The African Enterprise (11/10/2021)
Spreading activation theory, David Hume's principles of association, General law of least effort, The network effects of ideas.
For the first time in a while, I watched Youtube documentaries. I watched one about the evolution of and possible future of long-distance air travel. This video made me dig into my library for a book I bought a while ago but never got to reading — Cockpit Confidential by Patrick Smith. Other documentaries were focused on the current supply chain crisis, and on global commerce.
I was still able to write and publish an essay though: Our Strong-Features Bias. Features, especially strong ones, have been the basic rubric of Identification. Whether in classifying creatures, assessing people, or making product decisions, strong features provide a conceptual framework to ease decision-making.
We use strong features because they're reliable. Until they're not. Like the Black Swan sighting described in Nassim Talab's Black Swan, the problem with relying on strong features is that it forces us to decide, conclude, based on the things we know with little regard for those we don't.
Strong features encourage, force us even, to decide based on preconceived biases. They propagate exclusionary behavior that can cause bad, maybe expensive, decision-making.
So, Why do we have a bias for strong features? What do we do about it?
Coolest things I learned this week
Spreading Activation Theory
When asked a general question, we're unconscious of what goes on in our heads to retrieve and collate what becomes our answer. It's one of the wonders of the human brain and our information retrieval system.
Spreading activation theory explains how the knowledge we need to answer questions is retrieved.
According to the theory, the way we store information in our heads is similar to how computers store them - using nodes. Each node contains a person's knowledge stored in memory, and all nodes are interconnected. When two nodes have a shorter connection between them it means that the information in both are more closely related, the information in those two would associate more closely to the original concept.
For example, when a person is shown the word EAT then asked to fill the gap in the word SO_P, they're more likely to fill it as SOUP than SOAP because it has more connection with EAT. That connection is a product of the link between the nodes that have information about SOUP and SOAP.
In the same way, when asked a question like: Is a Penguin a bird? It would take a longer time and more effort to conclude that it is because they do not possess characteristics we would normally ascribe to birds.
This theory is also described as Associative Activation. The connectedness between ideas and concepts is important to how we think and make conclusions.
David Hume’s principles of association
Since we have established that association plays a significant role in how we think, It’s important to understand where all that association could come from. According to David Hume, these three are major:
We understand through resemblance. - Mason Cooley
Whatever it is, we find it easier to understand things with a certain resemblance to past experiences, or information we've been exposed to. Personally, I understand things better with some previous exposure.
After seeing a concept in a book, audio, video, or past conversations; I have an easier time remembering and understanding it. A node has been formed in my brain, and a connection has been made to that node.
Contiguity in time and space: Ideas, memories, and experiences are linked when one is frequently experienced with the other. We associate birds with flight because we often see birds in the air. This idea is more succinct with children. If a child's hand is pricked by an object, they'll immediately associate that object with the experience.
Causality: Humans are master causal thinkers. We think in terms of cause and effect. We immediately want to link a cause to an effect or an effect to a cause.
The general law of least effort
According to this law, if there are several ways to achieve the same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course.
The network effect of Ideas
As Psychologists have described, ideas exist as nodes in a network.
This means that network effects apply. The more exposure we have on a particular topic, the more nodes will be created from which connections can be made. Over time, the strength and depth of these connections improve.
That’s it for this week.
If you have any thoughts or questions, hit reply and we can have a chat. And if you enjoyed it, share it with friends.
Till next week,