Thoughts on bias

I would venture that all people are biased. It could not be otherwise, when you think about how any intelligent entity would have to work. We can only reason from our current set of beliefs, and these are often held quite emotionally, and defended against revision. It is just when the person talking or writing has different biases that one will view the other as biased. If the other’s viewpoint differs radically, we will see the that person as flat-out delusional. That may be the case, but perhaps that holds for us as well. We can see the other’s biases, but don’t do so well on seeing our own.

Michael Shermer, a psychologist and professional pseudo-skeptic, wrote a book describing why people believe strange things. However, he was the one who got to define which beliefs were strange. Guess who got a pass?

Understanding through existing beliefs

What I have been trying to get across for years is that what one believes is based upon what one has believed in the past. It has nothing to do with being stupid or evil, just that we can only understand the world through our existing system of beliefs. It could not be otherwise, even if we were referring to an artificial intelligence. Having beliefs is different from knowing the truth of things.

By reading as broadly as I do, across the boundaries of belief systems, even if somewhat superficially, I see that no side has a monopoly on the truth. Clearly they cannot all be right, but it does not follow that any of them are.

There is a war between right wingers and left wingers, (and it is certainly more complex than that I know) although neither has a privileged access to the truth. Folks from one camp will never miss an opportunity to denigrate the other, in the most biased way. It is absurd, like Oliver’s Swift’s big-endians and little-endians at war over which end of an egg should be broken before eating.

Now with Covid-19, I see even more clearly that people can agree in one area, and vehemently disagree in another. Are they stupid or evil when disagreeing, and smart and noble when agreeing?

Any logician will tell you that if you start with a certain set of premises, and use strictly sound reasoning, you will end up with a valid argument. The conclusion will be wrong if your premises were wrong. However, the human animal does not use formal logic to any great degree; we use pattern recognition, inductive thinking, generalization, abstraction, and other mechanisms. Mathematics and formal logic are themselves based on patterns. So, we each interpret the world differently. There may be facts underlying it all, but we have no privileged access to them.

With Covid-19, I have been mentally composing a list of assertions that have been made by various folks. It would be many pages if written down. Some would be correct information, some would be incorrect and thus misinformation, and I clearly some would be deliberate disinformation, either by recreational bullshit artists or shills with a vested interest. The problem is, given the chaos, and the inaccurate reporting of numbers on a highly technical topic, the truth of things may never emerge.

Widely help opinion

“The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widely spread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.”
― Bertrand Russell, Marriage and Morals

Those who suspend judgment – ephektikoi

“Ancient skepticism: The Greek word skepsis means investigation. By calling themselves skeptics, the ancient skeptics thus describe themselves as investigators. They also call themselves ‘those who suspend’ (ephektikoi), thereby signaling that their investigations lead them to suspension of judgment. They do not put forward theories, and they do not deny that knowledge can be found. At its core, ancient skepticism is a way of life devoted to inquiry. Also, it is as much concerned with belief as with knowledge. As long as knowledge has not been attained, the skeptics aim not to affirm anything. This gives rise to their most controversial ambition: a life without belief.”

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

First published Wed Feb 24, 2010; substantive revision Fri Jul 20, 2018

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/skepticism-ancient/

Pattern Recognition Theory of Mind

“ABSTRACT

I propose that pattern recognition, memorization and processing are key concepts that can be a principle set for the theoretical modeling of the mind function. Most of the questions about the mind functioning can be answered by a descriptive modeling and definitions from these principles. An understandable consciousness definition can be drawn based on the assumption that a pattern recognition system can recognize its own patterns of activity. The principles, descriptive modeling and definitions can be a basis for theoretical and applied research on cognitive sciences, particularly at artificial intelligence studies”

Gilberto de Paiva gilbertodpaiva@gmail.com http:www.gpaiva.com

Metaphors, metaphors, metaphors!

“Metaphors, metaphors, metaphors! The debate is fascinating and yet again confirms the groundbreaking work of Lakoff and Johnson in 1979 that showed us how so many commonly used words ‘contain’, ‘encapsulate’, ‘embody’, ‘incorporate’ metaphors!

Communication is not possible without metaphors, it is ‘soaked’, ‘marinaded’ and ‘shot through’ with them. Even the most ‘objective’ language (a metaphor depending on the contrast with a supposedly ‘biased’ ‘non-objective’ ‘subject’ who is ‘subjective’) depends on metaphors.

We could ‘frame’ this as a problem and yet we do science, ‘progress’ our understanding of ‘the’ world and continue to communicate with each other, all part of the fun of being conscious and alive.”John Rogers, 19 May 2016, from the comments on https://aeon.co/essays/your-brain-does-not-process-information-and-it-is-not-a-computer

Yelling “conspiracy theory”

“But those that yell “conspiracy theory,” are to be mistrusted at the outset, because that CIA manufactured label and those that scream it at the top of their lungs, are not worthy of any attention, and in fact, should be ignored as irrelevant boobs. ”  Gary D. Barnett