Endless Curiosity

October 25, 2009

Beliefs: The Focusing Illusion

Filed under: The Brain — Alec @ 12:12 pm

As I said in yesterday’s post, I’ll give examples of the way our brains lead us astray with respect to our beliefs. Hopefully, dear reader, you will start to get an idea of how untrustworthy your beliefs are, and will be more able to question them. To get started, here’s an example of the Focusing Illusion, the way that we can make decisions based on information that is planted on us; i.e., an example of how easily we can be manipulated. Perhaps by politicians? This is from Kluge, page 44.

College students were asked to answer two questions: “How happy are you with your life in general?” and “How many dates did you have last month?” One group heard the questions in exactly that order, while another heard them in the opposite order, second question first. …. [in the first group there was no correlation between people’s answers]… Flipping the order of the questions, however, put people’s focus squarely on romance; suddenly they could not see their happiness as independent of their love life. People with lots of dates saw themselves as happy, people with few dates viewed themselves as sad. Period. …. Even our own internal sense of self can be influenced by what we happen to focus on at a given moment.

This reminds me of the story Bill Moyers tells about where we focus out thoughts.

I heard this story a long time ago, growing up in Choctaw County in Oklahoma before my family moved to Texas. A tribal elder was telling his grandson about the battle the old man was waging within himself. He said, “It is between two wolves, my son. One is an evil wolf: anger, envy, sorrow, greed, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is the good wolf: joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The boy took this in for a few minutes and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf won?”

The old Cherokee replied simply, “The one I feed.”

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