There was an interesting Facebook status that popped up on my news feed today, from a guy named Mario Tomic (apparently he has quite a following as well). He was talking about how he noticed most people on social media get extremely upset when they see a piece of information that challenges their current beliefs (in other words, cognitive dissonance on social media).
Another thing he mentioned was the opposite: How people most often use the internet to collect lots of information that doesn’t teach them anything new, but justifies their already existing beliefs about something.
Say for example you heard somewhere that the sweeteners in Diet Coke cause cancer. You’re not entirely sure. So you type into google “Is diet coke bad?”
Due to the way you phrased your question, the first page will be probably full of articles saying that it causes cancer, makes your teeth rot away and that your boyfriend will cheat on you of you drink it (I'm not saying it doesn't). So after reading those 5-10 articles, you’re now somewhat of an expert on why one should never drink Diet Coke. And rightfully so. I mean, just look at this article, and gasp.
The next week, you’re just peacefully scrolling to your Facebook feed when you see one of your buddies posts this article about diet soda being a great weight loss supplement:
As Mario put so adequately in his status, "That’s when it happens: It’s time to save the world. Adrenaline shoots up. And the social media comment war starts!"
In the comments, you post every article you ever read about the dangers of Diet Coke. You explain why your sources are more scientifically valid than theirs. Other people join in on both sides, and the more arguments you get back, the stronger your original belief gets. In the end both of you even stop reading the full comments and at least one person (if not both) gets called a Faggot or a Nazi (if not both).
It’s a bit like a murder trial in which both lawyers are more invested in having their client win it than in uncovering who actually killed the guy.
One of the problems with the internet is that, since it allows for access to an infinite amount of information, and that the truth is often nuanced, not black and white, you will find confirmation for anything you believe.
And I mean literally anything.
If you believe most famous world leaders, including Obama and The Queen are actually highly intelligent aliens with the ability to shape shift into human forms that want to rule the world, and that the moon actually their secret command centre, a couple of google searches will show you that you are 100% right.
If you are a pedophile who believes pedophilia is a natural thing, and that banning it is a government conspiracy to prevent you and the little kids you rape from enjoying that deep loving connection you have, there is scientific research (paraphrased for just the right amount of shock value) to back up your claims.
You read that right. The reason why I picked such extreme examples is to show you that if there are literally no limits to the beliefs you find confirmation for, if there is already “evidence” available to support opinions as despicable as these, then it means that some of your more petty beliefs (like “Did Jay-Z cheat on Beyoncé?” or "Bacon is healthier than salad because it has more protein.") will be even easier to prove right.
Just to step it up a notch and see how I ridiculous things can get, I googled “Belgium doesn’t exist”, to prove my own believe hat the country I live in, actually doesn’t exist, and that therefore, I don’t exist either.
Here’s what happened: I found a bunch of websites all claiming that Belgium in fact, does not exist, and is a completely fictional country made up by evil leftists to use in progressive propaganda.
Here’s a screenshot of what happened when I tried to read one of the articles:
The funny thing is, that even though I couldn’t actually read any of the information on the website, if I already had that believe, I would now believe it even more because apparently, the government won’t allow me to read it. "So that mean’s they’re hiding something… Like the fact that Belgium doesn't really exist... ERMAGERRRD!!!! 😉 "
It’s a sad kind of irony. We live in an era where all the secrets of life, the universe and everything are accessible to us as long as we have Wi-Fi. If you went about it right, you could theoretically reach enlightenment with nothing but your open mind and a few clicks. Yet we mostly use it to just find more reasons why we’re right everyone else is wrong.
You could argue that if some of your beliefs really were a little sketchy (the world being flat, or me not being extremely awesome, for example), you’d surely see through the bullshit and learn from articles that tell otherwise. But the problem is that when this happens, we just tell ourselves that we are the only ones open-minded enough to believe the non-mainstream knowledge.
I’m just as guilty of this. If someone tells me a healthy plant-based diet is an impossibility, I immediately conclude they must be misinformed. I’m also a sucker for any unethical practiced that are “exposed” by a source that seems credible (in other words, one that is not filled with other conspiracy theories). But the mere idea that we are open-minded people and therefore must be right about unpopular opinions, actually makes us completely close-minded.
And even though I don’t know you, I am 100% sure you do it. You know why? Because you and me, we’re both human beings. And with being human come all the pros and cons of having a human brain that works in human ways.
So here’s a nice little exercises we
can all do should all do on a regular basis, to break through our own confirmation biases. It only takes 10-15 minutes, but if everyone on this planet would do it religiously (especially people who do anything else religiously 😉 ) we'd finally have total peace on earth once and for all.
...or maybe just less angry YouTube comments. But hey, it's a start 😉
Step 1: Write down 20 things you could be wrong about in life. Some great suggestions:
• Any opinions about people or the world in general you are emotionally attached to. (Some examples that came up when I did it were: Most people are ignorant. People who engage in destructive behavior on a large scale for profit are inherently evil. Following my heart is always the right thing to do.)
• Any beliefs about your character or personality that seem fixed. (I had none, but examples here could be: I have a concentration/attention deficit disorder. I'm not smart enough for college. I'm bad at flirting)
• Beliefs that leave no room for gray area or a nuanced interpretation of situations. (In my case I had things like: Being honest is always the right thing to do. The desire to hurt others always arises out of our own hurt egos, and if we'd see past them we'd be loving in nature. A resource based economy would be superior to a money based economy.
This may take longer than you thought. The reason why you need at least 20 is because I noticed that the first 5-10 were mainly things I wrote to let myself off the hook from really digging deep and confronting my root beliefs. They were less personal, and I also would care less if they were wrong. If you feel like you're still doing that after 20, just keep going. And when you're ready, get to:
Step 2: Have a look at the list you just wrote down (or typed up), and for every question, honestly ask yourself:
What if I was wrong?
What would that mean?
What would I do differently?
What would I understand that I don't understand now?
What new opportunities or options would open that I previously discarded based on my beliefs?
It's not always the most fun thing to do, but as is often the case with such things, it's one of the most rewarding things to do in terms of personal growth 🙂
Now don't just continue surfing the interwebs and scrolling social media, sit down and do this! ... remember, world peace and friendly YouTube comments 😉
(P.S. I wrote a book about this shit called "The 7 Traits You'll Need to Survive In the Digital Age". You can download it right here.)
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