Why we need to talk the psychology of things unknown

The real reason our world is a simulation is not as sinister as you think

The classes in my second degree were more intimate and often more engaging than my first. There were seldom wrong or right answers, because they were mostly classes that focused on and backed students’ worldview with methods to tackle whatever social problems we saw, or related with. These classes were filled with people from various cultural backgrounds, experiences and age groups and so we hardly ever agreed on anything.

One debate I remember having was about shoes. For context: The founder of Toms pushed a cause where he gives one child in a rural area of a third world country one pair of shoes, for every pair bought at stores. The company had done this a few times and while kids were now provided with good quality shoes,  local cobblers were losing money. As you would expect,  in a scenario like this, the class was divided on what constitutes common good.

Some of my classmates believed though those who could afford to buy local shoes would get free shoes too, thus reducing sales for the cobblers, those who cannot will also be benefiting, so the cobbler’s lack of sales is collateral for the kid’s health. While the other side of the classroom believed the free shoes were disrupting the local economy and stifling the community (and maybe the country’s) ability to become self-sufficient. While both arguments are defendable (Life 101: there’s no correct answer), it is clear that both parties see the world differently. Both were looking at the same case study through different frames.  The world is the same, but the frame of reference differs.

Our frame of reference is how we perceive what we view as reality through our subconscious frames: the frame through which we view and interpret our external environment. And because we believe our perceptions to be real, we believe everyone else sees them the same way. Our frames are influenced by our environments and often by the interpretations of the people we interacted with the most in our early years. Our beliefs in the first few years of our lives echo our guardians’ and we tend to interpret the world around us the way they’ve taught us to. In some instances, we disagree with these views based on data from core beliefs we may gather from other sources. But because they are the ones we interact with most, and most of our development happened around them, we tend to hold on to their beliefs more than we’re willing to admit, and sometimes more than we’re aware of.

But as we grow and start to have our own experiences, we start to form our own opinions, and as these opinions become stronger we begin to question our previous beliefs and compare our developing worldview to our previous one. Learning and engaging with various points of views by giving people who think differently from us platforms to speak, expand and shape our lives and eventual worldviews. This kind of growth only comes when we allow it. The problem is that we can only allow it if we know we’re biased. But bias is not easy to spot because it is in our subconscious. Our frames dictate how we view the world and interpret information and how could you possibly comprehend that people might interpret information totally different from you?

Because of this inability to spot our biases, our frames lead us to create mind, and ultimately, conversational bubbles where everything that doesn’t agree with our ideologies is filtered tuned out, or coloured with our counter arguments supporting our beliefs. Because we believe our frame is the only one- how could it not be? It’s literally how we see the world – we are naturally drawn towards people who share similar frames with us. 

In debates with people with different beliefs, we question and counter their opinions by referencing data we’ve gathered from friends, authors, academics and others who share our minds-eye.  Ironically, how we perceive the world is merely a simulation of reality translated through our personal or acquired experiences. This is why it is possible to have long-drawn arguments and still find no cause to adjust your chosen viewpoint; because you just don’t get where the other person is coming from.

The new age has made gathering information easier for us as a generation, through this new material source, we learn, and we grow, and we gather information. However, we have also seen how people with opposing views aggressively dispute arguments by attempting to bully others out of their opinions. 

In today’s Google-smart world, algorithms now tend to support our conversational filtering methods, usually, this information tends to be clouded by our belief bubbles. Search results now focus very heavily on what the algorithm assumes to be your preferred answers based on previous searches.

The goal of these engines is to tailor the searches to our preferences so that we are not overwhelmed with information, but this is really only killing our chances of expanding our frames. User behaviour research has revealed over time, that people tend towards search results that affirm pre-established notions. That is, usually, we merely look to re-adjust our frames to accommodate new information. But this does not mean we should not keep trying to learn (even within our bubble), because we are doomed to only circle around. We are in a time when societal norms are no longer taken as is because people are more willing to have open discussions, others have discovered they’ve been living in bubbles and have learnt to break free. 

 The most interesting thing about the human experience is that there are multiple layers to our personality because individual grey lines will be still coloured by the rules of nature and nurture. At childhood, we are easily impressed upon and vulnerable to whatever our immediate surrounding offers as truth.  My goal with this column is to compress the gap between the known and unknown so that perhaps it is less scary to question ourselves, our beliefs or our existence. This journey requires that you are patient with me, and the success of this quest demands that you share as many thoughts as your mind will allow. The psychology of the unknown requires that we walk the tightrope to the road rarely taken together.

Psychology of Things Unknown is a weekly column by Tomiwa Isiaka, published every Saturday.

Featured Image Credits: Micheal Cho

“Tomiwa is figuring it out…” Tweet at her @fauxxbella

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