One word begets two
Two words beget a cluster
And before we know it a concept is formed
It all happens in our head
With nothing being said
Filters and blinkers
Tunnel vision blindness
We call it preference
But it’s probably the bias of a thousand small decisions
We aren’t even aware of making
*I only utilise one language. I learned these words so long ago I can’t recall not knowing them. There was a time when I was non verbal but I don’t know what that felt like. To look at something and not have the words to describe it is impossible.
Words are funny things. We think a word and then other words come flying across our brains and join the original one and before we know it ideas and judgements are formed. This occurs so fast that we can’t watch the process in real-time. Yet this is exactly what we must do in order to catch our biases in the act of formation.
We all like to think of ourselves as good people. People that wouldn’t be racist. People that would treat everyone in the same way. People that wouldn’t discriminate.
There is a great deal of discussion about artificial intelligence – fear over what and who new technologies may replace in the human world. What we don’t realise is that we already exist within the framework of artificial intelligence, our own.
We are a morass of memory, learning and patterns of behaviour which have knitted together to form a filter through which our very efficient brain sees the world and relays it back to us.
We don’t realise that this is happening every time that we have an interaction with the world. Experience carves chasms and canyons in our mind as surely as storms and water do within the natural landscape.
Every time we think a thought it leaves a residue. If we were to try and keep track of every thought we have ever had it would be impossible. But our brains do. And to save time, our thoughts are recycled and used again. Our language supports this process beautifully by attaching words to our thoughts. Feelings spring from those thoughts which cements the residue as a fixture. Our filters are as transparent as a pair of reading glasses.
As we grow older, it seems we reach for those glasses, we can’t see anything properly without them. By middle age or even well before, our biases are entrenched in our psyche, invisible to ourselves though unfortunately sometimes obvious to the rest of the world.
How shocking then to remove them and see things differently. It is certainly more interesting.
Jessica Nordell is an award winning author who once submitted a piece of writing for consideration several times before changing her name to JD Nordell and resubmitting the same piece of work. “I didn’t believe it would really make a difference” she admitted. Her submission was accepted within an hour. The editor assumed she was male. Male writers are still apparently treated differently to female writers. Jessicas book The End of Bias A Beginning recounts countless facts of discrimination which are common in everyday life from medical practitioners who treat certain demographics differently (and quite unknowingly) to publishers, the police, teachers, and everyday community leaders. It is endemic to the human condition.
But what difference does it make? We are flawed and biased, so what?
Well aside from the fact that we are continually adding to the continuum of flawed policy and systemic discriminatory beliefs – we are hurting ourselves profoundly as well as those we love.
I see my son, do I see how he has changed in just the last month or do I treat him the same as I always have? Do we look at those around us the same way we have historically done or do we truly see them as they are right now in this minute?
We are ever changing and evolving beings. But we are rarely seen as such. It can be frustrating and hurtful. With the holiday season coming up, this simple fact will be cause for tension around many family tables.
To see someone without the filters and narrow focus of bias and experience is revelatory, it also takes a lot of energy, time and discovery. Something our ever efficient brains don’t like to do.
Perhaps the simple act of being aware that we have these inherent biases is enough to be able to change ourselves and the way in which we assume and conclude. At least we might question a belief rather than just run with it from time to time.
Our AI is always on, we can’t help that and probably wouldn’t want to. Without our programming we would be incapacitated and paralysed by the sheer effort it took to disremember everything we knew and relearn something differently every time we have an interaction in the world , but the idea that we live within a biased world of our own creation perhaps gives us an opportunity to expand compassion and catch ourselves in a moment of automatic judgement every day.
And the days add up to something, they add up to a more examined life. After all, it’s far more pleasing to think I am thinking for myself, rather than my artificial intelligence program thinking for me.
A few takeaways if this post has been of interest :
Have a great day, may you be seen and see others in real time, without filters, we can but try.
Thanks Andy Kelly Unsplash for the header photo. Kids are our hope for the future – if we can change the data before it is laid, perhaps we can change the programming in real time.