Bonner said psychologists call it normalcy bias. It’s also called cognitive dissonance. It works like this:
I vividly remember my instructor pilot during pilot training, teaching me about spatial disorientation, and how what we FELT has nothing to do with reality – but that we will always TRY to believe our senses instead of our instruments, even if it means flying ourselves straight into the ground and dying. It’s more powerful than anyone can imagine if they’ve never experienced it. It was almost pitch black outside (a night ride), was very hazy, and only a few stars could be seen, out over a relatively unpopulated area. He had me close my eyes when he took control of the aircraft, and he did various things to get me disoriented, asking me what we were doing all along (according to what I FELT). He then said he was returning us to straight and level flight – which he did. He told me to open my eyes, and transferred control back to me. I could see through the top of the canopy the few stars through the haze, and the occasional tiny dim light from a home or other light on the ground almost straight down – nothing to the sides at all because of the thick haze. There was no visible horizon, thus we were flying on instruments – which confirmed we were indeed straight and level. I suddenly realized I could not grasp what was happening. We were in a tiny descent at first, according to instruments, so I applied just a tiny corresponding bit of back pressure on the stick to bring the nose up (the attitude indicator showed wings level, and nose almost on the horizon). But our rate of descent kept increasing, and I kept correcting with more nose up (back pressure on the stick). It was mind blowing, because I even FELT straight and level, just as the instruments told me I was initially, yet we were descending more and more rapidly as I began to force the nose up higher and higher. Or so I thought. What I critically did not notice (or feel) was that we were inverted, and I hadn’t noticed that the normal dark portion of the attitude indicator – showing the “ground” – was at the top, and the white portion (indicating sky) was at the bottom of that round indicator ball. We were upside down in a DIVE! It was so weird, I could not wrap my brain around it even once I realized why he was laughing, and that we were inverted. He had to take control for a few moments while my brain actually recovered to reality. Lesson NEVER forgotten.
Under instrument conditions, one’s senses are almost always telling you something different than what the instruments are telling you – and so rarely are the instruments wrong that one has to learn to totally disregard what the brain tells us (except for our eyes looking at the instruments). Similarly, right now it FEELS like we’re not in bad shape. We go to work (or whatever we do in retirement), we pay bills, we receive whatever income we receive, we get on the internet when we want, watch TV, make phone calls when we want, drive where we want, go to the bank or stores and do transactions when we want. It FEELS normal. But the instruments (such as what I posted elsewhere from shadowstats.com the other day) tell us we are NOT straight and level, and we’re getting more and more toward losing control.
That’s the lesson our instructor (Selco) is trying to get through to us. DARN, it doesn’t feel as bad as he’s telling us it will get, or that the indicators are also confirming. Our only hope is to look for and at them – and take immediate corresponding corrective action for ourselves. Accept the cognitive dissonance even if it’s not believable – otherwise we crash and burn with the world.