Posted by: Average Joe | June 22, 2011

Seeing What You Want to See

Half-full or half-empty? Do you “see what you want to see”?

You know the scenario. At first you enthusiastically engaged someone online in a creation/evolution debate. Surely the evidence would convince your antagonist, right?

It didn’t take long to realize that a Simpsons rerun or a Facebook update seemed like far better prospects for a fruitful evening. You reached an impasse due to stubbornness to adhere to preconceived ideas.

People (that’s everybody, from any side of a debate) hear about the brutal objectivity of science––though not of scientists––and when years of testing turn into decades, and decades into centuries, some wonder why others cling to their beliefs. Suspicion, aspersion, and derision prove too tempting and it’s easy to pull a Zeppelin (Communication Breakdown). After the purgative name-calling ceases––if ever––people are left with evidence, but what does it mean? And does anybody really care?

A quick search on the Internet yielded this response to the question of why people see what they want to see.

People filter their thoughts and perceptions to match their current belief system. They do this to maintain psychological homeostasis and prevent cognitive dissonance. It also helps if you really want to fit into a chosen social group.

Seems as good as any explanation––accounts for the Matthews and Sarahs growing up in Christian homes, where everything gets filtered through the Christian worldview lens. Or for the Maxes and Sonias who grow up in nonreligious homes, where everything gets filtered through a nontheistic evolutionary lens.

Is that all there is to it? No honest investigation of the evidence? No dramatic conversions? Does “fitting in” matter more than satisfying the mind? Do you believe that?



  1. This really spoke to me and made me think. Feels like you wrote this for me. In fact, I’m still thinking about it; not sure how I feel. I like to think I have a honest mind. Maybe it’s a little bit of both? Is that an easy/safe answer?

  2. A lot of research has come to light about our ubiquitous (sp?) Cognitive biases. These hardwired tendencies to skew our beliefs should lead people on BOTH sides of the aisle to be far more circumspect before espousing any kind of CERTAINTY on such matters. Human knowledge is provisional knowledge, as any good scientist (or common sense) will tell you.

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