After a few years of conscientious blogging about chess only I hope you don't mind some off topic rant.
I have been thinking a lot about the phenomenon confirmation bias lately. It is very worthwhile to read the article of Wiki aboout this. If you want something to be true, you ignore reality and you only see what confirms your ideas. There is a sort of buffering what excludes non confirming ideas from entering alltogether.
The effect is also known as belief bias, belief preservation, belief overkill, hypothesis locking, polarization effect, positive bias, the Tolstoy syndrome, selective thinking, myside bias, Plate pick-up and Morton's demon.
Alternately, Murphy's Law of Research dictates that "Enough research will tend to support your theory."
A few years ago Margriet and I stayed at a chess camping in France. There was a guy from Belgium. In Belgium they have a language border. Everybody who is not from Belgium cannot imagine what that is. This guy was from the French speaking side. The enemy speaks Dutch. Since he knew we were from the Netherlands, he spoke Dutch to us. We had a good contact with him and we played a lot of games. After two weeks we decided to ask him about the language border, since inquiring minds need to know. All of a sudden he started to speak French and he pretended that he couldn't understand Dutch. Margriet and I were quite perplexed. No matter what we said, he refused to talk Dutch anymore.
Confirmation bias seems to be based on emotions. Those emotions prevent logical thinking. There are quite a few problems with this:
- The truth is denied
- Any attempt from outside to adress logical reason is placed in the camp of the enemy
- Logic reason is replaced by emotions.
- Emotions are more powerfull than logical thoughts.
- Emotions are much faster than logical thoughts.
- It is contageous.
- It is incomprehendsible for outsiders
The Belgium language war suffices all criteria above.
To me it seems that confirmation bias is the root of all wars, quarrels and misunderstandings. I'm very surprised there is so little scientific interest for such life influencing problem.
Everywhere where you see something incomprehendsible in social or political relations you can be sure that confirmation bias is the root. Take the following examples:
- The lauguage barrier in Belgium.
- The Chinese ambassador in our country once said: I would rather give up an arm than to lose Taiwan.
- Denial of the Armenian genocide by Turkey.
- Claiming of Cyprus by both Greece and Turkye.
- Claiming of the Kuril Islands by both Russia and Japan.
- The claiming of Tibet by China.
- The problems of muslims with pictures of the Prophet.
I have taken great pains to find out what the confirmation bias was of the Germans in WWII. To that end I read mein Kampf from Hitler. The main idea was that the Germans were something special. Übermenschen. To us, who live next door to them, such idea would only give rise to risibility. If we think about Übermenschen, the Germans wouldn't be in the top ten at all. But no matter how illogical and ridicule the ideas are, they proved to be very contageous.
The problem is that outsiders tend to take such ideas not serious, since they are so illogical and they can't imagine anything by the triggered emotions. But taking the ideas not serious can be quite dangerous, as history has proved. Confirmation bias is a highly contageous illness that can even influence those who try to prevent contamination. Before 9-11 I had no opinion at all about Muslims, what's more, I didn't wanted to have one. Due to Bin Laden I now have an opinion about them. Which was his goal. Confirmation bias causes polarization into two opposite camps. The ideas in both camps are necessarily biassed.
On smaller scale the same happens. Take for instance the confirmation bias of people towards Elizabeth Vicary. People drawing conclusions based on non existing facts.
That makes this post slightly chess related. Boards of chess clubs and chess federations tend to bicker every few years. It usually starts the same way: somebody does something for a reason that is incomprehendsible to others. In stead of asking "why do you do that?" they fill in the motivations of that person by themselves. Usually an evil motivation is presumed. On their turn they start to behave strange against that person, who suddenly founds himself accused of evil intentions. When he starts to defend himself a quarrel is born and emotions take over. It is the same everywhere. Take the FIDE, the USCF, the KNSB (dutch federation) etc. or maybe your own chessclub. Even the chess improvement scene is ruled by biassed cults:)