Reality Part One

Jun 7, 2017
Originally published on July 31, 2017 2:39 pm

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HANNA ROSIN, HOST:

Hey, there. Before we get started, we would love to hear what you think of the show. If you're listening on Apple Podcasts, please, please take a moment to leave us a review. We love your feedback. It really helps us. Thanks a lot.

ALIX SPIEGEL, HOST:

So we're going to start this episode at umpire school.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: Play ball.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINER #1: Just play - do it again.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: Play.

SPIEGEL: Recently, we went to the Wendelstedt Umpire School near Daytona Beach, Fla. In the mornings, students at the school sit in a stuffy classroom and review the rulebook. Then in the afternoon, they go outside to these green fields and work in small groups. It's nine hours a day for five weeks, all devoted to a single purpose - learn to see what's in front of you clearly.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINER #2: Get down. Get set. Can you see that pitch?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: No.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINER #2: Exactly.

SPIEGEL: They practice where to stand and how to track the ball with their eyes. Then all 140 men in matching gray slacks and black T-shirts stand out across the green fields and arrange themselves in these meticulously spaced rows. All 140 are going to run their drills as a class.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINER #3: Now we're going to do ball four and the call of time. Call it.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Ball four. Time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: For hours and hours, they run these drills...

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINER #3: Call it.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Ball two.

SPIEGEL: ...Over and over, with military precision.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINER #3: Call it.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Ball four, ball four, ball four.

SPIEGEL: In the hot sun, they jiggle back and forth, hoping enough practice will allow them to see the world more clearly...

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Ball four, ball four, ball four.

SPIEGEL: ...Because accurately seeing the world - that is their sacred duty, the thing this whole dance is about.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINER #3: Call it.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Strike two, strike three - he's out.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: And I've got to say, their belief in their ability to actually discern the reality in front of them has an almost religious quality.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINER #4: OK, a little better.

SPIEGEL: Earlier in the day, I'd spoken with a series of trainers at the school and asked them to estimate what percentage of the time they made the right call.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINER #5: It would be in the hot 90s - in the 95, 97 percent of the time.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINER #6: I am confident, I would say, 85 percent of the time.

UNIDENTIFIED TRAINER #7: You're going to get that play right 99.8 percent of the time.

SPIEGEL: Basically, they all believed that when they looked out at the world, what they saw was what was.

ROSIN: And in this way, the men in equipment dancing up and down the green field in Florida are a lot like people who don't go to umpire school.

RICHARD NISBETT: Most of the time, most of us think that we're getting a direct read out of reality.

ROSIN: Psychologist Richard Nesbitt works at the University of Michigan where, for years, he studied how people like you and I perceive the world around us - how we determine what's real and what's not and what kind of errors we make. And he says that the way those umpires feel about their calls - that's pretty much how all of us feel about our calls.

NISBETT: I mean, if I call a strike, it's a strike. If you see it differently, then you have defective senses or defective judgment or some kind of need to see the world in some particular way, which is causing you to distort what you're seeing.

ROSIN: Poor eyesight, muddled thinking, self-interested motives - those are the options for why you might see the world differently than I do. Now, intellectually, most of us are willing to concede that we're not always right. But emotionally, it never feels that way when we're making calls - and we are always making calls.

SPIEGEL: Which president?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: He's out.

ROSIN: Where to work?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: He's safe.

SPIEGEL: Husband material?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Strike.

ROSIN: Good apartment?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: He's out.

SPIEGEL: Good enough school?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Safe.

ROSIN: Dress look OK?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Strike.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: We dance around like umpires making calls all day long.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Strike three.

SPIEGEL: Life is one long ballet of calls about the world around us.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: He's out.

ROSIN: This is INVISIBILIA. I'm Hanna Rosin.

SPIEGEL: And I'm Alix Spiegel.

ROSIN: INVISIBILIA is a show about all the invisible things that shape human behavior - our thoughts, our beliefs, our emotions. And today, as part of our concept album, we are looking at reality, the way we look at it, and why we look at it that way. So stick around, people - for real.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: So what is it that makes two people look out the window at the exact same thing and see something completely different? What's in their head that's causing that? To answer that question, today, we bring you a story that involves...

ROSIN: A bear.

SPIEGEL: ...A bear, a reality where it feels like there's just not all that much room for interpretation. And yet...

ROSIN: You'd be surprised.

Producer Yowei Shaw and Alix went to investigate. Here's Yowei.

