Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

Blind Spots and Getting in Our Own Way of Learning

Photo by Slava Stupachenko on Unsplash

The radio told the news of the beautiful sunny day, in some alien, incomprehensible language as Malta’s cab zoomed past the holy river of Burg on her way back home from the hospital. Recuperating from her drunken escapade, she sat in the backseat and looked at the mighty Burg imagining herself as a fish, never having to worry about languages again for all the fishes must speak the same tongue.

Photo by zhengtao tang on Unsplash

In the river, two fishes were swimming along, fascinated with all the cars passing by and wondering how good must it feel to be inside one when they happened to meet an older fish swimming the other way. The older fish nodded at them and said “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” and went on its way. The two young fish swam on for a bit, laughing about nothing when suddenly one of them looked over at the other and asked “What the hell is water?”

Photo by Mitchel Lensink on Unsplash

We, ourselves, are our biggest barrier to learning from reality. It is painstaking to understand and grow in a system that we are a part of because we have blind spots where we can’t see what we aren’t looking for, and don’t notice what we don’t want to notice. Our failures to update our knowledge from our interactions with reality spring from three things: not having the right perspective or vantage point, ego-induced denial, and distance from the consequences of our decisions. They make it easier to keep our existing and flawed beliefs than to update them accordingly.

Photo by Joel Fulgencio on Unsplash

The Perspective.

We have a hard time seeing the different aspects of any system that we are in. The famous Italian astronomer, engineer, and physicist, Galileo Galilei had a great analogy to describe the limits of our default perspective.

Imagine you are scientist below decks on a ship moving with a constant velocity (meaning without a change in speed or direction) and there are no portholes. Now if you drop a ball from your raised hand to the floor, it looks as if the ball is dropping straight down, thereby confirming gravity is at work.

Now imagine you are a fish (with special x-ray vision) and you are watching this ship go past and the scientist inside, dropping a ball. You register the vertical change in the position of the ball as it was pulled down by gravity BUT you are also able to see a horizontal change as the ball shifted its position in the direction of the movement of the ship (Elementary Physics, my dear Watson). The ship moved through the water and so did the ball. The scientist you on board, with no external point of reference, was not able to perceive this horizontal shift but the fish you did.

This analogy shows us the limits of our perception and the importance of being open to other perspectives if we truly want to understand the results of our actions. Despite feeling that we’ve got all the information, if we’re on the ship, the fish in the ocean has more to share.

The Ego.

Most of us tend to have a lot invested in our opinions of ourselves to see the world’s feedback — the feedback we need to update our beliefs about reality. Our ego debilitates our learning from the world for many reasons, but two of them are worth mentioning here.

First, we’re so afraid about everyone else’s opinions about us that we fail to put our ideas out there for criticism. This way we can always be right. Second, if we do put our ideas out there and they are criticized, our ego steps in subconsciously to protect us and we become invested in defending our ideas instead of upgrading them.

This leads to a profound ignorance that keeps us banging our heads against the wall over and over again — the fishes in the world keep trying to tell the scientists that the ball moved horizontally as well but the scientists pay no heed because no fish ever graduated with a major in Physics and a lot of scientists did.

The Distance.

The further we are from the results of our decisions, the easier it is to keep our current views rather than update them. Societal organizations often remove us from the direct consequences of our decisions. When we make decisions that do not affect us directly (yet), we are one or more levels removed and further away from the feedback and the path of least resistance is to convince ourselves that we are right and avoid the challenge and pain of updating our views.

It’s easier to fool ourselves at a macro-level than at the micro-level because at the micro-level we see and feel the immediate consequences of our choices and actions — a scientist studying the movement of a ball inside a moving ship only for the sake of his research can comfortably afford to not update himself about the horizontal movement of the ball but a scientist in a game of catch with a fish, outside the ship, can not.

And aren’t we all in a game of catch with someone or something, making decisions solely based on our own beliefs and perspectives?

“A man who has committed a mistake and doesn’t correct it, is committing another mistake.”

— Confucius

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