As demonstrated by the recent breakthrough experiment, the world in which one lives is very different to our current understanding. We live in parallel physical realities. The truly extraordinary news is that when confirmation bias alters the observation being made, this alters which version of the world becomes real. And the effect is global.
Confirmation bias is what tends to happen when a new experience would clash with an expectation. In order to avoid the unpleasant feeling, the unconscious mind tends to modify the observation of such an event. The brain makes up something that fits with what is expected. This is why what is expected tends to be what is observed. Where there are ten witnesses to a significant incident, there are inevitably ten different versions of events.
This is a well-known phenomenon. Research shows that images held in the mind can directly affect what is observed. As neuroscience writer Mo Constandi reports:
A new study now shows that visual working memory can influence our perceptions, so that mental images in the mind’s eye can alter the way we see things. (2011)
So you tend to see in the world what is in your mind’s eye, a perfect example of confirmation bias.
Bias on Reality
Obviously, in the ordinary world the result of confirmation bias just produces a rose-tinted view of the world. We go away thinking, wrongly, that things turned out how we expected. But in the personal world the situation is very different. It is the biased observation that becomes part of the definition of the physical reality.
Let’s say I expect my team to win the next game. As a result of confirmation bias, I mishear a news item so it suggests they is doing really well. As a result I am in a different version of the world than I would have been. This is the world in which the newsflash was positive, and in this version of the world their success is more likely. In this world the probability of my experiencing the future I expect is increased.
Given this strange empowerment we do not want to encourage unwelcome events. The obvious thing is deliberately focusing on positive outcomes. Not, of course, a new idea. But now we know just how significant this is. Expecting the best is vital because this actually makes better things more likely to be experienced.
If we do not recognise that we are doing ourselves harm by holding negative expectations we may be careless about it. Saying, for instance “Knowing my luck this will not turn out well” is a recipe for just what I want to avoid. In this type of world positive thinking is Reality Health & Safety.
By making positive thinking more and more the default mental habit we can come to expect positive things more naturally. For any given situation, there is a possible future in which an unlikely but very welcome outcome exists. In this type of world, if you can come to expect this optimal future, the confirmation bias means you are more and more likely to arrive in that kind of future.
This effect would explain the extraordinary power of placebo. Expectation heals, in the absence of any physical cause. As has been fully established, the sugar-free pill has no physical effect. But it works.
As research has shown, expectation is a vital part of the process. It is the patient’s perception that it is beneficial, rather than any ingredient having an actual effect. This is the part that cannot fit with physics of the ordinary world. But this is a natural phenomenon in the relative world. The effect of our expectations is constantly moulding the future of the personal world as a whole. Our expectations act as strange attractors.
In physics, the term ‘attractor’ means a state towards which a system tends to gravitate. Gravity itself is a simple example. A ball dropped on a slope tends to roll towards the bottom. In relation to gravity, the bottom of the hill is an attractor. Here the attractor is obvious in the way it works. And the end result is a specific condition, the ball at the bottom of the slope. The concept of attractors is described in Wikipedia.
There is also a different sort of attractor that is often found in complex systems, a ‘strange attractor’. This does not give rise to a simple, specific outcome, but a loosely defined tendency in the system, a particular pattern like the Lorenz attractor shown on the home page. The program traces out a shape that always gravitates towards this distinctive pattern. The shape of the pattern is a strange attractor.
Your expectations act as strange attractors in the personal world. The effect occurs because expectation gives rise to biased observations, and each biased observation means that the fulfilment of the expectation becomes a bit more likely than before. Each biased observation means you exist in a version of the world where the expected future is more likely. Thus your world tends to gravitate toward these outcomes.
The next main section is The New Empowerment.