My last blog entry was a text-based discussion I had with a friend. The conversation centered around the potential doxastic threat of thinking one’s conclusions were profound. In this brief post I’ll clarify my reasoning behind our exchange and offer a few additional speculations.
The feeling of profundity and the role it may play in our epistemic lives is interesting to me because it relates to one of my research questions: What prevents people from revising their conclusions? (There’s a line of literature on this, broadly termed “doxastic closure”. Some of this literature details a suite of factors explaining why people have an inability or unwillingness to revise their thoughts, beliefs, conclusions, etc., but a rigorous analysis of this, including a definition and analysis of terms, extends beyond the purpose of this brief post.) Chief among these is the belief that holding a certain conclusion makes one a better person (for more here see Dennett). In other words, lending one’s belief to a proposition is a moral act and revising one’s belief is immoral.
Another factor inhibiting belief revision could be the feeling state that arises from holding certain thoughts. In the context of my text-based discussion, the sense of profundity could contribute to a closed doxastic state by extending one’s confidence in a proposition beyond what’s warranted by the evidence. That is, the feeling that one’s thoughts capture a deep insight about reality could make it less likely that one would be willing to revise one’s conclusions. This is because, I hypothesized, profundity could contribute to the state of thinking one’s uncovered the truth, and thus circumvent the desire of continuing to search.
What’s important to note here are the mechanisms responsible for doxastic entrenchment: Attitudes and feeling states. Belief revision is often not achieved on purely epistemic grounds, that is, depending on the domain of inquiry, people don’t change their conclusions because they’re presented with new evidence, or informed of reasons previously absent. Conclusions are revised, or not, for non-epistemic reasons—emotional valence, social benefits, honesty with oneself, etc.
The feeling of profundity could be a contributory variable for whether or not people are willing or able to revise their conclusions. I don’t know whether or not this speculation is accurate. Understanding the mechanisms of belief formation and revision are tricky, multivariate, and likely extend into the domain of cognitive neuroscience. If this speculation is accurate, however, then being aware of this sensation may act as a prophylactic from wedding ourselves to bad ideas.