Bias is the thumb that experience puts on the scale. Gerald Smallberg
As Smallberg’s metaphor points out, my ability to weigh evidence accurately in order to make good decisions is challenged by my biases of personal experience. But I am not the only one; everyone is biased by his or her experience. I have spent much of career trying to help my readers identify and understand these biases. And in so doing, help myself.
I have many more years of life experience that most of my readers, which could be an advantage or disadvantage. Experience isn’t the best teacher if it doesn’t provide good learning. Certain experiences may become out of date or a single experience may be so powerful it creates autopilot decision making.
My background of experiences indoctrinates me into a certain way of believing and seeing and influences all of my perceptions. I learn certain preferences that I translate into my view of reality. If I had been born in another country, or in a different decade, or grown up with different parents or family, and learned customs of a different culture, I would have learned different biases. My perceptions of reality would all be different. This, of course, is true of everyone. As S. I. Hayakaya pointed out years ago: If you see in any give situation only what everyone can see, you can be said to be so much a representative of your culture that you are a victim of it.
Although we cannot control all the experiences we have, we can control some, and we can intentionally engage in some new experiences that will expand and enhance our learning. Understanding our perceptual biases is the goal.
Smallberg also added some other interesting metaphoric views of bias. Bias is the nose for the story. Without our biases to focus our attention, we would be lost in an endless and limitless expanse. We have at our disposal an immeasurable assortment of biases, and their combination in each of us is as unique as a fingerprint.
I find it intriging to think of my biases as the thumb on the scale weighing my evidence, the nose for my story, and the fingerprint that identifies me. My biases determine what is real and define who I am. What about your biases?
If something is perceived as real, it will be real in its consequences. W. I. Thomas