Confirmation Bias Will Be Our End

Humanity, for millennia, survived by groupthink: we needed to have common thought to survive. Little changes here and there – a discovery of a new tool, a realization that permanent marks could be made with paint – would slowly change small populations, but we were by and large the same until the first permanent settlements.

In the 9,500 years since then, the rate of change kept pace with humanity’s growth, as did it’s complexity. From simple laws and basic writing all the way to genetic engineering, we’ve created a world that our ancestors would have difficulty existing within, let alone recognizing.

The problem is our complexity: it’s inherently fragile. It’s not even that we need an elite group to understand and create our advanced technology, it’s that the complexity is so obtuse and our general education is so lacking that we do what humanity always does: we distrust things we don’t understand.

Then we do the next thing humanity does: find support. We’re a social species, and while there are always those who choose limited interaction, it’s difficult for us to literally be alone. So when we find ourselves standing alone through distrust, we start to look for mutual support – people with similar thoughts.

At a glance, this is normal and healthy: this is how we form communities, and this is a process that has worked for millennia. But in our modern world, intellectuals, academics, and scientists are increasingly distrusted because the information and thought they create and safeguard is impenetrable by the masses. (I loathe using the term “ordinary”, because that suggests that there’s a singular model, which there certainly isn’t.)

Lack of comprehension of technology – computers, the internet, cellular phones, high-energy physics, medical technology, genetic engineering – has led to fear of those things, exaggerating the things technology can do to the point where facts are distorted well beyond reason, to the point of falsehood.

One would think that falsehoods could be easily disproven, and we’re done, right? Except we’re still dealing with fear, and fear breeds ignorance: I don’t want to learn about something I’m afraid of, when it’s just so much easier to dismiss it through falsehoods I happen to agree with.

For the highly-educated, this seems abjectly insane. But this happens every day in every town and village and city on this planet. It’s particularly painful in the “First World”/“Developed World” (note the modicum of sarcasm) because we should know better.

Take the COVID vaccines. They’re advanced genetics, taking RNA, which is already an obtuse topic, taking the messenger type (that’s the “m” in mRNA), and tricking our bodies to producing proteins to block COVID. It might as well be black magic to anyone not doing genetic research (computer technology is no different), which means that people don’t understand what it does. All they hear is “this is related to DNA and I know DNA is my blueprint so this will mess with my blueprint”.

So that’s hit number one: fear of the cure. Now add up the other major blocker: you need a needle to get the vaccine. So now, we have unnamed scientists creating a DNA strain that’s going to alter humanity. I’m still really unclear how the heck 5G got dragged into this nonsense, but it all ended up making people lash together: COVID vaccines were the devil’s work.

This is confirmation bias: we find something we agree with, it says we’re right, so there’s no need to go any further. This happens in politics (the right vs. left is a highly-visible effect of confirmation bias), which only amplifies existing fears (all sides do this, though conservatives are particularly adept at spreading fear).

But confirmation bias doesn’t even need to be this nasty. You want a really odious version? Do the words “Math is hard” strike any chords? It’s an age-old saying that’s well-mired in our society: I don’t like math, and because math is hard, I won’t do well in math. The end result? People who don’t do well in math, because they don’t try, because they “know” they will fail. Because it’s hard. (I’ve been witnessing this in both Monkey and Choo Choo.)

My biggest fear in all of this is what confirmation bias will do to rational thought. More and more, we’re allowing confirmation bias to rule thought processes – I found someone who thinks the way I do, so I don’t need to try and weigh pros and cons, or understand a difficult topic. Such an approach will be the end of us if we can’t have a reasonable conversation about something, because the decisions are being made in a moment’s notice without any supporting data.

And I need to lay the blame here on the media. Yes, I could very easily say it’s the governments for not pressing proper thought in schools, but the fact is that the media spoon feeds our modern world with its profitable dissemination of a topic, even if the facts are highly diluted, or straight-up false.

But because the media isn’t held accountable for their messages (Marshall McLuhan must be spinning in his grave), it’s allowed to persist and worsen. It’s an infection, festering, growing, cancerous and demanding. It won’t be long before it’s too late, and our ability to think will become our downfall. And that time is not far away. It’s happening every day, and it won’t be long before the effects will become irreversible: climate change, economic collapse, conflict and war, famine, and uncontrollable disease.

On second thought, maybe our ancestors might recognize it, at least in small portions. And they’ll wonder how we fucked things up so badly.

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