Rationality and Nuance

Greta Christina

It’s a fun skeptical exercise to imagine which cognitive biases we’d like to get rid of. Even when we understand the psychological necessity for these biases—even when we know the reasons they evolved and how they help us function—they can still be exasperating. For a long time, my candidates for “most annoying cognitive bias" were rationalization and the just-world fallacy. But lately, I’m leaning in the direction of our human minds’ difficulty dealing with nuance.

We boil down complex situations into simple ones. We exaggerate subtle situations into extreme ones. We sort gradations into boxes, exemplified by the shades on the furthest ends of the spectra. We make up strawmen, responding to ideas we dislike by making up the most extreme and absurd versions of them. We come up with aphorisms and treat them as conversation stoppers.

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