Eric Grovum

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What can we do to confront our own cognitive biases?

Everyone has a world view. We each have our own point of view that has been molded by our experiences, relationships, religious backgrounds, etc.

Sometimes, when we are confronted with an opinion that is in opposition to our world view, we experience cognitive dissonance, the uncomfortable feeling that creates a wall in our mind around the beliefs that we feel define our very selves. Sometimes we are wrong and have a hard time allowing new information to be considered. Sometimes we are right, but we think so for illogical or unsupported reasons.

What techniques work for you when you deal with these cognitive barriers? Or do you believe you are infallible? Socrates said in rough translation, "I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing."

Is it reasonable to look at things from new perspectives, or should we draw a line in the sand on certain issues?

My goal is to come to a truer understanding of my world, but it is a challenge to overcome mental inertia.

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    Aug 18 2012: One of the great joys in life is finding someone with a world view that is different from your own. Seek them out. Engage them in conversation and learn about their perceptions and realities. See the world through their eyes and savor the opportunity. Learn from them for they are your mirror.

    If you experience cognitive dissonance, it will show on your face and it will shut them down. Embrace the difference and understand that you do not need to incorporate their world view into your own. But if you have to work with this person or achieve some goals, this process may be essential to communication.

    The more world views you learn about the more beautiful they become. I really like learning about others world views and sometime I have to talk to people from their worldview to better communicate. Sometimes I mess up but it is like learning a different language. You never give up your original language so there is nothing to be dissonant about.
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      Aug 19 2012: Linda,
      I agree with everything you have written....especially, that we are mirrors to each other, embrace differences, and one of the most important peices of this puzzle is that we DO NOT have to accept other people's beliefs as our own. As thinking feeling adults, we have filters with which we can sift through information. Accepting information as someone else's truth is totally different than accepting the information as our own truth.
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    Aug 18 2012: In order to do this you have to have a benchmark. Otherwise you will aimlessly wander around with flailing arms.

    What is that bench mark? It is application. Do it work or don't it?

    It is true we carry around a lot misguided benchmarks. Cultural benchmarks, memes, painful experiences, tropes, etc. This makes it harder to separate the useful from the detrimental.

    I contend that if you are aware of these you do not have trouble with the ones that you are aware of. The ones that get ya are the ones you are not aware of.

    How the hell do you overcome what you are not aware of???

    For starters Socrates had it right know that you don't know.

    Learn logic and the scientific method with these you can discern what you know and what you don't by asking the simple question of can I do this or not does it work or doesn't it? And by using these you can then determine correlations and causes.

    By definition science is prediction by definition control is prediction. One of the benchmark questions is what can I control what can i not control. There may be something to know about the things that you cannot control. On the other hand it is equally crazy to try and control something that you cannot control.
    E.G. the guys who try to come up with a computer program that predicts the outcome of a horse race, or to change the mind of a socialist, to wake someone up who gets paid to be asleep.
    • Aug 18 2012: Good post Pat. The profession that is most concerned with the practical application of theory are engineers. Engineers have a simple attitude. Do what works. All practical human knowledge comes from trial and error. Even the scientific method is a formal version of trial and error.
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        Aug 18 2012: I would have agreed with you once upon a time that scientific method is blinged out trial and error but I now think that scientific method is just a learning technique.

        When my daughter was a pre-verbal toddler I watched her walk with a glass of water. Of course as a toddler she spilled a lot of it and she spilled some on the carpet. She watched it soak in to the carpet and intentionally poured some more to see if it would happen again. Of course it did and she took her little hand and patted the now squishy carpet to note the changes. At this point I almost stopped her and said no, but the look on her face had me intrigued. So I let her proceed.

        She and her glass of water toddled over to the kitchen where she proceeded to intentionally pour more water on to the floor. As the floor was tile she watched as a little puddle formed. She waited to see if it would soak in. Again she patted it with her hand and splashed and smeared the water around. One more trip to the wet carpet and you could see she was happy with the result and went about drinking her water.

        That was practical application of hypothesis testing in a pre-verbal child. My daughter is not some type of brilliant savant or anything, just a girl. And I watched her apply this many times. So I really think scientific method is more about observation and learning than it is about trial and error.

