Can you forget how to ride a bike? How easily? What about how to think?


Spotted this evening on Treehugger.

Take the time to watch the above. Aside from just being wonderfully nerdy about bicycles and weird science, this video also seems like a really, really, really instructive lesson about how brains (ours, others, etc.) might approach a dynamic social, ecological or political problem.

I’m betting most of us see this and think, at least at first, “I could figure it out.” Then, after watching a lot of people fail, some of us still probably think, “OK, difficult, but I could still do it.”

Maybe we invent tricks we think will help — closing our eyes to tamp down the visual miscues, crossing our arms to maintain the “push with the right, turn to the left” muscle memory, etc.

And most of us would still probably faceplant if forced to do it at any speed.

I’m left wondering, then, how much this ingrained processing of bicycle riding also applies to how we process OTHER information, ideas, biases, etc. Do beliefs/constructs/paradigms/language really get as hard-wired as bicycle riding?

If so, I suppose I probably would continue to believe the government is good/evil, climate change is real/fake, gay people are people/sinners, guns are safe/dangerous, ice cream is tasty/the scourge of thighs, the earth is round/flat, dogs can/can’t look up, and other binaries entirely because of my neuro-wiring and irrespective of compelling “reason,” “logic,” “science,” “information,” “knowledge,” “humanity,” etc. with which I am presented.

In the backwards bicycle case, I very clearly can see that I need to push with my left to veer/counterbalance left. Yet my brain still won’t do it, at least not without eight months of reorientation (that apparently can also be overcome in several minutes re-reorientation). In other words, I’m sitting there on the pedals telling myself that reality has changed, with everyone else also explaining how the world is now different, and I need to adapt and push with the left to go left, and yet my brain tells me and everyone else, politely, to eff off.

Similarly, if my brain also says X is a hoax, how difficult is actually convincing myself that X is true?

And of course, with most thorny issues, we know that most ideas are not simply the product of knowing the A, B and C of X. Enter the halo effect, social capital, limited but repeated experiences, memory loss, ego, fear, group-think, shifting baselines and all other common obstructions to changing our made-up minds.

In real-world conditions, then, my brain tells me to X is wrong because I should distrust person E who believes X because Y is my routine experience and person B also supports me as a member of clan R which adheres to community norm set M; in addition, I’ve actually forgotten the A, B, and C of X, which I encountered Z months ago surrounded by people L while I was in mood T; and, in any case, I imagine myself to be person type Q and to even consider believing X would actually make me person type J.”

Makes me really take a step back on the strategies we use to win hearts and minds. Say, for instance, in favor of climate reality or sustainable living or equality under law.

So what if believing Y (and not X) really is like riding a bike? What would it actually take to help/encourage people forget Y and choose X? Some pretty difficult truths for all who are interested in making social change a reality.

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