Thinking About Thinking: Formal Cognitive Distortions


You may have learned to think, but how do you know that you are doing more than rearranging your prejudices? Formal cognitive distortions are about learning how to think about thinking itself. You are asking yourself, “Does this thought make sense? How do I know?” Humans have created an amazing number of ways to lie to themselves and deceive others. The result is that we do not think straight and so block ourselves and our societies from waking up and growing up. Understanding formal cognitive distortions is vital to freeing you from the drama created by your enslavement to your emotional reactivity, which is caused largely by your inability to recognize the irrationality in your self-talk. That understanding also helps you to recognize how you are being constantly manipulated by yourself, others, and culture in general, in order to move you toward them and away from your inner compass. The quicker you recognize and challenge the effectiveness of this nonsense, the quicker you wake up, which means that the world has one more powerful voice to help it awaken. Just reading through these explanations of common formal cognitive distortions, taken from a chapter in “Waking Up,” will make it more likely you will spot them, not fall for them, and will be less likely to commit them yourself.It is not enough to learn how to think, which is what you are doing when you discover and neutralize your emotional cognitive distortions. You need to learn how to think about thinking, or to understand the rules of thinking, so that your thoughts and arguments are rational. Formal cognitive distortions are the rules that govern thinking.Your thoughts are explanatory premises that generate feeling conclusions. Every emotional cognitive distortion is a failure in logic. This means that the feeling conclusions you reach about your life do not follow rationally from the assumptions you have made about your experience. A formal cognitive distortion is one that does more: it breaks a law of reasoning. Formal cognitive distortions are not untrue because they cause you to make bad life decisions; because they are untrue, you make bad life decisions.While both emotional and formal cognitive distortions are errors, formal fallacies are mistakes either in your assumptions or in the conclusions that you draw from them. They do not so much make you depressed or anxious as keep you stuck in thinking you’re right when you’re wrong, sane when you’re delusional, clear when you’re muddy, and straight when you are as twisted as a barrel full of eels. Formal cognitive distortions are evidence that you are either not thinking clearly or are thinking clearly in an abusive, manipulative, selfish way, as in the persecutor role of the Drama Triangle.

While emotional cognitive distortions are self-destructive ways of justifying your feelings, formal fallacies are generally due to either ignorance or a willful desire to misrepresent the facts in order to get the upper hand in some situation.  They are called “formal,” because while they are irrational, like emotional cognitive distortions, they involve ignorance of or the willful breaking of laws of “formal” logic. Many of the emotional cognitive distortions fall into this category as well, but the difference is that you can stop making an emotional cognitive distortion in one situation and continue with the same error in other parts of your life if you do not understand or follow the underlying rule, guideline, or “law.” Think of emotional cognitive distortions as more situation-specific while formal cognitive distortions apply to every and all life situations. For example, you may understand how you amplify the accomplishments of others and minimize your own, and then substitute a healthy alternative, such as, “I can choose not to compare myself to others.” However, until you understand and apply the underlying formal cognitive distortion of making hasty generalizations, this problem may show up in other areas of your life, or you may be less likely to recognize it when other people use it.

There are many benefits to learning to recognize formal cognitive distortions. You will be better able to eliminate whole categories of potential problems, whereas recognizing emotional cognitive distortions tends to only eliminate them in discrete situations. For instance, it is one thing to eliminate black and white thinking in relation to you emotions; it is another entirely to eliminate it in thinking itself, as is done when you understand the fallacy behind Aristotle’s Law of Excluded Middle, as we shall see below.

You will think more clearly and therefore make better decisions. You will also be much more likely to recognize the massive and thick cloud of formal cognitive distortions that are directed at you by media, your professional community, politicians, helpful friends and family, and by the spiritual paths that you trust. You will begin to notice them and find them everywhere. As a result, you will be better able to ask questions of what you read, hear, and what others tell you, and your questions will be much more likely to get to the heart of the matter and supply you the information you need: “Is this source trustworthy? Do they make sense? Do they know what they are talking about?” Your improved ability to ask questions will also communicate to others that you have expectations about clarity, reasonableness, and rationality that are important to you. By expressing those expectations you will create a culture for yourself of people who share a respect for such questions and interests while those who do not will select themselves out of your life. This may be a problem if you suffer under the delusion that you either can or should be all things to all people, or that unconditional compassion means acceptance of nonsense or letting others inflict foggy thinking on you in the name of love. Is that a loving act toward either yourself or someone you respect and care about?

Clarity is one of the six core processes that are associated with the six stages of each breath: waking, aliveness, balance, detachment, freedom, and clarity. These are explained below, in the chapter on meditation. Cognitive clarity, which is the major gift bestowed by understanding fromal cognitive distortions, is not the most important attribute, but only one of six to be integrated in a dynamic, interdependent balance. Think of learning the laws of reason and evolving out of fuzzy irrationality as laying the foundation you need to attain the higher order integration of the six core qualities of confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing.

Developing clarity of thinking will also help you avoid depression and anxiety by helping you break your addiction to emotional cognitive distortions, which damage you by causing you to act on wrong or irrational conclusions, think incorrect, untrue, or unhelpful thoughts, and feel self-destructive feelings. For example, if you think, “I failed; therefore I am a failure,” you are unlikely to try again, which is an example of not acting as a result of a wrong and irrational conclusion.  It is thinking an incorrect, untrue, and unhelpful thought, because just because you fail at something it does not logically follow that you are a failure. Such thinking causes you to feel self-destructive feelings of worthlessness. If you allow your thinking to be determined by your beliefs and emotions, your biases and assumptions will keep you from thinking clearly. As a result, your life happiness and success will be determined by the nature of your delusions.

Successful Argumentation

“Argumentation,” or the art of challenging and supporting points of view, is not simply something we encounter in our relationships with others. It also involves our responses to what we see, hear, and read as well as how we think. For example, your thoughts are a form of argument with yourself, but your assumptions generally go unrecognized and unchallenged. The result is a life spent naively assuming the truth and validity of ideas and experiences which have never been thought through, and so are likely to be neither true nor valid. Consequently, you are vulnerable to the simplest of questionings by others, if you have never learned to examine the assumptions on which your beliefs are based.

There is a simple tool for examining the effectiveness of your arguments, whether with others or in your own thinking, known as “Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement.” It puts types of arguments into a seven-point hierarchy, moving from ineffective and irrational at the bottom to decisive and rational at the pinnacle:


To this we could easily add more levels at both the bottom and the top. For instance, ignoring or repressing the existence of a different point of view constitutes complete dismissal, followed by rejection of the argument as worth debating at all. This is followed by a recognition that a counter-argument exists, but is irrational, and therefore not worthy of consideration. This is in turn followed by a discounting of the argument, as “juvenile,” “immature,” or “sophomoric.” One additional attempt at deviation occurs before arriving at the bottom level of Graham’s pyramid, and that is attempted re-direction. If I can get you to focus on something else, like what you have done or not done, or some different issue entirely, I do not have to defend my argument. So we can see that there are at least five different levels of the pyramid before overt confrontation occurs. You will observe examples of each of these prior levels, as well as Graham’s levels, in the formal logical fallacies below.

In addition, there are forms of disagreement that are higher than explicitly refuting the central point, which is the top of Graham’s pyramid. Simply showing someone that they are wrong through a statement of refuting evidence is sometimes a necessary display of power, intelligence, and truth. However, direct refutation is most likely to arouse defensiveness and counter-attack rather than listening or agreement. Therefore, a more artful intervention involves Socratic questioning, which is designed to bring the other party to an awareness of the limitations and inconsistencies in their own argument. A still more adequate response is to present an example, generally in the form of a story, metaphor, or allegory, that demonstrates the absurdity of argument and counter-argument by objectifying and therefore relativizing and de-personalizing both. For example, instead of meeting the arguments of psychological geocentrism with some form of psychological heliocentrism, one could relativize them both by explaining how they are both transcended and included by a polycentric worldview. Psychological geocentrism is the idea that the world is all about me, which means that I take everything personally. Psychological heliocentrism is the idea that the world is all about some projected, ideal “me,” generally called the “Self,” “soul,” or “God.” A polycentric worldview recognizes the relevance and validity of all perspectives, because they can access all others, while still recognizing that some worldviews transcend and include others and are therefore more accurate, adequate, and valid.

Another example is the famous Uncle Remus story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby, in which Brer Fox catches Brer Rabbit by fashioning a tar baby, complete with clothes and hat, and puts it in the middle of a country lane where Brer Rabbit hops by every morning. When Tar Baby does not respond to Brer Rabbit’s sunny “Good Morning, Tar Baby!” Brer Rabbit takes it personally and threatens to sock him to teach him some manners. Since Tar Baby still does not respond, Brer Rabbit first hits him with a left hook, getting his paw stuck in the tar. Outraged, he tells Tar Baby that if he doesn’t let go and tell him “Good Morning,” he will have to sock him again with a rabbit punch. This continues with one leg, then the other, then with a head-butt. The result is that Brer Rabbit is stuck in tar in the middle of the country lane, a dirty meal for Brer Fox. The point is that attacking, or arguing with, irrationality or pre-rationality, simply gets one stuck in tar. A higher order response is to recognize this reality and refrain from engagement, if possible, and to do so without an air of intellectual superiority, which implies phony confidence and deep fears of inferiority.

Such avoidance is not always possible. An important, sometimes essential way to earn attention and respect is to show that you know what you are talking about, and you do that by laying out the facts, but in a way that is not directed at refuting your opponent. An excellent way to do so, famously used by Benjamin Franklin in his debates in the Continental Congress, is to begin by agreeing with and praising the legitimate aspects of your opponent’s argument. This causes them to not feel personally attacked, so that they are much more likely to listen to your counter-arguments.

The point is to recognize that your clarity is determined by the level and style with which you deal with both the arguments of others and those that you have with yourself. Recognizing logical fallacies when they arise is one way to save yourself and others hours, days, or years spent in pre-rational belief systems or stuck in arguments about things that are not worth your time or energy.

As we go through a list of common formal cognitive distortions, we will describe how and why each is a logical fallacy and how each reinforces both drama and various emotional cognitive distortions. There are many more than are described here; we are highlighting some of the more common ones with the goal of emphasizing their importance and their pervasiveness in thinking, conversation, and culture. As we go through a list of some of the more common and therefore important formal cognitive distortions, we will indicate how and why they relate to emotional cognitive distortions as well as to generating drama in your life.

The following list of fallacies addressed here is hardly complete; there are many more! Why are there so many formal cognitive distortions? It’s because humans are so good at repressing, denying, confusing, and avoiding that we normally don’t even realize that we are doing so. And that is why we need to learn how to think about thinking, so we do not embarrass ourselves while impeding our growth into clarity.  See how many of these you can spot in your world:

Excluded Middle

Straw Man


Hasty Generalization

Ad Hominem

Argument From Authority

Argument From Ignorance

Tu Quoque

Band Wagon

Circular Argument

Emotional Appeals

Fallacy of Exclusion

Faulty Analogy

Moral Equivalency

The Fallacy Fallacy

Non Sequitur


Weasel Words

Occam’s Razor

Affirming the Consequent

The “Pre-Trans Fallacy”

The Ranking Fallacy

Excluded Middle

This formal cognitive distortion presents an issue as a conflict between two extremes with no possible room for middle ground or nuance or compromise. You will recognize it from our discussion of the emotional cognitive distortion, black and white or “all or nothing” thinking. It is also known as the “Either/Or or False Dilemma” fallacy.  What gives it a place here, as a formal fallacy, is that it is not only an emotional defense but a mistake in reasoning, completely apart from emotion. As you read the following list, see if you can spot why these statements are mistakes in reasoning:“I’m either a success or a failure.”“People either like me or I’m a loser.”“You are either for me or you are against me.”

“She loves me; she loves me not.”

“You work with dreams? You must be a wooly-brained New Ager.”

“You are either a believer or damned to Hell.”

“You’re a German Christian? So was Hitler. You must hate Jews.”

“You’re a capitalist? You exploit people and plunder the planet for profit.”

“You don’t support the Israeli occupation of Palestine? You must be an anti-Semite.”

“You either support the US or you support the terrorists.”

