What a person sees “depends both upon what he looks at and also upon what his previous visual-conception experience has taught him to see.”
― Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
What we see depends on what we look at.
What we look at depends on our previous experiences.
Our previous experiences create a field of vision.
This field of vision is always limited. Always. There is no possibility that we can be aware of everything. This would overwhelm our system to a point of collapse because it would not be able to process every single quanta of information that enters our senses.
Our field of vision is therefore always incomplete and imperfect. This concept is what Nobel Prize-winning economist Herbert Simon calls ‘bounded rationality’.*
Our first experiences with our families create the experience-dependent prediction networks in our brain.
These prediction networks act like a dial that zooms in our attention according to what we already predict or assume.
It then focuses our attention on that and blurs out the rest.
This is what is happening in terms of how we even ‘see’ physical matter. Matter is made up of blinking electron clouds of potential that flash in and out of existence. Yet we can’t ‘see’ this when we look at our hand or a chair.
Our brain has to dull out and blur massive amounts of information to make sense of what we see. This doesn’t mean that the data in the form of waves and particles isn’t there right in front of us. We just can’t see it.
In the same sense, this happens to us as we navigate our social worlds. Our brain prioritizes information in this way:
- Strong emotion
This is important for us to understand because it means that the focusing mechanism of our ‘beam of awareness’ will be first geared toward figuring out what will hurt us (and when it think it’s ‘found’ the threat, it will blur out all other information).
If our system then does not detect threat, it can look towards what will help it achieve its goals. From a social level this also means that we often see people as either pathways to our goal or obstacles in the way.
Strong emotions become the next target of our focusing mechanism (beam of awareness).
Social media capitalizes on all three of the above.
The algorithms naturally pick up on the highest priority of our nervous system because that’s what we click on and share the most.
This is what I also see happening in many of the human social experiences that are occurring today.
We each believe we are seeing the whole picture.
But we are imperfect humans with imperfect information. Always…. This can’t be disputed from a molecular, neurobiological perspective!
This means that there is always room for more information to flow into our awareness.
There is always another perspective.
The more different that perspective is from what you already think, the better.
Why? Because if you continue to keep your focus on what already seems true to you, it only means that your circuitry is holding your beam of awareness on a snippet of data that it already predicts.
Those circuits have already fired millions of times. They have already created cascades of neurotransmitters and other electro-chemical-mechanical activity within you that you have experienced before.
This means there’s nothing new entering your system.
Looking at other perspectives also helps you see what’s wrong or missing from that perspective (including yours, and including those of the people you agree with).
In her book Thinking in Systems, Donella Meadows asserts:
“[...] how do you change paradigms? … You keep pointing at the anomalies and failures in the old paradigm. You keep speaking and acting, loudly and with assurance, from the new one… You don’t waste time with reactionaries; rather, you work with active change agents and with the vast middle ground of people who are open-minded.”
When you actively and intentionally seek out information that contradicts what you believe, you are widening your field of awareness and you are activating ‘circuitry of flexibility’.
You are working out - just like a muscle - the ability to see multiple perspectives at once and then see patterns that connect them.
Seeing patterns that connect what ‘seems’ disjointed or different helps you understand a universal thread that ties them together.
When we are able to do that, we can get closer to understanding the goals of whatever those different points of view are about. And understanding goals is one of the leverage points to transforming systems.
As you actively and intentionally seek out perspectives that seem ‘untrue’ to you, you also expand your view to see that paradigms exist in the first place. When you are lost in your own, you don't even realize that it is a paradigm.
You start to see that each person is hypnotized by their own field of vision.
And that you have been as well.
Hovering above at that vantage point, you now get to do something that very few people do.
You get to choose when you dive into a perspective and when you want to pull back up and look at another.
You are no longer trapped in past-oriented perception or group think.
In Episode 5 of season 2, I talk about the formation of self-identity and group identity through the lens of hyper-coherent networks. I also talk about the key features of what makes a system resilient. Your brain is a system. Your relationships are systems. Human society is a system.
We are at a stage now in our evolution as a society where we are ready to become more flexible and innovative.
What can help us do this is to understand the mechanisms of change.
A mindset or paradigm shift is one of those mechanisms.
A level higher than that: being able to rise above paradigms altogether*.
This is what will actually help us free our mind from the repetitiveness of ‘status quo preservation’ into the ‘realm of possibility’.
It allows us to experiment with perspectives that are guided by our values - rather than only confirming a narrow field of vision based on our past, which is largely driven by our tribal identity.
That’s the goal of what I’m sharing in season 2 and upcoming articles.
Thanks for joining me!
*being aware of paradigms is a paradigm itself 🙂 that's the beauty of this - it is a never-ending process of expanding awareness.
“There’s nothing physical or expensive or even slow in the process of a paradigm change. In a single individual, it can happen in a millisecond. All it takes is a click in the mind, a falling of scales from the eyes, a new way of seeing.”
-Donella Meadows, Thinking in Systems