Here’s the hypothesis- the challenge in addressing the controversies of our day comes down to whether a person sees their opinion as the end point or a starting place.
The concept is simple.
The answer is: it depends.
The brain’s main objective is choosing what action to take in the face of uncertainty that best promotes success and survival at that moment in the given circumstances. In Free the Brain (www.freethebrain.com), this notion of success is the lens through which the brain interprets the world around. The brain’s prefers to rationalize, justify, and defend the chosen action based on the pattern derived from its worldview- genetics, upbringing, and experiences- that combine to illustrate the way the world works and the ‘rules’ to be used in navigating that world. ( https://www.freethebrain.com/post/let-s-dig-deeper-the-foundation-of-the-story-worldview ) It seeks an apparent simple solution that is easy to grasp and act upon, and the brain is all about acting. Facing the myriad conflicting aspects and features inherent in so many of today’s challenges takes a lot more energy and attention, something the brain prefers not to do unless it has no other choice. It’s not too hard to see, then, that perception and reality don’t quite match up. Sometimes they are wildly different, which is why two people can ‘see’ the same thing, but come away with very different opinions.
This is not a bug in the system. It is a feature; it’s the way we are wired. In the face of a threat, the brain must drive us to act; there just isn’t time to consider everything when survival is at stake. And the brain processes this way whether the circumstance is time sensitive or not.
No opinion is based on the full story. It is always subject to assumptions and interpretations that skew opinion away from reality. The issue is to what degree, and what can a person do to mitigate this disconnect.
So let’s say I’m aware of this feature in the system and as a mitigating technique choose to carefully consider all that can be known at the moment - a full accounting of all the circumstances and the full range of concerns- and form my opinion in this circumstance recognizing that my inherent worldview may not provide the best foundation upon which to base that opinion. Even then, there is no guarantee that my subsequent choice of action will result in the success I’m after, no guarantee that I have completely closed the gap between perception and reality. But I can be sure I have given myself the best opportunity in that moment to avoid a misguided choice- one that in retrospect could and should have been seen as not the best option in those circumstances at that time. And depending on the outcome, I can also be assured that whether or not I get what I want or need, there will be some shortfall I can learn from and use to inform the next action. In this case, opinion as an end point, really an intermediate end point if you will, is the best we can do.
What if I take my opinion as the end point, defending it as reality and the inevitable outcome? https://www.freethebrain.com/post/the-trap-of-inevitability) What if I don’t examine that opinion for what it is missing, what I am dismissing, or what I am overlooking in holding that belief? Has that afforded me an advantage in gaining success or even considering whether my notion of success is really what I’m after? https://www.freethebrain.com/post/just-get-over-it-the-problem-with-problem-thinking
I talk a lot about Ian MacGilchrist’s idea that in the last 300 years, society’s balance in viewing ‘The World As I Want It To Be’ against ‘The World As It Is’ has gotten off kilter, favoring the former. ( https://www.freethebrain.com/post/the-world-you-live-in ) We have certainly received much benefit in technological advancement, but not without significant negative impacts. This imbalance has led to much of the discord we now see- ‘The World As I Want It To Be’ as the end point rather than a starting point.
A couple recent news stories illustrate this quite well. This week, a federal court judge ruled the CDC overstepped its bounds when mandating a mask requirement on mass transport. ( https://apnews.com/article/biden-health-business-travel-tampa-3408cc825582126fbda5fbedd3a49dd3) Her opinion was based on an interpretation of the word ‘sanitation’ in the 1944 Congressional statute giving authority to CDC. In her view, sanitation refers only to:
‘measures that clean something.’ ‘The CDC required mask wearing as a measure to keep something clean -- explaining that it limits the spread of COVID-19 through prevention, but never contending that it actively destroys or removes it,’ and mandating such was akin to ‘detention and quarantine’.
Now one can certainly argue about what Congress intended ‘sanitation’ to mean at the time. And it is the job of courts to interpret such things in the absence of clarity about what Congress said and meant in its choice of words, especially as circumstances change or develop in ways never anticipated. But it appears she overlooked other provisions that Congress gave to CDC in that statute as well, namely, the authority to act in preventing transmission across state lines. From Section 361 of the 1944 act:
‘The Surgeon General, enforce such regulations as in his judgment are necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the States or possessions, or from one State or possession into any other State or possession.’
Did the judge miss or dismiss this inter state provision as being as important? (It is interesting that in the news sources, the inter state provision is often left out.) So at best, it appears she favored some provisions over others without acknowledging the possibly conflicting interpretations these provisions might lead to.
But Free the Brain would suggest something more. Was this judge truly applying the law in a dispassionate way, or was she overly influenced by her worldview around the best balance among individual freedom and the community good? Is there a time where the danger to the community outweighs the danger to the individual? Is it possible the individual may gain something, only to be negatively impacted when the subsequent community harm results in a worse outcome for the individual? Did her worldview about how to assess the law create an end point she then worked to justify through her interpretation of ‘sanitation’ rather than as a starting point to examine the full set of concerns and circumstances? And is it even possible to expect judges not to be influenced by their worldview? (Remember, a person is totally unaware of this processing.) Free the Brain would suggest the answer is no. But that does not mean there aren’t techniques and approaches that can mitigate the influence of one’s worldview, and we do expect judges to employ those.
The second revolves around the Florida Department of Education refusing to include 54 mathematics books in the school curriculum because these books ‘indoctrinate’ students on issues felt to be inappropriate for those age students. ( https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/education/2022/04/18/florida-education-rejects-math-books-race-theory/7354137001/ ) Again, the ruling revolves around the use of a particular word as it relates to the role of education. Indoctrinate is defined as to ‘teach (a person or group) to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.’ The connotation of coercion is clear. But consider this letter written by Sungjoo Yoon, a high school junior, addressing the role of controversial books in education. ‘Take It From a Student: We Should Argue About Books, Not Bans’. ( https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/18/opinion/school-book-bans-students.html) This casts the dilemma as one of age appropriateness to be reconciled, not indoctrination.
And so those who use ‘indoctrination’ to describe their opinion on appropriate books in schools- end point or starting place?
Press secretary rationalizing, justifying and defending, or analyst examining all that can be known at the time in the given circumstances in an attempt to find the best balance of concerns?
And what about the notions of success, the different lenses being used to form opinions?
Problem thinking or dilemma thinking?
Advantage for success and survival? or path to a misguided choice?
As we have talked about, the judgement is made in the Hidden Brain, but it is the ’press secretary’ in our brain hard at work, using just the language it can to justify the story it’s told. And the inability or unwillingness to take that story and opinion and treat it as a starting point obstructs the opportunity to have the real needed conversation- what is the notion of success for the issue at hand, especially one with many valuable but conflicting factors among people who’s opinions by definition reflect a gap between perception and reality.
And hasn’t this always been the issue, highlighted all through the pandemic- how to resolve the issue when my life, liberty and pursuit of happiness bumps up against yours.
The way our brain works obscures the real point of cause. ‘The World As I Want It to Be’ is critical to provide the impetus for action needed for success and survival, but it’s best use must be bounded within ‘The World As It Is.’ And 'The World As It Is’ encompasses more than just an opinion.