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THIS IS AN OPINION PIECE, NOT A SCIENTIFIC ARTICLE.  THERE IS NO SCIENCE IN THIS ARTICLE.

Why is This Important?

I’ve found that one of the best “life hacks” for me is realizing that people, including myself, base decisions and opinions extremely little on any rational or logical basis.

I speak about this because understanding how people think is critical for”success” in life.  How we come to believe what we believe is foundational to our lives.

Life is based on the decisions we make and these decisions are often based on other people’s “expert” opinion or more often just an aggregate of opinions that we’re surrounded by.

When we don’t understand the nature of how people form positions, we can get sucked into their ideas and waste a lot of time and energy.

We’re predisposed to believe other people’s opinions, but once we realize actually how people form opinions, it can allow us to live life more skillfully by giving us a certain perspective – a 50 thousand foot view.

Over the years, I’ve been appreciating this concept of irrationality more and more.  The more I understand this, the less I take people’s positions seriously.   I used to be the most gullible person, but now I am probably one of the least gullible people I know.

When I hear someone’s position, I only think what circumstances brought them to that position and only later will I engage in the substance of their words.

I’m still open-minded to try things out because experimenting with products and ideas is how I’ve grown as a person. But my experiments are done with a skeptical mindset.

I certainly have beliefs, but I don’t take any of them too seriously, which is why I generally don’t feel threatened when my beliefs are challenged.

How Do We Form Our Positions?

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It’s important to know how people form positions in order for you to understand people better.

My insights here aren’t that these are pitfalls in human reasoning. My opinion is that we form opinions completely based on these, and only after do we look for the evidence to justify our opinions in the science.  If this sounds backward, it’s because it is.

Providing evidence has almost become a joke because we can all provide “evidence” to almost any position we hold to be true.

1) We Believe The Positions of the Group We’re In

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The most significant way we form opinions is based on the group we belong to.

You’ve probably heard of group think, but I find that this is more powerful than I’ve previously appreciated.

We join groups based on our genetic predisposition and environment, or sometimes we just grow up in them.

I grew up in an ultra-Orthodox environment and everyone had pretty similar opinions about life, politics, etc…Very few people became irreligious and those that did become irreligious, it was because they simply weren’t happy, not because they realized that the world wasn’t created in 6 days.

The level of education didn’t matter either since people would explain away any contradictions by some argument or another.

I had thought that by leaving the religious world, secular people would be different.  This was one of the big surprises in life for me.

The secular world and those who consider themselves skeptics are no different than any of the people I grew up with. These include self-described atheists, as we see this group has turned into a religion.

The West has shed itself of religion, but religious thinking is deeply ingrained in what it means to be human, so it’s not going anywhere.  It’s just taking a different form.

Atheists such as Sam Harris and Dawkins believe that if we just got rid of religion, the world would be a better place. I think this is a bit naive, as some other religion would pop up, which could theoretically be even more destructive.  It could be that a less harmful religion would arise – it’s hard to know what would happen.  I don’t have a position on this matter, as I simply don’t know.

One sign that group-think is going on is how predictable a person’s positions are based on the group they belong to.

For example, “Science-Based Medicine” people have very predictable positions and an editor (Harriet Hall) saw the fact that they all came to the same position as evidence of how rational they are.  This is a mistake.  This is evidence of group think.

The world is extremely complex and we are exposed to different types of evidence and experiences.  To come to the same conclusions every single time is to be unexpected because our assumptions are usually different.  In addition, I can predict all of their positions before they even say them because they have a very simplistic way of thinking.

If a writer in that group would form a position that does not conform to what the group believes, they’d subtly and openly be socially  censured.

Take another group as an example – the urban white class in the US.  I see a lot of white people, especially the upper class and educated, fitting into a very specific group.  See this list of stuff white people like.

What I found fascinating is that the political opinions, practices and social signaling of the group were remarkably similar to a religion.

Some traits of this group: they’re social justice warriors, favor the underdogs, extremely politically correct, whole foodists, naively optimistic, they like diversity of skin color (especially having black friends)- but not a diversity of opinions, they’re anti-capitalism/anti-big corporations, they like feminism, veganism, Buddhism, yoga and they believe in nurture over nature.  They also like certain kinds of music, movies and TV shows.

The people in this group have a specific social style (outwardly polite, in an affected way) and often dress a certain way.  I can easily identify such people by social manners and interests.  And people subconsciously want to demonstrate that they are a part of this group, which is why they adopt a lot of these behaviors – as a form of signaling.

If you stray from the party line, the thought police/social justice warriors will spend time and energy trying to ostracize you or get you back in line.

I had the same experiences growing up Orthodox, where many people try to convince you of their “enlightened” ways and these social justice warriors are no different.  They are trying to convert you to their belief system.  It means so much to them, just as the ultra-Orthodox Jews cherish their biblical ideas.

Now I’m not criticizing any of the urban white interests, as I also like some of the same things – but the difference is that I don’t have a religious zeal for it.  (I have no issue with people who do have a religious zeal for an idea.  Again, this is normal.)

I once spent significant time with such a person and I was utterly fascinated how they fit precisely in this mold, all the while thinking they were very “different.”  The suggestion that they were just a normal person brought on extreme outrage, as if that’s the worst insult you could hurl at them.  When they saw I didn’t take any of it seriously, they felt threatened and were on the edge.  Things like yoga were not just some tool to feel a bit better, but it was religion.

Recently, I told a social justice warrior on the blog to essentially get lost after they commented that a picture of mine was racist.  I wasn’t interested in having my flow/thinking stifled by this nonsense.  It’s as if they’re waiting to find something to tell me that I’m being racist.

Sam Harris experiences this every time he criticizes Islam.  It’s this ultra politically correct thinking that shuts down thinking and debate.

Paleo, Veganism, High-fatism and the whole health sphere have this group think and religious mindset going on.

Creating or joining a group and catering to them is the best way to  become profitable as well and gain readers because you will instantly plug into all of the members of the group.

We all have this desire to belong to a group to one degree or another.  I believe this desire goes hand in hand with an inability to challenge the positions of the group you’re in.  If you challenge them, you will get ostracized or be socially punished.

Token resistance is accepted and even encouraged in many groups, but only when there is an implicit understanding that you will accept the group’s arguments and assumptions at the end of the day.

