Thoughts on the Undecideds: Rational Thinkers Vs. Intuitive Thinkers in a Low-Fact Environment

Before I left for Florida, I spent a lot of time trying to understand how people could possibly be undecided in this election. And also how decent folks could support Bush.

Now I feel like I understand a lot more about undecided & Bush voters than ever before. A lot of this has to do with this FANTASTIC book I’m reading called “A General Theory of Love”, an article in the NY Times on the undecideds after the 3rd debate, and my experiences talking to voters in Florida (more on that here in my other FL blog entry).

In one of the chapters in “A General Theory of Love”, they explain a series of experiments and observations that describe intuition and intuitive people:

The scientific study of intuition is just beginning. …[describing a research project involving a gambling game using some fair & some rigged decks of cards unbeknownst to the subjects] After suffering a few big losses, people began having tiny elevations in sweating as they considered drawing a card from the risky decks. Bodily tension was the only indicator of an impending hunch; by the twentieth round none could express any verbal inkling that the cards were stacked against them. After fifty or so turns, people began to suspect that they should avoid the [riskiest] decks, although they couldn’t explain the reason for doing so. After playing eighty cards, two thirds of the subjects had figured out which decks to choose and why. Although the remaining third did not attain this conceptual stage, they were still able to win by using their sharpening intuition.

As we move through the world we tend to presume that success comes from understanding. The brightness of rationality’s arrow beam makes this supposition nearly inescapable…. But these … [studies] reveal our lives lit by the diffuse glow of a second sun we never see. When confronted with repetitive experiences, the brain unconsciously extracts the rules that underlie them.

For me intuitive-based people and things have always seemed strange and less valuable frankly. I was raised in a house where rationality was so exalted we might have well burned incense before a statue of Mr. Spock (a childhood role model). Lately, I have started to understand and appreciate the subconscious, the intuitive, and the a-rational more and more from lots and lots of sources & have begun to respect it more than I ever have before (One of these sources is my my girlfriend who is both rationally smart and DANGEROUSLY intuitive) But I’m beginning to think this is directly relevant to understanding the undecideds….

From reading the New York times article about undecideds I began to get a sense of why people felt differently than I did about the election. And campaigning in Fl has given me a mental model for it:

If you are a person who doesn’t have much exposure to facts or finds the world too complex to deal with rationally, you may very easily begin going with instinct, or feel for candidates – and i can see why Bush would feel better. In this case the “diffuse glow” of intuition is the only light by which you really pilot. Similarly I could see how you could get to being undecided – if you were more of a rational thinker, but still devoid of facts. Both sides hit you with competeing and confusing counter-“facts”. The result is that you don’t know who to trust or who to vote for.

The reason this happens is that we as a society probably don’t read enough. Newspapers do a better job covering the depth of issues more often than television journalism. Of course education takes a bit of the blame as well obviously, we need to make better critical thinkers methinks….. I guess that is also a class issue…..

Well enough for now. I wrote most of this on the plane back to SF & have been averaging 3.5 hours of sleep per night for the past few days. I’m going to spend a week doing the easy-fun-thing: my job. Then i think I’ll head back to FL (if I can) for the end game.

.ps reported this study called “The Separate Realities of Bush and Kerry Supporters” which takes a different approach to these questions…

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Undecideds: Rational Thinkers Vs. Intuitive Thinkers in a Low-Fact Environment

  1. Another possible factor (in FL at least) which would support this hypothesis is the presence of Jeb Bush. During the critical weeks of the hurricanes, Jeb handled the loss and destruction admirably–he came across as extremely compassionate, calm, organized and hopeful. (This is NOT to say that I approve of Jeb’s administration in general at all!) I can see how undecided/wavering voters who have been through the huge losses caused by the hurricanes could look to Jeb as a great leader, and then by transitive property, think of his brother in the same light.

  2. For another perspective on why the working class would vote for Bush against their own self-interest (some of them KNOW it’s against their own self-interest), take a look at:

    What’s the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, by Thomas Frank

    For some people, it’s more important to vote for someone in tune with their CULTURAL interests (anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion) than for someone who would better them economically.

    Mr. Frank makes the argument that it’s not about educating the working class because they may already know that the Republicans help out rich people. They may be willing to sacrifice some economic benefit to fight off the impending moral decay of America.

    The book going into more detail about this.

  3. Don’t count out religion. Bush invokes “God” constantly and this has a powerful effect on those whose are strong religious devotees. This and his “everyman” aphorisms convince people that he is one of them and therefore a better (safer, better “feeling”) candidate.
    It’s all part of his strategery.

  4. The world has come a long ways since my early years. My gandfather along with my father who was 9 at the time drove from India through the Kiber Pass and into Iran and Iraq and then on to Isreal and through Europe back in 1934. By the way they were the first westerners to drive through Bushes War Zone. It seems back then everyone loved us. Honestly what happened? The world is not deluded but certainly Bush is.

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