Dear Doug, most decidedly it is both. Confirmation bias is an excellent example of opinions shaping, and distorting, perspectives. Strongly held opinions can so shape, affect, and skew perceptions, individuals can end up in psychological realities remarkably different to those commonly perceived. As well as being internally contradicting.
There’s actually a biological reason for this. The brain, the literal brain, is affected by emphasis. When anything is emphasised, in other words, when something is deemed to be important, significant, meaningful etc, the brain enlarges the node associated with that emphasis. Enlarged nodes connect more easily to other nodes, especially other similar notes, leading to even more connectivity and subsequent inadvertent emphasis.
It’s why when we drive home from the dealership in our new red car, it suddenly seems as if every second car is red. We notice way more red cars than we did before, all because of that emphasis which has reshaped our brains to notice and observe more of what we have focused on.
Perhaps the question in part comes from the fact that few deliberately engage in perspective shifting. It’s usually inadvertent and often not noticed. Because most people tend to be overly enamoured by their opinions, they tend to believe everything follows from those opinions. But this is not so.
How often doesn’t someone go to a movie with a certain set of opinions, but comes away with those opinions affected in some way. Movies typically don’t make arguments for or against opinions specifically, but what they do is provide different perspectives on opinions or beliefs.
Or we watch a court case TV show. Before the trial begins we are often presented with the facts, we form our opinion. But, as the lawyers present their case, they provide different perspectives on those facts, and we find our opinion changing. Sometimes many times, back and forth, each new perspective causing us to change our mind. This of course does not always happen, and some stubbornly refuse to change their opinion out of fear of being shown to be “wrong.” But certainly there are many examples of perspectives changing opinion.
More importantly, to me, is how we use this understanding of opinion and perspective, how they affect each other. There’s a significant difference when it comes to which one we prioritise. Emphasising opinion tends to lead to entrenching and confirming the opinion, leading to more of the same. Since it’s opinion and not fact this can be dangerous, as opinions can come to be mistaken for fact. This is the basis for bias and prejudice.
However, when we understand that perspective can lead to opinion, we also understand that different perspectives can lead to different opinions, making it difficult for anyone honest to hold to any one opinion with anything more than a temporary attachment. Once we develop the ability to shift perspectives, we learn to see matters from many angles, we see how there could be many opinions involved and we become cautious with opinions. Which to me seems wise.
There’s More… Could we possibly use this Understanding of opinion and perspective positively, especially in the case of for instance leveraging confirmation bias to Positive effect?
Positive Goodness Bias
I am reminded here of a conversation on this by the Young Man and his Heart, which provides a useful perspective:
YM: – “Can we use confirmation bias to positive effect? I believe so, if done with appropriate awareness. The benefits are potentially incalculable.”
H: – “Yes! Indeed. To confirm another’s reality and then extrapolate and/or interpolate provides more information.”
YM: – “Your comment makes me think…”
“If we are to learn from others, by confirming another’s reality, and then extrapolating or interpolating, do our own attitudes towards them, and/or our attitudes towards life in general, come into play? Do our life perspectives influences the learning? I would say a resounding Yes! It is vitally necessary, I believe, for us to be supremely positive in this regard. Without the positivity it is too easy to get sidetracked by stress. Our perspectives can easily become skewed by negativity. This of course can also happen with injudicious positivity.”
“The key is to be positive about the overall long-term perspective. To maintain the focus on the understanding that it’s all Good in the Overall, allowing us to see the immediate and particular circumstance according to its merits relative to the larger context. Whether the person is behaving positively or negatively doesn’t matter to us, we are focused on the good that will come from our observation, interaction, and perspective. Whatever is happening in the immediate is there for us to learn from. It’s all vitally necessary for our understanding of the Human condition.”
“As long as we maintain our chosen bias of insisting that it is all Good in the Overall, in terms of Awareness Enhancement, then we will see what we need to see, and we will be able to learn what we need to learn, without the corrupting influences of petty prejudices or personal feelings, reactions, ego-responses etc.”
“The key here is that the Goodness Bias allows as to maintain perspective, it helps us not to become sucked in by the trivia and the temporary details. By maintaining a long-term Universal Perspective we get to see things for what they truly are, Lessons and Gifts.””
“Lessons and Gifts specifically for us, for what we personally need and want to learn. By Insisting on Goodness, we actualise the confirmation bias mechanism, and we get more and more Goodness.”
P.S. – As long as we maintain a constant Awareness that we are deliberately employing bias, even if it is to connect to more goodness, we don’t lose touch with reality and the very real negativity which does exist and which would be dangerous to become completely unaware of. If we knowingly use bias in this way, with the Appropriate Awareness, what we are doing is shifting emphasis between Goodness, Positivity, and the rest. We are deliberately immersing in a particular Perspective, allowing it to influence and affect us, but without losing touch with the fundamental reality. We do this because we have mastered using Perspective to affect our ability to choose how we wish to relate to reality, not changing what we believe reality to be. A big difference. It’s all in the Selective Emphasis, with Awareness of course.
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A Contemporary Philosopher and Writer, who exercises a glorious intellectual mind that is most admirable for its profundity and sharpness. Often offering multiple sides of an argument, and provoking self-introspection. Their aim is to uncover Appropriateness, Awareness, Attention, Application, Attunement, and more, with a unique, high-level understanding of the profound intricacies that interlace these concepts.
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