The (Mind) Games People Play

The (Mind) Games People Play


Cognitive Dissonance



Fair warning! This is a long and dense read and not intended for the faint-hearted

While most of us would accept there are two states of mind when it comes to perceiving reality, belief and disbelief, I posit there are three. And this third state of mind, the suspension of disbelief, is employed by nearly all of us the majority of the time when interacting within our own perceived reality.

If we are to recognize the prevailing global cultural insanity as a long duration event, meaning it started many centuries ago and will last many centuries beyond today, being logical and rational, while an essential component of survival, can only be viewed as a significant disability when trying to make sense of an insane world.

This is particularly true when we closely examine group and individual psychology and how it affects everything from culture to money to politics and all the prevailing memes in-between. Any sober assessment of the human condition leads to one conclusion only. Everyone is insane, including you and me. It is only a matter of degree, not if.

That said; for the sake of this article let us assume one can be sane enough to recognize his or her own insanity. While nearly all will point to the actual behavior of the insane as proof of the illness, I tend to focus on the driving force behind the behavior. My experience shows this to be our horribly distorted belief system(s) which propel us deeper and deeper into our madness.

But belief is a misnomer for what actually occurs in the real world. The word belief implies action, intent and effort, as in a verb or adjective. However this should be differentiated from passive belief, which is a subconscious and conscious embrace of a thought or idea which we embody in whole and absolutely.

Most of our fundamental beliefs are foundational and so resolute doubt never enters the equation. When I stand on solid ground or sit in a stout and sturdy chair I expect, aka believe, it will support my weight. I believe it so completely I give it no thought, care or concern. Or at least until the ground shudders or the chair creaks.

Thus the ground or chair beneath us is real because we (along with everyone else) believe it to be real. This concept is the foundational bedrock supporting our perception of reality because we have been taught from the moment we are born that everything surrounding us is real, therefore we believe it to be real because it already is real.

We are conditioned to accept that belief follows reality rather than belief precedes reality. Or more directly, we are taught to accept that reality creates belief rather than belief creates reality. And that our persistent reality cements our belief rather than our cemented belief maintains a persistent reality. These are the fundamental, and unshakable, beliefs which underpin all that we believe to be real, including our self.

Or as Albert Einstein is alleged to have said “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

Because we have been conditioned from birth to believe untruths, that we do not create reality but rather reality creates us, the ultimate cognitive dissonance and the genesis of our insanity, we have developed coping mechanisms which enable us to navigate a real world of our own making which we believe we have not created.

The principal coping mechanism ingrained into us from birth is the establishment and use of the suspension of disbelief.

Non passive, meaning active, belief is almost always expressed in the context of faith, conviction, trust, certainty and confidence. One simply cannot be cognitively, emotionally or intellectually passive when one is expressing belief, as opposed to the mostly passive belief in/of overall reality. In other words, to express belief is to make a conscious or unconscious decision to accept and/or support, often (but not always) at face value, something or someone.

And to be fair, belief comes as a natural extension of our perception of reality because reality appears to be self evident, thus to disbelieve reality in its entirety is to question our very existence. The term ‘seeing is believing’ speaks volumes to our collective delusion that reality is ‘real’ simply because it is perceived as real. Thus no sane and reasonable person would seriously question what is obviously real, leading to a collective and shared delusion that is self sustaining.

Ultimately beauty reality is in the eye perception of the beholder. The greatest trick the reality manipulators ever pulled was to convince a world of conscious beings we are not reality creators, but rather just creations, thus victims, of reality.

So let me expand upon the concept of coping with our insanity. Instead of actively choosing between belief and disbelief, the first enabling and the latter inflaming our insanity, what’s really going on nearly all of the time is mostly passive and without force or conviction. For a wide variety of reasons, but mostly in an effort to eliminate or reduce conscious/unconscious emotional stress and anxiety caused by our underlying insanity, we seek a more neutral footing from which to conduct our day to day lives.

I’ve broached this subject because I recently read an excellent article by Chris Martenson, posted on his blog, titled Believing the Impossible”. In it he outlines how insane the present day financial markets are and what is required of us to believe in order for the financial insanity to continue.

