Author Archives: Guy Kahane

Bias, Well-Being, and the Placebo Effect

In their classic 1988 paper ‘Illusion and Well-Being’, Taylor and Brown surveyed  a wide range of experiments in social psychology that suggest that self-deceptive illusions are not only the norm, but also seem to promote well-being—only depressive people were largely free of such self-deception (let’s set aside the question of causation vs. correlation).

         

A recent post, and several comments, have considered ways in which bias may sometimes actually promote true belief in the long run. But cognitive biases may be good for us in a more straightforward way, by making us happier. Unless possession of true beliefs is intrinsically valuable, why should we want to have truer beliefs if this will only make us less happy?

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Pascalian Meditations

The project of minimizing bias is in some ways structurally similar to consequentialist moral theories, and I suspect that enthusiasm for it positively correlates with sympathy for consequentialism (am I right?). There are certainly important differences between the two projects. Those who want to minimize bias rarely see this as an intrinsically valuable goal. And the goal of minimizing error is far more determinate than that of maximizing well-being or value. But some of the intuitive objections to such a project sound to me very similar to familiar objections to consequentialism.

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