        But I love your comment 'Engineers have a simple attitude.' It is so true! Brilliant minds with simple application. Engineers keep us real.
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          Aug 19 2012: Linda,
          I absolutely LOVE this scene with your daughter....makes me smile. We can learn SO much from kids!!! I also LOVE your ability to watch her exploration and learning process without getting too upset about the wet carpet......very admirable on your part:>)
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          Aug 20 2012: One common scientific method used in the early days of Chemistry was to smell the product. Of course, that stopped when the Tiger of Chemistry was discovered "Florine, the gas of Lucifer". One whiff and your dead. http://www.lateralscience.co.uk/Fluorine/Fluorine.html

          I think we need to provide a nice controlled environment for children when they sample their reality. I hope you considered the fact she could slip on the liquid on the tiles and bump her head?
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      Aug 19 2012: Totally agree Pat!
      "Grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference".

      The "wisdom to know the difference", in my perception, comes from an abundance of information which I am constantly gathering and sifting through to apply in many different situations. If we close off reception of information because of biases, we deny ourselves more choices:>)
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        Aug 19 2012: But is there any point to considering a trope you have listened to a thousand time before without a single change? And can recite the facts from memory that thoroughly disprove the conjecture?
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          Aug 19 2012: Only if they are your parents:) If I care about them or have to work with them I find some way to compromise. If that doesn't work, I use therapeutic communication and make them feel guilty about it. Just sayin...
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          Aug 19 2012: You mean like some of the discussions here on TED??? LOL

          NO.....absolutely not. I am always open to NEW information, not open to circular discussions in which folks are trying to convince me that they are "right". In addition to being open to information, I also know that I have choices regarding who I want to listen to:>)

          As Linda says...if it's our parents, children, my neighbor who has short term memory loss with whom I have the same conversation over and over again....all that is ok for me:>)
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          Aug 20 2012: And then the UFO landed in front of the White house.

          I remember someone telling a story about how a woman, filled with admiration for her son while watching him mach in the military school parade. "Look", she cried, "My son is the only one marching in time. Only a mother could say such a thing but what if she were correct? I've personally seen it happen in military parades where the one or troop of solders were marching out of step with the others only to notice they were the only ones in time with music.

          Sometimes what the many see as thoroughly, correct is not necessarily correct.

          I got a B on an A paper written about Socrates. I discovered he was a wine bigger who lived off the labor of his wife and kids. Because he was smart and the days were hot, he engaged many people with discourse on logic and of course, they offered him their wine. Of course, my teachers favorite philosopher was "Socrates".
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        Aug 19 2012: My policy is if I don't want to communicate I don't. I just thought you were inferring I'm missing something because of bias. Maybe but generally one of those discussions ends because they stop communicating not me. Apparently they think I'm a troll, hmm maybe they are the ones with the bias?
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          Aug 19 2012: Maybe!

          My policy is the same...if I don't want to communicate I don't. I don't usually "infer" (imply, hint) anything. I say what I mean, and mean what I say pretty clearly, which is either "like" or "dislike" depending on one's preference:>)

          In fact, I do this with myself if something in myself looks like a cognitive bias. I do not dance around it, I face it head on...so to speak:>)
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      Aug 20 2012: Wow Don, that was great! It made my day. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your sentiments. This comment has had more positive effect on my spirit than anything I've read or heard in weeks!

      Thanks again,

      Eric
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      Aug 20 2012: Don,

      I just read your profile. I am honored to get to speak with you, and I am truly grateful you have touched my life. I am going to check out your blog.

      Eric
  • Aug 18 2012: Quoting you: "Sometimes, when we are confronted with an opinion that is in opposition to our world view, we experience cognitive dissonance, the uncomfortable feeling that creates a wall in our mind around the beliefs that we feel define our very selves."

    This sounds like closed mindedness. Something new may be threatening, perhaps? When should a person stand firm on what he believes to be true? Keeping an open mind is always good. Sometimes we are so confident our beliefs are right we become closed to all other possibilities. Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

    I'd like to suggest two options for everyone. Imagine an hour glass with sand. All the particles must pass through a constriction. The narrow passage is fixed and there is no room for more sand or possibility for widening the passage. People can become like an hour glass-----on many topics or for many different situations or conditions.