Chris is a sharp cookie and I have great respect for his intellect, reasoning and logic. Unfortunately he is assuming insane human investors approach investing and markets, and all that it entails, from a logical and reasonable point of view with occasional forays into the unbelievable. He believes this because there are ‘financial standards’ based upon history and mathematical trends that appear to buttress his case.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I have yet to hear or read a theory or supposition that sufficiently explains why each bout of financial madness, aka a bubble, seems to exceed the prior one on what appears to be a rising exponential curve. This is not to say markets are not extremely extended; only that more than just math, and the Federal Reserve, is supporting them.

In my opinion, instead of believing or disbelieving something, often what occurs is we simply suspend disbelief. While most certainly not a modern phenomenon, the desire to suspend disbelief has risen exponentially along with the ever increasing penetration of ‘media’ into our minds.

When we plop down on the couch to watch a movie, what is actually going on inside our consciousness? Assuming the entire premise of the movie is fictional, to actively believe or disbelieve, meaning to invest a sum of energy and effort to accept it as an (un)truthful and/or an (in)accurate depiction of life or situation would be folly and contrary to the very definition of fiction.

Our supposed goal is to be entertained, to be transported somewhere else in time and space. This requires a suspension of disbelief in order to accept something which more than likely does not fit our perception and belief of what reality actually is.

Even just transporting ourselves into another person’s shoes to experience their point of view requires an altered sense of our own reality. One must find a way to adopt or adapt to their perception of reality in order to feel empathy and sympathy. This applies to everything from love stories to horror flicks and everything in-between.

Interestingly, when writing fiction the author must be careful not to color too far outside the lines, lest the author lose credibility with the reader. One must strive to make the unbelievable somewhat plausible in order not to strain the reader’s imagination, which is itself often constrained by what we believe reality to be.

Real life events, on the other hand, can be completely ‘unbelievable’ (as they often are) since they are assumed to exist simply because they occurred in real life. It is self evidently real because it occurred.

This creates a situation where the product of a mind materialized in 3D space, aka reality, is considered ‘real’ while the product of the mind created in 2D space, meaning written down on paper or displayed on a screen is not. How can this be when the genesis is the same, only the construct differs?

When viewing (fictional) media, we switch off our belief/disbelief function by deliberately suspending disbelief in order to enjoy the movie. Please understand that to disbelieve something is NOT the same thing as suspending disbelief. Also, in order to believe one thing we must by definition disbelieve nearly all other things contrary to that belief.

This helps explain why we rarely suspend belief, but rather suspend disbelief. Our individual and collective fundamental beliefs (i.e. the chair, floor and bed are real, solid and therefore support my weight) are so thoroughly and completely conditioned into our perception of reality that many beliefs are essentially impossible to stop believing, meaning to disbelieve.

Our default setting is to believe because anything perceived with our senses that also fall within a generally accepted range (i.e. a chair is acceptable, ghosts not so much) is considered to be self evidently real. Since our default setting is to passively believe without thought and effort, to explicitly express belief in a person, place or thing is simply a cognitive confirmation of what is already believed to be real. While effort is applied, no big sweat is expended to do so.

However, to express disbelief is contrary to what feels natural and normal, therefore more energy and intent needs to be mustered in order to overcome the default setting. It then stands to reason that to suspend disbelief simply entails not mustering the energy to object to what comes natural, meaning to accept as real what is self evident to our perception, even if other indicators encourage doubt and questions.

It is far easier NOT to do something than to do something. Consciously expressed belief intentionally constructs a personal reality, while disbelief deconstructs, deforms or alters a personal reality. Both of these states of mind require effort, but one requires more effort than the other and is destructive rather than constructive.

If I do not wish to destroy the reality of the movie by disbelieving its apparent reality, meaning I wish to enjoy it without doubting it, I must suspend disbelief and simply allow it to exist. This is not very difficult because it already appears real. It is self evidently real unless I deconstruct it with disbelief and doubt. Therefore I maintain a reality by suspending disbelief.

To affirm it as real I simply do not consciously and deliberately destroy it with disbelief. Often the difference between belief and disbelief of/in a movie or TV show is how well, or poorly, the illusion is constructed and how well, or poorly, it matches our perception of what reality actually is.

