How to Undermine Your Biased Worldview

You’ll miss opportunities to see what’s true if you think you already have the answers.

photo credit: unsplash

photo credit: unsplash

The intersection of brain science and personal development is fascinating.

Yes, it sounds nerdy and a little out there, but I’m finding more and more connections between how our bodies, minds, and spirits mesh to form our human experience. And the way we cultivate our minds, bodies, and spirits directly impacts our health, relationships, understanding of the world, and how we find our place in it.

On Sounds Good Podcast hosted by Branden Harvey, guest Science Mike McHargue explains the brain science behind curiosity, certainty, and dualistic (or binary, or black-and-white) thinking.

Listen to the episode or read this section of the transcript:

Curiosity Will Expand Your Worldview—or Ruin Your Search for Truth

Branden Harvey: On the scientific level or personal level, what is the value of curiosity?

Mike McHargue: “Curiosity is, at least the degree to which we hold it, one of the defining features of the human species, a desire to know cause and effect and manipulate that, a desire to know the thoughts and motivations of others are an evolutionary advantage that has been heavily rewarded.

We are naturally curious creatures, but we also have a real bias and need for certainty. We prefer that our curiosity reinforces how we see the world, at least once we leave childhood. And that’s quite a cognitive mess, to be both curious and desire certainty, because curiosity is, more often than not, going to undermine how you see the world and not reinforce it. And to cope with that tension, we find some people go on a never-ending quest in search of capital T truth, and other people suppress their curiosity in order to maintain the capital T truth that they already understand.

Different people are open to different types of searching, so some people might have great certainty in the sciences, but do a lot of their exploration via the arts. Other people may just want a relatively static worldview, and that’s been reinforced by their cultural context. and so they hang out in that space. That would describe, for example, modern political conservatives. Neurologically speaking, we understand that their primary impetus, their primary motivating factor, is the preservation of culture as it stands, and reinforcing the status quo and the familiar. All the flowery language parties use on the surface notwithstanding, the cognitive motivator, the difference between liberals and conservatives one way can be depicted is how comfortable they are with the way things stand today.”

BH: What happens in somebody’s brain when…they’re able to move away from this concrete idea of what truth is and what truth isn’t?

MM: “There’s a lot of advantage neurocognitively to a simplified black and white model of reality. You can make decisions faster, you feel a greater sense of certainty, and frankly, you don’t have to use the more expensive neurologically taxing parts of your brain to do your thinking. You use your fast-firing portions of your brain to assess situations, including social situations, and the brain wants to, as much as possible, use that kind of thinking.

To expand your worldview, and indeed to continuously challenge your worldview, is to continue to engage the world neocortically, to keep processing information and stimulus using the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is just an expensive, slow way for the brain to operate. It’s only when we’re proven wrong over and over by lived experiences, ideally diverse lived experiences, that we can convince our brain to keep using this expensive hardware.

So people who stay in a more static environment continually get reinforced that their model of reality is very, very accurate, is very high-fidelity, and therefore they can put a high degree of confidence in it. And to challenge that assumption is to push against some of the deepest biases and impetuses we have in the human experience. If the model is working well, why would you change it? It’s actually easier to resist new information as long as you can instead of revising the way you view the world…and we are all guilty of that…urban liberals are just as guilty of that kind of bias towards existing information and existing models as are rural conservatives.”

Science Mike McHargue

“Science Mike” McHargue

(Find more from Sounds Good Podcast)

What Do You Think?

This is something I wrote about in my book, The Variable Life:

“When you begin to challenge your assumptions after being stuck in a world of black and white, you canʼt help but see more and more grey.”

It’s in those grey spaces that you learn to see and relate to people not as simple categories, but as unique individuals. It may take a lot of brain energy and intentional effort on our part, but it’s worth it if we want to build better connections with others and a better society for everyone.

You’ll miss opportunities to see what’s true if you think you already have the answers. (tweet this)

Undermine your pre-existing bias so you can keep moving forward in your search for what’s true about people, God, yourself, and the world.

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