Here is the best (and weirdest) example of cognitive dissonance you will ever see. The set-up is that Bill Nye, an engineer by training, and a proponent of science, is defending climate science on Tucker’s show.
The first weird thing is that Bill Nye starts by talking about cognitive dissonance being the only reason that anyone would be skeptical of global warming. But he seems to not understand the concept of cognitive dissonance because he believes only the other side could be experiencing it. The nature of cognitive dissonance is that you don’t know you’re in it when you’re in it. It is only obvious to observers. If Nye had been objective, he would have noted two equal possibilities: Either the skeptics are experiencing cognitive dissonance or the proponents of climate science are experiencing it. But whoever is in it can’t know. It is only obvious to the other side. That’s how it works.
Yes, I do the same thing all the time. I call out my critics for being in cognitive dissonance and act as if the problem couldn’t be on my end. But in my case, the context is usually that I’m teaching you how to spot it. And I also talk about the specific triggers and “tells” so you can check my work. This video has a clear trigger and an enormous tell. Best example you will ever see.
The set-up for the trigger is that Nye’s self-image is that of a rational supporter of science with a command of the facts about climate science. He has made a career recently of defending science, and climate science in particular. Nye’s ego depends on being consistent with his pro-science, rational stance. That’s who he is.
Tucker then asked Nye a simple question about climate science. He asked how much of the warming is caused by human activity. Nye’s entire ego depended on knowing whether human activity is contributing to climate change in a big way, a medium way, or a small way. Tucker wanted some details. How much difference do humans make? After all, Nye had said this was settled science. Tucker just wanted to know what that settled science said.
Nye didn’t know. And by not knowing that simple answer about the percentage of human contribution to warming – the only issue that really mattered to the topic – he proved in public that his opinions on science are not based on facts or knowledge. Nye tried and tried to dodge the question, but Tucker was relentless. That was the trigger. Nye could plainly see, thanks to Tucker’s simple question, that his belief in science was just a belief, because he didn’t actually know the science. When your self-image and ego get annihilated on live television, you can’t simply admit you have been ridiculous all along. Your brain can’t let you do that to yourself. So instead, it concocts weird hallucinations to force-glue your observations into some sort of semi-coherent movie in which you are not totally and thoroughly wrong. That semi-coherent movie will look like a form of insanity to observers.
Look for Nye to go totally mental in the last minute of the clip, changing the topic to political leaks for no apparent reason. That’s your tell. His brain just sort of broke right in front of you.
People do and say dumb things all the time, and it isn’t always cognitive dissonance. That’s why you look for the trigger to make sure the “tell” was what you thought it was.
To be fair, spotting cognitive dissonance is more like bird-watching than science. Sometimes you misidentify a bird. But this example is like an ostrich sitting on your lap. Hard to miss. Enjoy.
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