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What Are They Thinking?

Updated: Feb 27

What Are They Thinking?
What Are They Thinking?

What Are They Thinking?

When we think of the problems in our society, of those who make bad choices, feel entitled to criticize others and even ourselves it is mostly because we don’t really know our own default mechanisms. Scientists have identified 8.7 million types of species on the planet earth. Only one of those 8.7 million species is the human species. Unlike most other species, the human life does not have a set standard manual. We have the advantage of choice and the impossible task of standardizing our species to follow one “human manual.” We cannot get our kind to behave in exact same ways and flawlessly follow a system. Not like the birds, lions, lizards, sea creatures, and other species do. The wisdom of life and existence is not coded within our human software.

Life is complicated for us, humans.

We are born with an empty human software and have to program a life template by learning from the simplest mental and physical movements to emotions and feelings, to building relationships with others, with the world, the planet, and caring for ourselves.

Only in the recent years, neuroscience has discovered our brains’ built-in biases. These biases are powerful tendencies, which have both positive and negative effects such as Novelty Bias. Our attention catches something new, something exciting, something different, not so mundane. It’s great for our learning and development. Think of a one year old crawling around, looking at everything around with a desire to know, to touch, to feel and take in. We continue learning from everything and everyone around us and as adults listen to speakers, watch videos to understand something or fine tune a skill. Without this Novelty Bias there would be no science, no medicine, no creativity. We think, alnalyze and embark on new unknown territories to solve problems or improve situations. The alertness from experiencing novelty propells us to spread the new knowledge, new idea, new ways of life so we can grab others’ attention. It’s a really powerful mechanism to help build both personal and collective cultures. The negative side of it is that we can also be attracted to false information or bad news around us, feel propelled to spread it in the same way and plute the minds of others.

Then there is Truth Bias, another wired default function of the human brain. Having to predict and manage countless functions and budget body resources, fact-checking every little information or perception for our brain is not possible nor seem as pertinent to our survival. Therefore, whatever we think, feel, hear or conclude, the brain makes us believe them as true. Think of the Truth Bias as sort of a builtin naivety and trust in our own thoughts and in what comes to us through the external world. Now a days, we have access to knowledge and numerous perspectives and ample rights to be independent and chose. Nonetheless, what we think ,no matter how faulty it might be, seems true to us. Some of us grow up rarely questioning the validity of our nterpretations and assumptions. If people’s actions and beliefs don’t match our own “truths” we attack and criticize them. Critical thinking and seeking to find out the truth is one of the most important skills not every human learns. Without it there’s nothing but conflict, hate, anger, unhappiness, feeling victimized and stuck.

To seal the deal on thinking what we think is true, the brain has Confirmation Bias. It choses to pay attention to anything that confirm our stories, specially our feelings. This too is an important function in the building blocks of learning and piecing together information for fuller understandings. However, this confirmation bias can also solidify our inaccurate understandings because our brain would only see the evidence that would confirm what we think to be true. Wrong understanding can then lead to act inappropriately or in some cases get us stuck in denial, fantay, or judgment, fear, and anxiety.

So, what are we to do?

The first thing is to realize how incredibly difficult it is to be a member of the human species without proper knowledge and training of how the human mind, heart, brain, and emtions work. From your own experience, you can extrapolate that there are no perfections and that all beings, not just humans, want to be fed, be happy and healthy. No being likes to live in fear and be sick or go hungry. No one likes to be judged and blamed.

The second thing is to broaden your heart’s capacity for kindness and a warm understanding for any human failure. Given that we all have these powerful biases ingrained in our brians and minds and can be wrong at any given time, we can pause, breathe and question things with curiosity and goodwill. It is very helpful to be able to question what if I’m wrong about this thing that bugs me? What if there are a hundred other reasons for such and such situation. I, for one, have experienced being wrong about an opinion or a fear or worry. Knowing others who think they are right also can’t see their own truth and confirmation biases. Knowing t’s possible to believe in a false idea, we can pause and be more patient, gentle, and become motivated to get to the bottom of things. If you have a realization or conclude that everything you know about everything may be wrong, you may feel overwhelmed and avoid this process. So, take it easy and look at one little thought at a time. To practice thinking critically with curiosity and goodwill, inspect a thought that’s not so emotionally charged. For example, maybe a neighbor is placing their trash bin somewhere that doesn’t make sense to you. You may not care much, but you feel a little judgmental about them. May be a few subtle other activities have confirmed that they’re inconsiderate. Become curious about this current example of the trash bin. Look more closely at the environment. Maybe it’s because they need a little space to get out of their driveway. Maybe the ground is on a slope and the bin may role down, maybe it’s because when the trash truck picks up the bins and puts it back down it damages the wall they built around their garden and they want to protect the wall by leaving the bin further. Maybe they can’t see how this might affect you and if they did, they’d definitely change it to not make it difficult for you. There may be many other reasons, other than just being inconsiderate, and you won’t know if you believe the first thought that occurs to you.

This is not easy work, but well worth it to help feeling at ease both internally and in your relationships to the world. This is how we can reduce unnecessary discomfort and stress.

Hope this is helpful.

Dr. Manijeh Motaghy

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