    The other option is to become like a radiant emitter-receiver. Imagine a dot on a paper from which you draw many radials. The radials represent relationships and knowledge and also represent incoming and outgoing knowledge. More radials mean more learning and sharing. One becomes a radiant person!!! New perspectives offer new insights and people light up with brilliance! Infinity of this option is possible, just like you can always add more to the left or right of a decimal----man cannot limit adding. Radials in eternity are progress to infinity. New persons are always possible in your life.

    Which option is more attractive?

    We have choice; showing benefits and troubles while comparing options gives us substance to consider. Hopefully, people would choose to be radiant! It is satisfying inertia!!
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      Aug 19 2012: Thanks Mark. I like your imagery, and find it helpful.
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    Aug 18 2012: There are definitely some ideas out there that are dangerous to people, that would literally turn one's world upside down.

    However, I think there should be some common ground or protocol for all people to follow. That is, everyone should listen to and consider others' ideas, and they will in return, do the same with yours. We live in a time where enough people are given the kind of time/freedom to discuss ideas with each other, where we don't kill each other for each of our unique ideals/ideas.

    It is almost necessary imo to look at things from new perspectives, especially when we encounter a slump and our current way of thinking doesn't know how to deal with the slump.
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    Aug 20 2012: We could try to find the correct balance between listening to others and giving them a piece of our mind.

    The one thing I've learned in my life is to trust my understanding and instincts. I also do a lot of research before I make a broad reaching statement. I am biased, in my thinking and in my actions.

    I try to be open minded and allow others the right to their own opinion. It's only when someone becomes openly racist or offers advice to others that would benefit only them at the expense of many that I become stubborn and unmovable.
    That's when I grab my weapon (words, intelligence, and education), crawl into my foxhole and wait for the attack. Sometimes I go one step further and tie my legs so I can't run away.

    But yes, I can be biased but I take criticism well. I welcome Constructive criticism. That's one of the reasons I like the TED conversation environment. We learn much from our mistakes.
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      Aug 20 2012: John, I agree about TED. I've only been participating on the TED conversations for a short time, and I've come to the understanding that I've got some serious biases that I had underestimated. I've been pretty blunt in some conversations, and I've learned that it doesn't get me anywhere. I thought I was more open minded than maybe I am. That's why I asked this question, and I'm getting a lot of great feedback.
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        Aug 20 2012: We're in the same herd. I've been blogging for years and I've learned the same thing about myself.

        In the early days of IRC, etc, it was like TED, then came the Christians, then the Muslims, then the Seventh Day Adventists, etc. and finally, the Government wade in.

        It's settling down a bit and many of the old blogs are gone or reformed to be more informative rather than controversial, except for the Hate Blogs.

        Yes, I like TED. For people like me who like to converse about everything, it's a good place to be human. I'm not really a chimpanzee. :)
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    Aug 20 2012: Hi Eric,

    It's a good question.

    to get at your your question, one has to get an understanding of what "opinion", "understanding' and "know" mean.
    And indeed - what is the sand in which lines are drawn.
    The question goes to the heart of "what is learning in the first place?"

    Your goal is to address what you call "mental inertia" - and you are so right to identify the individual "world view" as having something to do with it.

    Although not easy to visualise, these issues are all related to the same thing: adaptation.
    Every organism has the capacity to sense its environment and react to it in an advantageous way. I call these dynamics "sense" and "change" - they occur in the physical domain.
    But in beween these dynamics is a potential. This potential is not in the observable physical domain.
    For the physical I use the word "universe", and for the potential I use "metaverse".
    The boundaries between the universe and the metaverse I call "perception" and "agency".
    The metaverse is concerned with adaptation - the conformance of change to change itself.
    This works at a number of levels - each level working on shorter and shorter adaptive timeframes.
    From simple chemical reactions to codifications such as DNA to complex topologies such as a brain to complex super-organism dynamics.
    We participate in the latter 2.
    All these things require a concept of "self" - because it is the self that forms the definition of waht it is that adapts - you can think of it as an attractive "centre" that defines the "advantage" that it requires to persist in the face of change.
    For our purposes, we have an incredibly swift adaptive system that includes a massive neural complex.
    Neural systems are subject to a problem - local minima.
    Adaptation requires only advantage - this does not require absolutes - and is therefore tollerant of error (assumptions)
    This is the source of cognitive dissonance and mental inertia.
    To overcome these dissonances - accept that learning, like change, never stops
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      Aug 20 2012: Hi Mitch. Sometimes a post makes me click on a user's profile to see more about them. This happened just now, and I feel an affinity to your persona. It was a fascinating post. Thanks, Eric
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        Aug 20 2012: Thanx Eric - anyone who has a Jullia set as an avatar is a friend of mine ;)