YOWEI SHAW, BYLINE: I want you to picture a land where humans and wild black bears live side by side - go on walks together, even sleep near each other, where bears join humans on porches and humans feed bears from their hands and sometimes even embrace - human and bear lips brushing together in warm contact, teeth just millimeters away.

SPIEGEL: So this is the first time you're ever going to see a bear?

SHAW: It is first time. (Laughter) I don't know what's going to happen.

This is the story of that land, a real place in Minnesota called Eagles Nest Township, where what seems like a fairy tale is reality.

JEFF KELLEY: Eventually, I got so that I could lay down, and the cubs would climb over me, chasing each other.

LYNN ROGERS: Good bear.

DWAYNE BOTTJEN: I didn't know they were that gentle.

SHAW: And it's the story of how that fairy tale world crashed into another world, a world full of people with more conventional ideas about what was real, what was true...

SHELLEY BEYER: Do I want a bear coming up to my kids and making contact? No, I'm not OK with that.

SHAW: ...And the story of a death that came from that conflict.

(SOUNDBITE OF THOMAS FOURNY'S "OLD ABANDONED HOTEL")

SPIEGEL: Should we take off our shoes?

SHAW: Oh, yeah. We can take off...

J. KELLEY: Come on in, and you can take them off in here. That's fine.

CAROL KELLEY: Right in here - (unintelligible) in here.

SHAW: This is Jeff Kelley. He's our main character, a man who came late to believing in fairy tales.

J. KELLEY: Do you want the long story?

SHAW: Jeff's in his 60s. He's a smallish guy in a cutoff T-shirt with droopy, mournful eyes. He lives in Eagles Nest with his wife Carol, and together, they radiate kindness.

C. KELLEY: So if I don't see you, I'm going to give you a hug. But if I do, we'll have lunch together. OK?

SPIEGEL: That sounds great.

C. KELLEY: All right.

SHAW: Jeff moved the Eagles Nest out of desperation. After 30 years of working the same factory job making 8,000 paperback books an hour, he woke up one morning with a pain in his chest that didn't go away. The doctor said his heart was fine. He just needed to relax. But he couldn't. There was this voice in his head.

J. KELLEY: I didn't measure up. I thought other people were just better than I was, you know, at what they were doing and braver.

SHAW: See, Jeff was afraid a lot - afraid of flying, afraid of singing in public, afraid of failure, rejection, making friends.

J. KELLEY: Fear has always been a problem for me in keeping me from doing the things that I really wanted to do.

SHAW: For example, Jeff grew up in an outdoorsy family that always hunted and fished, and he loved nature. But somehow, he could never really relax outside. Like, he'd be out camping with his family and want to go explore the woods at the end of the day.

J. KELLEY: But at the same time, I was afraid of the dark.

(SOUNDBITE OF CICADAS CHIRPING)

SHAW: But what Jeff really wanted more than anything, possibly from watching too many Disney movies...

J. KELLEY: I can remember, from the time I was a child, always wanting to have some kind of a special relationship with wild animals.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BARE NECESSITIES")

PHIL HARRIS AND BRUCE REITHERMAN: (Singing) Look for the bare necessities.

SHAW: He dreamed of hanging out in the forest with a wild, fearsome animal by his side...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BARE NECESSITIES")

HARRIS AND REITHERMAN: (Singing) Yeah, man.

SHAW: ...Though that also seemed terrifying.

J. KELLEY: And so I fought with that.

SHAW: And then one weekend, Jeff went to visit relatives in northeastern Minnesota and saw the tiny town of Eagles Nest - four sparkling, crystal-blue lakes, each lined with cozy cabins perched on the edge of a dense wilderness. And he thought, maybe this could be the thing for the pain in his chest.

J. KELLEY: It's different. It's quiet, pretty much peaceful.

SHAW: In 2003, Jeff moved to Eagles Nest with his wife and father-in-law. He had no specific plan, no job.

J. KELLEY: It was scary at first.

SHAW: But he was determined to make a different life.

J. KELLEY: I needed to think for myself and find out for myself what was really true because I realized that believing things that weren't true were part of the problem as far as my fear was concerned. And if I could understand that and overcome that, then I could deal with the fear and move on. Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF GROWL)

ROGERS: (Imitating bear growl) Like lightning - fast. Pounced forward, slammed their feet down...

SHAW: Which brings me to the man making bear noises, the man who brought Jeff face to face with his ultimate fear in Eagles Nest.

