In life, we all see the world through our own distinct lens – our lens matures and evolves overtime, shaped by past experiences, but nonetheless it reinforces the framework that we use to interpret the world and others around us. A truth about our human nature is when we approach things that are unknown and new, we use our previous experiences to attempt to shape our future ones. Over time these same lenses that we’ve trusted will lead us to straight into deeply ingrained types of cognitive bias, clouding judgement and becoming a roadblock between “our truth” and “the truth“.
To illustrate the difference, I’m going to reuse a parable told by Scott Adams in his fantastic book God’s Debris – but, in a slightly different tone:
You have a stained glass window in your house, and a handful of bees get inside. The bees rush towards the stained glass window in hopes of escape. The first bee rushes towards the frame and finds itself in front of a blue pane of glass, and sees the outside world as blue; the second bee comes, and flies towards a yellow pane - the next comes and sits on a triangle of red, the next on a square of purple, and so on. Then they start talking, which leads to an argument - all of the bees are correct in how they see their individual pane, but they're also wrong; if they could for a second take a step back, they would see the entire picture and not only their individual interpretation of the picture.
Where Adams uses the analogy to dissect and separate individual religion from the grander experience that religion can illicit, we can simply use it to understand levels of truth. Underneath where we each have our ‘truths’ – are our sorted cognitive biases that led us to our truth. Remove them, and we can distill down to the truth.
The term ‘Cognitive Bias‘ was first introduced by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in the beginning of the 1970’s. By their definition, a cognitive bias is a persons “systematic but purportedly flawed patterns of responses to judgment and decision problems.” Essentially, it’s saying that our brain fucks up and doesn’t see things as it should, it sees them as we have been taught to interpret them. Cognitive biases cause and reinforce preconceived notions, psychological errors, mental mistakes and missteps – overtime, these ideas can produce prejudice, bigotry, and intolerance. All in all, psychologically speaking, there are upwards of close to 200 types of cognitive bias that get in the way of our universal understanding – though, some are more common than others.
Do any of these sound remotely familiar? If not, maybe you have a status quo bias in preferring your current mode of thought – or a confirmation bias, as you focus on what you know and not what you don’t know (e.g. types of biases) – or a belief bias, that you aren’t biased even though other people are. The true issue with cognitive bias isn’t in having them – hell, we all have them – the trouble is in refusing to acknowledge, understand or change that same behavior that’s an issue. Hopefully the more you dive in, you’ll start the slow process of unpacking implicit types of bias that already exist within your mind.
So, how do we overcome our conditioning and start to uncover where our biases are? Milliseconds away at our fingertips, there’s a overwhelming wealth of information out there and we’re expected to respond to it just as fast as we uncover it. When we search for information and education, the way we choose to seek it out is within the comfort zone of our mind. Stepping outside of ourselves and finding multiple sources for our information is a good start, while discussing your findings with others can lead to a more well rounded understanding.
Acting in a more mindful sense, being present within the moment, can reduce our biases. Adding in yoga, meditation and deep breathing exercises are an excellent way to start. When we are mindful and present, we no longer decide to rush to judgement but instead uncover the things in our mind that have been blocking us from getting there.
For more on understanding the different types of cognitive biases, here are a few fantastic articles, videos and books to ingest:
Have you acknowledged where in your life you could be displaying types of cognitive bias? What personal work have you done to move beyond it? Let me know in the comments below!