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Confirmation bias infection

24 Aug

“I don’t care what you say, I know what I know! And this is a problem that affects A LOT of people!”

Have you ever run into someone so wedded to her own view that she denies any evidence to the contrary?

If so, then you my friend have been stymied by Confirmation Bias.  The way I understand this pretty common phenomenon is that once someone’s mind is made up, he is loath to change it, no matter the data to the contrary.

We are all guilty of tendencies in this direction. And you can imagine that in our election season where Americans seem so impossibly entrenched in their points of view, this type of behavior pops up across the political spectrum.  No one is immune.

Why is that?  I think we have grown increasingly suspicious of ‘other’, attributing almost malicious motives to those with whom we disagree.

Love me love my dog As my dad grew older, he idolized his two dogs.  This pillow’s message was his recurrent mantra.  I see a similar tendency in our society these days.

  • LOVE ME, LOVE MY VIEWPOINT!

And woe be to anyone who disagrees with someone’s opinion, because in criticizing that person’s conviction, you are attacking the person (so he FEELS).

What to do?

Fortunately, there is a type of remedy and it doesn’t cost a penny.  Recently I listened to a discussion about confirmation bias.  And I was challenged by a practice I heard in the radio program’s interview with Dennis Prager.  In the conversation about entrenched views and a divided country, the interviewer asked him to pick one of his ‘Pragerisms’ that he tried to live himself.  He quickly offered:

  • Seek clarity over agreement

Well that applies across the board to many relationships, doesn’t it!  Right off the bat I thought of marriage.  Beyond that particular arena, this advice would do us all good in our polarized world.

And do you know what?  If our goal is to understand the other person’s point of view and to be able to articulate it accurately to HIS or HER satisfaction, then the pressure to change that person’s mind or cleverly present OUR view melts away.

We’ll also inoculate ourselves against the contagion of confirmation bias.  One person CAN make a difference in his corner of the world.

 

What are your questions?

10 Aug

Effective thinkers depend on the clarity of terms.  Whatever they think, speak or write must proceed and build on a foundation of precise and unambiguous language.  Unless they intentionally set out to deceive!

If this building block of good argumentation is indispensable, then next in importance I believe are one’s questions.

I know I’ve written about questions before, but I have come late in life to the value of examining what is said/written and NOT mentioned.  Some question templates are:

  • what COULD the author have said had he not said it that particular way?
  • what did he leave out?
  • if we exchange the predicate for the subject, what does that reveal? (yes, I recognize that converting  X is Y to Y is X is only valid for E & I propositions,  but what is uncovered through a brief look at the is often rich!)

Credit is not due me to have stumbled upon the value of questioning the speaker/writer.  I am being trained through the accumulated and daily posting of the sermons of pastor John Piper.  Listening daily to his teaching has helped me articulate some implicit assumptions or at least some hypothetical assumptions.

Thus schooled, yesterday as I read a bit of puritan pastor William Gurnall writing in The Christian in Complete Armor, I asked myself the obvious question and got back a very pointed poke!

“Whatever is the object of a saint’s (Christian’s) hope is the subject of his prayer.”

I swapped the predicate for the subject and stated the premise this way:

What I pray about reveals what I’m hoping in. 

God immediately convicted me of the nature of multitudes of past prayers over the years. Many have been of this variety:

  • Give us a nice day, Lord!

That’s pretty lame AND it reveals that my hope is effectively that I have a pleasant life with no hardship and minor problems easy to resolve, few interruptions and plenty of time and money to do what I want.

Reassuring to me IS the fact that as I take in God’s Word through daily study and God-centered prayer, my prayers are changing to reflect biblical truth.  I’m moving away from God as butler to my life to God as CENTER of my life and me as His redeemed child and servant.

My plea THIS morning was based on Colossians 1:9, 10

Father, fill me with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding SO THAT I may live a life worthy of Christ, pleasing him fully.

Looking at the blanks, what is not said or written often reveals startling insights!  But that’s the fun of clear thinking.

Which question have you posed recently that has revealed something new or startling?

 

 

Truth as a dodge

27 Jul

I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.  John 4:17

Woman at the well

Jesus gives her credit.  The Samaritan woman is telling the truth, partially. She is not married, but she is living with a man who is not her husband.  And Jesus calls her bluff by revealing that he knows the real situation.

Politicians are masters at this ploy.  Their words FEEL like truth because there is in fact some truth among all their discourse.

So why is this important?  The heads up to be wary of one’s interlocutor’s replies or explanations reminds me to ask some questions as I evaluate what I am hearing (or reading for that matter!)

It goes without saying for good logical Joes and Janes that in every meaningful discussion the definition of terms needs to be established and agreed upon.  I am talking about additional considerations.

Pastor John Piper has taught me, via his sermons, to listen well by assessing the following:

  • What other words could have been chosen?  By saying X, what is he NOT saying?
  • What grounds her statement?  What is behind it?  What presuppositions precede it?

It could be that what is NOT said actually carries more significance than what is out in the open.  This is especially true in a country as divided by issues, as America seems to be. With an election ahead of us, why not practice with me in evaluating at a more deep and layered level what a speaker or writer might actually be intending.  More importantly, may we be care-filled about our words.  Words matter!