ROGERS: I think of bears as the modern dragon. In medieval times, people believed in dragons to prove their courage against. Now we know there's no such thing as a dragon, and they needed something to play that role.

SHAW: Lynn Rogers sees himself as a slayer of myths. Growing up, Lynn had been afraid of bears, like everyone else. But one summer in college, he got an internship at a state wildlife agency relocating black bears that got too close to residential areas. And he says he would get these calls from people who were scared out of their minds.

ROGERS: I heard stories of the worst rogue bears, eyes shining in the night.

SHAW: But then he'd show up at the scene...

ROGERS: There is the bear going up a tree, just trying to get away. They look ferocious, but they don't do anything (laughter).

SHAW: Lynn went on to become a bear biologist, specializing in black bears, a bear considered by researchers to be less dangerous than grizzlies but still a potentially dangerous wild animal that you definitely should not get close to. But Lynn didn't buy this. In fact, to do his research, he'd go to the woods and walk alongside wild bears.

ROGERS: If you don't try something new, you won't learn something new.

SHAW: And he concluded that the whole way we think about black bears is a lie - that our culture created a concept of bears as fierce predators so hunters can feel brave.

ROGERS: Whenever you see a picture of a bear with his mouth wide open like that...

(SOUNDBITE OF BEAR GROWLING)

ROGERS: ...It's one of the handful of trained bears across North America that are in so many ads and photos and even on the cover of National Geographic. You see a trained bear with this unnatural snarl...

(SOUNDBITE OF BEAR GROWLING)

ROGERS: ...That I have never seen in nature.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEAR GROWLING)

SHAW: I actually talked to the trainer who coached the bear for that Nat Geo cover. The bear's name is Brody.

Anyway - in 1985, Lynn picked up the paper and read about an Eagles Nest man named Ed Orazem, who'd been feeding bears to keep them from bothering the neighbors. And the neighbors seemed fine with it.

ROGERS: They had a picture of him sitting in a lawn chair, a bear laying beside him. And everybody was happy. And I said, wow, that's cool.

SHAW: Lynn decided to move to Eagles Nest, Minn., to study what happens when humans feed bears. In 1996, he built a research cabin and, to spread word of the real American black bear, started a radio show. It was called, obviously, "The Bear Facts" (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE BEAR FACTS")

ROGERS: We should just enjoy bears - when we see a bear coming through the yard, enjoy that the bear paid a visit - and not be overly afraid.

D. BOTTJEN: Oh, he talked about the myth about bears.

SHAW: Dwayne Bottjen and his wife Bertha loved listening to Lynn's radio show. But then one day, Bertha was alone at the cabin. And out of the blue, five bears showed up and wouldn't leave. So Bertha says she called up the bear man from the radio.

BERTHA BOTTJEN: I just asked what I should do to get them off of the porch.

SHAW: And what did he say?

B. BOTTJEN: He says, just show them attention and love, and they'll take care of themselves.

SHAW: She stayed inside the cabin until the bears left. But she says, later, she and her husband went over to Lynn's. And he taught them how to feed bears by hand. Dwayne says there was one moment in particular that flipped the way he saw things. Standing outside Lynn's research center, with the trees gently blowing in the distance, Lynn handed Dwayne a peanut, and Dwayne held it out to a bear.

D. BOTTJEN: I never even felt the bear take it. That was exciting. I thought, wow, that's interesting. I didn't know they were that gentle. Once that happened, then there was no stopping (laughter).

SHAW: Dwayne and Bertha became converts to Lynn's version of reality. And others in Eagles Nest did, too - even people from out of town who came to take one of Lynn's three-day bear courses. One of his signature moves is putting a nut in his mouth and letting a bear take the nut with its mouth, what he likes to call a bear kiss. But he says things could get even wilder.

ROGERS: But he says things could get even wilder. Well, I'd say in this group, who here would dare to make yourself a human sacrifice to this bear? Who would dare to lie down in front of this bear and cover your body with food and with a pecan in your mouth and see if this mother with cubs can take their food off you without biting? Everybody's hand goes up.

SPIEGEL: Did you do that?

SHAW: Yeah...

ROGERS: No, them do it.

SHAW: Wow. How many people ended up doing it?

ROGERS: Oh, many, many. Yeah.

