Reality is a Game

Game thinking from Adam Clare

Tag: critical thinking

Short Cuts in Thinking: “Cognitive Laziness”

Cleverbot
Thinking is hard.

Humans are brilliant pattern recognition machines and we love it when things fit into pre-ordered patterns rather than having to take the time to figure our new ones. Fair enough. This does, however, leave us with a side effect when dealing with abstract and not-entirely-obvious problems that we must grabble.

As a result we make leaps in logic (assumptions) to get the answer that makes the most sense to our preexisting notion of how things should be. This leads us into the world of “lazy” heuristics. Heuristics are techniques we use to speed up the processing of information to find a suitable answer for whatever we are dealing with. It could be something banal like baking or something entirely too large to conceptualize tile timey-wimey.

If it wasn’t for thinking heuristically we would be consistently exhausted be what the modern world throws at us. We need this higher-order abstract pattern recognition in order to function.

If we rely too much on using our existing heuristic patterns without modifying them we can create a state of mental stagnation. This is sometimes called “Cognitive Laziness“, which is sometimes referred to as cognitive dissonance.

Creativity Post has a great article on how these heuristic leaps can actually decrease our creativity. At the core of the article is the notion that by not reframing the problems were are looking at we are missing possible solutions and leaving entire days of thinking out of the equation.

They cover a few test like the Wason selection task amongst others that you can try out at home. Don’t worry if you get the answer wrong because it doesn’t reflect on your background so much as it does your effort. From the article:

The significant point about this test is that we are incredibly bad at it. And it doesn’t make much difference what the level of education is of the person taking the test. Moreover, even training in formal logic seems to make little difference to a person’s performance. The mistake that we tend to make is fairly standard. People almost always recognize that they have to pick up the card with the vowel, but they fail to see that they also have to pick up the card with the odd number. They think instead that they have to pick up the card with the even number.

One of the most interesting things about this phenomenon is that even when the correct answer is pointed out, people feel resistance to it. It apparently feels “right” that the card with the even number should be picked up. It feels right because your initial perspective is biased toward the usual way of thinking. It is only when you look at it from different perspectives that you get a deeper understanding of the problem.

If you do get the example logic problems in the article wrong you probably had a gut feeling that you were off. It turns out that when we take these heuristic shortcuts we don’t have as much confidence in our answer than if we stopped to think about the problem. Obvious? Not really, because it’s hard to prove.

Think about this one:
“A bat and ball together cost $1.10. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

To find the answer look at this article that illustrates that we want to take the least amount of effort to get an answer:

Studies, like those done by Nobel-prize winning economist Daniel Kahnemen, have shown that people are cognitive misers, meaning that the brain tends to seek solutions to problems that take the least mental effort. In practice, that means people answer easy questions in place of hard ones.

Critical Media Literacy: Beware Big Media?

I have done some volunteer work trying to encourage media literacy in the digital world and I find myself running into similar conceptual issues that existed before the world got online. There are core issues associated with large media companies influencing how we engage politics and economics and the digital world is not immune to it. This is even more true as the line between ‘traditional’ and ‘new’ media blur.

These issues I allude to can best be summed up by people smarter than me. As you watch/listen to the talks below you may say that the internet changes a lot of what’s brought up and I would agree. At the same time, the reach (and in some cases caliber) of citizen journalists is still not up to par with multinational massive media manufactures.

Michael Parenti gave a talk in 1993 that is still relevant today about how large media companies can and do influence the way we debate issues as a society. He opens with a comparison between a large American media company and the propaganda paper Pravda from the USSR; his criticism of the American media company is still relevant today.

Early on he talks about product placement and how insidious it can be, and today we don’t even bat an eye at the notion of including product placement into media production. Also, the threat of the “liberal media” was a debate back in 1993 whereas I thought it was a newer myth.

It’s worth sticking around for the questions, my favourtie was about the Exxon Valdez oil spill (think about his answer and how it compares to coverage of BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill).

Now take a moment and think about how you’re being exposed to this thanks to a blog. The future seems so different right? Not so fast.

Parenti’s lecture got me thinking of Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky’s take on the media in Manufacturing Consent which I watched in high school and is also, sadly, still pertinent to the media of today. Wikipedia has a good summation of their five key points of media control and you can watch the entire documentary below.

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