Taking Other Viewpoints / Tunnel-Busting
"Tunnel-busting" is the practice of shaking up one's "reality tunnel," another name for the set of viewpoints and conceptions we all hold deeply. By consciously and fully taking on the viewpoint (or reality tunnel) of another, we both develop an understanding of and compassion for that person's beliefs and foibles and allow ourselves to question the things we might take for granted as "truth." Tunnel-busting is a powerful tool for personal growth and enlightenment, for as we widen what we accept as part of reality, we break free of social imprinting and start to discover our true potential.
Adopt the viewpoint (or “reality tunnel”) of someone else as completely and fervently as possible. Now do so with that viewpoint’s polar opposite.
All of these tunnel-busting exercises require that you behave like an actor: pretend until the pretense seems real. “Fake it ’til you make it.”
- If you are a liberal/leftist, take some time and read through the National Review. Try to get into their headspace for a few hours. If you are a conservative/rightist, do the same with The Nation. If you’re a libertarian, read the World Socialist Web Site; a Marxist, try Reason. Do your best to take on the opposite political worldview with judgment or criticism, no matter how abhorrent you might find it.
- If you are an atheistic scientific rationalist, read Fate Magazine and try to get into their headspace for a few hours. If you’re a spiritually and holistically-inclined individual, do the same with the Skeptic’s Dictionary. Once again, you must do this without any judgment or criticism–you are trying to “be” the opposite side for a little while.
- Imagine that you are Reverend Jerry Falwell, a mullah in a theocratic Islamic nation, or another conservative religious moralist. Explain to an imaginary homosexual why his or her sexual orientation is sinful and must be changed, including instructions on changing it. Now, imagine that you are Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, or another fervently godless rationalist. Explain to an imaginary 60-year-old nun (preferably of an extremely charitably-inclined and humble order) why her religious devotion is idiotic and must be changed, including instructions on changing it.
- Read an anthropological study about a tribal group different from your own culture. Compose your best serious argument for why your culture’s taboos are objectively more sensible than the taboos of the tribe. Now, do the same from the viewpoint of the tribe, as seriously as you can.
- Imagine that you are a conspiracy theorist (you can pick your favorite conspiracy theory; some possibilities include One World Government/New World Order conspiracists, or the people who believe that most of the world’s leaders are actually evil reptilian aliens). Do your best to get into your conspiracy theorist’s headspace. Now, spend as much time as you can stomach watching 24-hour news channels in that frame of mind and look for all the evidence that each newscaster and talking head is either a conscious or unconscious dupe of the conspiracy.
- Become a Nazi for half an hour. Believe that might makes right, and that some groups (specifically, yours) are destined to rule or crush other groups. Plan a campaign to take over the world by force and fraud. This exercise is extremely trying, for obvious reasons, but it tests the extent of your ability to reach beyond your own reality tunnel, even into something horrifying.
- Become a pious, strict Roman Catholic and compose a serious argument for the Church and Pope’s infallibility and holiness, despite what you know of its history. If you are Catholic (or otherwise religious), compose an argument for why science holds the answer to every question in the universe.
- Now that you have spent some time in the reality tunnels of others, come back to your own reality tunnel, whatever it may be or have been. Examine it fully. Does it seem as objectively truthful as it did before you started tunnel-busting? From now on, when you are confronted with new, strange, “stupid,” or “evil” belief systems, try taking on their viewpoints for at least a few hours.
Timothy Leary coined the term "reality tunnel" to describe the personal conception of truth/reality/the world unique to each person, as decided by his or her beliefs and experiences. Later, author Robert Anton Wilson used this concept in his books Prometheus Rising and Quantum Psychology and created a series of exercises intended to break people out of their personal reality tunnels and allow them to comprehend other viewpoints.
We think of constancy, dedication, commitment, and unwavering loyalty as good traits. This is natural; society depends on its members sticking to a path, making money, and producing offspring. Commitment to ideas can be incredibly noble. If you find yourself having a hard time accepting these exercises because they clash with your notions of the good--that is, having strongly-held beliefs--congratulations, you have discovered part of your personal reality tunnel! See if you can completely take on the viewpoint of someone like Leary or Wilson, believing that the mind's boundaries and comfort zones must be expanded for enlightenment.
If you want to take tunnel-busting exercises and their implications to the next level, we cannot recommend enough Robert Anton Wilson's Prometheus Rising and Quantum Psychology.