The problems that arise from this type of polarized non-thinking are fundamental and important. When you think this way you create conflicts where none exist. This is the stuff broken relationships and world wars are made of. It’s that serious.

Fortunately, the solution is simple, if a person will simply use it. To avoid this fallacy, simply ask, “But aren’t there other possibilities?” All you have to do is reframe each of the above statements in a rational way and “presto!” the problem either disappears or becomes much smaller. Is that too good to be true? Let’s look at some substitutions and experience what happens to the “conflict:”

“I’m either a success or a failure.”

“Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail; I do not have to label myself as a success or failure.”

“People either like me or I’m a loser.”

“Some people will like me; others won’t. I don’t have to base who I am on others’ opinions of me.”

“You are either for me or you are against me.”

“We may agree on some things and disagree on others. I do not have to take our disagreements personally.”

“She loves me; she loves me not.”

“She may not know if she loves me, or she may feel different things besides love toward me.”

“You work with dreams? You must be a wooly-brained New Ager.”

“Anyone can work with dreams because dreams are universal.”

“You are either a believer or damned to Hell.”

“Believers can be criminals and non-believers can be saints.”

“You’re a capitalist? You exploit people and plunder the planet for profit.”

“Capitalists do not have to put profit before people and protection of natural resources.”

“You don’t support the Israeli occupation of Palestine? You must be an anti-Semite.”

“Palestinians are Semites and they don’t support the occupation.”

“You either support the US or you support the terrorists.”

“By many definitions of terrorism the US is a terrorist state.”  

Did you notice a shift in both understanding and feeling when you substituted the rational statement for each irrational one? This is a movement toward objectivity and relative neutrality, or a place of neither agreement or non-agreement. Or, perhaps the substituted statement raised a direct contradiction to the irrational belief. The result is that you are catapulted out of cultural groupthink and into a space of relative freedom and clarity, from which you can make better decisions.

If the excluded middle is so easy to spot and so simple to correct, why does it survive? The simple reason is that it justifies what people want to do. For example, if you want to hate, attack, or kill someone the first thing you need to do is demonize them. If you get challenged at this, or do not allow yourself to do so, it is much harder to justify attacks of all kinds. The historical US stance of “exceptionalism” is a nationalistic expression of this logical fallacy: “There is me, and there are all the rest.”

The belief that things either are or are not was codified in Aristotle’s rules of logic before three hundred BC. This principle is commonly known as “the Law of the Excluded Middle.” It says that you can either have A or not have A; you can’t logically have both A and not A. You either have a chicken or you don’t; you either have a name or you don’t; you either are alive or you are dead. A thing either exists or it does not. Something is either true and real or it is false and an illusion. What Aristotle did with this principle was codify black and white thinking and the Excluded Middle fallacy into Western logic.  That irrational conclusion has been thought logical and rational, with devastating consequences, up until the present time. It is only recently, largely because of the rediscovery of the brilliant realizations made centuries before by the Buddhist sage and mystic, Nagarjuna, that thinkers are beginning to wake up out of their irrational slumber.

In the 1st century in northeastern India, independent of Aristotle, without knowledge of his logic, and for totally different reasons, Nagarjuna thought through the Law of the Excluded Middle and recognized that this was a fallacy. He realized that outside the disciminations and dualisms fundamental to the working of thought that life itself is not in one category or another. Categories and distinctions are created by the mind, not life, and when you step outside of the mind and language you can see that this is a law the mind uses to think, but that it is itself irrational. Nagarjuna probably came to this conclusion due to two major influences. The entire teaching of Gautama Buddha emphasizes the importance of finding balance between extremes, or “the middle way.” This principle was so fundamental and important to Gautama that this is what his teaching was called, not “Buddhism,” which was a name given to it by non-Buddhists. Nagarjuna wanted to discover how the middle way functioned in the operations of the mind. The other major influence was his direct and personal experience of non-dual states, first in meditation and then generalized into clear, non thought-mediated perception in his everyday life.

When Nagarjuna united these two influences, one philosophical and the other personal and experiential, the result was the creation not only of a new, deeper way to understand the fallacy of the Excluded Middle, but a powerful meditation tool. In his famous “tetralemma,” Nagarjuna observed that there are four possible ways of considering anyone, anything, any idea, emotion, or experience. Either:

“It is.” (“It exists.”)

“It is not.” (“It does not exist.”)

“It is both this and that.”

“It is neither this nor that.”

Nagarjuna discovered that when you suspend all four of these assumptions you inevitably find yourself not only outside of Aristotelian logic; you effectively move your cognitive processes into neutral. It becomes impossible to interpret, analyze, or reason. Don’t believe me; it is far too important to take anyone’s word on this. Try it now. Take a thought of your choice and suspend all four of these possibilities. Let’s say you look at your hand. It exists as an experience mediated by a mental concept, the word “hand.” Now suspend that concept by telling yourself, “My hand does not exist.” By this you may mean it is energy, or a figment of your imagination, or whatever, but the point is that your hand no longer exists for you. Don’t just imagine that intellectually; try to believe that it is true, that your hand really does not exist. Now suspend the assumption that therefore it does not exist. What happens? You are no longer affirming the reality of your hand, nor are you denying its reality. So where is it? What is it? Now take the next statement, “It is both this and that,” and deny it. If neither of these statements are true, that it both exists and does not exist at the same time, what does that mean? Where and what is your hand? Finally, take the last escape hatch for your rational mind. Take the only remaining possibility and deny it: “My hand neither exists nor does it not exist.” Now feel what the result is. Do you experience how your mind now is deprived of any and all ways to grasp, understand, or deal with the experience of what you call your hand? You have launched yourself into a meditative, open, but fully conscious and present space in the here and now, because you have shifted the discriminating powers of your thought into neutral. Notice that your experience of your hand continues to exist. Nothing has changed experientially; what has changed is that your thought processes can no longer “stand in,” “represent,” or “signify” your “hand” with a word as a form of mental shorthand or shortcut. Instead, nothing “stands for” or “mediates between” the experience of your hand and “you.” There is no distinction between “you” and your “hand.” Now imagine if you extended this thought experiment routinely to everyone and everything in your life. What would be different? You would still use the shortcuts of your mental distinctions whenever you wanted, but they would no longer be the default or assumed structure that you use to experience the world.

Notice that the way you experience the world when you do this experiment is not the same as pre-rational experience. Following Nagarjuna’s tetralemma does not regress you to a pre-personal, pre-rational fusion with oneness. Your ability to think rationally and make distinctions still exists; you have simply parked it in neutral for the time being. However, with pre-rational levels of development you can’t give up rational thought processes because you aren’t yet rational. Your experience is mediated by your emotional preferences and your beliefs, but not rationality, because you have not yet learned to think, much less think about thinking. You can’t give up your rational identity if you haven’t yet formed one. You can’t outgrow formal cognitive distortions if you don’t even recognize when and how you use them. This is why the transpersonal really does lie on the other side of the rational and that there really is a difference between pre-personal and transpersonal experience. This is why those who claim transpersonal developmental levels but who are still wedded to pre-rational beliefs or who do not demonstrate a familiarity with formal cognitive distortions have probably mistaken access to transpersonal states via psychic, mystical, or near death experiences for stable, ongoing access to transpersonal stages of development. They aren’t nearly as evolved as they think they are.

No one automatically learns to be rational or how to think about thinking. These are skills that are not hard-wired, like walking or talking, or survival skills taught in most families or cultures. On the contrary, they involve questioning authority, which can be life-threatening at pre-personal levels of personal and social organization. Therefore, families and societies tend to discourage learning these skills, except in specific, well-defined ways, like philosophy, math, and technologies. This is why much of the information on cognitive distortions in the previous chapter, the current one, and the subsequent one, may be new to you: society has not recognized adaptive or survival value in learning these things. Learning to discriminate between rational and irrational thinking can come into direct conflict with family, business, religious, and governmental interests.  Nevertheless, if you desire to grow into personal levels of development, learning how to think and to think about thinking are requirements; they are not optional. They are pre-requisites to your evolution into higher stages of development. All the hard work you are doing to recognize emotional, formal, and perceptual cognitive distortions makes possible growth into radically freeing, open, and accepting transpersonal perspectives that you could not access before, because even in mystical state openings, lucid dreams, or near death experiences lower levels of development necessarily distort and misinterpret them.

IDL teaches you how you keep yourself stuck in drama and then gives you tools to witness both your thoughts and feelings while accessing non-dual perspectives. The practical advantage of cultivating the ability to be present in such a space is that it is free of drama. You are in the world but not of it. Bad things still happen, but they do not happen to the “you” that is free, that is at complete peace, and which witnesses all of the dimensions of human experience without judgment.

Do you see the importance of the fallacy of the Excluded Middle? When and where do you see it in your world, relationships, and thinking? When are you vulnerable to it? How do you respond to it? What do you want to do about it? How might your life be different if you recognized and eliminated this formal cognitive distortion?

Middle Ground

Wile E. Coyote Disappearing into the Middle Ground

Learning to experience a “middle ground” between the dualities of life is different from declaring an irrational compromise. A middle point between two extremes is not the same as the truth. Sometimes a thing is simply untrue and a compromise is also untrue. Half-way between truth and a lie, is still a lie.

This is also known as the “Golden Mean Fallacy,” or the “Fallacy of Moderation.” Because “enough” is the middle ground between “too much” and “too little,” it does not follow that “enough” either the logical or rational choice. For example, if you want to build strength and endurance you need to push your body past its comfort zone and out of its “middle ground.”

Holly said that vaccinations caused autism in children, but her scientifically well-read friend Caleb said that this claim had been debunked and proven false. Their friend Alice offered a compromise that vaccinations cause some autism.

Straw Man

The Excluded Middle fallacy is closely related to the Straw Man fallacy, which essentially paints one side, instead of both, as so extreme no can agree with it. It is used to misrepresent someone’s argument to make it easier to attack.They are betting you are either too ignorant or stupid to recognize that their argument is a re-direction from either what you actually said or a misinterpretation of your position. Often this is done by referring to the exception, rather than the rule, and inferring that the exception is the rule.Here are some examples:“Scientists say we all come from monkeys, and that’s why I homeschool.” (But science doesn’t say we come from monkeys.)“You’re a German Christian? So was Hitler. You must hate Jews.” (But you aren’t Hitler.)

“All Greenpeace supporters support the sinking of whaling vessels.” (Just find one Greenpeace supporter who disagrees to knock down this Straw Man argument.)

“If you surrender your freedoms, the terrorists have already won. You don’t want that, do you?” (Just find one example of deprivation of freedoms by non-terrorists to knock down this Straw Man argument.)

“Stalin supported gun control, you know.” (Reasons for gun control exist independent of Stalin’s decisions. Therefore, the introduction of Stalin into the argument is a Straw Man fallacy.)

The Straw Man fallacy is common in advertising and political smear campaigns. One creates the illusion of refuting an opponent’s argument by mischaracterizing it and then knocking down that mischaracterization. This can sound impressive if you are not familiar with the position of the opponent, as most listeners are not. Therefore, this logical cognitive distortion works because it assumes you are either ignorant or stupid and then takes advantage of your lack of information to persuade you of its truth. Consequently, the Straw Man fallacy is an example of willful manipulation.

However, it could be that the speaker is honestly misrepresenting their opponent’s position based on their own lack of familiarity of it. For example, if you said in the past that you hate immigration because it takes jobs away from citizens, but have since changed your position to believe that immigration is good, an opponent can accurately cite your previous position and triumphantly pronounce you wrong. Because a living source may have changed his opinion, be particularly careful about attacking something he no longer believes. This is a good example of why you need to get in the habit of doing two important things. The first is to suspend your judgment. This is very similar to the phenomenological stance of IDL during the interviewing process. The second is to gather information by asking questions. Are the speaker’s statements accurate or not? It is easier today than ever to fact-check statements and therefore hold speakers and writers accountable. For example, entire sites like “Snopes” allow you to check to see if a story is an urban legend or not. Fact-checking is a form of asking questions of the speaker or writer. Are they credible? Are their claims based on the actual position of their opponent or are they raising a Straw Man argument that they can triumphantly kick to the ground?

