Motivated skepticism: it's harder to avoid than I'd think

by Klao 1 min read9th Oct 20119 comments


(I am relatively new here. Allow me to introduce myself with this anecdote, which could not have happened to me before I started reading LW.)


Yesterday I caught myself on rationalizing. It's the first time I caught myself on rationalizing before I finished (verbalizing) the thought. But, I finished the thought, and even though I knew it was rationalizing from the very start, I ended up believing it.

The original question is not very interesting, but here it is to illustrate the issue: I was talking with a friend about US TV series. And he mentioned that his wife insist on watching movies/shows in English without subtitles; to improve their English skills. (I also started watching American shows many-many years ago with the purpose of improving language skills. In English with English subtitles. And it did help immensely, but I never got rid of the subtitles even though originally I was planning to.)

So, my though answer was the following: "How does she know that this helps more than watching with subtitles? Did she measure it somehow?  Watching without subtitles mainly helps with listening comprehension. And I'm already good enough with that. Using subtitles on the other hand is always an opportunity to improve on the more obscure part of English vocabulary. In almost every episode there is one or two very rarely used words, English vocabulary is just so enormous, and without subtitles you'd just skip over it..."  Fully verbalized it was something like this.

Now, the first part of that argument is a "fully general counterargument". And the rest of it, though might be plausible, should be treated with great suspicion since I know that the roots for it are in motivated skepticism. At least, my realization that this is rationalization stopped me from using this argument. But, it is still quite hard to "unbelieve" it. Maybe I should have tried to stop myself from finishing the thought once I realized its nature? Or you just have to pay even more attention, and it will come with practice?  Of course, this is a trivial issue, completely unimportant. But why would I think that it will be easier if the issue is important?