        It's always difficult to cut-to-the-chase in 200o characters when it takes at least that long to define the premise.
        I was going to expand on the association between the local minimum in a neural system .. and what assumption actually is, why it is essential, how it relates to error and noise fields, and how the word "opinion" does not include test of assumptive noise component. Nor did I go into the fractal stratification of perceptive fields over adaptive timeframes and noise-reduction strategies.

        I wanted to do that, but I intuit you have already have a pretty good idea ;)

        For the audience, and sheer bloody-mindedness, I'll point out that notions of "mind" and "soul" all fall into the realm of topology. It is topology that governs both space and metaspace. To me, that is more wonderful than any spiritual insight ever uttered. There are a growing number of people who are beginning to realise this, and it's nice to qietly participate in the wholesale demolition of obsoleted paradigms :)
        The bredth and depth of is is staggering.
  • Aug 18 2012: If you want to get serious about confronting your own biases, try analysis.

    Use a computer application to count all the words in everything you have written here at TED. Then compare your counts with the counts from other people, from liberals, conservatives, religious and atheists. A computer is impartial.

    Take your writings and the writings from other people to an impartial person, perhaps the local librarian. Do not tell the person which writings are yours. Then have this person give you a comparison, perhaps even ask what kind of person wrote each of these collections. Ask what biases are in each collection.

    Write down a list of what biases you think you have. Now ask people in your family, some of your friends, and other acquaintances, to make a similar list (no names), then compare. Do not make excuses or argue, just observe the differences and let this information sit and simmer on the back burner for a while. Give yourself something specific to be aware of.

    On that list, also ask these people to estimate how often they think you are wrong about something. How much do you know that is not actually true.

    Dare to check the facts and figures of your favorite make of car. Look up the figures for gas mileage, insurance, maintenance costs per year, etc. Is your favorite car better, or is it just a prejudice.

    You can trust that introspection will NOT get you the answer.
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    Aug 20 2012: We can remove all things that create dissonance with our beliefs so that eventually reality lines up with our biases.
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    Aug 19 2012: I don't think the utopia you seek is possible in civilised nations. We have been bred, born and raised to be consumers. The paradigms constructed within our conscious and subconscious beings have been well thought out by those who have put in place our schools, churches, corporations, and courts. It is said that 97% of world population is clearly dysfunctional. We have been raised to relate to our surroundings with a type of mob-mentality. Nationalism is probably the most detrimental brainwahing we have endured.
    I think understanding the true place of human-beings in this universe would be first and foremost in acquiring the resolve you search for, and this is not going to happen as long as we have sworn our allegiance to the aforementioned institutions of civilised nations. It is commendable that you seek this better understanding of yourself, where you fit and who you wish to become, but honestly, there is no place in this nation for those aspirations. I know this is true, if it was not true then we would be doing more to protect all native and indigenous peoples, lands and streams all around the earth, rather than indirectly sponsoring, funding and supporting the genocides which the civilised nations all seem to endeavor. Until we protect the individuality of the least of us, our pursuits will never be protected.
    After all, come on.....we ALL know what these wars are about, don't we? Sure we do, but to know this and speak this seems to be out of our abilities, after all, we are obligated to our friends, families,churches, communities,schools, colleges, states, nations, military members, politicians etc., etc.
    The first step, is recognizing the truth in our fears, the truth in war, the truth in diversity, the truth in corporations....
    in our hearts.
    Only when we are able to obligate ourselves to the children and to the generations, yet unborn, will we ever be honest enough to really know ourselves, and in your words...to overcome our mental inertia.
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      Aug 19 2012: I'm only seeking a utopia in my own mind. The ability to find truths and understand how they interact, and to discover when my beliefs are based on bad information seems like the only way I can progress as a person and feel justified in having the opinions that I have.

