Flawed Human

2 06 2011

You are fundamentally flawed. It’s okay. So am I. Every human who has ever lived has shared the same set of shortcomings. I am talking about the failings intrinsic to human perception. People tend to think they have a good handle on things when, in fact, our brains and our senses are not wired for rational thought and clear perception. They have been wired for survival and quick reaction.

If one does not recognize that they could get something wrong when it seems so obvious, this can lead to some pretty big mistakes. Neil deGrasse Tyson spoke about the frailties of human perception during a Q&A session. (The video is below.)

The reason we have something like science is that a few of us have recognized that it is very easy for people to make mistakes when approaching a question without any structure. We tend to see things from a unique perspective that can skew perceptions. We can easily jump to conclusions without going through the intervening steps of actually analyzing the situation or object in question.

These attitude and tendencies make sense from an evolutionary point of view. If a prehistoric human or one of our ancestors was too rational or took too long to analyze a situation, it could be deadly. If an early human saw a shape some distance away, it would be safer to assume that shape was a predator. It could have been a boulder, completely innocuous. However, by leaping to that conclusion, that early human may have saved his own life.

Calm, reasoned inquiry and a structured analytical thought process can help us make sure we are on the right path and, ultimately, will get us better information.

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