A friend recently introduced me to the concept of “confirmation bias” which refers to the human tendency to accept into his/her reality only that which is consistent with a pre-existent bias. In other words, we see things as we want to see them. We see only the “small bright circle of our consciousness beyond which lies the darkness.” (Conrad Aiken). Decades ago I read someone’s observation, “Our thinking is the belated rationalization of conclusions to which we have already been led by our desires.”
Now, of course, being a mere mortal I would like to say that this no longer applies to me, that I have gone a step further and see things clearly, that I see things objectively. But I’ve afraid that I can no longer “lay that flattering unction to my soul” (Hamlet, to his mother). This is a human problem and we cannot escape it. We only see things through a prism, we do not see things objectively.
But, if we understand this notion, it can humble us a bit and we can be a bit less arrogant about our certainties, we can be a bit more accepting of people who are different than us. We might even be a bit more accepting of people who respond to this notion with a blank, bewildered stare!
Emily Dickinson wrote a poem about this tendency to construct our reality and then shut out everything else:
The soul selects her own society,
Then shuts the door;
On her divine majority
Obtrude no more.
Unmoved, she notes the chariot’s pausing
At her low gate;
Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling
Upon her mat.
I’ve known her from an ample nation
Then close the valves of her attention
We do tend to “close the valves of (our) attention like stone” and shut out any further feedback from the world. “My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with facts.” This is called insanity.