October 25, 2011

A New Fallacy? The Infallible Person

I'm not sure if this fallacy has been talked about before in the depth that I'm about to talk about it or even if it is correctly identified as a new fallacy. What is clear is that it is an error in reasoning that hinders many peoples thinking without them even realizing they are making a mistake. That error is thinking that the mind works perfectly and is a perfect translator of external events to sensory information to rational understanding to memory retention and recall. Which could be encompassed in the argument from authority fallacy where any person is the authority of what they did/didn't do, but I don't think that, that description encompasses the totality of  different kinds of errors being made.

Any person considers themselves the authority on what they did or did not do. I was at the casino last night and played poker, lay down my flush draw when I should have but got criticized about it, and all sorts of other things. These are the types of things people hold unquestionably true.

The mind does a wonderful job taking different waves at different frequencies and turning them into something intelligible, but it does error and on top of that it makes systematic mistakes; to err is human, and people don't understand how truly human they are. This is because the brain and body do such a seamless job, most of the time, that unless these mistakes are being consciously looked for they are unnoticed or shrugged off. Forgotten almost immediately, escaping notice, leaving no reason to doubt a personal infallibility about what is going/went on in the world.

However, mistakes are made, remotes end up in the freezer next to the popsicle's and ice cream end's up in the fridge under the cheese slices. These are the common errors that the mind makes when it is busy and concentrating on something else, the programming was there so the mistake shouldn't have been made, but it was made anyway, due to any number of reasons.

Pareidolia took this Canadian bill off the market (See the Devils head?)
There are another class of errors that aren't mistakes, per say, they are errors that are purposely made or that are there for a reason. Pareidolia, the common misconception of memory, cognitive dissonance, implanted memories, and  intuitive measurement, intuitive probability (Monty Hall Problem). Yet, despite these and the more common problems like miss identification people normally don't doubt any of the knowledge they have.

This all accumulates into a host of unknown phenomena being understood as 'real'.  Ghost stories have started by objects moving and no one being able to account for who moved them, extraterrestrial visits have been caused by implanted memories and a host of other things,  lucky streaks happen because of the poor understanding of probability, and many other supernatural occurrences can be accounted for just with the fallacy of the person thinking that they are infallibly seeing the world, instead of seeing reality through a evolutionary crafted human lens.  

This failure is mainly due to the mind working so well that its non-perfect functioning is a novel amusement (the inward nose) and (balls rolling uphill). No one really thinks about how often their brain gets something wrong and the people who do think about it might fit into the category of people who look at the brain as the work of a divine hand that could craft a brain that sees the true picture of reality, instead of a product with limitations and made not for the purpose of understanding reality, but for being a successful gene package.

Pariedolia works, it has often been noted, because the 8 times you mistake a tiger being in a bush, your only out a couple seconds of your time, but the one time you don't see the tiger in the bush you may be out your life. Errors can be just mistakes or they can built into the mind itself for enhanced survival. Mistakes exist in categories that aren't the exception, but instead the rule.

So when a lady tells me she knows that a house is haunted because one day a hairbrush went missing and turned up in the kitchen cupboard, I don't doubt that hairbrush went missing, but I question the persons memory about things they have done. There needn't be ghosts when there are so many specters of the human mind. Seeing isn't believing.

Which pretty much covers the basics of this fallacy, the fallacy that the mind functions perfectly. People think that their brain works perfectly and their version of reality is what infallibly happened, instead of the brain producing a, usually, well working picture of reality through a human lens.

Thanks for reading,