Is doublethink actually possible?

Tuesday 27 June 2017, 8.00pm HKT


IS doublethink as portrayed in George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty Four” actually possible?

You and I and everybody else practise doublethink every day without noticing.

In everyday life, we call it compartmentalisation.


Doublethink is just holding two contradictory thoughts or beliefs at the same time.

It’s only in the novel that Orwell used it for his context of political indoctrination — plus the snazzier name ‘doublethink.’

Doublethink is hardly a new thing. It’s a mental ability seen and nurtured since ancient times.


“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

— F. Scott Fitzgerald in “The Crack-Up,” Esquire Magazine, Feb. 1936.

In case anyone forgets, Fitzgerald was the author of “The Great Gatsby” (1925).

Look around you in real life.

Far too many people are totally unable to hold two different thoughts even about breakfast. “I think English breakfast is better than Continental.” Fine, then you’d have a aneurysm from having an English breakfast in the TROPICS.

Far too many latch on to just one position for everything — look at the debates over Jews vs. Palestinians, East vs. West, death penalty vs. life sentence, pro-abortion vs. anti-abortion, conscription vs. volunteer service, public vs. private healthcare — you name it.


More normally, doublethink comes in the more usual description of cognitive dissonance from the world of psychology since the mid-1950s.

For instance, these two things are archetypal examples of doublethink:—

  • trying to explain the inexplicable or the unexplainable
  • reaffirming held beliefs (confirmation bias)

Doublethink isn’t without positive usefulness in the real world. It’s used in phobia treatment and schooling matters for preschoolers.

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© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 27 Jun 2017. (B17065)

Image: Overthinking via Who’s that girl? ♦ Brains by author

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