Sunday, 15 May 2016

How Do We Know What We Think We Know?

Phenomenology – the study of experience and how we experience- and ephoché – putting aside our own experience in order to experience ‘things as they are’ ran throughout my counselling diploma. I found myself struggling with these concepts for years afterwards, gaining then losing understanding and then regaining some insight after sitting with clients who perceived their world in ways entirely different from my own. We shared the same world, the same part of the world but had very different experiences of it.

I still struggle with the concept of ‘things as they are’ and find myself wanting to contend first one way and then the other about how things are because it seems to me that there is no one understanding to be had.

Cognitive dissonance is well understood: we all want to limit the discomfort that holding two competing beliefs causes and so we either change our beliefs or we rationalise them. Since changing our beliefs begins with recognising that we are wrong most of us tend to find or create ‘facts’ to support our existing belief. We all do it because the alternative – to live in an eternal ephoché – means paralysis.

We all have cognitive biases too “tendencies to think in certain ways that can lead to systematic deviations from a standard of rationality or good judgment.

The Wikipedia page on cognitive bias is a CPD subject for counsellors in itself and I recommend spending time with it and some colleagues discussing it. Rather than plagiarise the entire page here’s a taster:

Base rate fallacy or Base rate neglect
The tendency to ignore base rate information (generic, general information) and focus on specific information (information only pertaining to a certain case).[19]
An effect where someone's evaluation of the logical strength of an argument is biased by the believability of the conclusion.[20]
The tendency to see oneself as less biased than other people, or to be able to identify more cognitive biases in others than in oneself.[21]
The tendency for people to appear more attractive in a group than in isolation.[22]
The tendency to remember one's choices as better than they actually were.[23]
The tendency to overestimate the importance of small runs, streaks, or clusters in large samples of random data (that is, seeing phantom patterns).[11]
The tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions.[24]
The tendency to test hypotheses exclusively through direct testing, instead of testing possible alternative hypotheses.[11]
The tendency to assume that specific conditions are more probable than general ones.[25]
The tendency to revise one's belief insufficiently when presented with new evidence.[4][26][27]
The enhancement or reduction of a certain perception's stimuli when compared with a recently observed, contrasting object.[28]
When better-informed people find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed people.[29]

There are about 30 further categories. Enjoy!