2.c.4 – Mental closure is a natural phenomenon?

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February 19, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

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Mental closure is a natural phenomenon?

Our life is based on the vision that we have of the world, that is the mental model we have built to orient ourselves among the laws of nature, to entertain human relations, to decide what is good and what is bad, to define our role in family, in society and in the universe: this is a real mental map for moving in the real world. As we cannot have a magic crystal ball telling us how the world works, we must make it with our senses and our capacity of imagination; what we get is not the truth, but a model that is equivalent to the proper behavior for survival.
This model is created slowly over time; from early childhood it begins to form in our minds, based on personal experiences to then integrate with cultural tradition; in our minds, the image of the world, society and even of ourselves must be consistent with both our experiences and with what we have been taught at home and at school and what we have been told by our relatives, friends and television. To arrange in a consistent manner all this impressive amount of data, i.e. creating a mental map that is reliable, is a work as complex as fundamental to our lives, but that is likely to be destabilized by every new experience.
When in the early seventeenth century, the famous astronomer Galileo Galilei said that the universe does not run around the Earth, as we believed then, but that it is the Earth that rotates on its axis like all the planets, there was great scandal and Galileo was forced by the strength to retract his theories. What was so shocking in the new model of the world? What was so difficult to accept? The news was supposed to be totally irrelevant to anyone who was not an astronomer; no carpenter, farmer or blacksmith would have seen his life changing if the new theory was accepted and the same can be said of the nobles and priests, since neither in the Bible nor in the Gospels was written anything in contrast with it, but the appearance in this case is deceiving us; the centrality of the Earth, the fact that everything revolved around it, was the main objective confirmation of the centrality of man in Creation, and therefore of our importance in the eyes of God; it was an indirect evidence of the same existence of God and thus justified both the religious and the political authority, at that time based on the divine Law. What should be a simple astronomical discovery risked to undermine the faith and political stability of entire nations, since demolished the model of the world which they were based on and that nobody dared to question. What happened in general can happen even at the individual level; a proud and self-assured man for being estimated for his work, with which manages to maintain his family and to say to himself to be a good father, can psychologically go in pieces in case of loss of work, although no due to a fault of his, and feel to be a looser. If each novelty may raise doubts on our precious view of the world, if this is really so fragile, why there isn’t a crisis every week? How do we avoid this danger? The answer that nature has given to this problem is a incredibly simple: at the introduction of new experiences, also cultural, our brain strives to update its vision of the world with minor modifications in order to always keep it consistent with all the experiences made up to that point; but when small changes are not enough, because it is difficult to enter the new experience in the old context, we unconsciously evaluate if it’s worth to accept the news, threatening to topple our system of beliefs and consequently put our lives in a crisis; if to accept the new experience is not essential, the same is therefore refused, giving rise to the so-called closed-mindedness, the refusal of the evidence of the facts, the obscurantism. This is, after all, a further application of the mental economy principle; to completely or in large part revise a model that took years to be built and that was effective and functional, can be very expensive and risky because there is no guarantee of finding a better one in short time;, in terms of survival is therefore logical that our mind stubbornly refuses to change its system of beliefs and hence its attachment to it is only seemingly irrational.

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