense, even more so, when we learn that this division coincides with the anatomy of our brains, the two disparate hemispheres, as beautifully explained by Iain McGilchrist.

    So this is what the fighting is all about. The mythos folk, who like art and music and poetry and mysticism just can’t get why the other folk insist on reason and logic and mathematics and measuring everything and so forth. It’s because each of us tend to be weighted toward left brain or right brain.

    Good example was in previous thread where dairymandave asked ‘What about empathy for Mother Earth ?’ That’s right brain/mythos stuff. The hard-headed logical scientist is baffled. Wtf do you mean ? Mother Earth ? No such creature anywhere to be found. Same goes for God, soul, angels, ghosts, dragons…. what’s the matter with you people ? Are you children ? Look, we’ve dissected bodies, there’s no soul in there, you’re imagining it…

    Dreamy right brain folk are perfectly comfortable with Mother Earth. It’s so obvious the Earth is our mother, as she is of all living things.

    These two ways of knowing are not an either/or. We need them both. If we banish either one, we lose something vital to our humanity. What we need to do, is to be clear that we each have them inside us, like fighting children, and nobody knows why, just a mysterious part of our biological heritage, and we need to apply them appropriately. To understand climate change, we need left brain/logos, we need to measure CO2, we need to understand statistics and chemistry and satellite data and all that stuff. Confusing our situation with right brain/mythos stuff from, say, The Book of Revelations, is a serious disaster.

    On the other hand, to think that we can be happy, as humans, living only in a world of data and rationality, where we ‘explain’ everything, in scientific terms, that’s another kind of disaster. We are immersed in unfathomable mystery. We should be speechless with awe and wonder.

  • Here’s another interesting example of the mythos logos thing, Jacob Boehme, who took the mythos side, against logic and rationality

  • Arctic Ice Melting

  • People believe what they like. Maybe they would like to watch Arctic Ice Melting. Kinda like watching TV. Seriously, who wants to believe in NTE? Only fringe types who are driven to want to know the truth.

  • ulvfugl

    You wrote:

    “We are immersed in unfathomable mystery. We should be speechless with awe and wonder.”

    Right on brother!

  • I’ve posted a new essay. It’s here.

  • “About what one can not speak, one must remain silent.” The last line of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus tends to resonate with scientists, sceptics, atheists, and other fans of rationality. If your thought cannot be articulated sensibly in plain language then you had better keep it to yourself. Written amid the slaughter of World War I, the book became central to the Vienna Circle, a group of philosophers who sat around the Café Centrale in the 1920s discussing which statements could be boiled down into verifiable empirical claims and those that could not. The latter, which included all of metaphysics and theology, they dismissed as meaningless nonsense. When the group finally convinced a reluctant Wittgenstein to visit them, he was so exasperated with their philosophy, logical positivism, that he took to turning his chair to the wall and reading Rabindranath Tagore poetry out loud during their meetings. They had misunderstood him, Wittgenstein explained. The ethical convictions, values and metaphysical ideas they had busily classified as “nonsense” were not worthless. In fact, they were the most important concerns in life.

  • Liag:
    Thanks. The bane has two sides, the MR side, which I covered in the “homeostasis” breakout, and the perception of its “bane-ness” which you have elucidated here. Yes, non-expectation is described as one of the characteristics of the enlightened: non-expectation of the anticipated results. And since there is no expectation, there is no hope: hopelessness is another characteristic of the enlightened. This is to be distinguished from the common perjorative that equates hopelessness with despair – thwarted hope.