Category: Cognitive biases – The UP Podcast Episodes
Episode 35 – The fundamental attribution error & how to avoid it (4 min)
Most people wish to become better at handling and resolving conflicts, but out of the dozen or so things that get in the way, one of the main blockers is thefundamental attribution error.
It sounds like a bit of a mouthful, but it is actually one of the easiest cognitive biases to understand. Of course the precursor being that you actually want to understand better rather than seek validation for what you think is already right.
In this episode of The Unlearning Playground Podcast, I delve into this topic in an easy-to-understand and simple manner. I talk about what this cognitive bias, the fundamental attribution error, really is, how to spot it in your everyday life and I also suggest 3 ways to help overcome it in situations where we most need to.
I think, once you get to seeing things from the perspective I try to build in this video, you would be well on your way to managing conflicts in a much more responsible and mature manner. This should enable you to be better at people skills which, as any adult in the room would tell you, is eventually what most of life is about.
I’ll see you in the playground. Hope you bring an open mind and an honest heart. Until next time. Peace out.
Episode 28 – The halo effect & 3 ways to overcome it | Cognitive biases #8 (9 min)
The halo effect, without a shadow of doubt, is one of the most important cognitive biases every adult in the room must be aware of.
It is extremely important because it directly influences the way you think about people and in doing so, has a direct impact on the way you navigate your interpersonal relationships – both personal as well as professional.
Join me in this episode as I walk through how this bias affects our everyday thinking and also discuss 3 key ways to avoid falling prey to it.
We humans are designed, in part of course, to be able to think quickly whenever a situation demands. But like a lot of mechanisms of our own thinking, this can come back to bite us in the most unexpected of ways.
How the halo effect works, is a not-so-comfortable example of this latter kind.
It particularly comes into question when we are dealing with people. Because the halo effect, in essence, is an extension of how we form stories in our minds about the different people in our lives. These could be people you’re in a direct relationship with – personal, professional or otherwise. These could also be people you know from a distance – a public figure, a celebrity, a politician, etc.
As most of us already know, uncomfortably so, it’s not uncommon to have very strong feelings/opinions about things we hardly know anything about. The extent to which we are able to believe in and then subsequently act on these opinions is dependent on a whole bunch of factors, but primarily on how coherent is the story in our mind about the particular situation in question.
And this is especially relevant to the opinions we form about people, and that is precisely where the halo effect kicks in.
Even if we do not realise it consciously at times, most of our lives are about relationships – personal, professional, casual, distant, close and maybe a host of others. And cognitive biases such as the halo effect encompass our decisions, our thoughts, our judgements and our actions across all of these relationships.
Which is precisely why I find them particularly important for everyone to understand and wrap their heads around, especially anyone wanting to be one of the adults in the room – which is most of us at some point in our lives.
If this kind of learning, or unlearning, resonates with you, you can check out our playlist on cognitive biases and logical fallacies from the link down below. I have dedicated a section of my podcast purely to enable my listeners to be better aware of these subtle yet important phenomena of the inner workings of our minds.
As always, I’ll see you in the playground. Let’s have a good game! Until next time. Peace out.
Episode 25 – 3 ways to understand, identify and overcome confirmation bias | Cognitive biases #7 (10 min)
In this episode, I, Chetan Narang, walk you through the confirmation bias, which I believe is one of the most tricky cognitive biases primarily because of its ability to hide in plain sight even for the most self aware person.
I talk about where we can see this bias in our day-to-day lives.
I talk about some direct indicators for spotting it in our own thinking.
I talk about how we can guard ourselves against it.
And, I talk about why all of this is especially relevant in the modern day and age.
Plus, I throw in a funny anecdote or two because, why not?
We humans are designed, in part of course, to be able to think quickly whenever a situation demands. But like a lot of mechanisms of our own thinking, this can come back to bite us in the most unexpected of ways.
How the confirmation bias works in our minds, is a brutal example of this latter kind.
The ability to think and react quickly can be quite handy in a lot of situations.
Picture a scenario where you’re attacked by a predatory animal for example. You’d hardly have time to analyse whether the animal means you harm or whether you’re projecting your own fear on its intentions. It could very well be game-over before that decision is made in your mind.
