Wednesday, April 29, 2009

People don't think

~From Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique by Michael S. Gazzaniga, pages 141-142:

Even when we are trying to think rationally, we may not be. Research has shown that people will use the first argument that satisfies their opinion and then stop thinking. David Perkins, a Harvard psychologist, calls this the "makes sense" rule. However, what people consider makes sense varies widely. It is the difference between anecdotal evidence (an isolated story that presumes a cause and effect) and factual evidence (a proven cause and effect). For instance, a woman may believe birth control pills will make her sterile, because her aunt took birth control pills in the past, and now she can't get pregnant. Anecdotal evidence, one story, was all she needed to support her opinion, and it made sense. ... Predominantly, people use anecdotal evidence.

I think it was in Taleb's book called The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable that Taleb mentions confirmation bias. When people have an argument, they tend to only consider evidence that supports their belief. Instead, people should always be trying to prove themselves wrong. If you do that, you have admit all the times you're wrong (at least to yourself), but you'll become right more often! Or at least you won't be believing wrong things.

I think Taleb also mentioned that this sort of thought is needed to play chess. When you think about your next move, you have to consider all the moves your component could do that could ruin your plans. If you just moved without thinking about how your opponent could ruin you, you'd be ruined pretty quickly, unless your opponent was just as dumb as you.



At May 5, 2009 at 5:45 AM , Blogger Luke Anthony said...

"Of course our opinions aren't wrong; if they were, we'd change them for new ones." (Was that in Bird by Bird? I think so.)

What you said in the comment, that "you'll become right more often! Or at least you won't be believing wrong things" raises such an interesting question of the objective right and wrong...

At May 5, 2009 at 2:32 PM , Blogger Sean Hannifin said...

In something like chess, right and wrong are pretty objective; perhaps with something like morality right and wrong can become much more confusing. But if there really is no objective right and wrong to begin with, arguing moral issues seems pretty pointless, I would think.

At May 5, 2009 at 2:37 PM , Blogger Sean Hannifin said...

Though, as you quote, nobody likes to think of their opinions as being wrong, and that's a problem; we put pride with our opinions and beliefs, so we don't want to be wrong. (And if we find out we are, we don't want to admit it.) But really we should get pride out of the way and be happy to be wrong, to make mistakes... it means we learned something. So we should actively seek to prove ourselves wrong; play devil's advocate with ourselves as much as possible. And we shouldn't ridicule those who change their minds... perhaps we should even prefer them.

At May 5, 2009 at 2:39 PM , Blogger Sean Hannifin said...

Although I guess we already do prefer people who change their minds... if it's to our beliefs... :D


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