Karl Arnold Belser
30 December 2017

I have become aware this year of Truthiness or more accurately the Illusory Truth Effect. See my posts Truthiness, Big Nudging.and Why Nations Fail. Truthiness is a manifestation of Confirmation Bias as the New Yorker article Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds clearly shows. The result often is political correctness (false believes), which may cause unwanted and damaging consequences.

I wan to discuss two questions:

1. How can I become aware if I am afflicted by the Illusory Truth effect"

The question is probably not answerable without a contentious event occurring because of the DUnning-Kruger Effect - not knowing that I don't know. I would say the ignorance of this type gives me personally the most trouble because I will argue ferociously in defense of what I believe to be true.

An example is a discussion I had with Jackie  over the book 1491 by Charles C. Mann before I had read the book. This book apparently disagreed with everything I had previously learned at Stanford about the Americas before Columbus arrived. Then I read the book, which presents scientific data uncovered after 2000 that showed that the indigenous people of the Americas were master  developers of food producing plants. The truth is that about 80% of the food people eat today came from the Americas. After I read the book and confessed my complete and total error I have still not been fully forgiven. This is the Murphy the goat fucker effect.  Murphy still complains "All I did was screw one goat".

The lesson here is  to have some skepticism about what I think I know. I might be uninformed. and one bad situation could ruin my reputation forever.

2. How might one behave relative to another person that one believes to be falsely influenced by Truthiness?

I read the book The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. This book shows many scientifically verified cases where people do not see or are not aware of things or events that they are not expecting. For example drivers hit cyclists that they simply didn't see. The authors point out that  our reality is inside our mind.

I am a control systems engineer by training and I know that one needs Model Reference Control to make good controls systems work. What this means is the the computer controller has a mathematical model of what  it is trying to control and the environment that the system is in. This model allows the control system to have access to  many system parameters indirectly.  Sensors make measurements to keep  the reference model in synchronization with reality and this apparently is what the human mind-body system does.  

Hence, a human being is a physical body with a few relatively primitive measurement capabilities that feed a very complex model of reality withing a person's brain. If the model isn't expecting some significant change it simply does not see it.

The conclusion is that people are not only physical bodies but they have a mental structure that is as significant and inflexible as the structure of the body.

Given this fact, and I call it a fact because of my knowledge and experience with control systems, one really cannot expect another person to accept as fact something that is not already integrated into their mind's model of reality. Confirmation bias means that the new fact will convince the person being confronted that the data is not true. Even if one is sure it is factually true, there is little or no way the person being confronted will integrate this new fact into their model of reality. This is especially true if there is significant social pressure for other ignorant people to call the fact fake. As the old saying goes Never attempt to teach a pig to sing, it wastes your time and annoys the pig.

The lesson here is to avoid trying to correct a false impression held by another person.

Certainly one has to have some common basis for mutual belief in a partnership relationship. So it may be necessary for the two people to work together through therapy to bring their mental models more into agreement. This harmonization does happen when people have been married a long time. Sometimes the two people may even start to look alike in both behavior and appearance.

I observe that there actually may be no mental model that works in all cases. People adapt their minds to be able to survive given their circumstances. This fact makes two people with different life experiences likely to disagree. Thus there may be no right or wrong based on past experience. The only test will be about what works in the new situation. This is the discovery process that I have often referred to in this blog. A successful person has to be able to adapt their mental models to the changing circumstances of the world they live in and this is the trait that I look for in friends.
Last updated December 30, 2017
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