SHAW: Yeah. A bear eating pecans off your body might sound crazy, but for lots of people, it was moving and hopeful to exist in this reality, a place where man and beast weren't separated by false stories.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEAR WALKER")

PAT SURFACE: (Singing) Mountains of truth, forests of pine...

SHAW: A musician in town named Pat Surface even wrote a song about Lynn called "Bear Walker."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEAR WALKER")

SURFACE: (Singing) He brings hope to the world. As his legend climbs, he's the bear walker.

SHAW: So this was the world Jeff Kelly stepped into when he moved to Eagle's Nest in 2003. He was still afraid of bears back then.

J. KELLEY: If you got too close, you were dead meat.

SHAW: But he didn't have a job, and so he picked up some part-time repair work at Lynn's research center. He says his first day there on his own, he was so worried about the bears. He got his father-in-law to come sit in the truck and watch his back while he worked.

J. KELLEY: Oh, yeah.

SHAW: But over time, Jeff watched Lynn interact with bears and nothing bad happened. And eventually, Lynn took Jeff into the woods to track bears, taught him how to read their body language, slowly implanted in Jeff a new concept about black bears.

J. KELLEY: He's a good teacher.

SHAW: And then one day Jeff was doing yard work at home and out of the woods came a bear with one ear and huge brown eyes, one of Lynn's research subjects. Her name was Solo because she lost her right ear in a fight.

J. KELLEY: And she just walked out and sat on the lawn on her backside and watched me mow the lawn just like a dog. To me, that was huge.

SHAW: Jeff put out feeding stations with food supplied by Lynn. And Solo started coming by more and quickly became a member of his family. Eventually, she even brought her two cubs to visit, but Jeff says they wouldn't get near him at first.

J. KELLEY: They were a bit afraid. But eventually, I got so that I could lay down with my head on Solo's back while she was feeding, and the cubs would climb over me chasing each other.

SHAW: It felt like a miracle.

J. KELLEY: There's a big weight that just falls off my shoulders, and it's like this is really true. This is really neat. It's also exciting because you're exploring uncharted waters to see where does this go or what's it look like? How - what's really happening over here, apart from what I think it is or what other people tell me it is or what I've read, what's really going on? I think that's important for life, not just for animals.

SHAW: It was his relationship with Solo that made Jeff realize so many of his fears weren't real. They were fantasies, that he could do things he never thought could happen. In the summer, Solo would lie outside his open bedroom door at night just to scream between them. And in the winter when she was hibernating, Jeff would go to her. Every few days, he'd hike across a frozen lake and lie down in the snow outside her den to talk to her as she slept.

What would you talk about?

J. KELLEY: I don't know. Just anything. Just talking to her.

SHAW: But, of course, none of this is possible, right? Because reality - isn't the reality that getting close to wild black bears is genuinely dangerous to people?

JOHN BEACHAM: You increase your risk of injury the closer you are to bears and the more time you spend with bears.

SHAW: John Beacham is a scientist who's worked with black bears since 1972. And his position on what's going on in Eagle's Nest...

BEACHAM: I thought it was crazy.

SHAW: For this story, I called a lot of bear scientists and pretty much everyone told me the same thing. Yes, wild black bears are for the most part timid creatures. And despite their large numbers, have only killed around 70 people in North America since 1900, but still. They're wild, unpredictable animals with the power to do enormous harm. I mean, they have actually killed 70 people in North America since 1900, a view shared by several Eagle's Nest residents who found themselves increasingly alarmed.

BEYER: I think they are seeing their version of reality that they've created.

SHAW: This is Shelley Beyer, a mother of four who owns a summer home in Eagle's Nest. Shelley loved her life there, but then in 2010, she was loading her kids into the van and something happened.

BEYER: I was just looking in, looking for something and my 2-year-old son was sitting on the ledge of the open door to the van, so his feet were kind of dangling over the edge. And I heard him yell.

SHAW: Shelley turned around and saw a bear literally inches from her son.

BEYER: Arm's length away from Kurt. Pushed my boy into the van and right next to me was a wheelbarrow.

SHAW: So Shelley grabbed it, started ramming it over and over again into the bear.

BEYER: Trying to get him to go away. That was pretty eye-opening.

SHAW: Now, in fact, the bear did turn and walk away. The bear didn't touch her son, but Shelley was deeply disturbed.

BEYER: What in the world is going on?

SHAW: I asked Shelley if it was at all possible she was overreacting, projecting her own fear onto the bear. Shelley said no way. The bear was a huge animal with sharp claws and teeth.

