When You Know You’re Right, You’re Probably Wrong.
The Reality of Naive Realism.
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This piece from the archive is an ideal New Year opener.
When You KNOW You’re Right, You’re Probably Wrong.
You go to a party with a date, someone you’ve been seeing for a couple of months.
You like this person.
This is your first party, and you’re feeling slightly anxious about whether or not they are socially well-adjusted.
You’re about to find out.
You know many people at this party, but you and your date get stuck talking to someone you cannot stand.
This person is, let’s face it, repugnant.
Every time you see them, they are always just a bit too drunk, too loud, and too close, spraying spittle from their big, wet, red popsicle lips.
Worst of all, they keep interrupting your new person’s sentences, finishing them on their behalf despite never getting it right.
“After half an hour, I realized—”
“That you should give up and go home!” interrupts the interrupter.
“No, I should probably call them to see if they’re okay.”
You’re mortified and can’t wait until the party is over so you and your date can have a post-mortem and dissect the grotesquery of Old Drunk Wet Lips.
The second you step into the elevator, you turn and profusely apologize to your new person about getting stuck with that absolute horror of a human when—much to your dismay your person says—
“Oh, he wasn’t so bad.”
This, naturally, stops you in your tracks.
“What are you talking about?” you say. “That guy was the absolute worst person anyone gave birth to!”
“I thought he was sort of endearing.”
Now, either you can appreciate this aspect of your partner, or you can get defensive because HOW ON EARTH CAN YOU LOVE SOMEONE WHO IS TOO BLIND TO SEE THE ABSOLUTE REPUGNANCE OF A REPUGNANT PERSON?
You know you’re right.
Obviously, you’re right.
Your taste in people is impeccable—in fact, your taste in everything is top-notch— and that person was a bottom-notch garbage monster.
We have an innate desire for our worldview to be the correct one. We enter arguments thinking we are correct, but in reality, we have subconscious biases that may lead to us not being as accurate as we think we are.”
Your new person is wrong, and now you are preoccupied with the idea that your partner is unaware of their error. Consequently, you feel compelled to spend the remainder of the evening convincing your date of their mistake so that you can align your perspectives and share the same understanding of reality.
Because, like you just said, You are right.
This moment of feeling objectively right about something subjective is called Naïve Realism, and we all—to one degree or another—suffer from it.
Naïve realism is our innate ability to feel that how we see the world and what we believe about it is objective and correct. This phenomenon is what finds people stating their opinions as facts.
That what we feel is true is, in fact, true for everyone.
Or, should be.
“We tend to have irrational confidence in our own experiences of the world, and to see others as misinformed, lazy, unreasonable or biased when they fail to see the world the way we do.”
I used to be one of those people. (With occasional flare-ups.)
For a long time, I felt like my opinions were facts. It wasn’t until I read that to keep an open mind, you should carry your opinions loosely. This approach indicates a willingness to embrace change.
Since I am open to change, I began to ask myself: Can I accept that I might be wrong? Is there something more that I can’t see or don’t know?
The answer is almost always yes.
Often, when things FEEL true, we struggle to understand how these same things might not feel true to others.
Here’s where we get confused: because we can physically see and identify things for what they are—a lamp, a vase, a couch, a meal—we conflate our ability to correctly identify them with our feelings about them.
We assume the ability to identify objects means we are unbiased about them instead of understanding that it’s not objectivity through which our world is mediated but subjectivity, built and shaped over our lives by our personal experience, family customs, and surrounding culture.
Original art by Edwina White
At the heart of naïve realism is a false belief that we experience things exactly as they are, that the world is a material object. We fail to recognize that there is no “exactly as it is.”
Different circumstances and experiences shape every person on earth (and maybe every animal?). We have separate histories, emotions, and cultural biases. Different things and different people have influenced us, and all those things come together to create and shape our point of view.
We have only ever been ourselves. We are trapped inside our own egocentric bias. We will never be anyone else, so we have trouble understanding that an experience or an opinion backed up by our lifetime of experiences could be wrong.
And so, when someone disagrees with us, we naturally assume they are wrong. Of course, everything we perceive and take in cognitively is a personal interpretation and not, in fact, impartial truth.
In philosophy, naive realism falls under the theory of perception, and it’s considered “naïve” because “it claims that humans perceive things in the world directly and without the mediation of any impression, idea, or representation.”
“Our capacity to immediately experience a coherent world is the unheralded backbone of a meaningful life. The world around us is almost always immediately sensible in a way that feels effortless, is rarely considered, but yet informs nearly all of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. If we know how a person is seeing the world, their subsequent reactions are much more predictable.”
People interpret the world with immense variability, and without knowing about the egocentric bias of Naïve Realism, the source of many conflicts may never be resolved. Dr. Matthew Lieberman is a professor of Social Cognition and director of the Neuroscience Lab at UCLA, and he’s conducted studies into naïve realism and the Gestalt Cortex—the place in the brain where our experience of reality is created.
Naïve realism can negatively impact friendships because of fixed viewpoints. It can cause wars and divorces because people are certain of their rightness and reject all other opinions, thoughts, or suggestions.
So, the next time you feel completely and absolutely certain, remember that what’s true for you is not true for everyone. Once you get good at this, and it becomes reflexive, you can introduce the concept at the dinner table when your family is arguing about politics.
The next time you KNOW you’re right, seek out the viewpoints you’re overlooking.
Trust me, I’m right about this.
Have you heard of Naive Realism before this article? Do you have examples of how this has shown in your life? If so, please share in the comments!
Until next week, I remain…
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