We are at an art museum, and we see the same painting. I said it represents the artist’s depression, and you said I was wrong. It’s about the artist protesting the establishment. I pulled out my Art history card and said it was about the artist’s fighting melancholy and expressed it in his painting. You pull out your social-economic card and say it’s about the powers that ran the country and how they affected the people financially. Am I correct, or are we both right or wrong, or is it complicated?
This disagreement and conflict of the mind happen when two people depend on what they know, pulling from memory or top-down processing of previous information.
Top-down processing is a cognitive and perceptual phenomenon in which pre-existing knowledge, expectations, experience, beliefs, thoughts, and context influence information processing. In other words, it involves using existing knowledge and expectations to quickly and efficiently understand new information.
In simpler terms, top-down processing creates a “big picture” approach, where your brain starts with the overall context or expectation and then fills in the details based on that context. This cognitive approach helps us quickly interpret and make sense of data, people, events, projects, relationships, and even works of art. Quick example, if I tell you to picture a dog, you will automatically imagine a dog, including the sound, touch, smell, color, size, and how the image makes you feel, whether happy or nostalgic. If I tell you to imagine an Aye-aye, a few of you could mentally picture it, wondering about sound or size, and others will look it up online.
Consider another example, as we age, our interpretation of what we see, hear, and read changes as we gain new information.
A five-year-old person watches a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat.
The five-year-old thinks to themself, “Whoa, this is magic!”
A 10-year-old person watches a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat.
The 10-year-old thinks, “This is a trick, but I don’t know how they did it.”
A 20-year-old person watches a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat.
The 20-year-old thinks, “This is a trick, and I know how they did it. The hat is a mini transporter from the future.”
The last part was a joke, but you know where I’m going with this example.
We all see the same thing but pull from our experience, reading, school, friends, and beyond and interrupt what we see. Sometimes we are all on the same page, and other times, we disagree. During our difference, we ought to listen to each other to understand how and why we see the same thing differently. This approach will make a more productive discussion than arguing and shouting at each other. A shouting match is a waste of time and cultivates animosity. A lively conversation creates understanding, stronger friendships, and fruitful collaboration.