TED Conversations

This conversation is closed. Start a new conversation
or join one »

Cognitive biases affect our destiny

Exploring an idea:

Our inability to overcome cognitive biases is a severely limiting factor for enlightenment and global decision making; and it might also be a reason why democracy might be failing.

Especially the last decades psychologists identified a whole range of cognitive illusions and how they impact our behavior.
We can only try and overcome them by being very concentrated and identifying them. But on an intuitive level we still 'feel' as if they are right.
Humans discovered very good methods to avoid making these mistakes in order to improve our understanding of reality: The scientific method ( measuring/observing reality, testing/ experiment, inductive reasoning and estimating the truth-value of theories)

If decision making were based on reason and in function of what humans and humanity would prefer, we should take into account that on a collective level we need to take decisions that are unaffected by our biases.
This implies that decisions will not be supported or even understood by most of the individuals of the population, as they are struggling to overcome (or don't even struggle at all) their false beliefs.

A democracy lacks the level of enlightenment to overcome bad laws and structures.

Dare we admit our own limitations as an individual and as a group so we can start to accept the decisions that need to be made, but we might from time to time intuitively oppose because we are too limited to see/understand the benefit? (or should we impose it???)

It's placing trust in something that you can only trust if you have reached a moment of clarity or a moment of deep understanding of our cognitive biases and an acceptance of our limits.
It's placing trust in the methodology that will be set out in order to improve global and local decision making, knowing that you can understand and improve on it if you really want to, be it even partially.


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • Nov 18 2013: "A democracy lacks the level of enlightenment to overcome bad laws and structures."

    What is your solution, then? Are you advocating fascism?
    • thumb
      Nov 18 2013: I don't know (I don't have a solution at the moment), I'm pointing out a flaw.

      I don't think that fascism is what I would be aiming at. I suppose you understand there are more government structures than only those two (which you would seem to logically imply)?

      Do you have any suggestions?
      • Nov 18 2013: "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." --Winston Churchill, 1947.
        • thumb
          Nov 18 2013: Do you think that there are new forms to be tried? or is the number of possible governments already complete (since 1947) so that we cannot evolve anymore?

          I don't think Churchill was thinking about forms of AI- run governments, or a government based on a Wikipedia model for example. Nor could he know how the internet and computational power might help us govern a country, region or planet.
        • thumb
          Nov 24 2013: Christophe,

          I've been struggling with this dilemma back and forth intensely for about a year.

          Here's my conclusion so far.

          Churchill was right. That is he was right in saying that democracy is the best form of governance that we have yet to try.
          What he missed to say was that there are (very) many forms of democracy.

          In your explanation you write "A democracy lacks the level of enlightenment to overcome bad laws and structures."

          I really want to point out that I think that most words in that sentence are very abstract, they sound true for anyone who thinks that people are just too stupid to know what's best for them... That's not a world I'd like to live in or people I'd be governed by.

          As I said, the word democracy is very wide, even when you get into the sub-genres of democracy you'll see that even when they call it the same name there are always differences that make it better or worse.
          "Level of enlightenment", according to whom?
          "Bad laws and structures", again according tho whom? As an example, are taxes bad or good structures? (I'm sure we agree on that, but I think you get what i mean).

          Oh, I'm drifting off...

          The thing is, it's not binary. The world isn't an on-off switch. People may not always be as smart in general as we'd like them to be (and vise versa) but our democracies are getting better (on the big time scale, we're in a slope right now), people are getting smarter and more enlightened than they were before (check the Talk by Flynn if you haven't) and we are abolishing the worst and most outdated laws and structures faster then we ever have.

          Just keep building a better world, challenge people's biases when you can and sometimes they (or you) reach a higher level of understanding of something and the world has improved.
        • thumb
          Nov 24 2013: *Disclaimer*
          I've only skimmed through the conversation.

          Here's a suggestion for an alternative form of governance for you Christophe:
          Liquid Democracy, it's the model that I'm working with, obviously I'm biased towards it ^^
        • Nov 25 2013: Jimmy,

          The thing is that what many call 'democracy' is actually just a facade for something quite different. In principle in a democracy a single voice of righteousness suffices to direct and guide the laws and structures of the whole... we know that in what we have now a small minority dictates what the majority does sometimes even claiming that it's what the majority desires...

          I liked your last paragraph "Just keep building a better world, challenge people's biases when you can and sometimes they (or you) reach a higher level of understanding of something and the world has improved".
      • thumb
        Nov 19 2013: While the thought of an AI-run government brings to mind The Matrix, I think the real pitfalls may be even more frightening. A computer has never thought or made a descision. Maybe a stack and registers can run a country alright, but it's certainly not a way to evade human control. The instructions always come from somewhere, and the machines are always owned by someone. Officially or unofficially. The most optimistic, altruistic ideas will become corrupt for the very same reasons. Backdoors in voting machines is a good example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpoYDuGtD1o
      • Nov 19 2013: Why do you want to institute dictatorship? An "AI-run government" can be no better than its programming, and an AI is immortal. Why do you adore dictatorship. As for the "wikipedia model"--utopian anarchism has been tried several time. It failed. Churchill was referring to the simple fact that no "planned" government can plan away basic human nature. A democratic government, on the other hand, by setting human natures opposite each other, forces compromise and forces, if not the best, avoidance of the extremes of the worst. Utopianism is only heaven for angels. For humans, it is all of Hell.
        • thumb
          Nov 19 2013: I'm exploring an idea... Why do you think I want to institute dictatorship?
          It seems you say that only democracy should be considered...
          While democracy (well, a good designed one, with multiple parties and checks for minorities or others) is a good idea, it clearly has limitations. So we can explore other options or mixed forms to see what that might give.

          As for AI: You forget learning algorithms: that allows for self-improvement. This does not mean that it is done by dictate: one can also elect AI algorithms, as one can elect humans. And one can also still have debate and forms of consensus.

          As for wikipedia model: depending on your definition of anarchy, it might be a form of anarchy. Why do you call it Utopian? Is wikipedia a failed utopia?

          Your response gives me the impression that you cannot imagine any other option than current forms of democracy and any other model must be worse by definition. I cannot buy into that assumption as I see no reason why it should be true.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.