Cognitive Bias

Chimp Brain in a jar.jpg

I previously linked to a graph of all known cognitive biases and I have recently encountered a short BBC video which nicely captures four of them. It can be found at:
https://www.bbc.com/ideas/videos/is-your-brain-your-own-worst-enemy/p068vb09

What I found of particular interest was the G.I. Joe fallacy which refers roughly to the idea that knowing is half the battle. But in fact, knowing about, for instance, our cognitive biases doesn’t help much in overcoming those biases. Thus some scholars chose the idea that knowing is half the battle as an idea that must be retired.

As a philosopher, I would say that the G.I. Joe fallacy shows, among other things, that Socrates and Plato were mistaken in believing that knowledge is sufficient for virtue. As Aristotle knew there is a large gap between knowing the right thing and doing it. In a sense this is depressing. Even if we know that our brains bias us in multiple ways that seems to help little in overcoming those biases. The gap between knowing the good, true, and beautiful and doing the good, seeking the truth, and creating beauty is huge. Still, it seems to me better to know than not. Knowing may not be half the battle but perhaps it is a tenth of the battle. And even that little bit is worth something. In the meantime, we should proceed full speed ahead with rewiring our brains.

3 thoughts on “Cognitive Bias

  1. Very true John.

    However, even doing what we know is less than acting wisely.

    Knowledge is cognitive, wisdom is experiential and inspirational.

    It can be cognitively registered once discovered but it does not originate ‘from the head.’

    The latter emphasis by Plato and Socrates in focussing on elevating ‘ideal types’ to be the standard bearers of virtue rather than experiential and transcendental wisdom as our guide seems to me their worse cognitive bias.

  2. This was a very timely post. I recently encountered some of my own cognitive biases:

    • Dunning-Kruger effect (unskilled individual tending to overestimate ability)
    • Positivity effect (favor positive information in memory)
    • Rosy retrospection (remembering past as better than it really was)

    Here’s what happened: Earlier this year, my thirty-something son asked me if I wanted to play softball on their team and I thought to myself: “Why not! I’m in pretty good shape and I used to be pretty good as a kid”. I remembered some good plays I made playing softball at summer camp in my teens. I visualized me making the same plays right now in my late sixties. But I also realized that I had not played “catch” with my son for over 20 years, had not actually played in a softball game for over 40 years and my eyesight (depth of focus) had changed considerably. Also, in truth, I probably wasn’t as skilled at the game as a kid as I thought I was. Despite all that, I honestly thought that I could play pretty good right now at my age. Wrong!!! I was stunned at my lack of ability (and at my stupidity). My only consolation is that my son had his own cognitive bias in thinking that his old man could play.

    Twenty years ago I probably would not have made that mental error. So that makes me wonder: Do we become more susceptible to our inherent cognitive biases as we age? Or did my mental error result from age-related cognitive decline?

    It’s probably difficult to separate out a true cognitive bias from the normal cognitive decline that occurs during aging. As the brain slowly deteriorates, age-related cognitive decline progresses into dementia. I see similarities between the memory-related cognitive biases and the types of irrationalities that occur in individuals suffering from dementia. That leads me to wonder if both have a similar biological source (the wiring in the brain, as John puts it). When the wiring deteriorates during aging, any flaws in the wiring that would have caused cognitive biases at a young age may become accentuated at the older age. I think that’s probably what happened to me. Interesting … and disturbing!

  3. I too have had that experience with softball. I was something of a little league all-star but I found out when I tried to play a little a few years ago that I was not agile at all in the field.

    As for the connection between cognitive bias and age-related mental decline I actually don’t know although of the top of my head I think they’re pretty different as the former affects everyone. But I’d have to think about it more.

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