KNOWING, NOT KNOWING AND MAKING IT UP
Illuminating Our Blind Spots
H B Gelatt
My title comes from Kathryn Schulz’s book, Being Wrong, 2010, which is about “error blindness” — when falsehoods are invisible to us. I am writing this essay now because my recent reading has made me realize that error blindness and belief blindness — when we are unaware of the powerful influence of our beliefs — have become the cause of many of the national and global problems today. In all of my reading, writing and speaking about positive uncertainty, creative decision making and the process of illumination, major themes have been the power of beliefs and the virtue of uncertainty. These two themes are also found in today’s problems.
It seems fair to say that being wrong and the negative influence of beliefs are serious problems in America today. Although Kathryn Schulz points out that error of perception isn’t all bad news. Mistakes and errors are essential parts of science and art and discovering our mistakes leads to learning — but error blindness doesn’t. And belief blindness doesn’t lead to knowing how we know what we know and do what we do. Being wrong of course is difficult for people to accept. But accepting that one’s knowledge and behaviors are shaped by beliefs outside awareness is even more difficult. My goal is to convince readers of the need to get acquainted with what they don’t know and what they are making up — to increase awareness of the way they see things.
Following are statements that currently are considered to be knowledge, facts, truth (provisionally of course). They emphasize our unawareness, the powerful role of beliefs, and the need for uncertainty.
- Most mental activity occurs in the unconscious, outside of awareness.
- Everything is interconnected to everything else in an unbroken wholeness.
- The way we see things is not always the way things are, and not all there is.
- Beliefs become behavior because believing is seeing and seeing is doing.
- People who are most confident of their beliefs are usually less well informed, most likely to be wrong and least likely to change their minds.
A few examples of today’s problems come to mind. The belief of educational reformers that teachers are the only cause of student test scores leads to solutions that hold teachers solely responsible. This ignores the fact that everything is interconnected and excludes other meaningful solutions. The way they see things is not all there is.
The vow of elected politicians to never raise taxes in the belief that raising taxes is always a bad thing for democracy is an example of a most confident belief that is without uncertainty and unable to be changed.
The variety of beliefs that are called racial prejudice, cultural/social biases, stereotyping, etc. are examples of unconscious mental activity occurring outside of awareness. Or they are beliefs that have been culturally adopted and that are seldom, or ever, questioned.
The general belief in dualism, held by many, the view of separation, mind and matter, physical and spiritual, mind and body, etc., is an example of ignoring the interconnectedness of all things. It results in separating everything, erecting boundaries where no boundaries exist; and a non holistic point of view, not systems thinking.
The beliefs of suicide bombers that they will be rewarded in heaven is an example of beliefs that will probably never be changed or even doubted.
Making the World Better
We are living in a world of make believe, that is, we make what we believe.
To make something different, we must believe something different.
Bruce Lipton and Steve Bhaerman, in Spontaneous Evolution, 2010
To make the world better we must see and do things better. The way we see things is the result of perception and perception is the result of interpretation. Interpretation is always subjective — where there is room for error blindness and belief blindness.
To make the world better we need to have more doubt and less dogma. Doubt, it seems, is a skill — and one that needs to be learned. Credulity, by contrast, appears to be something very like an instinct. We are now being told that even our brains prefer certainty.
Man’s natural state is not doubt, but credulity — a combination of suggestibility in the face of whatever is clearly and strongly presented, and the will-to-believe whatever is personally and socially congenial.
Harold Larrabee in Reliable Knowledge,1945
Making the world better will require…
- Making the invisible visible. Keep your mind’s eye on what you do not see.
- Making the unconscious conscious. Use your “mindsight”, looking inside.
- Making absolute certainty uncertain. Treat what you know as a hypothesis.
The above strategies are a sort of a summary of what I have been writing for 20 years, most recently found in 30 essays titled The Process of Illumination, Looking at the Way We See Things that I wrote and posted between 2007 and 2010. It was a process of illuminating and expanding our collective worldview to be more open and inclusive one worldview at a time. My theme was: The minute you make up your mind that the way you see things makes a difference, it will make a difference in the way you see things and do things.