Cognitive Bias and The New Orthodoxy

So this week, Cognitive Bias and The New Orthodoxy.

We’ve touched on the concept of cognitive dissonance in an earlier episode.
The psychological discomfort we experience when we are required to entertain conflicting beliefs or information.

Another example – an image I have, in my head
is of a glass bridge, or a glass walkway,
in China I believe.

So you come to this walkway,
And you can see for miles as you begin to get closer to some cliff top edge.
And at the edge you can see for miles.
And you make your way around this pillar of rock, this geological formation, a stack,
it must be a hundred meters high.
Formed by the powers of erosion, of water and wind carving away at the environment here.
Certain death…
And this is a glass walkway all of the way around, over a huge drop,
cantilevered out over nothing, nothing under you but glass.
and the glass, it cracks under foot. Under your weight.

I’ll leave you to imagine the images.
There are people sprawling out.
And my heart goes off on one just thinking about it…
and you too I guess.

That’s the strength
of what we are talking about here.
This is what happens – psychological stress,
An illustration maybe, of an extreme case of cognitive dissonance…

So you might be saying hey that’s fear, that’s instinct!
We know we jump out of our skins, when we’re surprised
– so what?.
Why go any further?

Then I have to ask, Is that “we know” like we all know what matter is, I mean what makes up the universe for example…
Or Brexit..?

And my point is we need to change things up.
And to do that we have to look beyond the label.
Call something instinct and instantly we all know what that means.
Its a shorthand, a heuristic.
We understand the orthodoxy.
It means we have no more need to discuss this stuff.
But is that true?
Let’s take a look.

First then,
where do those instincts come from?
What are they…
Common sense?
We’re born with them?
Well, what if those instincts, or what we call instincts,
Are things we make up?

Glass breaks, right?
We all know glass can’t be trusted.
One minute it’s fully functional, doing what it should,
The next, ping!
And wine all over the carpet…

So are we born with that belief?
Are we talking deep rooted, neurological and psychological changes,
fixed in a primal heritable memory…
The result of gene-environment interaction over millions of years?
We could go to geology maybe to illustrate how these instincts get laid down as we evolve.

But we need to heed Robert Sapolsky, who shows
that if we want to predict human behaviour,
we need to understand our entire evolutionary history.
And where we went to school, and the last time we ate, and what we ate…
And the million other environmental factors acting on us right now too.

Glass, the meme, the archetype, we learn it, and it gets stored in our minds, as part of a belief system.
It has its properties.
It’s transparent, cold, and its useful but it’s brittle,
And we learn its behaviours,
Here are two common states that we are aware of…
The first is benign enough, providing us with glazing, and drinking glasses and food containers.
The second tho’ is sharp, unpredictable, dangerous.
And glass can switch,
without warning it switched from a state of dependable permanence,
to a state of chaotic threat
in a moment.
And its alarming…
Glass in this state fires our flight or fight response.
We will in an instant ramp up the adrenaline and the cortisol hormones.

The glass used for the floor of that Chinese walkway isn’t cracking by the way,
in case it has passed you by.
They have become a bit of a thing now these terrifying glass bridges and walkways,
over the grand canyon, over cliffs and drops worldwide,
and the highest one
Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon
did get shut, yes!
But only because it was getting 8000 visitors a day.
And it was designed for 800…
Not because it was broken!

The glass floor in the walkway I’m talking about is designed to look like its cracking when you step on it…
And of course, everyone knows that its going to do it.
The people have been forearmed with the knowledge.
The pieces of the jigsaw do fall into place
and they find their way through extreme cognitive dissonance,
probably each to a different pathways.

But the second thing that strikes me about this
is how surely it shows the power of the cultural environment that surrounds this whole thing.
It shows the power of what we know to control what we think.
And ultimately to control what we do…

Essentially through our conscious mind we are able to entertain a conflicting version of glass.
This is the version that exists within the world of technology, the world of science and engineering.
The glass that can be seen towering into the sky, as floor over floor of high rise construction.
This glass is tough, unbreakable, self – cleaning, dependable.
This is glass for the New World.

And whilst the familiar glass beneath our feet begins to signal its failure…
to all intents and purposes telling us that we will plunge to our deaths…
Whilst everything our natural warning signs are telling us, to stop!
We are able to put our trust in the technical miracle of our engineers and scientists,
the architects and technology.
And to continue on our path.

