An Hour of Knowledge: Faroe Islands to Cognitive Dissonance

earlier this week, i got lost on wikipedia.  it’s happened to all of us — we go there to get an answer to one simple question like “what exactly does ‘earlier this week, i got lost on wikipedia.  it’s happened to all of us — we go there to get an answer to one simple question like “what exactly does ‘semantics‘ mean?” and 30 minutes later we’re learning about how Nietzsche’s superhuman (yes, this was how i got lost…from semantics to semantics – prototype theory to Friedrich Nietzsche to Ubermensch).

in addition to serving as a nice distraction from insurance, this experience gave me an idea: set aside some time to embrace this ADD thirst for knowledge.  i’m not sure how this will turn out, but i’m going to start on a semi-random wikipedia article with a timer set for 60 minutes and follow the path of articles i visit.  i’ll come back here in between articles to jot down some interesting findings.  here we go!


ARTICLE 1: FAROE ISLANDS

i’m starting here because it’s one of only two places in the world that you can see the march 20, 2015 total solar eclipse (is it really called a “total solar eclipse”? i’m already visiting another article…hang tight…yep, according to the solar eclipse wikipedia article, there are four types of solar eclipses: total, annular, hybrid, and partial) from land, and i’m planning a trip there to witness it.  can’t wait.  anyways, some interesting findings:

  • Irish monks were rumored to have been the first inhabitants of the islands, but there’s apparently no evidence that this is actually true.  it appears that the first undisputed residents of the islands were some Vikings in 800AD (how does “Vikings” not have a link? i would have been so down to click that…)
  • the closest land is North Rona, an uninhabited island in Scotland.  Iceland is about 280 miles away
  • although they’re a part of Denmark, they are not citizens of the European Union.  interesting.  quote:
    “As explicitly asserted by both EU treaties, the Faroe Islands are not part of the European Union. Moreover, a protocol to the treaty of accession of Denmark to the European Communities stipulates that Danish nationals residing in the Faroe Islands are not to be considered as Danish nationals within the meaning of the treaties. Hence, Danish people living in the Faroes are not citizens of the European Union (although other EU nationals living there remain EU citizens).”
  • they’ve been a self-governing country within the Danish Realm since 1948.  now i’m wondering what constitutes “self-governing.”  hmmm…i know what article two is going to be…

ARTICLE 2: SELF-GOVERNANCE

apparently, self-governance is “an abstract concept that applies to several scales of organization.”  well that’s a terrible definition.  let’s hope the rest of the article gets better…ok here’s a good quote:

“It can be used to describe a people or group being able to exercise all of the necessary functions of power without intervention from any authority which they cannot themselves alter.”

oh man the rest of this article is a gold mine for links: i can choose between Gandhi, Thoreau, Roman Catholic Church, Freemasons, mafia, and the FBI witness protection program.  i’m gonna have to go with the mafia…


ARTICLE 3: SICILIAN MAFIA

well that’s not exactly what i was expecting…apparently “mafia” redirects to “Sicilian Mafia.”  my ethnocentrism was expecting to see al capone, but i guess this makes more sense.  i see American Mafia is a link, but i’m going to stick with the Sicilians for now.  this could be enlightening.

  • the mafia is also known as “Cosa Nostra,” which means “Our Thing” in English.  that’s kind of odd.  i don’t know if something’s lost in translation there or if i’m missing something…
  • it emerged in the mid-nineteenth century.  i was under the impression that it had been around for quite a few centuries, so the fact that it’s somewhat of a recent development caught me off guard
  • i’m reading more about the etymology now, and it sounds like the word “mafia” could actually be nothing more than a literary creation…some mafia turncoat said that the proper term is “Cosa Nostra” and that’s what’s used by the true mafiosi, both in America and Sicily.
  • i was partway through the history section when there was a section on the Fascist suppression and “propaganda” was a link.  that’s too good to pass up.  on to article 4!

ARTICLE 4: PROPAGANDA

we’re kicking this off with a great quote:

“As opposed to impartially providing information, propaganda, in its most basic sense, presents information primarily to influence an audience. Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented.”

i find it interesting that propaganda has such a negative connotation, but in reality it’s just a tool.  in other words, propaganda itself isn’t evil…what matters is how it’s wielded and what the underlying goal is.  anyways, some interesting facts:

  • haha this is pretty perfect: the term was originated when a new branch of the Catholic Church was created called the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, which translates to “Congregation for Propagating the Faith.”  i guess it shouldn’t be too surprising that this marketing strategy was started by the churches.
  • the term “grey propaganda” refers to propaganda that doesn’t have any identifiable source.

“A major application of grey propaganda is making enemies believe falsehoods using straw arguments: As phase one, to make someone believe “A”, one releases as grey propaganda “B”, the opposite of “A”. In phase two, “B” is discredited using some strawman. The enemy will then assume “A” to be true.”

i was reading through the techniques used in propaganda and i found the perfect topic for the fifth and, judging by the time, final article: cognitive dissonance.


ARTICLE 5: COGNITIVE DISSONANCE

200px-The_Fox_and_the_Grapes_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_19994.jpg

cognitive dissonance is such a fascinating thing to read about.  in a nutshell, it’s the discomfort we feel when we are holding two opinions simultaneously that are at conflict with each other.  this discomfort leads to predictable behavior as we try to achieve consonance.  some important science guy named Leon Festinger calls this process “dissonance reduction,” and says it can be achieved in one of three ways: “lowering the importance of one of the discordant factors, adding consonant elements, or changing one of the dissonant factors.

a classic example of cognitive dissonance in action is Aesop’s fable “The Fox and the Grapes“, which goes something like this:

“In the story, a fox sees some high-hanging grapes and wishes to eat them. When the fox is unable to think of a way to reach them, he decides that the grapes are probably not worth eating, with the justification the grapes probably are not ripe or that they are sour (hence the common phrase “sour grapes“). This example follows a pattern: one desires something, finds it unattainable, and reduces one’s dissonance by criticizing it.”

this happens ALL THE TIME.  i catch myself performing this type of rationalization on a daily basis.  i could easily ramble on about cognitive dissonance for a few more hours, but my timer just went off, so it looks like this hour of knowledge is up!


RECAP

  1. Faroe Islands (with a brief jump to solar eclipse)
  2. Self-governance
  3. Sicilian Mafia
  4. Propaganda
  5. Cognitive dissonance

it’s interesting how, looking back on it, it’s not much of a jump to go from one article to the next…but if i had to come up with three articles to connect the Faroe Islands to cognitive dissonance off the top of my head, i probably wouldn’t have much success.  anyways, that’s it for this hour of knowledge.  i had a lot of fun with this, so maybe i’ll start doing it on a weekly or monthly basis…

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