Information Age Education
   Issue Number 224
December 31, 2017   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) publications.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, seven free books based on the newsletters are available: Joy of Learning; Validity and Credibility of Information; Education for Students’ Futures; Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

My most recent free book, The Fourth R, has more than 10,000 hits/downloads this year (Moursund, 12/23/2016). The 4th R (reasoning, computational thinking) is fundamental to empowering today’s students and their teachers throughout the K-12 curriculum.

We All Have Delusions

David Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon

Dictionaries tell us that a delusion is an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. It turns out that we all have delusions, but some of us have many more and/or much stronger held delusions than do others. Moreover, it often can be very difficult for a person to change a delusion. (If I believe something is true, why would I want to change my belief?)

Suppose that as a young child I am strongly indoctrinated with one or more beliefs such as that my religion is “the” correct religion, that my race is “the” superior race, that people of my sex are superior to people of the opposite sex, that computers are about to take over the world, and so on? As an adult, I strongly hold these beliefs. Are these delusions?

I thoroughly enjoyed a recent article by Dan Jones, Grand Delusions: Why We All Believe the Weirdest Things (Jones, 11/15/2017). He discusses some of the considerable current research on delusional disorders. Quoting from the article:

THREE Messiahs walk into a psychiatric unit... No, this isn’t the set-up to a tasteless joke, but the beginning of a study done in the 1950s by Milton Rokeach at Ypsilanti State Hospital, Michigan. Rokeach brought together three men, each harboring the delusion that he was Jesus Christ, to see if meeting the others and confronting their mutually contradictory claims would change their minds. Two years and many arguments later, their beliefs had barely budged. For each Jesus, the other two were fakers, while they were the real deal.
. . .
At any time, around 0.2 per cent of people are being treated for delusional disorders. We now know that this is the tip of an iceberg. In 2010, Rachel Pechey and Peter Halligan, both at Cardiff University, UK, presented 1,000 people with [a list of] 17 delusion-like beliefs, and asked whether they held them strongly, moderately, weakly, or not at all. The beliefs were either relatively mundane, such as “Certain people are out to harm me” and “I am an exceptionally gifted person that others do not recognize”, or more bizarre, including “I am dead and/or do not exist” and “People I know disguise themselves as others to manipulate or influence me”. In all, 39 per cent of participants held at least one of these beliefs strongly, and a whopping 91 per cent held one or more at least weakly.

Some of the research on delusions has suggested a difference between people who jump to conclusions without adequate evidence to support their conclusions, and people who are more careful thinkers. Quoting again from the article by Jones:

This jumping-to-conclusions bias might seem stupid, but it isn’t a sign of low intelligence, according to clinical psychologist Philippa Garety at King’s College London. Instead, she believes it reflects the kind of reasoning an individual favors. Some of us rely more on intuitive thinking–so-called system one thinking–while others are more likely to engage slower, analytic “system two thinking”, which is needed for reviewing and revising beliefs.… “It’s not that people with a jumping-to-conclusions bias don’t understand or can’t use evidence,” she says. “They’re just overusing system one at the expense of system two.” And sure enough, Garety’s latest study confirms that these intuitive thinkers are also more prone to clinical delusions.

Daniel Kahneman has written an excellent book about fast and slow thinking. He uses the terminology System 1 for fast thinking, and System 2 for slower, more carefully reasoned thinking. Quoting from a Scientific American article he wrote discussing his book (Kahneman, 6/16/2012):

The interaction of the two systems is a recurrent theme of the book, and a brief synopsis of the plot is in order. In the story I will tell, Systems 1 and 2 are both active whenever we are awake. System 1 runs automatically and System 2 is normally in a comfortable low-effort mode, in which only a fraction of its capacity is engaged. System 1 continuously generates suggestions for System 2: impressions, intuitions, intentions, and feelings. If endorsed by System 2, impressions and intuitions turn into beliefs, and impulses turn into voluntary actions. When all goes smoothly, which is most of the time, System 2 adopts the suggestions of System 1 with little or no modification. You generally believe your impressions and act on your desires, and that is fine—usually.

When System 1 runs into difficulty, it calls on System 2 to support more detailed and specific processing that may solve the problem of the moment. System 2 is mobilized when a question arises for which System 1 does not offer an answer.

Note that System 1 can provide an incorrect solution to the problem at hand. System 2 will often detect such errors, or at least question the correctness of what System 1 proposes. You undoubtedly have heard the adage, “Think before you act.” If time and circumstances permit, System 2 thinks carefully, and retrieves more information from one’s brain and from other sources such as books and the Web (Sylwester, May, 2012).

In your daily life, you likely interact with some people who have delusions. That is, when faced with some problems or situations, their System 1 draws on incorrect information and proposes poor or wrong solutions. The research suggests that it does little good to directly confront a person’s delusional beliefs.

However, in some cases, professional therapy may help such a person. Jones mentions SlowMo, a current UK government-funded research project on paranoia (SlowMo, 2017). Quoting from this document:

People often experience worries about other people intentionally causing harm, also known as paranoia. Paranoia is one of the most common symptoms of severe mental health problems and is associated with marked distress and disruption to people’s lives. Paranoia tends to be associated with certain thinking habits, called fast thinking. We all think fast and this can be helpful in some situations. At other times, fast thinking may contribute to us feeling more stressed than we need to be.

SlowMo therapy works by supporting people to notice their upsetting worries and fast thinking habits, and then provides tips to help them slow down for a moment to notice new information and safer thoughts.

SlowMo consists of eight individual, face-to-face sessions, assisted by a website with interactive stories and games, to help people find out how fast thinking habits can contribute to upsetting thoughts. People try out tips to learn what helps them slow down their thinking and cope with worries, and a mobile app supports the use of these strategies in daily life.