Or a simpler scenario where, let’s say, your car is making some noise. If you’ve been driving for sufficient time now, you may be able to intuitively (and very quickly I might add) gauge whether it’s a harmless commotion or a damn pandemonium that needs to be attended immediately. Labelling this aspect of our quick thinking as a bias isn’t necessarily the most fruitful one.
Not all quick thinking should be termed as biased.
However, there are a host of situations where a quick answer is not only not the best one, but is often the wrong one. And confirmation bias plays a vital role in such scenarios.
If you aren’t aware of how your own preconceived notions cloud what you interpret from a new piece of information, you are in for a treat in this episode of my podcast.
I talk about some examples from our day-to-day lives where the confirmation bias messes up our game.
Like most nuances of our minds, it is easier to see in others as compared to our own thinking. So, I also talk about some indicators on how to correctly spot it in both these scenarios.
And all said and done, I think this is one extremely tricky cognitive bias – one that we are never really ever rid of. In this episode, I also talk about some potent advice from my own experience that has helped me not fall prey to it in my everyday life situations.
If you sit and dwell on the content in this short 10-min episode, and I highly recommend that you do, you’d see how it is extremely relevant to a host of real situations we face almost on a daily basis – in our homes, in our offices, in our schools, in all of our relationships (personal, professional, casual, etc.).
So, without further ado, I recommend you get to the episode and digest it, and as always, do let me know if you have any feedbacks for me. I’m always looking forward to more of those – especially the honest kind.
Episode 22 – 5 examples where patterns = delusions | The Gambler’s Fallacy | Cognitive biases #6 (10 min)
The gambler’s fallacy is one of those logical fallacies of the human psyche that is equal parts hilarious and equal parts serious.
As you’ll see in this episode, the examples I provide while talking about it are almost laughable and ridiculous at times. But the impact it has on our everyday lives is uncanny. And that makes this a very important episode in the series of my episodes on human cognitive biases and logical fallacies.
The human psyche is full of cognitive biases and logical fallacies. Do not, for a second, let someone convince you that that is not true for you. It’s true that spotting an error in somebody else’s judgments and/or decisions is much easier than doing the same for your own self. But that should not lead you to thinking that you are somehow free of making the same lapse in judgment someday.
The gambler’s fallacy is one such logical fallacy of our minds that is quite easy to spot in someone else’s position, especially if you yourself are not too attached to that position yourself.
However, as is the case with most potent truths, the real nectar of understanding it is in discovering it in one’s own thinking and day-to-day rigamarole.
My aim with this podcast episode (which is only 10 minutes long btw) is to explain, in very easy-to-understand language, what this fallacy stands for, what are the ways in which you can identify it in your own thinking and how you can try to overcome it in your everyday interactions.
Below are a set of frequently asked questions about this topic. I have tried to answer them out in an easy manner, but for a detailed understanding, I would highly recommend going through the episode itself. Like I mentioned above, it will be 10 minutes worth spending on the internet.
What is the gambler’s fallacy?
The tendency of a person to consider that future outcomes of a random event are dependent on the outcomes seen for the same/similar events in the past.
What is an example of the gambler’s fallacy?
If ten consecutive coin tosses result in HEADS, it is a very human thing, and also a biased thing, to consider that the chance of the next toss resulting in a TAILS is higher. This is a simple and the most common example of the gambler’s fallacy.
How do you fight the gambler’s fallacy?
Becoming more self aware, and opening yourself up for honest and engaging conversations with people who can correct you, is one way to position yourself such that you do not fall prey to the gambler’s fallacy, especially where it matters. This is actually applicable on all human cognitive biases and logical fallacies.
In addition to this episode, for the curious listener, I would also advise a playlist of similar episodes that I run on my podcast. It is a series where each individual episode is dedicated to a particular cognitive bias and/or a logical fallacy, and I try to walk you through it in an easy-to-digest sort of a manner. That is quite the generic theme of The Unlearning Playground podcast as well as much of all of my work really.
Episode 19 – 3 examples of stereotypes in our everyday life | Understanding and overcoming outgroup homogeneity effect | Cognitive biases #5 (8 min)
The human mind has a tendency to over-homogenize its outgroups. Statements and narratives that generalise and stereotype our outgroups seem to be more easily acceptable to us than we would expect from our rational selves.
