P.S.: Constructing Reality

Posted on November 2, 2011


Post Script: In the ten previous posts we’ve relied  heavily on  Herb Simon’s Nobel Prize winning meta-model or  mantra: no conclusions without emotionally anchored assumptions or biases.  Simon also notes that we must rely on such biases in order to cut down the buzzing confusion of inputs (external and internal sensations)  to fit our limited or bounded rationality (limited short-term memory and analytic capacity).  Stephen Hawking recently echoed Simon’s mantra with his concept of ‘model dependant realism‘. Whereas Simon talked about simplifying assumptions to help us construct our realities, Hawking talks about simplifying models.

So, according to Simon and Hawking, when you encounter a reality or a truth it is the product of simplifying assumptions or biases and selective filtering or cherry-picking readily available bits from the buzzing confusion  bits  that fit our biases or model.

The realities or truthies we construct depend on three kinds of biases:  genetic, cultural and personal  biases and filters. First different species construct different realities  (e.g., humans vs cats vs bats vs earth worms). Not only do humans rely on species specific biases or models – based on their evolved sensory systems and brains (i.e., humans as a species  – sharing the same type of nervous system – construct some similar realities (e.g., color, form, sound, etc.). But in addition to shared genetic biases groups of humans also construct very different realities or truths. based on their acquired cultural biases, and sub-group biases. Finally,  in addition to shared genetic and cultural biases, each of us acquires a personal set of biases, and construct personal realities as a result of our unique history and its variation in genetic, cultural and sub-cultural sources.

Nun and Sex

Some of these three types of biases (genetic, cultural and personal) work well together at certain times and places (e.g having sex (genetic) with someone your married to (cultural) and love (personal). Whereas at other times and places they conflict (e.g,. having sex (genetic) with a Nun (cultural no-no)  whom you dislike (personal). So in this example  in terms of your of hierarchy of biases the genetic – the sex drive – trumps the cultural and the personal. Or, for some reason, you may be punishing the Nun in which case a cultural or personal bias may be in control, with sex merely serving as a convenient mode of punishment.

Or you cheat on an exam where a personal bias conflicts with a cultural bias.

In terms of a hierarchy some biases or models appear to be strong enough to work across situations and time – we call the character or personality traits – for example honesty or dishonesty, passive or active, dominant or submissive. While others are more variable depending on the time and/or place (e.g., may cheat on the odd exam and income tax but not on other things. May construct stable pleasant realities at work but not at home, etc.

In brief some biases create stable realities across various situations, while others are situation specific.

You can generate your own examples of where the three biases work in harmony or in conflict, and those which are situation specific or stable across situations.

Nun:  flickr.com/photos/27529571@N08/2901931604

Posted in: Sciencing