Wishful thinking

A desire that blinds. A long time ago, the sculptor Pygmalion lived in Cyprus. And he fell so in love with the statue he sculpted that the gods revived it, and later she bore him children, one of whom was the son of Paphos — the legendary founder of the city of Paphos, in which I now live. The Pygmalion effect predominantly manifests the magical thinking characteristic of children and primitive tribes when we believe that the power of our desire will change the real world. Of course, sometimes the power of self-fulfilling prophecy is quite natural, especially concerning matters in which we control and participate.

wishful thinking

However, applying one’s expectations very often leads to wishful thinking. This is not just a distortion of thinking; it is characteristic of all people because our inner state affects perception and thought. If you are given a heavy backpack, you begin to overestimate the mountain’s steepness. If you are thirsty, you see water bubbling and glistening, even with random stimuli. Our perception is essentially our desires and motivations; it is a downward flow in the cortex, which is so strong that we see what is not there; we project our desires and agency onto the world.

Frankl aptly noted that many prisoners wanted to see like-minded people in the SS so much that they interpreted their movements as secret signs of support that they were sending them. In the same way, now many are trying to see what is not in the criminals and servants of the regimes. Wishful thinking leads to a distortion of thought, and inadequate risk assessment gives rise to the so-called blindness to unpredictable phenomena. And how much it affects distortions even in scientific research!

Wishful thinking occurs at many levels of information processing. First, we pay more attention to the evidence that supports our belief and does not pay attention to the contradictory (“inattentive blindness”). Then we misinterpret the facts and do not allow conflicting information into the brain (“cognitive permeability”). Blinkies do not allow contradictory information to seep into the brain. Often wishful thinking occurs at the visual level, giving birth to absolute blindness. A strong desire activated before we see something directs the optical system to process, and the brain begins to “see” what it expected to “see.” Thus we “go blind” — we see our desires in the world, not reality. What to do? Here are some ideas.

1. Where am I wrong right now? All our thinking is, to one degree or another, wishful thinking. Just accept it and ask yourself — “where is my desire hiding reality from me right now”? Unfortunately, people believe that the world is the way they see it, but we know it is not.

2. Desire is the root not only of suffering but also of ignorance. The more you want something, the higher the risk of wishful thinking and distortion of perception. The best perception is without desire, to perceive indifferently. Reduce the importance of yourself and your expectations for yourself. Reduce the cost of the error. Reframe — put yourself in the place of another person; think, for example, how an alien or a primitive person would see it.

3. A wedge is knocked out with a wedge. The desire to know the world as it is should be higher than the desire to prove your case. It is helpful to give up the urge to push your preferences to the world. And replace it with curiosity — but how does everything work?

4. The luxury of ignorance. Do not form beliefs, and do not give assessments before you have not collected enough facts. Allow yourself the luxury of not knowing. Refuse to express an opinion on any issue. As soon as you have said an idea, you have already put on blinders and narrowed your perception. Therefore, “I do not know” is a good answer, or “The only thing I know is that I do not know anything.”

5. Meditate. Mindfulness practice teaches you to notice primary facts without beliefs, assessments, opinions, reflection, and other twists of the commenting mind. Meditation will bring you closer to reality.

Wishful Seeing How Preferences Shape Visual Perception 2013 Current Directions in Psychological Science 22(1):33–37
Influence of vmPFC on dmPFC Predicts Valence-Guided Belief Formation. The Journal of Neuroscience, 2018; 38 (37)