Christophe Cop

Data Scientist, Infofarm


This conversation is closed.

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.

  • Nov 25 2013: 'PING' SHIFT - Christophe

    Maybe what we need to focus on involves getting over the wants and needs hurtle into what ought to be done and getting it done, in particular figuring out effective ways to deal with opposites given individual mindsets. There is a saying that there is none blinder than the one who chooses not to see, still there just might be a way around that which involves shifting the focus from seeing 'that' to just doing something that we all see and agree ought to be done.

    As you stated " take decisions that are unaffected by our biases". (btw that includes the religious and scientific notions )
    Though some may think to understand the problem everyone ought to actually focus on what ought to be done and doing it. Being bound to false beliefs can be a bit of a challenge to let go off, especially when individuals freely choose to bind themselves to such false beliefs and methods. For example I used to believe and be bound to the belief that identical copies where impossible. Today I can freely choose if to consider them possible or impossible. Most individuals are bound to the idea that they are just impossible. Even today -on an intuitive level (I) still 'feel' as if (the notion of identical copies existence be something impossible) that it is right to believe as I used to believe. As I said to someone explaining a cognitive optical illusion: I know they are the same though I still perceive them different. I observed some scientists bound to their false beliefs almost as much as I see believers bound to false beliefs. It would be advantageous to figure out a way to make shared decisions that go unaffected by such erroneous biases. Scientists and others from time to time intuitively oppose because they are too limited to see/understand the benefit? Though they insists on following their notions.

    Scientists & others have a hard time placing trust in an unknown methodology they know little about. We ought to set out to improve decision making
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    Nov 20 2013: I think it's good for people to realize or find out they have bias on something or somebody through their continual learning and explorations. But it's bad for people who don't want to(too lazy or stubborn) correct their bias or fear to correct the bias, which will definitely change their destiny more or less.
    • Nov 21 2013: Yoka,

      Changing biases can be more challenging, especially when ones biases/thoughts/beliefs change what we perceive so that one remains unchanged. Look at it as what happens in a group. To change it requires an individual from within to propose the change and none of the individuals within will propose the change and the instant an individual within begins to propose the change that individual is expelled and become outsiders... Now outsiders who seek to get inside have to go through a process and by the time they get inside they forgotten what they wanted to change. We just need to be aware of the biases and how they affect us and implement strategies to compensate for them...

      There is a cognitive-optical illusion involving a checkerboard where one perceives differences though one senses and knows there are actually no visible differences. One may know its the same, and physically will be seeing the same though perceptually one sees them differently. What I am seeking to share is that changing can be a challenge. For example a while back I had the bias/belief that 'identical copies where evidently impossible'. Now days I actually consider that in principle and practice they can exist (though I still prefer the notion that identical copies are different one from the other). Some people may have yet to learn how to perceive depth appropriately and may require guidance to sort of get it.
  • Nov 20 2013: Christophe,

    What individuals choose does affect individuals future and the way to solve the issue involves figuring out a win-win even when one loses ... learning is one of those things where one wins every time. To me they key resides in the stories and myths people tell and retell.... I have on a couple of occasions put a stop to the idea that democracy involves what the majority chooses... with a simple example... If the majority chooses you to pay the whole bill from now on will you accept to pay it? Most individuals will quickly say of course no... so democracy implicitly involves a couple of other issues ... even a single individuals with the right point can direct what the group does... for example not smoking in public enclose places...
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    Nov 19 2013: Bias probably has its evolutionary reasons. It might be more practical to make decisions based on bias than having to learn everything about a given topic. So the energy expense would be less. Or in other words, bias is used where no sufficient information exists to make a decision based on data.
    For example, whether you vote for one party or another has more to do with bias than with real facts. It's virtually impossible to make a decision based purely on facts.
    Even the scientific method, while being the best we have to make sense of our surroundings, is not free of bias.
    It's not uncommon that scientists are biased towards a particular desired outcome of their research and focus their activities toward it.
    Without having all the information about everything around us we simply have to rely on at least some bias to make decisions.
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    Nov 18 2013: "A democracy lacks the level of enlightenment to overcome bad laws and structures." Perhaps you are correct .. I will consider that further. My immediate thought was that in our representative democracy in the USA we have a winner take all ... One of my pet peeves is the manner the Executive Orders are being used by all parties. It is now a approved means of bypassing Congress and obligating unauthorized funds. However, you "enlightenment" statement hit a personal nerve. When subjects on TED are brought up such as QE, Keynesian Economics, national debit, United Nations Article 21, etc .... few can discuss these issues and they refuse to investigate .... most just consider it an attack on the administration and defend the man not analyze the issue. We have become a nation of sheeple ... the national drink is political koolade.

    A while back Pat Gilbert held a conversation on Lincoln ... many did not want to hear anything bad or acknowledge that there was more information than Mrs Prim their sixth grade teacher gave them. I read for a week about Lincoln and the war, economics, banking, and some shady deals. The only view accepted was that the war was about slavery. The research really got me hooked. I had to change my views on Lincoln based on facts.

    This is an infection at the highest levels. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said about Obamacare "first lets pass it and then we will read it."

    IMO: Democracy is failing because we have encouraged generational welfare mentality and now the voters vote for more entitlements hoping for free stuff with no work on their part involved ... a nanny state. In the electorial debates the real issues were briefly discussed ... giving way to what is in it for me debates. Thus validating your lack of enlightenment statement. We in the USA are 17 trillion dollars in debit and rising ... facing a recession and depression that may come with financial collapse. But entitlements are more important.
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    Nov 18 2013: One challenge related to the issue of cognitive biases is that there are forces in modern life that actively promote intuition over thought, when, in fact, intuition outside of our areas of real experience and developed understanding is only our biases based on the information, misinformation, and weak analogy to which we have had access. When people like Einstein or Richard Feynman talked about the centrality of intuition, they meant intuition in the areas/subjects in which one is actually very well-versed, and yet their words are often used to support what essentially is believing whatever our cognitive biases tell us about anything at all!

