Of course you are. We all are. We can't think without basing our thinking on our past experiences and conclusions, and so we are led into all sorts of cognitive bias.
Errol Morris had a brilliant series in June on The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is.
You should read Part 1, which includes the tale of the bank robber astonished to find that putting lemon juice on his face didn't make him invisible to cameras.
[...] As Dunning read through the article, a thought washed over him, an epiphany. If Wheeler was too stupid to be a bank robber, perhaps he was also too stupid to know that he was too stupid to be a bank robber — that is, his stupidity protected him from an awareness of his own stupidity.
Dunning wondered whether it was possible to measure one’s self-assessed level of competence against something a little more objective — say, actual competence. Within weeks, he and his graduate student, Justin Kruger, had organized a program of research. Their paper, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties of Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-assessments,” was published in 1999.
Dunning and Kruger argued in their paper, “When people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it. Instead, like Mr. Wheeler, they are left with the erroneous impression they are doing just fine.”It became known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect — our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence.
You can find the paper here.
And here is the explanation for most problems in policy, politics, life, and blogs:
DAVID DUNNING: Well, my specialty is decision-making. How well do people make the decisions they have to make in life? And I became very interested in judgments about the self, simply because, well, people tend to say things, whether it be in everyday life or in the lab, that just couldn’t possibly be true. And I became fascinated with that. Not just that people said these positive things about themselves, but they really, really believed them. Which led to my observation: if you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent.
There it is.
A subset is that if you're ignorant, but filled with false "facts," you don't know you're ignorant.
Not that this could apply to any specific political groups in the news today, you understand.
[...] DAVID DUNNING: If you knew it, you’d say, “Wait a minute. The decision I just made does not make much sense. I had better go and get some independent advice.” But when you’re incompetent, the skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.
Evidence Dunning and Krueger were never editors:
[...] And yet, we had these students who were doing badly in grammar, who didn’t know they were doing badly in grammar. We believed that they should know they were doing badly, and when they didn’t, that really surprised us.
But what's the overall problem?
There have been many psychological studies that tell us what we see and what we hear is shaped by our preferences, our wishes, our fears, our desires and so forth. We literally see the world the way we want to see it. But the Dunning-Kruger effect suggests that there is a problem beyond that. Even if you are just the most honest, impartial person that you could be, you would still have a problem — namely, when your knowledge or expertise is imperfect, you really don’t know it. Left to your own devices, you just don’t know it. We’re not very good at knowing what we don’t know.
But my point here is this:
David Dunning, in his book “Self-Insight,” calls the Dunning-Kruger Effect “the anosognosia of everyday life.” When I first heard the word “anosognosia,” I had to look it up. Here’s one definition:
Anosognosia is a condition in which a person who suffers from a disability seems unaware of or denies the existence of his or her disability.
Dunning‘s juxtaposition of anosognosia with everyday life is a surprising and suggestive turn of phrase.
If we wish an extreme example to consider, there's Woodrow Wilson's stroke. One neuropsychiatrist, Edwin Weinstein, retrospectively examining President Wilson's medical records, wrote:
Following his stroke, the outstanding feature of the President’s behavior was his denial of his incapacity. Denial of illness, or anosognosia, literally lack of knowledge of disease, is a common sequel of the type of brain injury received by Wilson. In this condition, the patient denies or appears unaware of such deficits as paralysis or blindness . . . To casual observers, anosognosiac patients may appear quite normal and even bright and witty. When not on the subject of their disability, they are quite rational; and tests of their intelligence may show no deficit.
Which is also to say, you can chat and argue with the brightest people, and still be stunned that the two of you see "facts" differently.
After much discussion of how Wilson's stroke affected our history, we get to this, in Part 4:
ERROL MORRIS: In that book, you suggest that anosognosia is not an underlying neurological condition; it’s about our lack of knowledge of something caused by an underlying neurological condition. About our not-knowing things that we should know — not knowing that we are not making any sense, not knowing that we are paralyzed, not knowing we are missing limbs.
V.S. RAMACHANDRAN: Well, you can have anosognosia for Wernicke’s aphasia [a neurological disorder that prevents comprehension or production of speech] or you can have it for amnesia. Patients that are amnesic don’t know they are amnesic. So, it has a much wider, broader usage. Although it was originally discovered in the context of hemiplegia by Babinski and is most frequently used in that context, the word has a broader meaning. Wernicke’s aphasiacs are completely lacking in language comprehension and seem oblivious to it because [although] they smile, or they nod to whatever you say, they don’t understand a word of what you’re saying. They have anosognosia for their lack of comprehension of language. It’s really spooky to see them. Here’s somebody producing gibberish, and they don’t know they’re producing gibberish.
Again, any application to any specific politician, or political groups, in America today, is left as an exercise for the reader.
Ramachandran has used the notion of layered belief — the idea that some part of the brain can believe something and some other part of the brain can believe the opposite (or deny that belief) — to help explain anosognosia. In a 1996 paper , he speculated that the left and right hemispheres react differently when they are confronted with unexpected information. The left brain seeks to maintain continuity of belief, using denial, rationalization, confabulation and other tricks to keep one’s mental model of the world intact; the right brain, the “anomaly detector” or “devil’s advocate,” picks up on inconsistencies and challenges the left brain’s model in turn. When the right brain’s ability to detect anomalies and challenge the left is somehow damaged or lost (e.g., from a stroke), anosognosia results.
And when the right side of one's political world loses the ability to detect anomalies and challenge the left, our current politics results.
What's that look like, visually?
One other visual you may have seen:
And a few digressive links to close with: Sapir-Whorf were wrong, but our language does shape how we think. The moral?
But as a first step toward understanding one another, we can do better than pretending we all think the same.
And as a second step, we can watch out for neurosexism.
Meanwhile these are biases we should all watch out for.
Lastly, sometimes we should all step away from the computer.Written and posted by Gary Farber, guest posting for Eric Martin.