April 6, 2010

A bit of a list

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 11:57 am

Despite the fact that the vulgarities of life have forced me to pursue an actually marketable career, I maintain an interest in more humanistic areas such as social psychology.  As such, I have become somewhat obsessed with the field of cognitive bias.  Learning to understand the pitfalls of human cognition has helped me in a wide variety of ways.  While much has been written about whether or not we can ever achieve an unbiased rationality, I am convinced there are great benefits to trying.  One sign that you are doing it right is the number of beliefs you previously accepted, but now understand to be false.

Un-learning is an important indicator of meta-cognitive ability.

To wit, I have taken a moment to tick off a few of the things I once believed, but now know to be false:

  1. Acupuncture
  2. Pure supply-side economics (Milton Friedman style)
  3. The idea that:  If it doesn’t matter to me, it isn’t important to me.
  4. Most people have an accurate view of themselves.
  5. The world is getting worse. (Depends on how you look at it.  In many ways it is getting much better.)
  6. That America is the best country in the whole world.  (It might be, depending on how you judge ‘best’, but there are plenty of reasonable measurement systems in which the USA is not #1)
  7. That I was a good dancer.
  8. That if I was very confident about something, I was probably right.
  9. If the people around me thought I was right, I probably was.
  10. That there should be (Christian) prayer in (all) schools.
  11. That if I treated others the way I wanted to be treated, they would reciprocate.

Later, I’ll do an update on things I have learned.


  1. I agree that the total number of beliefs you once held but then rejected later in life is a fairly good indicator of someone’s commitment to rational thinking, or aversion to superstition. But I hasten to add that I would not pick any single one of those belief-changes (yours or anyone else’s) as evidence of a commitment to rational thinking, simply because cognitive biases are operating all the time. Sometimes when we are trying hardest to be rational we are most susceptible to concluding something untrue. But again, changing your mind about a lot of the things that you believed when you were younger, less experienced and less educated is a pretty good sign that you are committed to the rational way.

    Oh, and I also agree with the implication that social psychology is most awesome.

    Comment by P — April 7, 2010 @ 1:08 am

  2. @P – Yes, I agree on all counts.

    Comment by Matthew — April 7, 2010 @ 5:03 am

  3. So I guess I never had you sold on palmistry?

    Comment by mary ann — April 7, 2010 @ 12:56 pm

  4. 4.”Most people have an accurate view of themselves.” Ummm…Yeah- you make me laugh :)
    5.”The world is getting worse. (Depends on how you look at it. In many ways it is getting much better.)” I agree with your statement here in that it would be a complicated model to try and map out all the ways the world is worse than it once was and all the ways it’s better, then try to weigh those differences against eachother.

    7.”That I was a good dancer.” This could tie into the earlier point that you once believed that people have an acurate view of themselves…as in I was there and I know you are a good dancer who hasn’t danced in years. Just as I was there and know that you are a gifted artist who refuses to realise it or practice.
    I call blarmy.
    8.”That if I was very confident about something, I was probably right.” You mean I can’t prove I’m right about something just because I REALLY belive it!
    9.”The current global warming trend is caused exclusively by humans, is likely to have severe consequences, and that extreme action should be taken right now to prevent it.” I believe that humans are a self centered race with a predisposition to take the easiest route and waste as much resources as possible along the way…that said, it still can’t be exclusively all humans fault. I do believe that actions should be weighed and priorities weighed and a plan made.
    10.”If the people around me thought I was right, I probably was.” BWAHHHHHH!

    12.”That if I treated others the way I wanted to be treated, they would reciprocate.” It’s close to a working theory but I mostly hold on to the belief that if I want other to treat me with respect then I can’t treat them differently.

    Comment by Terra — April 8, 2010 @ 12:37 am

  5. I’m am sad – I though acupuncture worked. Regardless, I still unjoy getting stuck with little pins.

    Comment by Danielm — April 30, 2010 @ 11:37 pm

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