I’d like to tell you a quick story.
A couple of years ago, I felt like I was losing my mind. And I mean that quite literally. I would read all sorts of political commentary on social media and the Internet, and it seemed to me like half the world was insane. The half of the world that I felt was insane, not coincidentally, was the half of the world that had different political views than I did.
At one point, during the presidential debates, I called my dad and brother to discuss the results of one of the debates. I am closer to my dad and brother than any other two men in the world, with the possible exception of my two sons. We disagreed on the outcome of the debates. In fact we had completely opposite conclusions about what happened in the debate.
Here is the crazy part, though: both my dad and brother are highly intelligent people and also people of good faith. I started asking myself this question:
How can two people of intelligence and good faith watch the exact same thing and come to completely opposite conclusions?
I became fascinated with this question. In fact, I became a little obsessed. So I do what I tend to do when I get interested in a subject; I started reading.
What I discovered next opened my eyes to a whole new reality. I learned about cognitive biases. And it changed my life.
A lot of science has come out over the past two decades about how human beings cannot think rationally. Every single one of us is looking at the world through sunglasses that distort reality. Even if you are aware that you are biased, it is still often impossible to see clearly through that bias.
Scientists have discovered all sorts of cognitive biases. One type, confirmation bias, explains how some people only seek out information that supports the position they already hold. Cognitive dissonance describes people that perform mental gymnastics in order to support a position that they know is probably incorrect. Scientists have identified at least 30 other known cognitive biases.
But the trick with cognitive biases is not getting rid of them. You cannot rid yourself of cognitive bias. The trick is being aware of your bias so the biases don’t control your thinking.
I spent most of my time over the course of the last year or so, on the Internet and social media watching cognitive biases play themselves out in real time. It’s been absolutely fascinating. Facebook in particular completely confirms what science has been saying for two decades – people are driven primarily by unconscious mental processes rather than any conscious thought. Most people aren’t even aware of their biases most of the time, if at all. If, however, you can at least be aware that you’re biased, then the biases have much less effect on your thinking and behavior.
I plan to spend the next few months writing about my experiences with cognitive biases, neurolinguistic programming, hypnosis, and basic awareness training, along with my experiences meditating over the last four years. My hope is that I will reach a few people and perhaps cause them to reassess the way they look at the world in a more positive direction.
I’m convinced that one of the most important issues facing our country and our human species in general is the collision between our cognitive biases and how we look at the world. I’m also convinced that one of the most important things anyone can do today to make the world a better place is to help both themselves and other people understand how our brains are flawed in the direction of bias. This is important so that we can become aware of those biases and not let them drive our behavior all the time.
I’m excited about this project. I’m excited that you’ll be on the journey with me, and I’m excited that together, we will likely continue to discover some fascinating things about ourselves and the world.
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