Confirmation Bias – Part I of IV

Cluelessness by Choice and Design

By Jorge D. H. Prósperi 2019

“One of the grand riddles of modernity . . . in part . . . is how do you bring together the preoccupation with critical intelligence that is willing to raise the most fundamental questions about what it means to be human . . . and on the other hand keep the compassion flowing and the love in our heart . . . and I . . . must say I found it in John Coltrane. A Love Supreme . . . that questions deep down . . . pushes himself and therefore each of us to the edge of life’s abyss and embodies what education is fundamentally all about . . . which is that passion of the mind to know the world before we die . . . to know a little bit enough so that we can pass it on to the next generation given our inevitable and inescapable extinction waiting for each and every one of us.” Cornel West – Keynote Speaker
“Journey to Spirit: Solidarity and Voice Through Dialogue”
10th Annual NAIS People of Color Conference St. Louis, Missouri 12/3-6/1997

The pursuit of knowledge is also the pursuit of language in order to unravel meaning and reasoning. LANGUAGE MATTERS and therefore let’s begin this treatise on Confirmation Bias with language.

Confirmation is said to mean corroboration, affirmation, verification, proof, testimony, endorsement, authentication, substantiation, justification, evidence, validation, accreditation . . . we get the point.

A Bias is a prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, in a way considered to be one-sided, unfair, partisan, prejudiced, partial, absolute thinking, closed-minded, discriminatory, intolerant, parti pri (preconceived). Again we get it! Or do we?!

Confirmation Bias” – the two words combined seem to be at odds. One moving towards wanting to know with accuracy and veracity – the other putting the brakes on knowing by way of predispositions, echo chambers, silos and tunnel vision – trap doors. 

Let’s be unequivocally clear and real from the onset . . . Confirmation Bias is NON-PARTISAN

It is not Conservative, Liberal, Libertarian or Moderate. It does not live only within the catacombs of MSNBC or Fox News. “Confirmation Bias” is a construct with a pathology that infects an individual and/or institution – from citizenship to presidency . . . and now . . . the disease is ever present and airborne.

So what is Confirmation Bias? It is a process that most of us at one point in our lives deal with during pre-post puberty years when we are neither fish nor fowl – not a child – yet not an adult. Having been on earth for some 8 to 10 years, children echo innocent ignorance due to a lack of knowledge declaring rumors, gossip, misinformation and hearsay as it were gospel. We grow into adolescent years echoing hearsay.

Conscious consciousness, veracity and wisdom are not said to be attributes of infants and elementary school children. Some would argue that maturity escapes even teenage years. As parent(s) and teachers we continually repeat directions, instructions, reminders, constantly guiding and mentoring in order to reinforce, clarify, define and reason. Gosh we try!

As a matter of fact, the younger we are, the more prone we are to assert absolute thinking given our lack of experiences, education and accumulated knowledge with Open Mindedness seldom an option. Youngsters often tend to make their case in absolute terms.

Consider the pre-schooler, kindergartener, elementary and middle school student rushing to absolute opinions about the world and its inhabitants. Oh the number of times that they echo, “I know, I know! – Why? . . . because I heard it during recess from Tommy, Linda and Adam!” Case closed . . . it must be so!

As we develop into mature adults and citizens, we tend to want to identify knowledge that is credible and trustworthy based on a multitude of sources that can determine degrees of veracity and validation. We pause with patience in order to approach trusted processes that can lead to veracity. We continue the investigative journey in order to gather more information – comparing, contrasting, listening with open minds. We try to think outside of established echo chambers.”

Or do we just say, “I know, I know! Why? because it was on Facebook!” Case closed . . . it must be so!

To what extent has Social Media replaced Critical Thinking?

Has Social Media become the norm used by citizens in order to become informed in 2019? To what degree has reasoning, pursuit of the truth been kidnapped and sabotaged by social media platforms? To what extent have such platforms encouraged critical analysis of its site and that of others? To what degree have such sites become echo chambers echoing the same message to cloned disciples and apostles only wanting confirmation of their thinking and worse . . . affirming predisposition, biases, social -isms and phobias?

To enter an “echo chamber” is a matter of choice – nudged by our established predispositions, -isms and phobias. What causes us to choose a “Right is right and we are always right!” echo chamber – with emphasis on absolute RIGHTEOUSNESS and absolute WE?

Despite the emergence of new devices and software products designed to unite employees and have them collaborate in more creative and imaginative ways than ever before, the threat of organizational silos and echo chambers is still very real. In fact, a recent survey from My shows that 40 percent of company employees report that they aren’t adequately supported by their colleagues because “different departments have their own agendas.”