This is why science fiction, where the entire premise is clearly stated as fiction beyond our personal experience, is more easily accepted as real (meaning disbelief is not asserted) than a fictional movie that closely shadows our personal experience of reality, but then shoots off into an ‘unbelievable’ or implausible direction.

We declare the latter experience ridiculous because it ‘jumped the shark’, meaning it suddenly veered away from closely matching our perception of reality into the unbelievable. Yet the science fiction movie is more readily accepted because we’ve already been given permission to suspend disbelief since it will not match our personal experience spectrum.

Because the fictional movie may involve plot lines, characters and situations that strain credulity and believability, the only choice we have if we wish to be entertained is to suspend the process of disbelief and simply accept what is occurring as self evident because it is being witnessed.

I accept at face value someone can run full speed down an alley while aiming, shooting and killing various people who are themselves moving because that is what has been shown to be real in the movie. I accept with no belief or disbelief that all bombs produce huge fireballs when they explode because that has been presented as normal and natural. I accept as self evident that people and things can be dematerialized and then rematerialized miles away because I just saw it happen.

While there are cognitive limits to what we are willing to suspend disbelief about, those limits are entirely of our own making and are completely variable depending upon the incentives we respond to. While our shared reality is for the most part a consensus creation (therefore it can only be altered or destroyed by consensus) there are portions exclusive to our own personal realities that are infinitely variable and controllable by us alone.

This is why I alone can do nothing to inflate or deflate a consensus financial bubble. And the consensus financial bubble only begins to deflate when the consensus no longer believes (or no longer suspends disbelief) in its existence.

A financial ‘crash’ occurs, meaning the financial bubble suddenly and violently bursts, when the consensus consciously disbelieves in that reality. Remember, disbelief deconstructs what belief builds and a suspension of disbelief maintains.

Suspending disbelief is (mostly) a passive activity in which we willingly open the pathways into our mind to all manner of alternative realities. After all, most will say, what harm can come from this since what we are viewing isn’t real?

This is a tragically mistaken belief because our personal interpretation of reality occurs exclusively within our minds and not in the 3D world we describe as real. The act of seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and touching is actually an interpretation by our (non local) minds of electrical impulses we assume arrive from our five (assumed) physical electrical impulse generators aka eyes, ears etc.

Our reality is a shared illusion collectively interpreted similarly mostly because the collective mind shares common interpretive markers and descriptions. The more complex the illusion the more time required to train and condition you and me to recognize and interpret these electrical impulses as reality in the same manner as everyone else.

We teach each other, and are taught by each other, what reality is.

Is it any wonder then that of all the animals in this reality, humans require the longest (childhood) conditioning phase before becoming fully functioning in-sync reality interpreting bipedal animals?

The act of suspending disbelief is in fact the act of cognitively disarming ourselves, laying open the inner reaches of our mind to manipulation, suggestion and influence. What gains entry via media is often deliberately crafted and directed ideology and propaganda.

Those who protest that an episode of Gilligan’s Island is far from propaganda are somewhat correct. But interspersed within a silly comedy (which itself reinforces certain shared beliefs) are targeted commercials and cognitive conditioning. Once we begin to feel comfortable opening our minds to external influences, the war is already won by those who wish to exert influence and control over us.

Either we create our own reality or we live in someone else’s.

Contrary to what we want to believe, the process of suspending disbelief does not begin and end with each segment of the TV program or other media. And make no mistake about it; we all desperately need to believe we are our own cognitive keepers in order to maintain the illusion of personal freedom.

We must believe we are not (easily) manipulated or controlled if we are to maintain our own personal illusion of freedom and self determination, thereby keeping at bay self awareness and acknowledgement of our own personal insanity. Therefore we supply endless quantities of belief, disbelief and the suspension of disbelief in whatever manner to whatever is needed in order to maintain (or repair) the preferred personal reality in our minds.

Advertisers understand human behavior quite well and know we persist in the suspended disbelief frame of mind, even if just subliminally, for a period of time after the media has ended, either for breaks or at the end. Without going into a long dissertation on the mechanics of advertising, suffice to say much of directed advertising is quite effective, brilliantly playing off our full intellectual, psychological and emotional spectrum.