Do you think the Straw Man fallacy is important? When and where do you see it in your world, relationships, and thinking? When are you vulnerable to the Straw Man Fallacy? How do you respond to it? What do you want to do about it? How might your life be different if you recognized and eliminated this formal cognitive distortion?

Once you recognize this fallacy, what can you do about it? People who use Straw Man arguments need to be confronted, because if they aren’t, they will keep using them as a form of predation on the ignorant. It is only when such people recognize that they will not be able to get away with this, or any, formal cognitive distortion that they will stop using them.


Dogmatism is a formal cognitive distortion in which your position is so correct that others should not even examine the evidence to the contrary. It is marked by always needing to be right, which is itself an indicator of the persecutor role in the Drama Triangle and first tier development. When you use dogmatism you are unwilling to consider alternatives to what you are sure is right or true. We do not normally think of chronically depressed people as being dogmatic, but if you apply the above definition, it is obvious that they are. When you are depressed, you are sad because you just are. You are a failure because you know you are. Jesus is Lord because you feel it in your heart. You are right because you know the truth. Out of all the many possible or alternative possible ways of seeing, feeling or behaving, only yours is correct, and that is because you know it is. If pressed on this, you may appeal to some untestable reality, “intuition,” or to some unavailable authority, such as “God’s will,” “divine order,” or “karma.” These are not explanations; they are justifications. There is a difference.The strategy employed by those who use this fallacy is to stifle dissent before you can even think of questions to ask. Even when many, perhaps millions, of other people believe otherwise, only you can be correct.  You have seen God and He has told you the Truth. You are the parent, so you “know” what is best for “children” everywhere. Those who disagree with you are “biased”, while you are “objective.” If it is your friend, employee, child, or spouse that is disagreeing with you, he or she is the one who is “disobedient” and “disrespectful.” Dogmatism is closely related to the Excluded Middle fallacy, because it assumes that competing ideas or viewpoints cannot co-exist within single systems. It is authoritarian and absolutist in that there is an unwillingness to even consider another point of view.Dogmatism is also a more general type of fallacy found in all formal cognitive distortions. At best, an explanation appeals to testable, verifiable evidence; a justification is a dogmatic assertion that cannot be verified. Therefore, when someone makes a pronouncement without evidence or providing a means by which others can evaluate claims that are made, they are practicing some form of dogmatism.A good example of dogmatism is a belief in unverified miracle cures like positive thinking, prayer, reiki, and energy medicine. Believers continue to believe, in the absence of evidence, justifying their belief by saying, “They haven’t done enough of the right kinds of studies;” “They are suppressing the evidence because it is a threat to their professional cartel;” “Science hasn’t advanced far enough. Some day they will discover that I am right;” “It’s part of a conspiracy to turn us all into brainless zombies.” Are these reasons or are they dogmatic excuses, rationalizations, and justifications for not dealing with inconvenient truths?

What would you think of someone who claimed that socialism is morally wrong, even though they attend a public university, meaning that taxes support their education? Aren’t they taking a dogmatic position that their behavior contradicts? What would you think of someone who stated that welfare is wrong and all those who partake in it are lazy, even though they accept federal financial aid, as all members of society do, in one form or another? Isn’t this another example of a dogmatic assertion that is proven false by one’s own behavior? We can see that dogmatism relies not only on black and white thinking but on hypocrisy, in that the speaker is blind to their own violations of the principles they are proclaiming. It is also dogmatic to proclaim that certain types of dream figures like angels are “good” and others, like monsters, are “bad,” because there is no evidence presented or way that the statement can be verified. It is true because the long, venerable tradition of dream interpretation says so.

People who use the dogmatic fallacy are generally so rigid in their beliefs that their existence largely serves as an example of who not to be, yet their confidence inspires trust in those who have not yet learned to think for themselves. The development of dogmatic people is fixated at pre-personal levels; they are locked into the delusion that they are rescuers in the Drama Triangle. They will most likely learn the hard way, because they are in no position to listen to reason. Therefore, your responsibility is to protect yourself and others from them. One way you can do this is by using their dogmatism as an opportunity to educate others on the importance of recognizing this and other cognitive distortions.

Do you think this formal cognitive distortion is important? When and where do you find it in your world, relationships, and thinking? When are you vulnerable to dogmatism? How do you respond to it? What do you want to do about it? How might your life be different if you recognized and eliminated this formal cognitive distortion?

Hasty Generalization

This formal cognitive distortion, also known as “Misunderstanding Statistics” or “Non-Representative Sample,” is related to the emotional cognitive distortion of exaggeration or overgeneralization, and is therefore found in many different logical fallacies, such as the “Argument from Authority.” It mistakes a small incidence for a larger trend.  People do this all the time with anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal reports of miracle cures are often used as testimonials to lure the gullible into parting with their money seeking placebo treatments. If they understood the formal cognitive distortion of hasty generalization they would say, “Wait a minute! This is an impressive result, but impressive results normally happen with placebos. Is there any research that shows that this treatment performs above chance?” Because a friend’s cancer went into spontaneous remission when they started drinking wheat grass you decide wheat grass kills cancer. This is an example of lazy and sloppy thinking: we can’t be bothered to check our assumptions, because they are comfortable and agree with what we want to believe.A related fallacy has been called “Composition/Division.” It assumes that what’s true about one part of something has to be applied to all, or other, parts of it. This is because often, when something is true for the part, it does also apply to the whole, but because this isn’t always the case it can’t be presumed to be true. Because you respect someone as an authority in area “A,” you assume they are also an authority in areas “C,” “L,” and “Z.” It says, “because Einstein knows a lot about physics, he must also know a lot about God, religion, philosophy, psychology, relationships and ballet.” “Because Fred has amazing lucid dream experiences, he must be enlightened.”When you rely too much on authority, whether as power or knowledge, you are indulging on the fallacy of hasty generalization. You are giving your power away to those who may not have earned your trust. View the authorities you rely on as resources for decision-making, rather than as providing the final say concerning any issue. For example, the theory that IDL uses, such as this information on cognitive distortions, is meant as a guide to your own verification procedures rather than to be taken as a source to be trusted. Perspectives are not authorities; they are just perspectives, but some perspectives are more legitimate than others. Trust your inner compass! Question all sources of authority!Hasty Generalizations are often attempts at self-rescue in the Drama Triangle because they draw false, exaggerated conclusions designed to defend you in some way. That you feel you need to use them indicates that you are feeling victimized by something or someone. Its use confirms your suspicions, deepening your addiction to Drama. The fallacy of Fairness is another example of hasty generalization. Your partner cheats on you and you conclude that’s not fair, which leads to you not trusting him or her at all, even though he or she is a good listener, parent, provider, and organizer. If you no longer draw the conclusion of fairness, or the lack of it, then other emotional reactions open up. You could laugh at the situation. You could be thankful your partner is getting his or her needs met. You could remain an adult and ask what’s going on instead of jumping to conclusions.

Gambling and winning the first time out is an example of an often disastrous hasty generalization: “If I won once, I will win again.” A rational assessment concludes that casinos stay in business because bets are rigged so that the more you play the more likely you are to lose. Fishing also frequently tricks us into this fallacy; you get a hit on your first cast and assume you’ve found the perfect spot and the ideal lure, only to sit there with nothing for the next hour. If you grow up in a very white neighborhood and only see blacks on TV, you are likely to think that most black men are athletes, gangster rappers or comedians.

Do you think this formal cognitive distortion is important? When and where do you see it in your world, relationships, and thinking? How do you respond to it? When are you vulnerable to making hasty generalizations? What do you want to do about it? How might your life be different if you recognized and eliminated this formal cognitive distortion?

 Ad Hominem

Ad Hominem translates as “to the man” and refers to attacks on some opponent, rather than on the validity of their evidence or logic.  It says, “I can’t win on evidence or logic, so I will attempt to convince people that you are untrustworthy.” Another name for this logical fallacy is “character assassination.” “If I can’t beat you with the facts, let me see if I can destroy your reputation.” Ad Hominem, also called the “genetic fallacy,” because it bases arguments on their source rather than on reason, is the formal fallacy behind the emotional cognitive distortions of labeling and mislabeling. It is one of many examples of changing the subject, which is the underlying function of many formal cognitive distortions. If I can distract you from what is logical, rational, and the facts, you may join me in my groupthink. Ad hominem attacks use labeling to justify ignoring facts or abusing someone. It is one thing to say, “I don’t agree with you,” but it’s another to say, “I don’t like you.” When you judge something as good or bad on the basis of where it comes from, or from whom it comes you are commiting a type of “red herring” fallacy. Genetic fallacies are like ad hominem attacks, but they deal with sources rather than character.If someone is labeled a terrorist, if a politician is finding a need to denounce someone, or if a friend or colleague at work is gossiping about someone, ask yourself, “Could this be an ad hominem attack?” Better yet, if someone is criticizing another person at work or on the news, start with the assumption that it is an ad hominem attack. An excellent current example in the world today is the villification of Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, in the Western press. Could this be an ad hominem attack? The next question to ask is, “Do Western governments and media have a reason to discredit Putin? Is this person a threat to them in some way? What, if anything, does President Obama or Hillary Clinton have to gain by turning my attention to the negative qualities of someone else?” Rule that assumption out first. It is not until we understand this game and why people play it that we can confront it and thereby force them to stop playing it. People use personal attacks because most of us don’t recognize when and how we are being manipulated by attempts to trash someone’s reputation. As always, the solution is first caveat emptor – beware! Question! Doubt! Be skeptical! What are you being sold, and why? This principle applies not only to politicians but to all sales and marketing as well as to friends and “spiritual organizations.” You can ask questions, both in your own thoughts and to others without thereby being cynical. Ask questions and gain information.Global labeling is another example of the ad hominem logical fallacy. Because we can’t or won’t think things through, we stop thinking and start attacking the person rather than the argument, as Hillary Clinton did when she compared Putin to Hitler. Doing so is a sign of defeat, small mindedness, a lack of respect for the intelligence of one’s audience, and an embarrassing reflection on our own lack of ethics.Villifying a person is much easier than defeating their arguments. You’ve already lost the argument when you attack the character of your opponent; you just don’t realize that you have. Anyone who understands formal cognitive disorders will recognize that those making ad hominem attacks are merely demonstrating their ignorance and intellectual immaturity.

Interestingly, blaming yourself, as a form of self-persecution, is an example of a self-directed ad hominem attack. Instead of debating the effectiveness of what you are doing or analyzing what went wrong so you don’t do it again, you attack your own character! Perhaps it is because such irrational self-persecution is so common that people get away so frequently and easily with making ad hominem attacks. Are we so used to attacking ourselves that we think nothing of it when we experience someone attacking a third party?

Personalization is an imaginary and self-inflicted type of ad hominem logical fallacy in which you assume other people are attacking you. If they attack your evidence or logic, you take it as an ad hominem attack on yourself. This is a reminder that ad hominem, as with all logical cognitive distortions that are used as weapons, are first statements about the ethics and level of development of their source. Their behavior, methods, and strategies reveal their character. Another interesting example of ad hominem arises in our dreams when we react to the appearance or the “character” of a dream monster instead of listening to, considering, and addressing whatever issues he presents.

Do not take ad hominem to imply that all criticism of others or yourself is either unjustified or not useful. However, criticism is best directed into questioning, combined with the presentation of constructive solutions, rather than at your character or that of someone else. Nevertheless, there are levels of moral and self development, and our actions create the basis on which people make judgments about how trustworthy, reliable, and supportive we are likely to be.

Do you think this formal cognitive distortion is important? When and where do you see it in your world, relationships, and thinking? Have you ever been the victim of an ad hominem attack? How did you feel? How do you respond to it? When are you vulnerable to using ad hominem attacks yourself ? What do you want to do about it? How might your life be different if you recognized and eliminated this formal cognitive distortion?