Self-assessment Instruments

The Jones article contains a copy of a self-assessment instrument that can be used to evaluate your own tendency to develop delusions, some of which you may fiercely defend. The self-assessment instrument is part of a research paper by Emmanuelle Peters (January, 2004).

Self-assessment is an important aspect of growing up and of a good education. You know that your own brain/body contains a very large number of self-assessment instruments. At a subconscious level, you are continually checking how well your various parts are doing and are making adjustments in an attempt to improve the situation. For example, if your body temperature self-assessment decides you are getting too hot, you will begin to sweat. If your blood-oxygen content is getting too low, you will breath more rapidly and/or deeply.

There are many online and printed self-assessment instruments that you can use. I have collected links to many of these in my IAE-pedia document, Self-assessment Instruments. This webpage has had more than a hundred thousand page views (Moursund, 2017).

Final Remarks

How do you know that the things you “know” to be true are indeed true? Most of us have some delusions—perhaps only weakly held. We all make use of information that we have learned (memorized, and stored in our heads). Personally, when I am trying to remember details about something that I have learned in the past, my brain sometimes gives me incorrect information. An important part of my mental retrieval process is a combination of subconscious and conscious fact checking. I often catch errors, but I certainly don’t catch every error I make in drawing on my memorized information.

All of us face both this problem and the added problem that the information we have memorized may be incorrect. For example, much of what you learned while you were a young child came from your parents, guardians, older siblings, and/or others who were part of your home environment. Your immature sponge-like brain could not readily separate “true facts” from incorrect facts, fiction, prejudices, and delusions.

Or, consider the barrage of information that comes to you daily from the media and from people you interact with. You can train yourself to automatically do fact checking, and just ignore or be thoroughly angry with what you consider to be incorrect information or even blatant lies. However, people who publish fake news are getting more and more successful in creating fake news that is believable by a large number of viewers.

Many people (indeed, perhaps all of us) find sources of information that they are comfortable with, and tend to not question information from these sources. I hope that you realize that this is a poor approach. Nowadays, especially, you need to be continually on guard against accepting, learning, and acting on incorrect information.

My Recommendations

Reflect on your own strongly held beliefs. Perhaps some are based purely on faith. Others may be based on delusions, or on inadequate or false information. Consider the latter case. Perhaps you are strongly influenced by fake news, or by the strongly-held opinions of people you respect. And, you probably know people who seem to quickly jump to conclusions based on what you consider to be fake news. You can become aware of this in your own beliefs and behaviors. If you suspect that you are being misled by fake or strongly biased news, you can make a determined effort to check the veracity of such news items.

Remember, we all have both fast thinking and slow thinking capabilities We all have both incorrect and correct information stored in our brains. We all are routinely confronted with both incorrect and correct information. These are important ideas that need to be integrated into our educational systems.

I strongly recommend that you and others who help to educate our children emphasize the importance of everyone learning to fact check as a routine part of their everyday lives. There are many ways to politely ask, “How do you know that what you have just said is correct?” Develop and practice this skill in ways that lead to your frequently asking yourself as well as others this question.

References and Resources

Garety, P.A., & Freeman, D. (November, 2013). The past and future of delusions research: From the inexplicable to the treatable. The British Journal of Psychiatry. Retrieved 11/16/2017 from http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/203/5/327.

Jones, D. (11/15/2017). Grand delusions: Why we all believe the weirdest things. New Scientist. https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23631520-800-grand-delusions-why-we-all-believe-the-weirdest-things/.

Kahneman, D. (6/16/2012). Of 2 minds: How fast and slow thinking shape perception and choice [Excerpt]. Scientific American. Retrieved 11/18/2017 from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/kahneman-excerpt-thinking-fast-and-slow/.

Moursund, D. (2017). Self-assessment instruments. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 11/15/2017 from http://iae-pedia.org/Self-assessment_Instruments.

Moursund, D. (12/23/2016). The fourth R. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/289-the-fourth-r/file.html. Download the PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/290-the-fourth-r-1/file.html. Access the book online at http://iae-pedia.org/The_Fourth_R.

Peters, E., et al. (January, 2004). Measuring delusional ideation: The 21-Item Peters et al. Delusions Inventory (PDI). Schizophrenia Bulletin. Retrieved 11/16/2017 from https://academic.oup.com/schizophrenia\\\bulletin/article/30/4/1005/1930847.

Sylwester, R. (May, 2012). Creating an appropriate 21st century education: Thinking, fast and slow. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 11/18/2017 from http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2012-89.html.

Free Educational Resources from IAE

Moursund, D. (2017). Free educational videos. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/14/2017 from http://iae-pedia.org/Free_Educational_Videos.

Moursund, D, (2017). Free open source software packages. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/14/2017 from http://iae-pedia.org/Free_Open_Source_Software_Packages.

Moursund, D. (2017). Open source and open content educational materials. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/14/2017 from http://iae-pedia.org/Free_Open_Source_and_Open_Content_Educational_Materials.

Moursund, D. (2017). TED talks. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/14/2017 from http://iae-pedia.org/TED_Talks.

IAE publishes and makes available four free online resources:
Author

David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology. He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See http://iaepedia.org/David_Moursund_Books.

In 2007, Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and books. See http://iaepedia.org/Main_Page#IAE_in_a_Nutshell. Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(C)(3) non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016. David Moursund is the Chief Executuve Officer of AGATE.

Email: moursund@uoregon.edu.

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About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. Current IAE activities and free materials include the IAE-pedia at http://iae-pedia.org, a Website containing free books and articles at http://i-a-e.org/, a Blog at http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog.html, and the free newsletter you are now reading. See all back issues of the Blog at http://iae-pedia.org/IAE_Blog and all back issues of the Newsletter at http://i-a-e.org/iae-newsletter.html.