In a recent discussion in response to my Facebook post on Starbucks Red Cups, a very rationale friend of mine wondered by people became religious fundamentalists. I responded back that I didn’t know, but noted back “Well, lots of people have beliefs. But some people have beliefs that can be challenged or modified, and some are so convinced that they are correct that they won’t accept any evidence that contradicts their beliefs.”. While reading through my RSS feeds over lunch, an article came across with the intriguing title “Why you often believe people who see the world differently are wrong“. The article, which appears to be a transcription from a podcast I need to explore, explores what shapes our perception that we see the world as it truly is, free from bias or the limitations of our senses (which is termed “naive realism”). Naive realism leads us to believe we arrived at our opinions, political or otherwise, after careful, rational analysis through unmediated thoughts and perceptions. In other words, we think we have been mainlining pure reality for years, and our intense study of the bare facts is what has naturally led to our conclusions. As such, we can’t understand why others don’t think the same way. In fact, on most emotionally charged issues, there is no objective perspective that a brain can take, despite the fact all the people on each side of any debate believe their side is the one rooted in reality.
Here are some interesting quotes from the article:
…since you believe you are in the really-real, true reality, you also believe that you have been extremely careful and devoted to sticking to the facts and thus are free from bias and impervious to persuasion. Anyone else who has read the things you have read or seen the things you have seen will naturally see things your way, given that they’ve pondered the matter as thoughtfully as you have. Therefore, you assume, anyone who disagrees with your political opinions probably just doesn’t have all the facts yet. If they had, they’d already be seeing the world like you do. This is why you continue to ineffectually copy and paste links from all our most trusted sources when arguing your points with those who seem misguided, crazy, uninformed, and just plain wrong. The problem is, this is exactly what the other side thinks will work on you.
When confronted with people who disagree with your estimations of reality, even after you’ve pushed a bunch of facts in their faces, you tend to assume there must be a rational explanation for why they think and feel the way they do. Usually, that explanation is that the other side is either lazy or stupid or corrupted by some nefarious information-scrambling entity like cable news, a blowhard pundit, a charming pastor, or a lack thereof. Since this is where we often end up, they say what usually happens is that our “repeated attempts at dialogue with those on the ‘other side’ of a contentious issue make us aware that they rarely yield to our attempts at enlightenment; nor do they yield to the efforts of articulate, fair-minded spokespersons who share our views.” In other words, it’s naive to think evidence presented from the sources you trust will sway your opponents because when they do the same, it never sways you.
This is something I see happen continually on Facebook and other discussion forums. It is a very important thing to understand, and in many ways, it explains arguments with both fundamentalists and Republicans quite well . I will have to go listen to the full podcast.
P.S.: Mental Floss has published an article on NPR’s new Podcast finder, earbud.fm. What’s interesting about this is that is it curated: the editors don’t just list good podcasts, but they recommend specific episodes as entry points for that podcast (and often, that’s not the first episode). I’d say I need to explore it, but I’ve already got more podcasts coming in than I have time to listen to. There’s loads of good stuff out there.