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An exercise to bust your biases

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Mar 01, 2021
I propose an exercise that achieves the following:
  • be less wrong
  • break free of your own intellectual cage
  • sharpen the skill of recognizing situations where you might be wrong
  • treat the prospect of being wrong as an opportunity to reset/upgrade your views
  • work on your art of thoughtful disagreement - get better at considering multiple different positions simultaneously
The problem:

Once people are committed to something, it's very difficult for us to change our minds. We build a system that helps us make sense of the world around us and comfortably live within it. Other people's systems seem foreign to us. We invent ways of discrediting other people's systems and protect/reinforce our own. Our systems are plagued with cognitive biases and logical fallacies.

One thing being wrong and being right have in common is that they feel the same to us. We are rarely able to recognize that we might be wrong. When we do, we might try to patch our own viewpoint to make it feel less wrong, rather than consider adopting that of the opposite side. To others, this might feel annoying but to us, this represents a limiting factor to progress.

A solution: practice changing your mind

Our skills are the result of neural pathways built from past repetition. We can become good at anything we practice enough. Training a new skill starts out clumsy but gets progressively better with repetition.

This is a private game that you play by yourself. Start small. Don't scare yourself by going straight into doubting your core beliefs. Instead, try to notice minor disagreements with people whom you consider to be smart. Warm up on something that doesn't make a big difference in your life no matter if you end up being right or wrong. Treat it as a fun experiment.

Excercise #1: Put yourself in the shoes of an advocate for the "other side". How can you convince an imaginary someone on "your side" that the other side has good points and is actually pretty solid? Perform "other side biased" research and gather good points to reinforce that view.

Excercise #2: Treat this as your own little game and play it as often as you can. In everyday situations look for opportunities to launch into this game.
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Creative contributions

Group debate sessions driven by controversial topics

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Manel Lladó Santaeularia
Manel Lladó Santaeularia Mar 01, 2021
Hi Darko! This is a very interesting exercise that I think everyone should do every now and then. When I was in highscool we had an amazing teacher who made us do a very interesting group exercise. He would talk to us about a particular topic, for example "euthanasia" and give us a broad overview on the topic without stating any opinion about it (what it is, what it is used for, in which circumstances it is legal). Then he had us separate in groups and gave us a point of view (for or against legalization of euthanasia). Even if we disagreed with that point of view, we had to work together to find information and arguments to defend that point of view. After that, we had to argue with the other group why our point of view was better than theirs. This was amazing because you saw people who were against euthanasia ended up defending it with all their heart and actually changing their point of view afterwards. And same thing with a plethora of other topics.

While the exercise you propose is very useful, I find that a reason why people don't do this kind of thing is a certain sense of self-importance that makes them not want to accept or even consider they are wrong, so it's difficult for them to voluntarily engage in that kind of exercise on their own, just to question themselves. While this would surely have amazing results if done, I found that being externally engaged as part of a group "debate activity" by an unbiased authority worked wonderfully.

This can also be used to teach people how to properly debate. People tend to use an insane amount of fallacies when debating, especially when discussing topics they don't know enough about. By having them debate for the "other side" they realize their own fallacies, or the teacher can point them out to them. Once you realize those fallacies, it becomes way easier for you to try to inform yourself better and have a more well-constructed opinion, which can definitely lead to a change in that opinion.
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Milena Milivojevic
Milena Milivojevic5 months ago
🤗
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic5 months ago
It would be even more amazing if the teacher then switched the topic but made it conceptually similar enough. The group that defended euthanasia in one case would then try to gather the arguments against something conceptually similar. At the end of the day, the teacher would explain the similarities and what just happened.
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Manel Lladó Santaeularia
Manel Lladó Santaeularia5 months ago
Darko Savic Absolutely agreed. This way you make both groups defend opinions that are at the opposite end of the spectrum, thus giving them a broader point of view. That's exactly what our teacher did. I ended up having to defende euthanasia and recreative drugs and to go against abortion and adoption by gay couples. It was definitely and experience.

Let's add a bit of understanding

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Martina Pesce
Martina Pesce Mar 01, 2021
I think the exercise is both simple, elegant, and brilliant. Should be practiced daily and taught at school from a very young age, when the brain is way more flexible and changing mind is even easier. This way you also train yourself to stay plastic in time.

A problem of introducing this exercise to adults, as @Manel mentioned, is the self-importance everyone gives to him/her self, and even worse the one we have been taught that is good to have, even if we don't feel it. Very often I caught myself being proud out of habit more than out of feeling it!
A good way to avoid losing people who could practice the exercise could be a pre-explanation where is made present that changing idea is a sign of nothing but an adaptation and that we should not be ashamed of previous idea/beliefs, because they were clearly a needed step towards the new ones.

Values play a big part in this

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Povilas S
Povilas S Mar 01, 2021
The thing I want to point out about this whole topic which is one of the core reasons, in my opinion, why people often disagree and don't even want to engage in debates regarding sensitive (to them) topics is that a lot of it has to do not so much with right and wrong logics/reasoning but with different values.