Argument From Authority

Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth. –  Albert Einstein

Because an authority thinks something, does it follow that it must therefore be true? Because an authority recommends something, does it follow that it must therefore be good for you? This formal cognitive distortion is the flip side of the ad hominem; in this case, the argument is advanced by appealing to the character of someone: “Support the US, because President Obama is a black and he won the Nobel Peace Prize.” “Buy Wheaties, ‘The Breakfast of Champions,’ because these sports stars endorse it.” The hope is that by connecting my argument or product to someone you respect that you will trust them and not give me, my products, or my arguments too much scrutiny.This fallacy should not be used to dismiss the claims of experts, or scientific consensus. While appeals to authority are not valid arguments, it does not follow that it is wise or rational to disregard the claims of experts who have a demonstrated depth of knowledge, unless one has a similar level of understanding.Sometimes arguments from authority are obvious because the endorsement comes from a clearly false authority, such as a supermodel who pushes cosmetics or a pro athlete who advertises home loans. However, because we are lazy and ignorant, we want to trust and believe, particularly when the preferences of some authority agree with our own.Since childhood we have based our sense of self on modeling the behavior of all sorts of “authorities.” In fact, the scripting that creates both your reality as well as your very identity is largely an expression of this cognitive distortion. You believe what you do not only about your family, nation, education, career choices, religion, and others, but also about who you are, because of the authority of those who were your formative influences when you were a child. Believing otherwise, that your beliefs are your own, is due to another fundamental formal cognitive distortion, emotional reasoning. This provides another good example of just how powerful and pervasive cognitive distortions are. They generate the delusions that we not only mistake for reality but use to generate our own identity.

The psychological hook that causes us to suspend our judgment and believe that someone is an authority stems from the Drama Triangle. Most of us are looking for someone to rescue us. If we will just trust this attractive, high-status person, our lives will be better. Why we continue to fall for this same old ruse is a testament to the undying gullibility of humanity, borne of our unwillingness to find, listen to, and follow our own inner compass. Dreaming provides an interesting example of the fallacy of argument from authority. You typically perceive dream events based on the authority of your waking perception, which is locked in its frame of reference and uninformed regarding the perspectives of the dream characters it encounters. Learning to listen to and trust the authority of interviewed emerging potentials is obviously not easy, nor should it be, because trust needs to be earned and claims need to be verified.

Do you think Argument from Authority is an important formal cognitive distortion? When and where do you see it in your world, relationships, and thinking? When are you vulnerable to using arguments from authority yourself? What do you want to do about it? How might your life be different if you recognized and eliminated this formal cognitive distortion?

Tu Quoque

Meaning, “You too,” this is a fancy Latin name for a strategy for gaining the upper hand in an argument by changing the subject. For example, you say, “Based on the arguments I have presented, it is morally wrong to use animals for food or clothing.” Your friend says, “But you are wearing a leather jacket and you have a roast beef sandwich in your hand! How can you say that using animals for food and clothing is wrong!” Do you see what the problem is here? Just because you are a hypocrite and don’t practice what you preach does not disprove your argument! Your friend is answering your argument with blaming and counter-attacking. He or she is avoiding having to deal with the substance of your arguments by turning it back on you! Here is another example: I comment that you seem to have put on weight. You respond by pointing to my gut and saying, “Nice baby bump. When are you due?”

Like all cognitive distortions, Tu Quoque lands you in the Drama Triangle, either as persecutor or victim. Defending yourself may only put you in the role of rescuer, which keeps you in the spin cycle of the cosmic samsaric washing machine. When you ask questions, in a non-threatening, non-attacking way, you increase the likelihood you can move the conversation both out of drama and to a higher, more rational, clearer level of discourse. Remember that rationality is not your goal but only a means to clarity, witnessing, and transparency: helping yourself and others to get out of your own way.


Bandwagon, is a “groupthink” fallacy that says, “If all these people believe it, it must be true; if all these people are doing it, it must be OK to do it.” We might also call it “adolescent herd instinct.” If you back off and look at the world objectively you will see that both history and the evolution of human consciousness is essentially the story of masses of people jumping on different Bandwagons. Millions of people believe in heaven, the virgin birth of Jesus, and his second coming, so these things must be true. The government says Putin and Russia are bad, so it must be true. Everybody is buying houses at these low interest rates, so this could not be an artificially inflated financial bubble that is going to devastate the economy when it bursts. Our country is being attacked by Them; it is our patriotic duty to go to war and kill them. Everybody loves this pop star, design, or fashion, so it must be good. Psychologists, doctors, and lawyers all supported the US torture program under GW Bush. Therefore, it must be OK. Our parents and culture believe in these things, so of course I do too.When you fall for the Bandwagon fallacy you get seduced to the popularity or the fact that many people do something as an attempted form of personal validation. This is most closely related to the early personal level of development, where identity is drawn from group memberships. I believe like my groups; they provide me with my identity. I don’t have to think, in fact it is better if I do not, because it may put me in conflict with my group if I do. If I go along, I will be rewarded by the group. If I don’t, it is very powerful and may blackball or scapegoat me. It has many, many ways it can ruin my reputation or my life if I do anything to distinguish myself from the values and practices of my group.It is much easier to see the flaws in this argument than it is to do anything about them. But awareness is the first, essential, and necessary step. Knowledge builds up to a critical mass when it turns into well-thought out, decisive action. In this case, that knowledge is awareness that the popularity of an idea has absolutely no bearing on its validity. If it did, then the Earth would have made itself flat for most of history to accommodate this popular belief.Bandwagon ignores the reality of non-majority information, facts, and arguments. It refuses to consider the probability that we are hopping on board yet another collective delusion. It is at the foundation of the madness of crowds, wars, and economic bubbles. When we enter into a groupthink we generally think we will transform it, but it generally ends up transforming us, because it is bigger and more stable in its beliefs and investment in its position than we are. For example, most young people go to work someplace thinking that they are going to make an improvement in the culture or productivity of the company. They do not believe that they are going to become a creature of the groupthink of that organization. However, most objective observers would agree that this is indeed what happens with the majority of workers in any business. This is because the pressures to conform, combined with the consequences for going against group culture, are so pervasive and immediate, that there are few ways to resist. We even see this in family cultures and how difficult it is for adolescents to find out who they are separate from their families of origin. The best most can do is experiment with various forms of rebellion, which have little to nothing to do with establishing their own identity, but instead involve conforming to various forms of peer groupthink.

When I still believed in souls and reincarnation I wondered how they could be so short-sighted and ignorant as to make obviously poor choices, in many cases, choices that resulted in pain and misery for themselves and others. One theory I came up with was that souls did the same thing we do: routinely underestimated the power of groupthink and the Bandwagon effect. From where they were looking, the path forward looked easy: “I’ll just get born, learn stuff, and awaken to myself.” The fact that this so rarely happens forced me to decide that either souls were very stupid or there weren’t independent minds making decisions about where to incarnate. The third option, that people chose to have bone cancer as children because it was their “karma,” was so disgusting, vile, and derogatory to me that I would no longer even consider it.

Bandwagon has also been termed the basic fallacy of democracy, that popular ideas are necessarily right. When you look at the history of popular ideas in democracies, you find that they include race based slavery, legal cocaine, American women not being allowed to vote until 1920, prohibition, exceptionalism, democracy, capitalism, and of course the all-time favorite, war. An embarrassing patriotic frenzy accompanied the bombing of Baghdad at the beginning of the illegal attack on Iraq in 2003. CNN (Cable News Network), a primary global sources of news, displayed a picture of an American flag superimposed over night-time scenes of Baghdad being blown to bits. One of the most impressive current examples of bandwagon is the cult of positive thinking. While it is itself an example of a perceptual cognitive distortion, how and why it has become widely adopted is an example of the Bandwagon fallacy. We will discuss it in the next chapter on perceptual cognitive distortions.

Bandwagon also describes non-rational thought processes that keep us locked in perceptual cognitive distortions, with the result that we stay asleep and miserable. Adolescents, in a natural aversion to groupthink born of a desire to find and create their own individuality, simply denounce one bandwagon for another. They trade Coke for Pepsi, all the time believing that Pepsi is “authentic,” or an expression of their own individuality, instead of recognizing what is obvious—they are adopting a “new, improved” bandwagon. The power of this delusion is so great that you and I are blind to the bandwagons that we are currently on. It is only in retrospect, in looking back at our lives that we can say, “Yes, during that period of my life I was really on that bandwagon!” Since we can say that about every period of our lives, isn’t it likely that we are now on other bandwagons and are just too subjectively immersed in them to see them?

The proper conclusion to draw from the awareness that “everyone is doing it” is that “everyone must be equally hypnotized, unconscious, sleeping, dreaming, and sleepwalking.” The question then becomes, “What must I do to escape groupthink?” The answer IDL provides is the one you are currently exploring: learn the basic processes that keep you asleep, dreaming, and sleepwalking and then learn how to access, listen to, and follow the recommendations of your interviewed inner potentials in order to find and follow your inner compass.

Do you think the Bandwagon fallacy is important? When and where do you see it in your world, relationships, and thinking? What bandwagons might you be currently riding? What do you want to do about it? How might your life be different if you recognized and eliminated this formal cognitive distortion?

Personal Incredulity

Because I don’t understand what you are talking about, it must not be true. I am saying that because I find something difficult to understand, it’s therefore not true. Is that right, or am I just too ignorant, lazy, or stupid to learn what I need to understand? For example, understanding the evidence for evolution by natural selection requires some familiarity with biology, anatomy, physiology, genetics, and geology. If I am ignorant of these topics it may easier for me to just say, “God did it,” and leave it at that. I once read a book explaining human evolution as interbreeding by extraterrestrials, because the human body was too amazing to have been created by natural selection.

When you don’t know the answer, or are not sure what to believe, resist the temptation to reach for the simplest, most popular, or most comfortable explanation. These are generally not expressions of your own intellectual curiosity, but rather statements of your own willingness to succumb to groupthink. In our world it has never been easier to look at opposing theories on any subject and form a broader, more well-rounded opinion based on a summation of the state of knowledge on the subject as it stands in the world today. In fact, failure to do so today with the resources we have at hand is almost inexcusable.

Circular Argument

Circular Argument, which is also known as “begging the question,” and “jumping to conclusions,” simply repeats the same argument over and over again, instead of providing substantiation for it.  The conclusion is included in the premise. This logically incoherent argument often arises in situations where people have an assumption that is very ingrained, and therefore taken in their minds as a given. Circular reasoning is bad mostly because it’s not very good.You do this when you repeat a claim, belief, feeling, or the same flawed reasoning over and over again without ever providing support for your assumptions:“I know he loves me because he says he’ll never leave me, that I’m the only one for him, that he’d go crazy if I left him.”“Gay marriage is just plain wrong.”

“I can’t believe people eat dog. That’s just plain gross. Why? Because it’s a dog, of course. How could someone eat a dog?”

“God exists because He tells me so in His Holy Word.”

“Obviously logging causes severe environmental damage. You don’t have to be a scientist to see that; just go out and look at a clear cut and there it is: no trees.”

“How could anybody date a geek like him – he’s a geek!”

“I’m a loser. Why? Because I never win.”

“ I deserve to be punished. Why? Because I’m a bad person.”

“Global warming deniers are dangerous people because they deny global warming.”

“You should be a loving person because the world needs more loving people.”

“Dogs make better friends than most people because they are friendlier than most people.”

If you read enough of these examples you start to see the underlying similarity of these arguments, and that is that they are tautologies. That means that they say, “A equals A.” No new information, no new reasons, are given for the belief in A. You believe in A because you believe in A. Belief in A is so self-evident that it doesn’t require proof. One more, rather ultimate example is, “I believe in God because God IS.” What is this statement saying? Essentially, “Don’t insult me by asking for proof or evidence in God because my belief is so obvious that it requires no substantiation.” Really? Is that true? Is there any belief that is so obvious that it requires no substantiation?

This is the debate that separates pre-personal levels of development from personal levels. The former says, “Belief stands on its own; the Truth is the truth, and I know it is true because I have seen the truth.” The latter says, “Belief rests on assumptions. If these assumptions are not questioned, your life will be directed and controlled by beliefs that are merely assumptions. You will think you are free while you remain a slave to the belief systems in which you are imbedded.”

As with other formal cognitive distortions, those who use circular arguments have no clue that they are being irrational and will even deny it when you directly point out to them the inconsistency of their thinking. This is why irrationality is dogmatic – it doesn’t recognize its irrationality while at the same time being utterly convinced it is being highly reasonable and rational. If you stop and think about it, how could irrationality, meaning an inability to think rationally, be expected to grasp a rational argument? It is rather like expecting a child to act like an adult or an animal to act like a human. There are different evolutionary and developmental steps, gradations, or hierarchies, and expecting rationality from a pre-rational consciousness is like expecting stimulating conversation from a mynah bird.

