Our Foolish Thoughts The Blinding of rationality with Biased Thinking BY: Troy Murphy |February 2018
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Our mind colors information, blending, shading and distorting reality to fit personal schemas, creating a stable articulable world. Our emotional pasts filter new information, biasing the final experience of reality. Consistency between the past and the present speed processing, allowing for quick reaction to novelty, providing an evolutionary advantage. Through exposure we learn, and with learning we gain an advantage. Without the backdrop of prior knowledge, reactions would be delayed as they sludge through the overwhelming flow of facts. The biased interpretations speed thinking; but at the expense of accuracy. Sometimes speed trumps accuracy; other times hiders. We act with crude interpretations inferred from fragmented information—biases filling the spacious unknowns. Moving forward on the supposed meanings, we then conveniently ignore the possible our fallibility of thought. Once we act, we are invested in the interpretation which further bias future evidence. Subtly we bypass conflicting new facts in favor of comforting past interpretations.
We smoothly discard facts in many ways. We discount evidence citing a flaw in the presentation—the presenter stutters or wears a funny hat. We artfully skip over applicable knowledge by focusing on the unrelated silly cap. We do this because conflicting data drains mental energy; we must reconcile conflicting beliefs, arguments, and humbly accept error. Politics provides many examples; we overlook the bias of political arguments based on our pre-conceived notions. If you are an ardent supporter of the president, it is unlikely any of his antics will be questioned as unethical or maddening. Conversely, if you opposed the president from the beginning, it will be difficult to accept any of his actions as good for the country.
Stepping away from judgment momentarily, we can examine the circus, watching supporters disdainfully point to concerns over the opposition while sweeping away egregious behaviors by the favored party. Even brutish bigotry can be softened with words and explained as logical. We need to stop the dumbing down of politics, step back with a wider and more comprehensive view, cry foul when foul behavior is displayed on either side of the isle.
Biased Thought: Our thoughts are constructed from our experience of how the world relates to the facts we observe. Culture, religion and family upbringing provide a foundation for understanding. We all are biased; it's how the mind works.
By focusing on a flaw, we reject the entirety of a worthy message without straining to address troublesome conflicts with our dearly held positions. We naturally disprove opposing ideas and quickly welcome supporting evidence (even when the evidence is simple speculation).
Old ways feel comfortable, requiring little thought, so we put on blinders and cozily continue, as we all have. We protect the security of the past at the expense of learning because we are conditioned to do so—biologically we our inclined to act on past knowledge, usually giving us an evolutionary edge. We need a foundation of knowledge to smoothly navigate the constant and heavy flow of information. Our survival depends on inferences. We couldn’t function without a basis for understanding. The world is too complex. We must predict danger or advantage early—and react accordingly, even when some of these actions are foolish.
We repeatedly face the choice between security and knowledge. Speedy interpretations spontaneously occur, starting the motion towards a behavioral reaction; but we are not doomed to follow these inclinations from the past to completion. Once cognition catches up, we can challenge the direction of action and thought. Our past framework for understanding isn’t magical—it’s subject to error. Emotional learnings from the past may have been appropriate but now are misguided, limiting progression, forcing tired worn out routines. Through mindfulness, we can expel some of the limiting biases in favor of more complex understandings. This is the nexus of growth and wisdom.
When you feel an urge to reject discomforting information, step back (if it is safe) and look a little deeper, asking new questions, and considering new endings. You’ll find many hidden gems of wisdom that have been present all along.