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← Cognitive dissonance | Ash Donaldson | TEDxCanberra

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Showing Revision 15 created 06/24/2019 by Hélène Vernet.

  1. Good, good!
  2. So, back in the early 1990s,
    I was a training commercial pilot
  3. with hair that probably produced more lift
    than most of the small aircrafts I flew.
  4. (Laughter)
  5. Anyway, one day,
    my instructor Bob came out,
  6. and he said, "Ash, today, I'm going
    to instruct you in instrument flying."
  7. This was pretty exciting
    because there are two flavors of flying.
  8. There's "visual" where you can see
  9. the horizon ahead of you
    and what's below you,
  10. which is kind of for the rookie
    pilots and weekend pilots.
  11. Then there's "instrument flying."
  12. Instrument flying
    is for the professionals.
  13. That's being able
    to punch into the clouds.
  14. So I was pretty excited about this.
  15. Anyway, we went out,
    we did our preflight briefing
  16. and grabbed a little Cessna 152,
  17. took off, went out
    to the southern training area,
  18. got set up at 5,000 feet.
  19. And Bob whacked this on me.
  20. (Laughter)
  21. This little plastic contraption
    is known as "the hood,"
  22. and it constrains the pilot's
    view to their six instruments.
  23. Bob said, "Okay, now I want
    you to fly straight and level
  24. just by instruments."
  25. I did that, it was pretty easy.
    I was pretty good at this stuff.
  26. (Laughter)
  27. Then he said, "Okay, you did well Ash.
  28. I want you to maintain 5,000 feet
    and perform a standard right turn."
  29. Now, this was a bit more difficult.
  30. I had to organize to work
    the pedals and the controls.
  31. At the same time, I was
    scanning all these instruments
  32. without the wealth of information
    from the visual sphere outside.
  33. But I got it. It was pretty good.
    I was feeling pretty cocky.
  34. And he said, "Okay, done well.
  35. Roll out of that
    into straight and level again."
  36. So I rolled out into straight and level.
  37. But my artificial horizon
    wasn't quite right.
  38. It was a bit off.
  39. So I looked over
    at my turn and slip indicator
  40. and the ball was out of it,
    so I kicked in a bit of rudder.
  41. My directional gyro started moving.
  42. I was flying straight and level,
    but my instruments were failing.
  43. The altimeter started rising.
  44. Directional gyro was spinning faster.
  45. The artificial horizon
    just slipped right off,
  46. the whole dial,
    and Bob whipped my hood off.
  47. I'd entered what is known
    as "the graveyard spiral."
  48. Now in a recent study,
  49. the average pilot
    with no instrument flight training,
  50. punching into clouds
    lasts a mere 178 seconds.
  51. That's two seconds shy of three minutes
  52. before spiraling to their death.
  53. Fair enough, my vestibular
    senses had tricked me.
  54. The sense that tells me
    which way is up, had tricked me,
  55. and Bob got me good with it.
  56. Bob taught me a good lesson.
  57. Next time I'll know:
    trust the instruments.
  58. So we went up for the next lesson,
  59. and I failed,
  60. and the next lesson, and the next lesson.
  61. This was frustrating me.
  62. I considered myself
    a good, confident pilot.
  63. Yet I couldn't accept
    the evidence in front of me.
  64. My intuition took over every time.
  65. My brain kept on making up these excuses:
  66. "Oh, this aircraft has
    a dodgy vacuum pump."
  67. "The static intakes
    on these little tomahawks
  68. always blocks up,
    the instruments are failing."
  69. I knew the instruments weren't failing,
    but I couldn't seem to accept it.
  70. It's amazing where we're
    often taught or told
  71. how wonderful and powerful
  72. the hundred billion or so neurons
    that make up our mind are.
  73. Yet, we rarely discuss the cognitive
    shortcomings that we have.
  74. I mean, at school I was
    taught how the mind works.