This does not, however, excuse you from your obligation from knowing how to think yourself or to respect those who do not. If you do both, you will stay free from unrealistic expectations, unhelpful judgments, and the drama of others. It is not your job to educate those who do not ask you for help or support, but you can build bridges by asking questions, showing respect, being confident enough to be self-deprecatory, non-threatening, and humorous.

Do you think it is important to be able to recognize circular arguments? When and where do you see them in your world, relationships, and thinking? How do you respond to them? When are you vulnerable to the fallacy of making circular arguments yourself? What do you want to do about it? How might your life be different if you recognized and eliminated this formal cognitive distortion?

Burden of Proof

If you make a claim, such as “God exists,” it is your responsibility to prove it. It is a fallacy to say, “You can’t prove that God doesn’t exist.” In law, the burden of proof falls on the prosecution because defendants are presumed innocent until proven otherwise. An inability or disinclination to prove a claim does not make it valid. The more outrageous or out of the norm a claim is, the greater is the burden of proof that is required.If you are going to assume a belief or present something as a fact to others, you have an obligation to first decide whether it is a personal preference, like chocolate over vanilla, and leave it in the realm of complete subjectivity, unsubstantiated and and subject to proof or validation, or whether it is a position that you believe is more, a statement of fact or of belief that you think applies to others or should appy to others. For those beliefs in the second category, you need to first know what yours are. This is not as easy as it sounds, as most of our beliefs are unquestioned assumptions that we believe just because we do, not because they are rational or we have thought them through. The consequence is that if we are challenged on them, we are typically unprepared to adequately explain them or defend them. Therefore, you would be well-advised to take a look at your assumptions and ask yourself why you believe them. Are they based on fact or opinion? How do you know? What sources can you cite to back up your beliefs and opinions? If you cannot, then you really can’t claim you know what you are talking about. You are just a walking, amorphous cloud of assumptions, beliefs, and groupthink. Why should you expect others to take you and your beliefs seriously?This may sound harsh, but isn’t this the sort of credibility you expect from others? Do you want to accept someone else’s beliefs just because they feel good, or make sense to another person? If no, then why should others do so with your beliefs and ideas?Emotional Appeals
Whenever you attempt to win an argument inside your head or with someone else by getting angry, “hurt,” excited, defensive or funny, rather than focusing the quality of the reasoning or the evidence, you are using the logical fallacy of “emotional appeal.” You do so when you state a belief and you attempt to demonstrate that it is valid or a fact, and do so by using emotion to make your point rather than the quality of your logic or by appeal to verifiable evidence. You are manipulating an emotional response in place of a valid or compelling argument.This may include the use of another formal cognitive distortion, technically called “argument from adverse consequences,” and more commonly known as “scare tactics:” “bad things will happen to you if you do not agree with my argument.” This can range from social scapegoating and losing your job to threats of jail or death. Notice that this is different from arguing over whether or not bad things will occur, since this is no longer a fallacy; bad things do happen.Emotional appeal is either an implicit threat: “Bad things will happen if you don’t agree.” (I’ll blame you, throw a fit, ignore you, you’ll hurt my feelings and then you’ll be sorry, I’ll withdraw my financial support, or cut you off sexually.) It can also be an implicit promise: “Good things will happen if you play along with me. I’ll make you feel good and forget about your problems. I’ll make your life seem easier. You’ll get a raise if you are a team player and that raise will increase your status, power, confidence, and self-esteem.” These are promises that you know the other person can’t fulfill because happiness is an inside job, but you will forget that for now because you want money, status, acceptance, and comfort. Who needs peace of mind if you are in a self-medicated delusional daze of satisfaction? Most of us would like to feel good and “win” and also be rational, but if there is a choice that has to be made, guess which side has the most votes?If you are honest with yourself, your daily life is probably run by emotional appeals regarding food, exercise, meditation, emails, your choices of music and friends—just about everything. You want to feel good; whether it makes sense or not is of secondary importance. This is because you are an emotional animal; you were born into and grow out of an emotional identity, and to deny or ignore it is foolish. The challenge is how to balance your emotional needs with what your brain tells you is true, helpful, and useful.

You use emotional appeals because they often work. There have been times in your life when you have been able make people scared and act out of their fear; you have been able to make people relax, suspend their disbelief and to trust you. You know you can manipulate people into not thinking and instead trusting the feelings that you evoke in them. However, you also know that this is often dishonest because it uses the weakness and inability of others to see through your phoniness rather than due to any real strength, other than a cultivated, narcissistic manipulativeness on your part. At some point in life, if you don’t want to remain a slave of your emotional preferences, you have to learn how to recognize emotional appeals and counteract them; no one is born with this ability.

This is made more difficult because identifying and counteracting emotional appeals is not a skill most people learn, because your parents, teachers, as well as product manufacturers and politicians know that keeping you ignorant and unskilled in this area increases their power and control. They get more of what they want out of you, at your expense. Consequently, you fall victim again and again to this logical fallacy throughout your life, not just expressed by others, but also expressed by you toward yourself.

Appeals to emotion include appeals to fear, envy, hatred, pity, guilt, and more. Though a valid and reasoned argument may sometimes have an emotional aspect, one must be careful that emotion doesn’t obscure or replace reason. Most of us are chronic, continuous victims of emotional appeal. All of us start life enmeshed in it; the question is when and if we will ever grow out of it. Do you think you have? How do you know? How can you tell? How would you tell if another person is making judgments and running their lives based on emotional appeal? Take whatever standards you would look for in others and apply them to yourself to discover just how controlled by this cognitive delusion you are.

The broader point is that this is how and why most people never learn these formal cognitive distortions. If they do, they think they are curious but have little incentive to look for them in their thinking and in the broader logosphere in which they swim. Culture doesn’t want you to wake up out of your emotions, because you are more easily swayed and controlled as an emotional being than as a thinking one. We can see this concept in operation with financial bubbles. Everyone stays asleep, denying and ignoring the elephant in the living room as long as possible because they are making money off the status quo. Besides, they have no idea how they could safely transition out of it.  Change is a massive, overwhelming unknown. Then, once the bubble breaks, the psychology immediately changes. Everyone will tell you they knew they were in a bubble; in fact they recognized it when others did not. This is simply another example of groupthink justifying itself. Recognize that you and your cultural context both have strong vested interests in keeping you from understanding and challanging formal cognitive distortions. When you do, you challenge the emotional fallacies that sustain the current world status quo.

To begin, you have to first wake up out of your own delusions. You have to see how and why you keep yourself stuck. This is why you have to learn to think about the thoughts you choose to think, because they determine what you feel, which in turn determines the vast majority of your daily actions. No one else is doing this for you and no one is going to rescue you from yourself. If you don’t wake up, how can you expect anyone else to wake up? How can you expect the world to become a better place if you don’t clean up your act?

IDL believes that an important part of “cleaning up your act” is to hold both yourself and others accountable for cognitive distortions. You can do this by simply asking questions. “Are you familiar with a cognitive distortion called “Emotional Appeals? Instead of thinking, reason, and common sense, it uses emotions to make decisions. Do you think you ever do that? Will you please tell me when you see me doing that?” By inviting your friends and family to “rescue” you from your cognitive distortions they are learning about them and also, if they agree, opting into the underlying principle. In such a way you raise the quality of consciousness, decision making, and culture in your world.

Do you think that the Emotional Appeals fallacy is important? When and where do you see it in your world, relationships, and thinking? When are you most vulnerable to emotional appeal? How do you respond to it? What do you want to do about it? How might your life be different if you recognized and eliminated this formal cognitive distortion?

Fallacy of Exclusion

The emotional cognitive distortion of filtering is an example of the “Fallacy of Exclusion.” You think that some behavior is unique when it’s not. Tattoos or piercings are statements of your individuality, just like they are for all your friends who are doing the same thing for the same reasons. You think your decisions about what you eat, where you shop, and what you think is important are unique when they are shared by masses of others who are subject to the same cultural influences that you are.  This fallacy is also at work when you convince yourself that something is true by ignoring evidence that it is not. We typically see this in belief in miracles and non-verified health remedies and procedures, like faith healing, energy medicine, homeopathy, and acupunture. We want to believe, and if we already do believe, we fight against the questioning of our precious delusions. By definition, miracles are not rational; they depend on belief, not reason. Like Tertullian, we believe because our belief in these things is absurd, irrational, and not subject to reason. As we have pointed out above, dealing rationally with people who make a virtue of irrationality is, to use a vivid simile, like pissing into the wind. Here are some examples of some common miraculous or near-miraculous delusions: The Second Coming; magical salvation from global warming by technology or divine intervention; psychic healing; prayer; government “fairness”, democracy; love (will conquer all). Of course we can all cite instances where these ideas are beneficial and valuable, but antidotes do not demonstrate that they operate beyond randomness and chance. The question then becomes, “Is it wise to build your life around placebo, randomness, and chance?”To believe in each of the above we have to exclude from consideration the lack of evidence, reasoning, and the possibility that our belief might be based on logical cognitive distortions. But to do so would mean to sacrifice our beliefs, which support our sense of self, our world view, and our source of meaning in life. Many of us would rather stay comfortably deluded than to wake up, and that is exactly the choice you have before you.  Waking up means moving out of your zone of comfort, whatever it is. This is as true for me as it is for you; there does not come a point in your development where you outgrow this basic conflict between your desire to pull the covers over your head and go back to sleep and, on the other hand, wake up and face your fears. Notice that suspension of the Fallacy of Exclusion is not to conclude that there are no miracles or that psychic experiences don’t happen (they do), that energy medicine doesn’t sometimes produce positive results (it does), or that love is not extremely important. It simply refuses to base either belief or knowledge on the exclusion of relevant information.Can you see how courageous such a stance is? Instead of submitting to collective groupthink and the fallacy of Emotional Appeals, when you confront the Fallacy of Exclusion you are standing up not only for yourself but for the evolution of human consciousness. To dismiss this as an egg-headed favoring of rationality over love, caring, or spirituality reflects a lack of understanding that the evolutionary arc of humanity lies through reason. You can be happy, yes; dogs are happy. You can have state openings to transpersonal realities, yes; children and criminals can too. However, you cannot arrive at anything truly trans-rational except by first learning to think. To believe otherwise is an example of the Fallacy of Exclusion. You are ignoring facts that do not support your delusion.The Fallacy of Exclusion is also related to the formal cognitive distortion of Hasty Generalization. It can involve focusing attention on your family, nation, political party, religion, or professional affiliation and assuming that important, key behaviors are unique to your group when, in fact, the behavior is common to many groups. If you examine the driving habits of women, you will observe that women are poor drivers.  Yet if you were to examine the driving habits of both women and men, you’d learn that men are far more likely to get into accidents. Consider the increasingly humorous and transparent attempts of the political parties in the United States, the Democrats and the Republicans, to differentiate themselves from each other, when it is obvious that both are in the service of the plutocratic one percent that controls government. Increasingly, it is obvious that their disputes are similar to your left hand fighting with your right hand. Another example is the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. Both are Semitic peoples, with the Palestinians having a greater claim to that origin than the Jews, since the DNA of most Jews traces back to Eurasians converted to Judaism during the middle ages. Professionally, groups like the American Medical Association fight hard to keep other professionals like osteopaths and chiropractors from official recognition, on the grounds that they are in some way “unprofessional” or “less professional,” when the real issue is money and protecting sources of income. This brings us to a general rule of thumb when considering the rationality of an argument. Ask yourself, “Might there be other motivations than what are being presented?” The first alternative to rule out is indicated by the famous adage, “follow the money.” “Is there money to be made here?” “Could that desire be motivating the argument?”

To avoid falling for the Fallacy of Exclusion, ask yourself, “What information might I be ignoring?” Generally we are too blind and subjectively enmeshed in our biases and assumptions to answer this question. This is why IDL recommends triangulation, in which you compare the perspectives of respected external authorities with those of interviewed emerging potentials, and your own common sense.

Do you see the relevancy of the Fallacy of Exclusion? When and where do you see it in your world, relationships, and thinking? When are you vulnerable to it? How do you respond to this formal cognitive distortion? What do you want to do about it? How might your life be different if you recognized and eliminated this formal cognitive distortion?

