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The Sign of Four

Posted on 2012.09.16 at 00:00
Current Location: 67114
Current Music: The Music of Sherlock Holmes
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I was first introduced to confirmation bias when dentin wondered if my ever-positive attitude wasn't its byproduct. A valid question as it turns out when I looked it up to see what he meant:

A type of cognitive bias in which people tend to seek out information which agrees with previously held beliefs. They also lend more weight to informational input which supports their beliefs, while discarding contradictory information.*

Right off the bat I knew that my primary modus operandi was to assume I was wrong, and seek out to first debunk my beliefs prior to strengthening them through validation. So no, I do not suffer from confirmation bias. But I know people who do. While that kind of cognitive defect doesn't work for me, what harm is there in it working for others who by all accounts are just trying to survive in this world day by day? If your own personal pair of rose-colored glasses is working for you, where's the harm?

The confirmation bias is one of the most common cognitive biases, and it can also be the most dangerous, because it can lead people into very poor decisions on the basis of questionable information.*

This is why cognitive distortion is so harmful and actually doesn't work long-term. Click the graphic to understand how not to think and why:

"There is no more important skill in today's world than being able to think about, understand, and act on information in a way that is both effective and responsible. Critical thinking transforms you from a passive member of society into an active participant in the ideas and issues of the day. It empowers you to better understand nearly every single aspect of everyday life, from health and nutrition to science and technology to philosophical and spiritual belief systems."*

If there is such an easy, repeatable way to verify that what we may believe is wrong, and an easy, repeatable way to greatly enhance all aspects of our quality of life, why don't more people do it? The answer to this is far more problematic - some people just don't wish to change.

Why is it so hard to change? Fear. "Below are some -- only some -- of the more common issues that get in the way of change. They are presented in no particular order and in no particular order of severity. Some of these are reasonable, logical causes for simply generally not wanting to change things. Some of these are simple glitches in judgement or logic or data collection. Some reach the level of toxicity and can be so extremely painful that many people wouldn't find it comfortable to imagine how someone can sustain such difficult attitudes and beliefs."

"But most fear is not irrational. The fear stems from a lack of understanding, a lack of experience, or similarities to a negative experience. With unknowns and bad vibes looming, the risks of the situation start to completely overshadow any benefits. The fearful tend to dig in their heals. They have trouble seeing benefits at all and begin to distrust those who push them too hard. They aren’t going to suddenly lose their fear if you try to trick them, manipulate them, or slip something past them. Furthermore, the fear can feed on itself. Selling benefits in this situation is simply futile. If you hope to resume progress, you have to reduce the fear. And as with most problems, you can’t reduce a symptom without identifying and addressing the cause. You have to get to the underlying cause of the fear."*

I imagine one day living in a world where everyone I interact with is open and receptive to resolving conflict though the simple mechanics of not just acknowledging that other viewpoints may exist, but actively understanding them to avoid future conflict. To address fear - not to showcase it - but to conquer it.

At the risk of introducing the Holmesian Fallacy (much like the flawed golden-rule), it is nonetheless a good starting point:

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

"The presumed independence of emotion and reason are illusory. Rather than chosing which is right, we should understand how they relate and let them work together."* Former President Richard M. Nixon said, "People are persuaded by reason, but moved by emotion." I awkwardly get moved to action by being emotionally motivated by reason. While I may ultimately disagree with someone's opinion about how they wish to live their life, I will only argue that they are in error if they come by their conclusions erroneously.

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