I wasn’t expecting that to turn out like that but hey…
Can’t really fail to see an environmental parallel there…
A planet burning up,
All the warning signs ignored,
and maybe at the heart of that?
Blind faith in the power of technology to save us…

Look, we are familiar with these tensions,
familiar with psychological stress.
With dissonance.
We constantly have a mode of conservative, or protective,
or possibly defensive expression functioning in constant tension
and in constant balance with a creative, explorer mode.
That’s for example,

We have both.
And we can understand how this kind of behaviour has been selected for.
Species need to find new niches, new opportunity. They need to find new ways to survive if they are successful.
And on the other hand though a species can be expected to thrive only if some kind of brake is applied to that.
This is a high risk versus low risk strategy game,
and both get played out.
And we can understand the rapid switch of state –
glass breaks, entropy ensues, the locust emerges…
Sometimes these forces balance, sometimes they switch.
Just another mechanism in the mosaic of evolutionary drivers.

Here we go…
COW – the podcast
but this episode is about cognitive bias,
and about the new orthodoxy.
It is about our beliefs, our go to behaviours
and the New Orthodoxy,
that’s the framework within which our beliefs are formed.

Look, I’m calling the shortcuts, the heuristics, our beliefs, our belief systems
I’m calling them cognitive biases…
To clarify

Through the looking glass… to paraphrase WIKIPEDIA, the orthodox definition.

Cognitive bias is a systematic pattern of deviation in judgement.
The deviation being either from norm, or from rationality.
These deviations flow from a subjectively created “narrative” that is based on perceived input.
and become core in defining behaviour.

They may

sometimes lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgement, illogical interpretation, or what is broadly called irrationality.

and Wikipedia goes on to say that

Cognitive bias appears in many forms.
Some, are adaptive.
As information is gained they change,
and in a given context, they can lead to more effective actions.
Heuristics, for example, are a less maligned counterpart and they enable faster decision-making.
If timeliness is more valuable than accuracy then that is a no lose situation.
Others it says, are a “by-product” of human brain power,
such as in bounded rationality
where we don’t possess the necessary mental mechanism
or computing power
to handle the problem at hand, and so,
we reach for something we know.

There have been 6 decades of research on these different forms of bias and the list continues to grow.

Before we have a look at some of them you might want to point out that for something to be a cognitive bias then it must be deviant…
from a norm, or from rationality.
It is something that can only be expressed through patterns of bad decision making.
Ok, by definition, as of Wikipedia, that’s what is says.
But maybe we should unpack this a little bit…
Ask a few questions…

We can ask, so what’s rational?
And we can ask, what’s the norm?
So when did consensus became a measure of truth?
When did democracy get promoted?

Look, without doubt the definition of cognitive bias
as a systemic pattern of deviant decision making
in relation to rationality and normality, this works,
on many levels.
I think its primary usefulness is as a means of discovery.
We can see where decisions are going wrong and work out what’s behind it.
From that we can spot a range of obvious or easily identifiable traits.
But where the discovery leads from there
is to sign an underlying process.

And yeah.
There are all sorts of conclusions we can take from that analogy.
And questions we can apply to this process.

First… asking where we get our knowledge from?
and can that process be trusted?
Then its questioning our own abilities
to recognise warning signs.
And if we recognise them,
Should we trust them?
How do we decide which are the relevant belief for the conditions.
And how do we adapt if we need to?

And once the subjective concepts of norm and rationality are removed from the definition
we can begin to see how the theory can be applied to non deviant patterns of behaviour,
and to fundamental beliefs.

Let’s look at the glass walkway again.
It would be rational decision to believe that the walkway is safe, and to decide to use this on a daily basis.
maybe as a maintenance engineer.
This would be the norm,
and it would be cognitive bias,
an irrational fear of heights, for example that would keep you from it,
the deviant decision.

But what if the underlying beliefs change?
And the glass does break?
Where is the norm now?
Where’s the rational decision?
Where does a bias start and a belief begin?

For me, the distinction between cognitive bias and belief is thin.
It is useful to separate the underlying beliefs, and biases from the process it self.
And it is useful in the same way, to use the phrases interchangeably
in relation to societal norms, and rational thought,
and to point out, that what we know,
should be subject to the same analysis.

