A myth, once circulated, can last a long time. That’s because our cognitive machines are rife with glitches.
(The existence of these glitches is the foundational thesis of behavioral economists and researchers like Daniel Kahneman, the author of Thinking, Fast, and Slow).
Consider the business myths that still persist: the customer is always right, build it and they will come, the best product wins.
They persist because we reflexively grab simple explanations, mental models, and worldviews. We crave cognitive ease, and rely on heuristics and mental shortcuts, treating all evidence as created equal.
Nuance ends up taking a backseat to simplicity and ease.
In 1940, at the height of WWII, the Royal Air Force developed the Airborne Interception Mark IV: the first air-to-air radar system. To throw the German Air Force off the trail of the new technology, the British put out a sly propaganda campaign: “Night sight can mean life or death. Eat carrots and leafy green or yellow vegetables… rich in Vitamin A, essential for night sight.”
A myth about carrots was born. One that still persists to this day.
This happens all the time. We find a simple story, “carrots give the gift of night vision,” start telling our pilots to eat a lot of carrots, “because the British are doing it,” and leave it at that.
We let ourselves be satisfied too easily. We don’t dig deeper, and in doing so, miss the bigger picture. We stop three feet from gold and start force-feeding our pilots carrots instead of giving them radars.
We all can be a bit glitchy. Even our sense of self can be rooted in illusion.
As memes spread, the original context can sometimes get lost in translation. We get taught the myth and not the truth.
To gain clarity, we must overcome our tendency to blindly follow our instincts and reflexes, evaluate our assumptions and beliefs, and continuously self-reflect.
It’s much harder, but it’s the price of clarity.