Biased Brains

Photo by Rad Cyrus on Unsplash

I was at the food court of a shopping mall with my wife and my two-year-old son. A gentleman sitting at a table alongside was busy ripping into the leg piece of a chicken. My wife was disgusted at the sight of it. My son was very inquisitive as to what the gentleman was eating. I, on the other hand, have had my fair encounters with meat to neither be moved by the sight nor be puzzled by it. My wife grew up in a typical Jain household where perhaps even the very thought of nonvegetarian food was forbidden. My parents, though staunch vegetarians, were perhaps not as rigid and I could afford to talk about meat or have friends who indulged in it without making a big deal about it.

Do you see how three different people reacted to an isolated situation in which none of us even had a stake? Irrespective, while my wife and I as adults had an opinion, my son was still wondering what he had seen and was perhaps in the process of making up his mind about the visual — tagging it so to say. What would be interesting to notice would be to see which of his parents’ views he would adhere to. The bottom line being, whichever side he tends to tilt to, he will form a bias around that belief and all his future decisions around a similar experience will be based on this very bias.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, BREAKING NEWS — the most evolved organ in the world is but a partial highly convoluted masterpiece weighing three pounds something. The brain is the command center for the human nervous center. It is the seat of all our understanding and determines our reactions (emotional as well as psychological). The fact that the brain is biased is a universal phenomenon and a natural one. It has evolved that way to help us survive since the stone age so there is no shying away from that it is this way, and there is nothing wrong with it being this way either.

I’m writing this article because with so much at stake the least an individual must be is aware of this fact. Knowing why we feel the way we do about something and being aware of our feelings consciously helps us become more tolerant and resilient.

Human minds have a tendency toward several cognitive biases. These are systematic errors or so-called bugs in the way we think about the world and perceive it. Given the complexity of the world around us, our brain cuts a few corners to help us process complex information quickly. It always looks for an older experience as a point of reference to gather information from and mostly ends up behaving the way it did the last time.

One might think the brain works this way or processes so much information only when there is a lot at stake. Well, not really. To the brain the complexity of the consequences is irrelevant. It simply uses the same processes to make any decision. Even something as trivial as choosing the flavor of the ice cream you’d like to eat. The first flavor that came into your mind now is perhaps what you ate last or the flavor that you almost every time end up choosing! Which in turn could be the flavor your parents always liked or bought for you as a kid.

So what is wrong with it one may argue — the answer is nothing. Absolutely nothing is wrong with it. Like I said the phenomena are as old, universal and natural as time. You may need to acknowledge this state of bias for the following reasons that are all.

  • For the want of a new experience! Sure you’ve eaten vanilla all your life, but how bad could chocolate be
  • To be consciously aware that you are resisting change. I know why I’m not even trying a chocolate flavor
  • To be ok with others’ choices. The ice cream parlor is your’s to choose what flavor you’d like to eat
  • Do not impose your preferences on others. It’s ok for someone else to enjoy chocolate flavor
  • For being open-minded. I’ve eaten vanilla all my life! Perhaps that’s why I’m scared to try something else
  • To take responsibility for your decisions by indulging in experiences of your own and not someone else’s. I’ll still have vanilla even though this one isn’t great because I can blame my mom for the bad choice
  • To be well informed and rational. I will eat vanilla because not only do I love the flavor but also because I’m allergic to chocolate

The underlying fact in all of these things is CHANGE. A biased, unaware brain develops such resistance to change that it starts justifying every behavior no matter how irrational and unproductive. The result- an unfulfilled, sedimentary life, for change is the only constant in an ever-growing world.

It is said that our brains are one of the least used organs of our body. One reason for that is these biases which we formwork as fixed pathways and we end up doing the same things as a result. At least being aware of our decision-making patterns will surely trigger newer neurons which in turn will help us think better and might just help us come up with something new. We will do more justice to our own brains as a result.

Change is difficult but the best way to change a mind is to start. To start one must be aware first. With as open a mind as one can summon, one must think about why one thinks the way one does. Is it what one truly believes in or is it just the burden of someone else’s opinion that one is carrying? Is it from a space of grudge or some unjustified love that one thinks the way he does? Reflection then seems to be the most apt tool to gauge and slice into those moments. Meditation helps sharpen our awareness and bring the focus back on ourselves. It is a very useful practice for mindful living.

Off late, over the internet, have you noticed how some random google search you did suddenly becomes the very basis of your electronic feed? Similar ads and relevant information start popping up almost everywhere. That’s the state of our biased brain. In contrast, the actual capability of our brain is at par with the internet which is infinite. Would you like your experience to just be those few feeds or will you clear your cookies and make this entire world your oyster? The choice as always is yours, just make it consciously.

Remember- the mind gets better at what it does more often.

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No Matter What People Tell You, Words And Ideas Can Change The World.

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Pratik Agarwal

Pratik Agarwal

Write for myself, to pour my thoughts in words and make them count for myself.

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