Naïve realism is the view that the way the world appears to us is the way the world actually is. So we see trees, cars, hateful people and scary situations, and we assume that the way they appear is the way they actually are in reality. So trees and cars look like trees and cars, even when no one is looking. The person we perceive as hateful really is hateful. The situation that makes us scared really is scary.
We could call naïve realism the default setting of our mind, the settings, if you like, that comes out of the box. It is our mundane common sense view of the world, and we assume that other people see the world the same way.
For practical purposes, most of the time, this is fine, but it doesn’t take a very careful reading of science to see that naïve realism breaks down. If we look into the quantum world, for example, we see that things that appear solid to our sense perceptions are more accurately described as mainly empty space. Indeed it has been argued that in order for something to appear solid in the first place, it needs a conscious observer to notice it.
Looking at the science of mind, we also discover that the way we perceive an object or situation is just as much down to our frame of mind, as anything demonstrably to do with the object itself. This is most clearly evidenced in optical illusions. ‘Priming’, will depend whether you see the above object in the picture as a vase or a face.
So science shows that naïve realism breaks down. But this has profound psychological implications. Indeed, if naïve realism didn’t break down, there would be little scope for psychotherapy. Psychotherapy could be described as an inquiry into the world as perceived with a view to perceiving a more accurate and/or a less threatening world.
Some people though, particularly people who are dominated by ‘rational mind’, that is to say, people who think more than feel, can find a challenge to naïve realism a great threat. For them, if the world cannot be trusted to deliver reality pre formed, then nothing is certain. Without certainty, they feel unable to function. For such people, if their world is frightening, seriously committing to psychotherapy may be even more frightening. It seems to threaten the very ground of being itself. I think this is the fear behind those who call the pronouncements of psychotherapist’s psychobabble.
What is nearer the truth is that we have almost complete power to view the world however we choose. Far from psychotherapy offering a threat to our existence, it can liberate us from it. All it requires is that first step into uncertainty. And that takes courage.
Dr Phil Tyson is a Men's Psychotherapist based in Manchester in the UK. He offers:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (cbt) for men in Manchester
- Counselling for men in Manchester
- Psychotherapy for men in Manchester
- Telephone and Skype counselling for men wherever you live
- Supervision and consultative support for therapists in Manchester
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