BEYER: People have trained them to come up to a body and make contact, not just tolerate their presence in the woods. They're trained to come up to a person and put their mouth in their hand where on the line of common sense and respect and decency does that lie? I'm not OK with that.

BARB SODERBERG: It's almost as if we're being held hostage in our house.

SHAW: Barb Soderberg another Eagle's Nest resident.

SODERBERG: I had a bear stalk me for over a half a mile, and I know it was looking for food.

SHAW: Barb says her daughter was stalked, too, and another bear broke the railing outside her kitchen. Now she won't let her grandkids out alone to play, and she stopped walking the road outside by herself in the summer.

SODERBERG: And I am not afraid of bears. I mean, I've always been a very strong woman. I mean, I - my work - I was a first female wilderness ranger in the country. So all of a sudden for me to be this person that's not feeling comfortable, it's huge. It's hard to even admit it.

SHAW: Barb says she and her husband have tried talking to Lynn about their concerns, but it didn't go so well. Here's her husband, Kurt.

KURT: When I tell him my experience, he tells me I'm wrong. He thinks...

ROSIN: He'll say you don't understand?

KURT: I'm not educated well enough. I'm sort of playing old tapes. I am just afraid of bears.

SHAW: That, in fact, was Lynn's response to anyone in Eagle's Nest who complained. They just weren't seeing right, their perception clouded by false concepts. Lynn says that nothing really bad has happened in the decades he's been feeding bears in Eagle's Nest.

ROGERS: I mean, it's the veil of fear makes misinterpretation of nothing.

SHAW: So I checked on what's actually happened. And for his part, Lynn says that he's been scratched and nipped but that it was no big deal. And in official documents, I found four injuries. One person was feeding a bear and got nipped in the hand.

Another woman got nipped while looking for berries, and her boyfriend got bit in the back. And then there was a regular bear feeder who got swiped in the face. The man got 12 stitches at a local hospital but refused to file a complaint. He says it was his mistake. It was dark, and he approached a bear he thought he knew. He later became friends with the bear that clawed him.

ROGERS: Exactly (laughter).

SHAW: Of course, people like Shelly and Barb were totally unconvinced that things were safe, just as people like Lynn and Jeff were totally unconvinced by the complaints, all of them certain that they were right and that the opposition was wrong.

BEYER: Are you kidding me?

ROGERS: I thought, what an idiot.

SODERBERG: I had a bear stalk me.

KURT: When I tell him my experience, he tells me I'm wrong.

BEYER: And who thinks that's OK?

ROGERS: She was afraid, viewed the whole thing through her veil of fear.

BEYER: I think they are seeing their version of reality that they've created.

SHAW: Which brings me to the question which drew me to this story in the first place. How can all these neighbors who look out their window and see the same scene each see something so completely different?

SPIEGEL: Oh, hey.

SHAW: Hi there.

EMILY BALCETIS: Hi.

SHAW: This is Emily Balcetis. She studies perception, not bears, at NYU. And she says to understand, you need to know that the world has way more in it than we can possibly absorb.

BALCETIS: There's so much more information out in the world than we can handle at any given point in time.

SHAW: And what we do take in...

BALCETIS: A lot of what is coming into our system isn't perfectly clear to us. It's ambiguous.

SHAW: So ambiguous that basically we just have to guess what's going on.

BALCETIS: Exactly, yeah.

SHAW: To demonstrate what she means, Balcetis told me about a study she did where people watched a dashcam video of an altercation between a police officer and a civilian, and they were asked to decide who was to blame.

So should we watch the video?

BALCETIS: Yeah, if you haven't watched it already.

SHAW: A white officer talks to a white guy and a cut-off shirt. Everything is peaceful and calm. And then all of a sudden, the officer starts freaking out, starts jumping on the guy, strangling him seemingly for no reason. It was so disturbing, we did that thing where you laugh because your body doesn't know how to respond.

SPIEGEL: That was messed up.

SHAW: Geez. It happened so fast.

SPIEGEL: But...

BALCETIS: What you've missed is that the civilian actually bites the police officer's arm before the police officer hits him in the back of the head.

SHAW: Wait, what?

BALCETIS: Yeah.

SHAW: That seems...

SPIEGEL: Wait, and he bites the police officer's arm?

BALCETIS: Watch it again and see if you see something...

SHAW: We actually had to watch the video twice more to see what she was saying.

