Arguments and Confirmation Bias

An article from wired that I was reading today pointed out an interesting connection between argumentation and confirmation bias. I never would have thought the two were so connected before now, but it actually makes sense.

The article begins by wondering at the phenomenon of confirmation bias. Why do we even have it? Why is it that we dumbly look only for evidence that supports the idea we already have in mind, and are blind to contrary evidence? The result is that people make tons of bad choices! But what they point out is that this ability to only see things that confirm an idea is helpful when it comes to being persuasive. If I’m encouraging you to do something for me, I only want to give reasons you should do it, not reasons you shouldn’t.

It makes sense, and it speaks to our being designed for community. We literally can’t think logically about things without another person to bounce ideas off of. The other person has their own confirmation bias and, hopefully, you’ll get someone with a different idea than you. The result is a debate, and you get different ideas going back and fourth in opposition to each other. So our confirmation bias actually does work towards logical conclusions, but only in the context of a somewhat diverse community.

I think that confirmation bias further functions to strengthen the community once the debate is over and a conclusion is reached: everyone agrees on the idea in the end, and then everyone’s confirmation bias kicks in to start seeing reasons that it was right, bonding the community in agreement. That’s why stores have liberal return policies. As much as you may be debating in your head and hesitant about a purchase, once you’ve got it, you start seeing all the reasons you should keep it, even if you thought you didn’t like it before.

Where debates don’t end in agreement, community tends to polarize more and more, splitting into factions that will probably separate. This seems unfortunate but is probably helpful in that it keeps a diversity of approaches to life alive. You have people making cars that run on gas, and people making cars that run on electricity (like we did at the turn of the 20th century). If both approaches are perused, then you have better options down the line. If only one is perused (e.g. gas) then it’s really hard to adapt when problems emerge with that approach.

When Cats Become Magnetized

Much like how aircraft can become magnetized when flying through the earth’s magnetic field, or electromagnets when a current runs through them, cats sometimes become magnetized. It’s just one of those strange things about cats. G. Curtis Hoskins describes one method for determining whether your cat has become magnetized:

Note when a cat is lying in a certain orientation. Pick it up and then put it back down. If it chooses the same orientation (to magnetic fields), then it is in need of degaussing.

Degaussing is the process of removing the magnetism from an object, for example, old CRT monitors will frequently need to be degaussed when you move them or point them in new directions. A magnetized cat is not a serious problem, but you may notice your cat exhibiting curious behavior while suffering from magnetism.

It will not be strong enough to attract metal objects to the kitten, however, the cat will tend to position itself in the room according to unseen magnetic fields, sometimes resulting in funny behavior such as sitting in the corner facing the wall or hanging half way off of objects in seemingly impossible (or at least uncomfortable) positions. They will also tend to align themselves along a north–south axis (much like cattle and deer, which are naturally magnetized).

Unlike cattle, however, magnetization affects some of the highly refined senses of the cat, such as its inner ear mechanisms that allow it to always land on its feet, the high sensitivity of its whiskers, and ESP. Usually cats are able to keep themselves from becoming too magnetized by brushing against things as they walk by, which creates a static current in their fur that will naturally tend to degauss them. Petting your cat also helps it to keep down magnetic build-up. However, once magnetism has built up too much, cats will try more drastic measures, such as taking advantage of the photoelectric effect to degauss by sitting in the sun or lying on top of devices which emit small amounts of radiation, such as laptop computers. If your cat has most of the aforementioned symptoms of magnetic build up, or any of the following, it is time to manually degauss your cat:

  • Cat is startled by you when you walk into the room. (Indicates severe ESP interference, most probably by magnetic build up. )
  • Your cat randomly and for no apparent reason bolts around the room at full speed and then sits still again. (This is caused by changes in the magnetic field in the room which suddenly puts the cat out of alignment, causing them to run around until they find a more magnetically stable place.)
  • Your cat demonstrates a craving for broccoli. (Broccoli is rich in iron, which affects the magnetic field in a way that helps neutralize the effects on the cat.)
  • Coriolis Effect in the Earth's HemispheresYour cat is fascinated with your toilet or has figured out to flush it, which it does over and over. (This happens because the cat’s natural magnetic sense of which hemisphere it is in gets thrown out of whack, and thus the water may seem to the cat to be swirling in “the wrong direction” [as determined by the Coriolis effect] for the hemisphere it is in.)

Fortunately, there are reliable ways to degauss your cat, if you’re willing to put in the effort. Hoskins, in the same Air & Space article linked to above, outlines the steps:

First: Take the cat outside and coil a lightweight copper or aluminum wire loosely around it, beginning at whichever end the cat prefers, or allows. The coil may be either right-handed or left-handed, but be sure to note the direction of the coil and whether the cat is left-pawed or right-pawed, so the outcome may be correlated later.

Second: Wrap either end of the wire around a long nail and drive the nail into the ground. Note which end of the wire is used.

Third: After a suitable period of time, remove the wire from around the cat, or remove the cat from within the wire. Cats generally choose the suitable time period, and will pretty much take it from there.

Finally: Check to see if the cat’s direction is more random when lying down. If so, then the procedure has been successful. If the cat still appears to be polarized and unduly oriented within the magnetic fields, then a repeat of the procedure is recommended.