I don’t agree much with Michael Shermer but he has some categories for why folks seemingly can’t see what we think are errors, or why folks seemingly can’t change their mind on something we think profoundly wrong.
What do you think of his categories? Where do you see these categories at work?
We form our beliefs for a variety of subjective, emotional and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family, friends, colleagues, culture and society at large. After forming our beliefs, we then defend, justify and rationalize them with a host of intellectual reasons, cogent arguments and rational explanations. Beliefs come first; explanations for beliefs follow…. I call this process, wherein our perceptions about reality are dependent on the beliefs that we hold about it, belief-dependent realism. Reality exists independent of human minds, but our understanding of it depends on the beliefs we hold at any given time….
Once we form beliefs and make commitments to them, we maintain and reinforce them through a number of powerful cognitive biases that distort our percepts to fit belief concepts. Among them are:
ANCHORING BIAS: relying too heavily on one reference anchor or piece of information when making decisions.
AUTHORITY BIAS: valuing the opinions of an authority, especially in the evaluation of something we know little about.
BELIEF BIAS: evaluating the strength of an argument based on the believability of its conclusion.
CONFIRMATION BIAS: seeking and finding confirming evidence in support of already existing beliefs and ignoring or reinterpreting disconfirming evidence.
On top of all these biases, there is the in-group bias, in which we place more value on the beliefs of those whom we perceive to be fellow members of our group and less on the beliefs of those from different groups. This is a result of our evolved tribal brains that lead us not only to place such value judgment on beliefs but also to demonize and dismiss them as nonsense or evil, or both.
Belief-dependent realism is driven even deeper by a meta bias called the bias blind spot, or the tendency to recognize the power of cognitive biases in other people but to be blind to their influence on our own beliefs. Even scientists are not immune, subject to experimenter-expectation bias, or the tendency for observers to notice, select and publish data that agree with their expectations for the outcome of an experiment and to ignore, discard or disbelieve data that do not.