Christoper Chabris and Daniel Simons wonderful book ''The invisible Gorilla'' is all about how our intuition
deceives us. The book has its name from the authors ''basketball experiment'', where people
fail to recognize a Gorilla in their midst.
Indeed, our brains routinely plays tricks on us! Sure, we may think we experience and understand the world around us.
But actually, often, we can miss the gorilla standing right in front of us! When we assume there
should be no gorilla in front of us, we tend not to see any gorillas, even if they are there...
The authors gorilla experiment is a brilliant illustration that looking is not necessarily seeing.
But there are a myriad of other illusions out there. The ''gorillas'' are lurking everywhere.
Our brains does indeed create ''change blindness'', ''the illusion of confidence'', ''the illusion of knowledge'', ''the illusion of always being in control'' etc. Certainly,
priming etc. tells us that
we are not just objective observers of the world.
Far from it actually: We are hardwired to edit our perceptions and memories, to misinterpret evidence and jump to conclusions.
And as information are hurled at us from all sides in todays world, the book's key message is that we
think our mental abilities and capacities are greater than they really are.
Important stuff. And brilliantly presented in this book.
The ''Invisible Gorilla'' illusion (''The monkey business illusion''):
The purpose of attention is to focus our minds. Focused attention ''allows us to avoid distraction
and use our limited resources more effectively; We don't want to be distracted by everything else around us.''
Imagine that you are strolling along, and you see a man holding
a map and looking lost. The man ask you for directions, and
as you are pointing to the map, a couple carrying a wodden door
rudely cuts in between you and the lost man.
Once they pass, you finish giving instructions, but would you have noticed if the
lost man was replaced in all the commotion?
50 percent in the original experiment did not notice any change...
The ''Door'' Study (change blindness):
Later experiments show that people do notice if you change
a man into a woman, or when you change the race. And people are more likely to
notice a change to the identity of a person who is a member og their
own social group. But most often changes go undetected...
The illusion of confidence:
In chess there is an objective public rating system that provides accurate, precise
information about a players ''strength'' relative to other players.
A master player has a rating of 2200 or above, while the average rating
(US. chess federation 1998) is 1337. Ratings are set and adjusted so that
over a long series of games, the player with the highest rating is the likely winner
of game. If the difference in rating is big enough, the one with the lowest rating
will never win. A difference of 200 points will make it unlikely that the weaker player will
win, a difference of 400 points will make it almost impossible.
When chess players are asked about their current rating 75 percent believe
that they are underrated.... On average players thought that they were 99 points
underrated. Meaning that if they came up against a player with their
own rating they would win hands down....
Chabris and Simons takes this as one example of the illusion of confidence.
Which probably applies to all areas of human experience. Everyone,
unless they are clinical depressed, think they are little better than the
rest. 63 percent of Americans consider themselves to be above average
in intelligence [p. 91]. 77 percent of Swedish college students
thought that they were in the top 50 concerning driving safety.
Most people consider themselves to be above average in attractiveness.
Many think they have terrific leadership skills. And sure enough, most of us have experienced an oblivious,
incompetent office manager...
There are even incompetent doctors out there :-) People who graduate last in their medical school classes are still
doctors, and probably think they are pretty good ones.
Confidence is a big thing (even though it is not one of the traits
that are usually compiled, i.e. neuroticism, extraversion. openness to
experience, agreebleness and conscientiousness, See: Big Five Personality Traits).
Group leadership is determined largely by confidence. A confident
person speak tend to speak first in a group - and the group tend
to follow who has spoken first. Conformity is the other side of the coin here.
Confidence and Conformity:
See Soloman Aschs tests on conformity and dominance:
More group pressure - and conformity after a while:
Better still is John Darley and Bibb Latane's smoke room
experiment from the late 1960s. Here a student is asked to complete a questionnaire
about campus life. To do this, the student is placed in a room with other students,
who where really stooges of the experimenters. Severel minutes into the experiment,
a duct in the wall begins spewing out smoke, as though there is a fire
in the building. The stooges pay no attention to this and just keep
filling out their forms. Seeing this most students do nothing... there might be a moments
hesitation and confusion, seeing the others calms them down, and they also
do nothing. Even though a fire might be raging through the building and putting their lives at risk.
When a student was placed alone in the room, smoke would immediately
prompt them to run out, take action or report the fire.
The smoked filled room:
Wonderful stuff. Apparently it is better to die that to stand out from the crowd?