      Thanks for your post. We see some of the same things, and are upset at the same injustices. There is a book you may be interested in called "The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis" by Jeremy Rifkin. I found it to be a very encouraging outlook on a possible future in which in group loyalty will expand to encompass all the people of the earth.

      Thanks.

      Eric
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    Aug 19 2012: Hi again Eric:>)
    I think/feel the first step is to acknowledge and recognize our cognitive biases. If we "know" ourselves, this is an ongoing process to learn, grow and evolve. If we "know" ourselves and understand ourselves, we know the background of where the biases come from. If/when we experience "cognitive dissonance", I suggest that our intuition/instinct is giving us information that tells us we may want to explore more about our biases.

    When we are confident and comfortabley accepting of our thoughts, feelings, ideas, opinions and beliefs, we would not be feeling "dissonance" when our beliefs are challenged.

    Many people have difficulty allowing new information to be considered because people sometimes get comfortable with certain beliefs, and fail to see the opportunity in at least looking at new information.

    The technique that works for me is to be always curious, exploring, and realize that the life experience is about learning....at least for me.....so I would be denying myself the opportunity to learn more possibilities if I did not at least consider new information.

    It is always an individual choice to look at things from new perspectives, or to draw a line in the sand for certain issues. I guess I have never drawn a line in the sand and refused to look at new or different information. Just imagining that concept does not feel good to me because I would be denying myself an opportunity.

    You say you would like to "overcome mental inertia". What is the best way to do that? Perhaps opening the heart and mind to new information? You may be giving yourself a gift by doing so:>)
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      Aug 19 2012: Thanks Colleen,

      Specific techniques to make it more comfortable confronting my biases was exactly what I was after.

      Eric
  • Aug 18 2012: Practice neutrality. But that doesn't mean don't comment or offer perspectives. It means to become savvy of the 'effects' wrought by a 'cause'.

    In most cases we find insanity - meaning we continue to do the same thing over and expect a different result.
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    Aug 18 2012: There are certain things that are matters of choice; for such things we have to make up our minds instead of being tossed here and there by the search for the next 'new' thing.

    There are absolutes; that we should accept, and every sane person can accept(like simple 1 + 1 = 2 )

    there are also things that we need to seek and find for ourselves. If we are sure of what we're looking for, we will know when we find it. We will disagree with those who say it cant be found; and will definately disagree with people who come with an immitation and present it as the real thing.
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    Aug 18 2012: The Socrates method is efficient at loosing some inertia. But that's not because he's extremely open-minded and knows absolutely nothing. That's because he knows more than bad philosophers. It truly is KNOWLEDGE to know what knowledge actually is and where it comes from.
    Braindead open-mindedness is dangerous. If you don't know how to sort out what you take on board, you'll end up with mad inertia and a very limited worldview.
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    Aug 18 2012: explore different ideas. look for evidence. healthy skepticism. critical thinking.
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    Aug 18 2012: What we believe and support, our world view, is the result of much invested effort and time. I think there is a tendency to "close each particular file" and to be very resistant to the idea of re-opening it, especially for in depth re-evaluation. A strong sense of confidence in the correctness of each folder makes us much less likely to dust it off and delve into it again. We put that subject (folder) to rest and it tends to stay at rest, that's inertia. The line in the sand is another way of saying, "I cannot possibly be wrong about this, so why revisit it?" Knowing the difference between Fact folders and Opinion folders is a skill much to be desired.
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      Aug 18 2012: There's always new discoveries and newfound knowledge that change the way we think about some things on a fundamental level. It's just, are we ready to accept these new discoveries or not?
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        Aug 18 2012: True that, James. One big contributor to that school of Epistemology is the "time will tell" group who's mantra is, " Do not accept any recent ideas. Give them time and we will see if they are correct or not.".
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      Aug 19 2012: Thanks Edward. I hadn't thought of it that way. Is there any time when different information is learned and we should decide to recheck to folder for incorrect beliefs?
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        Aug 20 2012: I believe there are absolute truths which never need reassessment, but, for the most part, life is a constant examination and introspection. The least uncomfortable way to learn you have been believing an untruth is to discover it for yourself.