Join me in this episode as I talk about the outgroup homogeneity bias. I know it’s a bit of a mouthful, but it is a cognitive bias that’s actually very fascinating once understood properly.
Like most of my episodes, I talk about how to go about understanding this cognitive bias in simple and easy-to-understand language. And I also cite examples from our everyday lives where this bias creeps in and holds us back from being the best we can be.
“We don’t see the world as the world is, we see it as we are.”
I always quote this powerful one liner whenever I have to make someone understand the importance of talking about and getting a grasp of their own biases. Our thoughts, our narratives, our perceptions, our biases – they form the basis of how the world seems to us. And if we aren’t aware of this truth, we start to assume that our world view is the correct world view.
As Daniel Kahneman talked about in his bestselling book Thinking, fast and slow – The human mind tends to work on the principle of WYSIATI (What you see is all there is). We do not know what we do not know. And hence, it’s important to understand and unlearn the falsities in what we do know.
While it is a bit of a mouthful, the outgroup homogeneity effect is one of those cognitive biases that is quite easy to understand. For starters, I have jotted down a few questions that might pop into an inquisitive reader’s mind about the same.
What is meant by outgroup?
A person’s outgroup is defined as a group the lies outside of the boundary of that person’s identity. For instance, for a woman brought up in a Hindu household in India, the groups ‘men’, ‘Christians’, ‘Italians’ are her outgroups.
What is outgroup homogeneity?
Outgroup homogeneity can be understood as the tendency of the human mind to see its outgroups as much more homogeneous than its ingroups. For instance, Americans may see themselves as a very diverse group, while at the same time considering a group of other nationals such as Australians or Indians as a very homogenous or similar group of people.
What causes outgroup homogeneity?
I think one of the chief causes for outgroup homogeneity can be attributed to the fact that it’s easy. It simplifies the overall narrative in a person’s mind if certain narratives about an outgroup are considered to be generally applicable to the entire group.
What are some examples of outgroup homogeneity?
Indians may see themselves as a very diverse group of individuals, while at the same time considering a group of other nationals such as Russians or French as a very homogenous or similar group of people.
In this episode of my podcast, The Unlearning Playground, I build on this bias of our minds using everyday life examples and an easy-to-understand language that facilitates easier absorption. That, I believe, is the hallmark of my podcast anyway.
Make sure to check out the episode on your platform of choice here.
As a follow up to this episode, I’m sure my playlist on Understanding human cognitive biases would appeal to the eager listener. Check it out here.
Episode 16 – 2 modern-day examples of The Framing Effect | Being pro-life or pro-choice & The wage gap | Cognitive biases #4 (22 min)
The framing effect is one of the easiest cognitive biases to understand and make sense of. Join me, Chetan Narang, in this episode of The Unlearning Playground podcast as I walk through an easy explanation for the same.
In addition to just talking about the framing effect, I talk about how it is very easily spotted in our modern day public discourse atmosphere via two frames or narratives that sway most of us enough to end up hating the other side of the argument.
One of the topics I’ve picked up is a very hot topic these days – the whole pro life vs pro choice debate, the anti abortion vs pro abortion fiasco. I try to walk through this very controversial topic all the while trying to drive home the point oflooking at all sides of the topic rather than simply picking a side and dehumanising the other.
The other topic is another controversial one – Is there a wage gap between men and women in our society? Again, I explain how the framing effect can fog over our understanding of such simple yet very important topics of our times.
When it comes to critical thinking, I think it is almost a necessary part of growing up to realise a few things about thoughts and how they work.
Not everything that pops into your head is true. The journey from a thought being a thought or an opinion to it being the truth is a journey we should take cautiously and with an open mind and an open heart. At the end of the day, it’s true that you don’t know what you don’t know.
Not everyone who disagrees with what you say is a radical, an extremist or an inhuman, wrongly-motivated individual. I’m not saying that that cannot be the case. I’m merely suggesting that that is not always the case. Listen to the other side too – they might be on to something you missed out.
We all think with the frames and narratives in our minds. Some of them are almost biological – such as the frames which help us avoid pain and injury, while some are social and cultural – such as the ones I talk about in the later half of this episode. It behoves anyone who wishes to think critically to become aware of the frames working under the hood in their own minds firstly, unlearn the attachments to their own favourite frames, and then help others do the same.
