As A Political Immune System

 Every man should have a built-in automatic crap detector operating                                              inside him. It also should have a manual drill and a crank handle                                                                                                                          in case the machine breaks down.    Ernest Hemingway 1954.

Every politician should have a built-in automatic fact detector operating inside his/her mind’s eye. (To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway’s famous crap detector quote above.) This would be a network that protects the human mind from personal/political biases.

But how many politicians can be persuaded to develop a fact detector in their mind’s eye, learning the lessons of fact checking? And do we have the capability to teach the human mind fact-checking?

How about a “Baloney Detection Kit”?  In Carl Sagan’s 1996 book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, he offered his “rules for bullshit busting and critical thinking”. This was a set of cognitive tools and techniques that fortify the mind against penetration by falsehoods. As a proponent of critical thinking, he supported skepticism and believed that many of our problems with critical thinking are rooted in our chronic discomfort with ambiguity.

That is what I have been recommending for years: positive uncertainty. (Why didn’t I know about Sagan’s ideas before, and where did those ideas go?)  A built-in automatic fact detector, along with a built-in crap detector and a baloney detector kit might be a helpful step toward learning critical thinking for all of us. But is it possible?

The human mind’s extreme credulity is not critical thinking. But you can’t teach the human mind if it isn’t open to new ideas and new thinking. You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks. A fixed mindset is one of the biggest obstacles to critical thinking. Another obstacle to learning critical thinking is the notorious “confirmation bias”, the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them.

Some kind of built-in detector might help all of us avoid the confirmation bias. But the confirmation bias in politicians is probable not influenced by any detector. A fact detector system for a politicians’ mind eye would have to combat the well-known political tribalism, which includes many other popular human biases: the Self-serving bias; Ingroup bias; Bandwagon effect; Herd instinct, etc.

The problem with fact- checking is that it is usually preformed on someone else. Fact-checking on oneself is rare. However, today it seems obvious that political self-fact-checking is urgent. Such a political immune system as an Automatic Fact Detector would change political discourse radically. But we can’t expect political fact checking when we don’t yet have wide-spread personal fact checking, even without a crank handle, in case the machine breaks down.

 A lie can travel half way around the world before the truth can get its shoes on.                Mark Twain


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  1. Marianne Fontana says:

    Fantastic idea. There are so many lies told, one has a hard time knowing what to or not to believe

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