I accept at face value that gorgeous new car/widescreen TV will bring me joy and happiness because it was just shown to be so on TV by other people who look just like me. It is self evident based upon the reality I just witnessed that a diamond ring is the only adequate expression of my love for my wife that would bring her true pleasure and happiness.

While many will complain such obvious psychological tricks wouldn’t fool them, explain to me why your wife wears a diamond ring and you probably have a reasonably new car in the garage or widescreen TV in your living room. The secret to the sauce is not the first viewing, but the hundredth. Our cognitive conditioning occurs not from one experience, but from constant and sustained exposure to the underlying message.

As an example, every automobile advertisement supports every other auto advert regardless of the brand. The message is not just to purchase this car, but to purchase a car. Over time we are conditioned to believe it is natural and normal to purchase a new car every two or three years while trading in a perfectly good used vehicle that still has many years of serviceable life remaining.

Nearly all advertisements employ a form of implied consent. Instead of asking you if you wish to purchase the car, thereby requiring you to make a yes/no (belief/disbelief) financial decision, the ad assumes your consent to purchase and instead asks you which model, color, trim and wheels you prefer. All successful salesmen and women intuitively understand how to employ this sales technique.

Do you prefer the racy red or sapphire blue ego trip to show to your friends and family?

What is not fully understood and rarely acknowledged, at least by you and me, is the corrosive effect a lifelong exposure to advertising (essentially an altered state of reality in 30-60 second bites) has upon our overall perspective and interpretation of reality.

The herd mentality, aka the consensus reality, isn’t imprinted only when directly and/or physically immersed within the teaming herd. Widely dispersed media, along with the advertising attached to it, tends to act as the voice of the herd. Soon enough, media and the embedded advertising becomes the herd speaking directly into our ear.

Again, I won’t go into detail how media creators and advertisers blur the line between fiction and nonfiction; for example reality TV and personal testimonials. A day of research and deep thought on the subject will, at the very least, promote projectile vomiting as a deeper understanding of the invasive, and often illegal and unethical, techniques are revealed.

Unfortunately the rabbit hole goes even deeper than this. We live in a paternal culture with strict hierarchical lines of authority. We are conditioned from birth to accept (believe) all wisdom and knowledge flows down from the top, or at least from someone with more authority than us. Therefore all experts and authorities, either self proclaimed or appointed, are to be treated with respect and deference.

And to be obeyed!

While “We the People” may believe we live in the land of the free and home of the brave, we still pull over when the lights flash in the rear view mirror and break out in a cold sweat when the IRS sends us a love letter in the mail. For the most part we submit when confronted by authority.

This creates a deep seated conflict within our day to day mind, something I like to think of as our motoring mind, the part of us that isn’t really paying much attention as we motor down the highway or simply go about our day to day life.

While we don’t live in a constant state of high stress, concerned we may be breaking the law and jailed at any moment, there is a persistent underlying tension as our unconscious mind acknowledges where we stand in the pecking order and the dangers (and potential benefits) that pecking position may entail. I suspect this subliminal insecurity drives certain people to seek power and influence to relieve the inner dissonance.

If we were to pay close attention to the political, financial and cultural details churning away in the background all day every day we would soon be exhausted. But neither do we wish to expend the energy to closely examine all of it, thereby consciously deciding to believe or disbelieve all that we hear, see and read.

Remember, expressing belief and disbelief is an activity requiring attention, effort and energy. So what we wind up doing is suspending disbelief across a wide spectrum of reality and let it all flow around us like water moving past us as we wade across the river.

The degree to which we believe, disbelieve or suspend disbelief (or more likely varying degrees of all depending upon our core belief systems) depends upon our perceived proximity to danger or benefit. Moment to moment, our cognitive filters weed out what is believed to be inconsequential to us while allowing through those items needing further attention which we believe will directly affect us.

I’ve emphasized the word believe above because, other than a car headed directly towards us, a tornado on the horizon or a winning lottery ticket in hand, very little going on in the background is understood well enough by us to make an intelligent assessment of danger or benefit, particularly when critical information is manipulated, distorted or withheld from the patsies.

And as ego busting as this may be, for the most part we are the patsies. Any benefit to you and me is watered down to the point where it is immaterial, while any danger is immediately shunted directly towards us full throttle. Heads they win, tails we lose in this consensus reality.