The key to learning and understanding the truths about Life, the universe and everything really is to remember to always keep an open mind and an open heart to new discoveries and understandings, because if one thing is certain about Life it is this – change is most definitely a constant.
The first step to letting go of our favourite frames is to become aware of them, and also of the movement whereby our own frames limit us at times.
Sometimes, all that’s needed to do so is an external trigger.
When it comes to any experience, all of us have two selves. One is the self that is having the experience in the moment, which we can call the experiencing self. Another is the self that remembers that experience, which we can call the remembering self.
And believe it or not, they are both different. To confuse one with the other is a very strong cognitive illusion that we labour under in our everyday lives.
What you remember about the past is simply that – what you remember about it. It might not necessarily be true to what you actually experienced then. Especially the adjectives you use to describe the experience now, might not really be accurate and do justice to the actual experience.
In fact, there is a strong recency bias when it comes to our memory of an experience. That is, our memory of an experience is very likely to be overshadowed by how the experience was towards the end, rather than how the experience actually was.
I first came across this idea of the two selves – the remembering self and the experiencing self – in that book by Daniel Kahneman – Thinking, fast and slow.
In one section of this book, he described a certain experiment which brought home this point quite well.
To paraphrase it, the experiment had students dip one hand in uncomfortably cold water for 60 seconds. The students would then remove their hand and be offered a warm dry towel.
After a few minutes, they were asked to dip their other hand in the same uncomfortably cold water for the same 60 seconds but in this trial, after the 60 seconds, instead of taking the hand out, a tap was opened which poured warm water in the tub for the next 30 seconds that raised the temperature of the cold water by a few degrees so that the discomfort was lowered. They were then asked to withdraw their hand and were offered a similar warm dry towel like the first trial.
And then, after a few minutes, they were given a choice to have one of these experiences repeated again for the third trial.
If I remember correctly, close to 80% of the participants chose to repeat the second experience, even though that involved an unnecessary 30 seconds of discomfort. The reasoning is quite simple – the second experience leaves a better, warmer memory than the first and the self that takes the decision for the third trial IS the remembering self and not the experiencing self. And the remembering self thinks what it remembers IS all that ever happened, which could be true in some circumstances but could also be false in others.
Being aware of this can help us identify the faults in the way we act out in the world.
A personal experience comes to my mind which fits the bill here. Allow me to share.
I once worked for a company, and I had a great time working there, especially for let’s say, three quarters of the time. It was only during the last phase that I had a fallout with some of the people there (and there were a whole bunch of reasons for that too – I’m sure I wasn’t my best self too around that time).
But anyway, after I had moved out of that job, whenever someone would ask me about my experience at that company, I would mostly be critical of the culture, the management, etc. It was when I started meditating and paying attention to my own thoughts that I realised that this narrative, like a lot of other narratives in my mind, was coming from a very incomplete standpoint.
Of course my last memories with that company weren’t too rosy, but I sure had a great time for the majority of the time I worked there. And the fact that I was so easily polishing over all this with the comfortable narrative purely based out of my “remembering self” surely did open my eyes to say the least.
Realisations such as this are quite literally the point of this entire series I’m running on this podcast currently. To be aware of your own biases and illusions is important. The point to being more self aware is not to feel low about yourself or even to feel superior now that you’re aware of so much more than others.
It is simply to be aware, to be aware of the truth, aware of the facts about how your own thinking works and aware of how the human mind works in general. Wherever that awareness leads you to, should again tell you more about your own nature than about anything else.
Back to memories, experiences and the two selves, one more example which comes to my mind about this very important cognitive bias is one that I read in David Eagleman’s book, The Brain.
He talks about a hypothetical situation where you are invited by a friend to her birthday dinner, where she’s with her boyfriend and you guys sit together, have a great time, share a few laughs, have good food, etc. He then builds it up by asking us to imagine that a year has passed since that dinner, and your friend and her boyfriend have since then had a pretty nasty falling out and are no longer together.
And then he points out that it is entirely possible that your memory of that birthday dinner is now coloured by this new piece of information. It is very likely that you might think that even back then, you could see clues that this guy is a good-for-nothing douchebag who might even cheat on your friend if the opportunity arises.