I would add here our inclination to believe authority figures, but it’s important to realize that we only believe authority figures in the group that we belong to.  So Noam Chomsky’s opinion will only matter to you if you’re in the very liberal camp.

In today’s day, many people believe in science, but science is an amorphous blob and you can find a scientist who believes any position that you hold to be true.

The bottom line is we all want to fit into a group.  We subconsciously select a group that fits with our predilections, but once we’re in the group, we don’t sway much from group positions – unless the positions of the group are not clear.

This is why I don’t like to be a part of any group because I find it’s stifling to my thinking.

The people who read this blog are simply here for practical purposes such as healing themselves.  I don’t attract followers who want to belong to a group, because Selfhacked is not a group, although it would make financial sense to turn it into one.

This blog consists of a collection of ideas, of which I generally don’t hold on to any of them too strongly or care too much about them.

2) We Believe What We Want to Believe

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We form our positions simply by believing what we want to be true and what’s emotionally soothing for us.

Even the people who recognize this and other ‘thought perversion’ don’t behave any differently.  That’s what’s so amazing about all this – that no matter how much you realize this, it will barely change your behavior.

Your mind is very good at tricking itself into believing what you want to believe.

This is where conflicts of interest come to play.  When you ask people who have a conflict of interest, they will always think that their own position is unbiased.

When self-interest is involved, we have a limitless capacity for self-delusion and I haven’t seen anyone exempt from this.

This capacity for self-delusion goes in hand with our ability to strongly believe what we want to be true, rather than what is true.

3) We Believe The Opinions We’re Exposed To

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Show me your 5 closest friends and I can tell you a lot about yourself.

I’ve found this to be quite true.   Our beliefs are a product of the ideas that we’re exposed to.

We’re exposed to ideas on television, media, university, friends, community, family, etc…

The people or mediums you’re exposed to will influence your ideas more than anything else, regardless of the logic of these ideas.

If you look into history, you can see the absurdity of many ideas, but I see the same thing when I look at the modern era.  The ideas are different but no less absurd because human nature hasn’t changed.

One reason that I have a better ability to see the absurdity of modern ideas is because I grew up outside the system.  I went to Yeshivah all my life and didn’t get engrossed in modernity.

When I shed the religion, I was left as an outsider to both the secular and religious worlds.   They both seem to have odd beliefs that aren’t based on logic or reason.

4) We Believe What We Observe

This one is the hardest to escape.

This way of thinking can certainly lead to many good ideas, but it’s quite flawed as well.  Perhaps in its sophisticated form, it’s the best we have, however.

There are different levels of sophistication with this type of thinking.

Most people base their opinions on what works for them and believe that this works for others as well.

Whenever I see a vegan or paleo figure spouting how their diet is the best for everyone else, I only know one thing: that the diet works for them physically and/or emotionally.

The person could have studied the science for a million hours, have an IQ of 200, but none of that matters.  That’s what’s so fascinating.

This means that if a vegan, paleo or calorie restricted diet works for you, your opinion will be that this works for the majority of the population, regardless of your IQ or hours of study.  This is an attitude/human nature problem, not an intelligence or educational one.

But even the people who don’t fall into this thinking trap, we still form our opinions based on our observations of those around us.

So if I know 1000 men/women and most of them behave a certain way, I will automatically think that this behavior is typical, even though the people I’m around are a self-selected bunch.

You can realize this flaw logically, but it doesn’t translate into an attitudinal change.  On some deep level, you will continue to harbor the same beliefs, perhaps not openly.

5) We Use Flawed Reasoning

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I speak about people coming to decisions that are not based on logic, but I find that few people can actually reason well even if there are no biases involved.

You can take an untimed practice LSAT.  If you’re not getting at least 24/25 on each section with unlimited time, then you have some flaws in logical reasoning.

You can take a shorter rationality quiz that’s more fun if you’d like.

What’s fascinating is that only 15 percent of Stanford business school students who had received training in probability theory got the first question right and only 5 percent of subjects answered the second question correctly (probably college students?)

You can try these 3 Questions as well.  Take as long as you need to get the answers.

I got all 6 questions right and I generally used to get all of those reasoning questions right.  I don’t consider myself very intelligent.  My memory isn’t great, my ability to take step by step instructions is horrible and my spoken verbal fluency isn’t great, to name a few deficits.  But I guess I am good at logic, even though I also have the other thought traps that I discuss to some degree or another.

The amount of education someone  receives is not so relevant. You see, schools select mostly for dedication, work ethic and memory rather than other kinds of intelligence.  The math and verbal section do weed out those who can’t think abstractly, are slow thinkers or have performance anxiety (tests are timed), but once you’re at a minimum intelligence level, these tests don’t demonstrate other kinds of intellect.

Four years ago, I used to be impressed by people who went to the good schools, but after meeting enough of these people, I’ve been disappointed.  When I meet someone from a top school, all I think that the person is probably very ambitious, hardworking, has decent reading comprehension, has OCD, was well groomed educationally growing up and has a minimum level of intelligence.  Nothing more.

Getting back to my point, people aren’t meant to think logically, even the educational elite.

But even if you were to say that people can reason very effectively, we still have the first four gorillas in the room that distorts our ability to get at a truth.

Some Examples

There are countless examples that I see, but here are a few…

1) A few weeks ago, I get a call from a friend that he’s become Orthodox after he became a militant atheist.  The guy is extremely intelligent and skeptical.

The first two things that went through my mind before he told me why he decided to become religious is that he wasn’t happy being secular and he found a religious girl that he liked.  So I asked him right away and he confirmed both of these.  That’s all I needed to know to explain why he became religious.

The words that came from his mouth after were just interesting in order to compare my view of his underlying motivations with his own ideas of his underlying motivations.  He claims that his thinking cleared up and he was able to see the truth of the religion.  I was fascinated.

2) People in self-described skeptic organizations such as “Science Based Medicine” simply have a different experience.

Growing up in the university system and attending medical school, they were taught to worship clinical science.

The second condition is that none of these people have tried out the supplements for which they think are placebos. And if they did, they may not have felt a difference, simply because some people aren’t good at noticing biological shifts (they’re less self-aware) and it’s harder to notice changes if you don’t have certain issues.

None of these people have chronic health issues that the main stream medical system can’t help.

They are also genetically more closed minded and aren’t willing to think outside the box.  They have a respect for authority such as the FDA.

