I am always interested in why people change their minds, have epiphanies and suddenly see things many of us have seen forever. It isn’t just them, we all have such moments. Well, most of us do. Psychologists class any behavior that denies reality as psychotic.
Challenging our beliefs, whether someone does it or we do it to our self, it is no small thing. People have emotional attachment to their thinking, ideas, beliefs, and especially their self-image. So, changing one’s mind on matters of importance is a big deal.
This week Draxtor Dupres published the second article on the Drax Files blog: one month to go but so much news. It is well and creatively written. His talent shows in the writing.
This week he asks that Second Life residents Skype-call and share stories about, to quote him:
Have you ever encountered a friend/family member/colleague who [perhaps] involuntarily insulted you deeply by dismissing Second Life as a place for [take your pick and/or add] sex-crazed housewives, lonely overweight truck-drivers or underage loudmouths?
He states the goal for this sharing as:
Our goal here is to gather accounts of ignorant statements concerning SL and perhaps to find ways to combat them in the future? Or at least have a good laugh?
Combat them in the future… I am sure we would all like to be able to convey our thoughts and feelings to correct what we consider misconceptions and blatant ignorance about Second Life. And to have a better response for those moments when we realize they aren’t getting it.
With time we will see if this effort results in a collection of people’s delusions about Second Life™ or actually produces something that can dispel the delusions.
What We Know
When it comes to changing minds, correcting misconceptions, busting myths, or just finding the truth of any matter we actually know quite a lot.
We have recent studies that show people base their beliefs primarily on what they garner from friends. Other sources follow in the list of things we allow to shape our beliefs. If we could control people’s sources of information, we could to a large extent control what people think. We see governments and advertising agencies trying to control our thinking everyday.
But why, when presented with facts, do people persist in a mistaken or obviously false or unsupported belief? We have a name for that: belief perseverance. It is being studied. If someone can figure out how to consistently break down belief perseverance, they’ll get rich.
If we are going to solve that perseverance problem and ever be able change people’s minds we need some idea of why it exists. I think we also have to understand why people believe the things they do.
Why We Believe
A basic reason is tradition. Usually this means it is our family’s beliefs. It can also be our “tribe’s” or national beliefs. Governments attempt to shape a population’s beliefs via education and propaganda. These are basically beliefs people have accepted with little or no examination.
There are those that believe what a person or organization considered an authority has told them. I see this as very similar to ‘traditional’ beliefs. Acceptance of beliefs in this case is really based on belief in the authority being right, not examination of the concepts.
Another reason is seen with Intuitive beliefs. Such a believer may say people cannot trust their mind’s reasoning, but should go with their heart-felt feelings.
Others have more mystical reasons like God spoke to me… the prophets of old times.
Then there are those that believe based on evidence, examination of ideas and operation in life, how well they predict or explain out comes and results or fit to history. Trails are based on evidence to prove who did what so a jury can decide.
For many there is the idea people can just find the truth and accept that. If you study philosophy, you know there is significant problem in just knowing IF there is a ‘truth’. For many people truth is relative, dependent on a person’s viewpoint. For others there are absolute truths in the universe regardless of viewpoint. So, not only is ‘what is true’ debatable, but ‘is there any truth’ is debatable. Complication.
Can what people believe about Second Life and why be as esoteric as religion or political systems? Does any family really have a tradition about SL? Probably not. Does any government have a propaganda campaign for computer games? Other than Australia, not that I know of.
We have obvious and easily obtainable facts about SL. It shouldn’t require a deep philosophical discussion. So, why is it difficult to change minds?
Consider. The climate change debate should be a science and fact based argument easily resolved. But, people are split 70/30 (+/-10) as of recent polls with the 70 believing warming is happening but no big deal. (Reference polls) What? So, why is this till in dispute and people emphatically holding to their side of the debate?
If we don’t understand the reasons for people not being willing to change those beliefs, we will never figure out why they cling their beliefs about SL. Obviously facts alone are not working.
The Resistance and Perseverance
We know aspects of human thinking that contribute to our holding on to our beliefs. A significant one is called: cognitive dissonance. A term coined in 1957 by psychologist Leon Festinger, who was studying cult members at the time.
Leon was describing a mental phenomenon many of us have experienced. To understand what it is consider an aspect of how our minds work.
We build a meta-reality of the RL world in our mind. It is that meta-reality that we deal with in our thoughts. Flat-world people think it possible to fall off the edge of the world based on how they ‘think’ of the world. They have never traveled to the edge of the world. They have no first hand experience of falling off the Earth. But, in their mind’s model of the world it is blatantly obvious it is possible.
Those of us that think the world is an oblate spheroid (the technical term for the Earth’s pair-like shape) and understand its mass pulls us toward the center of the planet believe there is no place on the planet where we can fall off. There is no ‘edge’ like a curb of which we can step off.
So, being a spherical Earth person, imagine stepping off a curb into the street and you start falling upward. This is going to be a major WTF moment for you. Your meta-world and RL are not syncing up and that creates cognitive dissonance, your meta world model did not predict what your senses tell you is happening.
You may have experienced something like this when you are certain someone has died and you then meet that person or their twin walking around. For a second or two the world seems to spin as you ‘know’ what you are seeing is not possible. ‘Seen a ghost’ is how people having a cognitive dissonance moment are described by observers. The experience is not just a mental experience. It affects our whole being.
This ‘moment’ is the time it is taking your brain to assimilate the sensory information and resolve the conflict between observed data and your meta-reality model of reality. This is a mental high alert and your brain is in a panic to get things corrected. Your life might depend on it. If you are falling up, you need to know quickly how to stop it before ending up in a place where falling down starts working again. Or, if your senses are lying and you are not falling up then what is happening and what action can you take next that won’t create a problem.
Such moments are uncomfortable. Humans strive to avoid them. It is one of our survival mechanisms to have a meta-model that predicts what will happen when we step off a curb, before we step off it.
We also know that the human body is an energy efficient system. Thinking requires energy. We only do panic level thinking in emergencies. This is the type of thinking where our brain is pulling numerous memories and experiences from our past and finding matches with our current sensory data as it urgently looks for a way to survive. If your mind can find a previous similar scenario that we survived, our subconscious mind will give us that behavior to repeat and hopefully survive.
To support the mental activity our heart rate and breathing shift into panic survival mode. It is even common to have our circulatory system shut down periphery circulation to optimize the energy supply toward thinking… or reverse that for a fight or flight response.
If we have to start developing new strategies, the brain load remains high. The most complex thinking we do is planning for the future. New strategy development and planning are similar mental tasks. We humans, while excellent first time problem solvers, minimize that effort.