Loaded Question

“Have you stopped beating your wife?” If I ask you this question you can’t answer without incriminating yourself. If you say “No,” I can frame your answer as a denial of your behavior. If you say “Yes,” I can use it as proof that you did, in fact, beat your wife.” I am asking you a question that has an assumption built into it so that it can’t be answered without you appearing guilty.

Loaded Question fallacies are particularly effective at derailing rational debates because of their inflammatory nature and use of innuendo. The victim of this underhanded attack is compelled to defend themselves and think quickly. One has to first recognize this is a logical fallacy and point that out, moving the context of the conversation to the rules of engagement rather than falling for debate within an irrational context.

Another example is the question, “I’ll never be able to trust you, will I?” If you answer “yes,” how am I going to trust that you are telling the truth, since I have just said I don’t trust you? If you say “no,” which is true, because you will never be able to live up to my impossible expectations, nor should you, I will triumphantly declare that you are untrustworthy. This is another example of how the Loaded Question Fallacy often reveals a mental predisposition toward an underlying perceptual cognitive distortion that is no-win. That means, nothing that anyone says or does is going to invalidate the fossilized, baked-in, frozen suppositions of the other person. To attempt to reason with, love, understand, or support such a perspective, position, or personality is taken as concurrence, support, and validation. Therefore, the only solution is to move to a meta-analysis of the logic and motivations behind the position itself. But this cannot be done until you learn how to think about thinking and learn how to recognize not only logical fallacies but perceptual cognitive distortions.

Do you see the relevancy of the Loaded Question Fallacy? When and where do you see it in your world, relationships, and thinking? When are you vulnerable to it? How do you respond to it? What do you want to do about it? How might your life be different if you recognized and eliminated it?

Faulty Analogy

Because language functions through comparisons and making distinctions, it is both common and useful to argue the validity of one point by comparing it to another, as Consumer Reports does when it compares the features of one product with another.  However, if the comparison suggests that two things are more alike than they really are, then the formal cognitive distortion of Faulty Analogy is being used. Examples include,”Iraq is another quagmire, just like Vietnam.”“Meat is murder”    “If we legalize gay marriage, next we’ll legalize marriage between men and their pets.”


Theories in psychology are famous for this error. For example, Freud’s theory of personality and psychodynamics was derived from Newtonian physics and the laws of thermodynamics, both of which were very popular in the late eighteen hundreds when Freud was getting his education. However, since Einstein, ideas derived from relativity theory and quantum mechanics have superseded Freud’s theories and so are commonly found in explanations of the workings of the human mind. Are they more helpful? Are they more accurate? For some they are, at least until the next theoretical framework comes along and dethrones the old one. Are common psychological theories derived from Faulty Analogy? Your inner compass itself is not a product of current groupthink and theoretical frameworks, although we are condemned to understand it through whatever cultural context makes the most sense to us. The analogy to a compass certainly is so derived. These cultural theoretical frameworks form our perceptual cognitive distortions, which we will address in the next chapter.

Strictly speaking, there is no analogy that is not faulty, because no two things are ever exactly the same. Lewis Carroll, the Oxford mathematician who wrote Alice and Wonderland, attempted to make this point with the question, “How is a raven like a writing desk?” Not to be outdone, some witty respondent replied, “Because Poe wrote on both.”

When and where do you find Faulty Analogy in your world, relationships, and thinking? How do you respond to it? Do you think this formal cognitive distortion is important? When are you vulnerable to using Faulty Analogy yourself? What do you want to do about it? How might your life be different if you recognized and eliminated this formal cognitive distortion?

Manufacturing Your Conclusions

This fallacy occurs when we find patterns to fit our presumptions. It could also be called “The Face of Jesus on a Taco Shell Fallacy,” or “The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy,” in reference to the marksman who shoots at barns and then paints a bullseye target around the spot where the most bullet holes appear. In another example, a soda company can claim that its soda is a health drink when it finds that among the cities where it sells its products, some of them have healthy populations.

How common is this fallacy? A cynic could make the case that everything we believe is a case of constructing evidence or a “story” to justify our world view or preconceived biases and prejudices. While IDL does not believe this is the case, it does believe that a wise and helpful default position is to assume that it is true, particularly regarding your own beliefs. What this stance does is force you to question your beliefs and search for both justification and validation for them. That process may cause you to recognize their deficiencies and partiality, loosening your identification with them. This is a major step forward in learning to get over yourself, to disidentify with any particular sense of who you are, so that you become more transparent, clear, and less likely to distort the wake-up calls that cross your path.

Looking back over your life, what conclusions have you manufactured that you later recognized were faulty? On what grounds do you assume that your present ones will not be subject to the same sort of hindsight deconstruction? How might your life be different if you stopped manufacturing your conclusions?

Moral Equivalency 

Moral Equivalency occurs when two different moral issues are made similar when they are fundamentally different. For example, politicians love to wrap themselves in the aura of past mythological heroes. In the United States, it is the Founding Fathers or Abraham Lincoln; in Rome it was Alexander; Europe loves to associate itself with the fathers of Western Enlightenment. Chinese rulers remind their subjects of their moral links to Mao and Confucius. The hope is that people will remember and associate the positive qualities of the mythological figure to the present head of state and ignore the irrelevant or immoral characteristics of the historical figure. Cultural examples of Moral Equivalency include equating acts of war with murder, gay marriage with legalizing pedophilia, being a wage slave with actual slavery, all acts of war with terrorism, or the treatment of animals with the treatment of human beings.The formal cognitive distortion of Moral Equivalency is a common human trait. Christians typically assume they are Christ-like and are insulted when people think otherwise; Buddhists think they carry the characteristics of Gautama; aspiring astrophysicists think they are like Werner Von Braun or Carl Sagan. It is an understandable distortion of the modeling and identification strategies young children use to develop their sense of self, and at the age of four or six it is perfectly reasonable. However, it becomes less so in adult life. The goal at some point needs to change from imitating some hero to becoming an authentic individual, through finding and following your inner compass.Persecuting language, such as using “should” and other blaming words, is another example of Moral Equivalency. On the one hand you have your unrealistic expectations for yourself or for others, based on what you have been taught to expect or want to have happen: don’t smoke, lie, be late, forget, or be messy. On the other hand, there is reality. For example, if you set for yourself the moral expectation not to be lazy, then you “should” on yourself whenever you don’t exercise “enough.” But since “enough” is always more than what you are doing, you feel justified in constantly beating yourself up. The same is true for others. When you set up a system of false Moral Equivalency your family, friends, and work associates are doomed to fail to live up to your false and unrealistic expectations.From this explanation we can see that the Fallacy of Moral Equivalency is part of the search for perfectionism and justification of fantasies of exceptionalism, both of which are delusional and indicate the persecutor position in the Drama Triangle. It is used when New Age writers equate shamanism and bronze-age spirituality with trans-personal development and these earlier expressions of the expansion of consciousness are typically held up as moral examples. Kohlberg and others have shown that morality undergoes stage development, just like the self. Consequently, equating prepersonal and transpersonal moralities is like equating the morality of six year olds and mature adults. Early stages of human development rarely pass minimal tests of morality and their access to the transpersonal involves state access, and rarely, if at all, stable stage development.

The only way out of this moral fallacy is to identify and give up your unrealistic expectations for yourself and others. The problem is that most of us believe our moral expectations are realistic and necessary, and the problem is the failure of ourselves and others to live up to them. IDL attempts to move us out of the fallacy of Moral Equivalency by accessing perspectives that are relatively accepting and non-judgmental. They do not require us to jump through hoops in order to be likeable, acceptable, or OK.

Do you think the fallacy of Moral Equivalency is important? When and where do you see it in your world, relationships, and thinking? How do you respond to it? When are you vulnerable to using Moral Equivalency? What do you want to do about it? How might your life be different if you recognized and eliminated this formal cognitive distortion?

 Non Sequitur

Non Sequitur translates as “it does not follow.” The conclusion does not follow from the premises, usually because of a faulty assumption.  There is a logical gap between the premises, or evidence, and the conclusion. Non Sequitur confuses correlation for causation, mistakenly claiming that one thing caused another to happen, since they happen in sequence. The flaw in the argument is that often a third cause exists, which is causing both to occur frequently, or perhaps the flaw is simply that both things commonly occur regardless of each other.Here are some more examples of Non Sequitur:  “If you loved me you’d buy me this car.”“If you loved me, you’d sleep with me.”

Most people recover from their colds a couple days after they take cold medication. But, of course, most people recover from their colds if they take no cold medication whatsoever.

Many people get rich when they pray for wealth, but many people who never pray also get rich.

There are many different types of Non Sequitur fallacies, including post hoc, hasty generalization, slippery slope, affirming the consequent, and simply making a faulty assumption. A slippery slope argument, for example, is Non Sequitur because it does not follow that legalizing one thing, such as gay marriage or medicinal marijuana, inevitably leads to legalizing other things, such as polygamy, bestiality, or recreational marijuana use. If you don’t live up to the expectations of your parents, employer, or government, it does not follow that your life is ruined. Catastrophizing, an emotional cognitive distortion we have considered, is another example of Non Sequitur, because it does not follow that because an acorn falls on your head that the sky is falling, even if you are Chicken Little. “Waiting for Santa Claus” provides another example of Non Sequitur, because it does not follow that happiness depends on change. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” You get to choose how you feel independently of conditions and circumstances. Heaven’s Reward fallacy is another example of Non Sequitur. There is no evidence that you will get the reward that you believe you or others deserve; there is only your belief that this will happen.

A good way to avoid this fallacy is to get in the habit of asking yourself, “Could there be another cause at work here?” For example, in the above examples, could the decisions to buy a car or sleep with someone be based on something other than financial responsibility or love?

Also, cultivate healthy skepticism. This is not to be confused with either cynicism or pessimism, because skepticism is healthy doubt that supports the habit of asking questions of what is being assumed. There exist many examples in which there really do exist strong connections between premises and conclusions, such as between cigarettes and lung cancer, safety glass, seat belts, and air bags in automobiles, causes of air pollution, effects of pollution on health and the relationship between anthropogenic causes and global warming. These subjects, as well as evolution, AIDS, and austerity economics are areas where evidence of causal linkage have been denied, with opponents claiming instances of Non Sequitur fallacy exist where they do not. Such claims have been used to maintain economic and ideological interests well after the science is in, to the detriment of global health and human advancement. Consequently, learning to recognize and call out Non Sequitur, as well as other fallacies, is not simply a curious pasttime; it is not an understatement to say that the evolution of humanity and the future of society depend on it.

Do you think Non Sequitur is important? When and where do you see it in your world, relationships, and thinking? How do you respond to it? When are you vulnerable to using Non Sequitur? What do you want to do about it? How might your life be different if you recognized and eliminated this formal cognitive distortion?