So they then decide to join an organization like SBM, and they become even more dogmatic because if they stray now, they will be reprobated by the group.

3) Trivial, but this happened yesterday.  A commenter criticized my post about the warrior gene.  I actually agreed with much of her comment, but it was evident that she had the gene based on her tirade.  In fact, I discussed many of her assertions in the article such as the fact that you needed environmental factors for the gene to come into play. But based on the comment, it’s almost as if this went unnoticed.  To me this meant that she probably had the gene, which is what evoked the emotional response (and she did).

4) When we see people hyper-focused on a health issue that they assume the rest of the population has, this indicates that they suffered from the condition.

Such issues include mold, lyme disease, EMFs, gluten, etc…

Whenever I see someone who has an irrational focus on one area and assumes that a larger chunk of the population has the same issue than seems warranted, I know they had to deal with that issue themselves.

In my interview with Jack Kruse, while I was interviewing him I was thinking the whole time that he certainly thinks his own biology is changed by EMFs.  Only after he believed this did he start to try and prove it through physics and biology.

This is why it’s important to realize how people think.  We can easily come to the conclusion that since he knows more, he’s more likely to be right.  This is not so.  I believe he, like everyone else, first forms their opinion based on his subjective experience regardless of his knowledge and then uses his knowledge to confirm his experience.  The problem is…. what if his experience is an illusion or more likely if he’s more sensitive to EMFs than other people?

My attitude is that don’t believe or disbelieve him, but I’m willing to experiment with his ideas simply because they worked for him and some others (experiment is still under way).  If I don’t notice a difference, I will conclude that I’m not as affected by EMFs as he is, if I’m affected at all.  All of his quantum physics doesn’t sway me one way or another.

Science is Not Necessarily The Answer

Science and Clinical trials are great, but they are not the answer.

First, I’d like to mention that the reason people believe in science, to begin with, is because they’ve been schooled to believe so and because everyone else believes in it.

Even so, the scientific method is valuable.  The scientific method tries to find cause and effect by changing one variable.

The problem is we’ve come to view science as a religion, as something that is indisputable when some study concludes something.

We view science as a method to prove something is safe or dangerous when in reality it can’t prove that something is safe or dangerous.  In safety studies, they are testing something on a specific breed of mice, for given time period and in a specific environment – none of which applies to you.

The “Science-Based” ideologues overestimate the information we can extract from science, and they do so because science has become their religion, not just one tool to understand the universe.  This inclination to religionize our ideas is deeply rooted in the human psyche.

If you think about it, science can only prove a very specific correlation, which we see as “causation” because the correlation occurs in 100% of our observations.  Meaning, when you introduce a variable then all we know is that it’s correlating with another variable that you are measuring.  We call this causation.

“Science-Based Medicine” folk have come to view science conducted by people at universities and published in a select few journals as the only worthy method by which we can come to the truth – and they overestimate the ability of this paradigm to come to the truth.  They can’t step back and put things into perspective because they’ve religionized science.   This happens because of the thought corruptions which I mention (group think, they grew up being told that science is sacred in university/medical school, etc…)

It’s also important to realize that scientists are completely corrupted by the same thought maladies, and this spills over into all the work they do.

The vast majority of scientists conduct trials of ideas that they already believe in and want to prove.  Science is also negatively influenced by selective publication, money, ambitions of the scientist and the beliefs held by the peer reviewers and the people doling out the funding.

The soft sciences are an even bigger joke.  You will only get admitted to a sociology program in the US if you have the same ideas as the people admitting you.  And your mentor will only approve a paper that accords with their ideas. When I read a sociology paper, I view equally as an opinion piece published by the NY times – the only difference being that the study is more embroidered with scientific lingo. I remember writing papers in college and when I gave my true opinions, my marks would go down even if the quality of the paper was stellar.  Everyone knows that you have to write what the professor believes themselves, which are predictable these days.  Universities (as a whole) don’t cherish truly independent thought, even if they pretend to.

So the human problem is corrupting science.  The scientific method is a good idea, but in practice it’s problematic and there’s no way around it.

And also there is no logic or reason to say that a clinical trial showing benefit or harm for some treatment is more insightful for you than your own experience.  I believe that your experience is more useful.

A clinical trial is general and can only demonstrate a very narrow piece of information, which is of little use to most people.  For example, the gender, race, age group and genetics of the trial participants are almost always different than your own characteristics.

Most drugs/substances don’t help the majority of people.  They only help enough people to become statistically significant (assuming a drug is FDA approved).  And statistical significance is mostly a factor of how many people the trial has, which is determined by how much money is put into it.  So if 0.1% of the population benefits, you will find statistical significance if you study enough people.

Your genetics/epigenetics plays a significant role in what will work for you, but medicine isn’t practiced based on your genetics/epigenetics (although it’s moving in that direction). You might be that 1/10 or 1/20 that a drug works for and a clinical trial will not pick it up if it doesn’t have enough participants.

According to a Nature article, the top ten highest-grossing drugs in the United States help between 1 in 25 and 1 in 4 of the people who take them (or at least that’s what the science mostly funded by Big Pharma says).  In other words, they don’t help 75-96% of the people who take them – and these are the blockbusters.

For some drugs, such as statins as few as 1 in 50 may benefit.  That’s 2%.  Statins are one of the most effective drugs around.

I presume that the same thing would be true for most supplements.

The article goes on to describe a situation where we need to be doing personalized clinical trials.  Guess what?  You don’t need anyone to conduct your own clinical trials.  You are your own conductor.

Your subjective experience, combined with blood testing and perhaps genetics testing is your own clinical trial. Conventional medicine views this as inaccurate, yet scientific studies published in some top journal which studies everyone else by you is accurate.  Bizarre.

It would be silly to argue that subjective experience is not valid and believe in clinical trials because clinical trials measure subjective experience as end points all the time.

But “Science-Based” physicians lose sight of the fact that your subjective experience is all that matters. Instead, they harp on the placebo effect as if it’s some evil villain.

Clinical trials are good to know what to experiment with first, potential harms, long-term effects OR if you’re someone who can’t notice any change from experimentation and you don’t have the money or desire to objectively check changes via your blood…

The point is that clinical trials have their benefits and drawbacks and there is no fundamental logic or rationale that says it’s better or worse than your subjective experience (I prefer subjective experience).