It is my point that our subjective cognition, our perceptions,
and its emergent narrative, our belief system,
are fundamental to reality and to the decisions we make.
We can not have belief without bias.
And whilst we survive and thrive on our decisions,
these can be recognised as just a simple layer of veneer, that can be changed,
re-understood, or re-told.
The narrative can be re-mapped.

The same gene, for example that is responsible for the colour of a flowering plant will tell it red, or blue.
And how the flower does bloom will be down to where the plant lives.
It responds to its environment, to the soil to which it belongs,
to its culture,
it’s society.
Like the terroir, of the french vineyard.

So how great is this cultural effect?
How much say does society have in forming our beliefs,
in shaping our responses?
How far does our underlying structural nature extend into the social and cultural world we inhabit?
How far are we defined by what we are told, and what we hear?
And how do we change it?

Because this, to me is the new orthodoxy?

the New Orthodoxy is simply the system by which our beliefs, and behaviours are modified,
and within which they are embodied.
It is layer, upon layer of social and cultural institution,
It is the herding process made large
Its the hierarchy defined,
It’s pecking order, and organisation.
and mating ritual and sexual display…
its altruism, tribalism, spiritualism
And it is all boxed up for us, and sold back to us.

And its effects can be measured and its foundations traced.
And it can be recognised exhibiting the same processes of evolution,
and expressing the same behaviours
and the same belief structure that we can recognise in ourselves.

As we discussed earlier,
Beliefs and Biases,
the feedback loop
that incorporates both society and the individual…
for evolutionary purposes.

Its that simple…

American, Jordan Green, of Deep Code, talks of the Blue Church

the Blue Church is a kind of narrative / ideology control structure that is a natural result of mass media. It is an evolved (rather than designed) function that has come over the past half-century to be deeply connected with the Democratic political “Establishment” and lightly connected with the “Deep State” to form an effective political and dominant cultural force in the United States.

The blue church and the red religion are at war in the US.
And it begins to spread but…

The blue church has its mechanism,
the mass media…
and The new orthodoxy shares the same processes,
of social and individual interaction,

But the new orthodoxy is about fundamental belief systems,
about every decision
whether it is considered within the norm,
or considered rational.
Whilst they remain within the boundary walls of the new orthodoxy…
they are decisions that might
to acknowledge deep code again,
benefit from more critical analysis,
From “going deep”…
And this is work we all need to be conscious of.
And at the top of the pile, mass media…

Look, Here’s something for you… a list,
of 7 people. A short bio, and the newspapers they own in the UK.
We have

1. Jonathan Harmsworth, is 4th Viscount Rothermere.
He is 51,
a friend of David Cameron,
and inherited control of DMG, a media conglomerate founded in 1905.
DMG includes the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday and the Metro.
He claims non-dom residence, for himself and his businesses through a complex structure of offshore holdings and trusts
He has admitted that

“Over the years, [he] has been leant on by more than one prime minister to remove [his] editors but, as he told Lord Justice Leveson on oath, he does not interfere with the editorial policies of his papers”

2. The Lebedev tycoons,
former KGB agent Alexander
and his socialite son Evgeny,
They rub shoulders with presidents and supermodels.
They own The Independent, Independent on Sunday, The Evening Standard

3. Richard Desmond,
he owns the Daily Star, the Sunday Star,
the Daily Express, the Sunday Express and OK.
He has had alleged run-ins with the Mafia in the US.
His concerns include pornography

4. David and Frederick Barclay, twins.
They live on a private island in The Channel Islands,
Their businesses controlled through offshore trusts
include the Telegraph, The Spectator, and the Business.

5. Rupert Murdoch, Australian, owns the Sun, the Sun on Sunday and is the man behind Fox News, BSkyB, News Corp, etc, etc.
And lest we forget was head of the corporation responsible for the Millie Dowler phone hacking affair.

And now you can’t say you didn’t know…

Hey, I’m always conscious
that as any discussion starts to move towards political boundaries, or
as I’ve now come to understand it,
starts to move out of the boundaries of the new orthodoxy,
as it asks us to take a step back
and view anew, the world we live in
there is an almost instinctive reaction,
there’s a gut reaction,
to shout Conspiracy theory…
and the words seem to hold a magical ability,
turning minds off,
sending people scurrying off to hide under the nearest log,
Fingers in their ears.
Shutting down the conversation…

“Hey, how is the weather where you are?”
It’s been getting real cold here…
Winter setting itself in
Leaves are fallen,
but we still haven’t had any decent frost here…
Seems winter is getting later…
Let me know in the comments,
How’s it going for you?


