Sunday, March 25, 2012

reading "You are not so smart"

Actually I am listening to the audio book. It has lots of good stuff about biases. I am not sure how convincing it would be to an Objectivist, or a postmodernist, anyone with a strong prior attitude about how rational people are and what that means. This makes me want to blog about alternative hypotheses about human rationality.
A bias is a tendency, not a certainty. The author discusses a bias (forgot the name, can't flip back, darn audiobooks) where if you give evidence against someone's position they actually "double down" and become even more convinced of their own position.
But of course, this does not happen in every case, does it? Or else we change our minds in a different way, not by encountering evidence in an argument. If all these biases ruled every case, no one would ever change their minds. And we would probably all be prisoners of the same meme.
That is a specific instance of a more general criticism of such psychology experiments. Statistical significance is not the same as practical relevance. If showing me a picture of a pretty girl drinking a coke makes me 5% more likely to choose a free coke over a free pepsi afterwards, do I really care? On the other hand, it seems very likely to me that some biases, like confirmation bias, exert a strong influence on our lives, and we may be able to benefit greatly from learning how to recognize them and push back against them.

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