The ‘Brain Shift’ power warps reality

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My job puts me at the centre of a movement of people working with others and the government to tackle climate change. It’s something I feel very privileged to be doing. But not long ago, my day job was still the usual corporate rat race of the city. Despite the differences between these two worlds, I have noticed the same inter and intra-group dynamics at play. (Lecture 4.3)

Even as we seek to be inclusive, the reality is that we still tend to operate in a bubble of those we see ‘like us’. Whether it’s the joke we share, the news we follow or the people we dislike.

I decided to test my 2nd empathetic superpower to step into the minds of an important out-group in the climate change issue, climate skeptics.

By watching the US Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on climate change it presented two sides of the debate in what was a relatively unfiltered and direct dialogue with some climate skeptics, both scientists and officials.

As I first watched the video I found myself feeling time and time again, the frustration and anger whilst listening to people whose views contradicted my own. My own thoughts and feelings interjected in all too familiar ways.

To ponder this further I sought to understand not just the arguments, but also why it was people believed these things.

When I re-watched the hearing, a strange thing happened. By trying to see the world from someone else’s point of view using cognitive empathy (Lecture 6.1), I disturbed the reliability of my own biases and raised the uncomfortable signs of cognitive dissonance (Lecture 2.4).

*Wub* This is about principled science. We must uphold the rigour of scientific standards. We cannot pick and choose what we call science. The facts are not the facts, unless we see them all.

*Wub* Lumbering people with higher costs is unfair, for those of us just going about our business and getting on with our lives. It doesn’t make sense to risk a massive upheaval and make sweeping changes to the way things are.

As I heard their words and inhabited these thoughts, I began to even feel quite convinced by their views. Their words sounded different, layered as they were with the echoes of some very understandable human beliefs.

Pondering mouse

“Are you pondering what I’m pondering?”
The Mouse

 

 

 

References:

Coursera Social Psychology:  Lecture 4.3 The Minimal Group: From Dots to Discrimination in 60 seconds. Lecture 6.1 Is Empathy a Magic Bullet? The Power of Outrospection. Lecture 2.4 Cognitive Dissonance and Self-Perception.

Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, Climate Change – It’s happening now. July 2013

Some were united by “a conviction that data quality in various branches of climate science are below those required by “real science” Are climate sceptics the real champions of the scientific method? Warren Peace, Guardian.com July 2013

A reported study showed how climate scepticism is linked to system justification theory, where people “see the status quo as good, fair, legitimate, and desirable.” The Mind of the Climate Change Sceptic, John T. Jost and Erin P. Henne, July 2013

The power of ‘Blinky’ allows you to slow time.

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*Blink*  The woman is primed and ready as the train pulls into the platform. She knows the score, the doors will slide open and she must pounce. The train stops and I let her get off first. Her eyes turn wide, as she meets my gaze forgetting the opening door and the place she was rushing to get to. She stops and she smiles.

*Blink*  The man is surprised at being offered a seat. He blusters and chuckles as he sits happily next to his girlfriend. From the corner of my eye, I see his fingers entwine with hers as the carriage rumbles on.

These were some of the reactions I encountered using the 1st empathic power, the skill of opening yourself vulnerably to feel with people, known as affective empathy (lecture 6.1).

London has 8 million people and city commuters are used to the determination it takes to brave the hoards of strangers. We pack our arsenal in the morning; book, headphones, the glazed mask or the piercing stare of a person who has somewhere important to be.

There were other strangers I encountered that day, but I found my use of affective empathy was not consistent. Sometimes, my thoughts would wander, I would turn and realise I had looked away and missed that moment.

*Blink* The girl at the bus stop, stooped over, her head in her hands. I can’t tell if I’ve embarrassed her, as she rushes out a flurry of “I’m ok, I’m o.k.” urging me with her soft voice to move on.

These strangers are no different really from the ones I pass on my way to work most days. Pressed up against them, but tuning them out. I have become accustomed to ignoring the myriad of human emotions brushing up against me in those moments; anxiousness, happiness, sadness.

On my journey, I blinked and saw them again and though they still seemed strange to me, unique, they felt less like strangers.

The Working Mouse“Bodies bump and hurry me along. A hundred paws patter between the walls and along the tracks. A blur of white and grey bodies melding into one.”
The Mouse

 

Two Empathetic Powers

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I had stepped into the game to live 24 hours compassionately and embodied the small character of a mouse. A mouse, I found, who had started with some pretty low stats in the area of empathy. Like any game, though I also possessed special powers to help me on my way.

The two empathetic game powers, ‘Blinky’ and ‘Brain-Shift’.

The power of ‘Blinky’ allows you to slow time.

BlinkyDescription:

Prolong a single moment and in it you will be able observe one living being.

The tiny creases in their expression become exaggerated, the movement from their eyes, across their face and the flicker of a feeling.

In that blink, you can absorb it all.

 

The ‘Brain Shift’ power warps reality.

BrainShift

Description:

Listen to the words of any person and you can remove the filter of your thoughts between them and you.

The air around you shifts with the echo of a low bass. The world dissolves, and you are no longer just you.

Instead their words are your words, their thoughts your thoughts.