The Earth is Flat and Apparently Facts Don’t Matter ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Knowledge is information that changes the way we perceive the world. Knowledge therefore is a choice and many choose to ignore the information around them.
Einstein said you cannot solve a problem with the same level of consciousness that created it. I firmly believe this, we all act in a certain way because that is the way we perceive the world. If we are to change, say a behaviour, we must first change our point of view. Simple right?
Simple but not easy.
Unfortunately, often human nature works against us — take for example the millions of people each year who hit the gym convinced it will be “different this time”, only for that New Year resolution optimism to die off after a couple of weeks — what about all those who provide a (unsolicited) reminder that Donald Trump is a better president than Obama? — Scientologists anyone? — and my personal favourite, flat earthers! — You get my point…well unless you are a flat-earth believing, scientologist and Trump supporter who committed to their new year's resolution of finally losing those few pounds, then sorry this article is not for you! 🤷
Here’s a stat for you, consider that the modern flat earth society at one stage grew to over 3500 members. That means there are at the very least 3500 people in western society who despite all the evidence that suggests otherwise still continue to insist that the world is flat. 😱
So why is it that evidence, facts, data and even an overwhelming number of people saying otherwise, do people still believe all these things?
Well that’s because us humans aren’t the logical, rational beings we would like to believe we are, rather we are irrational and emotionally regulated.
Why facts don’t matter 🤯
How I perceive the world is different to how you perceive the world. We may have grown up in the same town, gone to the same school, had the same education but still my perspective will be different from yours. Our views and mindsets are shaped differently because no two people are the same, nor do two people experience the world in the exact same way, rather we each see it from different perspectives. This perception of the world is referred to as our mental models.
Our mental models are responsible for a phenomenon called selective perception — in other words, our minds will filter information based on our mental model (our view of the world). We may filter out information that does not conform with our mental model or only let in information that does. We may also interpret information differently so that it better conforms to our mental model — crazy huh?
Have you ever tried to convince someone to see what you believe to be the truth? Did you show them an undeniable amount of evidence but no matter what you did or said they refused to believe you? Did you think, how could they still not believe you? — selective perception could be to blame.
Selective perception is a form of cognitive bias which is actually a form of defence mechanism our minds use to combat the bombardment of information. It is also a mechanism for reducing stress — why reducing stress? Because believe it or not, our minds don’t like it when it is presented with information which doesn’t conform to our view of the world (our current mental model). When this occurs, when we hear something which we don’t agree with, our minds get stressed. This mental stress is known as cognitive dissonance.
Have you ever told someone something and it made them angry? They may have even started to defend themselves or attack you about it? — this is cognitive dissonance, their minds reacting to stress.
A crazy phenomena but one which answers a lot of questions — why we struggle at receiving feedback, why people get angry when they hear something they don’t agree with, why we often struggle to listen to advice or change behaviours.
Brain-stress aka Cognitive Dissonance 🧠
Basically, when our minds experience cognitive dissonance it will try to reduce said stress in one of four ways:
- Ignore or deny the conflicting information
- Justify our view by adding a new belief
- Altering the perception of the conflicting information
- Change our view to conform
1. Ignore or deny the conflicting information
Going back to our flat earther, if you were to simply rebuttal their view that the world is flat and tell them that is it in fact spherical; they would probably simply deny your claim.
“Prove it! You haven’t seen it with your own eyes so how could you know.”
2. Justify our view by adding a new belief
Perhaps you were on the high school debate team, so bad luck flat earther you came prepared. You present them with the mathematics and physics showing that in order for the moon and sun to rise and lower as it does, the world must be spherical and in fact orbiting the sun.
Our flat earther shrugs your evidence off and pulls out some of their own — a video showing that it is entirely possible for the same sun and moon cycles to be present on a flat world.
“But the same sun and moon pattern can be achieved on a flat earth.”
3. Altering the perception of the conflicting information
Feeling the frustration you decide to phone a friend — you call your best mate who works at NASA and organise a joyride to space. NASA is happy to oblige — anything to prove a flat earther wrong! — you load the flat earther up on a space shuttle and fly to space so they can look down and see the world for themselves — this should teach them, no denying it now!
However our flat earther — newly turned Astronaut — rebuttals, stating that none of it was real, that it was some kind of sick trick, a computer simulator — conspiracy even! Something cooked up by the government to make them believe it was flat. They go on to conclude that you were never in space, merely a trick and that we had never left the space station in Nevada.
“It’s a conspiracy, some kind of computer simulation!”
4. Change our view to conform
On the contrary to the above three scenarios there is still a fourth and final possibility that when faced with this information our flat earther will in fact, change their mind.
A final way to reduce cognitive dissonance is to adjust your view of the world. Where whatever new information presented was enough to convinced them that the world is in fact spherical — they thank you, and immediately revoke their Modern Flat Earth society membership, joining the rest of us in the 21st century.
“Wow I didn’t know that, it makes total sense, the world must be spherical!”
Return to earth 🚀
Human nature is a tricky thing, we make decisions not based on data or facts but rather on emotion like cognitive dissonance.
Facts are in the eye-of-the-beholder — we simply see the world differently from one another and that doesn’t make one person right and the other wrong, just different.
As someone who spends a lot of their time consulting at different companies and coaching people, understanding cognitive dissonance and how it works is extremely liberating. I’ve previously spent a lot of time frustrated, not fully understanding why people can so easily dismiss almost-irrefutable evidence — are they blind or just stupid — but now I’m much more empathetic and better equipped to help them navigate cognitive dissonance.
The reality is change is not easy, especially when your message is much like telling a flat earther that the world is round! Rather than getting frustrated and perhaps experiencing cognitive dissonance yourself, try seeing it from their perspective — understand that they are experiencing stress and help them reduce the cognitive stress, not increase it.
After all, who am I to tell them that they are wrong, from my point of view I obviously think quite differently but that’s their point of view, their truth — facts in this regard, whether we like it or not, no longer matter.
Who knows, after all, they could be the one who’s right — I mean, I’ve never been to space and looked down on the world with my own eyes — it could all be one big government conspiracy! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Edit: Based on popular demand, I will be doing a part 2 which will be on strategies for combating and navigating cognitive dissonance — watch this space!