3 Strange Psychological Forces That Often Overpower Your Mind

A look into academic theories that have significant bearings and evidence in everyday life.

Sean Kernan
Dec 16, 2020 · 5 min read
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Source: rights purchased via istock

The beautiful and terrifying thing about science is that, regardless of your opinion, it’s still the truth.

Yet even within science, they rarely claim to have absolute truths. The goal is always to prove something to the 99.99% with as many additional decimals as possible. This is often why many theories, that seem readily apparent, do not fully become laws.

This is especially true in psychology, where we don’t have the luxury of observing rocks hitting us in the head to prove gravity. Yet there are still theories, that are actively at work in the world around you, and impacting your daily life in ways you’d never imagine.

Here are 3.

The Theory of The Reality Tunnel

Imagine you are walking home through the busy streets of a city. You’ve had a long day. You are ready to be home. Suddenly, it starts raining and you curse your fate as you are still a half-mile from your house.

As you walk down the sidewalk, you see a man approaching you. He is smiling as the rain pummels him in his nice suit. You both make eye contact as you approach each other.

Now, you are him. You are looking at the former you, who is pouting as he or she walks through the rain. Meanwhile, you are happy because the rain is a comical addition to your already ridiculous day. Rain reminds you of your childhood. It also relaxes you.

This concept goes directly to The Reality Tunnel. Each person sees the world through their own distinct set of experiences, education, values, and mood. Because everyone exists in their own tunnel, there is no universal truth. Yet most people fail to see this, judging each other by superficial actions and assumptions.

Here is a simpler example of The Reality Tunnel. Take a look at this image, what do you see?

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Courtesy of Ultrafeel TV

If you are like me, and most adults, you see two lovers. Yet most children see nine dolphins (feel free to test it).¹ It’s because children are more innocent and don't have the experiential framing to see the lovers.

You must understand, at a deeper level, that each person in this world is not you. Most misunderstandings and confusion over a person’s actions or reactions come from this false assumption.

Just as you are not them, also remember that you could have easily been them, shaped through their set of experiences and emotions. If you imagine each person you meet, as you looking out from their eyes, you might just learn a new level of empathy.

The Hedgehog’s Dilemma

Hedgehogs tend to prefer warm weather but can cope when their elemental fortunes turn against them. Often, they’ll huddle close together as a way of staying warm. Yet this presents an obvious predicament as they’ll start to prick each other. Eventually, they’ll disperse from the discomfort, all before moving closer again after they get cold.

The Hedgehog’s Dilemma presents an obvious analog to human intimacy. We all desire love and deeper connections. But doing so will invariably cause us to get hurt. Famed psychologists, Freud and Schopenhauer, took the study a step further, finding that people who took social rejection (being pricked) very harshly, became less and less likely to seek ‘warmth’. Meanwhile, optimists overcame that pain and later found the joy and comfort with others.

Catholic cleric, John Donne, is often misquoted as Shakespeare, in his sermon line, “No man is an island.” His speech touches on the necessity of all people to find love and connectedness with another, while also embracing the implicit and inevitable price of heartbreak and frustration.

Perhaps the solution exists back with the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, who concluded of the cold hedgehogs needing warmth, “They would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another.”²

Seek and nurture relationships, yet have the strength to give each other space, and a kind enough heart to forgive when we poke each other. Do not become the hermit hedgehog.

The Theory of Creeping Normality

When Europeans came upon Easter Island in 1722, they were shocked to see a barren island, the shell of a former people, with a small population of 2000 emaciated villagers living on the coast.

The leading theory of their society’s collapse is that hundreds of years earlier, the islanders began overharvesting Easter Island palm trees, mainly to transport their massive monolith heads to higher ground. They used logs to roll them over the ground, just as pyramids were built.

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There are currently 1000 of these statues on the island. (Source: pic via Wikimedia Commons)

This created a destructive Domino Effect:

  • Overharvesting of the Easter Island palm allowed the proliferation of rats, which then ate all the seeds. These trees then went extinct.
  • Without Easter Island palms to build canoes and hunt fish, the islanders resorted to hunting birds.
  • When the birds went extinct, other plants and trees didn’t get pollinated. In turn, most of the vegetation and other trees died.
  • This collapsed their source of food and the population died off.

Why would islanders overharvest and cause their own extinction?

It was happening slowly over time and they didn’t see the disaster-in-process. This is the essence of Creeping Normality, which has snaked its way into the lives of every person reading this.³

I’ll give you a personal example. I can’t remember a specific day when my marriage went from good to bad. But there came a point when our relationship was very bad and it stayed that way for a long time. Most rational people wouldn’t tolerate this change if it happened overnight. My story isn’t a one-off. Many toxic and destructive relationships are the results of a slow-dripping poison.

So I turn to you. Have you allowed Creeping Normality to usher bad forces into your life? Even if the answer is no, it’s something to remember. It can sometime seem like your life became terrible overnight but that was rarely the case. Stay aware.

Takeaways Recap

Remember to keep an eye out for these three forces.

  1. The Theory of The Reality Tunnel — Each person experiences reality in a way that no other can match. Don’t assume you understand another human. One strategy for empathy is to realize it could be you looking out from behind their eyes.
  2. The Hedgehog’s Dilemma — you will be hurt by people you get close with. But that shouldn’t stop you from staying reasonably close to people, otherwise, you’ll ‘freeze’.
  3. The Theory of Creeping Normality — Most bad situations are the result of people allowing incremental change for the worse to compound over time. Police your life and stop the downward slide before it gets too far.


[1] Wilson, Robert (1993) Quantum Psychology: How Brain Software Programs You & Your World

[2] Maner, J.K., (2007) Does social exclusion motivate interpersonal reconnection?

[3] Jared Diamond (2005) Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Sean Kernan

Written by

Quality over quantity. That guy from Quora. Enjoy? Follow for more. https://seanjkernan.substack.com/ Open to gigs seanjkernan@gmail.com

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Sean Kernan

Written by

Quality over quantity. That guy from Quora. Enjoy? Follow for more. https://seanjkernan.substack.com/ Open to gigs seanjkernan@gmail.com

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

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