And it is very likely that you may start to consider all of these thoughts to be true because your remembering self is what is always activated in such scenarios, never your experiencing self.
The experiencing self had the experience of that great dinner, and left memories for the remembering self. And the remembering self can’t help but fit the memories to suit the current story that is unfolding right now. I hope these terminologies are clearer in your psyche now.
Our present colours the way we perceive the past.
And what we remember about something in the past is anyway not necessarily how we experienced it at that moment.
Both of these statements are true and are worth pondering over. I’ll repeat them once more.
Our present colours the way we perceive the past.
And what we remember about something in the past is not necessarily how we experienced it at that moment.
It is only when we become aware of such illusions of our minds that we can hope to unlearn them. Unlearn them not in the sense of ensuring that we don’t think in this manner. We cannot control the thoughts that pop up in our heads. But we can choose which thoughts we act on. And once you do that, you have, in one manner of speaking, unlearnt the attachment to your thoughts. That is when real understanding begins to dawn on you.
You should not always trust the first thought that pops up in your head about anything. And by the same token, you should not always doubt your intuition either. It is a moment by moment choice, and being able to discern what to do when is the key to a mature response to any situation.
To be able to make that choice in the best possible manner, you must be self aware. You must understand that your mind works under a whole bunch of biases and delusions that mustn’t really be trusted.
If you’re aware of the fallacies your mind is labouring under, you can start to see things as they are, not as you think they are. And anyone who thinks that that isn’t something worth doing, really doesn’t have a clear mind and is not being the best they can be.
And we all need to be the best we can be. Both for our own sake and also for the sake of people around us.
Episode 9 – Cognitive load, ego depletion & the need for meditation | Cognitive Biases #2 (12 min)
Another episode in our series of episodes about human cognitive biases.
In this one, I talk about Cognitive load, which is an overarching phenomenon that affects our moment-to-moment state of being and thus, affects our ability to make decisions, to understand and process information – in short, it affects how we think. And hence, being aware of it is important.
I also briefly touch upon the need for meditation, and why it is something that everyone should incorporate in their everyday lives.
This episode is as everyday-life as it gets when it comes to pragmatic philosophy, wisdom and understanding. Tune right in. I’ll see you in the playground.
In the previous episode, we talked about the fact that we see the world as we are, not as the world is. We discussed the three levels at which this is true – at the level of our moment-to-moment state of being, at the level of our biological conditioning and at the level of our cultural, social or rather psychological conditioning. If you haven’t checked out that episode yet, I would highly recommend you to. And you can do that even after this episode. It is a good introduction as to why being aware of all this is a big part of growing up and taking up the role of being a mature adult, which in turn is a big part of what we talk about here in this podcast.
Now in one manner of speaking, our decision making capabilities and our capabilities to understand something or process something depend on a whole bunch of factors, and we’re not always our best selves when it comes to any given moment. In this episode, we’ll be discussing one such overarching phenomena which impacts a lot of our thinking capabilities at any given moment – cognitive load.
Cognitive load is quite easy to understand actually. In purely layman terms, it is a measure of how much you have on your mind at any given moment. And it shouldn’t be very tough to understand that this affects the quality of your state of being at that moment. Someone who is dealing with a whole bunch of things, has a wide array of thoughts running through his or her mind at any given moment, is obviously under a lot of load in one sense.
A few things happen in such a state of mind which, it can only benefit us adults, to be aware of.
Our ability to make good choices is not at its best under high cognitive load, especially about things not already in our mind. If you’re driving on a busy road, you’re under a lot of cognitive load. The busier the traffic the more the load. And the more the load, the more susceptible you are to being irrational if an argument now starts with your partner in the seat next to you. It might distract you from driving properly too. Now, it helps the overall situation if both you as well as your partner become aware of this, in that very moment, and take whatever action seems rational then – delaying the argument would be a good starting point to be honest.
This is applicable in general to so many avenues in our life, much more than we would want to acknowledge. Whenever we have too much going on in our heads, we are more likely to not be our best selves, to not take criticism well, to not accept where we are wrong, to not consider that someone else with an opposing viewpoint might have something right in his or her narrative. In short, we are more likely to be everything we ourselves don’t like others around us being.
