Cognitive Bias

Recently, in my reading, I have come across the term “Cognitive Bias”, which is usually defined in the context of the material I happen to be reading at the time. I decided to Google It. When I read the Wikipedia on it, it started to dawn on me how pervasive it is.

Wikipedia listed three major categories: 1) Decision-making, belief and behavioral biases with 115 sub-categories (I may have miscounted), 2) Social biases with 28 sub-categories, and 3) Memory errors and biases with 50 sub-categories. That’s nearly 200 identified biases. Cognitive bias is an evolutionary phenomenon that makes it easier to make choices when there are multiple options. Often times it results in the right decision, but, this may be a little more random than we might like.

Cognitive Bias is only a problem if you are concerned with the relevance of observation or the importance of any decision based on observation. So, no big deal.

Virtually all sensory input is subject to some form of cognitive bias. The biases are not from the senses, but how the brain interprets and reacts to stimuli. The more I read about this, the bigger the can of worms became.  The occurrence and severity of cognitive bias can be reduced through training and exercise, but how likely is that to happen on a large scale? Our only real way of dealing with it is to be aware of it and think before we act.

I will explore some of the different biases in future posts.

Book Review

Nausea is a novel set around 1930 in a French coastal town. It was first published in France in 1938. It is about a young writer going through an existential crisis while writing a biography. The frame work is probably autobiographical. The setting of the story is largely immaterial. The story is about the crisis the writer went through over the span of a few weeks, and is told in the form of a diary. It could be set anyplace, anytime. This book is recognized as one of the two works that helped formulate the existentialist movement that had its beginnings after WWI. Sartre has a unique presentation style, making it an interesting read regardless of whether you agree with the philosophy or not. I highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to expand their thinking capabilities.

 

Happiness

We are all somewhat familiar with Socrates. I didn’t know one of his major focuses was happiness. I am quoting from an article at http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/socrates/

“Basically, Socrates is concerned to establish two main points: 1) happiness is what all people desire: since it is always the end (goal) of our activities, it is an unconditional good, 2) happiness does not depend on external things, but rather on how those things are used. A wise person will use money in the right way in order to make his life better; an ignorant person will be wasteful and use money poorly, ending up even worse than before. Hence we cannot say that money by itself will make one happy. Money is a conditional good, only good when it is in the hands of a wise person. This same argument can be redeployed for any external good: any possessions, any qualities, even good looks or abilities. A handsome person, for example, can become vain and manipulative and hence misuse his physical gifts. Similarly, an intelligent person can be an even worse criminal than an unintelligent one.”
This was as insightful 2400 years ago as it is today.

Compressed Morbidity

The compression of morbidity is a hypothesis put forth by James Fries, professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine. Fries’ hypothesis is that the burden of lifetime illness may be compressed in to a shorter period before the time of death, if the age of the first chronic infirmity can be postponed. (Wikipedia). In this sense, I would define morbidity as the time an individual can’t live independently, as opposed to choosing to not live independently.

The studies I have read support the fact that the onset of morbidity can be delayed through lifestyle choices. In addition, studies have shown those in care facilities have a significantly longer lifespan if they are not burdened by having had a significant event such as a broken bone or major illness.

The point of me bringing this up is to emphasize the importance of: exercise, good nutrition, and reduced stress in our lives, all of which we know can delay that first significant event. We all know we can do better than we are, there is always room for improvement. To do less than our best is to capitulate. I’m in this for the long game. There is one national restaurant chain, that I know of, that offers a 100% discount to customers over 90. I am looking forward to being a real pain in their ass.

Book Reviews

Today, I am reviewing two books. I think their subject matter is complementary. They are Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts by Annie Dukes and Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy by Robert Frank. These two books look at the phenomenon of luck and randomness in our lives and how to put it into perspective, overcome cognitive bias, and make good decisions despite bad outcomes. Few people realize how much luck and randomness influence the course of our lives and the role cognitive bias plays. In some cases, without the bias to minimizing the role of luck in our lives, people who spend a lifetime working hard to succeed might reduce their effort and become less successful. Hard work and superior intelligence are required to be among the front runners. It is at this point luck or randomness can have a significant role in choosing among the essentially equal competitors. Cognitive bias can also play a negative role in our decision process. Both books are relatively short, and I think are well worth the time to read. As an added “bonus”, Mr. Frank includes a plan for tax reform, based on a slightly unique concept, in the last part of his book. I think the plan has merit, but I question putting it in a book about luck, but then who would buy a book about tax theory? He’s just trying to get as much exposure for the plan as possible. The book by Annie Dukes has some interesting anecdotes in it from her career as a professional gambler.

I selected Thinking in Bets based on another glowing review I read and ended up popping for $19 because my library and its online resource partner didn’t have it. As “luck” would have it, I picked the other book by its cover while looking for another book at my local library. The fact I read either of the books was based on random events, this time with good outcomes.

Early Experience with Slow Cooker

I recently purchased my first slow cooker. As part of this blog, I have planned to publish a mini cookbook based on what I believe is a nutritious, easy to prepare diet. I have made several attempts to produce a meal in line with that. I have nothing that I feel worthy of inclusion. Creating a cookbook has some unanticipated problems. What do I do with the food? I want to explore many recipes, but with only one person eating, I already have a backlog in my refrigerator and freezer. I must change my eating habits in an attempt to keep up. The tightwad in me won’t let me throw it out, although one batch did go down the disposal because even I wouldn’t eat it. Cooking in a slow cooker takes a whole new mindset. I have always considered myself a good cook with few failures (more about cognitive bias another day), but slow cooking is a new challenge. I have $17 invested in the slow cooker. I will forge ahead. I will produce a cookbook. It just may take a little longer than I first estimated. Please be patient.

EGO

“Whenever I climb I am followed by a dog called ‘Ego'”- Friedrich Nietzsche

Ego is (in my opinion) a major economic force. Our desire to dress better, drive a better car, live in a bigger home, etc., can bleed off a huge portion of our income. I am guilty of this, just not as bad as some because my income is closer to my basic needs. I have overcome some of it and you can too. I drive an older car, but I have had many new vehicles in my life and their specialness wears off after a few months, then they become just transportation. Why not start with just transportation? Yes, they may need more service, but you will “earn”  $1,000 per hour for the inconvenience. Think of a trip to the shop as an opportunity. Do you need that bigger house? Or are you just trying to outshine your cousin? Wouldn’t you rather take a trip to hike the Grand Canyon or retire a few months earlier? You will always have the memories, but someday you will move out of the house and it will be out of your life. All this excess consumption is what keeps our economy going. Think what would happen if everybody cut back? Better that you do it quietly and have the pride of knowing you are in the lead in the real game. Its your life. Only you are responsible for the outcome.