Organized Religions

I used to look down at organized religions and would think less of a person’s intellect if they belonged to such a group.  Not anymore.

Only after fully appreciating these ideas about how everyone comes to form opinions/positions did my attitude shift.

Why does it matter what people cling to if it’s all absurd on one level or another anyway?

How This Can Save You Time

Once I fully realized that people don’t make decisions based on reasoning, it saps your motivation for getting into a debate.

We waste an inordinate amount of time trying to convince people of our viewpoint.

First, it’s a waste of time convincing others no matter what because it usually doesn’t matter at the end of the day.

But let’s say you’re someone who has a strong impulse to do so, once you realize how people think, it makes even less sense.

When you truly understand how people form opinions, you actually become more tolerant when people aren’t being logical.

Convincing someone doesn’t require logic.  If they are swayed by your position, it just means that they were already warm to your idea and sought you out OR that your voice is just one in the cacophony that they’re exposed to.  If they’re exposed to you all day, you might sway their opinion.  But you needn’t use logic, as repetition works almost just as well.

The most effective method of convincing people is appealing to their emotions rather than any well-constructed argument.

You must remember, however, that you are only one voice out of many and people’s positions will depend on the other opinions that they’re exposed to.  And people expose themselves to the positions that satisfy their emotional systems.  The result is a very polarized electorate, which shows up in our politics.  We, therefore, shouldn’t blame politicians for being polarizing, as they are just behaving in a way that gets them the most votes.

How to Know When You Shouldn’t Engage Someone in an Argument

I find the act of debating can be invigorating even though I realize I’m not changing anyone’s opinion much.

But to my chagrin, most people resort to debate tactics that are meant to get you closer to the truth.  Rather, they are just trying to shove their opinion on you and convert you/bring you into their fold.

I’ve thought back on the times where the debates go nowhere and I realized there are common themes.

So my policy for now on is that when someone uses these argument tactics, I will not engage them unless they offer a reasonable point within the mix.

I try not to argue with people who do the following:

1) Use ad hominems or labels

In almost every debate, people either try to discredit you by attacking your reputation in some way or labels you in some way, which doesn’t address the actual argument.

The more ad hominems or labels, the more you know that the conversation is going nowhere.

Popular labels include Racist, Sexist, Feminist, Misogynist, Chauvinist, Anti-Vaxxer, Quackademic, Conspiracy theorist, Vitamin D Fanboy, Liberal, Conservative, Antisemite, Nazi…

Labels are meant to box you into a box or category and discredit you by associating you with a discredited/vile/unpopular group.  When people label you, they generally aren’t trying to get to the truth or provide a rational argument, but rather shut the rational discussion down.  All of these terms are meant to shut down debate.

Self-described “Skeptic” organizations do this flagrantly.  When I offered them clear and logical counterpoints to their positions, they just labeled me as a “Vitamin D Fanboy” and “Conspiracy Theorist”, even though I am not a serious fan of vitamin D nor did I say anything that can be considered a conspiracy theory.  Bizarre.

If a researcher is someone who has positions they disagree with, they label them as a “Quackademic.”  And if you even question anything to do with vaccines, you’re an anti-vaxxer, which puts you in a loony box according to them (I have no position on vaccines).

I try to never use labels in a debate because they don’t address any argument or bring you closer to the truth.

As much as people like to use the term racist, I don’t even know what it means anymore.  Does it mean that you dislike races that are not your own? What about if you hold a position that one race is superior/inferior to another in some way, even if you don’t dislike these other races?  What about making any distinction among races? Would say blacks are genetically better in some ways to make you a racist, or only if you say that whites are better in some ways?  Can black people be racist against whites, or can the term only be applied to the historically advantaged group?

One reader called my behavior racist for simply taking on a certain pose in a picture and calling myself “gangsta.”  I promptly shut this person out as I’m not interested in killing my flow or thinking if my every move is politically correct because some people are super sensitive to these things.

Sometimes, when I meet such people who are very politically correct, I’ll say something anti-semitic and they don’t know how to respond because I’m Jewish.  My point is to convey to them that they should chill the fuck out.

Sam Harris was called a sexist because he claimed that his readership seems more male than female and had to write a whole post explaining how he wasn’t.  He’s constantly being called a racist because he thinks Islam is dangerous.

Racist and other terms are vague and I feel they’ve lost their meaning.  I find that the most common way they’re used is just meant to discredit you and punish you for the position or attitude that you’re taking.  Same thing goes for sexist. (Of course there are legitimate racists and sexists, but unfortunately the more these terms are used, the less value they have).

This whole politically correct movement just stifles thinking and limits free-flowing expression.  This is why I am so against it.  The thought police patrol the web criticizing people when their thinking doesn’t conform to their own narrow ideas.

If someone wants to label me, I’m not even going to argue against it in the future.  I’ll let people label me as they wish.

2) Misinterpret or create straw men

It’s extremely common for people to misinterpret what others say and create a straw man argument.  A straw man argument is to misinterpret a point and create a weaker argument.  They then criticize that weaker argument.  When I see this I know the conversation is going nowhere.

This happens to Sam Harris.  Liberals will misinterpret what he says and argue based on that misinterpretation and he spends most of his time trying to correct this.  He’s waging a lost war and he doesn’t realize it.

Sometimes, a person’s statement is unclear and misinterpretation is done by mistake, but most often it’s not.  It’s a subconscious desire to prove someone wrong and the easiest way to do that is to change their argument to a weaker one.  Again, there is no desire to get to the truth.

When I argue, I often try to buttress or strengthen  the other person’s argument so that it’s stronger and more solid rather than try to destroy it.  I’d rather argue with an idea that is solid than one that is weaker.

3) Aren’t using logic or reasoning

Sometimes a comment is not coherent or logically tight.  It’s just a mishmash of ideas that aren’t presented coherently.

I tend to not respond to these comments.

4) Are overly emotional

When you’re emotional about a subject,  you’re thinking is completely clouded.  I know mine is.   I don’t engage with people who are clearly highly emotional when they argue.  It’s not always easy to see the emotional state of someone online, but in person it’s obvious.

If you want to see what I’m talking about when I say emotional, watch Ben Affleck.  If you also notice, his argument just consists of labels and straw men.  This is a good illustration of how most people argue.  Another good example is Cenk from TYT.  He’s overly emotional and creates labels and straw men.  I didn’t hear any rational arguments during these emotional outbursts.

