Two men are standing at opposing sides of the same raging, impassable river. Each of them can see the other quite clearly, even though they’re on different sides.
Each man has a full view of the same river and they can see the rapid white water rushing past them at high speeds with the sun reflecting off the tips of the waves in the mid-afternoon.
The men both see this. They can agree on it. They’re at the same river, and they both came to spend time there.
But once those details are agreed upon, very little else can be because each has come from a different place, a different path, and for a different reason.
Let’s look at the details of how each man came to be at the river’s banks.
One arrived by foot, the other by truck. One came to sit and think, and the other came to fish for his dinner. One came for time alone, and the other is still waiting for his friends.
Having looked at those differences in action and motivation, there doesn’t seem to be a clear way to assign them to either man, is there?
We’ll take it one step further and introduce a bit more reason.
You don’t need a truck to carry a fishing rod and tackle, and you don’t need passengers to travel in a vehicle by themselves to do some thinking.
You can walk to the river with a backpack with all your fishing gear, and you can be meeting friends later on as they are walking to meet you.
But these details can be moved around numerous times more to reach equally logical conclusions for each individual.
Without more intimate detail on these 2 men visiting this river, it’s impossible to tell who is who and what leads them there.
The flaw in deduction
Conclusions about people and why they do what they do are unfortunately derived from incomplete thinking most of the time.
The above example demonstrated that the more information we had, the less became clear about the two men. Details about them became interchangeable. We filled the gaps with our own experience and thought process in response to the additional but incomplete information.
If you drive a truck and also fish, you imagined the story of why and how that man came to the river to fish.
If you walk and happily carry a lightweight fishing tackle in your backpack, then you imagined the story of why and how that man walked to the river to fish.
If you drive a truck and don’t fish, then you imagined the story of why and how the man drove his truck there to do some thinking.
If you don’t drive a truck and don’t fish, then you imagined the story of the man walking there to do some thinking.
If you drive a truck and enjoy meeting up with friends to go fishing, then you imagined the story of a social fishing trip with more trucks and people to come.
If you don’t drive a truck and enjoy meeting friends to go fishing, then you imagined the person walking and meeting up with friends to fish.
There are still different ways the details can be mixed and matched. The few factors we have to work with already contain a dozen or more combinations that create versions of similar yet different stories that all have different outcomes.
Experience and motivation projection happen every day, to everyone. It’s nearly impossible to notice when it does let alone avoid it.
We introduced two men in intentional minor detail, set a few conditions and potential motivations, and presented several combinations of these factors to show just how interchangeable information can be if we fill the gaps with our own personal experience.
What is happening in the outside world is only a fraction of what we perceive as reality. We project ourselves onto others in an attempt to understand their motivations and actions entirely autonomously because our minds are wired to build familiarity with the world around us.
A sense of familiar belonging is a desire so strong we’re willing to allow for incomplete thinking. It’s so natural to do so that we hardly ever notice it.
What other ways could these details be mixed?
How many versions of the stories of these 2 men can you create with the available information you’ve been provided?