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Good Example of Our Two-Movie Reality

I have been saying since Trump’s election that the world has split into two realities – or as I prefer to say, two movies on one screen – and most of us don’t realize it. We’re all looking at the same events and interpreting them wildly differently. That’s how cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias work. They work together to create a spontaneous hallucination that gets reinforced over time. That hallucination becomes your reality until something changes.

This phenomenon has nothing to do with natural intelligence. We like to think that the people on the other side of the political debate are dumb, under-informed, or just plain evil. That’s not the case. We’re actually experiencing different realities. I mean that literally.

I know, I know. When you read something like that, you probably shake your head and think I’m either being new-agey or speaking metaphorically. I am being neither. This is well-understood cognitive science. 

And here comes the fun part.

I’m about to show you some mind-blowing evidence of the two-movie effect. Figuratively speaking, I’ll hold an apple in my hand and show it to the audience. Half of you will see an apple. The other half will see a gun. That’s how dramatic this two-movie illusion is. I can be watching a comedy movie while you’re in the same theater, sitting next to me, watching a drama. On the same screen. At the same time.

Watch this.

Here’s a screenshot from a recent episode of Real Time with Bill Maher. The bullet points purport to show the “crazy” things President Trump said this past week. Focus on the first bullet point, just to keep things simple. The point I’ll make applies to all of them, but we can simplify by looking at the first one. It says, “So-called judge.”

The bullet point refers to the recent court reversal of Trump’s executive order to ban immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.

If you are a Trump supporter, all you see is an example of Trump talking the way Trump always does. He bluntly criticizes everything he doesn’t like. That’s one of the things his supporters like about him. Mmm, that’s a delicious apple.

Oh, and Trump is also directionally accurate in his criticism. Even Alan Dershowitz, who is no fan of the president, says Trump would probably win in the Supreme Court on the narrow question of whether the President has the right to order the seven-country immigration ban.

And Trump is sticking to the law and preparing a legal response to the court’s action. All normal stuff. Nothing here but some normal (for him) Trump words.

But if you are an anti-Trumper, and his unexpected election sent you into cognitive dissonance, you see “So-called judge” as exactly what Hitler might say before he lined them all up and shot them. Where his supporters see a delicious apple in Trump’s hand, his critics see a gun.

But here’s the freaky part: Both of our movies are intact. In my movie, Trump took a bite out of a juicy apple. In your movie, he cocked his gun and is ready to fire. But none of these movie scenes touches either one of us, at least not yet. We are observers. I can still drink my coffee and you can still brush your teeth. At this very moment, it makes no difference to our lives that I see an apple and you see a gun – except that you live in terror and I’m having a good laugh (literally) while watching my movie.

In order for our two-movie situation to merge back into a single movie, one of us needs to see our expectations violated in ways that even cognitive dissonance can’t explain away. As long as the movie with the apple and the movie with the gun both “work” in terms of their scripts, they will keep playing at the same time. You might see confirmation bias that tells you it really was a gun. I might see confirmation bias that it was a delicious apple. 

Let me give you an example of how the two-movie reality could fold back into one. It will take a lot of time plus a lot of observations like this one:

If you’re a creative type, or you deal with schedules in any way, you will love WhenHub.com because it is a startup I cofounded. 

You might also enjoy reading my book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, because apples are good for you.

How to Hypnotize Bill Maher

In case you missed it, I appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher on Friday and explained that Trump is more Master Persuader than crazy clown. It’s worth watching.

If you want to learn more about some of the psychological phenomena I mentioned on the show, I recommend this new book called Impossible to Ignore. It is the newest addition to my Persuasion Reading List

The thing I was trying to say on the show, before I got cut off, was that Trump’s selection of issues is part of his persuasion talents. He was smart enough to pick the topics with the most emotional power. It was intentional. Keep in mind that every candidate had the same options that Trump did, but only Trump chose correctly. That is not an accident. The public just thinks it is.

Bill said during the show that he can’t be hypnotized. Evidently he tried it before and it didn’t work. I didn’t have time for a complete response so I will give it to you here.

For starters, everyone is hypnotizable. That’s what I learned in hypnosis class, and that has been my personal experience. Twenty percent of the public can be deeply hypnotized, but all the rest can be influenced in some productive direction. 

Hypnosis is a learned skill, and that means some hypnotists are better than others. It would take a talented hypnotist to deal with a  professional skeptic such as Maher. And the approach would have to be tailored for him. A generic hypnotic induction would be useless with such a personality.

The way I would approach hypnotizing a hardcore skeptic is to describe the method as I went. With a normal subject, I might say, “Imagine your favorite place in the world to relax” and that would be enough to start the ball rolling. But with a skeptic, I would add “Our brains make associations automatically. If I ask you to recall a bad memory, it might raise your blood pressure and pulse. But when I ask you to imagine a relaxing situation, your body naturally follows.”

A skeptic will understand that imagining a relaxing scene puts you in a more relaxed mood than recalling a bad memory. There is nothing magical about that. And I would continue explaining the technique as I went, in ordinary terms that anyone can understand. Persuasion works even when you explain the method as you go. If you don’t believe me, consider that Trump tells the public he is being controversial because it gets him the effect he wants. He says he plans to be presidential later. He tells us what he is doing and then he does it. And it still works.

Think about Trump’s Linguistic Kill Shots (nicknames). Trump now tells us in advance that he’s about to hatch one. Then he does. Then we watch it work. His persuasion is just as effective when he tells us how he’s doing it and when. In fact, it probably works better when the public is primed to see it coming. If you think Trump is going to be persuasive, it makes him more persuasive, like a placebo effect on top of a real drug. 

My point is that a good hypnotist can hypnotize (or persuade) Bill Maher or any other skeptic. Some of you will say I persuaded him on the show to see the Clinton campaign as doomed. Did you see a turn?

On a related note, over the weekend I privately tested my claim that I could persuade an angry Trump-hater to become a Trump supporter in one hour. It turns out that I was wrong. It only took ten minutes. 

We are not a rational species.