5) Belong to a group AND have predictable positions

What this means is that I won’t engage someone in a debate about the paleo diet on Paleohacks.

Someone who strongly identifies with a group and has predictable positions is an argument to nowhere.

Exceptions

Sometimes it’s fun to argue even though you know it’s going nowhere, but if I did this, it would be for its own sake rather than to try and convince anyone.

Even if someone commits all of these, I will engage them if they bring up an interesting idea/counterpoint.

I still find it interesting investigating how people’s assumptions are different than my own.   When it comes to assumptions, there’s no way to know that mine are more accurate than theirs, because in both cases our assumptions are based on our respective observations.

In general, though, who has time to get into debates?  I don’t mind oral debates as much, but written debates can eat up your whole day.

My Attitude to People: I Listen to Emotions Rather Than Words

I welcome people who challenge my positions, but through these realizations, my behavior has shifted.

When I see an impassioned emotional response against a post or position, I don’t look too closely at what the person is actually saying, unless they are giving good logic.

Mostly, I just realize that for some reason which the person is not likely conscious of, they have a strong negative emotional response to a statement I made.  They will then try to bring logic, reasoning or some argument to support their own position.

What’s most important to realize is that people only bring logic to support a position that they already have.  They didn’t come to that position through logic and then develop emotions for it.

I find it more beneficial just to understand that someone is bothered by something rather than paying attention to the words they use to describe why they disagree with what I’m saying.

I then attribute their emotional reaction or behavior to some fundamental human trait and environmental influence rather than any logical explanation that they give, which is almost always more noble, respectable and politically correct than reality.

For example, when people work hard to achieve something good for society, their stated reason is that they are doing this for the good of mankind.  The way I see it, almost always they are doing it to build their status to attain sex, respect, power, influence or to make the world a better place for their progeny.  These motives are evolutionary holdovers to survive, replicate and sustain future generations of their genes.  People aren’t very good at probing their own motivations as to why they behave in a given way.

The way they spin it makes them look nobel and respectable, whereas the reality of it sounds almost evil.

When debating, I try to see how other people’s assumptions compare to my own.  I try to understand how their genetics/underlying biology and their environmental influences cause people to adopt opinions or create a desire to join a certain group rather than a different group.  How does X group form?  Why are certain positions more prevalent than others?

These are the questions that interest me because once you understand these forces clearly, you understand why masses of people are adopting certain positions.

There are still large gaps in my understanding of people, but the more I understand people on a fundamental level and how the environment interacts with their genetics, the more I am accepting and non-judging of them.

This is a work in progress for me because sometimes I still get sucked into believing that logic and reasoning are the underlying forces for other people’s positions.

The takeaway is that you can learn more about people by listening to their emotions and understanding their environment, instead of taking their words at face value.

People’s words to describe the reasoning behind their position or behavior are usually wrong.

Again, I find that the reasons people use to explain their positions or behaviors are just unconscious attempts to frame their beliefs in some noble context that makes them feel proud of their beliefs and behaviors.  I seldom put any value in people’s explanation of their behavior.

Degrees of Thought Corruption

I do think that there are degrees to which people are taken in by these thought corruptions, just like everyone has a differing ability to do well on LSAT logical reasoning questions.

For example, I would consider Sam Harris and Bill Maher as people who are less influenced by these thought corruptions as a whole, even if I don’t necessarily agree with their assumptions or values.

The degree of self-awareness, the ability to reason, ability to be dispassionate and the degree to which someone desires to belong to a group all play a role in how much we are influenced by thought corruptions.

Sam Harris has practiced self-awareness for years, has an analytical mind, is capable of being dispassionate (as a result of his years of Buddhist training) and doesn’t seem to have a very strong desire to belong to a specific group.

However, even the Sam Harrises are far from perfect and are likely to have wrong assumptions, but my point is that there are degrees to which people are influenced by factors that lead our thinking astray.

The Roommate: A Case In Point

I have a roommate who is a unique illustration of some of the pitfalls, whom I argue with in the comments section.

I’ve been debating with him for 2.5 years now and the reason I do is because as opposed to most other people, he’s very logical, he never uses labels/ad hominems or misinterprets what I say and he doesn’t have predictable positions that fit into any group.  He’s an independent thinker.

He used to get emotional sometimes (never like Affleck, though) and when he did his thinking was completely corrupted (he realizes this).  Over time, he stopped getting emotional and I find his thinking has improved.

In addition, he’s not influenced much by group-think and he’s less influenced by the positions he’s exposed to than other people.

However, even though he escapes some of the most common pitfalls, he falls prey to believing what he wants to be true and his own experiences, just as strong as anyone else – if not stronger.

For example, after he tried a low carb diet and didn’t lose weight, he assumed that low carb diets couldn’t help ANYONE reduce their appetite and everyone who claims to have lost weight on this diet is deluded.  Over the years, he’s had hundreds of positions that he was absolutely convinced of that he now realizes were wrong, simply because his own experiences changed.   So his ideas fluctuate with his own experience and he doesn’t trust the experiences of other people at all.

He seriously thinks that everyone with any health issue that isn’t diagnosed by conventional medicine is just a manifestation of OCD (his position changed once he had health issues that weren’t diagnosable- but only his specific health issues).

After 2.5 years, he’s finally realizing the errors of this thinking – to a degree.  However, it’s hard wired into him and he continues to base all of his assumptions on his own experience.  He can’t get out of it.

Another thought corruption that he has is that he believes what’s comforting to him.  His philosophies change by the season, which is in accordance with his mood at that time.  When his philosophy changes, he’s 100% sure that the philosophy is the best one for everyone.  Then in a few months, he has a different philosophy and is convinced that his new one is the one true philosophy.  He usually takes ideas to their extreme.

I don’t believe he’ll ever escape these two thought corruptions to a significant degree.

Everyone is influenced by their subjective experience, the opinions of the group they belong to, those they’re surrounded by, etc…It’s a question of the degree to which we’re influenced by these and it’s different for each individual.

I bring down my roommate  because he’s a shining example of someone who’s well read, very intelligent, verbally fluent and doesn’t have many of the pitfalls, but he still succumbs to other pitfalls.

