The notable historian Richard Carrier is my Facebook friend. He posts infrequently but his posts never fail to meet the astute qualification. In this light, and with much due respect and admiration, I feel quite obliged to say to Mr. Carrier “Fuck You”, soundly and resoundingly.
I am not angry with him, far from it. I am saying it to him as I would to a real life friend; one who had told me something that I perhaps did not heed and later proved to be true. A kind of “That girl is not good for you Dave”, and in the aftermath the look I get from that same friend is so deep the words “I told you so” never need be spoken and they get a “Fuck You” in response.
In other words he is absolutely qualitatively right and I am completely fucking wrong. So Richard, if you actually see this, “Thanks for the epiphany and Fuck ye kindly”. I do wonder if, in his own mind, the ripples of what he illustrated to me in his post are reverberating as they are in my own mind, as we are quite different humans.
Richard shared on Facebook a post about the brain and Cognitive Bias, a short bit about the backwards bike and deeply grooved neural pathways. In it the engineer attempts to ride a backwards bike and fails spectacularly. However, the engineer can’t ride the backwards bike because he knows how to ride a normal bike and has a cognitive bias for that, thus it take 8 months of practice for him to learn to do it. Afterwards he cannot ride a regular bike. The engineer goes on to discover how much faster his son learns, showing much greater neuroplasticity in the young.
None of the latter part of the film even registered to me the first time through, so deep was my personal epiphany. The simple experiment had proven that the well-worn grooves in the brain from a strong algorithm forced the brain to cognate in a certain way, he could not make himself think differently. He was quite stuck, his brain was locked into thinking in only this pattern from long use and it took concerted, consistent effort on the engineer’s part to attempt to overcome this, and in the end he did not overcome the cognitive bias, he replaced it with another.
And the light bulb turned on.
I have a strong philosophic bent to my mind and thinking, I have always had such. I like to discuss religion and philosophy and quite often find myself face to face with people whose beliefs simply cannot hold water in the philosophic sense. Often it is difficult or impossible to show such people this, something I have long assumed to be from indoctrination, or an unwillingness to attempt to grasp a differing idea, something I have worked most of my life to develop. Richard’s big “Fuck you” was telling me how very wrong I might well be in such an assumption.
Richard’s post showed me that it might not be fear, it might not be indoctrination, it might not be the teachings of some church or pastor and peoples unwillingness to change from that world view. According to the science I was looking at, it might just be their brains. It might be as simple as a well grooved neural pathway which the brain is simply accustomed to using in order to interpret data.
If the latter is true, if the cognitive bias seen in some religious folks is as deep as the one seen in bike riding then it is very possible that they, like the engineer, may be quite unable to look at the world in any other way. If the latter is true then people so ingrained in their belief may need to make a concerted effort to change their view over a long period of time to effect any change at all and then there may not be any easy way to ever go back to the old way of thinking.
It is therefore quite possible that the only reason I am able to cognate as I am is because I made a consistent effort over long years to learn religions and philosophies, to learn new ideas on such topics and refrain from outright believing any of them, leaving the doors open as possibilities not proved. I heard the thunder of the dominoes falling in my mind.
Exactly how many things does such a premise explain? Fundamentalists will deny facts in their very faces in favor of their beliefs, something I have always found baffling, causing me to postulate why they would do that. What if they cannot, not won’t, not do not want to, not they find it threatening to their world view. What if they CAN NOT DO IT, like riding the backwards bike? Suddenly the ability of people to be so nasty, so violent, so demeaning of others and so quick and easy to mistreat others not of their paradigm made sense. It did not make it moral or ethical, but it made sense.
‘Raise up a child in the ways of the lord and he will not part from it”, and I have chills at the thought. Religious thinking, by its very nature, might well be disabling the very brains of my fellow humans. Not their minds, not their thinking or their ethics, morals or ideas, their brains themselves. Religion, in particular fundamentalist religion with the strict dogmatic thinking involved, might well be causing such a deep form of cognitive bias that it is virtually inescapable. It might actually be causing a type of brain damage, not physical in and of itself, but physical in the nature of actual grooves and neural pathways worn by use to the point that the person cannot use other pathways.
As I sat back and dwelled upon this idea, the second wave hit me. Was I also a victim of such a cognitive bias? How could I ever know, inside such a thing you cannot see outside of it. Since I do not subscribe to any belief my instinctive response is a visceral no, but then is that not also a form of cognitive bias in its own way? Granted I was not force fed it by Dogma, granted it is more open minded, more compassionate of others than most religious thinking, however I find it impossible to simply set aside. Is that not the definition of a bias?
Online I often debate with theists or post against extreme views on this or that. I often say, “I am not posting for the other side, to a mind not interested in a differing opinion. I am posting for the lurker, who has questions about such an issue but fears to ask it, who fears public outcry or ridicule. If I, by commenting, can help such people to see there is more than one way to look at a problem, then they may see that and broaden their horizons.”
The science is telling me I must have a bias, of some sort. Philosophy tells me to seek to rid myself of them. The only happy medium I can see is to try not to have bias, realize we all have bias and to strive to make our bias as unbiased as possible as regards religion and philosophy.
Prior to this I had seen Cognitive Bias as a process of mind, now I see it as a function of the brain. The one is not so hard to change, difficult but possible. The other is quite difficult, impossible, or perhaps only able to be replaced with another bias. So fuck you Richard Carrier, now I have a fucking headache.