In an earlier blog on the novice to expert continuum I reviewed and elaborated on the skills continuum written by Hubert & Stuart Dreyfus in their book, Mind Over Machine: The Power of Human Intuition and Expertise in the Era of the Computer. I would like to add to their ideas by sharing my own journey along that continuum. However, the continuum that I will be referring to is a cognitive rather than a manipulative ( thinking rather than manual) skills. Additionally, I will only be making the claim that I have just “budged” off the novice category and still have a severely long way to go before I am in sight of the advanced beginner stage.
I calculate that this process began in earnest back in 1983, thirty years ago! One book started that journey entitled General Philosophy, by D. Elton Trueblood. The importance of that book was as a springboard to a great chain of Authors who subsequently and ever so gradually influenced all my future thinking. Below and not in any order of importance is a listing of my own personal cognitive journey along the skills continuum.
- Avoiding premature cognitive commitment by way of three mental habits:
- Recognition of the error of inerrancy 1
- Recognition of the method of comparative difficulties 2
- Force myself to include vigorous and serious attempts to think up at least three ‘tests’, or thought experiments to unearth anomalies with my favored opinion. To seek to falsify my favored opinion, all the while reminding myself that my mental ‘default’ is to find ‘evidence’ to confirm my views, and that it would be intellectually dishonest to only seek out these.
The error of inerrancy follows from the fact of our finite predicament, for even if there exists and infallible guide, how are we to know this? For infallibility necessarily includes not only an infallible revelation but the infallibility of the human mind to judge that revelation, which we know by every fact at our disposal we are incapable of. Regarding the method of comparative difficulties. To quote again from Trueblood. “The mood of philosophy is not that of the person who waits until he finds a solution utterly free from difficulties; it is rather the mood of one who knows very well that the best available is itself imperfect…acceptance of something which is less than perfect, because the alternative is worse.” Our minds seek a sense of certainty and assurance, if we short cut the method of intellectual ‘due process’ we too often gain the feeling of intellectual safety at the cost of intellectual honesty and more accurate opinion.
2. Continual reminder of the ever present risk of emotional hijacking 3
- Related to D. Kahneman’s system 1 vs. system 2 intuition and thinking.
- I have learned painfully that at the novice stage of cognitive development my thinking is influenced more often by the ‘pull’ of strong emotions, than by the ‘still small voice’ of reflective thought.
- My best practice suggestion is to avoid like a virus inflammatory speaking and writing. If you can’t avoid it, force yourself to ‘cool down’ at least 30 minutes to allow system 2 to become engaged.
3. Recognition that my experience base will always be too small, yet only through great effort will I be able acknowledge it.
4. The importance of daily practice of remembering the biases I have been most susceptible to so they can be more easily and quickly recognized.
- Availability bias – whatever is most recent and salient tends to be more easily retrievable (works in both positive and negative directions).
- Priming – Wikipedia (works in both positive and negative directions).
- Framing – Wikipedia (works in both positive and negative directions).
- Confirmation bias – My default cognitive/emotional attitude is to seek to confirm my beliefs rather than to test their ability to avoid falsification.
- Law of small numbers – recognizing that my sample space (either measured in time, or observations) will always be too small.
- Contamination bias – Remembering that my default biases ‘do not smell.’ 4
- Representative or Base Rate Neglect bias – Wikipedia
5. Avoidance of speed in reaching conclusions – At the novice stage this is a recipe for increasing the likelihood of being wrong. Rather I have learned that thoroughness is the ‘better part of valor.’
6. The Unity of Truth 5 – Something cannot be true in one discipline, yet false in another This implies that accurate and reproducible knowledge is interdependent. Religions are the biggest violators of this principle.
- I like to label this ‘ethical due process’. I have learned over time that I am to think, write, and say nothing that would hinder or impede future efforts by myself or others to advance knowledge claims in a given field even though my present views are wrong.
- I also like to remind myself of what it means to have legitimate regret.The difference between legitimate vs. illegitimate regret is that with legitimate regret, I only regret the outcome, whereas with illegitimate regret I regret both the outcome and the process used in reaching a conclusion. See Errors of Judgment vs. Errors of Technique
- See also Ben Goldacre’s book, Bad Science, chpt 4. On the principles of a fair clinical trial.
7. Spend three times the effort on improving your feedback tools and conducting post mortems after every opinion you feel is actionable. See also the principle behind deliberate practice, JustSevenThings web site.
1 See D. E. Trueblood’s book, Philosophy of Religion, chap. 3
2 See D. E. Trueblood’s book, General Philosophy chap. 4
3 Phrase comes from Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence, Bantam Books, 10th ed. 2005
4 See Timothy Wilson, David Centerbar, and Nancy Brekke, Mental Contamination and the Debiasing Problem, Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment, Cambridge University Press, 2002
5 Truth in Religion: The Plurality of Religions and the Unity of Truth, by Mortimer J. Adler, Touchstone Press, 1992