ConfirmationBias


"Just me and my many shadows wrestling toward another resolution."

I knew I wasn't an objective observer, though I could have hardly suspected the depth of my biases. As both the observer and the observed, I could hardly hold myself to any benign standard of objectivity, for I have a self-image to uphold. Like any complex system, self-preservation is job one for me, and so I'll likely discount any incoming information threatening my conception of myself. I'll most likely perceive each disconfirming bit of data as a Black Swan, present but meaningless, even if it shows up in a majority of my glimpses. I fancy that I know myself, too, though I sort of understand that the me I believe I know so well changes constantly and invisibly to anyone watching as closely as I watch myself. A long-span series of infrequent observations might more likely highlight changes obscured by continual vigilance. I most often see not who I am but instead project who I once believed myself to be.

I avoid mirrors. They lie unashamedly.
I won't go out without styling my hair because I otherwise look like Mayor McCheese with a bad case of bedhead. Styling my hair hardly eliminates the fact that, unattended, I very closely resemble the honorable Mayor. My self-esteem couldn't handle the public disclosure. I fancy myself thinner than I might measure. I'm similarly more clever, handsome, and thoughtful than widely recognized, though I avoid public disclosure of just how clever, handsome, or thoughtful I might actually measure as being. I distrust objective evaluations because their results tend to clash with my own convictions. Who are 'they' anyway to so arrogantly contradict me? My self-esteem might be my own little secret, a perfectly fine personal castle built upon an obvious bed of sand.

The question came up about my blood pressure. It spiked (as I previously reported) as I was being prepped for a brief medical procedure. The doctor sent me back to my GP with evidence that my blood pressure needed lowering. My home monitoring seemed to show that it was not usually high at all, presenting a conundrum. How might one prepare for a supposedly rare, situational spike? My GP prescribed a course of beta blockers which were supposed to lower the average readings, but they did not. Am I the only person in the history of the world so far for which beta blockers raise their average blood pressure? Perhaps, but probably not. The on-call GP recommended that I cease the course of beta blockers pending my GP's return. Then, overnight, I got to thinking. …

Who's been monitoring my blood pressure? I have, with a few instances where my GP's assistant took a reading. Who's been interpreting the bulk of those readings? Me, with the exception of those few interpreted by my GP's assistant. What do I know about monitoring blood pressure? Almost nothing! Could I have brought some ConfirmationBias into my assessment? Could I have not? I concluded overnight that I probably had. I suspect that I had been rejecting as Black Swan events many perfectly representative readings. It might be that there could not possibly have been any unrepresentative readings, and that the number of observations never rose to a critical mass where an average or trend could even be meaningfully derived. I'd been reporting to my GP that my BP seemed to be normal at home. The occasional in-office readings seemed to confirm my bias. I remained a man with normal blood pressure beset by inconvenient Black Swan readings. I encouraged my GP to agree with me, though The Muse continued to seem at least slightly incredulous at this news.

I suspect that the on-call GP's proper call would have been to double the dosage. If while under medication, I was still experiencing Black Swans, this might serve as evidence that my average blood pressure was a lot higher than earlier recognized. I don't understand the chemistry, so I won't self-prescribe, but I will suggest to my GP the probably very real possibility that I could have been unconsciously guiding the inquiry with my own unrecognized ConfirmationBias. A thousand other explanations probably exist, or could exist given more time and less ConfirmationBias. How am I feeling? Of course I'm feeling fine, but how should I know how I'm feeling? I feel like me, which, if history informs me means that I feel like I used to be. I can't actually be here now because I'm tied up being there then. Who knows how far distant those two lie?

I see a GP because he might be capable of credibly second-guessing me. It was never my job to cleverly convince him that I'm in no need of his services. He's not in the business of propping up my cringing inner Mayor McCheese. I am clearly not who I consider myself to be, but let's try to keep that disclosure between just you and me, shall we? The loss of identity might prove to be the most grievous loss. That the identity seems to be all tied up in some notional Ponzi self-preservation scheme might mean that any identity recognized as lost was probably long ago left behind, the illusion of its presence a Wylie Coyote trick where gravity kicks in only after about fifty yards of running on thin air.

This episode reads like every consulting engagement I ever had. The client self-reports the difficulty, so much ConfirmationBias clinging to it that I can hardly hold on. The difficulty was always the same, and the work painfully repetitive. Should I somehow manage to help the client through their recognition of personal ConfirmationBias, a catastrophic loss of an identity that actually had not existed for some time, we might find together some more useful way to perceive what was always there to be seen, but unrecognizable through the ConfirmationBias fog. Believe me, I brought plenty of my own, home-grown ConfirmationBias to every gig and needed to work my own way through my own considerable shit on the way to every rest room. That's just how it was. That's also how it still seems to be. Just me and my many shadows wrestling toward another resolution.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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