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Collaboration or Crisis

In One Hundred Years of Solitude, (which ironically includes a rigged election between the Liberal and Conservative parties), the novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez paints a haunting picture of what happens when societies can’t agree on basic facts. The novel describes a mass shooting of Colombian civilians by government troops, at a banana plantation in 1928, and transforms it into a mysterious amnesia gripping the people. The government denies the attack, and a single character is left, for the rest of the novel, trying to convince the town that the massacre even took place.

On November 3, 2020, America’s Democrats and Republicans engaged in a presidential election that was marred by allegations of voter fraud. Many Republicans and the conservative media believe that the election was stolen, while many Democrats and the liberal media refuse to acknowledge that voter fraud, of any consequence, ever existed. This inability to agree on basic facts underscores the profound division facing America. The 45,000 Americans who stormed the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, should be a warning sign to all of us, of the clear and present danger that this inability to agree on basic facts represents.

Understanding how your brain works will allow you to gain a greater understanding not only of your own thoughts, but of the thoughts of others. Our brains experience the world and collect information through our five senses—our senses of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. This sensory information is what creates our thoughts, emotions, and perspectives. Our brains also process information and sensations at different levels of consciousness. We receive approximately eleven million bits of information per second. Yet our conscious brain can only process fifteen to fifty bits of information per second. The majority of sensory information enters through our unconscious brain outside of our conscious awareness. Both our conscious and our unconscious minds play a role in shaping how we see the world.

We believe that when we make decisions, we understand the principal factors that influenced those decisions. Very often, nothing could be further from the truth. Our most basic assumptions about ourselves and society are often based on information that we may not even be aware of consciously. Our brains do not simply experience the taste of wine or food, they create it. And that creation of taste is influenced by a multitude of factors including the product’s marketing; price; label; bottle; or brand. Our surroundings; music; and the people we’re with also influence our tastes and perceptions. Memories are not only the sum of what we have done but also the sum of what we have thought, what we have been told and what we believe.

Researchers have shown that it is possible to implant false memories through conscious and unconscious suggestion. These false memories feel no different from memories that are based on reality. Often our memories are incomplete. We can’t remember every detail. In these instances, our unconscious brains may fill in the missing pieces. Our memories then become a combination of what we remember and what our brains create to fill in the missing gaps. The unconscious brain makes the brain extremely susceptible to suggestion—a double-edged sword. Music, colors, and textures have been shown to influence purchasing decisions in a manner that is outside of our conscious awareness. Even chemicals can influence our thoughts and actions.

Oxytocin, which is released during sexual intimacy, hugs and casual touching, can lead to feelings of emotional closeness even in the absence of a conscious intellectual connection between the parties. Given all that is known about the human brain, social media and “fake news” provide opportunities for manipulation on a scale never before possible. We have yet to fully understand or appreciate the true nature of this risk. The nature of the human brain means that we are highly susceptible to manipulation, misdirection and control.

Advertisers, corporations, politicians and governments all know this and you need to know it as well. You need to recognize and guard against your inherent, physiological vulnerability to misinformation and manipulation. You do this through increased awareness, inquiry and attention. You also need to understand how others are being manipulated. You need to be aware of both your brain’s immense power and significant vulnerability. You need to see your brain as a double-edged sword, both to maximize your potential and avoid harm.

We all see life through our unique prisms, and none of these prisms have any privileged legitimacy. As Americans, we share this country with approximately 335 million people, and we share the world with approximately 7.5 billion people and counting. They all have varied backgrounds and personal experiences. They all have unique prisms. They all see things differently. Understanding and having a tolerance for multiple perspectives is therefore critical. Be open to changing and modifying your perspective. Watch, read and listen to multiple points of view, especially those that you disagree with. Be open, flexible, curious and adaptive.

Understand the limitations of your own perspective and the opportunities offered by the perspectives of others. Instead of seeing alternative perspectives as threats, see them as assets that can bring you closer to the truth. It’s important that we all understand the inherent limitations of our own thoughts. Every moment of our lives, our brains are turning sensory data into what we believe is reality. Yet there is no provable link between “this is what I see” and “this is what is real.” Your brain determines your perception and different brains perceive things differently. Humans, in general, have five senses that operate within a limited band of reception. Constrained by our perceptual tools, we have no way to measure reality outside of our limited perception.

Stephen Hawking belonged to the camp of physicists who believe that reality exists as a material fact but he conceded, as did Einstein, that science doesn’t claim to know what reality is. Even believing in a fixed reality is an assumption—perhaps the greatest assumption of all time. Einstein called it “my religion” to denote that this was an article of faith for him. He could not prove that reality exists as a fixed state or material fact. Reality may not exist at all as a material fact. What we mistake for reality may simply be a product of our perception. There may be no such thing as provable reality. There may only be our version of it, which is essentially our perception. Every day, scientists are making new discoveries that are forcing them to disregard that which they previously thought was true.

The philosopher Thomas Nagel, who has studied how different species view the world, speculates that our current notions of evolution “will come to seem laughable in a generation or two.” Our perception is not only limited by our senses but by our perspectives and biases as well. We often confuse perception with reality. We mistake how we understand things for the way they really are. Our thoughts and feelings seem real to us so we conclude that they must be true. They must be reality. What if even our most deeply held beliefs about race; religion; sex; gender; guns; global warming; Socialism; Capitalism; Republicans; and Democrats were not true? What if what we think is reality is not reality at all? We often don’t realize how our perceptions cloud reality.

It is extremely important to be aware of the effect that perception has on our beliefs and how this influences our conclusions, decisions, behaviors and actions. Perception is an extremely powerful and important concept. Our reality is shaped by our perception. By controlling our expectations, considering multiple perspectives, and by being aware of our biases, we can control our perception and see reality more clearly. You need to try to see reality as clearly and objectively as possible, which means that you always need to consider multiple perspectives.

This underscores the need for collaboration. Alternative perspectives are not threats they’re assets.

George Chanos

George J. Chanos, served as Nevada’s 31st Attorney General. He’s the Chairman of Capriotti’s, and Wing Zone, two of the fastest growing franchises in the country, with over 200 locations. He's also a strategic business consultant, an author, and a speaker. Mr. Chanos has been advising leaders in business and government for over 30 years. He also successfully argued (9/0), the case of Whorton v. Bockting, 549 U.S. 406 (2007), before the United Supreme Court.

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