Like most of us I’m not a fan of events happening that seem to come out of nowhere, particularly when they’re negative or detract from my current goals. Whether it be an event related to work as in a business idea not panning out the way it was hoped or personal as in someone having so self-deceived themselves that when the lies reach the surface all is thrown into disarray and hurt, the response is similar: “where did that come from?!” In both situations hindsight ends up being helpful and woefully annoying, since being human we end up forgetting all the times questions came up and inquiries were made, instead opting for the self-castigation of “I should have seen it coming!”
Within Relational Dynamics In Identity Theory (RDIIT) there is a principle concerning subjectivity, that such is a perspective rather than a creative enterprise. People like to portray their subjective experience as a generative action, as creating reality and when crossing into religious territory promote the idea that we can shape and mold desire into actuality. The “heal thyself” movement, “positive thinking” self-help moguls and “prosperity gospel” peddlers are simply larger-than-life advocates of a basic tendency in general human thinking. Our ego, equated here with conscious experience, likes to operate as a creative generator, molding out of the disparate parts of the “external” world a coherent picture. Certainly this is how it feels, but unfortunately this is simply not a helpful or accurate portrayal of what is going on.
Without getting into philosophical nuances, imagine for a moment what it would be like for our conscious experience to actually manifest reality. How would any of us have conversations? How could anybody be certain, as any level of social interplay demands, that what is being said and done is even approximately similar to what is being heard and seen by another? That we deal in a world of varying degrees of certainty is not grounds for saying we all possess different realities, it is instead a foundation for noting we all inhabit the same reality, just from different perspectives. We are not so much creating situations as contributing to the manifestation of experiences that are in no small part outside of our control.
That last may have been disconcerting but please follow for a bit. Any experience we have can be viewed by a number of different perspectives. Siblings raised in the same home can and often do have wildly different accounts of their parents and yet still recognize that they lived together. Witnesses to tragedies can offer widely disparate accounts of what occurred and yet nobody discounts that a shared event happened. Human beings are notorious for our tendencies towards confabulation, i.e. distorting memories to suit present desires established through our worldview. None of this is to declare our perspectives being without purpose or effect, they are powerful variables in the construction of relational reality, but they are just that, variables, not a guiding hand from on-high.
Living within subjective perspective is inevitable given the way our minds function and our bodies operate as interactive vehicles with the world. Daniel Kahneman speaks of “System 1” and “System 2”, knee-jerk automatic responses and deliberated rational considerations respectively, noting that:
“As a way to live your life, however, continuous vigilance is not necessarily good, and it is certainly impractical. Constantly questioning our own thinking would be impossibly tedious, and System 2 is much too slow and inefficient to serve as a substitute for System 1 in making routine decisions. The best we can do is a compromise: learn to recognize situations in which mistakes are likely and try harder to avoid significant mistakes when the stakes are high.” (Kahneman, Daniel (2011-10-25). Thinking, Fast and Slow (p. 28). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.)
It is the mistakes to which we now turn. Consider subjective perspective. Too often we consider our perspectives as lanterns, an all-seeing eye. The negative consequence of this is alluded to in declarations of “he lives in his own head” and “she doesn’t know anything beyond her little world.” When we experience events that hit us “out of left field” or that blindside us, these are the personal examples of the judgments in the previous sentence. Rather than a lantern, our perspective is far more like a flashlight upon the canvas of reality holding all potential and actual manifestations of experience. What lies outside the beam is going to catch us unaware no matter how often we attempt to swing it about, either deliberately or wildly.
The practical advice for life becomes glaringly clear here. If our subjective experiences are limited perspectives blinding us to what is even in the most generous of appraisals, the vast majority of present interconnected reality then any time we fall prey to thinking “x is happening only to me” or “y is wholly my fault” or “he only has himself to blame,” we should immediately take stock of what we’re missing. This is less about judgment concerning responsibility and more about being careful that such judgment doesn’t lead us astray from a fuller understanding of life. This is why worldviews in themselves are rarely a problem, becoming so only when they are declared sacrosanct and outside the realm of being questioned or skeptically considered.
What we don’t see still happens. As a simple statement this appears to belong to base-line common sense. Any honest skeptical appraisal of our opinions however will lead us to acknowledge that much of what we believe is not due to careful deliberation on our part, but to varying degrees taken on as matters of acquiescence to some authority, like our parents, friends, teachers and institutional dogmas. Were such not the case there’d be no room for fact-checking organizations and no concern about social media propagating misleading and downright false information. Even the most mindful of us can fall victim to that feeling of “such and such must be true, it comes from a trusted source.” Regardless of whether any such statements are objectively true does not remove the reality that often there exists a vast ignorance concerning the surrounding context.
As one social critic recently noted: “Google has made us all experts.” Be certain that the sarcasm was thick in that statement. The mere accrual of information does not absolve the limitations of perspective as facts do not stand alone, being believed or cast aside based on whether they fall within the light of our vision. Confirmation bias isn’t a problem of one side or another of any social or political issue, it’s endemic to being human.
If we begin or simply attempt to remind ourselves that our perspectives are not in the business of creating reality but of distilling it to fit in our worldview, we will have set foot on a journey of constant discovery rather than the mere reinforcement of our blindness.
© David Teachout