We only see what we want to see
The Dangers of Selective Attention and how to Escape this Trap
In a now famous experiment from 1999 Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris demonstrated convincingly that we only see what we want to see. Try their test and see how you do. https://youtu.be/vJG698U2Mvo
Now, to be fair, if you already know about this test, try this one instead. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGQmdoK_ZfY
“Although people do still try to rationalize why they missed the obvious, it’s hard to explain such a failure of awareness without confronting the possibility that we are aware of far less of our world than we think,” says Daniel Simons. https://www.livescience.com/6727-invisible-gorilla-test-shows-notice.html Again and again, we think we experience and understand the world as it is, but our thoughts are beset by everyday illusions. We write traffic laws and build criminal cases on the assumption that people will notice when something unusual happens right in front of them. As a society, we spend billions on devices to train our brains because we’re continually tempted by the lure of quick fixes and effortless self-improvement. The Invisible Gorilla reveals the numerous ways that our intuitions can deceive us, but it’s more than a catalog of human failings. In the book, we also explain why people succumb to these everyday illusions and what we can do to inoculate ourselves against their effects. http://www.theinvisiblegorilla.com/ The fact is people focus so hard on things that support the way they believe the world to be that they become blind to the unexpected, even when staring right at it. We all have tendencies to develop this “in-attentional blindness,” as this effect is called; it becomes easy to miss the obvious when you are not looking out for them – in other words, we only see what we want to see.
This human weakness has made a united effort to address climate change impossible. For example, a good friend of mine whom I respect sent me the following:
Report says dire climate predictions have failed to materialize
Now, the source is FOX news, so, of course, right away I have a visceral reaction to not believe a word. However, in the interest of friendship, I read the article [here is the link –
https://www.foxnews.com/politics/hindsight-is-2020-failed-climate-predictions ] and given what they said I could see their point. The problem is, I read from completely different sources – none of which made any of the predictions stated in the article. It made me feel that the two of us were two blind men touching an elephant – each stating emphatically what the object was with partial information, as made clear by this picture.
Each in his own opinion, Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right, And all were in the wrong!
It seems to me that all of us are blind men feeling a different part of the elephant, leading to a complete disagreement on what an elephant is. This story illustrates how humans tend to take their partial experiences as a whole truth, and their individual perspectives as the one and only version of reality. Yet our perceptions are very limited; we should keep in mind that they may be only partially right, and only hold partial information. https://medium.com/betterism/the-blind-men-and-the-elephant-596ec8a72a7d
So how do you escape this trap?
- Focus on what you have in common with someone you disagree with
We need to find commonality with those who are touching a different part of the elephant. We must stop insulting and denigrating those who do not see what we see. This means emphasizing what we share and de-emphasizing our differences and then building together from these shared ideas and actions. Realize that you are only touching one part of the elephant. Realize that you too are only seeing what you want or expect to see.
- Expect the unexpected
Here is a detail of the experiment mentioned above that shows the challenge of seeing what is “really” going on. Of the 41 volunteers Simon tested who had never seen or heard about the old video, a little less than half missed the gorilla in the new video, much like what happened in the old experiments. The 23 volunteers he tested who knew about the original gorilla video all spotted the fake ape in the new experiment. However, knowing about the gorilla beforehand did not improve their chances of detecting other unexpected events. Only 17 percent of those who were familiar with the old video noticed one or both of the other unexpected events in the new video. In comparison, 29 percent of those who knew nothing of the old video spotted one of the other unexpected events in the new video. “This demonstration is much like a good magic trick in which a magician repeatedly makes a ball disappear,” Simons said. “A magician can lead the audience to think he’s going to make the ball disappear with one method, and while people watch for that technique, he uses a different one. In both cases, the effect capitalizes on what people expect to see, and both demonstrate that we often miss what we don’t expect to see.”
- Never stop changing your worldview
Most of us, by a ‘certain’ age, have decided that the world works like “X”. We are pleased that we have discovered a way to make sense of that mess out there. Well, this can just mean that you stop learning, except in the narrowest sense of the word, and stop noticing anything that does not support your view. So, if you are looking at issues and feeling the same way about “those” people today as you did 10 years ago, it’s possible that the problem is not the world or “those” people – the problem could be you! The problem is that the world is always in flux and unless you change with it, you will be lost. Think of it as the wandering North Pole syndrome. The North Pole wanders and unless you recalibrate your compass to its new location, you will be lost. Time to recalibrate!