I recently received a comment on one of my Science, Silliness and the Nucleus of Niceness blog series posts on Richard Feynman. Here it is…
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept of confirmation bias, here’s a definition from www.britannica.com: “Confirmation bias – the tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs.”
It’s fair to suggest that my posts are biased. It’s not intentional (I don’t think?) – it’s more of a style thing than anything else; although I do obviously have strong views on certain things and my liberal tendencies do often guide my way of thinking. My usual approach is to take the work of someone whose ideas I really like, find fascinating or just feel the desire to discuss, and then regurgitate them with a little of my own beliefs and ideas – as well as any relevant connections I think I can make.
Undoubtedly, there’s going to be some confirmation bias in there. But I wouldn’t say I believe everything I write in all my blog posts to be necessarily true. In fact, as an appreciator of philosophy, and in particular the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, I tend to take the approach that it is dangerous to assume any absolutes to be ‘true’. I do my best to always keep an open mind – nothing is refuted. And yet everything is potentially not true, too. Some things can be proved. But science cannot account for everything in the cosmos. It cannot explain every truth.
As I say, I’m open to all possibilities and try to allow each person to be the makers of their own truths and morals as much as is possible. And if perhaps any of my blogs tend to just have the ideas of one thinker and no counter arguments in them, I apologise for that. But, equally, that’s not really why I’m writing them. I don’t have nearly enough time to spend on them as it is; I’m afraid if you wish to get a truly balanced perspective on any of the issues I raise, you’ll need to do your own investigations around them. But there’s lots of fun to be had there, too! This is a particular shame – as I often write about how essential balance is to our contentment as a species; in fact, I wrote a whole blog about it here. So I do wish there was more balance offered in more of my posts, but I’m afraid that would a) take me way more time to get them out and b) rob them of their essence. Which, I guess, is me being me.
I read things that inspire me and make me think – and I then consider the ways I believe they might help make the world a nicer place. This is undoubtedly wishful thinking – an element of conformation bias. Perhaps I’m a misguided dreamer. Perhaps I’m an idealist with my head in the clouds. Perhaps I should do more in my blogs to bring in a variety of differing perspectives to produce more varied final pieces. But, at the end of the day and all that, I’m just a guy who wants to try to make the world a little better for everyone by writing a bit here and there on my commute to work.
A bit of me
Unfortunately, due to my limited time and my method of working, what I write is often going to contain conformation bias. I wish in some ways (wish again!) that wasn’t the case. But I’m also aware that what I’m doing is not strictly writing balanced news pieces or inquiries – more often than not, they’re just a piece of me telling my story and sharing my views. And I guess I either have to change my approach or just come to terms with that. I always try not to be prescriptive, suggest I know best or tell people how they should behave. What I aim to do is show people things that I know, and that others have taught me, and package it in a way that might help them. I hope this is the case – and that I don’t just come across as some closed-minded, blinkered philosophy fool who just wants everyone to be like me. Can you imagine all that confirmation bias swilling around? No-one would know who to believe – other than themselves!
And this is just another reason why we need to connect with others – we need our friends, family, strangers and even people we don’t particularly get on with to shape who we are. Pig-headedness never solved anything – not in a good way, anyway. We have to be open to share and connect with other people – we have to listen to all sides to make the most informed opinions. This notion is linked to my concept of Genuinity – a philosophical perspective I continually refer to in my blogs. The idea is that we have a genuine inner voice, a true self, that stems from our compassionate and kind essence; a child-like feminine voice that brings us together and compels us to bring out our nurturing instincts.
By being aware of our Genuinity, we might try to afford a little more respect to all sides of an argument wherever possible. But that’s not to say you shouldn’t like what you like; only you truly know yourself. Does that mean you can fully trust yourself? The existentialist in me would insist you have to – because it’s your responsibility to assume your freedom and your free will and not allow others to make your choices for you.
It is, of course, impossible not to be swayed by the public sometimes; that Heideggerian ‘they’. It is inevitable, Heidegger suggests, that our Dasein (sense of human being) will get caught up in falling prey to the comfort and safety of the they. This is understandable – from an ontological and existential sense – it’s often much easier to pass the buck and let others carry the can for the weighty, significant, troubling or terrifying decisions we often have to make. But there’s nothing wrong with knowing yourself, loving yourself and trusting yourself; just try to afford the same things to other people, other Daseins, in your life and hopefully it will help to make you a more rounded and better informed person. And happier, too. Perhaps I need to listen to a bit of my own advice when it comes to blogging if I’m to solve this acute case of Confirmation Bias Syndrome!
Karl Pops up
When considering confirmation bias and its relevance to my work, it brought up ideas of Karl Popper, Sigmund Freud and pseudoscience. Jakub Ferencik illuminates Popper’s distrust of Freud’s work and his approach in his excellent Medium article: “Popper believes that Freud commits pseudoscientific research and conclusions, mainly due to the fact that he sets out to confirm beliefs rather than disprove them. If we are to find evidence that Jesus Christ is the son of God, then we are very likely to be able to confirm that he is the son of God.” Ferencik then uses a quote from Popper himself to clarify the position further: “It is easy to find confirmation of a theory if you are looking for it.”
Now, I’m a big Freudian – I love his ideas. I find them inspiring, challenging, sometimes comforting, poetic and always intriguing. And like Freud, I believe in what I believe in. I know myself. Perhaps that’s misguided? Perhaps one could call it faith; a faith in the goodness of humanity? If that’s my bias, then I’m okay with that. At least I’m aware of it. Do I go looking for confirmations of my theories in my blog posts? I guess so. Again, it’s not intentional. It’s not what I set out to do. I just write about what I like. It’s difficult to take a scientific approach when so much of what I explore is metaphysical inquiry. But, here’s the thing – I really enjoy it. I find it all so fascinating. I don’t believe I’m right about anything – I’ve made that clear since the beginning of my blogging journey. I just hope that what I write is interesting, helpful and (maybe even) inspiring to others sometimes.
And so it’s confirmed – I have a severe case of Confirmation Bias Syndrome. I have a tendency sometimes to go looking for theories which back up my thoughts and beliefs. But if this means I get to engage with lots of interesting ideas by amazing thinkers, debate these ideas with bright and kind people around the world, share these views among our different communities and learn lots of news things along the way, then I guess I’m happy with that.
Just make sure that you’re always open to change – be malleable and flexible. Be open to the possibility that you might be wrong and that your views might have to develop or alter. It’s good to receive comments like the one which led to me writing this post – because it helps one to remember that there are all sorts of opposing ideas and views out there and it’s good to expose oneself to them – not only to gain more insight and balance, but also out of respect. Because it’s important to respect the views of others (as long as they’re not out to cause harm of injury to others, of course). Oh dear – I just did it again! I really can’t help myself. Thanks, as ever, for reading. Hope it wasn’t too biased!
One more thing…
Oh, and a few final questions for you, dear reader… do you think it’s possible to write something such as a blog piece that is entirely objective and devoid of any kind of conformation bias? Is it in our human nature to always leave a piece of our personality, soul or essence on the page every time we write something like this? I’d suggest that someone like Jacques Derrida would always point to the text beyond the text, and how one can read more into what someone has written than what merely appears on the page. Are we always destined to leave further interpretations of our work that can be explicated when another ‘reads between the lines’? Is it possible to write something like a blog post that doesn’t have an element of conformation bias in it? Let me know your thoughts!