So, in moments of high load, it helps to become aware of your own state of mind and understand that your decisions and choices may be hampered. Taking a deep breath, and delaying decision making unless you feel still and grounded again, should be your plan of action in such a scenario.
Also, it helps us to understand that a lot of times, we might encounter a situation in which another person we’re dealing with, is under high cognitive load, and hence they are not at their best self. And it helps the overall situation at such times to, again, to slow it down and delay decision making until the other person feels still and grounded again. That is taking action from a place of compassion and love born out of understanding.
Now, there is another phenomenon I want you to consider. Being in a state of high cognitive load for a long period of time, or what the average modern human calls Wednesday afternoon these days!
Jokes apart, put your imaginative horses to work, and picture for a minute that you’ve been working all day long in your office – meetings, discussions, fire-fightings, handling a resignation, and also a new joinee, avoiding a conflict with your manager as well as your subordinate, project work – all of this on the same day, in a span of a few “working” hours. Now, what would be your state of mind at the end of such a day? You’d be depleted, to say the least. You’d be exhausted. And what do you imagine your quality of decision making would be at such times? To put it lightly, let’s just say you would not take your best decisions.
This state of mind is what I understand to be ego depletion. Now that term is a bit controversial in the psychological literature these days, but we’re not using it to mean anything other than the state of feeling mentally depleted or tired. And like everything else we discuss here, that happens with me, happens with you, happens with those public figures we love or love to hate, happens with our managers, happens with our subordinates, happens with our partners, happens with human beings.
It just helps us to be aware of ourselves, our own state of mind, in the moment when this is happening. And also, helps us to be aware when we see another person not being their best self. And in both these scenarios, it helps to take a deep breath and delay making decisions and drawing conclusions, to the extent possible of course, until you feel still and grounded again.
You know, there is this famous saying in Hindi, “Khaali dimaag shaitan ka ghar hota hai”. Loosely translated to English, it means that an empty mind is the devil’s home.
When I started meditating and delving into my own psyche a good few years ago, I remember that one of the first few startling realisations was that this quote is absolute garbage! Anyone who has ever experienced the state of having an empty mind knows what I am talking about, knows that it is an extremely calming, peaceful experience. If anything, it is the home of the divine not the devil!
The problem, of course, is that we never really get to empty our minds in our everyday lives these days. And if a mind full of rotten, incomplete thoughts, which is our default state, suddenly has a lot of time at its hands, there definitely is a recipe the devil would enjoy. So what do we do under the disguise of practicality? We double down our efforts to get busy with whatever it is our minds think is worth it. While what would have been more practical, my dear human, would have been doubling down the effort to try and really empty your mind. Try, and ponder on the realisations that follow. Maybe we could even do a podcast episode together if you really tried it.
Meditation is one practice that everyone should incorporate in their everyday lives. But we’re all so busy these days with whatever swell things we have set out to achieve, that almost everyone says that they simply do not have the time. And that always reminds me of an age-old Zen proverb – “If you’re so busy that you cannot meditate for twenty minutes a day, you should meditate for an hour a day.” That is just lovely isn’t it? You need it much more than the free person does, my fellow busy human being!
To break it down for you, I talk about meditation in terms of the act of observing the flow of one’s own thoughts. For starters, you should try to allocate some time in the day, when you sit down, take some deep breaths, and do that – just observe your own thoughts. That’s it. That’s the entire activity.
And then keep consuming good, potent content to improve the quality of thoughts your mind ponders about. In our information age, it is your own responsibility to filter out all the noise you receive otherwise by default. So, read more books, listen to better podcasts, follow better youtube channels, declutter all the junk from your Instagram feeds, etc. You know the drill.
And of course, DM me on Instagram if you feel like having a word about any of it. I’m always open to honest and engaging conversations, like many of you have already found out.
Well, I guess that’s it for this episode for now. I hope this episode found you in a state of relatively lower cognitive load to enable better understanding.
If not, I hope you find it in you to listen to it again and meditate on it.
Episode 8 – We see the world as we are, not as the world is | Cognitive biases | Logical fallacies (15 min)
Join me as I build on one of the most influential quotes I’ve had the good fortune of coming across – “We see the world as we are, not as the world is.”
