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Thanks for coming to the viewing party.

The plan has changed somewhat because it turns out that Youtube has a character limit for video descriptions - but you know this, because you're here. 

So I've had to separate this explanatory section from the video, but please please please go back to the Youtube video and leave a comment about your reflections on the song &/or essay below. 

This song is part of a project for a class called “Systems Thinking,” taught by Laura and Derek Cabrera and uses concepts drawn from their original scholarship. The song itself is part one of that project and this description is part two – if you have the time please read to the end and leave a comment with your thoughts over on the Youtube video.

The song is intended to draw your attention to a concept Laura and Derek refer to as “reality bias.” I refer to this, in the song, as the ‘twists and turns in the truth’ and also, somewhat more accurately, as the ‘twists and turns in your view.’ It is basically the idea that while we each believe we see the world as it is, we are in fact seeing the world from a unique perspective and through the lens of our own understandings, cognitive abilities, and yes, biases.

Of course, the project as assigned has nothing to do with reality bias, except maybe tangentially, but I wanted to start there for two reasons. The first and most important reason is that I suggested writing a country song for this project to Laura and Derek and they chuckled and encouraged me to do it. Unfortunately, writing a country song that explicitly delves into fairly complex concepts in an overt fashion would make for a pretty terrible song. Which brings me to reason two, which is that the reality bias fits the mold of country music beautifully and it acts as a convenient segue into the solution to reality bias. [For those of you who read the lyrics, be aware that I did have to take some liberties with the concepts involved so that they would fit the form, but in the end I think the song itself is pretty damn good (even if the performer may leave something to be desired).]

The solution, or at least mitigation strategy, to reality bias is metacognition, which is simply thinking about thinking. As the song points out, once you become aware of the constricting nature of your own point of view and past experiences and mental models “you can understand the twists and turns” that information takes as it is processed in your mind “you’ll start to see the world anew.”

 

These twists and turns include the biases that you’re all familiar with, your own perspectives, and so on, all of which can be better thought of in terms of the universal cognitive code, DSRP. DSRP refers to distinctions, systems, relationships, and perspectives and the best way to think of it is as the ‘grammar’ or structure that we all use to process information. Much the way the grammar of the English language structures the way we communicate with each other, DSRP structures the way we interpret information. We make distinctions (us and them, black and white), define and recognize systems (political parties, friend groups, ecosystems, roads and sidewalks), we understand relationships (friends, enemies, anything where there’s an action and reaction), and whatever we see we see from a specific point of view.

 

What’s interesting about DSRP is that at it’s core it is just terminology for something that we all are already doing, but by understanding and using it’s terms we can gain important and meaningful new understanding of both the complex and simple. We are accustomed to hearing things like “walk a mile in her shoes,” or reference to an unsavory “us vs them” mentality. When we say those things, we are already thinking about thinking in terms that are very much like DSRP. Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is an exercise in shifting point of view – what does a given situation look like from someone else’s perspective. You can even take it a step further and ask yourself what the same situation would look like from the perspective of an inanimate object or an abstract concept. What does Trump having covid look like from the perspective of the White House? From the perspective of Democracy? From a Republican perspective during a presidential election? And on and on, gaining new insight as you go.

 

Similarly, we’re all familiar with the phrase an “us vs them” mentality. We know intuitively that when we make distinctions, we draw lines between what is defined and everything else. Even when a friend casually refers to “us” or “we” a not-us or “them” or the “other” is implied as well. In fact, thinking about this in social settings can be quite interesting – when you’re sitting with a group try to decipher the different ways that people use the words “us” or “we.” I would bet that they alternate between referring to the people in your immediate group and between broader constructions based on family, race, political party, fans of a sports team or more. Then think about the impact those varying definitions can have on the people in the conversation – they can be ostracized or included and safe with just a subtle twist of implication, can’t they? [Interesting side note: I’ve been using the term “we” a lot here – to whom am I referring when I say it?]

 

It can be helpful to start thinking of relationships and systems in a way that you’re already familiar with. A relationship between two people or a system (let’s say a family) made up of numerous individual parts. However, that these words are familiar shouldn’t mean that we should be satisfied with a superficial understanding. When you think about relationships try to think deeply about it – how would you define the relationship itself, does the relationship have it’s own component parts or distinctive features? What are some non-social relationships? For instance, what is the relationship between a car and a road? Or a frog and a pond? When you think about a system think about both the parts and the whole. What pieces are a part of which system? Is that system then also part of a bigger system? Can you divide some of the parts even further into their own systems? Of course, you can also combine the two. What relationships are part of this system? And if you're really into it you can start adding points of view and distinctions and thinking about how they do or don't overlap, influence each other, and so on. 

 

For example, let’s look at a system that everyone is familiar with to some degree: national politics. To do so we first have to define politics as different from pop culture or Canadian politics and so on. We can then identify the two parties as component parts of the system. We could further define the relationship between the parties as largely antagonist but perhaps also mutually reinforcing and therefore beneficial. And so we arrive at a description that the two primary political parties are antogonistic but also rely on each other for legitimacy as they vie to take control of national politics. But what if, instead of pretending to be objective we intentionally look at this from the point of view of a specific policy, person, or even concept. How would we view national politics from the perspective of an up and coming small city Mayor? Or from the perspective of climate change? Or from the perspective of an out of work midwestern teenager? The results can be intellectually instructive or even a little bit mind blowing. What if you look at national politics from the perspective of an out of work and pregnant midwestern teenager who is considering an abortion? Perhaps the issue then becomes one of policy and law and we find that we need to start the excercise over again with the concept of national policy or supreme court jurisprudence as our starting points. 

 

I hope it’s obvious that there is potentially no end to the ways you can apply DSRP, so it’s important to keep in mind that this is just a way to think about thinking - the goal is to help understand new and old concepts in a productive way, not to go down the rabbit hole until you lose track of time and reality. The trick, if there is one, is to think about DSRP with some frequency, but to apply it rigorously only within the scope of a problem or situation you would like to better understand. 

 

This is only a brief introduction to DSRP and certainly doesn’t give each aspect the time or detail they deserve - that would take a whole lot more than a song and a page or two (or three) of explanation... My hope is that I’ve explained enough to start you down the road to thinking about thinking and using the DSRP concepts in a fun and perhaps even meaningful way that may also help decode or understand the reality bias. 

I hope, perhaps most of all, that you appreciated the song in all it’s country/old-timey glory. It isn’t trying to teach or explain all of these concepts, but my hope is that by relying on familiar tropes, song structure, and even some clichés, it makes accessible the idea that we are all constantly filtering and giving cognitive structure to information as we process it. And hopefully that feeling combined with the promise of a better understanding has brought you this far and will help you look for DSRP structures in both your own thoughts and all around you.

 

Please feel free to leave a comment/question in the comments section of the Youtube video! While it can be instructive to attempt a lesson from within a vacuum, it would be a great help to me to hear your feedback and ideas.