Avoid Starting From a Conclusion
An essential element in our process of personal liberation is that of seeking and discovering truth for ourselves. However, in our search, if we’re not careful and attentive, we can be susceptible to a tricky little problem known as a “confirmation bias” (also known as “confirmatory bias”), which refers to a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions, previously existing beliefs, ideals, or biases. If we fall prey to confirmation bias we pay attention to information that upholds our ideas and beliefs and ignore information that challenges them.
Confirmation biases impact not only how we gather information, but they also influence how we interpret and recall information. For example, people who support or oppose a particular issue will not only seek information that supports their beliefs, they will also interpret news stories about that issue in a way that upholds their existing ideas and remember things in a way that also reinforces these attitudes.
Unfortunately, this type of bias can prevent us from looking at situations objectively, can influence the decisions we make, and can lead to poor or faulty choices. The world of politics offers a shining example of how confirmation bias works. During an election season, people affected by confirmation bias will tend to seek out positive information that paints their favored candidates in a good light while looking for information that casts the opposing candidates in a negative light. By not seeking out objective facts, interpreting information in a way that only supports their existing beliefs, and only remembering details that uphold these beliefs, they often miss or ignore important information that might have otherwise influenced their decision on which candidate to support. It’s like the person who says, “My grandfather voted Republican and my father voted Republican, so I am going to vote Republican as well,” and does so without even studying the any of the other candidate’s platforms and positions on various issues. Their attitude is basically one of, “My mind is made up already, so don’t try to confuse me with facts or evidence.”
Some people look at things with their mind already made up on what they think or hope they will find. In other words, they see only what they are looking to find, what fits in with their own beliefs, etc. and they search for confirming, positive evidence that supports their belief. One sees this all the time in the world of organized religion. A person takes a particular doctrine or belief and then searches their religious texts for anything and everything that supports that doctrine or belief, deliberately avoiding, ignoring or omitting anything that conflicts with it. If our mind is already made up about something beforehand we can either fail (or refuse) to acknowledge evidence that is contrary to our belief or theory, or look at it in a highly selective and distorted fashion that explains away anything that does not correspond with our belief. Everything that does not fit will be denied or reasoned away, either consciously or subconsciously.
Things such as preconceived notions, prejudices, ideology and beliefs can result in confirmation bias. Some people, for example, will automatically reject truth simply because it comes from a different religion than they belong to, or because the carrier is of a different ethnicity or part of a different social group.
“To bring the mind into sharp focus and to make it alert so that it can immediately intuit truth… the mind must be emancipated from old habits, prejudices, restrictive thought processes…” - Bruce Lee
Confirmation bias can be a stumbling block in our search for truth and understanding. If you are searching for truth, start with curiosity, not belief. And when you look for truth, make sure you are looking from an unbiased perspective as opposed to from a particular point of view or frame of reference, (ethnicity, nationality, religious or political affiliation, lens of conditioning, ideology, etc.) that will lead you to a “partialized” view of truth. Strive to keep any sort of confirmation bias at bay.
In the words of Bruce Lee -- "Above all, don’t start from a conclusion."