Monday, August 01, 2011

Check your blindspot

SciAm ran a column on beliefs this month. It made me think about much of the public's understanding of Leucadia issues. Excerpts below.

We form our beliefs for a variety of subjective, emotional and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family, friends, colleagues, culture and society at large. After forming our beliefs, we then defend, justify and rationalize them with a host of intellectual reasons, cogent arguments and rational explanations. Beliefs come first; explanations for beliefs follow. In my new book The Believing Brain (Holt, 2011), I call this process, wherein our perceptions about reality are dependent on the beliefs that we hold about it, belief-dependent realism. Reality exists independent of human minds, but our understanding of it depends on the beliefs we hold at any given time.

Once we form beliefs and make commitments to them, we maintain and reinforce them through a number of powerful cognitive biases that distort our percepts to fit belief concepts. Among them are:

Anchoring Bias. Relying too heavily on one reference anchor or piece of information when making decisions.
Authority Bias. Valuing the opinions of an authority, especially in the evaluation of something we know little about.
Belief Bias. Evaluating the strength of an argument based on the believability of its conclusion.
Confirmation Bias. Seeking and finding confirming evidence in support of already existing beliefs and ignoring or reinterpreting disconfirming evidence.

On top of all these biases, there is the in-group bias, in which we place more value on the beliefs of those whom we perceive to be fellow members of our group and less on the beliefs of those from different groups. This is a result of our evolved tribal brains leading us not only to place such value judgment on beliefs but also to demonize and dismiss them as nonsense or evil, or both.

Belief-dependent realism is driven even deeper by a meta-bias called the bias blind spot, or the tendency to recognize the power of cognitive biases in other people but to be blind to their influence on our own beliefs. Even scientists are not immune, subject to experimenter-expectation bias, or the tendency for observers to notice, select and publish data that agree with their expectations for the outcome of an experiment and to ignore, discard or disbelieve data that do not.
This dependency on belief and its host of psychological biases is why, in science, we have built-in self-correcting machinery. Strict double-blind controls are required, in which neither the subjects nor the experimenters know the conditions during data collection. Collaboration with colleagues is vital. Results are vetted at conferences and in peer-reviewed journals. Research is replicated in other laboratories [maybe]. Disconfirming evidence and contradictory interpretations of data are included in the analysis. If you don’t seek data and arguments against your theory, someone else will, usually with great glee and in a public forum. This is why skepticism is a sine qua non of science, the only escape we have from the belief-dependent realism trap created by our believing brains.

We should embrace processes that challenge each other's beliefs. It can result in better understanding and help shrink our blind spot.   

Nobody gets it right all the time. Be wary of leaders who avoid challenges to their positions.

See also: Roots of disagreement.

10 comments:

  1. My belief is that Jerome Stocks and others are complete sellouts to our children. They gave all the tax money that used to go towards building nice parks and streets to Employee Pensions.

    Because of Jerome Stocks being owned by the Employees union, special interests, and Developers, this town has suffered. Thats my belief. Whats yours?

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  2. Gee, HH- Thats your comment?

    You must be dead. Cool.

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  3. Somebody should post the definitive "muni pension boondoggle" link with actual, verifiable numbers of what happened, why it happened, how much it costs us, etc.

    That way during the elction year whenever one chimes in on a thread with the familiar ole' "stocks hates children" they can point to the specific numbers, etc.

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  4. Wow,

    HH has an intelligent post. Its about time.

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  5. Well Jack we can't all be the pillar of enlightenment like you. Some of us are just born stupid.

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  6. I'll give you that. Keep up the thoughtful posts HH. Its enlightening.

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  7. HH,

    WC Verones and Anna summarized the cost to the City residents for Jerome Stocks infamous mistake in 2005. The mistake where he gave all our tax dollars to the City employees in the form of a 35% increase pension in one council meeting. Wow- talk about hitting the lottery and the taxpayers expense.

    I dont recall the exact post, but I do recall that over 20 years, Jerome bad vote costs the tax payer hundreds of millions of dollars. Whats worse it will continue on when are children are paying all these taxes which all go toward employee pensions and nothing gets returned to benefit their City.

    I too would like to see that summary again.

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  8. I'll round up the pension links when I get a chance. In the meantime if you want to look, you can find the council vote docs on the city web site in 2005 meetings. There are also some Coast News and/or NCT stories online still I think if you search for something like Encinitas pension 2005.

    As for Elizabeth, while it does seem odd that someone would say she wants to *be* a council member before saying what she would *do*, I'd like to give her the benefit of the doubt. I hope she will very soon demonstrate that she understands what's going on at city hall and that she has specific proposals she will fight for on the most important issues. I hope we'll be pleasantly surprised and able to support her.

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