The Most Important Topic
How purposely deluded and self-deceived are we about ourselves? If we were just rarely and a bit deluded, the subject would be of only moderate intellectual importance. Studying self-deception might offer interesting clues into human nature, but it wouldn’t help much to achieve other goals.
On the other hand, if we self-deceive more often, and on more important topics, then understanding the subject becomes more practially useful. And in the limit of being self-deceived on most important topics, the subject would be of central intellectual and practical importance. It would be hard to have much confidence in anything else without first having a handle on our self-deception. How could we trust our other thoughts, until we knew how to tell where we had self-deceived?
On the very important subject of our basic purposes, i.e., the key functions we most work to achieve via the details of our behavior, I do in fact think that we self-deceived more often than not. We are homo hypocritus, creatures built to fool ourselves in order to fool others on why we do things. While our beliefs seem reasonably reliable on near details, such as what exactly we see and do at each moment, we are quite often rather deceived about the overall far goals and purposes our behavior is designed to achieve.
I have thus become rather obsessed over the last few years with this subject of our self-deceptions. While I feel I’ve made some progress, far more remains to be done. But how is it that so few others seem to share my obsession? Do they a) think self-deception is rare, b) think it is common for most folks but not for them, c) not want to know about their self-deceptions, as they probably exist for good reasons, or d) expect it is very hard to make progress here, relative to other broadly useful subjects?
From a conversation with Russ Roberts.