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Changing reality to fit the theory

October 13, 2007

Over a decade ago we went to see my wife’s cousin shortly after her marriage. The guy concerned was a audiophile and had spent more the cables for this HiFi set than I had spent on my whole system. Now I am no cheapskate here, minimalist high quality stuff all round, as few dials as possible to maximise the sound quality. However this guy was in another league. The really sad aspect to his life is that he only had one CD which he thought brought out the best in his equipment, and there was me thinking the purpose was the other way round.

The Phineas Gage Fan Club has a delightful post on such obsession with some great illustrations and base science. An explanation for the behaviour is provided by Cognitive Dissonance theory, in which we have two alternatives when reality catches up with out theory: abandon the theory or re-describe reality. Having read this it reminded me of the behaviour of Executives who have just installed some wonderful new system to solve all current problems (you know, life the universe and everything stuff) generally based on some ideal model of things should be, rather than an evolutionary model of potentialities. They know its not working in their heart of hearts, but would you believe it from their descriptions? The other great example is Knowledge Management people presenting case studies at conferences that are often not recognised by the staff of the companies they work for.

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