On the Challenges of Thinking About How We Think

tl;dr: Everyone is subject to the tendency towards confirmation bias. The opportunity is to find ways to intentionally test your own theses.

I thought about the books I am currently reading and began to notice a pattern emerge.

Next to my bed were copies of How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed by Ray Kurzweil and The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Singer.

At the top of my Audible playlist is Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills which is one of the “Great Courses” series.

Interestingly enough, one of the primary points of the Deceptive Mind is that humans possess an innately strong ability to identify patterns…even when they don’t exist.

In fact, according to the Kurzweil book, the way that neurons work across the cortical columns within our neocortex are optimized for pattern recognition.

In other words, we are all constantly looking at the world, trying to make sense of things and put them into familiar patterns.

Singer’s book, which I picked up as complement to my meditation efforts, is an effort to help you “see” the ways that your mind works.

By allowing yourself to observe the patterns you are most likely to embrace and be aware of the fact that your mind is, by nature, pushing you in one direction like a maitre’d suggesting a table or a waiter suggesting an appetizer, you are better positioned to question the process.

The scientists call this “meta-cognition” or, as my brother Asher likes to say, “thinking about how you think.”

For me, it’s rapidly ascending the list of “most critical skills to develop,” particularly as I close in on 50 (admittedly a random milestone).

I suspect that some of my initial curiosity for this topic came from the recent presentation I gave at Microsoft called A Tech Explorer’s Perspective on Artificial Intelligence and my deepening involvement with SingularityNet, the leading decentralized AI platform, as an advisor. [For more, see How SingularityNet Leads to “AI for All”]

When you start to look at neural networks, you can start to get your own head around how our brains work. After all, it’s “artificial,” but inspired by the real thing.

Regardless of why I am immersed in this initial course study of the mind, one of my main takeaways is that the mind is a really a double-edged sword.

It can make connections and establish patterns allowing us to “see” with much greater clarity.

However, because it is based on a physical brain with inter-connected neurons, it will have strengths and weaknesses.

One of the most pernicious elements of the mind is “confirmation bias,” which I touched on a few days ago.

Conquering Confirmation Bias

There’s a part of me that thinks that, at this stage, after nearly 4 years deep in the world of crypto/blockchain, that the wisest thing I could do would be to step away entirely for some amount of time.

Maybe even go do a project in something that is unrelated and/or counter to crypto (though I probably wouldn’t last until lunchtime at a bank).

The reason for this would be to challenge my assumptions and see where I am just grabbing data to serve my own confirmation bias and where, for example, the thesis about the value and impact of blockchain and crypto holds up.

No major announcements now or anything, but it’s on my mind. I wouldn’t view it as an abandonment of the industry, but actually a deliberate effort to look at it with fresh eyes in order to update my assumptions

As someone who loves Marketing and Strategy and thinks Wardley Maps are one of the great inventions of all time, I tell myself that it’s critical to have as broad a view of the whole market/landscape as possible.

Perhaps the way to do it is to step out of it.

We’ll see and obviously easier said than done.

However, I think the bigger point for me is that there is confirmation bias in every aspect of our lives and at every level.

Looking for it and then consciously testing it seems to be a way to figure out what is real and true versus just having our minds playing tricks on us.

Neuro Businesses

Confirmation bias is not a new thing, but our ability to understand the mind with science and data is. That will lead to all types of new opportunities for new business creation.

Companies like SparkNeuro use brain data for advertising effectiveness, but you could see them evolve into something that measures the likelihood of confirmation bias and other types of psychological tricks we play on ourselves. That would be a killer app as in, “the likelihood you are BSing yourself score.”

My friend, Jeremiah, has a great presentation on the growth of the Wellness Tech sector and he has a post on it, called Investors Bet on Wellness Tech: Startups Funded $2 Billion.

As trends like AI, brain imaging, wellness, meditation, and others converge and the overwhelming data flows of modern life continue to grow exponentially, we’ll probably see many more apps and businesses (powered by crypto?) that help us all think about how we think…so we can all make better decisions.

On the Challenges of Thinking About How We Think was originally published in Data Driven Investor on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.