Oh.

SPIEGEL: Oh. OK.

SHAW: How did we just completely miss this, an enormous bite to the arm? Well, in the actual study, Balcetis found that people unknowingly had different patterns of attention. So the people who focused their eyes mostly on the police officer, like probably me and Alix...

BALCETIS: We don't know what the other person has done. We're missing 50 percent of that story. And that's where our minds are filling in the gaps.

SHAW: Using concepts we already have in our heads based on past experiences. And here's the point of all this. Most of the time as we walk through the world, that is what we're actually looking at, not just the thing in front of us but also the concepts in our heads.

BALCETIS: So among those people who feel a sense of identity and shared values with police officers...

SHAW: Whose concept might be cops are good guys.

BALCETIS: ...They say he's not at fault at all. He's not to blame. He really didn't do anything wrong. But those people who do not feel a sense of shared values with police officers, and they've watched him a lot...

SHAW: Whose concept maybe is cops are bad guys.

BALCETIS: They say he's absolutely to blame. It's all his fault.

SHAW: Each side is literally seeing something different unfold on the screen. So even though it feels like we're seeing reality, none of us is.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: In a minute, whether the people of Eagle's Nest choose to question their version of reality and how their choice has dire consequences. This is INVISIBILIA.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: This is INVISIBILIA. I'm Hanna Rosin.

SPIEGEL: And I'm Alix Spiegel.

ROSIN: Today, we're looking at how we see reality. When we left off, the two sides of Eagle's Nest were squaring off, each side convinced that they were seeing reality clearly and that the other side was just projecting a false narrative onto the black bear in front of them. Here's Yowei Shaw.

SHAW: What happens when people can't agree on reality? When everyone just digs in and insists on their version of the world in voices that get louder and louder? In 2007, Eagle's Nest Township tried to head off a confrontation by putting together a bear committee with people on both sides. But still, the different ways of perceiving the reality of bears crashed into each other. At the center was Solo - Jeff's Solo.

J. KELLEY: I could lay down with my head on Solo's back while she was feeding.

SHAW: Besides visiting Jeff for family play sessions, Solo and her cubs took to hanging around one of the main streets lined with houses. Many of the neighbors on the road loved seeing her there, like Ellen Metters.

ELLEN METTERS: She was just a very gentle bear. She trusted everybody.

SHAW: But Ellen says not everyone could see past the bad bear PR.

METTERS: If Solo came up to them, they would go, oh, my gosh, a black bear and freak out.

SHAW: And then that winter, Solo decided to den with her cubs under an A-frame cabin. What happened next I pieced together from neighbors, press accounts and townspeople on both sides. The cabin owner where Solo denned wasn't there that winter. But when she found out about Solo, she didn't feel comfortable with the bear and her cubs staying.

The previous spring, Solo had come right up to her brother-in-law while he was working on her deck, nudging him and scaring him. And because of liability issues, her lawyer advised her to ask the local DNR, Department of Natural Resources, to remove the bears. Here's Lynn Rogers.

ROGERS: That led to that wildlife manager saying this bear has to be killed.

SHAW: We asked the DNR several times to talk to us about Eagles Nest. And they declined and said they don't have any more to add that isn't already on the public record. So according to news reports and records, the DNR said they might euthanize Solo because even though she hadn't hurt anyone, the agency worried that a bear that approached people so regularly was a public safety risk. It was the talk of the town that became the talk of the state. It got huge.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "GOOD MORNING, MINNESOTA")

TIM PAWLENTY: Thanks for listening in to "Good Morning, Minnesota" as we...

ROGERS: It ended up that the governor of the state had to go on the radio to end this old cry in saying that Solo will not be killed.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "GOOD MORNING, MINNESOTA")

PAWLENTY: DNR's plan relating to euthanizing a bear...

SHAW: With killing off the table, the DNR decided to relocate Solo and her cubs to a sanctuary in Michigan. And this is where things went horribly wrong. See, the DNR decided to do a pre-dawn raid of the den under the house, apparently, without telling anyone in the community.

But in the small town, word leaked. And Lynn says some pro-Solo vigilantes - people he won't name - broke into the den early to help the bear and her cubs escape. They roused Solo with pepper spray - lots of it - and tried to coax her to the woods to safety. But the DNR people just followed.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

SHAW: This is sound from a video that's on Lynn's website taken at the event.