I still have fun debating with him, because finding someone who knows how to argue is rare enough (with logic, without labels, ad hominems, etc..).

The point is we should be extremely skeptical of people’s opinions, no matter how educated they are, how much of an authority they are or how high their IQ is.

My Own Thought Pitfalls

I am biased about how much I fall into the thought pitfalls that I mention, so I try not to discuss myself much in the article.  But I am certainly influenced as well.

I’d say that I’m heavily influenced by my observations of the people I interact with and the opinions that I’m exposed to.

I am certainly swayed by my emotions and I get swept up in ideas that I later realize were over emphasized.   Only when I change emotional states do I realize this.

I fall into other pitfalls but those are my greatest handicaps when investigating the truth.

You’re welcome to remind me that I’m too fixated on an idea if/when that happens.

Being aware of these pitfalls and self-aware in general will help, but no one can escape the human condition.

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27 COMMENTS

  • Mfon Amana

    This is interesting what you wrote here, however, I still think people should have a degree of stance to their thinking, not because to belong to “something”, but as a result to individual experiences, other people’s experiences and other multi-faceted approaches taking into account many factors (controlled or not controlled). I think the more multifaceted your thought process, the more you might see what is right or wrong, ideal or not ideal, preferable or non-preferable, important or not important at that instant. Thoughts?

  • Tim

    Once I fully realized that people don’t make decisions based on reasoning, it saps your motivation for getting into a debate.

    – this is my life, and I just argue or pretend to agree sometimes just to humour them. I learned this who knows how long ago through observation.

  • Nicholas Mathews

    Didn’t read these completely, but didn’t need to. This information has weighed heavy on me for years now. So disappointing how 99% are completely unaware.

    So happy you wrote this!

    1. Joseph M. Cohen

      Thx

  • Sam

    Hey Joe,

    Just read the entire debate between you and Aaron. As you said, the post is a gold example of everything you mention in your post and I leave other readers to come to their own conclusions. Regardless, in the debate you mention self-awareness quite a bit and about how you think people have different quantities of it. Furthermore you also mention transcendental meditation, suggesting that you may have tried it or are looking for opinions on those that have.

    I, however, want to give you the option of Vipassana Meditation (an advanced version of current mindfulness techniques (I believe Kabat Zinn gained inspiration from a course of Vipassana). I will say nothing more than just put it out there lest any biases come into play. I will however say it has changed my life around. Your job at self hacked is to try everything under the sun. I feel it is our duty as readers of the blog to give you options so that you can try everything. The course is completely free and there should be some centres near you.

    Cheers

    1. Joseph M. Cohen

      Thanks. I use mindfulness meditation when I do meditate (not often).

  • h+

    check out lesswrong.com, speficifically the sequences

    1. Joseph M. Cohen

      Thx, it’s a good site. I like their thinking style.

  • Steve

    Hey,

    In order for one to become aware of one’s patterns, one should be mindful. I’ve been thinking in the last year about a grounding device/technique that would anchor you back in the moment. What I managed to come up with was a cheap eBay electrical massager that I use during meditation. It’s very effective in the first few minutes, but the effect wears off.

    I need to find stimulus that doesn’t wear off as easily. You’d say that’s impossible and that the brain gets used to everything eventually. The sensation has to be itches/pain/electric shock in different places of the body. My latest idea is to eat food that gives you flatulance. It’s crazy, but works like a charm. One definitely doesn’t get used to it and it works the whole day. That’s not a good strategy in the workplace however, I need to find something that causes discomfort in a non-smelly way.

    Any ideas?

    1. Joseph M. Cohen

      Have you tried transcendental meditation?

      1. Steve

        No, my goal is to have a device/technique that would keep me grounded through the whole day, really. I’m aiming high, but I have to make this happen, it would boost productivity immensely.

  • forgotmypreviousnick

    Nice post. I don’t have this problem, because I rarely have an occasion to conduct a conversation.

  • Manny

    Very good!

    One more step on the skeptical path. A big step. But you have more steps to take. I won’t describe what they are because you won’t “see” them now (judging from your post). You’ll get to it when you’re ready.

    1. Joseph M. Cohen

      What’s up Aaron? You’re the only person who would post that comment. You should feel good that I was thinking of you when I wrote that even people who realize the fallacies, commit them 😉 When you’re ready, you might fully appreciate the extent to which you fall prey to these thought corruptions.

      1. Manny

        I’m sorry, good sir, my name is Manny, not Aaron. Manny. Who is this Aaron of which you speak?

        I know you had me in mind when you wrote that 🙂 And yes, of course I fall prey to these fallacies. Everyone does.

        That’s the point. None of us are exempt. The mistake we make is to see someone being irrational in an area where we happen not to be, and then we assume we are more rational than them overall. But we are only more rational than them in that area.

        Other people – not me! – would argue that you are irrational in the way you gather and interpret evidence for your health theories.

        That’s the next step on the skeptical path. To realize you are as bad as everyone else in ways you cannot see. You see their craziness, but not your own. But its there (for all of us). Its just a blind spot, and the thing about a blind spot is that you can’t see it.

        You’re getting there.

        1. Manny

          To be fair, you have not entirely exempted yourself in this post. Which is good. But I feel you’ve exempted yourself somewhat, and that’s too much.

          If we’re irrational and realizing that doesn’t change it, we remain trapped, then it seems, well, irrational to say that realizing this can have practical implications. We can enjoy the comedy, but that seems like all we can do. And it is a comedy.

          The Taoist approach is respond to situations without thinking. The idea is that thoughts, assumptions, and goals prevent you from having an objective view of things. Without these, your mind is unclouded, and whatever impulse presents itself, must be the right one for that situation.

          A nice idea, but like everything else, probably a fantasy.

        2. Joseph M. Cohen

          From my perspective, you fall prey just as much as everyone else. From your perspective I do as well.

          I don’t think anyone’s exempt, but I do think that people are more or less aware of their patterns and can catch themselves sooner. There are different degrees. I think Sam Harris is more rational than Ben Affleck. It’s a matter of opinion who is more or less capable of this and we’d be biased in judging ourselves. But I do think there are degrees of how much people fall prey to thought corruptions, just like there are degrees to which people score well on a logical reasoning section.

