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March 3, 2020 / Congau

Get a Better Bias

Whenever you find yourself in general agreement with your immediate environment, you should be skeptical. If there is less agreement as you look away from your own epicenter and complete disagreement in the remote parts, you have all the more reason to doubt yourself. How could you be so lucky that you were born exactly on that spot on earth where people have reached the most sensible outlook on things? Well, of course you could, but what was the probability? And how funny it is that people in erroneous regions seem to think the same about their place of birth.

You are right and everyone around you is basically right. Those people over there are wrong, but their attitude is a mirror image of yours: They also think they were born right.

Knowing our innate bias, it would be good if we could force ourselves to turn around and assume that we are wrong from the very beginning. The Cartesian method of skepticism is not enough. You can try to discard everything you think you know and start afresh, but chances are that once you start assembling the pieces again, you will pick the ones that are already familiar to you.

Instead of trying to rid yourself of all bias, it might be more fruitful to do the opposite: Adopt a new bias. Choose one over on the other side. Assume that the Muslims are right or that the Nazis were the good guys. Where will that take you?

Of course, it’s not quite a realistic approach; we can’t turn off our beliefs on command. But it would be an exercise of healthy skepticism and an attempt to understand the others and realize that they are like us. You can’t change your place of birth, but you can try to neutralize its effect on you.

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