More than Meets the Eye
We Never See the Whole Story
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | July 2017 (edited 2-18-2021)
There is always more than we see. Appraisals of others fail. We never see all the factors. Others are much more than the simplicity we see.
There is more; more to others; and more to ourselves. We don’t see it all because we can’t comprehend it all. While limits to our knowledge is present for every experience, it is painfully obvious with our judgements of others. We see a behavior—a ragged edge protruding through the surface—and we construct an entire persona.
We formulate a picture from a dim snapshot blurred by bias. We lean on our limiting view as if it is reality. We see prominent lines and colors but miss the underlying textures; beneath the rough acknowledged exterior resides the meat of reality—all the details we can’t examine. We gather information then act, then justify our action.
Perceptions are incomplete, and often wrong. The wise purposely work to clarify and expand perceptions, digging for missing facts, and considering conflicting data. But even scrupulous investigations fail; we still exist with incomplete knowledge.
See Narrow Minded for more on this topic
Mental heuristics obscure from consciousness hide in the shadows of the present, disrupting and coloring reality. From these biases, our mind rearranges facts to transform incoming information to fit personal narratives; the mind smoothly excludes, manipulates and changes unacceptable facts. We skillfully distort experiences through the involvement of numerous modules and systems involved in the translation process of perception.
Each moment provides a constant flow of information; the voluminous sorting of data exceeds the capacity of working memory, information fades to the unknown never breaching consciousness. Like a flashlight in a dark room, attention only focuses on select pieces of information, often concentrating on areas that support pre-conceived beliefs, missing potentially helpful and important information. Reality often resides in the dark corners of the mind—dodged, neglected and denied.
Stubbornness to Change
Through manipulation of data, no matter the exposure, we tend to maintain the same beliefs; our thoughts of self, whether smart or stupid, beautiful or ugly, success or failure are all supported by our tainted interpretations of experience. Unconscious processes ensure that new information strengthens pre-conceived notions. The same experience may trigger shame or pride depending on the pre-existing belief.
See Self-Confirming Bias for more on this topic
This distorted reality is useful. A positive self-image boosts confidence and assists coping with inevitable pains of being human. At times, narrowing vision directs focus to areas we can change, instead of being overwhelmed in a frenzy of fear. But deeply entrenched distortions also limit growth, refusing access to necessary knowledge, diminishing helpful adaptations. Our reliance on the limited information we see leads to miscalculations and poorly directed efforts—that we conveniently explain away as someone else’s fault.
"The same experience may trigger shame or pride depending on our underlying belief..."
Judgment of Others
We see others through a tiny window. We see a few behaviors and make comprehensive predictions about the entirety of their character. These fast judgements are adaptive. We can't expose our vulnerabilities to everyone. Many unscrupulous people prey on the weak.
We can't risk our safety, time and wellbeing when signs point to heartache or danger. Unfortunately, the many sociopaths and narcissists have adapted to hide warning flags, luring unsuspecting victims into their chaotic and tormenting lives.
Others may be worth our time and safe but current circumstances in their lives expose some unsavory behaviors that will lessen as they continue to develop.
See Post Traumatic Growth for more on this topic
I was extremely sensitive during and immediately following my divorce. The emotional toll of a shattered life and the challenges of rebuilding exposed personality traits (relationship insecurity) that previously lay dormant.
How do we know when we meet someone and they possess undesirable qualities? We don't know if a potential partner's insecurity is a dangerous signal, warning of a long miserable relationship, or a temporary phase they are going through. How much time do we have to invest? How much emotional resources are we willing to sacrifice?
There is no simple answer.
"The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt."
Human Ability to Judge
"Our species has an unparalleled capacity to infer the characteristics of objects or events that are hidden or haven’t yet occurred."
Reid Hastie and Robyn Dawes
Reid Hastie and Robyn Dawes in their comprehensive examination of Rational Choice explain that we possess several fundamental and virtually automatic cognitive abilities that give us the capacity to judge.
"These processes," they explain, "occur with little conscious effort and are 'wired into' our brains so deeply that they do not change much across the healthy adult life span" (2009, location 1900).
Seeing What We are Missing
So, what can we do? We can’t simply wave a wand to magically see and feel what currently is hidden. Bringing the unknown into the light is a long process, fighting the ever-present push to support what we know the world to be. But this fight is necessary to expose biases, invite openness, and discover a world beyond our simple egotistical views.
Growth requires explorations into the unknown; where both pleasant and unpleasant discoveries will be found. We must accept uncertainties, dismissing faulty comforting reliance on knowledge that we do not possess.
We must embrace personal insecurity to discover new knowledge. The richness of living expands through widening views as we stand in awe of the unknown. Ignorance is found in the confining walls of certainty. Blogger and philosopher Dan Garro wrote, "we are taught about the world, we grow up believing certain narratives, and we take these for granted because they are familiar" (2020).
We see the shadows on the wall of Plato's cave and mistake the shadows for reality.
Remain Open to Different Explanations
Openness to a variety of emotions, novel experiences, and intimate connections invite new perspectives. With patience, and wonderful skepticism of preconceived notions, we begin to see more than originally was seen.
We may discover many discomforting realities as previous distortions slowly diminish. And then those views also give way to more insight as we continue to remain open.
Only through intentional awareness do we courageously face weaknesses and improve. Acknowledging personal selfishness, fears, and unrealistic expectations will initially heighten discomfort. But willful blindness compounds the weakness, inviting uniformed choices and accumulating consequences. Our refusal to see larger stories destroys relationships and diminishes our ability to pursue promising opportunities.
Our snapshot of reality will always be distorted. But with effort, new images take shape and our vision expands. We discover many elements we missed, and weaknesses to be addressed. Life will imperfectly continue forward but now with notable adjustments. The confining walls dissolve one small stone at a time, providing greater opportunities for connection, growth and happiness.
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Garro, D. (2020). The Cave. Do Better With Dan. Published 9-30-2020. Retrieved 2-18-2021
Hastie, R., Dawes, R. (2009). Rational Choice in an Uncertain World: The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making. SAGE Publications, Inc; Second edition