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Is there a word for the sensation of suddenly feeling that you had the wrong idea about something you have believed for a long time.

Note: I like a lot of the suggestions but find it hard to pick one to designate at the unique answer to the question. I am also finding that I have got to the point where words are sounding dangerously meaningless. So, I will take a break from it for a day, and then come back and make the official choice. I like sea change the most from a purely technical point of view. Although it is more like the onset of a sea change.

Apologies - I did not sufficiently emphasize the idea that this is about a change in view of something long familiar. Although, I intended this in the use of "jamais vu" below. If it was a phrase then the analogous "jamais compris" would work. Suddenly realizing that you did not understand something you are familiar with and thought without question that you understood. In fact, I might even use that - things always sound more profound in a foreign language.

It's a bit like the idea of jamais vu in the sense that something that you thought you understood and are familiar with suddenly turns out to be different. It is the sensation of the psychiatrist in the movie The Sixth Sense at the end of the movie - if you have seen that. When I tried to hunt down such a word - I got to confabulation, which is a mental process rather than a sensation, but it also takes the wrong slant on it. What I am looking for a word for is more like talking to someone thinking they are talking about one thing, and suddenly realizing that they are talking about something else. The original belief is not unjustified, but turns out to be wrong. Or maybe chatting with someone at the local cafe about physics regularly for years and thinking they are a harmless crank, only later finding out that they are a Nobel prize winning physicist.

It is a bit like this ...

“All your life you live so close to truth, it becomes a permanent blur in the corner of your eye, and when something nudges it into outline it is like being ambushed by a grotesque.”

― Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

The italics above give what I am looking for.

Or find a replacement for verschiebung in the following.

When Fred, whom I had known since we were young, mentioned he was gay, I had a strong sense of Verschiebung in becoming aware that I had entirely misunderstood his relationship with Joe.

It would mean anagnorisis or epiphany inducing an uncontrolled re-evaluation of something you have believed for a long time about your life. These words fall down in not implying re-evaluation of a long held belief. I have experienced what I am looking for a word for a few times. Most recently yesterday, when I realized I had completely failed to understand an attitude someone (a 20th century academic) had which put everything they said in a different light.

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    As a single word, I’d go for “realization.”
    – Xanne
    Feb 16, 2022 at 1:43
  • @Xanne No. Not it at all. You could realize many things. But, this is a realization of a long term error of interpretation. Feb 16, 2022 at 2:37
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    You need to provide a sentence with a blank for the location of the word you seek. Also describe what you’ve done thus far to find a word.
    – Xanne
    Feb 16, 2022 at 2:57
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    You mean something like dawning horror?
    – Jim
    Feb 16, 2022 at 3:05
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    Hmm, interesting question. Not sure if the word exists, but maybe you could use another word in a special way. What you talk about reads to me like a paradigm shift, on the scale of an individual's understanding of a specific topic. It's a paradigm shift in relation to the extensivity and depth of the transformation, but it isn't a paradigm shift in relation to its scale. So, this suggestion is only half-fitting; only one of its aspects apply. Then again, scale is relative; to the individual, a paradigm shift within a single topic is large within their world, esp. if it's a dear topic to them.
    – user110391
    Feb 16, 2022 at 14:44

5 Answers 5

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Apologies - I did not sufficiently emphasize the idea that this is about a change in view of something long familiar.

Words like epiphany and revelation emphasize the moment of change in belief/understanding. If you need a word that focuses on the size of a reversal or near reversal of a long-held belief—an "uncontrolled re-evaluation," I suggest

sea change / sea-change (n.)

A sea change in someone's attitudes or behavior is a complete change. Collins

A marked change: TRANSFORMATION m-w


Eventually this led to a sea change in my assumptions and beliefs about social work and life itself. What follows is an inquiry into and narrative about that change. Stanley Witkin; Narrating Social Work Through Autoethnography (2014)

My feelings for Dick had suffered a sea change, but I still respected him. Geoffrey Block; The Richard Rodgers Reader (2006)

But with the publication of his Apologia in 1864, his national reputation underwent a sea change for the better, a widespread if not complete reversal. Victor Lams; The Rhetoric of Newman's Apologia Pro Catholica, 1845-1864 (2007)