          Some – not me!- would likewise suggest that the way you come to health theories is even more flawed. Just so readers know what your health theories are so that we can compare ours side by side….for two years since I know you (and your whole life) you didn’t believe that any lifestyle or dietary change made the slightest difference in the way ANYONE felt. You thought cigarettes, alcohol or hard drugs in excess were not harmful at all and it was just a lie propagated by puritans who didn’t want us to have pleasure. You thought living on junk food (ice scream, mcdonalds, doughnuts) is just as healthy as vegetables. You thought any deficiency is extremely rare. You thought every dietary supplement was a placebo. You thought we can’t reduce our risk for any disease and the only change that made a difference in people’s health was losing weight.

          Of course, all of that changed when you started feeling like shit and thought you were going to die from your behaviors.

          In a recent discussion, you still didn’t believe sugar in excess was unhealthy at all. Your theory is that with weight loss, there is no diet that makes us more or less hungry. Eating a diet of only junk food has no effect.on our appetite or weight. Your belief is pretty fixed on this.

          Knowing you well, I know that your current belief system is very soothing to your emotional system – that we can’t change anything. You want this to be the case because not believing this is very stressful for you. You mentioned yourself that when you read John Gray you feel this burden lifted and you feel relieved.
          And based on what pleases your mood, your beliefs change accordingly – we’ve seen a clear pattern of that.

          Now, by saying “you’re getting there” you’re assuming there is some truth that you’re aware of that I’m not. To assume such requires the belief or attitude that you are more capable of getting at some truth.

          But we know (or at least I believe, especially in your case) that your positions about what’s true are strictly a function of what makes you feel best. So there’s an implicit assumption by you that you’ve escaped these thought corruptions and the shallow humility doesn’t make me think differently. So there’s an inherent contradiction going on here, where you are saying one thing – that we’re equally afflicted – but acting in another way – by saying that I can’t see some truth that you see. And this truth requires having beliefs that sooth your emotional system, which you should acknowledge corrupts your judgment.

          You are a perfect example of someone who clearly sees the absurdity of other positions but not your own, yet you are convinced of your own positions. You are taking clear stands when you know your thinking is corrupted. This is a contradiction.

          If you truly realize that you are as bad as everyone else, you wouldn’t say these statements:

          “We remain trapped”
          “Irrational to say that realizing this can have practical implications.”

          This is your opinion, which you’ve come to via thought corruptions. And you agree that you are not exempt. Yet you are viewing a philosophy that is soothing to you as the truth – a truth that I will soon discover.

          My position is that we can build self-awareness to some degree, but I agree that we mostly are trapped. I also think that there are extents to which people are trapped. I think you’ll get to this position eventually. You need time. You’re on the road 😉 (FYI, since I think there degrees of self-awareness, it’s not a contradiction that I believe my ideas to be more likely to be true).

          Now you can argue that this is what I want to believe. I don’t know, maybe. And so we are at a stalemate because our conclusions are corrupted.

          PS “the mistake we make is to see someone being irrational in an area where we happen not to be, and then we assume we are more rational than them overall. But we are only more rational than them in that area.” How can you judge who is being irrational if you believe that everyone’s thinking is corrupted to the same degree? How do you know which areas you can find the truth and which you are blind to? How do you know you are more rational than someone in a certain area when you acknowledge the corruption of your own thinking?

          1. Manny

            Afflek might be more rational than Harris in other ways. For instance, Afflek probably doesn’t believe the childish fantasy that the world will be better without religion 🙂

            There are different degrees of delusion, yes. My point is simply we are all prone to delusion in ways we cannot see. The idea that we can cultivate self-awareness seems, to me, to be a childish fantasy, and one with religious roots.

            A view based on evolutionary science would accept that our minds are tools for survival and reproduction, not truth. You accept this above when you say people believe what is pleasing to them. However, somehow self-awareness stands magically outside the survival and reproductive imperatives and can give us an unclouded view. It is magically above nature and biology.

            In reality, self-awareness would merely be assimilated to the biological imperatives – it would become a tool, not for truth, but for survival and reproduction, in other words self-delusion.

            This is why a belief in self-awareness is religious in nature – it is belief in something that is outside natural laws.

            Myself and many others have noted that people who talk much about how rational and self-aware they are seem particularly lacking in those qualities. Perhaps, then, this is an example of how a belief in rationality gets converted into the survival/reproductive system. People can go on being delusional with a good conscience, convinced they are rational.

            In your case, when you used to believe you were rational and self-aware you were at the height of your self-delusion. Your movement away from that is an index of your growing maturity. You should be on the lookout for this in other people.

            In order to recognize a truth it doesn’t have to be pleasing, as you say, it merely can’t cause pain. It has to have either neutral or positive survival value for us. (survival understood as what would have been good for us in some ancestral environment, and often at the cost of other goods. Clearly we are not optimized to avoid self-destructive behavior)

            People who are able to acknowledge certain truths are not uniquely honest, or uniquely capable of the awesome and super duper religious superpower of self-awareness, they merely don’t feel much pain – survival threat – from that particular truth.

            So it isn’t true that people believe only what pleases them. They also believe what doesn’t give them pain and seems true.

            By your own criteria of emotional involvement, Joe, when it comes to health, I think its clear I am in a better position to be objective. I don’t care about it. I have dabbled with it a bunch of times my life. I don’t feel my life depends on it. Its perfectly possible to eat delicious food on a healthy diet.

            By your criteria, someone who sees nutrition as salvation might not be the most objective about it.

            To me this suggests a flaw in your criteria. Passion and deep involvement, it seems to me, can be spurs to truth as much as self-delusion. You might want to revise your position on that.

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          2. Joseph M. Cohen

            I would consider the absence of pain to be “pleasing” and your current philosophy or belief in the “truth” makes you the most happy for your current state. I can see it makes you happy. You admit it as well. You are biased about your whole current belief system and when this happens you predictably take ideas to their extreme, because this is what comforts you (or causes you less pain).

            Your view that we can’t cultivate self-awareness simply tells me that believing that we could cultivate self-awareness or that it could benefit us would somehow make you less happy in some direct or indirect way. Your emotional system does not respond well to anything that requires effort and this is apparent by your long term trends. Believing that we can change things causes you discomfort. Optimism causes you discomfort because then you feel pressured to act and do things and you don’t like to put effort into building or changing things. So it would make sense that you wouldn’t want to believe that self-awareness has any benefits, because this requires effort and suggests that we can change things. These ideas don’t sit well with you. So your positions are predictable.