    There are tools of thought, including but not limited to scientific method, that could help us understand and consider the issues before us both more openly and more rigorously. An interesting compendium of tools for more rigorous thought, very engagingly presented but very unfortunately titled, is published by Edge and edited by John Brockman, called This Will Make You Smarter.

    With your education, Christopher, you would see nothing new, I think, in these 150 or so two or three page little essays/lessons from some of the most exceptional thinkers of our time, but the reading would be invaluable for those who have not yet had access to a truly rigorous education and who are inclined to independent study.

    But I think, Christopher, by the fact that you pose this question you would find value in reading the book. The essays may also be posted online at Edge. It was one of their annual questions a couple of years ago. I discovered and took interest in the volume because of my central interest in educating young people in particular in critical and creative thinking practices. The book is best suited to the adult reader who values increasing rigor and depth of thought.
    • Nov 19 2013: I'll see you and raise by saying that we are actively discouraged from thinking and actively encouraged to just obey emotional whims. Rational arguments mean nothing. "I feel." trumps all rational arguments. If you try to use rational thought, you are denounced and ostracized. We have become a culture of the mass. The mass is not human. The mass is not rational. The mass is an extremely primitive, irrational, emotion-driven entity. We need to stop being the mass and return to being humans.
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        Nov 26 2013: Why is emotion primitive?

        Doesn't it play an essential role in sensing and intuiting the 'as yet undiscovered'?

        If your ideal state of being is emotionless, then why don't we just hand the whole shebang over to machines and automatons? That way, humans would just live out their lives not knowing anything new.

        Stimulating, huh?
  • Dec 12 2013: 'ping' this conversation...

    Given that we on a collective and an individual level make decisions that are affected by our biases which on an intuitive level 'feel' as if they are right but on an objective level may know they are wrong it follows that we ought to ensure that our collective and individual decision always follow a practice that leads to an unbiased position where the objective reality dictates individual preferences (rather than the other way around). Personally I know of a way to do that, what I am still trying to figure out be a way to actually share what I personally know especially when the biases that individuals and collectives have hinder their ability to reached a moment of clarity and a moment of deep understanding.

    Like I shared with someone "Even thought one knows they are the same, one still perceive them to be different... unless one uses the right filer which enables one to perceive them to be the same". Please note that being very concentrated and identifying them does little to avert the bias effect which on an intuitive level one still 'feel' as if they are right to perceive them to be different.
  • Nov 22 2013: We all have biases/prejudices. we need to be careful in both directions, over compensate or ignore the bias.
    • Nov 22 2013: Wayne,

      The way I see it: we are bound to judge while free how to do it.
      In other words:
      we all have biases/prejudices/judgements/beliefs
      what makes the real difference is
      which biases/prejudices/judgements/beliefs we have

      an in the context of this conversation

      Cognitive biases affect our destiny
      how these affect us makes a real difference
      • Nov 22 2013: Not disagreeing but I think you need to be aware of it, even doing a post analysis to help the next time.
        • Nov 22 2013: I would do ongoing pre post and during analyses while carrying out the actions to ensure that there is a next time :-)

          see The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think In Action (Donald A. Schon)
      • Nov 22 2013: Agree need both but sometimes it can happen quickly and we sometimes forget to do a post analysis - seen it happen too many times that the post is forgotten.
        • Nov 22 2013: Wayne,

          you seem to have missed one... of them three :-) ...

          I will go on a limb hoping you will appreciate it... I have a bit of a pet-peeve with certain words and ideas which I used to use quite a bit... : in particular the 'but' and 'either or' and 'I don't think that...' the construct using the word 'but' negates anything stated before it... I trust that if one took the time to state something one meant it THUS why negate it... imagine using an alternative ALWAYS ... :-) the same with the 'or' How about an 'and'? and the issue with the 'I don't think that...' has to do with how one managed to write it state it without actually thinking it? I prefer self-afirming notion over self-negating ones... as I said this is a bit of a pet-peeve I have and which I myself am working on... still I considered worth sharing it... hoping you find it useful... if that's the case then great else just ignore this paragraph ... and please remember the old lady's bag...
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    Nov 18 2013: i have two objections

    1. if you are smart enough to understand that you might be wrong about your core views, the chances are that you should not be the one giving in. the ones that really should stop putting their world view forward never consider being wrong seriously.

    2. i would not recommend anyone to just give up on their principles without understanding why. what better way to maintain a dictatorship than making people believe things only feel terrible, actually they are taken care of. how do people know if the "smart" are not in fact just "sly".
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      Nov 18 2013: Both are good points

      It doesn't solve the problem though...
      I would think it would be rather sad if there was no solution to the obstacle: that would imply we struck on a hard limit of humanity.
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        Nov 18 2013: i could put on my old record (little scratched already), and say: what we need is personal responsibility. make people the commander of their own lives, and let their mistakes hurt them, and their successes benefit them. in such a society, dumb people can claim being smart all day long, it is only a matter of time for failure to kick in, and settle the debate. as a result, working patterns will spread, and failed patterns will fade out.

        one more detail: the feedback should be proportional and quick. democracy is a system that has the above characteristics. unworkable models will sooner or later fail, and we need to change our tactics. the problem is that failure will come decades later, and will suddenly strike everyone down. it is not even a problem with democracy, but all centralized decision making. we need much more diversification.
  • 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?
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      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.
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          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.
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          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.
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          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".
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        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:
      • 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.
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          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.