Our own culture is unbalanced in the degree to which the left hemisphere’s take predominates. And, unfortunately, the left hemisphere is decidedly imperceptive – and so is unaware there is a problem.
When it comes to detecting unexpected change, the left hemisphere is relatively blind compared with the right hemisphere.
Focussed attention, the only kind the left hemisphere can offer, makes us blind to almost anything, however arresting and however close, that happens to be going on outside our sphere of concern at that moment in time.
‘Our fundamental tactic of self-protection, self-control, and self-definition,’ wrote Daniel Dennett, ‘is not spinning webs or building dams, but telling stories, and more particularly concocting and controlling the story we tell others – and ourselves – about who we are.’
We saw earlier the protective shell-like function of this story. When we talk of strengthening it, the immediate temptation is to thicken the shell. However, it is not a fatter fortress we want, but a more flexible one. We see fortresses and spring into a story about strength. To do so is to forget that the fortress’s strength was an adaptation to its environment, and it is the adaptation – the fittedness to its environment – not the thickness of its walls, on which we should focus. When threats change, thick walls are not easy to change with them; the signs of domination can become the seeds of decay. The perfect shield against medieval weaponry becomes the perfect screen for being blind to opportunities.
Much of financial planning is about seeking security. Yet poorly done it is more often the security of a stagnant pond, not a beautiful waterfall.
Staring is a special kind of vision, in itself predatory: left hemisphere attention gets locked onto its target. As a result it more easily misses everything else.
In the modern Western world, we are constantly crashing, and puzzled as to why; constantly faced with paradoxical outcomes to our actions […] We often find that we strive for something and achieve its precise opposite. Why is that? I suggest it is because our currently dominant model of reality is mistaken.
This realization [being drawn more and more to the ‘poor’ Eastern side of Berlin] unsettled my sense of personal progress and education: it was possible to have freedom and plenty in the West and craft an empty life; it was possible to ‘have nothing’ in the East and create a life of intimacy and dignity and beauty.
Does it strike you that it’s possible to read a line like that and not be stopped by its strangeness? You may have just done so. If you live in a world where you can (without noticing) in effect say ‘intimacy and dignity and beauty are nothing’ then it’s probably time to question that’s the right world to live in.
When [the left hemisphere] is presented with evidence that what it is doing is not working, its invariable response is first to deny that there is a problem, but, if pushed, to respond not that we have done too much of something that is ineffective, but that we simply need to do more of it: because that’s what its theory dictates, and for the left hemisphere theory trumps reality.
We keep making the same mistakes, oblivious even to the fact that, despite not working, they are, in fact, mistakes […] Mistakes rooted in a belief that it’s external circumstances that determine the quality of a life, rather than how well one is set up to dance with those circumstances. This belief leads people to dedicate their resources to changing the quality of their lives by changing their worlds, rather than their worldviews.
Inductive reasoning lies behind the so-called Einstellung effect. This is the tendency to get fixed in one’s method of approach, so that one fails to see other, better, ways of seeing a situation, or of tackling a problem. Once one has mastered a way of doing something that works well enough in one situation, one tends to carry on applying the same method to situations or problems in which it is inferior or inappropriate.
In a test devised by Abraham Lucins in 1942, [The Einstellung effect] increased with age in adults, and was somewhat more marked in females than in males. […] It has since been found, as mentioned, to be less prominent in non-Westerners, who are more flexible in their thinking.
Westerners ‘may never even consider that the problem could have multiple solutions, until explicitly told “Don’t be afraid to try new things” which clearly states the possibility of multiple solutions.’