DAN HUMAY: On here, you're talking about an animal that's hibernating - half conscious, half not conscious. And they instinctively climbed a tree.

SHAW: Dan Humay is a former resident who witnessed what went down.

HUMAY: The tree that they picked was in the midst of a very, very rocky boulder area. And they were up, probably, 20 feet, maybe 25 feet, in a tree.

SHAW: But the agents darted the cubs, and they fell.

HUMAY: It really kind of made you sick when you saw those bears fall out of a tree.

SHAW: And they fell on the rocks? Did they make a sound when they fell?

HUMAY: Yeah, thud. My recollection was that they fell pretty hard.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

ROGERS: Is there bear alive?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yup. She's fine.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Mr. Rogers, I ask, just please step back (unintelligible).

ROGERS: OK. Can I see if the bear is breathing and alive?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Well, here, I'll a shine a light so you can see...

SHAW: The cubs survived. But for one character in the story, Solo, the disagreement about reality in Eagles Nest cost her her life. Solo had come to trust the people of Eagles Nest. But she had the wrong take on reality. After being pepper sprayed, being tranquilized and the trauma of the transport to Michigan, Solo never woke up from hibernation.

Of course, each side blamed the other for her death. And some of Solo supporters from out of town took their anguish out on the cabin owner who'd called the DNR in the first place. Friends and neighbors told me she got letters and phone calls saying things like, why did you ever come to Eagles Nest if you can't live with bears?

One neighbor said she was so upset. She disconnected her phone. The cabin owner ended up selling her property and never coming back. I drove four hours to her year-round home and knocked on her front door. But she said sometimes it's best to keep your mouth shut. And she wouldn't talk to me any further. I asked Lynn about it. But he didn't have much sympathy.

ROGERS: Her intolerance, her fear led to this bear being killed, doesn't fit with this community.

SHAW: When I asked Jeff, he declined to speak about it. He said the whole thing made him too sad.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAW: So was one side right and the other side wrong? Should we see the bear lovers as flagrant deniers of reality? Or does that title belong to the people on the other side?

NISBETT: We come from a long tradition handed down from the Greeks that a proposition is either true or false. And if there is a contradiction, one of those propositions must be wrong.

SHAW: This is Richard Nisbett again - the researcher you heard of the beginning of the show. Nisbett studies reasoning and errors in reasoning. And in our conversation, he told us something that helped me see the story differently. He says this need we have to find the right or the wrong of whatever we're looking at - that's just a cultural habit baked into the logic system handed down to us from the Greeks.

NISBETT: At the base of Western reasoning are some principles like A is A and not A, and both A and not A can't be the case.

SHAW: So either black bears are dangerous or they're not dangerous. They can't be both dangerous and not dangerous at the same time because that's a contradiction. And we're contradiction phobic.

NISBETT: Right

SHAW: But Nisbett says this isn't the only way to look at the world. For instance, in Chinese philosophy and in much of East Asian cultures today...

NISBETT: The assumption is that if there is contradiction, both may be right or both may be wrong and each side should move toward the middle.

SPIEGEL: Do you think that this kind of tradition we have in Western cultures of seeing the world in this is zero-sum way - do you think that has costs?

NISBETT: Well, I do. I think we are inclined to reject what other people say too quickly because we've decided that what they're saying contradicts something that ***

SHAW: So is that the problem in Eagle's Nest, that they're stuck in a cultural convention with everyone insisting on their own version of right and wrong and they should all just compromise? Or is that naive? Should we insist on certain realities because there are some truths that are just too dangerous to live with? That's the view that prevailed with the Department of Natural Resources. In 2015, Lynn lost a legal battle with the DNR over permission to radio collar bears for his research. But Lynn and about a dozen households are still feeding wild bears. Basically, people are still in their corner, except that is for Jeff.

This is not a trail. This is no trail.

One of my last mornings in Eagle's Nest, Jeff took me bushwhacking to see Solo's old den in the forest.

Oh, right here?

J. KELLEY: Right here.

SHAW: What did it used to - what are we looking at and what did it used to look like?

J. KELLEY: It was a full tree that came up and this was root systems with a hole underneath.

SHAW: Did you get to say goodbye in any way?

J. KELLEY: No. It was over.

SHAW: Jeff still thinks bears are not all that dangerous and still feeds them. But since Solo died, he hasn't struck up another relationship with a bear, and it's not just for the safety of the bears. It's also for his neighbors.

