You are not your government. An Iraqi is not theirs. Is it time to retune your perspective?
How does the world view American citizens? It might actually surprise you. Amaryllis Fox is a former CIA clandestine operative who grew up in the developing world and who has spent most of her career so far in foreign countries. "What continues to surprise me in every conversation I have, in each country I go to, is how sophisticated people are at separating the American citizen from the American government." You are not your government, just as an Iraqi is not theirs. That is a humanizing realization that is incredibly powerful for the everyday citizen, and even more so for veterans who have been trained in detachment, inside the military-industrial complex. Fox's organization Operation Zoe brings veterans back into their old theaters of war and uses their unique military skill set for humanitarian missions, like rebuilding homes, youth centers, and health clinics with local townspeople. "There’s a real magic to it when you recognize yourself in someone else," Fox says. Whether you grow up in an autocracy or a democracy, there is often very little say for citizens in the actions of their government. Your perspective on others and personal actions, however, are entirely in your hands.
Some people naturally believe they’re thinner than they really are. Here's how to tell if you're susceptible.
Our body size has social implications, mostly self-imposed, which we generally focus on. But the truth is, there are all kinds of sizes within a spectrum that could be considered healthy. It’s the extreme wings of the spectrum, either remarkably skinny or obese, that are particularly dangerous for our health. Admittedly, there’s a growing worldwide obesity epidemic, meaning most people in developed countries end up on one particular side of the spectrum. Of course, many people could benefit from at least some form of weight loss. What can be a stumbling block, however, is how we perceive our own weight.
You're probably already familiar with anorexia and bulimia, which are life-threatening conditions. What fewer of us may be familiar with is serial dependence bias, which often gives us the impression that we’re thinner than we actually are. This is a psychological illusion recently stumbled upon by researchers at The University of Western Australia, along with colleagues at the Pisa Vision group, in Italy. The results was published recently in the journal Scientific Reports.
Researchers discovered how we gain impressions and perceptions about our own body weight. The mind blends observations made by peers and our own perception of our body to form how we think about our own weight. But that impression can be distorted, allowing us to think that we’re thinner than we actually are.
The study recruited 103 female volunteers to participate. They were each shown pictures of women’s bodies ranging from slim to obese and everything between. Using a marker, participants were asked assess each woman's weight by making a line on a scale known as the body-line.
Participants commented on each image “by positioning a marker on a line, delineated with images of extreme sizes.” What the scientists noticed was, evaluations of the current woman’s body relied on previous assessments. As a result, researchers say, we humans are actually poor at perceiving our own body size, which is where the serial dependence bias comes in. “Past visual experiences weigh in on body size estimation,” researchers wrote.
Credit: Scientific Reports.
Dr. Jason Bell led the Australian team. “The data show body size judgments are biased towards prior experience,” he said. “As a person’s weight increases above the average, so too does the likelihood that their prior experience involves smaller bodies. Because the brain combines our past and present experiences, it creates an illusion whereby we appear thinner than we actually are.”
Researchers say that when we’re exposed to neutral body types, we may think that they are larger than they actually are, while if we were exposed to larger body types, we may see them as normal or neutral. Previous research has shown that healthy women often underestimate the weight of other females who are overweight, while they overestimate the weight of slim women. Our perception may not be accurate out of the gate. Yet, some researchers argue that it’s the system's ability to update itself constantly that, over time, makes it more accurate.
The results of this study may lead to new approaches in weight loss, something that’s sorely needed. It could also help us zero-in on what is and is not a healthy body size. The media, for instance, often sells a version of the female frame which is way too thin and so makes for an unrealistic goal. Understanding the difference between our perceptions and reality, from a health perspective, may help us better project a healthier image and make it easier to reach and maintain our ideal weight. These results may also help us better understand those who are obese or have an eating disorder.
Want to test how visually perceptive you are (or aren’t)? Watch this:
The most revelatory answers in life come from complex, diverse populations. Technology can open our eyes to what we're missing and destroy our subconscious biases in one fell swoop.
Being close-minded is like being in handcuffs—you can't let yourself out, someone has to pop the lock for you. That's why diversity matters, says neuroscientist Beau Lotto. Meeting others unlocks our perception. We spend our lives in the cuffs of our own assumptions, but encountering people who think and act differently teaches us so much about ourselves, and what we may have been blind to up until that point. If creativity is the act of thinking differently, then surrounding ourselves with a diversity of people, with diverse life experiences, can radically expand our field of possibility. Technology is another way to do that, says Lotto, and if you leaf through history it's apparent that the most radical technological breakthroughs are the ones that have expanded our perceptions: the printing press gave us books, which let us see other people's stories; the telescope gave us the universe, which gave us curiosity (and humility); the ship gave us mobility, which gave us cultural and material trade. Technology enables us "to see things that we could never have seen before," and it makes the invisible visible, says Lotto. The more layers of meaning we can detect—whether through diversity or technology—the better we're able to think, innovate, and connect. Beau Lotto's new book is Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently.
Reality is whatever your body believes. Virtual reality knows how to hack that.
"The line between what it means to be dreaming and what it means to be awake is going to become very interesting," says Jordan Greenhall, CEO of Neurohacker. Virtual reality is perhaps the easiest way to conceive of that concept right now, but it's just one piece in a much larger body of accelerated technology on the horizon. Our sense of reality, how our self fits into our perception of the world, can be easily shaken through sensory input manipulation—and in very low-tech and low-quality ways. So image what a sophisticated approach will bring. VR and its relatives will be able to hack our mind in ways we will be helpless to resist—dream up an object and one day it might be 3D printed in quasi-real-time, straight from your imagination. Of course, there are enormous ethical implications. If we think social media encroaches on our lives now, we are not prepared for a future in which dreaming and waking look eerily similar. How will it change election campaigns, personal relationships, will you responsible for your own addictions and behaviors in this future? How will we establish the first rules of consent—hopefully not the hard way. VR will disrupt our very deepest construct: how we see and react to reality. If we are thoughtful about design and ethics, Greenhall hopes this radically upgrade our potential, rather than downgrade how we relate to one another.
Is creativity a wild and free state of mind, or is it actually a pattern that others just can't recognize?
To ensure your survival, your brain evolved to avoid one thing: uncertainty. As neuroscientist Beau Lotto points out, if your ancestors wondered for too long whether that noise was a predator or not, you wouldn't be here right now. Our brains are geared to make fast assumptions, and questioning them in many cases quite literally equates to death. No wonder we're so hardwired for confirmation bias. No wonder we'd rather stick to the status quo than risk the uncertainty of a better political model, a fairer financial system, or a healthier relationship pattern. But here's the catch: as our brains evolved toward certainty, we simultaneously evolved away from creativity—that's no coincidence; creativity starts with a question, with uncertainty, not with a cut and dried answer. To be creative, we have to unlearn millions of years of evolution. Creativity asks us to do that which is hardest: to question our assumptions, to doubt what we believe to be true. That is the only way to see differently. And if you think creativity is a chaotic and wild force, think again, says Beau Lotto. It just looks that way from the outside. The brain cannot make great leaps, it can only move linearly through mental possibilities. When a creative person forges a connection between two things that are, to your mind, so far apart, that's a case of high-level logic. They have moved through steps that are invisible to you, perhaps because they are more open-minded and well-practiced in questioning their assumptions. Creativity, it seems, is another (highly sophisticated) form of logic. Beau Lotto is the author of Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently.