Confabulation

by lsusr 1 min read8th Dec 20195 comments

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When someone asks me why I did or said something I usually lie because the truthful answer is "I don't know". I literally don't know why I make >99% of my decisions. I think through none of these decisions rationally. It's usually some mixture of gut instinct, intuition, cultural norms, common sense and my emotional state at the time.

Instead, I make up a rational-sounding answer on the spot. Even when writing a mathematical proof I'll start with an answer and then rationalize it post hoc. If I'm unusual it's because I knowingly confabulate. Most humans unknowingly confabulate. This is well-established through studies of split-brained patients, Anton's syndrome, Capgras' syndrome and choice blindness.

Confabulation is lazy evaluation. At the end of the day it's more important to be less wrong than more rational. Confabulation is cheaper and faster than reason. If you can confabulate the right behavior then you should confabulate instead of reasoning.

Confabulation becomes a problem when you misconstrue it for reason. A long time ago I wanted to understand Christianity so I asked a Christian a series of "why" questions the way I'd ask a physicist. His answers became increasingly confabulated until he eventually accused me of attacking him. I have stayed friends with another Christian from the same church who simply declares "I don't know".

Mathematics is a unique field because if you put any two mathematicians in a room with a mountain of stationary then they will eventually agree on what they can and can't prove. This is performed by confabulating smaller and smaller inductive leaps until they're all reduced to trivialities.

We perform a less rigorous form of proof writing when we rationally explain a decision. Rationality is best rationed to points of disagreement. Lazy evaluation is adequate for the vast swathes of human agreement. In this way reason and confabulation coexist mutualistically. One cannot exist without the other. Together they constitute rationality.

Which brings us to antimemes.

Antimemes are self-keeping secrets. Occasionally you'll stumble upon one by accident. When this happens you'll unconsciously shy away it the way your eyes drift from the building next to the Leaky Cauldron to the one on the other side. Normally this is the end of things. You move on and forget about it. Your mind stitches over the antimeme the same way it stitches over your blind spots. But if someone else draws your attention to the antimeme then you will emit series of confabulations.

Saying things makes you believe them. Just thinking you said something (even when you didn't) makes you believe it. The more confabulations you state to protect an antimeme the harder it becomes for you to detect it. You're digging yourself deeper into a conceptual hole. It is therefore imperative to short-circuit antimemetic confabulation as early as you can.

How do you distinguish antimemetic confabulations from the rationally symbiotic kind?

Unlike good confabulations, antimemetic confabulations will make you increasingly uncomfortable. You might even get angry. The distractions feel like being in the brain of a beginner meditator or distractible writer. They make you want to look away.

You can recognize this pattern as an antimemetic signature. People love explaining things. If you feel uncomfortable showing off you're knowledge it's probably because you have something to hide.

Once you've identified antimemetic confabulation all you have to do is set your ego aside, admit ignorance and methodically sift through the data. You'll find it eventually.

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