CHAPTER 1


Bias is not the real problem: the dilemma is the stubborn belief 

that other people are biased while you, and those who agree with

you, are not

 

THE BIAS PUZZLE

Apple computer guru Steve Jobs (1955 - 2011) urged Stanford University graduates at his 2005 commencement speech not to be "trapped by dogma".  He went on to say that dogma – what this book includes as a bias – has the effect of "living with the results of other people's thinking."  

  

Jobs’s innovative mind had spotted a fresh way of looking at bias and dogma.  Bias is typically explained as forming an opinion before getting all the facts about other people in a way that is hurtful or unfair to others.  But Jobs was revealing that dogma and bias are also traps, or attitudes, which will negatively affect your own life.

 

This how-to book will build on Jobs’s insight.  Bias actually has three sides and each can yield undesirable effects: first is the bias about subjects we discuss on a regular basis – specific issues such as gender, race, the media, or the definition of intelligence.  This is typically the way the word bias is used as a noun.  Next, as highlighted by Jobs, is the effect bias can have on our imaginations, resourcefulness, and talents when we inadvertently “live with other people’s thinking.”  Finally, is the way biased, false, and misleading words can be used to purposely influence the thoughts and actions of others.  This is the way the word bias is used as a verb.  This book will inspect bias from all three perspectives as each one can produce detrimental effects.  Considered from this broader view the conventional approach to solving biased ideas requires a fresh look.  Rationality and empathy will be seen as just small parts of the solution.

 

Bias is inseparable from ideas about truth, how we form our beliefs, and the manner in which we construct our comfortable world-views.  Bias is a Puzzle with many faces, to be solved by creative and practical steps.  

 

YOU ARE BIASED; AND SO AM I

In order to sufficiently rouse you to look into this book a provocative title was selected.  It is not meant as an insult but as an unambiguous statement that we are all biased including me.  This is underscored by the statement highlighted below about my biases.

 

BIAS IN THIS BOOK:

This book will show everyone's thinking is inescapably shaped by Bias. So the slant of this book will lean towards my knowledge and beliefs, and hence my personal biases.

I'm sure you'll find statements in this book you think are biased.  Try not to let this distract you from the actual topic, which isn't my opinions, but a search for the biases in our lives and to present a system that attempts to get us closer to solving the Bias Puzzle.

It is impossible to be fully objective; but the important point is not to allow any biases that have insinuated themselves into this book to distract you from your own.

 

To further complicate the issue we can all appear to be biased because of a couple of very practical questions: how should the decision be made about what is considered to be a bias; and who shall we allow to resolve the problems that ensue?  While we may all agree in theory about clear-cut instances of bias, the solutions are often more controversial; and many other related biases can be easily hidden from view.  Based upon the current literature the present-day view is that most people lack the education, sense and sensitivity to conquer their biases.  It is therefore left to the more knowledgeable and sensitive members of society to make the decision for the rest of us.  Philosopher and author J.D. Trout in his book The Empathy Gap, discussing ways to control bias said, “Self-control doesn’t work.  We can only overcome our biases… by (government) policies that regulate our behavior from a distance and control our options”.  Also, social scientists in making judgments about human bias seem to believe they are immune from the problem.  They also rely on research which appears to demonstrate that regular folk have poorly functioning brains subject to instinctual errors.  These and other conundrums will be explored in this book.  

 

Bias is not just prejudiced speech about a particular type of person, but an

array of ideas about fairness, truth, relationships, and the desire to influence

 

BIAS REALLY IS A PUZZLE

What is fair?  How is tolerance measured? Is there a universal way to ensure justice? No matter how open-minded and objective you believe your opinion to be, there will almost certainly be another equally objective and honest person who will believe the exact opposite.  If you rely upon a current culturally inspired viewpoint you must believe that other groups in different places and earlier times were wrong; and that no new and improved insights about bias are possible in the future.  The Bias Puzzle becomes:  Is bias something fixed or is it more open to interpretation?   The key to this question lies in the reflexes that cause our biases which will be looked at later; but first some more about the puzzle itself.

 

Imagine trying to solve a Rubik's Cube® puzzle when the 54 (9 x 6) small squares comprise, not six, but a total of seven different colors. Without close inspection it may appear a solution can be found; but a closer examination will soon reveal that no amount of manipulation will produce all six sides with the same color. Or even more problematic, a cube can be “altered” and reassembled with six colors in such a way that it can never be solved.  We will be seeing in this book that eliminating bias, or even finding solutions to bias, can be like trying to solve an altered Rubik’s puzzle.   Some people will always be less than pleased; just as the sides of the altered cube will never be able to end up with a uniform color (see Figure 1 and note that rotating the nearest corner piece about any of the three ways will not produce a perfect solution).