I have been saying since Trump’s election that the world has split into two realities – or as I prefer to say, two movies on one screen – and most of us don’t realize it. We’re all looking at the same events and interpreting them wildly differently. That’s how cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias work. They work together to create a spontaneous hallucination that gets reinforced over time. That hallucination becomes your reality until something changes.
This phenomenon has nothing to do with natural intelligence. We like to think that the people on the other side of the political debate are dumb, under-informed, or just plain evil. That’s not the case. We’re actually experiencing different realities. I mean that literally.
I know, I know. When you read something like that, you probably shake your head and think I’m either being new-agey or speaking metaphorically. I am being neither. This is well-understood cognitive science.
And here comes the fun part.
I’m about to show you some mind-blowing evidence of the two-movie effect. Figuratively speaking, I’ll hold an apple in my hand and show it to the audience. Half of you will see an apple. The other half will see a gun. That’s how dramatic this two-movie illusion is. I can be watching a comedy movie while you’re in the same theater, sitting next to me, watching a drama. On the same screen. At the same time.
Here’s a screenshot from a recent episode of Real Time with Bill Maher. The bullet points purport to show the “crazy” things President Trump said this past week. Focus on the first bullet point, just to keep things simple. The point I’ll make applies to all of them, but we can simplify by looking at the first one. It says, “So-called judge.”
The bullet point refers to the recent court reversal of Trump’s executive order to ban immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.
If you are a Trump supporter, all you see is an example of Trump talking the way Trump always does. He bluntly criticizes everything he doesn’t like. That’s one of the things his supporters like about him. Mmm, that’s a delicious apple.
Oh, and Trump is also directionally accurate in his criticism. Even Alan Dershowitz, who is no fan of the president, says Trump would probably win in the Supreme Court on the narrow question of whether the President has the right to order the seven-country immigration ban.
And Trump is sticking to the law and preparing a legal response to the court’s action. All normal stuff. Nothing here but some normal (for him) Trump words.
But if you are an anti-Trumper, and his unexpected election sent you into cognitive dissonance, you see “So-called judge” as exactly what Hitler might say before he lined them all up and shot them. Where his supporters see a delicious apple in Trump’s hand, his critics see a gun.
But here’s the freaky part: Both of our movies are intact. In my movie, Trump took a bite out of a juicy apple. In your movie, he cocked his gun and is ready to fire. But none of these movie scenes touches either one of us, at least not yet. We are observers. I can still drink my coffee and you can still brush your teeth. At this very moment, it makes no difference to our lives that I see an apple and you see a gun – except that you live in terror and I’m having a good laugh (literally) while watching my movie.
In order for our two-movie situation to merge back into a single movie, one of us needs to see our expectations violated in ways that even cognitive dissonance can’t explain away. As long as the movie with the apple and the movie with the gun both “work” in terms of their scripts, they will keep playing at the same time. You might see confirmation bias that tells you it really was a gun. I might see confirmation bias that it was a delicious apple.
Let me give you an example of how the two-movie reality could fold back into one. It will take a lot of time plus a lot of observations like this one:
Try the line below on anti-Trumpers and watch them pivot to “But…he is also incompetent.” Then mention the rise in stock prices. Fun! https://t.co/2oyPc4Gx3R
— Scott Adams (@ScottAdamsSays) February 12, 2017
If you’re a creative type, or you deal with schedules in any way, you will love WhenHub.com because it is a startup I cofounded.
You might also enjoy reading my book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, because apples are good for you.