Biases and Butterflies
At Brain Pickings, Maria Popova takes a look at Shankar Vedantam’s book The Hidden Brain, which seeks to make conscious the unconscious biases that guide our actions, manipulate our minds, and often silently haunt our lives. In today’s society, Vedantam says, the effects of our biases are no longer localized, whether it’s the effect of color on our shopping choices or our odds of accepting (or not) vaccine science or evolution. Rather, their effects can ripple like hurricanes born from butterfly wings via waves of social technology:
Unconscious biases have always dogged us, but multiple factors made them especially dangerous today. Globalization and technology, and the intersecting faultlines of religious extremism, economic upheaval, demographic change, and mass migration have amplified the effects of hidden biases. Our mental errors once affected only ourselves and those in our vicinity. Today, they affect people in distant lands and generations yet unborn. The flapping butterfly that caused a hurricane halfway around the world was a theoretical construct; today, subtle biases in faraway minds produce real storms in our lives.
Most poignant are the tales of gender and sexual bias recounted in the book, which Maria has highlighted here. It’s important to remember how deeply seated our psychological biases can be, and how far their effects can reach, because even if we ourselves feel free from those biases, or feel that those who hold them are Dodo-bound for cultural extinction, we live in a world where the few can still knock down the many, thanks to the far-reaching effects of modern culture.
But I hold out high hope for continued change. Only by making our unconscious biases conscious, by bringing our shadow selves out of the neural shadows and into the light, can we change our minds … in the most literal sense.
Last week’s PBS Idea Channel details an excellent account of staring those biases in the masked face, in comic books. Watch the wonderful How is Ms. Marvel Changing Media for the Better? below: