Mindful Of HOW You See

Objectivity is the subject’s delusion that observing can be done without him.                       Heinz von Forester

 The observer is always part of what is observed. You can’t take you out of what you see; your perception is created by subjective you. Whatever you see is what you see. What you see is not what everyone else sees; and it is not all there is. To be a self-aware observer is to be mindful of how you see what you see. Mindful is defined as heedful, attentive, careful, “cautiously attentive”. Not just being attentive, being cautiously attentive. This blog is a reminder.

Most of us are aware that what we see is not all there is. But this awareness gets lost in most of our observations. We usually see what we want to see and don’t see what we don’t want to see and ignore what we can’t see. And what we see is the tip of the iceberg. How you see is explained:

In all visual things, there is a hidden wholeness. Thomas Merton

Perceptions are portraits not photographs.  Daniel Gilbert

 We are seeing only snapshots, not the whole picture. Self-awareness may be an oxymoron. To be totally self aware, you need to be aware of your unconscious mind and know all of your cognitive biases. Paying attention intentionally to your unconscious mind and cognitive biases may be too much to expect. Total mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. I wonder if that is possible.

What is possible is being aware that your perceptions are not photographs. You are not only the one taking the picture, you are also the camera. Portraits might be a useful metaphor for self-awareness. As an observer of my life, I am also the camera taking the snapshots. Even with a wide-angle lens, I am not seeing the whole picture.

To portray as a portrait is to depict or represent pictorially; make a picture of. My observation is making a picture of reality; it represents reality to me. My “portrait map” is not the territory. This is obvious when you realize that everyone else has their own map of the same territory. Their observation depicts a different picture of reality. And no one sees the hidden wholeness.

Subjectivity is the cause of our restricted self-awareness. Subjective is defined as: proceeding from or taking place within a person’s mind such as to be unaffected by the external world. We see with our minds, not with our eyes. Therefore, being a self-aware observer is being aware of what is taking place in our minds.

We tend to see more through thoughts and opinions than through our eyes.                       Jon Kabat-Zinn



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 Hope Won’t Work

 The future depends on what we do today.  Mahatma Gandhi      

 Hope is not a method; it needs to be turned into action. Today the majority of the population believe that America is in a crisis. The crisis is the direction the government is heading — away from American values of equality, diversity, inclusiveness and the practice of democracy. Today, fear and anger, like hope, won’t solve the crisis. What is needed now is defiance, bold resistance. You don’t just sit there; you DO something.

The good news: The future depends on what we DO today. The bad news: The future depends on what we DO today. It is bad news because people usually prefer hope, fear and anger to action. This blog is a call for more action.

The United States of America, a country of the people, by the people and for the people, is starting to take shape, and take action. They talk, write, march, gather in protest; they let it be known that they disagree. If ever there was a time when the people need to act, this is the time. People in this country and around the world are beginning to do something.

It is helpful that politicians running the country today are saying and doing things that just beg for negative reaction. It’s very hard to just sit there and take it. I know my blog is not bold resistance, but it is what I feel able to do, and makes me feel I might be contributing. Each of us has our special way to do something. Since the election, every day you can count the many ways people are taking action. Even some republican members of congress are beginning to do something, or at least say something.

The politics of today is heading in the direction away from established American values, policies and practices and is cause for alarm. Standing by and watching our current government lead us in this direction, won’t work. If we can imagine, or even visualize, the future our government is heading to, we are likely to want to do act.

Today many people are taking non-violent, peaceful action to protest the direction America is currently heading. What we do today will determine our future direction.

Apathy, like hope, fear, and anger won’t work. To have a country of diversity, equality and inclusiveness will require the people taking action to create it. Today.

The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating.                                 John Schaar, Futurist

You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.                                                                          C.J. Jung



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To Rescue The Future

 Critical thinking is the ability and willingness to assess claims and make objective judgments on the basis of well-supported reasons. It is the ability to look for flaws in arguments and resist claims that have no supporting evidence. *

Could it be that what this world needs now, in addition to love, is critical thinking? Critical thinking is what we have too little of. Try this fantasy visualization: What if in America today, the president of the United States, the majority of the voters, and most of the politicians were critical thinkers? Would the future of America be different? The future doesn’t exist; it needs to be created. So our mindful future thinking will be crucial to creating a positive future. “It is going to be our minds (cultural evolution) not our genes (biological evolution) that creates or destroys our positive future.”  Peter Russell

Critical thinking is cultivated in our minds. I believe the teaching and learning of critical thinking could be a major factor in changing the direction our nation is heading. Although I am not optimistic about this belief, there is some evidence that teaching critical thinking is increasing in high schools and colleges, although probably not required. One problem with teaching critical thinking is in its definition.

