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4 posts from February 2013

TFS: How to Jump to a Better Conclusion

As Daniel Kahneman explains in Thinking, Fast and Slow, our brain is "a machine for jumping to conclusions." We derive many benefits from this fact.

"Snap judgments are usually reliable and always efficient."

We need to understand the hazards, and when we feel the urge to jump, try to PAUSE. 

Tq130218jpWhen the situation is unfamiliar, when the stakes and high, and when we feel confident that we've nothing more to learn, we should check our decision for these dangers:

  • Are we ignoring ambiguity and suppressing doubts? If evidence is capable of two or more interpretations, System 1 will select the most coherent and suppress doubt.
  • Confirmation bias: understanding is initiated by an attempt to believe. Instead, be a scientist and try to disprove your own hypothesis.
  • The likelihood of improbable events is exaggerated with an attitude of 'It could happen.' This error is called base-rate neglect. Can you afford to lose such a long shot? 
  • Familiarity breeds liking, acceptance and a feeling of satisfying coherence. Decorelate the evidence by checking independent sources and keeping them separate.
  • Remember that knowing less is convenient and comfortable. "System 1 is radically insensitive to both the quality and the quantity of the information that gives rise to impressions and intuitions." 
Don't base your belief on the quality of the story instead of the quality of the evidence.

TFS: Running from the threat of cognitive ease

If you enjoy being creative, as I do, then you seek out a safe, comfortable environment where your creativity can thrive. Tq130211tsBut when you're in that environment, you are also at your most gullible. 

I used to have a Joan Rivers quote on my wall that said
"Run scared... and they never catch you."

When we're in our comfort zone, our associative machinery is running in high gear and we're subject to cognitive illusions. An idea which seems true may only be 'truthy.' Ideas to which we've been frequently exposed seem clear and safe, and all other things being equal, we're inclined to like them and appreciate them. We may assume that we're the source of the idea. Daniel Kahneman says "Anything that makes it easier for the associative machinery to run smoothly will also bias beliefs." 

As we come off a creative high (out of FLOW), we need to become sceptical of ourselves and our output. Although it's difficult to poke holes in our own ideas, we usually have a better sense than anyone else if we've borrowed, or cut corners, or fallen into a familiar rut.

TFS: Why we have to keep questioning what we 'understand'

We are really saved from ourselves by our curiosity. Tq130207td If you think you understand something, it's time to learn more about it. Because the mind is an associative machine, and it takes whatever you've learned so far and constructs a story that make sense. Whether or not you have really dug deep and learned what you need to know. In trying to help you understand the past so you can prepare for the future, the 'fast-thinking' mind seeks coherence NOT truth. Truth comes from the slow, hard process of thinking more deeply and questioning what you know. For me, the easiest way is to just get curious about it. 

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Dan Kahneman, 2011

The world makes much less sense than you think. The coherence comes mostly from the way your mind works.

The Power of Relativism

In the midst of the culture wars that seem ready to tear our world apart, I like to remember that some people value culture because they believe we have something to learn from each other.  Tq130201gd

The Guardian: Review of Jared Diamond book "The World Until Yesterday", 2013-Jan-9 by Wade Davis

Far ahead of his time, Franz Boas believed that every distinct social community, every cluster of people distinguished by language or adaptive inclination, was a unique facet of the human legacy and its promise. He became the first scholar to explore in a truly open and neutral manner how human social perceptions are formed, and how members of distinct societies become conditioned to see and interpret the world. Boas insisted that his students conduct research in the language of place, and participate fully in the daily lives of the people they studied. Every effort should be made to understand the perspective of the other, to learn the way they perceive the world, the very nature of their thoughts. Such an approach demanded, by definition, a willingness to step back from the constraints of one's own prejudices and preconceptions.

This ethnographic orientation, distilled in the concept of cultural relativism, was a radical departure, as unique in its way as was Einstein's theory of relativity in the field of physics. It became the central revelation of modern anthropology. Cultures do not exist in some absolute sense; each is but a model of reality, the consequence of one particular set of intellectual and spiritual choices made, however successfully, many generations before. The goal of the anthropologist is not just to decipher the exotic other, but also to embrace the wonder of distinct and novel cultural possibilities, that we might enrich our understanding of human nature and just possibly liberate ourselves from cultural myopia, the parochial tyranny that has haunted humanity since the birth of memory.