People don’t like to step outside of the comfort zone.
And the comfort zone?
The herd mentality is deeply small c conservative, .

Maybe this is me being UK centric, talking about the weather but keep an eye out for it…
Or watch people struggling with the dissonance in other ways if you bring this stuff up.

Look, how many times does that tactic get used?
We’re talking about a natural system here.
And if only to avoid using the term meme
we are talking about a fully evolved and evolving social phenotype,
a working expression of our genetic make up
This is nothing uncanny… no conspi…
Look, if you’ve made it this far,
But we’ve illustrated how the loop works, No?

And what do you think is the effect,
of constant distraction from a subject,
of constantly being shut down,
and of being prevented from any discussion of new ideas.

So I’m going to leave that list where it is,
if those people weren’t there someone else would be thrown up out of the masses to take their place.
I’m more concerned that we get aware of the whole damn system.

Out of the shifting sands of philosophical thought,
the rationalism of the Enlightenment,
and its celebration of reason,
or the romantic Modernist rejection,
of the world of the industrial revolution,
emerges a fragmented post modernism.
A world of relative realities,
and subjective truths.
A world in which the Grand Narratives of the past,
have been consistently,
and are still continuously being eroded.

And to see The New Orthodoxy, is to see what this world looks like.

The Post-structuralists, such as Baudrillard argue there is no absolute truth that we can have access to.
Of course there is a way that things are, out there, a reality
but all that we can have
is a set of cultural and social constructions that describe that world.
Truth is a constantly redefined narrative.
Underlying this is the belief that if you can fragment the grand narrative and
show it then
to be only one of many narratives
and show that it has flourished at the expense of humanity
then that may be the best chance we have to try and make life better for everyone.

These are narratives formed, evolved,
They are a hard baked expression of millennia.
These are the ideas that people gather around…
the abstract truths, the ideologies,
shared cultural experiences,
defined tribal boundaries
That create belonging, meaning.

The grand narratives of belonging
and purpose are exploded
so that the very sense of who we are, becomes undermined.

In search of freedom, stability is threatened…

Jean Baudrillard made a case that this was already happening. in the 1980’s
The Matrix movie is based on it.

He asked What if we live in a world that we accept as reality,
that is really preventing us from seeing it as it actually is?

What if our simulation, as in the Matrix, is all around us?

Baudrillard extended a version of the world as being seen through a lens
to include the complex semiotic network of signs and symbols,
being fed them by media, and the people around them.

This system, as we have seen
slowly evolved,
art imitating life, and life imitating art, ad infinitum
from something representing reality,
to then a media created copy of reality
and then with ever more facsimile
it has become distanced and disconnected
from a historically human
and relevant biological narrative
to be expressed through consumerism.
We are now so far removed from reality as to be only concerned with the value of the copy
and not the original.

We’ve seen the importance of self expression.
Again, from our biological perspective,
it can be see to be fundamental to a healthy existence.
so it is not so difficult to understand that
The more fragmented our sense of self
the more need there is for an externalised version of expression.

Now, If the only thing that the vast majority of people will ever care about, or see,
is the simulation,
then self must be expressed through the simulation.

And what ironically is the simulation telling us…
What is mass media replacing our traditional grand narrative with?

Baudrillard looks to consumerism.
Showing how buying stuff becomes one of the only ways to express who we are…
Showing a bombardment of visual memes and archetypes which we faithfully take to heart
and which we copy in order to find belonging and meaning.
We understand our narrative by comparison with what we consume as media.
Expressing our selves through the signs and messages of consumer icons
that we are constantly spoon fed,
a diet of the next thing we must buy
and what it will mean once we’ve bought it.

We work at a job
to make money to buy things
to express who we are
based on rules the media sets out for us,
We are conditioned by and wilfully complicit in
a system that feeds us everyday
and keeps us blind.
Destined to a life of having conversations about surface level politics
or economics
whilst watching the world pass us by.

Society is fragmented,
disconnected from the traditional human habitat.
And in many species this would be an alarming step on the road to extinction.
A species must adapt to thrive.
It is to humanity’s advantage that it can adapt quickly,
and that it has done so.

Which way turns the road again
or have we reached the end?

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