Positive Aspects of Self-Deception

Understanding the neuroscience and cognitive psychology behind how people process information is foundational to the practice of cognitive security. While we often focus on the “dark arts”- how our adversaries attempt to twist our thinking based on disinformation – a recent Washington Post review of a book by Shankar Vendantam and Bill Mesler titled Useful Delusions: The Power and Paradox of the Self-Deceiving Brain, offers a useful new perspective on how to look at that tension in how we process and understand information. From a cognitive security perspective, I am especially interested in the paradox aspects, and how we factor that into our practice. Individually, we have also seen that blind faith can help in one instance and hurt in another; recognizing which is which is hard to do in the moment, and nearly impossible to recognize a priori.

As the book’s authors note, “If you think of benevolent deception and optimistic self-deception not as a vice and weakness, but as adaptive responses to difficult circumstances, it is not hard to imagine that many of us – confronted by immense pain – might choose hope of lies over the despair of truth.” At a collective scale, we have all experienced the unifying power of myths and legends (even knowing the truth behind them is often tenuous at best), which can be a double edged sword- as illustrated in the review by the discussion on “consensual delusions on a grand scale.” In thinking about the grand scale delusion, I can’t help but be reminded of a line from the movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (in itself, mythmaking and myth-perpetuating of another time)- “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Read the full review, “We’re constantly fooling ourselves — and that’s (mostly) okay.