Peter Hankins at Conscious Entities does a book review of ‘Kidding Ourselves‘ by Joseph T Hallinan.
Joseph T Hallinan’s new book Kidding Ourselves says that not only is self deception more common and more powerful than we suppose, it’s actually helpful: deluded egoists beat realists every time.
Philosophically, of course, self-deception is impossible. To deceive yourself you have to induce in yourself a belief in a proposition you know to be false. In other words you have to believe and disbelieve the same thing, which is contradictory. In practice self-deception of a looser kind is possible if there is some kind of separation between the deceiving and deceived self. So for example there might be separation over time: we set up a belief for ourselves which is based on certain conditions; later on we retain the belief but have forgotten the conditions that applied. Or the separation might be between conscious and unconscious, with our unrecognised biases and preferences causing us to believe things which we could not accept if we were to subject them to a full and rational examination. As another example, we might well call it self deception if we choose to behave as if we believed something which in fact we don’t believe.
read the rest at Conscious Entities » Blog Archive » Self Deception.
I definitely think that self deception is possible, although it might be more accurate to call it deception of a portion of the self. We all have in us a child and an adult, or as Jonathan Haidt calls it, the intuitive elephant and the rational rider. It is often easier for the adult version of us to simply let the child believe a comforting lie, or sometimes the child simply doesn’t listen and believes what it wants to.
I know I’ve done it myself many times in my life, only later realizing that I had let my desires cloud my beliefs. I’m sure I’m still doing it in some areas, although being aware of this human tendency, I hope I do it far less than when I was younger.
This is one of the reasons science often puts up safeguards against confirmation bias using techniques such as double blind experiments. As Richard Feynman said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”