Cognitive Bias - The world is complex, far too complex for our human brainsThe world is complex, far too complex for our human brains. And yet, we have no difficulty describing what is happening around us, well, at least to interpret these complex realities through ... simple stories.

We tell ourselves these stories, not consciously, but instinctively, mechanically, impulsively. We can't help but find a common thread , link the actors and events into "logic" sequences. And we do this, even when we look at the clouds, "this one looks like a giraffe that is drinking," or when we listen to music "that melody is cheerful!". We even do that instinctively while looking at basic symmetrical shapes moving around! (You can experiment that by watching the fun video in the linked article). We also tell ourselves these stories when we are faced with phenomena we don't understand, such as the exotic reality of the quantum world, or when we interpret the complexity that hides behind people and group behaviors.

This innate and natural ability to interpret the world through narratives has undeniable advantage in terms of creativity. But, unfortunately it also limits us, harshly.

The most obvious example concerns the thoughts we produce mechanically to interpret the behavior of others, especially those that bother us. What was a simple human trait often turns into a bias as it irresistibly pushes us to interpret other people words and behaviors in a quick, but so often inaccurate, way: "I'm sure he did that because of that, because he is like that! "These interpretations on the fly— which does not take into account the history and the complexity of the biological, social and cultural factors that influence people — allow us to react quickly to events, but sometimes wildly off the mark. The expression "pipe dreams" sums up the travel to the land of embarrassment where these interpretations sometimes drive us ...

The impact of this natural bias is even more dangerous at the societal scale since these children's stories we mechanically invent, feed our tendency for Manichaeism, violence and ... war declarations.

We cannot help but interpret the world through these narratives because it's part of our nature. We are born prewired to understand what surrounds us, but also with a compelling need to look for patterns and cause and effect is a relationship. This urge is so powerful that we find patterns everywhere. Even where there are none...

 

We owe to evolution this creativity, but also this bias: nature has not endowed us with the need to interpret what is happening around us in order for us to approach things and events accurately and objectively, but simply to survive long enough to reproduce.

The world would be quite different if we would have been selected by evolution to perceive the extraordinary complexity of our surroundings. It would have probably been much more tolerant and fair. But we can learn to overcome this bias.

The first step would be to become aware of this natural bias, to accept it and to see it not so much only within others, but within ourselves: by accepting to be limited and biased in our ability to reason rationally especially in our moral certainties.

The second step would be to learn to approach reality in another way: not like how we are used to — by granting too much significance to our intuitions, certainties, emotions, and the stories they tell us — but by using the tool we invented to manage to perceive the reality, despite our visual impairment. This tool is the scientific method. The scientific rigor, coupled with the visualization tools it offers, such as the statistics, is today the most reliable way — the less biased one — we possess to overcome our natural blindness, and to better understand the world around us.