Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Believing in the Majority

Overcoming Bias has a very interesting entry today, on ‘Philosophical Majoritarianism’. Firstly, it is very obvious that the author do not believe entirely in what he wrote, especially given the frivolity of the exposition. Secondly, I believe he meant for it to be more of a thought experiment (Scott Adam’s God’s Debris comes to mind). But I could be wrong.

The premise of the argument in the post is set up as below:

  1. We are hopelessly biased in forming opinions and exceptionally susceptible to the overconfidence bias.
  1. Given some assumptions, the opinion of the majority is normally closer to the truth than ours (Friederich Hayek’s The Use of Knowledge in Society and, less formally, James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds come to mind).

  1. Thus, to avoid bias, we should not be forming our opinions independently first, but rather take the majority opinion as the default opinion, and then only adopt a different view for exceptionally good and convincing reasons.

Then, Hal Finney, the author (earlier discussion on his religious quandary is also quite fun to read), practically asked for the analysis and argument to be torn apart.

Although the analysis might be flawed, I do believe there is some wisdom in the basic principle of his argument.


PS: Oh, I commented.


zcer said...

Wow, it is indeed an interesting entry. Thanks for blogging about it. I commented too.

I revise my previous comment on the relevance of evolutionary psychology to cognitive biases. It is not only makes much more sense, but is crucial in interpreting what our biases really are, and the proper way of dealing with them.

Robin Hanson said...

I suppose it seems provincial of me, but it seems so cool to me that someone way out Malaysia likes our Overcoming Bias blog! :)

Anonymous said...

reading the " overcoming bias " articles i guess, helps to trigger more creative thinking and expands the mind, which to me, is a good thing.

from here, I have now started to read more about jurors and hindsight bias :)


Elanor said...

But Dr Hanson, biases are universal!

Haha, anyway, Overcoming Bias is definitely one of my favourite blogs - have been following it religiously (although silently).

And thank you for dropping by :)

Malik Imtiaz Sarwar said...

I have not had a chance to look at Overcoming Bias and so will take what you've written as setting out the essence of the posting you refer to.

Malaysia is a country in which 'general rules' do not apply. We cannot assume that the majority operates as majorities do elsewhere. Logic and reason do not appear to have any significant role to play in the minds of those we hear (granted there is a silent majority, but seeing as how it is silent I will assume that it has no significant influence). From this vantage point, taking the majority view in Malaysia as being a more truthful default position is an invitation to mayhem.

A while ago, I was in Oxford for a Masters degree in International Human Rights. Juan Mendez, a brilliant man, was a tutor in advocacy/regional mechanisms in human rights. He started off the term with a declaration that we were free to draw on examples from our respective countries in setting up hypotheticals. After a while, he told me to stop offering scenarios. The Malaysian situation appeared to him to be one in which no reason could be employed. From the curbing of the freedom of expression to the lack of an independent and competent judiciary to corruption and abuses of power. It seemed to him, like it does to me, that we had all fallen through the looking glass.

Thanks for stopping by at my blog. I enjoyed my first visit to yours. Good luck

Malik Imtiaz

zcer said...

I like Dr.Hanson's work on the Economics of Brain Simulations. Where he considers how artificial intelligence will free economic growth from the limits of human population growth. Leading to possible doublings of wealth in time-spans less than a week...

Also other speculative but economically and technologically informed works of his at http://hanson.gmu.edu/vita.html

I think i'm now much more interested in economics than before. Haha.

Anonymous said...

I like to share this conversation I had with my teen age son.
We were discussing evolution and religion. If we take the major religions of the world and evolution, non of them is the majority, and all claim to represent the truth, since their claims are different, they can not be all true. Hence, even if truth is within the groups, the group that is right is only the minority! It is pretty disturbing to realise that the majority of the population believe in the wrong thing and many are willing to die or kill each other for a wrong believe.
What faith can we have in the majority? All will know is that most of them will be wrong!

Best regards,