Regardless of what we have been told and taught (and thus believe) the sole purpose of a paternal hierarchy is to enable those at the top to retain and maintain power which leads directly to wealth and control. While the structural components, rules and management may have changed dramatically over the centuries, the world is still organized into slave plantations. The only significant difference from the past is we get to call ourselves free while directly paying for our own keep.

Those who believe themselves free are far more productive and profitable than those who do not. While we receive a portion of our productivity in the form of wages, our (cognitive) owners receive the lion's share.

In an effort to sidestep the biggest pot holes and gather as many crumbs as possible, we hone certain survival mechanisms we believe safeguard us while simultaneously ignoring much of the background noise. However, ignore is too specific a word. Similar to the river water flowing around us, rather than ignore we simply suspend disbelief and go with the flow. Think of it as a cognitive survival mechanism designed specifically to cope in a highly specialized, and horribly distorted, world.

An admittedly extreme and imperfect analogy of the suspending disbelief dynamic at play is the following. I worked in a machine shop when I was much younger, filled with all kinds of dangerous and mostly automated machines where cutting and grinding operations were conducted.

To ignore the danger, or simply not believe I would be hurt, would be foolhardy for one errant move could bring disaster. But to remain in a state of high alert, to believe I would or could be hurt at any moment, would be mentally and emotionally exhausting and therefore unsustainable.

To compensate, I neither believed nor disbelieved I would be hurt. Rather I suspended disbelief and simply accepted as self evident if I kept my appendages out of the machines I would not be harmed since others have already demonstrated this to be true/real.

This perceptional adjustment enabled me to accept the rapid flow of information entering my senses, both where my hands and body were at all times as well as the screaming machine’s process and product flow. A deliberately induced alternative state of mind allowed me to work within inches of death or disfigurement without fleeing the scene in terror.

A similar perceptional situation exists in our minds as we travel down narrow two lane roads with onrushing cars approaching, often at more than 100 miles per hour closing speed, only to safely pass mere feet away. Time travel a person from the 1800’s into your car and they would be terrified by this ‘normal’ activity.

While we might claim to ‘know’ the oncoming car won’t hit us, in truth this is something we cannot ‘know’. There are automobile collisions all the time which result in death and disability. Thus we neither believe nor disbelieve in an imminent car crash. Instead we suspend disbelief in order to participate in the activity.

Those who cannot adopt a similar mental state are unable to pack themselves shoulder to shoulder inside a metal tube holding thousands of gallons of volatile fuel with fire breathing jet engines attached to the underside of slender bendable appendages, only to be hurtled down a runway at more than 150 miles per hour with the specific intent to leave the safe confines of Mother Earth.

Although not nearly as extreme as the machine shop, car or plane, primarily because the proximity to danger (or benefit) isn’t perceived to be nearly as close, the overall tension of everyday work, travel, shopping, school and so on must somehow still be dealt with or it eventually becomes overwhelming.

The more complex and variable the reality, the more exhausting it is to cognitively maintain via passive and active belief for both the collective and the individual. We describe it as an active lifestyle and we are capable of adapting to it, but at a long term cost to body, mind and soul.

While there is no doubt some things are mostly ignored because they have been internally classified as unimportant or immaterial, how we cope with day to day dissonance is intriguing and enlightening.

This is by no means a new problem, having existed throughout recorded history. But signs of a deepening collective psychosis (a dissonance in the consensus reality) can be gleaned in the shared reality suffering from skyrocketing obesity in all age groups, addictions and obsessions in every size, flavor and color, mass shootings and rising suicides, especially among young adults and service members…well, the list is expanding faster than our waist lines.

Returning once again to the highlighted article regarding the need to believe impossible things in order for the stock market to continue its ascent, Chris Martenson is examining the financial markets from an expert’s point of view. Ultimately he believes he has a fundamental understanding of how and why financial markets work. And he is cognitively clear and honest enough to question the state of the market and the minds which ultimately propel the market.

While machines now trade a majority of the market at lightning speed, those machines are programmed by humans and therefore mimic human thinking and behavior. But there are still plenty of humans, experts as well as amateurs, who actively trade the markets and therefore are influenced by their beliefs, hopes and expectations. And there are those who remain mostly passive but still (fully) invested.

