Arxiu del dilluns, 28/01/2019

The Objectivity Illusion

dilluns, 28/01/2019

| Lee Ross |


It’s a pleasure to be here

after seeing the first three presentations I actually have a new title for my talk and it’s perspectives on perspectives

let me start out with a few provocative everyday experiences

all of you had the first one

you’re driving on the highway

and you notice that there’s two kinds of people

there’s maniacs driving faster than you

and idiots driving slower

if you have elderly parents you’re probably familiar with what we call thermostat wars and TV volume wars

where each insists that there’s something seriously wrong with the others of internal thermostat or they’re hearing

different ethnic groups often wonder at the really weird taste that other people have

they like food incredibly spicy or hopelessly bland

we have very different tastes in art I look at modern art sometimes and I say it’s just a bunch of lines and dots who can’t write that seriously

why isn’t a classic like the work say of the of the fulvus

who of course we’re thought to be renegades in their time

and I won’t even talk about taste in music contemporary and older

there are more serious issues what are the most important and difficult problems facing our society how much emphasis should we give to the climate change

or to the economy or to social inequality

and then of course we all have differing opinions about how hard tasks are and how easy

my wife thinks it’s ridiculous that my daughter doesn’t know how to sew a button she thinks it’s ridiculous that my wife doesn’t know how to navigate the internet

so in each of these cases people somehow or other believe that their take on the world is the objective one

and what has to be understood or explained is what is there about those other people that seem to get it wrong

now, underlying this issue of the illusion of objectivity is of course a much more fundamental illusion

when you say the word fundamental that usually triggers Albert Einstein who says reality is an illusion albeit a very persistent one

I will spare you the details of how physicists see the world

and how the rest of us see the world but a couple of examples will suffice or maybe only one you’re all sitting in a chair and you have the illusion that you’re sitting on a chair making contact

any physicists could tell you that no that’s actually not what’s happening

if it was just you sitting on the chair you’d go right through the chair because there’s so many so much space between the electrons and the things that make up the atoms of your body in the chair

actually you’re hovering a safe 1 100 of a millionth over the chair

and the negative force field around you and the negative force field around the chair are repelling each other keeping you at that safe distance

okay well all those are …

all those are all those are compelling examples we sometimes call them night school metaphysics

but…  this becomes that the illusion that we have about reality

normally doesn’t matter very much because for the most part we humans share these illusions

when it comes to physical reality we all live in the world of of noisy construction sites solid chairs and juicy red apples

now we know that there are there are some people who are hard of hearing or have difficulties with vision and they don’t quite see the things the way they really are we use terms like blindness and deafness

I notice that none of us walk around tough saying about each other that unlike dogs which are color blind were all older blind there is this incredibly smelly world out there that we’re just blind to

now we can’t escape our own perspective

now so far that’s not much of a problem

when does it become a problem

I’m afraid this… … is a very timely and touchy issue

this becomes a problem when we talk about complex difficult social issues of the face us and challenges like elections

let me introduce you to a very worthy slide I’m afraid

but it talks about the objectivity illusion as consequences

so the first main conviction that I’ve been anticipating is that we have the notion that the way we think and feel and perceive about the world is the way it really is

and for that reason we think that people who disagree with us

can be brought around if only they’ll listen to us

if only to let us explain how things are I’ve done a lot of conflict resolution work in different parts of the world and i often find people are eager to talk to folks on the other side


because they want to make the other side see the error of their ways nobody’s ever said they wanted to go into a citizen dialogue

because they think they’re wrong about everything and they want to be set straight

the most important consequence however is the way in which the illusion of objectivity produces emnity and distrust

that we make negative attributions about those who disagree with us

we say either they’re stupid or unreasonable or a irrational or they’ve in particular succumbed to various kinds of biases

so let me offer a few wise quotations and then a little bit of kind of mundane academic research… by me

so we have Oscar Wilde saying in all matters of opinion our adversaries are completely insane

well there are some matters of opinion right now that many of us think our adversaries are insane

here’s a more serious longer quotation by the great philosopher Isaiah Berlin

and he talks about the harm done by the fact that we have the notion that we see things the way they really are that we’re right and that those who differ are not merely mistaken

but wicked or mad that they need restraining or suppressing that we alone have the magical I and the truth

and that’s a very very common and dangerous human perception

here’s our Matthew 73 talking very well-known quote about the fact that we are pretty aware of biases we just have a blind spot when comes to our own

and finally the good Yankee Quaker Benjamin Franklin saying most men indeed as well as most sections and religions think themselves in possession of the truth and to the extent that other people disagree it is so far error

well we did a little study on this very simple study we had a room full of people very much like this we had them fill out a political questionnaire in which they gave their views about lots of things abortion, civil rights…

lots of political figures media we just collected them at random

collected them and then we redistributed random

so everyone was looking at someone else’s questionnaire and we asked them two questions:

how similar are that person’s views to you to your own

and to what extent that those views reflect various rational basis for making judgments, facts, knowledge, sound reasoning to what extent that they reflect biases effect of propaganda or self-interest than the life

and we found a very compelling result

basically people believed that their own views pretty consistently were the result of rational thinking rather than bias when it came to other people to the extent that they disagreed it was to that extent that their opinions were dictated by errors and biases rather than rationality

one more study briefly very timely one I know you all came here to get away from thinking about the election

and we keep dragging you back to it

this is a study in which we asked a very large sample of people about Donald Trump supporters and Hillary Clinton supporters

and the people we asked some of them were quirt Clinton supporters

somewhere Trump supporters somewhere neutral and again we asked about bias versus air

so when we looked at Clinton supporters they thought basically the Trump supporters were nuts

and Clinton supporters were quite reasonable when we asked Trump supporters they thought the opposite and it’s rather scary to note when we asked neutral folks they thought they both were… pretty bad

okay so

how do we get other Vista lemma is it enough to just obey the Golden Rule and say all these differences in perception don’t matter if we just treat people the way they’re supposed to if we do on to them as they should do on to us everything will be okay

George Bernard Shaw warns us about the folly of that he says never do unto others as you would have them do unto you their tastes may be different

an alternative more modest suggestion is that of the rabbi Hillel writing at the time of Christ

who said that which is hateful to you do not do to your fellow that is the whole Torah

the rest is just commentary

that would be a good place to leave things but i do want to leave with a little bit of a note of hope and i want to show you one example of what it means to get beyond the objectivity basis

this is a quotation by Frederick Douglass at the time of debt a dedication of the freedmen freedom of memorial monument are for Lincoln

and so Douglas had been a critical of Lincoln all his life

urging him to do more and he says viewed from genuine abolitionist ground mr. Lincoln seemed tardy cold dull indifference

and then he goes on this remarkable way he says but seeing him the way he ought to be seen in terms of the light of history taking everything in consideration

the infinite wisdom has never sent any man into the world better fitted for his mission than Abraham Lincoln

well we can’t all have the eloquence of Frederick Douglass

but we can try harder to be rational about irrationality to reflect

very carefully before we make negative attributions about the rationality and integrity of those who disagree with us or even those who set the thermostat too high

ah this talk by the way comes from is the first chapter of a book on the wisest in the room and I hope the talks you’re hearing today will make I know they will make you all leave this room being a little wiser.

Thank you