Human projection refers to the process by which we decide what we want to be real in contrarian opposition to what is real, and by projecting it or acting as if it is true, hope to make it come about in reality despite being unreal.
To some degree, this works, just like for many simple things material sciences work. If you want to find a way to irrigate, act as if you are going to discover it and set up the conditions by which you can discover it, and you are more likely to invent it.
Where it fails is when we use it as a filter. We see what we want to see and deny anything but that, which leads to an anti-realism that actively rejects things we need to see. This allows us to continue living in illusion and aggressively denying anything but that illusion.
The classic case of this occurs when we project human tendencies onto nature, such as the case of Disney-style talking animals:
Studies in the field generally focused on picking unusual instances out of thousands of hours footage, rather than systematically studying whether apes expressed meaningful ideas. When Terrace did this, he found that interesting sentences began to look like drops in the ocean.
Most of that footage demonstrated the apes producing word salads that contained signs for food or affection they desired. Usually these sentences were very short, and in no sense grammatical. Terrace noted that nearly all Nim’s sentences were two or three words long; extended sentences were very rare. The general pattern was: Nim or me followed by eat, play, tickle, banana, grape, or the like. Human children begin with short sentences. But they rapidly develop the ability to form longer sentences, conveying meaningful thoughts, asking questions, and expressing new ideas. Nim never did any of these things.
Nim once formed a sixteen-word sentence: give orange me give eat orange me eat orange give me eat orange give me you. If that sounds to you more like the nonsense babbling of a parrot, or what your dog might say to you if he saw that you had an orange, and much less like the thoughts of a child, you can see the problem.
People wanted to believe that a gorilla was capable of speech, so they lowered expectations and cherry-picked data until they got what they wanted, then reified it by repeating it to others and insisting they honor it until it became accepted fact.
Only over decades did the illusion begin to fade to the point that it is no longer taken seriously. It joins other stunts, tricks, illusions, and portrayals in the realm of unreliable data. We view it as an oddity and curiosity, like all those stories about the Bermuda Triangle.
Projection sets up an argument for us to disprove rather than observe, so we filter the world through a binary choice tree of “affirms hypothesis” (kept) and “irrelevant to hypothesis” (discarded). This results in forcing an assessment of truth by excluding middles in order to confirm our bias:
In particular, logical principles such as the law of excluded middle (for every proposition p, either p or its negation, not-p, is true, there being no “middle” true proposition between them) can no longer be justified if a strongly realist conception of truth is replaced by an antirealist one which restricts what is true to what can in principle be known.
This causes us problems because so much of our modern thought relies on logical positivism, or setting up little tests which can be failed so we can determine if the assertion backing them is true or not. When we reduce the world to a binary, we get extreme conditions only.
Our search for certainty leads us to project, which causes us in turn to choose the few exceptional clear cases over the ambiguity of life in general, and we then re-apply those as categories, imputing those characteristics to all members of those categories.
While this works well for basic materials sciences, it fails with questions like leadership and complex physical scenarios with multiple inputs, leading us to become simplistic in our reliance on absolute “truth” which in fact applies to only a minority of cases.
As it turns out, this causes us to shuttle between opposite extremes instead of accepting that the dead middle of each category tells us its general position in things, creating a religion out of positive or negative outlooks that miss the nuance inherent to life:
This “cute” perspective is also misapplied to “Mother Earth” on the assumption that our planet benevolently cradles us, sometimes prompting an idea that we humans could live a better life according to nature’s laws. However, when you look at nature’s wonderful array of parasites, engagement in chemical warfare, infanticide, mass extinction and so on, it can give quite a different perspective on such notions! Being able to take a nihilistic perspective can therefore help us to explore the world in a more open & scientific manner, with inquisitive senses & minds unfettered by our emotional reactions, to our own projections.
We are each detectives in the process of understanding the world in which we exist. Traditionalists would say that it is our duty and pleasure to understand life as much as we can because it reflects an order more complex and insightful than the human way of understanding.
However, ambiguity does not offer the comfort that certainty does, and a crowd cannot be motivated by nuance. For this reason, humanity constructs Hegelian dialectics: make assumption, conceptualize opposite, compromise, and then make into categories.
This has allowed us over the centuries to accept obviously anti-realistic notions like equality as good by testing them in laboratory conditions, accepting some exceptions from constructed opposites, and then concluding that they are absolute truths, and forcing them upon everyone.