Critical thinking definitions include such terms as objective, reason, skeptical, unbiased, rational, and factual evidence. The adult human mind is so full of cognitive biases and cultural indoctrination that being rational and objective is almost impossible. Some have suggested we teach critical thinking in elementary school, because children may not yet have well developed cognitive biases. But scientist believe the young brain may not be ready.

It seems obvious that today’s president, voters and politicians are not good candidates to learn critical thinking. I am aware that some voters and politicians today are already good critical thinkers. We know that many people, maybe a majority, are not happy with the direction this nation is heading. Is there some way to organize the current critical thinkers and the unhappy voters into a force to create a new future direction? Maybe a new kind of positive conspiracy?

When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: Those who make it happen. Those who let it happen. Those who wonder what happened. John M. Richardson Jr.

Other definitions:                                                                                                                    (critical thinking is a complicated mental process with several definitions)                             * includes the rationalskepticalunbiased analysis or evaluation of factual evidence.          * the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.                             * a mental process of reviewing clear, rational thoughts based on evidence to reach a             conclusion.

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Fallible Yet Enjoyable Perception

  Illusion is the first of all pleasures. Voltaire

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. Albert Einstein

Illusion is defined as an erroneous perception of reality. Seeing the sun rise or sun set isan erroneous perception of reality. So is seeing an airplane getting smaller as it flies away. These are examples of Einstein’s quote. Illusion is pleasurable because the erroneous perception is usually personally positive. An erroneous perception of reality that is personally negative is not enjoyable. But we usually believe what we want to be true, and believing is seeing. This has been the theme of most of my blogs. Because perception and illusion are so significant in today’s world of change and uncertainty, following is a review of some important thoughts about the way we see things.

  • Inattentional blindness, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. The Invisible Gorilla book illustrates the illusion of attention. We experience far less of the world than we think we do. The famous selective attention gorilla test shows how easy it is to not notice what is in plain view; we see only what we pay attention to.
  • What you see is all there is, Daniel Kahneman. In his best-selling book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman makes the point about intuitive thinking, that  you see only what you see; and what you see is the map of your reality. But the map is not the territory. This is an example of “holistic blindness”.
  • Positive Illusions, Shelley Taylor. She identified three common positive illusions. Unrealistically positive views of self. Exaggerated perceptions of personal control. Unrealistic optimism about the future. These are examples of unrealistic perceptions. Being realistic is being aware of things as they really are.
  • The Knowledge Illusion, Stephen Sloman and Phillip Fernbach. In their book they write: By avoiding illusion, you’re more likely to be accurate. But illusion is a pleasure. Many of us spend a significant part of our lives living in illusion quite intentionally. We fantasize to enhance our creativity.
  • Not all illusions are visual, Daniel Kahneman. There are illusions of thought, which are called cognitive illusions. The illusion that we understand the past fosters overconfidence in our ability to predict the future. Errors of intuitive thought are often difficult to prevent. Biases cannot always be prevented.

 Apparently the joys of illusion will always be with us. Rational thinking requires constantly questioning our own intuitive thinking and would be impossibly tedious. However, it is easier to recognize other people’s illusions than our own.

If we choose, we can live in a world of comforting illusion. Noam Chomsky

Nothing is more sad than the death of an illusion. Arthur Koestler




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Doubt Leads To Questions — Questions Lead To Wisdom

 To be wise has changed from being able to answer the questions                                                  to being able to question the answers.   Unknown

To doubt or not to doubt; that is the question. Actually, if you don’t doubt, there is no question. The lack of questioning is not the road to wisdom. Doubt is not a four letter word, but it is not very popular. Certainty is more popular because it feels so good. Being closed-minded is clearly not being wise. Although I have written a lot about doubt, I consider this blog an urgent reminder of its importance today. Especially today.

Because doubt and wisdom are themes of this blog, this time I want to share some thoughts of others older and wiser than me.

  • Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. Voltaire
  • Doubt is the beginning not the end of wisdom. George Ille
  • The surest way to lose the truth is to pretend that you already possess it.                   Gordon Allport
  • The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. Bertrand Russell
  • A belief which leaves no place for doubt is not a belief; it is a superstition. Jose Bergamin
  • The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions.                      Claude Levi-Strauss

Today, doubt is needed more than ever. Although truth-telling can’t be required, doubt has become an essential skill. The benefit of doubt is found in its consequence: an open mind. The best way to understand the advantage of open-mindedness is to think of the disadvantage of close-mindedness: a closed mind is a dead end; it has no where to go; it eliminates change. If there is no doubt, there is only certainty.

he consequence of not doubting is that it eliminates the consequences (the benefits)  of doubting. What is going on in the mind (and not going on in the mind) determines what we do. Attitudes turn into action. Beliefs become behavior. Thinking and doing are related. The ABC’s of life: Attitudes – Behavior – Consequence.