  75. It's very much like
    a modern laptop computer.
  76. You have your high definition video camera
  77. and your mic that takes
    in everything around you.
  78. You've got everything then
    stored to memory, bit for bit,
  79. perfectly written to data
    on your hard drive.
  80. And our brains process things
    in a very logical fashion,
  81. like we should all have Intel Inside
    stickers on our foreheads.
  82. This is the metaphor that's used,
  83. but it's not a very good metaphor.
  84. In fact, it's completely wrong.
  85. You see, our senses aren't like
    high-def recording equipment.
  86. We only take in snippets
    of the information,
  87. and our mind fills in the gaps for us.
  88. As a pilot we're taught
    a whole lot of tips and tricks
  89. to get around human limitations.
  90. Things like when we want
    to find an aircraft in the sky,
  91. we've got to break it up into quadrants.
  92. You see, our eyes only see
    this much clearly at any one time.
  93. It's hard to grasp,
    but this is what we see.
  94. Our eyes dart around
    at a thousand degrees a second,
  95. that what's called "a saccade."
  96. Our mind fills in the rest of the picture
    with what it expects to see there.
  97. So if you're looking up at the sky,
    it expects to see a lot of blue.
  98. You have to actually break
    up the sky into quadrants
  99. and saccade across
    until the aircraft lands
  100. within the focus of those saccades,
    before you'll see the aircraft.
  101. And it's not just our visual
    senses that work like this.
  102. All of our senses work like this.
  103. Our mind just fills in the gaps for us
    without us being aware of it.
  104. That's why illusions work.
  105. That's why Simon takes great delight
    in knowing how your perception works
  106. and being able to fool you,
    being able to manipulate that.
  107. And up here, it doesn't
    take in everything.
  108. It doesn't store everything to memory.
  109. It takes snippets,
    little grabs of feelings,
  110. of sights, sounds,
    tastes, smells, emotions.
  111. And then it pieces them together
    when you recall a memory.
  112. When it pieces them together,
    it makes up the bits in between again.
  113. It creates a movie,
  114. only the movie is based on a true story.
  115. The next time you recall that same event,
    you're recalling it from that memory,
  116. taking snippets of that memory
    and piecing it together again.
  117. So next time, it's actually
    more like a screenplay
  118. based on a book based on a true story.
  119. Each time you remember
    something, it changes a bit more.
  120. It takes one more step away from reality,
  121. even if it feels like you
    remember it clear as day.
  122. And our cognitions, the way
    we think, they're adapted.
  123. We evolved to be really good
    at surviving in small social groups,
  124. for being able to match patterns,
  125. for being able to keep track
    of social relationships -
  126. not very good at logic though.
  127. That horrible feeling I experienced
  128. when I couldn't get my instinct
  129. to match up with
    the evidence in front of me,
  130. that's known as "cognitive dissonance."
  131. Now cognitive dissonance
  132. is when your mind tries to hold
    two conflicting ideas simultaneously.
  133. It gives you a horrible feeling.
  134. It'll be a negative feeling,
    it'll be feeling sick.
  135. It'll be feeling anxious or even angry.
  136. Cognitive dissonance is the mechanism
  137. by which we start being
    able to, I don't know,
  138. account for irrational
    behaviors like smoking.
  139. I've got a friend Janine,
    very warm, intelligent lady.
  140. She's very smart. She works
    as an intensive care nurse.
  141. Everyday, she's looking after people
    with throat cancer and lung cancer
  142. who are dying from smoking.
  143. She knows the damage
    that it causes, yet she smokes.
  144. I asked her why,
    she sat me down and said,
  145. "Ash, I need to explain
    this to you: I'm a nurse.
  146. I work long irregular hours.
  147. I don't get to exercise.
    I don't get to eat well.
  148. Smoking helps me keep down my weight!
  149. (Laughter)
  150. You think there are problems with people
    who have smoked for a long time,
  151. you should see the long-term
    problems of obesity."