            The ability to build self-awareness and it being beneficial may or may not be my religion (I don’t actually care about the idea as much as you think). But let’s discuss your religion – that no one can change anything. I believe that we overestimate our ability to change things, but you’ve transformed this into religion and taken this idea to its extreme (that no one has a capacity to change anything), and the reason is because it comforts you (I wouldn’t believe you if you said it didn’t). Your OCD activates when you believe we can change things, so this helps you cope. You believe ideas have absolutely no impact. You believe that me changing after I listened to Kabat Zinn had nothing to do with him and I would’ve changed regardless. You believe that no matter what we read, our behavior doesn’t change because of what we read. This is an extreme idea and I believe it functions as a religion for you. That doesn’t make it wrong, but just be careful and realize that this is your religion, just as self-awareness could be considered my religion (I don’t see it as such, but I’ll entertain that notion).

            Harris’s opinion is that the world would be a better place. I have no opinion on this, but you have a strong opinion that it won’t be. I think both opinions are equally unsupported in my book. Both of you can’t know what the world will be like.

            Btw, since when do you believe there is such a thing as a healthy diet? Well it’s irrelevant what you say. I should just check the cabinet and see whether you’re in your ‘junk food is healthy’ phase or not. If I see dates and figs I know that you’re in your healthy phase. And your phase is fully predicted by how healthy you feel, so I can infer that as well.

            My point isn’t that I’m right or your wrong. My objective is to make you realize that you are more confident about your opinion of the “truth” than is warranted and some skepticism is advised. I think it’s perfectly rational to disagree with my assumptions that building self-awareness can be done and can benefit us. But by being so confident in your view of some truth and how you can see it clearly but not me is condescending, contradictory (to your own positions) and has no objective evidence. They are just your opinions, which you should realize are subject to all the thought corruptions that you agree “apply to everyone.” And from my perspective, you are in the eye of the storm of corrupted thought and you can’t see it (you think the same of me, I know).

            Don’t just pay lip service (Or do pay lip service. I don’t care :)) to the notion that everyone’s thoughts are equally corrupted and then be extremely convinced of your own narrow ideas. I would assume that according to your position, people aren’t capable of differentiating when they’re being irrational. How can you differentiate about your own opinions? Don’t you realize that your philosophies are in the umbrella of your delusions? By being so confident you betray your own positions.

            Now my readers can see how you were a significant inspiration for this post. You’re fluid, intelligent, logical and you’re great at critique, but you are equally missing the boat just as much as the people you criticize and you are completely blind to this.

            It’s up to you and my readers to judge if I am missing the boat as well – I might be, but I am entitled to my observations, opinions and assumptions, even if at the end of the day they’re all shit.

            (My view on self-awareness: I think our ability to change is a complex question. I think self-awareness is a good tool to have in life and it can be built via mindfulness and meditation. I also think that once you realize it’s beneficial, you will be more likely to take it up. I also think certain discussions can facilitate more self-awareness as well. But I also think that much of our capacity for self-awareness is genetic.)

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          3. Manny

            What, you mean I shouldn’t have my cake and eat it too? But I want to 🙂

            I’m not contradicting myself. I realize I might be deluded, but that’s no reason not be clear about what seems true to me. If it seems true it seems true.

            Only someone who takes life, and beliefs, very seriously would think there’s a contradiction there 🙂

            But as you know, I don’t take beliefs seriously. Or life, for that matter.

            I think if self-awareness existed, it would serve biological purposes, like all our cognitive functions.To believe in forces that don’t obey natural laws is to be religious. Which is fine, but lets call a spade a spade.

            To believe there is a part of our human nature that can free us from our biological imperatives is an old religious idea that man is different from other animals. Gray discusses this idea a lot. But we’re not. We’re just animals.

            But since I don’t take beliefs very seriously at all, I will allow you the belief in this hoary old religious idea that reappears in new guises every age.

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          4. Joseph M. Cohen

            Lol, fair enough. I disagree with some of your assumptions, however. Self-awareness can be a byproduct of another set of functions that were adaptive (certain kinds of metacognition) or they could’ve been adaptive in their own right in some situations. It’s hard to predict what is and isn’t adaptive. But you are entitled to your assumptions…Self-awareness, like most cognitive skills, can be exercised and improved. But like other aspects of intelligence genetics plays a large role.

            It’s one thing to be clear about what you believe is true, but it’s another to say that in time I will be enlightened and find the truth. The latter implies a higher degree of certainty in your ideas. I heard this a lot when I left the Orthodox world and from secular people with religious mindsets 😉

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  • solomon

    Excellent. You really should read up on Merleau-Ponty and Husserl if you havn’t done so already. You’ll apreciate their work a lot. Existentialism is the only school of thought that only seeks mirrors of life as ultimate truths.

    1. Joseph M. Cohen

      Thx, unfortunately I don’t have time to read books.

  • lordilol

    hi loli

    i was actually surprised that i agreed with alot you have written, i actually thought before reading that it would be crap.

    also people say to me sometimes that i am weird i am preety sure i am normal(?) which is back wards of what you told, i also find myself distancing myself from groups
    for similar reasons.

    for example i sometimes get told in the gym how to do something by gym instructions, i ask them why
    and they cant answer and i immediately drop them.
    if they dont give reasons it just a practice of authority.
    they simply have no idea and just repeat what were told to them.

    i did the 3 questions, i got them correct should try the harder ones.

    i like libertarian ideas, they muzzies tend to force themselves on you sometimes

    i hate social justice warriors, just wana puke from them.
    i am white European born so i backstab the white race
    lolololol.

    so.. i probably had more to write say but forgot lwhat it was lmao.

  • Barry Flath

    Hi Joseph,
    I have checked in on your site daily for the last few months and really enjoy your posts and perspectives. I have been doing the self hack thing for about 35 years now, nesessitated by complex health issues similar to some of yours. Of course the access to information these day makes it far more interesting…like a Russian doll!
    Not much for posting comments (I never do) but love your stuff…a renaissance guy for sure.

    Regards,
    Barry
    .

    1. Joseph M. Cohen

      Thx 🙂

      1. Barry.

        ps..thanks for turning me on to Jack Kruse… useful, thought provoking and fun stuff.

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