Cognitive biases and logical fallacies govern so much of our day-to-day thinking that it’s almost mind-boggling when we encounter them for the first time. In this episode, I talk about the three levels at which our perceptions color the world we see.
Something that I always talk about is how you need to become the adult you never had around you as a child or as an adolescent. Becoming aware of, and unlearning the attachment to, our own biases and delusions is a major chunk of the work everyone needs to do to really become an adult.
So hop on. Let’s grow up together. I’ll see you in the playground. Pun intended!
I’ve been wanting to do an episode on human biases and logical fallacies ever since I started this podcast, because it is so central to the majority of the work that needs to be done by all of us to grow up. And if anyone asks me why that is the case, I tell them this one quote which is one of the most profound ones I’ve ever heard, “We see the world as we are, not as the world is.”
I’ve heard so many versions of this that I cannot really say whom to attribute it to anymore. But that is beside the point anyway.
If you’ve never come across this quote before, or have never given it much thought, just hear me out, I’ll be building on it for the next few minutes here.
Our perceptions colour the world we see. Our perceptions, in that sense, also limit the world we see.
Have you ever had a feeling that everything around you is absolutely bullshit – the job you’re in, the book you’re reading, the course you’re pursuing, the person you’re in a relationship with, the people around you, etc. etc.
I’m sure you have. If you’ve lived enough years in this world, I’m sure you have. We all have.
And by the same token, I’m also sure that all of you who are listening to this right now, have also come out of it on some day and faced with the same job, the same book, the same course or the same people, you’ve felt, “Ahh! This is not so bad after all!”
What exactly happened there? How do you understand this dynamism of polar opposite feelings about the exact same thing?
The answer, of course, is that your perception of something or someone at both those moments depended more on YOU than that particular something or someone.
Let me say that again – At both these moments, your perception of something or someone depended more on YOU than on that something or someone.
How often do we acknowledge that? How often do we realise that? That is a question to ask yourself, and you must permit yourself to sit honestly with the answer.
Welcome to the world of human cognitive biases! These biases operate under the hood on so many levels that it is almost mind boggling when you encounter them at first. So fasten your seat belts, we’re gonna take a topsy-turvy ride through the three levels our biases and fallacies work through us.
The first of course is like the example I just gave you. The adjectives that pop into our heads at any moment are fuelled, in part of course, by everything else going on inside us at that moment.
If you’re having a bad day, if you’re in a bad mood, the same episode of FRIENDS which otherwise would have you in splits would not even warrant a single reaction from you. Except maybe a little pity for whoever was having their leg pulled in Central Perk in that episode.
Even if you didn’t get the FRIENDS reference or if you do not like the show for whatever reason anyway, I hope you can still catch the drift of what I’m trying to convey.
For another example: I know that I’ve had days when my favourite dish didn’t really taste as good as it would have if only I was in a better mood while eating it.
That should be relatable I hope. We’ve all had these experiences. The important thing to understand is that more than the episode or the food or any of those experiences, it is the one who’s having those experiences that determines the adjectives that describe that moment for them.
At any moment, we see the world as we are at that moment.
Now onto the second level.
Our biases and perceptions work on another deeper level too. As human organisms, our brains have been conditioned by years of natural evolution to behave in certain patterns and react in certain ways to certain signals. And we just can’t help it.
Ever heard of the hollow face mask illusion? It is a popular optical illusion, you can very easily check out some video illustrations of it on Youtube. In short, imagine a hollow face mask with the protruding side pointing towards you. So the nose of the mask points towards you. Now the mask is rotated and by the time the nose has gone to the background, you would expect to see a depression right? Because the nose is facing the other side now. But you’d be surprised to see that we actually see the nose to be protruding outwards again! It’s actually quite fascinating.
And the scientific explanation for that is that our brains have evolved over the years to see faces protruding outwards, and we cannot help but see it in that manner!
We see the world as we are, not as the world is.
The same bench in the neighbourhood park that you see as obviously green, might appear confusingly red to a color blind person.
The same gesture from a person might be interpreted as a sexual advance by a hormone-ridden 21 year old or just a friendly wave by a 52-year old.
