Home Favorites Social Psychologists Say This Goldfish Riddle Reveals Biggest Cause of Human Ignorance

Social Psychologists Say This Goldfish Riddle Reveals Biggest Cause of Human Ignorance

"If fish could talk, how would you explain water to a gold fish?" My social psychology professor asked last week.

Gold Fish In Water Social Psychology

“If fish could talk, how would you explain water to a gold fish?” My social psychology professor asked last week.

Can you solve it before flipping to the next page to discover the quick but powerful reasoning that came next?

The class replies.

“It is the thing around you!”

“It is what you keeps you alive!”

“It is the thing that makes you wet!”

To each, our professor, acting like the gold fish, answered, “Huh, what is around me? What is this wet you speak of?”

Finally, he reframed the question. How do you explain air to man?

A lightbulb clicked.

“You dunk his head into water and hold him until he gasps for air.” Someone said.

To explain water to a fish. You take it out of the water.


Last week, our lectures in social psychology focused on how we human beings direct our attention and how our attention affects the construction of our worldview. Attention, my professor defines, is what you miss when you focus on something.

Human beings direct attention towards what is weird, odd, and extreme. The more ordinary something is to us, the less we pay attention to it. The more obvious, the more we take for granted.

The professor then moves on and asks a different question. How does do you explain American culture to a non-America? The foreign exchange students were requested to stay silent. Again, we were stumped.

“We do not have a culture.” Someone blurted out. Then we caught on. We, Americans, were the fish. Our water is our culture. We were so immersed within it that we could not even recognize enough of it to explain it.

I turned to an Austrian exchange student and asked, “You can tell us what it is, can you.”

“Yes.” She nodded grinning. And by observing how mannerisms differ from mine, I could tell hers apart too.

It takes an outsider to tell you what your culture is. If you wanted to know what your culture is, you have to be taken out of the water. Culture is to humans as water is to fish; the ultimate background that we cannot see.

Let us take this concept and expand upon it to see how we can use this fact to make ourselves better.

Culture is a culmination of factors that shapes an individuals attitudes and behaviors. It is the invisible force that surrounds you and guides you to act the way you act and do the things you do. It is your family. Your friends. It is the teachings and media you were exposed to. It is the teachings and media your family and friends were exposed to.

We are unaware of how culture affects us because we never had the option of choosing culture. There was no menu. No opportunity for us to decide. We just let it do its thing on us.

Therefore, to achieve a higher sense of self-awareness, it is important to gain awareness of the cultures we immerse ourselves in. To do this, we need to jump out of our water bowls.

UCSB Soccer
College sports is a huge influence of American culture


By traveling.

By making friends outside of your cliques; friends that do not share your ideology and your beliefs.

By talking to people that disagree with your views.

By discovering new hobbies that lets you see the world from a different light.

When we gain awareness of how our culture directs us to behave, we can challenge ourselves to grow into better people. We can stop doing things that do not make sense and start borrowing from cultures that do things better than us.

We can become more than what our cultures intended us to be.

We become more empathetic to other people. More aware of our own bullshit.

We can also learn to become more grateful.

By seeing how others live, we can discover the things that we can really be grateful for. Things that we have taken for granted.

In the lecture when our professor asked the American students to describe American culture, he had to answer his own question because none of us knew where to begin. One of things he said was, “roads.”

The fact that we have roads designed for cars, roads designed for safety, and roads that lead everywhere is a significant factor that shapes our very culture that many Americans often take for granted. Without our infrastructure of roads, many of the luxuries and lifestyles we have today would be nonexistent. However, because we so used to it, roads to us are invisible and taken for granted.

Thus, embark on a mission to discover new cultures so that you may gain awareness to your own and upon your journey, discover your fullest potential.

Road Culture Self Discovery


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here