Human behaviour, Personal observations on life

Errors in thinking – Part 6

The mother of all misconceptions is the confirmation bias. What is confirmation bias?

Confirmation bias is the tendency to interpret all new information in such a way that it is compatible with our existing beliefs. It is the filtering out of information that contradicts our existing beliefs, assumptions and theories.

Imagine that you contact the Corona virus and become infected with Covid 19. You have to attend an interview, but since you are sick you cannot go for the interview. If you are an atheist, you might interpret this as an example of the randomness of life, a proof that there is not intelligent being or God controlling man’s life. However, if you are a theist, you might say that you were likely to do badly in the interview and God saved you from the embarrassment of doing badly at interview. Such is confirmation bias

Personal observations on life

Errors in thinking -part 5

The trap of reciprocity is an error in thinking. Humans like to give back once they receive something. We don’t like to be in another person’s debt. Give and take is a natural instinct.

It is this reciprocity is that is exploited by business organizations when they give free dinners. Imagine that a furniture company invites you for dinner. The next time you want to buy furniture, you will choose your old host, as a token of appreciation for the dinner invitation, even if you don’t really like the furniture that they make. The only way to escape this is to not accept the invitation for a free dinner in the first place.

The ugly side of reciprocity is retaliation, where revenge breeds counter-revenge in a never-ending cycle. It is very difficult to not take revenge because the pull of reciprocity is so strong.

The moral of it all it just this: don’t accept free gifts.

Personal observations on life

Errors in thinking – Part 4

The Sunk-Cost Fallacy

When we have invested a lot of time, money and energy on something, that investment itself becomes a reason to carry on doing the activity, even if we are dealing with a lost cause. The more we invest, the greater the sunk costs are, and the greater the urge to continue becomes.

For example, some people continue in toxic relationships just because they have already invested a lot of time, money and energy.

This irrational behavior is driven by a need for consistency, because consistency signifies credibility. We find contradictions detestable and upsetting. If we cancel a project half way, there is a contradiction there: we are admitting that once we thought it was worth trying, and now we don’t. So we continue with the project even after realizing its meaninglessness.

Rational decision making requires us to forget about the costs incurred till date. No matter how much we have invested in something, it is only our assessment of the future that counts.

Personal observations on life

Errors in thinking – part 3 – the herd instinct

The herd instinct refers to the thinking that individuals feel they are behaving correctly when they do the same thing as other people. In other words, the more people follow a certain idea, the better or truer we think the idea is. And the more people display a certain behavior the more appropriate this behavior is judged to be by others.

There are any number of examples for the herd instinct, which is sometimes called the social proof. It is when social pressure overturns common sense. It is the herd instinct that makes a teenager follow his friends and take up drugs or start smoking. It is the same instinct that made the followers of Hitler kill millions of Jews. If they had to make a decision by themselves, individually, perhaps they would not have done it.

The herd instinct was very useful to our ancestors who had to survive in the wild. It made sense to follow the group in running away from danger, even if you didn’t see the danger yourself. When your pals began running yelling ‘tiger! tiger!’, you also ran; otherwise you would be dead. Following the herd made sense then, but in the modern world when you are faced with decisions that you need to take individually, some independent thinking is in order.

Personal observations on life

Happy Onam

Today is Onam. Every year, on Onam day, I turn from a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, international citizen into a typical malayali woman, with visions of myself in ‘settu mundu’ with ‘mullappoove’ in my hair and a ‘pookkalam’ in front of my house.

Growing up, I always thought of Onam and its associated festivities as my birthright. Something that came with being born a malayali. It was only when I came to Brunei, that I felt that as a Christian, me celebrating Onam was seen by many people as something of an incongruity. It felt as though I was usurping someone else’s myths, legends and heritage. Well, there will always be narrow-mindedness and religious bigotry on earth, no matter how much we progress.

Today, as always, Onam sort of reminds me who I am and grounds me in the myths and legends of my home land. Despite the multitude of sins the typical ‘mallu’ commits on a daily basis, including misogyny, I am proud of being a Keralite, a subject of King Mahabali. I consider it a privilege to own such a rich heritage, and feel the music and beats of ‘thiruvathira’ and ‘pulikali’ in my bones.

Happy Onam dear friends.