Think about the psychology for a second. You are invested (a word encompassing both financial and emotional risk taking) in an activity which can greatly enrich you, but can also shrink in value very quickly. History has shown both conditions can exist in a very short period of time. (Witness the stock market drop of the last two weeks.) You are not even close to being an expert, thus you must rely upon other’s opinions regarding the safety and viability of your investments.

Worse, those expert opinions are not united. Some declare all is well and the sky is the limit. Others point to clear historical markers and fundamental facts to indicate all is not well. But still the market goes up. Who do you believe? Why should you believe one over the other?

The fear of missing out can be just as compelling, if not more so, than the affirmation received from reaping the rewards of already being invested. Have you ever stood on the edge of a crowd that suddenly begins moving away from you? The urge to follow can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t know why the herd is moving.

Particularly with older investors who have experienced vicious downturns over the last two decades, belief without doubt is extremely difficult. Negligible emotional relief is achieved from believing if doubt cannot be extinguished. But to disbelieve the market rise is also emotionally difficult because to do so demands we leave the majority herd and graze on our own.

Walking the contrarian path is extremely difficult on every level imaginable. We do not receive emotional and intellectual comfort from the herd because we have rejected the herd. Therefore our own personal reality is not externally affirmed. When the contrarian is losing, often the herd is winning. No joy there for us. And when the herd is losing, the contrarian is usually winning but still receives no affirmation from the herd for obvious reasons.

For a person raised in, and dependent upon, affirmation and confirmation from a paternal hierarchal culture, to leave the herd is simply unthinkable for all but short periods of time. My experience and study shows even those who are determined to leave simply seek out and find, or create, a contrary herd of their own. Very few can walk the nearly empty road alone and maintain emotional containment.

Or to change the perspective a bit, very few can walk the nearly empty road alone and maintain their personal reality. Rarely can one sustain their own reality (via belief) without constant affirmation and confirmation that their realty is real. We maintain our own reality via our belief in our own reality. This in turn helps others maintain their own reality because our reality exists, thereby confirming theirs.

So to believe, especially in improbable or improvable things, is difficult, especially when doubt is present. After all, our reality must constantly be affirmed in order to be real. But to disbelieve is equally difficult, if not more so, because we also cannot find affirmation in our disbelief. So we actively seek a neutral position with little perceived emotional risk by suspending disbelief and declaring self evident what is presently occurring.

Call it a form of denial if that is easier to accept. But it is applicable to far more than simply investing in the stock market. We utilize this cognitive jujitsu at work and at play, when thinking about and interacting with government, at home with the spouse and kids, in social settings and anywhere else we wish to be emotionally shielded from consequences we believe we cannot control but wish to believe we can.

While there is little doubt suspending disbelief can be described as a rational approach to coping with a perceptually uncertain and dangerous reality, the exponential proliferation of its use among the global population is a product of deliberate intervention and conditioning via media infiltration.

Regardless of whether its genesis is rooted in the dark reaches of shadowy elite population control efforts or it is the out-of-control result of advertisers and media creator’s efforts to produce a predictable and repeatable outcome (or more likely intermixed portions of both) the end product is a global population increasingly cognitively controlled by external forces to the determent of all.

Then again, it isn’t real unless we believe it to be real.



Cognitive Dissonance

Like this article? Take a second to support Cognitive Dissonance on Patreon and gain access to exclusive Patreon Only articles!
Become a patron at Patreon!

3 thoughts on “The (Mind) Games People Play”

    1. Hello dear elf,

      Thank you for the high praise. This piece was difficult because it’s a nuanced subject and therefore difficult to frame in a way people will be willing to make an effort to understand. Many days were invested trying to get it correct. At one point I abandoned it for several days as unfit, only to return for a final determined re-write.

      Cognitive Dissonance

  1. Yes, I could see that ;-) It takes a lot of time, study and in depth knowledge to write an understandable, sensible piece about such a complicated matter. To reply, never mind to add, is even more complicated if the matter isn’t fully understood, like in my case. Perhaps I “understood” the subject in my unconsciousness, but to see it “spelled-out” & explained, so I can “connect the dots” and bring it to my consciousness is very nice indeed !
    So, I like to comment and thank you for this excellent article ;-)

Comments are closed.