According to Robin Dunbar (in the book ''Evolutionary psychology''): ''
There must be some counter balancing benefit, otherwise evolution should select heavily against such conformity
behaviour. According to dunbar: By doing what the majority are doing, we average a great number of
individual learning experiences and so arrive at a behaviour
that has been tested and proven successful. Allowing the
prevailing culture to determine our behaviour can therefore be a smart
thing to do ...''
In english the ''con'' part of ''con man'', ''con artist'' and ''con game'' is short
for confidence. As humans believe that confidence predict ability.....
Unfortunately this is not always so. Confident people are no more
accurate the less confident people. Confidence is also unrelated to intelligence.
Confidence is a quality that varies from one person to the next but
has relatively little to do with ones underlying knowledge
or mental ability.
''In medicine, the confidence cycle is sel-perpetuating.
Doctors learn to speak with confidence as part of their medical
training (of course there may also be a tendency for inherently confident
people to become doctors). Then patients, mistaking confidence
for competence, treat doctors more as priests with divine insight than as
people who might not know as much as they profess to. This adulation
in turn reinforces the behaviours of doctors, leading them to be
''A number of studies show that patients are more likely to trust and confide in
doctors who are dressed formally and wear a white lab coat
than those who dress more casually. Yet, the worst doctor is able to put
on a lab coat, just as the best doctor, so what doctors wear should have
no bearing on our estimation of their abilities....''
When dealing with people we know very well,
we can judge whether their confidence is high or low for them.
With knowledge of the range of confidence someone exhibits, you can
use confidence as a reasonable predictor of that persons
knowledge in a given situation.
The problem is that confidence is also a personality trait.
So confidence as a measure of ability becomes a potentially
catastrophic everyday illusion, when we deal with people
we hardly know.
Illusion of knowledge:
There are no illusions of blindness, amnesia, idiocy and and cluelessness...
''Instead, everyday illusions tells us that we perceive and remember more than we do.
That we're above average, and that we know more about the future than is justified.
That we have a deep understanding of what a project will entail, when all
we have is a rough and optimistic guess based on shallow familiarity.''
E.g. The Sydney Opera house was forecast in 1960 to cost 7 million Australian dollars.
By the time it was finished it had cost 102 million Australian dollars.
-- It always takes longer than you expect.
Indeed, we would all be better off if we followed Einsteins word:
''Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler'': Tim Roberts won the $25.000 top prize in the 2008 edition of the computer programming tournament called the Top coder Open. He had six hours to write a program that met a set of written specification. Unlike his competitors Roberts spent the first hour studying the specs and asking questions . Only after verifying that he completely understood the challenge did he start to code. The time he spent escaping the illusion of knowledge was an investment that paid off handsomely in the end.
And obviously we should actually understand, not just see pretty pictures, and think
we understand: Brain Porn ''the colorful images of blobs of activity on brain scans
that can seduce us to into thinking we have learned more about the brain,
than we actually have.''.
In one study it was found that
''.... Subjects who read the text with the brain porn thought that the article
was significantly better written and made more sense...The kicker is that
none of the fictious studies actually made any sense. - they all described
dubious claims that were not at all improved by the decorative brain scans.''
And we should remember that our memories are not that good:
''What is stored in memory is not an exact replica of reality; but a re-creation
of it. We cannot play back our memories like a DVD - each time we recall a memory,
we integrate whatever details we do remember with our expectation for what we should
Continuity errors are common
in movies (e.g. see Star Wars continuity problems). Its has to do with how movies are made. Rarely are they shot in sequence,
and in real time from start to finish. Each scene is filmed from many different angles,
and the final film is spliced together in an editing room.
Spotting patterns and being in control:
Pattern perception is central to our lives, and skill
in many professions is based almost entirely on the ability to spot patterns.
Actually, evolution has built our minds to crave causation. Stories, sport events,
grap and hold peoples attention because the outcome is in doubt.
Unfortunately, at times we perceive patterns where none exist. And we misperceive
them where they do exist.
Sometimes we don't see the causation that is right there in front of us.
Sure, we all have tremendous potential to learn new skills and to improve our abilities. The plasticity of the adult brain - its ability to change
its structure in response to training, injury etc. - is great indeed.
We can learn new things and change how we behave in the world
But, we might not have as much control over why we change behaviours, and when we do it, as we would like to think...
Surely, other people can't put stuff into our minds
and change our behaviour without us knowing...?
Guess again ! :-)
In one simple experiment all it took (to change peoples behaviour) was letting them count
money (giving them the illusion of having resources).
Strangely, counting money was enough to unconsciously change how they
thought about hunger, helpfulness and handling of pain later on...