This formal cognitive distortion is also known as Equivocation, Splitting Hairs, Playing With Words, or Using Legalisms. It uses the inherent ambiguity of language to distract from the actual ideas or issues, or deliberately rephrases the opposing argument incorrectly, and then addresses that rephrasing, in essence erecting a Straw Man argument. A famous example of this was President Clinton’s denial of having sex with Monika Lewinsky, since he only got blow jobs, and made sure not to have intercourse, so that he could be “legally” accurate in saying he did not have sex. The media routinely uses language deviously in order to create the impression that it wants. For example, if you only read the Western mainstream press and never read Russian, Chinese, or non-Western sources, you are likely to come to conclusions about reality that reflect the assumptions of opinion makers in Washington rather than conditions “on the ground.” In fact, you are unlikely to even recognize that you are being manipulated by semantics unless you take the time and make the effort to check multiple sources. This is another example of why first suspending judgment and then asking multiple questions of a variety of different sources is a methodology that you would be wise to use daily.Do you think Semantics is an important formal cognitive distortion or not? When and where do you see it in your world, relationships, and thinking? How do you respond to it? When are you vulnerable to using Semantics to strengthen some point you are making? What do you want to do about it? How might your life be different if you recognized and eliminated this formal cognitive distortion?Weasel Words
 Also known as Glittering Generality, or ambiguity, this is the use of words that are so broadly defined, such as love, freedom, rights, “pro choice” or “pro life,” patriotism, democracy, God, spirituality, or “quantum,” as to become essentially meaningless. Because they mean something different to everyone, their use in an argument frequently means nothing.  “Love,” for example, refers to both sexual passion and the nature of God or divine virtue. A current favorite glittering generality is “terrorism” or “terrorist,” as it both refers to something most people abhor and is used so broadly it actually applies to any act of war. This renders those involved in the “war on terror” (itself a misnomer), such as the US, as themselves “terrorists.”  However, this inconvenient truth is commonly ignored with the function of this glittering generality serving to raise up an enemy for the purposes of rallying the public to support expenditures on “national security,” since communism, a previously popular glittering generality, no longer serves this role.Ambiguity uses double meanings of language to mislead or misrepresent the truth. Politicians are often guilty of using ambiguity to mislead and will later point to how they were technically not outright lying if they come under scrutiny.
It’s a particularly tricky and premeditated fallacy to commit. Technically, the use of such words is not a fallacy, but they tend to move an argument nowhere while inciting deep emotional responses. Thus, they are rhetorically useful and logically distracting, creating confusion, changing the subject, and implying agreement, based on an assumed common definition of a word, where none exists. All of this is intellectually dishonest, and to see Weasel Words used in the service of “spirituality,” undermines both the meaning of that word and those who profess to be “spiritual.”Do you think “Weasel Words” is an important cognitive distortion or not? When and where do you see it in your world, relationships, and thinking? How do you respond to it? When are you vulnerable to using Weasel Words to strengthen some point you are making? What do you want to do about it? How might your life be different if you recognized and eliminated this formal cognitive distortion?Appeal to Nature

“Organic” food advertising, appeals to let “children be children,” the paleolithic diet, and the glorification of nudity may all be implicated in the Fallacy of Appeal to Nature. If something is “natural,” does that mean it must also be valid, justified, inevitable, good, or ideal? Does naturalness itself make something good or bad? For instance, murder could be seen as very natural; is it therefore justifiable? It was not so long ago that slavery and infatricide were considered natural and many people today still consider patriarchy, the suppression of women, and beating children to be “natural.” In some societies today, female sexual mutilation is still considered natural. Homeopathic and Bach Flower remedies are two examples of “natural” health treatments that have not been shown to function above placebo.  That means you can get similar benefits from drinking water.  Clearly, there is considerable money to be made by hoping you and I do not see through this fallacy, and continue to believe that because something is natural, it must be better.

Do you think the “Appeal to Nature” is an important cognitive distortion or not? When and where do you see it in your world, relationships, and thinking? How do you respond to it? When are you vulnerable to using the Appeal to Nature Fallacy to strengthen some point you are making? What do you want to do about it? How might your life be different if you recognized and eliminated this formal cognitive distortion?

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor is the scientific principle that the simplest of any given hypotheses is likely to be the right one. The fallacy arises when a person either does not know this principle and therefore does not follow it or knows it and deliberately ignores it. For example, it is possible that you are of extraterrestrial origin, or that your actions in past lives are both responsible for and explain your current life circumstances. However, what happens when you ask, “Are these the simplest explanations that cover all the known facts?” What happens when you ask this question? Similarly, cases of miracle healing are very impressive on a per-case basis. However, when you use Occam’s Razor you find that these are generally adequately explained by the well-known placebo effect.Here is another example. It is possible that the Ort Cloud, out beyond Pluto, is made out of frozen stegasaurus poop, since no one has as yet gone there to check. However, since we know stagasauri did not fly, pterodactyls are much more likely responsible. However, based on current knowledge, the simplest and therefore most likely, but disappointingly uninteresting theory, is that the Ort Cloud is made out of frozen ice and rock particles. Similarly, it is possible that sun spots are caused by human wars and emotional disturbances. However, the simplest and therefore most likely explanation is that they are the result of electromagnetic and gravitational disturbances within the sun itself and that humans are not nearly so influential as some would like to believe.Occam’s razor also applies to the very mundane. You drink five beers and climb behind the wheel of your father’s Ford Explorer. When you slide off the road and roll it you blame your dad for not telling you the tires where worn and letting you drive a tippy SUV, because everyone knows you can hold your beer.What would Occam’s Razor conclude about this explanation? Is it the simplest one? How about, “You were drunk!”

Another example: You are a student. You don’t keep up on your homework and start a paper the night before it’s due. You receive a C- grade. You conclude the grade reflects your teacher’s ignorance and personal dislike for you. What would Occam’s Razor conclude? The paper was poorly written.

Occam’s Razor is simple enough to use and fallacies that arise from ignoring it are relatively obvious, so why would anyone not use it? We can see from the above examples that the most likely answer is that they have a vested interest in another, less likely, solution, and believe you are probably too ignorant to know about Occam’s Razor. Some less reasonable explanation may be part of their belief system or they may embrace an economic theory that justifies their income, or supports an ideology that allows them to remain exceptional and impose their will on other people or nations.

The answer probably lies in either an emotional investment in some other explanation, or because of the Bandwagon formal cognitive distortion: everybody else believes the more complicated, less likely explanation, so it must be true. When you remember that most of us grew up in families that didn’t understand or use Occam’s Razor, is it surprising that we insist on keeping irrational, unhelpful, and unlikely beliefs?

You can use Occam’s Razor to great effect on just about anything. For example, God may have created the Earth, however a simpler explanation based on what data is available is that the Earth evolved out of the dust cloud orbiting a young star we call Sun. IDL uses this principle in many ways, for example when it asks, “Who is more likely to know what is best for you, some external authority, some internalized parent voice, or your own inner guidance system? Which is most likely to help you, to listen only to your inner guidance system, or to correlate its recommendations with those of external authorities and your own common sense?

Does Occam’s Razor make sense to you? When and where do you see it in your world, relationships, and thinking? When are you vulnerable to forgetting it and instead insisting on a more complicated and less likely solution? Why do you think you do that? What do you want to do about it? How might your life be different if you recognized and used Occam’s Razor?

Affirming the Consequent

This is a fairly difficult fallacy to grasp, but it is important enough to mention, because it has important implications for getting unstuck and waking up. You start with correct premises, for example, “I am scared by the monsters in my dreams.” “My fear is real.” “My fear threatens me.” The problem comes with what you conclude from these correct premises: “My dream monster must be real.”What happened? It does not follow rationally that just because your fear is real that the perceived source of your fear, the dream monster, is also real. However, because you do not think rationally, and instead accept this formal cognitive distortion, you scare yourself unnecessarily, fight or avoid yourself rather than practicing deep listening or otherwise waking up in your dream. You don’t interview the dream monster, either awake or better still, while dreaming, to find out if it is real or not.Another example might be that you need more money. You’re afraid of poverty, of not having enough. Essentially, you are telling yourself, “I am scared of scarcity, my fear is real, and my fear threatens me.” All of this may indeed be true, correct, and valid. However, what do you conclude from these true statements? If your conclusion is, “Therefore scarcity is a real threat,” then you are affirming the consequent and committing an unnecessary, unhelpful, and confusing formal cognitive distortion. Why?   Does scarcity have to be scary? Is scarcity even a reality? Doesn’t scarcity have something to do with how you define it? If you changed your definition of what scarcity is, would that matter? Probably; if that is true, then your thinking is fallacious and irrational. You are scaring yourself needlessly.You are likely to use Affirming the Consequent when you believe in the inevitability of some outcome, such as fear caused by dream monsters or poverty, and you are giving yourself reasons to validate your irrational thoughts, feelings, and fears. Are you not stuck in drama, most likely in the role of victim, and justifying why you “should” stay stuck there? Is that wise? Is that helpful?

Does Affirming the Consequent make sense to you? When and where do you see it in your world, relationships, and thinking? When are you vulnerable to forgetting and using it? Why do you think you do that? What do you want to do about it? How might your life be different if you recognized and eliminated this formal cognitive distortion?

Special Pleading

Special pleading is moving the goalposts or making up exceptions when a claim is shown to be false. If I don’t have proof you are anti-Semitic or a “self-hating Jew,” don’t worry; it’s just a matter of time before I will have my proof. This fallacy is a form of rationalization. If you pray for healing and it doesn’t happen, it’s not because prayer doesn’t work or there is no God; rather, it’s because you prayed to the wrong god, said the wrong prayer, didn’t pray long or hard enough, or because you need to be “tested,” or because it’s your karma to be sick.

Humans are funny creatures and have a foolish aversion to being wrong. Rather than appreciate the benefits of being able to change our minds through better understanding, we often invent ways to cling to old beliefs.

The “Pre-Trans Fallacy”

Procrustes was a robber in Greek mythology. He would waylay travelers and tie them to his bed, which was a rack. If they were too short to fit it, he would stretch them on the rack until they did. If they were too long for his bed, he would “shorten” them until they fit. This is a metaphor that describes what you do to your world when you use this cognitive distortion. First described by Ken Wilber in 1978 in The Atman Project, the pre-trans fallacy creates depression and anxiety while validating grandiosity. It does so by confusing early and late developmental stages in one of two ways. Either late developmental stages are confused with early ones in a fallacy called “reductionism,” or early developmental states are confused with late ones in a fallacy called “elevationism.” In either case, the result is depression, anxiety and grandiosity.Reductionism occurs when you “reduce” experiences that transcend and include your experience to your level or to a previous, less developed level, usually as some immature delusion. For example, this occurs when near death or other mystical experiences are reduced to brain chemistry and psychotic hallucinations. Most scientists, from Freud to Skinner to Watson and Crick commit this fallacy. Reductionism is also called “discounting.” It cuts you off from your emerging potentials by assuming they are of no value or importance. It aborts your development by blocking all the stairs that lead upward. When you use reductionism, you describe your experience in ways that makes growth past a certain point impossible. The conflict between the future you that wants to emerge and the truncated reality you insist on creates depression and anxiety. It validates grandiosity, because it confirms that your present level is the peak of human development.Elevationism, on the other hand, aborts development by substituting delusion for growth. Voodoo trances, childhood clairvoyance or lucid dreaming, even if it is by children or criminals, are taken to be indications of advanced development. Why does this occur? Those who have had near death, psychic or mystical experiences have had access to states of higher development. These states are mistaken for the actual attainment of advanced developmental stages. This occurs because these experiences are so special that the person who had them must be special too. They must have some knowledge, some experience or some secret that you don’t. Because they have accessed higher states, you assume that they are enlightened. We can recognize this as the formal cognitive distortion of Appeal to Authority. However, the same holds true for you. If you access one of these higher states, it is easy to conclude that you are, therefore, enlightened. If you have super-special experiences, you must be super special. This is called ego inflation or grandiosity. It is higher-order narcissism. If others are convinced by your certainty, passion and charisma, they may naively reach this same conclusion, that you are enlightened. Because of this mutual delusion, those convinced of their enlightenment present themselves as the enlightened conveyors of truth, rather than encouraging others to listen to their own inner compasses. Consequently, they inflict their partial and imbalanced development on those who listen to them.Elevationism causes depression and anxiety, because it is regressive. It is as if you grew up with wolves and became an expert at growling, barking, snarling and traveling on all fours. You would perhaps find success among wolves, but if you were exposed to humans, you would find yourself ill-equipped for life among them. Elevationism causes you to first validate and then settle for a relatively immature way of believing and living—living as a wolf when you are a human, in this example. People who take the Bible as literal Truth and put creationism on the same level as evolution are elevationists. They are comfortable in their churches but find themselves out of their depth with scientists. However, this conundrum is deeper than religion and science. Anyone who bases their reality on their beliefs will find themselves marooned in a culture that is free to question and challenge all beliefs. Because of the internet, we are now more likely to be challenged in our assumptions than ever before, which is a very healthy thing. Similarly, anyone who bases their reality on reason will find themselves out of their depth among those who are trans-rational, meaning that they think clearly, yet do not base their lives and self-worth on logic or logical conclusions. Elevationism is also grandiose, in that it imagines life as a wolf or a scriptural literalist is as valuable—or perhaps more valuable—than life as a human or someone who filters information through reason and logic.

