There has been a spate of recent books and papers on why people make errors in their thinking, together with constant attempts to classify these errors under various headings. But many of the errors are much more basic than the classifications used, and all stem from fundamental errors in the approach to problems, rather than the specific, somewhat artifical, categories that these writings suggest.
As psychology is advancing, large numbers of categories are being invented and used with greater or lesser utility or sense. Many of the categories used in these recent meanderings appear counter-productive to me (though I shall list some of them). But they all appear to me to arise from similar basic errors in thought. A prime root of these errors is a seeking for closure.
Now, the real world is not like that. There is no closure, life goes on. Steadily, if we increase our knowledge with an open, curiosity-driven, explorative and humble mind, such errors of thought are far less likely.
It does not amount to avoiding this error or that, it amounts to a far healthier and more effective approach to life and the solution of problems.
The prime imperative for problem-solving is ever-increasing knowledge - that is, an ever-growing database. This means a life of constant study and keeping up with new discovery, arming oneself with with all and any methods and techniques that one can find. Meanwhile, one must realise that there will always be more to learn tomorrow, and that our present knowledge is exceeding limited and restricted.
Much of this discussion of error refers to errors of judgement made in complex situations under time pressures. A human, like any machine, can only process a given amount of information in a time period. A Lamborghini maybe able to cover more miles than a Mini in a given time period, albeit at greater cost and with greater fuel consumption. Likewise, not all humans have the same capacities or skills.
Obviously, a medic of reasonable ability will make more errors of judgement as his time per patient is reduced from half an hour to quarter an hour, to five minutes or less. While such a deterioration in decision processing efficiency is a general rule, keep in mind that a world-class chess player or medic will make better and more reliable decisions, on average, in seconds, than an amateur can be expected to make in days. However, just because a chess-player can assess a chess position quickly does not mean that they can assess medical problems well, and visa versa.
Thus, this sort of analysis is aimed at improving the performance of the most able decision-makers. High-ability decision-makers get that way, to a great extent, by being self-critical of their own mental errors and working to correct them.
A fundamental error in discussing improvement of human performance has long focused on human malfunction or erroneous actions, or the attitude of ‘jump in and correct the errors afterwards’. While examining errors maybe marginally useful in teaching, it is immensely better to teach effective thinking from the very earliest training. Far more efficient to teach a person from the get-go to use their mind and body effectively, rather than draw their attention to various, theoretical, possible mistakes. Better to teach a person not to make assumptions in the first place, rather than concentrate too forcefully upon the great variety of false assumptions that may be made.
Teaching any skill requires recognition of large numbers of relevant patterns, but patterns are just another name for assumptions. It is very important that this is hammered into a learner, for there to be any hope of efficient education. The teacher should make sure that any individual never ever becomes dependant upon a recognised pattern. Rather, the individual will do better to remain constantly aware that the real world is not a pattern, but will always vary in detail.
Using pattern-recognition to speed up decision-making, however useful, will inevitably increase error rates. Examples might be
Some errors in thinking, and so in behaviour:
If I think I know what is causing a person pain/discomfort,
Making assumptions is very bad news, the worst possible news.
‘Empathy’ is believing that you can understand what another person is feeling, it is believing that you can experience or ‘feel’ another’s world vicariously. This is delusional - you cannot.
Empathy is bad!
Will an ‘empathist’ claim that they have to feel the pain of their Bentley engine in order to repair it?
A Bentley that runs well is a happy Bentley.
Because the world is full of dogs, does not mean I feel ‘empathy’
Rex Stout on the subject suits me fine:
I do not claim to mind-reading abilities, thus I do not claim to know what goes on in others’ fiction-addled heads when they use words like ‘sympathy’ and ‘empathy’.
Neither are my ‘feelings’ accessible to others. You cannot read minds.
Why not help a Bentley? We do it because we can. Because we prefer a machine to function effectively. As for helping other people, we do it because other humans are useful to us.
Altruistic behaviours are increasingly being shown in various other animals. Why would people not expect altruistic behaviours? These behaviours are survival fit on the group level, and thus are built into instincts. But glory knows why people are desperate to call these behaviours ‘empathic’.
Even bees and ants act for the good of the hive or nest.
‘Empathy’ is a term normally used by idiots, it’s like people who believe in telepathy.
Without getting into an infinite regress of qualification, my section on empathy is directed to what I regard as very real dangers of inadequate communication that lead to intrusive behaviour and counter-productive actions.
The guesswork to which both your comments refer can, in my view, be defanged - to varying degrees - by those doing the guessing, only as long as they attend with great concentration to a self-awareness that they are guessing.
This awareness would include that the guessing is a ploy, or pragmatic tool, and never a reliable guide upon to which to rest for support as a substitute for observation and analysis.
Here are two experiments by Daniel Simons:
Human witness statements are notoriously unreliable, and some believe that as much as twenty percent of court cases that rely on witness statements result in miscarriages of justice.
|Related further reading|
email abelard at abelard.org
© abelard, 2007, 2 august
the address for this document is http://www.abelard.org/reasoning_empathy_concentration.php