It's like politics. Different political/ideological systems are based on different values. There is some space in right-wing politics for core left-wing values and vice versa, but the emphasis of both has a major difference, that's why they exist as different systems in the first place. And they attract different kinds of people. Certain values might be imposed or adopted as a result of wrong understanding/reasoning, but they also have a lot to do with natural inclinations and free choice, therefore they make us who we are, so it's not surprising that people don't want to let go of those.

Arguing is basically an art of rhetorics. You can find reasonable arguments for everything if you are good at it. The underlying thing that really drives the process is desires and values that motivate you to lean towards certain things and act in a certain way. Even for someone to want to get rid of their own biases and predispositions they have to value being a better, wiser person. Other people might value physical comfort more than mental/emotional growth, so they wouldn't be motivated to get rid of those, they might not even see them as such.

Which value is a higher value is subjective. This is much more a result of feeling/intuiting it rather than reasoning. Some people are more empathetic, they will feel for others more and lean towards arguments for that, some people will argue more for lower taxes and personal property rights, etc. This is not something you can come to a rational/logical conclusion about. One uses language to defend certain values, but it's not mathematics - you can't be objectively right or wrong about a sensitive topic based on a set of logical rules.

Cultivating the First Principles thinking model

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Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain Mar 02, 2021
Whenever we are subjected to any statement, claim or an opinion, depending on how much critical thinking we are capable of, we either believe it, reject it or remain disinterested. If the given statement is the one we are already acquainted with, it is much easier for us to take a position either pro or contra to it. However, life is dynamic and it presents us into situations and incidents often that are entirely novel to us. In such a case, how do we tell the heads from the tails? How do we decide whether to believe it and act on it or whether to reject it? This is where the framework of first principle thinking can rescue us. Exemplified by the legendary entrepreneur and SpaceX ideator Elon Musk, first principle thinking is what Aristotle envisaged as the best mental model to approach any new idea or issue. The great philosopher Rene Descartes too had something similar to offer while he proposed his methods of doubt: systematically doubt everything that you can possibly doubt, until you are left with what you see as purely indubitable truths. When we reason from the first principles, we save ourselves from being influenced by our biases or illogical intuitions; rather, we start by reasoning with only the most essential building blocks. Basically, if we are dealing with a machine, we start thinking in terms of each and every part, each of its functions and design, and the build bottom up. This is exactly the opposite of reasoning/thinking from an analogy. When we think from the analogy, we need an a priori design- in this case a machine that is already designed based on which we try to build a new machine. In contrast, first principle thinking allows us to distill down the whats and hows of the parts of the machine and why is each part needed. This means that, with the first principle model of mental mapping, we don’t need to see what is already there. Instead, this model enables us to create our own design from the scratch by building from the basic pieces. When we reason with the first principles, there is a very narrow space for impurity caused by our own biases or cognitive limitations. Since the most basic truth about any issue is more or less likely to appeal universally, the first principle model avoids our personal propensity and inculcates a more rational, objective enquiry into the matter. This way, we dig any given hypothesis from a very neutral angle as if we don’t know anything except the entirely fundamental thing about it. When someone claims that compound X treats cancer, we start with what is cancer, what must be the property of any compound to act against cancer, does the compound X have any of the properties, if any, are they sufficient, and so on. With a considerably large number of questions, we shall be able to either accept or reject that claim. Another approach to cultivate first principle thinking is in the art of asking ‘WHY?’ When we go behind the reason of things repeatedly, we get closer to the reality/truth of an issue. Take for example the rising number of rape cases across south Asian countries. When we ask why the cases are increasing, there are chances that someone would answer because ‘women are wearing revealing clothes’. Again, why does wearing short clothes cause increased rape? If so, why is it not happening in the western countries where the clothing culture is even more open? This second chain of why immediately breaks the false claim that rapes are caused by women’s way of wearing clothes. At this very moment, we realize that we need to search for another reason. After a fair amount of propositions and asking enough ‘whys’, we might eventually come to find the true reason behind the increasing rape cases. This is how the first principle thinking helps us in the realization of truth. Moreover, asking why is imperative for freedom. Why? Because it demands explanation from the authority, it asserts our pursuit of truth, and it suggests that we are not satisfied with ‘whats’ or ‘hows’. Hence, the first principle thinking approach could be a powerful tool, especially if cultivated from childhood. It would make us more rational, more objective and less prone to our limits of understanding.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic5 months ago
I can imagine that asking "why" could run into a dead-end when the person runs into their own confirmation bias.
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Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain5 months ago
Darko Savic, true! It could be the case when both sides in a conversation are incapable of critical reasoning. If one side could figure out the biases of the other, then the 'why' should give some insights.

Why Doesn't CNN report Cuomo? Ever wonder WHY?

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Maxim Teleguz
Maxim Teleguz Mar 03, 2021
Start with explaining this and you will find your answer to why people don't change their minds anymore in this world.

Very Dumb and I agree. I want to see both view points, but really at the end of the day if one side is so one sided how can I even respect what they have to say?

This is the problem. Time to change it by Changing ourselves. Listen to one opposing view point that has "facts" is really hard to find today.

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Milena Milivojevic
Milena Milivojevic5 months ago
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