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I think what you have done here is pinpoint the difference between true belief and knowledge. It is indeed a very important distinction. I would be wary of using the word “confidence” though, because in US parlance it usually denotes a state of mind (which can be unsubstantiated) rather than express the measure by which your prediction can be considered well-founded.


From a nomenclature perspective, yes of course, in worry / anxiety or similarly, sadness / depression pairs, the latter ones are meant to refer to the pathologic version of the affect. I’m sorry for the sloppiness in my language.

With attribution though, I was intending to mean that affects that are triggered by unconscious mental states are often (wrongly) attrubuted to available external events as causes after the fact, rather than the more common meaning of cogitatively attributing some cause to an effect, as a way of explaining (and potentially coming to the wrong explanation). In these cases the real trigger - the unconscious mental state - remains hidden. I never meant to imply there are no triggers at all, just that the trigger is not a readily apparent external cause one tends to attribute it to. Affects indeed do not appear randomly. In pathologic cases of anxiety / depression (and other conditions), this tends to be the prevailing mechanism. Therefore, I also don’t think that you can “follow the chain of causation” in these cases, because elements of it will remain hidden from your conscious access. You can follow the chain of apparent causations though - I imagine this could be a helpful exercise in CBT, but I don’t know much about that.

When you say “I doubt this actually occurs that often”: phenomenally, you may be right, depending on the severity of the case. Pathologically though I am on a different view. Attribution works in such a way that you will rarely have the conscious experience that anxiety is there, but you struggle to find a cause: your mind will latch on to any possible cause available at the time in your environment, such as “a person looking at you sideways”, but it will not be the actual trigger (which will remain hidden in your subconscious). In these cases, causality is backwards.

You can catch misattribution in the act when no events that are susceptible to become causes are readily available - for example, you wake up in the morning and the feeling of dread just “sets in” - your mind will then wander toward future or generalized causes. If many of your mornings are like that, you will after a while inevitably realize that your anxiety is not in fact triggered by some external cause, despite the fact that your mind will readily, albeit falsely, present you with one.

You have mentioned Buddhism, and I agree that it is successful in mitigating anxiety, precisely because your subconscious triggers (“sankharas” in Buddhist parlance) will surface during Vipassana mediataion, and will be linked to a peaceful state of mind through associative habituation. This is a method of dealing with anxiety I have no problems with.

I have to agree that your method can be helpful when there is an external event to which your mind can latch on, where the re-framing you suggest can quicken the realization that the anxiety you experience has no real cause, or - if anxeity was indeed triggered by, and not attributed to the event - that the cause is not significant. If these are the cases you experience most often, then I understand that you find this method helpful. If anyone is in a similar situation, they may also benefit from your suggestions.

However, very much in the vein of agreeing with you that thoughts can trigger and maintain anxiety, I remain in my opinion that when attributions veer toward generalized causes for lack of an available external event, this method would act as a negative reinforcement that would exacerbate, rather than alleviate the problem.


The right question to ask depends on what you want to know. “Success”, “contribution”, “greatness” are in themselves not quantifiable. You have to change these terms into something quantifiable, that will necessarily come with a different meaning. I do not pretend that I can provide a quantifiable, universal definition for these terms that will satisfy everyone. For example, a measure of success is remuneration, so you may want to ask whether higher paid scientists have correlated higher IQ, and the answer to this would be yes (this is true to almost all occupations). But you may think that salary is not a good enough measure for scientific success, so you may want to go a different route, say, Nobel prize winners, but immediately the exclusion of the peace nobel comes to mind, as it is more political than academic in nature. So what do you want to know, really? What my line of inquiry would be, following what I understand to be the interesting question here (and you may disagree), is to: (1) limit the question to academia (2) not exclude any fields, even from humanities (3) define success by number of published papers weighted by number of citations, as a ratio, to remove length of career as a factor (4) compare IQ to average of the field, not absolute values. I believe this would yield potentially interesting results, but I doubt any such research has been done.


While I find your solution thought provoking, I am not sure I agree with your conclusions. Suffering from chronic anxiety myself, I know it not to be a cognitive process. My problem is not that I spend effort cogitating on a solution to a non-existent threat, but rather that the constant feeling of dread poisons my everiday existence. False attributions are a typical byproduct of this state: one rarely experiences such feelings without also being compelled to find an explanation as to why they came about, arguably, because in a healthy mind, one would expect that such states of mind would only appear when warranted by an external event. However, the problem with chronic anxiety is that there are no such events. The creation of false narratives prompted by a natural desire for explanation only serves to maintain or magnify the state. In the examples you provided, cases where your solution worked for you, the state of anxiety is in fact prompted by real events, no matter how insignificant they may appear to be, and I would argue that the reaction to them was a normal flight or fight response, albeit one that was maybe exaggerated. In the case of chronic anxiety, I believe attribution is to be avoided rather than encouraged. Oftentimes you are experiencing dread without any real external triggers whatsoever, providing no readily available, preferably small threat that you can safely attribute it to. In such cases the mind tends to go toward generalized reasons such as job security, health, financial security, self-worth and the like, which really only serve to aggravate the situation, as these are not simple events that are temporally limited or that can be dismissed as insignificant. Transforming an already false attribution of “I am anxious that I will lose my job” into “I am threatened that I will lose my job” serves no purpose, or so it seems, unless it also helps in the realization that there are in fact no actual threats to your continued employment at that precise moment (the value of which would be dubious in any case, as your mind will then wander to find other causes for your feeling of anxiety). Maybe your solution works in cases where an over-exaggerated response to stimuli is the issue, but in cases where anxiety exists without obvious external causes, where false attribution is a bigger problem, I would still think that addressing the false attribution itself by realizing that your mind state has no cause is a safer approach.

Answer by rpapp10

Your question is not well defined. Who are “best scientists”? What is “academic success”? How do you qualify “contribution”? Academia is a social institution as much as a scientific one, recognized success depends on power structures and social skills as much IQ. As far as contributions go, a relevant contribution does not necessarily require high intelligence: for example, the matrix equations used today in quantum electro-dynamics were found by someone remembering that they saw a mathematical formula somewhere that fit the experimental results. Also there is an argument in favor of method and perseverance as opposed to geniality in some fields of study. Depending on what scientific field you are looking at, how you define “best” and “success”, you can find any answer you please to this question really. For example, if you define “best” and “success” to only apply to those endeavors where high IQ is actually required, there you have your correlation.