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Cognitive Bias

I want to discuss the problem of cognitive bias. That is, a bias that that the person is totally unaware of, but has a major (perhaps definitive) effect on the thought process and the inevitable conclusions. The bias is like a tilted floor, the process will always naturally go in a particular direction, and any other direction is unnatural, unrealistic, and mentally difficult to process. To try to eliminate this bias would require thought processes that would seem alien and unnatural, and would create a negative bias towards that approach. In other words, the bias is not only unconscious (the owner is not aware of it) but forms a belief system (a lens) that everything is analyzed through, even the presence of the bias. The bias would not seem like a bias, it would seem like a (or the only) logical way to look at information.

What this means is that bias cannot be overcome. Let’s make that fundamental assumption. What that means is that we cannot allow people with a bias to make decisions where their bias would influence the outcome. The bias would determine the result, no other result would be logical or even worthy of consideration (reasonable). I see this as a major problem. Bias exists in all of us. Therefore, it makes sense to allow decisions to be made only by people who do not have bias. But we all have biases. Let us assume (any other conclusion would be unworkable) that the bias only exists in certain areas of thought, and that other areas are free of bias. We need to allow decision making to only occur in those areas where the decision maker has no bias. This is particularly true where the decision maker has a large amount of influence and power.

My modest proposal is that we do not allow anyone with a cognitive bias to make any decision that could be influenced by that bias.

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Logical Fallacies

These are errors in reasoning that undermine the logic of an argument. They are often persuasive but are logically flawed.

Formal Fallacies

  1. Affirming the Consequent: Assuming that because the consequent is true, the antecedent must also be true.
    • Example: If it rains, the ground will be wet. The ground is wet, so it must have rained.
  2. Denying the Antecedent: Assuming that because the antecedent is false, the consequent must also be false.
    • Example: If it rains, the ground will be wet. It did not rain, so the ground is not wet.

Informal Fallacies

  1. Ad Hominem: Attacking the person making the argument rather than the argument itself.
    • Example: You can’t trust John’s opinion on climate change; he’s not a scientist.
  2. Straw Man: Misrepresenting someone’s argument to make it easier to attack.
    • Example: Person A: We should improve public education. Person B: Person A wants to raise taxes to pay for fancy schools for the rich.
  3. Appeal to Ignorance (Argumentum ad Ignorantiam): Claiming something is true because it has not been proven false.
    • Example: No one can prove that aliens don’t exist, so they must exist.
  4. False Dilemma (False Dichotomy): Presenting two options as the only possibilities when others exist.
    • Example: You’re either with us or against us.
  5. Slippery Slope: Arguing that a small first step will inevitably lead to a chain of related events culminating in some significant impact.
    • Example: If we allow gay marriage, soon people will want to marry animals.
  6. Circular Reasoning (Begging the Question): The argument’s conclusion is assumed in its premise.
    • Example: The Bible is true because it is the word of God, and we know God exists because the Bible says so.
  7. Hasty Generalization: Making a general statement based on a small or unrepresentative sample.
    • Example: My two friends who are doctors are arrogant, so all doctors must be arrogant.
  8. Red Herring: Introducing irrelevant material to the argument to distract and lead away from the point.
    • Example: Why worry about climate change when there are so many homeless people?
  9. Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc (False Cause): Assuming that because one event followed another, it was also caused by it.
    • Example: I wore my lucky socks, and we won the game, so the socks caused the win.
  10. Appeal to Authority: Asserting that a claim is true because an authority or expert makes it, without other supporting evidence.
    • Example: A famous actor says this diet is the best, so it must be true.
  11. Bandwagon (Appeal to Popularity): Arguing that something is true or right because it is popular.
    • Example: Everyone is buying this phone, so it must be the best one.
  12. Appeal to Emotion: Using emotional responses rather than valid logic to persuade.
    • Example: Think of the children! We must ban violent video games.
  13. Appeal to Tradition: Arguing that something is right because it has always been done that way.
    • Example: We should keep using typewriters because we’ve always used them.
  14. False Equivalence: Making a comparison between two things that are not truly comparable.
    • Example: Comparing apples and oranges when discussing their health benefits.
  15. Gambler’s Fallacy: Believing that past random events affect the probabilities in future random events.
    • Example: I’ve flipped heads five times in a row, so the next flip must be tails.
  16. Ad Populum (Appeal to Popularity): Claiming a statement is true because many people believe it.
    • Example: Most people believe in ghosts, so they must exist.
  17. Composition/Division Fallacy: Assuming what is true of the part is true for the whole (composition) or what is true of the whole is true for the parts (division).
    • Example (Composition): Each part of this machine is lightweight, so the machine must be lightweight.
    • Example (Division): The team is the best in the league, so each player must be the best in their position.
  18. No True Scotsman: Dismissing counterexamples to a universal claim by redefining the criteria for membership.
    • Example: No true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge. (Response: My uncle is Scottish and he puts sugar on his porridge.) No true Scotsman would do that.
  19. Equivocation: Using a word with multiple meanings ambiguously to make an argument.
    • Example: The sign said “fine for parking here,” so I parked because it was fine.
  20. Middle Ground: Assuming that the middle position between two extremes is correct because it is in the middle.
    • Example: Person A says vaccines are safe, Person B says vaccines are dangerous, so the truth must be somewhere in between.

Cognitive Biases Related to Fallacies

While not fallacies per se, cognitive biases can influence faulty reasoning:

  1. Confirmation Bias: Favoring information that confirms preexisting beliefs while disregarding contradictory evidence.
  2. Anchoring Bias: Relying too heavily on the first piece of information encountered (the “anchor”) when making decisions.
  3. Availability Heuristic: Overestimating the importance of information that is readily available or recent.
  4. Hindsight Bias: Believing, after an event has occurred, that one could have predicted the outcome.
  5. Self-Serving Bias: Attributing positive events to oneself and negative events to external factors.

Understanding and identifying these logical fallacies can help improve critical thinking skills and the quality of arguments.