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We See What We Want To See

Speaking of biases, I loved this example from (Firestarters speaker) Tim Harford of our delusions of objectivity and how this shapes what we see:

'“Have you ever noticed when you’re driving,” the comedian George Carlin commented, “that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”

True enough. But when you think for a moment about Carlin’s quip, how could it be otherwise? You’ve made a decision about the appropriate speed for the driving conditions, so by definition everybody else is driving at a speed that you regard as inappropriate.

If I am driving at 70 and pass a car doing 60, perhaps my view should be, “Hmm, the average opinion on this road is that the right speed is 65.” Almost nobody actually thinks like this, however.'

It's very true that we tend to focus on the perceived bias of others and ignore those that we might be susceptible to ourselves. This 'naive realism' (a phrase that comes from a new book from Stanford University psychologist Lee Ross called The Wisest One in the Room) leads us into the seductive and powerful delusion that we're seeing the world as it truly is and people with opposing views are somehow mistaken or fooled, rather than thinking that we could be the ones to learn something. The illusion of objectivity is a powerful one to overcome but can be a real barrier to learning and I think we'd do well to remember that.

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