But I want all of them!

6 Jul

can't have your cake Having recently devoured and imbibed the philosophy of minimalism, I picked up another book along the same lines to garner new tips for eliminating stuff.  But Joshua Beck’s recent book, The More of Less….surprised me. Besides new ways of thinking about why we spend money,  I came away with the surprising goal of reducing our purchases in order to create a travel fund.

So here I am, a month out from reading Beck’s book. After some truthful examination of our budget, the only category that has actual flab and can afford trimming is the groceries ‘pot’.  From that line item we fund food for the two of us and our pair of cats, cleaning supplies, wine, and vitamins.

Like with any new project, the initial energy released by setting this goal lasted about two weeks.  Then came the ‘surprising’ realization that I had been operating at cross purposes. How so?  Apparently I hold 3 values equally and that won’t work if I want to squeeze money from groceries.  I EQUALLY want:

  1. to build up a travel fund
  2. to eat organic meats
  3. to buy high-quality vitamins

Brick wall moment!  I can’t have numbers 2 & 3 AND pare down groceries to save for trips. So the past few days I’ve wrestled with the values that support numbers 2 & 3.  Forced to prioritize what I consider important has been good exercise.

As I wrestled with rank-ordering priorities I reviewed some previous decisions that had brought us to this point.  A little background:

We switched to buying and preparing organic meats and eggs after I saw the documentary Food, Inc  Since that film, antipathy against the industrialization of food sourcing has set in. Philosophical reasoning primarily fueled this shift and it was then easy to add the health benefits of organic foods to shore up the argument.  My husband joined me in abandoning all non-organic meats and meat products.

Aligning our food prep around these new principles has posed no additional effort.  I enjoy cooking and we eat out rarely.  Once a year we select a high-end, farm-to-table type restaurant for our anniversary.  Yet right from the outset our commitment to organic meat wasn’t monolithic. When on the road to visit family and friends, we continued to eat in casual chain restaurants.  These occasions together with being guests in others’ homes were times of non-organic dining.

So given that I have compromised somewhat since my initial gung-ho ‘no more industrial meats for us!’ cry, maybe we could go back to eating non-organic foods.

What about the vitamins?  We took grocery store/pharmacy-brand vitamins for years, resulting in (anecdotally) very few colds or at worst, quick recoveries. But to ‘afford the organic meats’ I opted to eliminate them, reasoning that healthier meats would provide what vitamins offered.  As our stock of supplements dwindled, winter arrived and we both succumbed to some ‘health problems’.  I suffered my longest bad cold ever and my husband fell ill with heart palpitations caused by multiple factors, kicked off by a cold. Anxiety connected with the erratic heartbeats caused literal sleep-less nights, ‘les nuits blanches’ as the French call them – white nights.  But God worked a healing after 3 months of numerous doctors’ visits, testing and much prayer and Mike’s sleep patterns readjusted.

We resumed vitamins, based on some advice from a nurse who also had suffered heart palpitations.  She directed us to higher quality supplement companies.  What do you know, the better the vitamins, the pricier they are!

So here I am, having to make a choice between the two priorities that cannot coexist together with my new desire to reduce grocery spending and make room for a travel fund. I won’t go into why that is important; suffice it to say that whether the savings allows us to vacation well or simply offers us flexibility in future jobs, this reasoning process has been useful.

Critically THINKING through what I want and the labor to explain logically my thought process has clarified my mind.  I haven’t used logic explicitly, but I have identified my pre-suppositions and values that have been leading me to where I am mid-summer.

Finally, let me point out that I am very much like everyone else in the human race:  when we decide that we want something, even if it’s an irrational outcome, we seek to shore up that decision with rational arguments.  So here’s my ace in the hole:

Matthew 15:11 – It is not what goes into the mouth that makes a person unclean. It is what comes out of the mouth that makes a person unclean.

No, I don’t like supporting big industry meat.  Yes, I prefer the idea of encouraging small quality farms that are committed to healthy and humane raising and slaughtering practices.  But I want a travel fund more!

It depends on what ‘is’ is!

22 Jun

Bill Clinton We laughed at his disclaimer, but Bill Clinton had a point.  A naked word is clueless.  The first rule in logic is: Clarify your terms!

But what is a term? A word set in a context.  So, in one sense, Bill pointed out the obvious – ‘IS’ as a word takes on significance only in a context.

Take, for example, the unaccompanied word, ‘set’.  How can ‘set’ be employed?

  • a lamp, set upon a hill
  • a man, set out on a journey
  • my cat, set upon lapping some milk
  • a victim, set up by a Ponzi scheme
  • the book, set down on a table

Words and terms matter, dear friend. May we take time to use particular care to avoid confusion and communicate with accuracy and clarity.

 

Responding to an attack posing as an argument

1 Jun

Illogical Lucy – You have no right to say that abortion is wrong!

Logical Joe – Why is that?

