Cognitive Biases 101, with Peter Baumann

Peter Baumann explains the pervasiveness and usefulness of bias in human cognition.

Peter Baumann:  Well biases are one of the most interesting phenomena in evolution and I would go as far as saying there’s nothing that’s not a bias.  I mean we are biased to live in a certain temperature range and we prefer sweet food to over bitter food.  So biases are essential.  They really guide us in a broader sense so that we don’t hurt ourselves, you know, bias towards feeling solid ground rather than wobbling ground.  The interesting thing is really not to try to do away with these biases but to really recognize them and not to see them as something negative.  And yet to really understand that they cloud our clear thinking and, you know, that goes anywhere from self-deception to uniqueness bias that we think and hey, I’m one of the first ones to think I’m very unique and, you know, basically the brain evolved for us to make ourselves special, to think of us as valuable.  Otherwise we would not be able to go through the strains and the struggles and difficulties of life.

So bias is in any case negativity bias, positive bias, confirmation bias – all of these are so ingrained in us that we don’t even see them.  They are kind of transparent for us.  So the way that I like to look at it is the more we can detect them and become aware of it, it’s kind of a hide and seek, you know.  They come out of left field and the more we can become aware of them and discover them, it’s actually quite amusing how we twist reality in a way that confirms our particular view of the world.  So I don’t see them as something that’s obstructing a healthy, good, positive life but it narrows the window.  And the more we become aware of them the broader we can approach and the closer we can get to reality.

Well confirmation bias is probably one of the most pronounced biases that we have.  And anybody who’s ever bought a car and thought for a while about what kind of car they want to buy, they probably notice suddenly, oh yeah, there is that car.  There is that car again.  And suddenly the brain kind of detects in the environment something that confirms like, oh yes, that seems like a really good car.  So confirmation bias is really a way for us to reaffirm our view of the world and to some degree it’s actually essential.  If we didn’t have some kind of confirmation bias we would be lost.  We could not piece together a world that is coherent for us.  So we have to ignore certain things and other things become a little louder.  And confirmation bias is different in different cultures, you know, for some cultures in a big, broad shouldered person is very attractive and in others it’s a very elegant person or a very lively person.

And, you know, I come from Germany so in Germany the confirmation bias is towards don’t make a mistake, you know.  Get everything proper and in order and get it right.  So confirmation bias is really essential and yet it’s really valuable to recognize that what we perceive and how we view it as completely twisted by our internal biases.

 

I believe the value in becoming aware of biases is that it gives you the opportunity of having a little larger perspective.  The danger of not being aware of it that we think we are right.  So the value in understanding confirmation biases is that when we’re in some kind of discussion or when we go into a different culture that we recognize, you know.  The world looks different for other people and it’s not that mine is right or better or theirs is right or better and I cannot really force them to see it my way and they cannot force me to see it their way.  So recognizing that confirmation bias is completely ingrained allows us to chuckle sometimes, you know, when we kind of insist on a particular way of seeing the world whether that’s politically or whether it’s social.  It’s very important.  It allows us to actually listen to other people better and drop the confirmation bias maybe for a moment.

There’s not any particular bias that I would recognize that’s more important than the other.  But I do find the uniqueness bias especially amusing, you know, that we consider ourselves to be unique.  And the reason I believe that we have a uniqueness bias is that we are the only person that we’re with 24 hours a day so we have far more information about ourselves, about our bodies, about our history, about our capacities.  So it takes up much, much more space in our inner universe so to say.  And because we have so much more detail about ourselves and our own lives, it looms much larger than anybody else.

So the interesting thing about uniqueness bias is that it’s not just about ourselves but there are circles of uniqueness.  For instance we consider our person that we have a relationship with as more unique than other people because we know more about them.  We consider our parents often more unique than – or our siblings.  Again, because we know so much more about them.  And if you get to know somebody then they become more unique than other people.  You know, my friends are really more unique than other people’s friends, you know.  Or they’re more special.  I’m closer to them.  And it really I believe depends all on how much information we have about them and how important they are in our lives.



Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Dillon Fitton

 

 

Biases are good for you, says the musician and cognitive behavior researcher: "They really guide us in a broader sense so that we don’t hurt ourselves, you know, bias towards feeling solid ground rather than wobbling ground. The interesting thing is really not to try to do away with these biases but to really recognize them and not to see them as something negative."

Volcanoes to power bitcoin mining in El Salvador

The first nation to make bitcoin legal tender will use geothermal energy to mine it.

Credit: Aaron Thomas via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

In June 2021, El Salvador became the first nation in the world to make bitcoin legal tender. Soon after, President Nayib Bukele instructed a state-owned power company to provide bitcoin mining facilities with cheap, clean energy — harnessed from the country's volcanoes.

The challenge: Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, a digital form of money and a payment system. Crypto has several advantages over physical dollars and cents — it's incredibly difficult to counterfeit, and transactions are more secure — but it also has a major downside.

Crypto transactions are recorded and new coins are added into circulation through a process called mining.

Crypto mining involves computers solving incredibly difficult mathematical puzzles. It is also incredibly energy-intensive — Cambridge University researchers estimate that bitcoin mining alone consumes more electricity every year than Argentina.

Most of that electricity is generated by carbon-emitting fossil fuels. As it stands, bitcoin mining produces an estimated 36.95 megatons of CO2 annually.

A world first: On June 9, El Salvador became the first nation to make bitcoin legal tender, meaning businesses have to accept it as payment and citizens can use it to pay taxes.

Less than a day later, Bukele tweeted that he'd instructed a state-owned geothermal electric company to put together a plan to provide bitcoin mining facilities with "very cheap, 100% clean, 100% renewable, 0 emissions energy."

Geothermal electricity is produced by capturing heat from the Earth itself. In El Salvador, that heat comes from volcanoes, and an estimated two-thirds of their energy potential is currently untapped.

Why it matters: El Salvador's decision to make bitcoin legal tender could be a win for both the crypto and the nation itself.

"(W)hat it does for bitcoin is further legitimizes its status as a potential reserve asset for sovereign and super sovereign entities," Greg King, CEO of crypto asset management firm Osprey Funds, told CBS News of the legislation.

Meanwhile, El Salvador is one of the poorest nations in North America, and bitcoin miners — the people who own and operate the computers doing the mining — receive bitcoins as a reward for their efforts.

"This is going to evolve fast!"
NAYIB BUKELE

If El Salvador begins operating bitcoin mining facilities powered by clean, cheap geothermal energy, it could become a global hub for mining — and receive a much-needed economic boost in the process.

The next steps: It remains to be seen whether Salvadorans will fully embrace bitcoin — which is notoriously volatile — or continue business-as-usual with the nation's other legal tender, the U.S. dollar.

Only time will tell if Bukele's plan for volcano-powered bitcoin mining facilities comes to fruition, too — but based on the speed of things so far, we won't have to wait long to find out.

Less than three hours after tweeting about the idea, Bukele followed up with another tweet claiming that the nation's geothermal energy company had already dug a new well and was designing a "mining hub" around it.

"This is going to evolve fast!" the president promised.

How Pfizer and BioNTech made history with their vaccine

How were mRNA vaccines developed? Pfizer's Dr Bill Gruber explains the science behind this record-breaking achievement and how it was developed without compromising safety.

Sponsored by Pfizer
  • Wondering how Pfizer and partner BioNTech developed a COVID-19 vaccine in record time without compromising safety? Dr Bill Gruber, SVP of Pfizer Vaccine Clinical Research and Development, explains the process from start to finish.
  • "I told my team, at first we were inspired by hope and now we're inspired by reality," Dr Gruber said. "If you bring critical science together, talented team members together, government, academia, industry, public health officials—you can achieve what was previously the unachievable."
  • The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine has not been approved or licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but has been authorized for emergency use by FDA under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to prevent COVID-19 for use in individuals 12 years of age and older. The emergency use of this product is only authorized for the duration of the emergency declaration unless ended sooner. See Fact Sheet: cvdvaccine-us.com/recipients.

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Massive 'Darth Vader' isopod found lurking in the Indian Ocean

The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.

SJADE 2018
Surprising Science
  • A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
  • It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
  • The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
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Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.

Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
Surprising Science

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

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