What is metamemetic learning, and could reforming the way we think combat extremism, political polarization, and irrational fears?
By Sarah Mills
It isn’t an insult to say that we, as humans, and irrespective of our innate intelligence or predilection for learning, are not inclined towards objectivity. We acquire information that shapes our behavior in a variety of ways, including operant and classical conditioning and observational learning. Our beliefs are molded by cultural values, a consequence of environmental factors, but also volatile and arbitrary in so far as they are subject to laws other than logic. Our firmest convictions are passed on through storytelling and reinforced through punishment and reward systems. Author Jag Bhalla writes, “Every culture bathes [its] children in stories to explain how the world works and to engage and educate their emotions,” transmitting social norms in the process. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt states, ‘The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor,” which is fine, if storytelling is a vehicle for logic. But this is, sadly, not always the case, as evidenced by the willingness of so many to die and kill for myths.