J. KELLEY: When I believe something that's not true and I'm afraid, that fear is still real whether what I'm afraid of is real or not that fear is. And so I need to respect as a person the fear that they have, even though I disagree with what they're thinking that's causing it. And so out of respect for them than I adjust what I'm doing so that I can at least help them not be so afraid. I think that's love.

SHAW: Meanwhile, Lynn's views haven't changed at all. He's devoted more than 30 years to the idea that black bears can be trusted, and he feels like he's proven his point. But Lynn is getting older. If the feeding ever stops in Eagle's Nest, what will happen? Lynn thinks the bears will move back to their natural food supply in the forest. Others worry that there will be a whole bunch of hungry bears still demanding handouts from people.

ROGERS: This is a very favorite food.

SHAW: It feels like a clock is ticking. But even though Alix and I understood all that, when we were at Lynn's research center, this one cabin in the woods of northern Minnesota, it was hard to resist this fairytale version of reality. And when a large black bear Lynn had never fed before waddles out of the woods, we couldn't help ourselves.

ROGERS: Don't be scared of Alix. Don't be scared of Yowei. OK, you guys.

SHAW: Lynn handed me a fistful of pecans, and as I looked at the bear's size, the wariness in its eyes, I spread my hand flat so the bear wouldn't take a finger.

OK. I'm reaching. I'm reaching. I'm reaching. Here you go. He's coming towards me. And then I felt it.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEAR EATING)

SHAW: Oh, that's his tongue. OK. Wow. That was really gentle (laughter). OK. I'm going to try again. Here you go, bear.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEAR EATING)

SPIEGEL: Are you scared? How are you feeling?

SHAW: I'm not scared right now. I was a little scared in the beginning, not going to lie. It's so crazy to think that, like, just even this morning, I didn't think it was going to be like this.

In fact this thing with people and bears together is so seductive, that when Alix suggests I feed a bear from my lips, do Lynn's bear kiss, I only pause for a moment. I get on my knees, scared but also curious to step more fully into this different world if just for a minute.

My mom will kill you if my face gets wrecked. All right. So how do you do it?

ROGERS: Just put it (unintelligible) jaw and put your face...

SHAW: OK. OK. All right. Come here. Come here, bear.

I hold my chin out as far as I can and pucker my lips.

SPIEGEL: So, Hanna, truthfully do you think that you would ever feed a bear from your lips?

ROSIN: (Unintelligible).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REALITY BLUES")

ICE COLD SINGLES: (Singing) You look like you need a dose of reality.

ROSIN: That's it for today's show. Join us for our next episode, Part Two of our Reality Show where we look into one man's radical experiment to break out of his bubble. It's in your queue now. So go listen right now. Do it. And make sure to listen to the rest of our concept album. Coming up, we have stories about implicit bias and identity and whether it's possible to change them.

SPIEGEL: INVISIBILIA is hosted by me, Alix Spiegel.

ROSIN: And me Hanna Rosin.

SPIEGEL: Our senior editor is Ann Goodenkav (ph). Our executive producer is Jeff Rogers. INVISIBILIA is produced by Megan Kane (ph), Yowei Shaw, and Abby Wendle. Our showrunner is Liana Simons (ph).

ROSIN: We had help from Michael Rodriguez (ph) Mark Memmott, Michael Ratner, Nancy Shute, Meredith Rizzo, Viviane Fairbank and Jon Hamilton, Lulu Miller and Ben Calhoun for help with editing. Our technical director is Andy Huether, and our vice president of programming is Anya Grundmann.

SPIEGEL: Special thanks to the Minnesota Historical Society, WELY, WCCO and to the Spiritwood Music of the Boundary Waters for letting us use their song "Bear Walker" by Pat Surface. And thanks to Ice Cold Singles for letting us use their song "Reality Blues" to close out the show.

ROSIN: For more information about this music and to see beautiful original artwork for this episode by Marina Moon (ph), go to npr.org/invisibilia.

SPIEGEL: And a big thank you to Skywalker Sound for processing the bear sounds you heard today's story with their (unintelligible) technology.

ROSIN: And now for a moment of non zen (ph). This is Alix calling her husband while reporting.

SPIEGEL: Honey, do you want to FaceTime with a 700-pound black bear?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: No.

SPIEGEL: That's...

ROSIN: (Unintelligible).

SPIEGEL: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REALITY BLUES")

ICE COLD SINGLES: (Singing) That's reality. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.