For a couple of years, I was a psychology major in college, and I loved it. In my younger years, I was the type of person who would take magazine quizzes to learn more about my personality and perspective – if I wasn’t fearful of a bunch of tracking and garbage, I probably would take more of the Facebook quizzes that pop up on my feed.
That we as humans can have varying world views and interpretations has always fascinated me – I love learning how someone else sees a situation and trying to see it the way that they do (even if I don’t necessarily agree).
On my morning run (on the treadmill), I watched a couple of TED Talks – “How to see past your own your own perspective and find the truth” by Michael Patrick Lynch and “What happens in your brain when you pay attention” by Mehdi Ordikhani-Seyedlar. You’re probably wondering, how are these related? I’ll explain.
You’re probably wondering, how are these related? I’ll explain.
Let’s start with attention. As you’re hearing, reading, learning another person’s perspective/point of view, you need to pay attention. As Mr. Ordikhani-Seyedlar points out, this is hard. He says, “Many people think that attention is all about what we are focusing on, but it’s also about what information our brain is trying to filter out.” He speaks to the overt attention that we give something by looking at it. However, in the “case of attention…we can shift our attention not only by our eyes but also by thinking.”
He goes on to explain an experiment to test overt and covert attention, and what he found was that “The frontal part, it seems that it works as a filter trying to let information come in only from the right flicker that you are paying attention to and trying to inhibit the information coming from the ignored one.”
The frontal part our brains is responsible for the higher cognitive functions we have as humans.
Okay, that’s enough neuroscience, what does that have to do with perspective?
Michael Patrick Lynch opens his TED Talk with the imaginary scenario where a person has a smartphone in their brain, and he asks the question, “would it make it easier for you to know what’s true?”
He goes on to say, “Now, it’s a feature of modern life, I suppose, that large swaths of the public live in isolated information bubbles. We’re polarized: not just over values, but over the facts. One reason for that is, the data analytics that drive the internet get us not just more information, but more of the information that we want. Our online life is personalized; everything from the ads we read to the news that comes down our Facebook feed is tailored to satisfy our preferences. And so while we get more information, a lot of that information ends up reflecting ourselves as much as it does reality. It ends up, I suppose, inflating our bubbles rather than bursting them. And so maybe it’s no surprise that we’re in a situation, a paradoxical situation, of thinking that we know so much more, and yet not agreeing on what it is we know.”
He explains that this isn’t a technology problem, it’s a human problem related to how we think and what we value as individuals. He describes that one of the first steps in solving this is agreeing that we live in a common reality. However, “we can’t step outside our own perspectives, can’t step outside of our own bias.”
I encourage you to watch both of these TED Talks because both speakers go much deeper than this summary.
To tie it all together, the work that Medhi Ordikhani-Seyedlar shared with us explain that our overt focus only goes so far once the frontal lobe starts filtering information, similar to confirmation bias, that matches our perspective on reality. Let’s hope that we all start using the three tips that Michael Patrick Lynch shared so that we’re all open to understanding someone else’s perspective on the reality that we all live in.