The Science of Hindsight
Things are sometimes not what they appear to be and it is often only in hindsight that weÂ think we understand the answers; the true revelations, or see clearly theÂ situation at hand so it can be put to rest. We often think thatÂ because of hindsight we “knew it all along”. Studies have revealed however that hindsight is not the usual simple surmising revelation of things weÂ knew all along. This is knownÂ in the science world ofÂ psychology as “hindsight bias”. The problem with hindsight bias is that too often we really didn’t “know it all along”; we just think we did because of what we have learned or what has presented itselfÂ since the situation arose. We tend to fill in the blanks with narrativesÂ of the bits of revealed information allowing ourselves to think that “we knew it all along”
A studyÂ by psychological scientists, Neal Roese and Kathleen VohsÂ presented their findings a couple of years ago. I read about their studyÂ in an articleÂ in the September 2012 issue of Perspective on Psychological Science.Â They exploredÂ previously conducted research and other factors that make humans prone to the aspects of hindsight bias. They determined there were three levels of hindsight bias that build upon each but what I found interesting about the article was why we create these memory distortions attempting to convince ourselves and others that “we knew the answer all along”. It is our burning need to make sense of our world into an orderly, predictable place, and create a positive view of ourselves. It is our need to have control over circumstances and situations that we do not understand. The problem that occurs from this is that it gets in our way of learning from our experiences. ItÂ may affect the way we perceive things and people. It can give us theÂ feeling that we are in charge of our own worldÂ puttingÂ our faith and trust in GodÂ at a lower level if even recognizing it at all.
Hindsight biasÂ can make us a bit zealous in our confidences and often we allow it to affect our judgments.Â Â It was recently brought to my attention that God revealed to us that the world was a sphere over 2600 years ago in Isaiah 40:22Â written approximately in 680 B.C. Yet peopleÂ thought the world was flat until at least 240 B.C. when Eratosthenes decided to conduct a unique experiment based on his observations. There were still people and people groups who insisted that the world was flat for many years after that until well after the life of Christ.
This little tidbit of knowledge fascinated me since I spend so much time outside. I am often walking about the time the sun sets every night andÂ most eveningsÂ have the privilege of watching the changing colors streak across the sky. Â The sky is so obviously round to me I cannot fathom why early people would have thought differently but then again I have the privilege of knowing all the previously conducted science experiments completedÂ well before my time and the added knowledge of being born in a time of the explorations of space beyond our world. Because of all of this information, the hindsight, I can easilyÂ surmise that the world is so clearly round. Therefore making it effortless to fall into the trap of “I knew it all along” andÂ determine that I must be smarter than early man. Isn’t that so pompous of us all?Â It is so easy to agree with things once we think we have things in order, in control, the “whole picture” based on our own or others research and or knowledge. What happens though when hindsight bias involves more than science or how things work? What happens when it directly involves people?
When people are directly involved with hindsight bias andÂ the revelations of attempting to understand the cause of things, the why aspect, it can lead directly to judgment. We so often jump to conclusionsÂ or make snapÂ predictions all in the name of puzzling circumstances or situations that we do not have proper clarity on. This reminds me of a rather funny story I read recently.
Helen was the local church gossip and self-appointed arbiter of the church’s morals. She often stuck her nose in other members’ private lives whether she fully understood the circumstances or not. The church members were not appreciative of her activities but feared her meddling enough to keep quiet about her forced interventions.Â Once day however she met her match when she accused Hank, a rather new member of the church, of being an alcoholicÂ because she saw his pickup truck parked in front of the town’s only bar one afternoon.
She made accusing comments toÂ Hank and anyoneÂ else who would listen that everyone seeing his truck parked there knew what he was doing.Â Hank was a man of few words and simply stared at her for a moment and then walked away. He didn’t choose to explain, defend, or deny; he said nothing. He did however decide to take action. Later that evening, Hank quietly parked his pickup in front of Helen’s house…and left it there all night!
I laughed as I read this story and cheered Hank on for his quick thinking action that required no words as I have had a few run ins with a couple of “Helen’s” myself. You know her too I bet, maybe under a different name or even gender, theÂ person who decided to judge you without knowing the facts, the circumstances, or the situation. They took little pieces of information and constructed them in the way they wished, a hindsight bias.Â I must admit however that I too have been a “Helen” a time or two quickly passing judgment in the “knew it all along” statement of hindsight bias. How oftenÂ do we all question the why of things that we do not understand and cannot see clearly yet upon hindsight we firmly claim we understandÂ the situation and “knew it all along”.
We not only apply this in judgment to others but often move forward too quickly in our own lives questioning God on why things are the way they are and then constructing our own narrative without as much as even a briefÂ consultation of the one who knows all. Sometimes things just do not make sense, sometimes we are not supposed to see things with perfect clarity, and sometimes life is just puzzling. If we understood everything though why would we need to have any faith?
This week as we look to our focus verse we look at the puzzling lives we often lead and where our faith comes to play within our circumstances or situations and the how real hindsight will one day be revealed. 1 Corinthians 13:12a;
Now we see things imperfectly like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see things with perfect clarity. (NLT)
True Hindsight and Faith
The understanding of lifeÂ promises to be revealed to us one day. One day we will have real hindsight and the revelations of all we have gone throughÂ clearly seen. If we look at the rest of this verse Paul tells us thisÂ inÂ 1 Corinthians 13:12b;
All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but thenÂ I will know everything completely just as God now knows me completely.Â (NLT)
It is distinctly saidÂ thatÂ we don’t know it all. Even in the best hindsight we may have, we don’t know it all. We can’t see it all soÂ we cannot know how our little part in the world affects all the other parts. We cannot see the “hearts of man” and because of this we will never “know it all”. We are not in control; we have to move forward in life on faith. (2 Corinthians 5:7) It is our faith that we must live on as we certainly do not see all things. Even the things we think we know because we actually see them still do not reveal the innerÂ deeper knowledge of all things and how those things move together for the good of those who believe.
It is through faith that we know that one day we will join Christ and until then we are in the process of becoming more and more like Him. When we see Him face to face and our process ends we will know that we will be like Him. He will show us then as it will all be revealed in the transparency of the love that the Father has for us. (1 John 3:2)
“Everyone is a genius in hindsight” is a quote often heard. Isn’t that the truth as it is through our faith weÂ will clearly see all the workings of the Father. Sometimes it seems comforting to know that one day we will see in hindsight the reasons why our lives have twists and turn the ways they have but I wonder will we really care. Will it matter what we have been through at that point, as we will be so overjoyed to be in the awesome presence of God, the Father and Christ praising, worshiping and fulfilling our ultimate positions and destinies. Will the hindsight of life here on earth matter thenÂ at all? I think not.
Have a great week here on earth moving forward continually in faithÂ with confidenceÂ that it will all be revealed in the perfectÂ clarity of real hindsight if we still want to know.
Love in Christ,
What are Your Thoughts? Join Us in Discussion.
Have you thought you had a hindsight moment orÂ was it really just a hindsight bias? Do you see your life as puzzling reflections gripped in obscurity causing your faith to falter? Do you make judgments claiming you “knew it all along” due to hindsight? Can you relate a time in the present or the past in which your faith has pulled you through? Join us in discussion on these or other related topics.