Tricks Our Minds Play on Us

Why is it that we hold some beliefs so firmly in the face of overwhelming evidence against them?

I notice this in religion, where people are convinced of the truth of a passage in the Bible, except that there is no such passage. Take a look at political discourse, that is, if you can with a measure of objectivity. Mostly it’s just a parroting of a mixture of opinion and fact–usually with precious little fact–held firmly as fact.

Pondering this question years ago led me to study brain science–at least from the standpoint of an educated layperson. My favorite works were by Antonio D’Amasio.

The current book open on my Kindle reader is Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova. One chapter on deductive reasoning really delves into findings on how our brain tricks us. It is well known in many circles that the mind will believe anything we tell it to believe. Well, it can also tell us we saw something that we never saw with our eyes. It is now legendary in legal trial circles that the worst evidence is eyewitness evidence.

I try to remember this research often as I trust my memory. Sometimes the memory is good. I interview many people for my day job. I’ve only had one instance where I misquoted the intent of my source in the past 16 years.

The secret is focus, paying close attention to the speaker, concentrating. The conversation comes back with only a few notes for important points.

There are things that happen where you didn’t have such focus. You thought you read it, when maybe you only heard it somewhere. You thought you saw the incident, when maybe your attention was elsewhere and only diverted over to the incident and then returned.

This means that we need to intentionally sharpen our awareness of what is around us. Be mindful of what we see, do and read. Go back and read again. Question our assumptions and test them.

Live with intention, not as if in a dream.

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