  152. So just like that, she'd rationalized away
  153. her behavior with her knowledge.
  154. Cognitive dissonance
    does this in a number of ways.
  155. Also, it's a great protector
    of our self-concept.
  156. What we think of as
  157. "I'm a good, moral, intelligent
    person," that self-concept,
  158. it protects it for us.
  159. This guy will never admit
    that he was wrong about invading Iraq,
  160. not because he's evil,
  161. but it's because he really thinks
    he wasn't wrong about invading Iraq.
  162. He thinks of himself
    as a good moral Christian.
  163. He was president of the United States.
  164. He was leader of the free world.
    He was the good guys.
  165. Unfortunately, he also
    set up the perfect context
  166. for making bad decisions.
  167. You see, George Bush
    was well-known
  168. to fire or demote anyone
    who disagreed with his opinions.
  169. So he cocooned himself,
    surrounded himself with yes-men.
  170. He protected himself
    from cognitive dissonance.
  171. So when he decided that there must
    be weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,
  172. all his cronies went out
    and scoured the intelligence reports,
  173. picking up the most tenuous
    little bits of information
  174. and stringing them together
    to feed his belief
  175. that there were weapons
    of mass destruction.
  176. That's what is known
    as "confirmation bias,"
  177. seeking confirming
    evidence of our beliefs
  178. and disregarding or minimizing
    the impact of disconfirming evidence.
  179. That's just one of the mechanisms.
  180. It's one of the most common
    mechanisms that our brain uses
  181. to protect us from cognitive dissonance.
  182. But it's just one of many,
    many biases that we have.
  183. In fact, you may be
    experiencing one right now.
  184. Now these biases build up.
  185. (Laughter)
  186. That's why you're meant to be seeing.
  187. These biases build up and attack
    our ability to reason logically.
  188. And people take advantage of this.
  189. Whole industries,
    billion-dollar industries,
  190. are wrapped around our faulty reasoning.
  191. Things like cosmetics,
  192. anti-aging creams.
  193. You're right!
  194. Vitamins and supplements,
    well, you urinate them all out.
  195. They don't boost your immune system.
  196. If they did boost your immune system,
    you'd have an autoimmune disease.
  197. Alternative health practices,
    aligning your energies,
  198. we got rid of that concept
  199. when we discovered
    the central nervous system.
  200. Just the other day,
    I was on a train in Melbourne
  201. and I spotted a young guy in a suit.
  202. He was wearing one of these,
    it's a power band bracelet.
  203. The makers of Power Balance claim
  204. that this piece of silicon
    with a sticker on it
  205. will make you stronger and more flexible.
  206. Now on face value,
    that is laughable, it's silly,
  207. but he probably didn't come to this belief
    from a claim like this.
  208. He probably came to it from seeing
    one of his sports stars wearing it,
  209. and then noticing other
    top athletes wearing it.
  210. These things have to chip away.
  211. Now Power Balance is smart
    enough to give away these
  212. to every top athlete they can
    and sponsor key top athletes to wear them.
  213. So he's had this.
  214. He has formed an idea,
    and he goes and searches online.
  215. Power Balance has littered
    YouTube and blogs
  216. with testimonials and demonstrations
  217. much like they have used
    for years in martial arts
  218. and in applied kinesiology,
  219. a simple trick to show
    that it makes you more balanced.
  220. So he probably saw this stuff,
  221. and that was the confirmation bias
    building up the belief,
  222. and then he went out
    and spent 60 hard dollars
  223. on a rubber band with a sticker on it.
  224. That cemented his belief even further.
  225. People then asked him,
    "Does that work for you?"
  226. And he would recall a time
  227. when he performed
    a bit better than normal,
  228. and not recall the times
    when it was average or below average.
  229. More confirmation bias!
  230. When more people asked him,
  231. he would keep recalling those same
    events of better performance,
  232. except those events would now
    get even better, and even better,
  233. making it legendary performance.
  234. So his Power Balance bracelet
    is working, it is good.
  235. Then someone might
    come up to him and say,
  236. "You realize that they actually did
    some scientific tests.
  237. Double blind showed
    that it's just a rubber band."
  238. "- Science doesn't know everything.
    Don't be so closed minded.
  239. You got to try it to understand!"
  240. These are the types of things
    people will come up with
  241. when their mind is painted into a corner.
  242. And it's not just that.
  243. When you come up against a hard
    or an unwinnable argument,
  244. cognitive dissonance can cause anger.
  245. If that argument
    is unwinnable on both sides,
  246. it escalates to rage.
  247. It can escalate to ideological wars,
  248. people fighting to the death
    trying to prove their point,
  249. trying to prove that their imagining frame
    is the real one, not yours.
  250. It's not all doom and gloom
    though, there is hope.
  251. Science is testament to that.
  252. Now when you say "science," people
    have the wrong idea a lot of the times.
  253. Science isn't a person
    or a thing, an organization.
  254. Science is simply a process.
  255. It's a process that was designed
    specifically to overcome our biases.
  256. And as well as that process,
  257. it's also the body of knowledge
    that results from the process.
  258. The process is just known
    as "scientific method."
  259. It's simply down to making a prediction,
  260. testing that prediction,
  261. and then coming up with your conclusions,
  262. but most importantly being transparent
    about how you did it all
  263. so other people
    can pick apart your arguments,
  264. other people can test and see
    if you reasoned correctly.
  265. It's a very important part of it.
  266. And enough people, like Temple said,
    enough people are working on this.
  267. They spend their whole lifetimes
    doing small detailed work,
  268. making tiny little
    increments in knowledge.
  269. It's none of these eureka
    moments that you hear about.
  270. It's tiny increments but it all goes
    into a pool of knowledge.
  271. And because of that pool of knowledge,
  272. in medicine alone, I've never
    seen a child with smallpox.
  273. I've never seen a child
    afflicted by polio.
  274. I've never had a loved one
    die of measles or diptheria.
  275. These killed millions of people
    until we figured out vaccines for them.
  276. And closer to home,
    this old fellow, my dad.
  277. I should have lost him,
    twice in the last 15 years.
  278. He actually had a tube
    fed through his groin
  279. and a balloon pulled through his heart
    to flatten the fatty deposits in there,
  280. saving him from having
    another massive heart attack.
  281. He also had tuberculosis injected
    into his bladder a number of times
  282. to kill the cancer
    that was growing there.
  283. just recent advances in science
    that kept him around with me today.
  284. And it's not just in the area of health
  285. that this way of thinking
    is useful for us.
  286. Getting rid of these misunderstandings,
  287. actually knowing about your
    brain and how it's tricking you,
  288. compensating for cognitive
    dissonance and cognitive biases ;
  289. it's everything, any
    type of decision making
  290. from deciding on a consumer product,
  291. fighting with your partner,
    to public policy ;
  292. accounting for all these cognitive biases
  293. and being open about how
    you reach your conclusions
  294. is a useful and powerful thing,
    and we should start with the schools.
  295. We should start getting rid of these
    outdated metaphors for how we think,
  296. and teach kids how we actually do think.
  297. If we can do that,
    they'll appreciate science more.
  298. Just like when I was a pilot,
  299. it was hard for me
    to get over this whole thing.
  300. There was many white-knuckled,
    sweat-soaked flights
  301. for me to be able to get over
  302. my own internal battle
    and trust my instruments.
  303. We can all actually go
    through this process.
  304. We can all learn not to start
    with conclusions and find evidence.
  305. We can learn to start with evidence,
    evaluate it, and come to a conclusion.
  306. We can all learn to use
    our brains more effectively
  307. and I think that's
    an idea worth spreading.
  308. Thanks.
  309. (Applause)