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  • Nathan Kirchner

Perception equals reality, numbers & facts don’t!

I am still not 100% comfortable with this one, I'd go so far as to say that my cognitive self says 'that is wrong, perhaps even silly' but my 'this is not my first day' self knows that it doesn't actually matter in many cases; this is most definitely a very natural phenomenon, & a typically hard to negotiate one at that!

For instance, if someone thinks a box is 1 meter high but it is actually 0.5 meters high, than how high is it? Intuitively it is pretty straight forwards. It is 0.5 meters high, it was measured after all. It is a fact that it is 50cm high. End of story. Buuuuuuuuuttttt not really...

A very large chunk of me wants this to be the end of the story, but I perpetually find myself faced with the 'someone' that insists that it is really 1m high due to their 'intuition', 'experience', 'perspective', 'feeling', 'the big picture', etc & I can feel the friction of being the 'hard to get along with', 'argumentative', 'details obsessed', etc guy.

There are a couple of potential paths to go down from here - my natural tendency is to argue & insist the physical world is not particularly concerned with their 'intuition' and there is a simple indisputable number. Unfortunately this path generally leads to frustration akin to playing a chicken in chess. Yes, it is a black & white deterministic game. It has clear rules that can be followed without room or necessity for interpretation. Yes it is beautiful in its elegant clarity & indisputable modus operandi. Unfortunately the chicken just knocks the pieces over & shits on the board triumphantly.

<the ubiquitous 'honest question'> 'So how do I win the argument & prove to them that they are clearly wrong?'. Don't get me wrong, I want this too and 'me' of a few years back would have (animated) thoughts on how to achieve this. But 'me' of today thinks this may, at its core, be trying to answer the wrong question. Sure, there are plenty of arguments that could be launched (and for the record, I think the box is 50cm high) but seriously, who cares?!?! People think what they think, believe what they believe & perceive a mix of the two. Reality is just one input into that wild world. A very real reality is that it is a weaker input than it should be for way too many!

<the insight> I've found that a more productive question to ask (both in terms of progress made & general hair retention) is 'Does it matter?' From here there are generally two paths 1) It does - in which case why do I need to be having this conversation with this specific person? If it actually mattered than surely this someone wouldn't have lead me here, or 2) It doesn't - It very rarely doesn't matter at all, if it actually doesn't that's perhaps a whole other problem... what does seem rise to the top are lines of enquiry such as 'Frankly who cares how high it is. Is this what you need? Bigger? Smaller? Other'. There are many case where this is all we need, we don't need to change the beliefs of others, we just need to know what needs to be done/changed/improved/etc. I get how many see this as giving up, I see it more as preferring not to play chess with chickens, I wish I had have got here without having invested soo much hair in being 'right'!

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