The mind of a dehydrated person, or a person who hasn’t been out in the sun for a few days in a row is more likely to produce depressing, even suicidal thoughts.
This is all just basic biology. Just the way our bodies are wired.
And this wiring colours the way we perceive the world around us.
One more level, the third one, at which our perceptions colour the world we experience is at the level of our conditioning. In short, the story in our heads of the world around us. A person who has grown up hustling their way through life, you know, competing with siblings for the love of their parents, competing with classmates for the highest score in an exam, etc. Such a person may see life more or less as a game of one-upping everyone around them, as a race, even as a dog-eat-dog world in an extreme scenario.
While another person who has the inclination towards and also, due to a variety of factors, had let’s say the opportunity to be more easy with their pursuits, might go about looking at life as a means to express their most creative endeavours. Almost going through Life as a musical number instead of a journey.
Both of them have very different models of the world in their heads. Both of them are right, but both of them are limited, both of them are incomplete if they do not see the other side of the equation.
Which brings us to the gist of why we need to become aware of our own particular biases.
Incomplete is something no one really wants to be . And one sure way to remain incomplete is to remain immersed in one’s own thoughts, ideas and biases, and never really examining or challenging them.
At any rate, it is suitable for us as a species to expect our adults to recognise where they themselves are wrong, are biased, and are incomplete. How else would they lead the children and the adolescents?
One quote that comes to my mind right now is one of Wittgenstein. He said, “The limit of my language is the limit of my world”. Quite simply, it means that the limit to which I understand Life is determined by the limit to which I have words for or mental images for or at least metaphors for.
Which is why, the next few episodes of this podcast are going to be dedicated to understanding, and putting into words, the numerous different cognitive biases and logical fallacies we human beings function under. There are a whole bunch of them, and I’m sure that as I embark upon this journey to collate all of them in a digestible manner, I will miss out on some. But I can guarantee that any listener who goes through this road with me would arrive at the end more equipped than when they started.
More equipped on how to point out and catch themselves when they are not being the best version of themselves and are not being objective enough,
More equipped on how to point out to the ones they love and care about, where they aren’t being the best version of themselves and are not being objective enough.
And very importantly, more equipped on how to wrap their heads around the fact that all of us, all of us are more same than different. The ones we love, and also the ones we love to hate. The difference between man and man is one of degree and not of kind, as that man Swami Vivekananda said.
One thing I wish to call out before we embark on this journey though is that we’re not taking this journey to be more ashamed of ourselves, to feel low about not being perfect and all of that jazz. Not at all.
The idea is in fact just the opposite. The idea is to become aware of yourself in a manner that enables you to accept yourself as you are. Almost as a parent lovingly accepts their child, you as an adult have to lovingly accept your inner child, as my man Rocco calls it, and tap it on it’s back by saying, “It’s ok. It’s in your nature to be so.”
And to be able to do that authentically, a certain degree of understanding is needed. That understanding is what we’re embarking upon in this journey.
To be honest, I can’t wait to get down to work and design the coming episodes, but I wish to end this episode with a little story. Those of you who know me, know that I love to tell stories, especially when they drive home the point in a manner no amount of reasoning and logic can.
So here goes.
A man once visited a Zen master and asked him, “I am new in this town and am looking to move here. How is this place?”
The master asked him, “What is it like in your current town?”
The man replied, “It’s horrible. Everyone is mean and selfish. I just don’t like it there.”
The master replied, “Don’t move here. It would be pretty much the same here too.”
Later the same day, another man visited the master and asked him the same question, “I am looking for a new town to move to. Would you advise me to start living here in your town?”
The master asked him, “What is it like in your current town?”
The man replied, “It’s great. Everyone is friendly and helpful. I love it there.”
The master replied, “You can move here. It would be pretty much the same here too.”
Now the point of this story isn’t that there aren’t environments you shouldn’t be moving out of. Absolutely not. There absolutely are situations which you should permit yourself to walk away from, but that is a topic for another episode.
For the purpose of this episode, the point of this story is that we see the world as we are, not as the world is.
Thank you for spending these past few minutes with me here. As usual, the show notes contain the links to my Instagram page, and my Youtube channel too. If the content you just consumed seemed of value to you, please consider checking out these channels too. I’m sure you’ll dig it.
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