Prof Tjeerd Andringa

Tjeerd Andringa is a physicist who studies the interaction between individuals and their environment. He does this in audition, general agent behavior, and geopolitics. He develops soundscape technology to make the world sound better and healthier. Andringa developed the notion of core cognition — the hypothesized cognition shared by all of life — that allows a first-principles derivation of key concepts of cognition. And he applies the resulting insights to describe different competence levels of human understanding and behavior. University bureaucrats canceled him for educating at an epistemological level surpassing the bureaucrats’ understanding. As a cognitive scientist with a strong background in cognitive systems and adolescent intellectual development, he was ideally placed to study the cognitive limitations of his cancelers.

Authoritarianism as an epistemological development disorder

Authoritarianism is characterized by a cognitive incapacity to deal with complexity and difference. Epistemology is about how we derive the beliefs on which we base our behavior: the beliefs we take for the truth and constitute our worldview. Epistemological development describes six levels of ever-more advanced cognition. These levels progressively develop a worldview that complies increasingly with the structures and states of reality. Authoritarians are mainly restricted to levels 2 and 3. Authoritarianism can be considered a cognitive development disorder where cognition does not progress beyond social mimicry based on a shared worldview with many unrealistic aspects.

The absence of more advanced levels of reasoning explains the authoritarian’s urge to bring the world’s complexity down to manageable levels. And they create in-groups of fellow authoritarians who share their simplified and (often) progressively more dysfunctional worldview to be less frequently confronted with unsettling complexity and diversity. Instead of skilling up to match reality’s demands, authoritarians aim to bring society’s (perceived) complexity down to a level they can handle comfortably: simplicity and uniformity take precedence over realism.

This manifests as characteristic strategies. For example, latching on to the first explanation that explains one’s feelings. Or ignoring and expelling conflicting evidence and those who share it. Or allowing in-group authorities or the consensus (and not facts, logic, and reasoning) to decide on truth. And also misrepresenting out-group opinions and arguing against the misrepresentation. Another feature is a near-total absence of meta-cognition (the ability to assess the quality of one’s reasoning).

The higher epistemological levels are associated with skilling up, learning from the best sources of knowledge available, and integrating experiences and broad knowledge into an ever-improving worldview. An honest assessment of (out-group) argumentation and evidence actively improves the own beliefs toward higher realism. It allows one to represent knowledge with the required precision and nuance and to make progressively wiser decisions.

It might be possible to erode authoritarian influences by focusing on the differences between authoritarians and proficient thinkers. For example, authoritarians consider the world black and white (their side is always snow white), while proficient thinkers see the world with nuance and precision. Authoritarians actively suppress out-group viewpoints, censor information, and cancel individuals that complicates their worldview, while proficient thinkers welcome all well-founded viewpoint to test and improve their worldview. If pressed, authoritarians either explain out-group behavior as disgusting or in terms of their own deeper motivations (the only motivations they have access to). Proficient thinkers can self-criticize and give credit where it is due. Finally, authoritarian leaders typically double down on ineffective or backfiring strategies instead of choosing a more sensible alternative strategy.