In other words, departments and employees comfortably living in their segmented boxes, cubicles and towers. Isolated departments living within isolated institutions . . . all professing at the same time a vision, mission and guiding principles that ironically promote and herald creative/imaginative collaboration, transparency, inclusivity, diversity and change . . . CHANGE – ah there is the rub and paradox.

While institutions profess interdisciplinary and departmental collaboration and transparency in order to promote innovation – the reality is that fear of CHANGE is the invisible wall that ultimately leads to isolation, of not only individuals and departments, but ideas left on the vine to die . . . eventually falling on concrete rather than fertile soil. Innovation therefore dies before it even has an opportunity to blossom.

Creativity, imagination and thinking outside of institutional boxes can be met with . . . “No new news is good news – keep your ideas, creativity and imagination to yourself!” So much for all those company posters of eagles soaring against a Nevada sunset depicting creativity, imagination, motivation and personal growth.

Noted innovation consultant Alistair Brett says “People tend to talk to themselves, or to people who already share their ideas. When people (and organizations) start operating in echo chambers, things start to get a bit ‘linear’ (as several analyses of social media interactions in the US Presidential Elections have shown). Brett talks about how, “not being open to other opinions and ideas creates an innovation echo chamber eventually stifling good innovations.”

I would take it a step further and argue that Organizational Echo Chambers in socio-cultural-political environments, can directly influence dispositions and opinions, particularly when the “communal message” is delivered by a power source and/or center insisting on “echoing” established talking points without consensus, collaborative thinking, options and choices. Some would call this the safe-blind loyalty up-blind loyalty down company line – the real mission statement behind the marketed one.

Echo Chambers promote institutional sterility depriving individuals of critical thinking skills, research-based knowledge, pro-active ongoing analysis of the amplification and authentication of the vision, mission and guiding principles . . . left unattended and scrutinized . . . it turns principles into lifeless dogma – be it an institution . . . or our nation . . . our Constitution!

While it may feel safe and comfortable to live in Echo Chambers surrounded by similar perspectives and opinions, the cost comes at the price of denying personal and institutional growth . . . be it a corporation, institution, citizenship . . . our REPUBLIC.

Echo Chambers in the 21st century have been politically weaponized and have become highly sophisticated. 21st Century Echo Chambers are hot wired to discourage open public discourse, debate and assembly. The Echo Chamber networks are made available by cable outlets focused on contrived daily “echo talking points” . . . created to stifle pursuit of the truth rather than encourage it.

To dare to stray outside the chambers and silos is to risk excommunication from the infamous “base.” Blind allegiance to the base is the ordained “holier-than-thou” eleventh commandment – with the caveat of “Our way or the highway! With no layovers in purgatory! If you don’t like what we preach . . . go back where you came from!”

Echo Chambers tend to be vertical with talking points repeated ad nauseam in order to imprint language and thereby reinforce beliefs, opinions and advocacies. Another term associated with Echo Chamber is Tunnel Vision – one ever reinforcing the other.

Tunnel Vision is a medical term that occurs when our eyes begin to lose acuity, depth of field and ability to see peripherally. It literally limits what we see and therefore the preciseness of our visual reality.

Tunnel vision is also used as a metaphor to describe the reluctance to consider alternative perspectives, different thoughts, views and/or established facts. The tunnel restricts the vista of what is outside of the bricks and mortar of the tunnel. The tunnel limits our vision of what surrounds us – limits our perspective rather than the proliferation of connected realities.

A musician described “confirmation bias” as listening to an ELO album in mono rather than surround sound . . . the spaceship landing flat rather than hovering over us . . . 🎶“Oh, I’m never gonna be the same again . . .
Now I’ve seen the way it’s got to end . . . Sweet dream, sweet dream . . . that Strange Magic . . .
🎶 of the mind, heart and soul . . . ever present . . . ever beckoning to hear each note among sweet, sweet harmony.

Yes, I digress . . . intentionally . . . un-confirmationally . . .

Tunnels provide single lens binocular vision – prevent us from seeing the world through a fish-eye lens. Leaving us to ask, what am I missing?”

At this point questions beg to be asked:

How much of this world do we want to really see in High Definition, without blinders, without superimposed social cataracts, without entering chambers, silos and tunnels? Can we stand the acuity?

Is it just more comfortable, safer, easier to limit knowledge that may get in the way of our socio-cultural-political constructed biases, prejudices -isms and phobias?

Is it just too damn hard to pause to do some soul-searching – introspection regarding how we have come to believe what we believe and why?

How do isolated, confirmed biases, -isms and phobias impact our citizenship . . . the way we feel, think and treat each other as fellow citizens?

Has the old adage “ignorance is bliss” returned in the 21st century as segments of our population yearn to tune out – avoid – deflect – deny – return to those oldies but goodies days . . . listening to echos of confirmation that numb the mind and plague the soul.

End of Part I – Go to Part II