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Is The World Shaped By How We See It?

In my earlier post I wondered how we are affected by the eyes set on us. And felt some weight of the world when thinking what kind of responsibility we might have for example when looking at our kids. Accidentally I stumbled across a bit more scientific view into the same topic. Or the flip side of the same coin.

I am currently reading the book Humankind: A Hopeful History. I really like it. I really, really, really like it and would definitely recommend it. I’ve read maybe 80% of the book so far, but based on just that it is definitely worth the time.

What I especially like is that the author Rutger Bregman is actually doing research and finding some truly new knowledge and points of view. I have this feeling of mediocrity when writing myself: I “just” write about others, about things that have been written about and about things I’m reading or hearing. Not actually coming up with anything new, but writing on what others have said, combining, finding association and reflecting. (I believe that is quite common feeling, I have Austin Kleins book Show your work! waiting on my table for it’s turn currently. I heard of it in this video by Ali Abdaal where he lists 3 books that changed his life and I guess it had an impact on me and helped to start writing a blog myself even before I got my hands on it. That previous link is by the way Ali’s Notion Template for book notes. I copied his template and use it myself in Notion. That one example note was so good that I kept it in my Notion and decided to just add my notes on top.) Aaanyways, Rutger actually does research that feels like investigative journalism and makes the whole book feel fresh and interesting to me.

At the same time I currently read Factfulness by Hans Rosling and together those two books kind of build up to nicely positive view of world. Rutger bashes news a bit in the beginning of the book:

“Imagine for a moment that a new drug comes on the market. It’s super-addictive, and in no time everyone’s hooked. Scientists investigate and soon conclude that the drug causes, I quote, ‘a misperception of risk, anxiety, lower mood levels, learned helplessness, contempt and hostility towards others, and desensitization’……That drug is the news.”
Rutger Bregman, Humankind: A Hopeful History

News are also heavily commented in Factfulness. If you haven’t seen this interview of Hans Rosling (below) you might want to watch it and then continue to his TED talk.

Expecting the Best…

I’m not going to summarize the book at all here. It is good enough to really read and you can likely find good summaries elsewhere. But, the main concept that got me thinking is the premise that how we see world and people actually works as one huge, self-fulfilling prophecy. And that the (cynical, diseased) world view is actually systematic and world-wide. Where I considered how we ourselves might be impacted and I was worried on what I myself, or the teachers, might cause to the children, the idea that is, at least suggested, in the book is that everyone are kind of victims of cynicism in our world view that is being offered through every channel.

Idea, that the whole concept of capitalism and even the hierarchies of civilization are build on the pessimistic view of people. Idea, that people are egoistic animals that the civilization with hierarchies, rules and education keeps in control. Whereas the opposite actually might be true: Maybe people at their core are good and for example the beliefs bestowed upon us by culture and the rules of economics are the culprits of the story.

The Pygmalion effect I referred to in that previous post was actually heavily discussed in the book. I was a bit angry last time that the study was so old and that I too easily found some criticism on it. Happily, I guess it was just me not knowing enough and Rutger doesn’t shoot that theory down in the book. Chances are that he would have, had I touched any other big theory of psychology from sixties…

The pygmalion effect stated that high expectation leads to improved performance (from Wikipedia). I would rather say that when you believe the best of others you do get the best results out of them. Kind of a circle of positive enforcement. In the study children were divided to two groups and teachers were told which group was the intellect one and in which were the nice-but-dim kids. Children were actually split to the groups randomly, but over a period of time the supposedly brighter kids did perform better. Some corner cutting in that explanation, but roughly so in any case. Here was a nice picture of the concept that I copied with pride (in study the cycle started from others’ beliefs about us):

Before the study was done with the kids it was actually tested with rats. Again randomly chosen maze-smart rats were able to perform better based on just the expectations of the students handling them.

What goes around comes around…

Expect the best and you get the best. Combine this with the idea of choosing your attitude and world should be rather beautiful place. They said it better:

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.
Maya Angelou

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
Victor E. Frankl

…or The Worst

The ugly stepbrother of Pygmilion effect is the Golem effect (mental note to self: same way the counterpart of placebo effect is nocebo effect). Here the idea is the opposite: Expect the worst and you will see worst behavior. Believe that your subordinates are not able to deliver the project they are working with and they will not be. Well, the connection is not quite that direct but still.

Golem effect (and why not the nocebo as well) are some pretty scary shit. It is not that long mental jump that you would need to take conclude that you get what you wish for. World will give you what you expect it to give. Or rather, world will give you what you believe it will give you.

The old (ancient) Mad TV bit of Steven Seagal trying to find “the one who doesn’t Believe” always resonated with me. Now I know why… (Sorry for the wasteland of forgotten skits today, they still made me chuckle so worth it.)


If I had to choose – and why wouldn’t I (ok, I have couple ideas, need to come back to those. Spoiler: I have a belief that changing beliefs might not always be that easy) – I guess I would choose the beautiful world.

Some time back, half a year maybe, I watched this podcast/Youtube video about Vulnerability & Power where Russell Brand interviews Brené Brown (shorter version to the point embedded below). In that video Brené Brown ends with a story where she asks her husband: “Do you think that people are doing the best they can?”.

After thinking for a while her husband came back and gave an answer: “I have no idea. But what I do know is that my life is better when I assume they are.”

I agree with Russell: “Fucking yeah, that’s good.”

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