Again, with the #BlackLivesMatter protests of 2020, we witnessed a sea change in public attitudes regarding police violence. Long-held skepticism with regard to #BLM was transformed into solid belief in its justness, a change in feeling brought about not only by ... David Palumbo-Liu; Speaking Out of Place (2021)

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  • Sea change goes a long way on this. I had thought of it only as a change in a long held lifestyle - like saying you had had enough. But, your example do suggest that one can use it for a change in attitude based on new information. Feb 17, 2022 at 5:59
  • Don't forget the original source of the phrase, and the poem it's embedded in, which describes the subconscious processes that led to the suddenly-conscious change. Jul 14, 2022 at 14:04
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Personal paradigm shift

See my comment. In it, I thought paradigm shift to only be half-fitting. Then, I read a little, and saw that using this on a personal scale isn't so abnormal as I thought, often used with the adjective personal in these cases.

So, let's say your understanding of Lovecraft changes drastically after you find out he was very racist. Then you could say something along the lines of:

My understanding of Lovecraft's works went through a paradigm shift after I found out he was so racist.

EDIT:

Just thought of another word: recontextualized

This fits more for when you haven't learn too much new about the idea itself, the shift in understanding happening more in relation to the context of which it exists in.

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  • Reification (verb reify) means to redo completely the basis/usage/value/underpinnings of some concept or word. Feb 17, 2022 at 0:45
  • @JohnLawler reification seems to be more about making the abstract concrete. Feb 17, 2022 at 5:44
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“All your life you live so close to truth, it becomes a permanent blur in the corner of your eye, and when something nudges it into outline it is like being ambushed by a grotesque.”

eye-opener (n.)

An invigorating or enlivening shock; (later more usually) something which occasions a (usually salutary) revelation; an unexpectedly enlightening fact, experience, etc. (OED)


In addition to those who found it challenging and enjoyable, 30 per cent indicate it had an impact on them.

Seven use the term 'eye opener' to explain their experience. Nora says it was 'an eye opener' and made her 'appreciate what I have'. She says she 'grew from the experience'. Cormac refers to it as 'a big eye opener' while Joan comments that it 'opens you eyes to what else is happening [in] the world'. Anto Kerins; An Adventure in Service -Learning (2016)

It was just kind of like another eye-opener. Shelly's experience was an eye-opening one for her. She was surprised that this type of treatment and stereotypes are still pervasive and can happen even to those who are not causing any trouble. Kathleen Korgen; Multiracial Americans and Social Class (2010)

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  • The difficulty I am having with accepting several suggestions along these line is that I am looking for something that involves a realization about something you have thought was true for some time that causes an uncontrollable change in how you view some aspect of your life. Epiphany is good, but I think you can have one about something that you were thinking for only a while. But Oedipus realizing he killed his father is a good example of what I am looking for. Feb 16, 2022 at 4:29
  • In light of your edit, I've added another suggestion that may be a better fit for a reversal of a long-held belief.
    – DjinTonic
    Feb 16, 2022 at 12:30
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For the feeling itself, there are a number of idioms for being shaken by surprise, like being thunderstruck. Merriam-Webster has this for the verb thunderstrike:

  1. : to strike with sudden and usually great wonder or surprise : astonish — used in the passive

// was thunderstruck at the news

That reaction is not limited to sudden changes in expectation or what one has known for a long time, but thunderstruck is certainly applicable:

Creon: Wouldst thou believe, / This giddy, hair-brain'd king, whom old Tiresias / Has thunderstruck with heavy accusation ... (*Oedipus* Act IV Scene i, translated by John Dryden, 1791 edition)

The whole world of chemistry was thunderstruck. People outside of chemistry might, of course, feel surprised at all the excitement. Why is it so surprising that noble-gas compounds can be formed? (The Noble Gases Volume 1 by Isaac Asimov, 1966).

He had a clerical job in Delhi Development Authority; when one day he suddenly turned to spirituality and abruptly stopped speaking. His family was thunderstruck with his bizarre decision and they tried their level best to bring him back to sense but to no use. (Moni Baba by Ziaul Moid Khan, 2020)

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Red-pilled, perhaps, meaning "to cause (someone) to have their perspective dramatically transformed, especially by introducing them to a new and typically disturbing understanding of the true nature of a particular situation."

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