Keeping the mind open in the face of uncertainty is the single most powerful  secret of unleashing your creative potential. Michael Gelb



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Should It Be Required?                                                                                                        

“I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

Maybe we should require every American citizen to promise to tell the truth. Maybe not. Or maybe we should require every American politician to promise to tell the truth. Maybe not. Or maybe we should require every American president to promise to tell the truth. Maybe not a bad idea.

It is foolish, of course, to expect everyone to tell the truth because everyone probably doesn’t know the truth. And many don’t want to know the truth. It is foolish, of course, to expect every politician to tell the truth because honesty is not the best political policy.  Some could not get reelected if they told the truth. But why can’t we expect, or even require, the U. S. president to tell the truth (under oath)?

This game of truth telling is just a game of course. But I propose we use it to help think about the problem in today’s politics of “Post-truth”:  An adjective defined as relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are les influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. Post-truth is a well-known phenomenon today. Three books were just published with that title. Knowing that objective facts are less influential today doesn’t cause people to want to be more influenced by facts. Public opinion today seems to appeal more and more to emotion and personal belief. If this is a trend, and it seems to be, where are we heading?

I wish I could provide some perspective on truth telling. Maybe looking at the definition of truth can help. Truth:  A statement proven to be true or accepted as true. The American Heritage College Dictionary. The trouble with truth is the definition. Apparently something that is accepted as true, although not proven to be true, is true. (Examples: The sun rises and sets, the earth is flat, UFO’s, conspiracy theories, climate change, God exists, God doesn’t exist, etc.). These beliefs, by definition, become truths, if accepted as true by enough people. Truth varies.

So the way we define the problem is the problem. And required truth telling won’t solve the problem.  What will?

… depending on the perspective of the viewer, the angle of vision, the time  frame, and the scale of observation, one might see very different pictures  of the same underlying truth.                              Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

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Self-Serving Bias In Politics

We prefer to believe what we prefer to be true. Francis Bacon

The confirmation bias is also known as the myside bias and I have come to prefer myside. The bias is defined as: the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and rejects information that contradicts them. This indicates a way of seeing things one way, myside only; believing to be true what one wants to be true.

I believe this tendency is the major reason for today’s political turmoil. In the U S two party political system, it is easy to be “myside partisan”. All you need to know on any given subject is which side you’re on. Andrew Sullivan. In an interesting article in New York magazine (Oct. 1, 2017), Andrew Sullivan suggests that we are a divided “two tribes” country. When the three core components of a tribal identity — race, religion and geography — define your political parties, you’re in serious trouble. I consider this a national political example of myside bias.

However, we not only have a two-sided tribal government, we also have a two-sided voting public. Consider this (from Sullivan’s article): 61 percent of Trump supporters say there’s nothing he could do to make them change their minds about him; 57 percent of his opponents say the same thing. Nothing he could do. To me this is an example of afixed mindset, unable to consider, or even hear other views (myside bias). This also appears to be the mindset of congress. And it eliminates compromise, collaboration, cooperation, agreement, alliance, partnership, and working together, uniting the tribes. Democracy is based on the functioning of these practices.

If myside bias is so strong that it can’t see the other side, how do we overcome this tribal dead-end? Sullivan says: The actual solutions to our problems are to be found in the current no-man’s- land that lies between the two tribes. This requires political compromise, which requires overcoming myside bias, and involves open-minded listening to information and ideas the contradict one’s own. How likely is that with politicians and voters? Not very likely, in my opinion, because open-mindedness requires some amount of uncertainty about what my side believes. And uncertainty is not very popular. Brain research suggests the human brain does not like uncertainty.

 But the confirmation/myside bias isn’t the only interference to political decision making. Other selfish beliefs interfere: Perceptual bias, Uncertainty bias, Bandwagon bias, Self-serving bias. And Blind-spot bias: recognizing the impact of biases on the judgement of others, while failing to see the impact of biases on one’s own judgment. Blind-spot bias makes me believe that politicians and voters will not overcome their myside bias. Sides will remain one-sided. What do you believe?

America isn’t built for humans. Our political system is too naïve to handle tribalism. Tribalism was an urge our founding fathers assumed we could overcome.                      Andrew Sullivan 



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