Illogical Lucy – You’re not willing to: 

  • adopt an unwanted child
  • take care of babies outside of the womb
  • bring the pregnant mom into your home

The presupposition of Illogical Lucy is that ‘Only prior action legitimizes one to make a belief statement/value judgment’

Is that true?  If it were, then the following convictions held by certain people would not be allowed into the arena of ideas for discussion:

  • The practice of 19th century American slavery was unethical (YOU 21st century American haven’t freed a slave or refused to buy a slave.)
  • Spouse and child abuse is wrong (Have you offered shelter to assault victims?)
  • Common Core curriculum usage should enforced by the federal government (YOU haven’t earned an advanced degree in education.)
  • Smoking is harmful to your health (You haven’t kicked the habit, so who are you to make such a judgment statement since you still smoke!)

The last rebuke of the anti-smoking belief is actually a known fallacy called Tu Quoque – or ‘you too?’  It goes like this:

If you participate in a bad action, you have no ground to stand on in order to claim that smoking is harmful.

Think about it, the person who can’t stop smoking but recognizes its detrimental side effects, is he or she not in an excellent position to call out and publicize the dangers?  I can imagine a man or a woman pleading with a teenager NOT to start smoking:

  • Young man, don’t start on the path of this foul and addictive habit.  I once was your age. Just like you I wanted to fit in, to look manly.  But boy do I regret it.  I’m a pack-a-day guy now and, you hear this cough?  – it’s not good.  My doctor keeps threatening me that I’ll die young from Emphysema like my Pa and his dad. Besides, my mouth stinks, my wife doesn’t like kissing me, my clothes reek, and I spend about $40 a week on this nasty addiction.

Here’s another tactical version of this ‘squash your opponent so his point of view can’t be voiced’:  Since you can’t possibly know what it’s like to be trans or unemployed or stuck with an unwanted pregnancy or hispanic or unemployed then……

  • Your view doesn’t count.  Your belief has no credibility.  Your opinion is wrong out of the gate.

Is that so?  That bullying tactic is actually a version of the Genetic Fallacy.  This maneuver draws strength from the false idea that the origin of the belief can de-legitimize the position.

Logical Joes and Janes KNOW that a premise, that is a belief, position, claim or view must stand or fall on the merits of the reasons backing it up.  It matters not at all WHO is putting forth the argument.  There are only 3 elements that must ‘pass muster’.

  1. Are the terms in each of the premises clear or ambiguous?
  2. Are the premises true or false?
  3. Does the argument or syllogism follow a valid structural flow?

If an argument contains clear terms within true premises, which lead to a ‘rule-abiding’ conclusion, then we say that the argument is both valid AND true and deserving of being considered SOUND.

And a sound argument, my friends, is golden.

Let us stand our logical ground with courage and courtesy and follow the same principles ourselves!

Q: So where are you being bullied in the marketplace of ideas today?

 

 

 

 

Underpinnings of logical thought

4 May

Here’s an argument:

The biblical worldview is the optimal worldview to support logic because it best explains why we can declare a premise to be either TRUE or FALSE.

True or false

Let me explain what I mean.  To use the tools of logic, we must assume several conditions about the building blocks of an argument.  At its most basic analysis, there are 3 component parts to an argument:

-terms (individual words or phrases that represent a concept like: chocolate ice cream or dogs)

-premises (statements that provide a judgment about a concept like: red hair is thick or cats are quirky)

-syllogisms (the ensemble of at least 2 premises and the conclusion that follows like:  PREMISE 1 – All boys are strong  PREMISE 2 – Joe is a boy  CONCLUSION – Joe is strong)

When evaluating terms, premises and syllogisms, logicians use this measurement:

  • terms are either clear or ambiguous (to the degree that they unequivocally and explicitly describe a concept)
  • premises are either true or false (to the degree they accurately match reality)
  • syllogisms are either valid or invalid (to the degree they follow the ‘rules’ of logic)

So why do I make the claim that the biblical worldview should be adopted in order to use logic?  If I understand Darwinian naturalism or materialism correctly, truth is not something that is necessary.  The species survives and continues by adapting. So what is ‘good’ for a population is what ensures its ongoing viability.  That MIGHT intersect with truth, but it does not depend on truth.

When a materialist or naturalist argues for his point of view, he borrows the concept of truth to advance a point of view. And in conversation with said materialist, if we avoid pointing out the inconsistency between her beliefs and practices we are being gracious. But there might be an occasion gently to point out this ‘inconvenient truth’.  I grow more confident when I write out my thoughts regarding this assumption about logic.

You might be thinking, what is the linkage between a biblical worldview and truth?  Good question!  Christians believe that the Bible is the divinely inspired account of God’s creation and rescue of a people He loves.  The very character and nature of God is grounded on personal attributes such as His:

  • truthfulness
  • immutability
  • eternality
  • goodness
  • wisdom
  • infinite power and knowledge

Christians believe in absolute truth because of who God is, an immaterial being who defines and models perfect truth. The evidence we have that God is true and speaks truth is that the Bible corresponds to reality.  Vast numbers of written records document both the historical and the archeological reliability of most of the Bible including the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

Therefore, without going into that kind of detail, I argue that the use of logic rests on the presupposition that truth exists.  And the only worldview that supports THAT belief is the biblical one.