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Uploaded:2011-07-06
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In which Hank talks about how freaking stupid we are, and why. Though I would like to have gone into more detail...it's a complicated topic. Just check out this absolutely epic list of cognitive biases on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases

John is biased to like people who have pre-ordered The Fault in Our Stars:
http://dft.ba/tfios

The Believing Brain
http://t.co/aHLdJSf


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A Bunny
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Good morning, John! You are a stupid idiot. And I say this lovingly as your brother and with complete certainty...because we are all stupid idiots. And we all know the stupid things that some people do, like some of us are racist, and some of us pay $600 for a Gucci purse, and some of us watch the Jersey Shore - we are stupid, that is clear, but the question is: why? And today I'm going to talk about one of the reasons that we are stupid; it's not the only one, but it is a big one, and it is called bias. Now we all know what bias is. Bias is that inclination that other people have to ignore our perfectly legitimate and sometimes even much more legitimate perspectives. Now we ourselves, we just have tiny amounts of bias, whereas other people have a huge amount of bias, and yes, this is a kind of bias. The type of bias that I just displayed, that I think other people have more bias than I do, is called 'blind spot bias'. It is one of hundreds of categories of a category of bias: cognitive bias, and it's that bias we have in our brains, and the bias blind spot is a kind of cognitive bias. Now bias exists for a reason. We are constantly making decisions at a moment's notice, based on tons, huge volumes of information. We need bias in order to simplify that decision making process. However, if we are unable to overcome our bias, or unable even to notice our bias, if we are stuck in our bias blind spot, then we are bound to make bad decisions. Now, John, because it is so extraordinarily difficult to get over your own blind spot bias, I'm going to need to talk about someone else's bias, and that someone else is going to have to be you. And it's really convenient that you have so many, uh, because you're such an idiot! So here's a really fascinating and important bias--It's called the anchoring bias. The anchoring bias is when you bias one piece of information over all other pieces of information. So for example, John, if you met a girl and she was hot and nice and funny and, like, socially active and really awesome- if she hated the Mountain Goats, you would not care about any of that other stuff. The Mountain Goats are a bias anchor for you, and they're so much of a bias anchor that you think you are right when you discount the opinions of people who do not care or do not enjoy the Mountain Goats' music. There was once a study done on anchoring bias in which people spun a wheel, and on the wheel were numbers between 15 and 65. They spun the wheel--landed on a random number--then they were asked 'How many countries are there in Africa?' People who spun a 15 said numbers close to 15. People who spun a 65 guessed closer to 65. As if the random spinning wheel had some effect on how many countries there were in Africa. We have these little bits of information and we get stuck on them. There's also something called the confirmation bias, and this is even more insidious. Once you have made up your mind about said hot female who does not like the Mountain Goats, then you find all kinds of other things that you don't like about said hot female. You seek out the bad things about her to reinforce the belief that you already held because we as humans, once we hold beliefs, are programmed to reinforce those beliefs at the expense of gallons and acres and tons and tons of evidence to the contrary. This is why science is great, by the way, because it's one of the only cultural constructions that has ever actively worked day in, day out, to eliminate bias in every way possible. And there's so many more. Authority bias, which is basically anchoring bias, except that you're anchoring on a specific source of information, not just a specific piece of information. There's egocentric bias, where we tend to remember things that we do in a positive light which leads to stories about how big your fish was. There's biases with very simple and obvious names, like the wishful thinking bias, and then there are some that have very strange names, like hyperbolic discounting, and that is the bias that has people who win the lottery taking one much smaller lump sum, rather than a larger amount of money over a greater period time, because we are STUPID! Now it's not hard to see how bias can go super, super wrong, like Nazi Germany wrong. But bias can also hang you up in everyday decision making, like when you're buying a car, when you're interviewing for a job, or when you're interviewing someone else for a job. So I encourage everybody to go out and read about bias, so you can eliminate your bias blind spot. There's a great new book called The Believing Brain, uh, by... I forgot his name. Michael Shermer, who's a columnist in Scientific American, which is one of my favorite magazines. John, I will see you on Friday.