The pre-trans fallacy exists because both pre-rational stages of development and post-rational stages of development are non-rational, meaning that they are easily confused. Because people who are pre-rational or rational have read about mystical states or experienced them themselves, they think things that are psychic or miraculous are post-rational, when they can and do occur at any level of development.

While we normally think of elevation in the realm of religion and spirituality, far greater damage is done in the field of economics. While economists generally know nothing about the transpersonal and care even less, they are very concerned with making principled arguments that are posed as being for the betterment of all mankind. In such a way, they consider their motives to be reflective of the greatest good for the greatest number, which means that from their perspective, their economic theory is better than anything transrational. Marx’s vision of egalitarian society, idealistic in the extreme, was twisted and corrupted to validate massive oppression and brutalization by people who were focused on economic goals. This is an example of the first variety of pre-trans fallacy, of reductionism, in which greedy and selfish people take a noble, uplifting ideal and use it to enslave masses. On the other hand, neo-liberalism, a conservative-libertarian form of capitalism, is an example of elevationism. It so elevates the ideal of prosperity, in the form of policies based on trickle-down and austerity, that it destroys entire economies, from Chile, to England, to the Ukraine, to the United States. In neo-liberalism, greedy and selfish people concoct seemingly rational, analytically sophisticated and principled reasons to rip off individuals and entire cultures. These people may be neo-Darwinian plutocrats who care primarily for their own class and empathize only superficially, for purposes of publicity, with the needs or concerns of those who lack wealth and power. Their primary allegiance is to the maximization of profits by externalizing costs, which means having someone else, anyone else, or nature, pay the price for their exploitation. Or, they may simply be bureaucrats, workers, or soldiers who make their living as cogs in the machine, sold to the highest bidder, no questions asked. As the noted economist John Kenneth Galbraith said, “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” From these two economic examples, we can see that the pre-trans fallacy has immense practical consequences, not only for human development, but also for the quality and ease of everyday life. It determines whether people even have the luxury of the time to consider such issues.

An example closer to home commonly occurs when you know what your partner, children or co-workers are wanting as soon as they approach you. You don’t have to listen, because you have heard it all before. You believe you can tell them what they are going to say, so why listen? This is elevationism of your knowledge to the level of intuition, clairvoyance and principled wisdom. It might as well be transpersonal, because in your mind you know what they are saying and why they are saying it, and you already know what the answer is. You are acting as if you are psychic.

It is also reductionist and discounting behavior, because you know that the other person will not present information that transcends and includes your understanding. Your certainty of your knowledge justifies your ignoring them, thinking about something else, cutting them off or smiling, nodding and summarily forgetting what they said. You think you are listening, but if you were asked to repeat what they said, could you? Could you accurately summarize what they are feeling and what their motivations are? Instead of “deep listening,” what we do is typically “deep grandiosity.” Note that such mind reading is also a form of rescuing that can quickly put you into the persecutor role of the Drama Triangle. IDL interviewing is designed to first interrupt and then eliminate this extremely common and arrogant habit. It does so by teaching a phenomenological method that involves suspending all such judgments in favor of practicing deep listening.

You can probably recognize ways that you are commonly a victim of reductionism and elevationism, but how about the pre-trans fallacy itself? You may be a victim of this logical fallacy if you believe any of the following are signs of spiritual attainment or enlightenment:

Miracles; psychic phenomena, including telepathy, precognition, psychokinesis or past life memories; lucid dreaming; revelations;  visitations by deceased relatives or ascended masters; meditation; the ability to do psychic healing; near death experiences; out of the body experiences; nature, saintly or sage mysticism; claims of enlightenment.

Any of these experiences can happen at any level of development. If you claim to have them or seek to develop them, first consider that such desires can also be signs of feelings of personal inadequacy. You may be trying to compensate for some sort of emptiness by claiming exceptional abilities or attempting to develop them. Such elevationism can also be a sign of narcissism and grandiosity. While it may be none of these, it is wise to first rule out those possibilities. How can you do so? An IDL interview or two should bring a lot of clarity to exactly what’s going on.

On the other hand, if you automatically jump to the conclusion that any of these unusual and amazing experiences are always delusions concocted by ignorant or foolish people, you are ignorant and foolish yourself, a smug victim of the reductionist version of the pre-trans logical fallacy. Try reading something both scholarly and persuasive, like Michael Murphey’s The Future of the Body, Ian Stevenson’s Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, or Chris Carter’s trilogy on the evidence for psychic experience, life after death, and near death experiences. 

Does the Pre-Trans Fallacy make sense to you? When and where do you see it in your world, relationships, and thinking? When are you vulnerable to forgetting and using it? Why do you think you do that? What do you want to do about it? How might your life be different if you recognized and eliminated this formal cognitive distortion?

The Ranking Fallacy

The Ranking Fallacy applies most to those who demonstrate the egalitarianism and pluralism commonly associated with the late personal level of development and who wish to evolve beyond it. This stage or level of development emphasizes egalitarianism over merit, class or competency, communion over autonomy, heterarchy over hierarchy, pluralism over individuality, and non-ranking over ranking. This is because healthy people at this stage use their rationality to affirm the unity of all life and are in conflict with those approaches that do not. The problem is that as long as the ability to discriminate among multiple perspectives is blocked, developmental fixation is the result. This blocking is supported by the Ranking Fallacy.It is an example of a category of logical fallacies that involve making a “performative contradiction,” in which the error is not between premises, or between premises and conclusions, but within the premise itself. For example, “I am dead” is a performative contradiction because it presupposes that the author is alive. Even if it were the statement of a disembodied entity, they are alive enough to make such a statement, and therefore not dead.The Ranking Fallacy is a performative contradiction in which you view ranking things as bad, because rankings discriminate. Rankings create hierarchies by placing one level or rank as superior in some way to another. Perhaps one level is broader, or more inclusive, than another, with the result being that some people lose out because of their race, income, language, intelligence, health, education, interests or habits. Social injustice is the result. Therefore, all hierarchies, which are forms of rankings, are viewed with suspicion and condescension. Examples of such ranking include believing whites are superior to blacks, those who major in the sciences or go into law or business are superior to those who study the arts, Eastern religions are superior to Western religions, public schools with age-based grades are inferior to private or home schooling in which there are none, private business is better than government services, Western capitalism is superior to traditional, non-property-based forms of social organization, primitive, matriarchal societies are superior to subsequent patriarchal ones, the wealthy are superior to the poor, the powerful are superior to the weak, animal lovers are better than scientists that experiment on bunnies and rats, vegetarians are better than meat eaters, Christianity or Judaism is superior to Islam, humans are superior to dolphins or monkeys or Eastern saints are superior to voodoo witch doctors. You may disagree with some of these rankings and agree with others, yet not commit this logical fallacy. You may even say, “Those who rank are judgmental and discounting” and still not commit the Ranking Fallacy.People who rank things may or may not be judgmental and discounting; that’s different from making discriminations. Unfortunately, “discriminate” means both things in English, to see and make distinctions, which is simply a function of language and reason, and to be judgmental and discounting. You can discriminate without being judgmental and discounting. You can be discriminating without discriminating. You can rank and you can respect hierarchies without being discriminating.

However, this is a different issue from making a ranking fallacy. That occurs when you say, based on a desire for egalitarianism and pluralism, something like, “You are being elitist and species-centric when you claim that humans are smarter than dolphins.” This is a ranking fallacy because you yourself are making a discrimination while proclaiming the impropriety of discriminations. You are saying, “It is better to not rank than to rank,” which means that you are discriminating against those who rank. Can you see how this is an internal contradiction, how such a person is contradicting themselves? There are legitimate reasons to object to people claiming that humans are smarter than dolphins, such as the fact that their intelligence is not comparable due to the fact that it is designed to deal with radically different environments. The problem arises when you object to the ranking on grounds of egalitarianism and pluralism. Why? Because equality says, “ranking threatens equality; because pluralism says, “ranking disenfranchises some voices.” While this may be true, these statements are themselves rankings.

You can say, “I think my rankings are better than yours” without committing this logical fallacy. The problem occurs when you condemn ranking when you are doing so yourself. To commit a ranking fallacy you must say, “This person who ranks in such and such a way is discriminating,” while at the same time not recognizing that you are yourself discriminating between those who rank and those who do not. You yourself are ranking but not realizing it. You have just created a hierarchy or a distinction, between those who do not rank and those who do, between good and bad or between the “washed and the unwashed,” without realizing it. You have just contradicted yourself by saying, “Your ranking is bad, because it discriminates, but my ranking is good and doesn’t discriminate,” when you are ranking and, therefore, discriminating yourself.

This logical fallacy is important because it ranks heterogeneity or communalism, among societies, species, abilities or capabilities, above hierarchy or meritocracy. It wants to validate everybody and everything, without exception, except for those who find such distinctions to be valuable. They are to be discounted and discriminated against. So, we need to picket animal experimentation, patriarchal bastions, meat eaters, the rich and the powerful. It is not politically correct to point out that astrology is pre-scientific, that monkeys lack human intelligence, that conservatives are relatively self-centered when compared to liberals or that shamanism does not rise to the level of say, Buddhism.

The problem is that hierarchies do exist and that value distinctions are not only real, but important. Nature itself evolves in hierarchies of sophistication and capabilities. The more complicated levels evolve out of the less complicated ones and sustain themselves by incorporating the less complicated into themselves. Those with evolutionary advantages have more offspring and survive longer. When this understanding is turned into the religion of neo-Darwinism, it is used to justify inequality and selfishness, which is generally the sin that gives rise to the current use of this logical fallacy. In reaction, people put egalitarianism, pluralism, and political correctness before common sense, rational discrimination, and meaningful distinctions of value, leading to self-created absurdities. This spirit of justice breaks down somewhere for almost everyone. As vegetarians we won’t kill shrimp, but how about mosquitos and fleas? Taken to a logical extreme, you need to become a Parsee, spending your life sweeping the ground in front of you to avoid the injustice of accidentally stepping on a living creature. However, since we know that doing so is unavoidable, to be consistent, you need to stop breathing. You need to die if you want to respect all life, because your mere existence is sustained by incorporating lesser developed life forms into your own. There is no escaping that reality, nor should one try. You can learn to respect and protect all life and still respect and protect the knowledge that ranking is real and that hierarchies exist for the furtherance of the evolution of consciousness.

Humans and life itself evolve in both heterogenous, communal and hierarchical, discriminatory ways. The unwillingness to accept this is a reflection of a deficit in an important developmental skill: the ability to hold and balance two or more conflicting and contradictory perspectives, opinions, preferences or beliefs at the same time, yet remaining willing and able to choose among them. Instead of being confused or blocked by ambiguity, you can learn to welcome it and use your mind to sort through information to focus on what is most important for the task at hand. Children do not know how to do this. Adults do not automatically learn this higher order competency, unless they have been exposed to someone who insists on it, teaches them why it is important, as well as how to use it. You will notice that your emerging potentials are more evolved than you are, when they score higher than you in the six core qualities. They make discriminations. They are discriminating. At the same time, they embrace egalitarianism and pluralism. They can and will teach you to honor both ranking and justice.

Does the Ranking Fallacy make sense to you? When and where do you see it in your world, relationships, and thinking? When are you vulnerable to forgetting and using it? Why do you think you do that? What do you want to do about it? How might your life be different if you recognized and eliminated this formal cognitive distortion?

Recognizing this and other formal cognitive distortions is intended to give you additional power to get unstuck and wake up by learning to think clearly about life, feelings, what others say, and most importantly, about your own thoughts. These are skills that are required if you are to move your center of gravity, your definition of self, beyond mid personal levels of development. In fact, this becomes an acid test for those who claim to be “spiritually evolved” or believe they look at life from a transpersonal perspective. Can they not only think, but can they think about thinking? If they cannot, if they are lost in cognitive distortions or do not catch those of others, then their late personal profession of egalitarianism or their claims of oneness with God are probably coming from either state experiences or beliefs associated with earlier stages of development. This should be the presumption for all, until proven otherwise, applied to yourself as well. The truth is, you are probably a lot less developed, if a median of core lines, such as self, cognition, empathy, and ethics are considered, than you imagine yourself to be.

We will now turn to the third and broadest category of cognitive distortions, perceptual delusions, which are both unavoidable and fateful in the way they predestine and limit our development, if left unexamined.

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