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YIN JIWU: Reflection on cognitive mode needed in post-truth era

| 2018-05-17
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Brexit and Trump’s victory in the US election were two international events in 2016 that beggared belief. The traditional modes of cognition have been called into question since the predictions of many experts and scholars failed to materialize. Worries and anxieties pervade the international community, altering the way that people interpret the world.

The word “post-truth,” with strong postmodern connotations, does reflect peoples’ changing perception of the world in a changing era. In an era fraught with increasingly globalized information, the trend of anti-globalization is surging, and non-traditional security issues impinge on the public’s mind at times. In a context where the new and the old coexist, people’s attention has long been diverted by sensational, eye-catching headlines. Emotions have blinded the eyes before deciding to explore the truth, as a result of which, cognitive ability drops.

The world is entering a new round of game-playing between globalization and anti-globalization. With the emergence of frequent global public controversies, some negative emotions and sentiments are taking the upper hand, which has altered the property of the ideological strife between countries in the traditional sense. As the economic gap expands and conflict of identity intensifies as a result of competition between countries, some forms of regional and national governance consequentially fail, leading to increasingly rampant terrorism which emerges as the core issue that affects the national security of European great powers and the United States.

The technological progress brought by globalization has created a better era but at the same time posed major challenges to people’s lives and the way that they perceive the world.

For scholars living in this era, it is necessary to put aside their emotional biases and recognize the real changes that have taken place in the world. For example, the fact that Trump was elected and Brexit itself reflect the changes that are happening in the domain of domestic politics and society of the United States and Britain, and that the international landscape is reshaping in the era of globalization.

That the post-truth era has posed fundamental challenges to people’s thinking does not mean that the world is unperceivable. The post-truth era is still an era of scientific realism in which the world is knowable. People’s way and mode of knowing about the world is confined by the changes of the world itself. However, the facts themselves will not dissolve or disappear.

Take one step back and observe calmly. You will find that the fact processors are trying to, through packing all sentiments and emotions, manage people’s perceptions and feelings, but any sentiment or emotion is enthusiastic for just three days, and won’t last too long. What people need to do is reflect on how to update their cognitive style and thinking mode so as to enhance their cognitive ability to respond to the capricious world.

While one is living in reality, it is difficult to rationally pull oneself away from one’s emotions and even forget how to discern the truth of the fact. Admittedly, emotion does exert side-effects on people’s cognitive mode, but it is undeniable that it is emotion that makes us human beings, and that constructs the rationality and agency of individuals.

In addition, the reason that we neglect the changes of the fact, mistaking that “black swan” events occur frequently, is partly due to lack of observation from the perspectives of details. Without taking advanced precautions, we have lost the ability to discover the truth.

Rome was not built in a day. Under the influence of traditional cognition and stereotype, it is difficult to detect the long process of the origin and evolution of changes, which leads us into a cognitive blind spot. Only by continuing to ponder the cognitive mode, breaking the stereotype and maintaining the initiative of the cognitive subject, can we discern the truth from the complex chaos and deluges of emotions.


Yin Jiwu is a research fellow from the National Academy of Development and Strategy at Renmin University of China.

(edited by BAI LE)