The Importance Of Unraveling Our Beliefs: How This Process Could Change Society

This was originally posted on edge as a response to the question. “what will change everything”. I guess its true if we slowly become more rational as a species things will change down the road…I wonder if rationality compounds…

Introduction (via Mahzarin Banaji Harvard)

I am bullish about the mind’s ability to unravel the beliefs contained within it—including beliefs about its own nature (and I am bullish on this in a year when the CEO of Goldman Sachs took home 53.4 million as a bonus).
What gives me particular optimism about the future is the ability of humans everywhere to go against the grain of their own beliefs that are familiar, that feel natural and right, and that appear to be fundamentally true. What makes me optimistic is the possibility that we can (and do) unravel the contents of traditional beliefs and even the process by which they were constructed.

We’ve done this sort of unraveling many times before, whether it is about the relationship of the sun to the earth, or the relationship of other species to us. We’ve put aside what seemed natural, what felt right, and what came easily in favor of the opposite. I am optimistic that we are now ready to do the same with questions about the nature of our own minds. From the work of pioneers such as Herb Simon, Amos Tversky, and Danny Kahneman we know that the beliefs about our own minds that come naturally, feel right, and are easy to accept aren’t necessarily true. That the bounds on rationality keep us from making decisions that are in our own interest, in the interest of those we love, in the long-term interest of our societies, even the planet, even perhaps the universe, with which we will surely have greater opportunity to interact in this century.

Great Examples (via Mahzarin Banaji Harvard)

Here are some examples of what seems natural, feels right, and is easy to believe in—even though it isn’t rational or true.

We irrationally anchor: ask people to generate their social security number and then the number of doctors in their city and the correlation between the two numbers will be significantly positive, when in fact it ought to be zero—there’s no relation between the two variables.

We irrationally endow: give somebody a cheap mug, and once it’s “my mug” through ownership (and nothing else) it becomes, in our minds, a somewhat less cheap mug. Endowed with higher value, we are likely to demand a higher price for it than it is worth or is in our interest to demand.

We irrationally see patterns where non exist: Try to persuade a basketball player, fan, or statistician that there isn’t anything to the idea of streak shooting; that chance is lumpy and that that’s all there is to Michael Jordan’s “hot hand”.

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About Miguel Barbosa

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10. March 2010 by Miguel Barbosa
Categories: Curated Readings, Psychology & Sociology | Leave a comment

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