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The illusion of objectivity

The illusion of objectivity

Reflexive thinking is indispensable to react and make decisions efficiently, but may also distort our perception and ossify our way of thinking. How can we avoid being trapped in our cognitive illusions?

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If someone asks you what makes for good decision making, you will likely refer to objectivity to some degree in responding. We rely on facts (deemed objective) that we analyze to make judgments—which are subjective. In this manner, we can make informed choices.

This vision is reassuring, but largely illusory. Current knowledge about the functioning of the brain shows that we are simply unable to perceive the situations we must manage in a complete and objective way.

In reality, we act based on an incomplete vision of situations, which we perceive through filters constructed by our personal history. Every second, we receive thousands of bits of information—auditory, visual, etc.—from our environment. If we had to consciously analyze all this data, we would be simply overwhelmed. Our brain consequently uses our memory and knowledge to filter and sort the data we receive. It proceeds by analogy with situations already experienced to quickly categorize and interpret our perceptions. This leads the brain to extrapolate data perceived as missing or to eliminate data perceived as extraneous, in order to form an image that it considers to be coherent—meaning aligned with the outcome it presumes to be probable or credible. We become consciously aware of reality only after it has passed through this filter.

This mechanism allows us to decide quickly. It also allows us to focus our conscious attention where it is most needed: a new task, a priority topic, etc. This mechanism is thus essential to cope with life’s complexity. However, it can also work against us. For example, we believe we are making fully informed decisions, even as we unwittingly reject data that our experience has taught us is insignificant. Meanwhile, we miss out on opportunities or underestimate risks. We may also react inappropriately at times when we read too much into what someone else says, in light of our negative past experiences.

Becoming aware of these mechanisms is valuable, as it enables us to act to avoid pitfalls and make decisions with more lucidity and clear-sightedness.


In this synopsis:
- Cultivate your openmindedness
- Combine the power of experience and agile thinking
- React more effectively under emotional stress

Synopsis n.257a


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