Confirmation bias seems to be the guiding principle for people’s lives. It seems we have such a powerful need to believe in our personal version of the way the universe works that we only accept new input of information that is consistent with our personal reality. It is comforting to believe that we are always right, because we can then proceed with our lives in an orderly way, as things will behave as they should. Debbie and I were on our evening walk talking about that when … “Whoooee!”
There was Samumpsickle standing under his pine tree and looking expectantly up at us. After a few kind pleasantries about the fine weather, he mentioned confirmation bias and the benefits it brought humankind. I was still caught up in his unusual appearance and asked if he was related to Rumpelstiltskin. He rolled his eyes, mumbled something about people always asking that stupid question and then grumped out, “No!” After a few more efforts at fruitless politeness I thought it time to move on, when he offered to do me a favor. Things not having gone particularly well so far, I was a bit hesitant to accept an unknown gift, so I said, “What do you have in mind?” “Well” he said “We have an elvish law that we must grant a single wish to any person who asks, or we get a demerit and lose that thing ourselves for a year.” “Do you mean I can have anything I want?” – “Yep.” “Hum. Debbie and I were just talking about all the trouble confirmation bias brings to people. Could you take away my need for confirmation bias?” “Yes, I can. But is that what you really want?”
Debbie and I talked about this for a while, along the lines that without confirmation bias all of my faults and lies to myself would instantly become obvious to me, and that would be very painful! And other similar problems.
“Could you give me contentment with the world as it is?” “Yep. That I can do, but is that what you really want?”
Debbie and I talked about this too for a while, and then realized that having contentment at every moment going forward would mean accepting all of the terrible things that have happened. That would be ugly and painful, and furthermore the pain wouldn’t go away because I would always be content with the pain, and it would constantly feed on itself and grow worse, and my whole consciousness would then become totally filled with tolerated pain.
About this time I thought it better to depart from this impossible situation, with serious downsides to each of my positive thoughts, and decided to say some departing pleasantry, like the old reliable, “Live long and prosper.” But I hesitated, as that might not be a good idea. He already seemed to have that under control, and who knows what he would do with that strange suggestion. Then I thought “Have a nice day” would be appropriate, but it seemed inane, and he might take it as a subtle insult. So, I just smiled and bowed slowly and deeply, tugged on Debbie’s hand, and we quietly walked away, hoping that Samumpsickle was himself feeling tranquil and content to let the world progress as it was going to do without my suggestions or his help.