Heuristics, Biases, and How We Are Fooled - Dan Hodac

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Heuristic is an adjective for experience-based techniques that help in problem solving, learning and discovery. A heuristic method is particularly used to rapidly come to a solution that is hoped to be close to the best possible answer, or 'optimal solution'. Heuristics are "rules of thumb", educated guesses, intuitive judgments or simply common sense. Heuristics as a noun is another name for heuristic methods.


Heuristics are a type of mental shortcut that people use to simplify information harvested from our surroundings. Scientists have identified several kinds of heuristics including (but not limited to) Representativeness Heuristics and Availability Heuristics. This concept can be found in chapter 2 of the Lilienfeld text book. The reason why our brains use heuristics is because it will conserve mental energy (which our body does naturally) if we simplify the information that we intake from the world.

Ever since watching the "Witch Village" video from the movie Monty Python in the lecture, it has really stuck with me. It just baffled me that people could be so ignorant. Even though it was just a movie, the idea behind this scene can be applied to our world.

Monty Python's "Witch Village" scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3jt5ibfRzw

I believe that the concept of Heuristics is important because our society keeps telling us to not "judge a book by its cover." But after learning about heuristics, it seems that our brain does this naturally. So to what extent is it alright for us to "judge a book by its cover", especially if we have mentally evolved (stance is one is a functionalist) to do so naturally.

Going back to the "Witch Village" video, the mob firmly believes that the woman they wish to burn is a witch! Their justification for this is that she fits their heuristics for what a witch should look like, or in their words "She looks like one." They classify her as such because she dresses like one, she has a long pointed nose, wears a pointed hat, possesses magical powers, and weighs as much as a duck. This makes me ask myself more question, how would we know when our heuristics are wrong? Are they more wrong than right? Should we live our lives vigilantly trying to protect ourselves from our heuristics (because society tells us to).

The principle that I believe to be the most useful for the evaluation of this claim would be Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. This is because although the theory that the woman is a witch is one that goes against what society would consider normal, and thus the proof required to determine that the woman is a witch should be much more thorough and have extraordinary evidence instead of simply weighing the woman.

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This is a very well written article and I enjoyed the cartoon! I think this is a very interesting topic as well though. It is something that we don't think of on a daily basis. How we are sort of programmed to respond certain ways to certain situations without really considering it. Good job!

Very interesting article, I liked the reference to judging a book by it's cover. Heuristics seem to me like one of those necessary evils. While it would be nice to have the time and intelligence to rationalize and think about everything logically, we just don't have the time or capabilities to do that.Heuristics: can't live with it, can't live without it.

I see how "judging a book by its cover" and the use of heuristics could bring conflict. The thing to remember is that we cannot submit to those heuristics when it comes to people and things. Our brain might jump to a conclusion but it is up to us to try and get to know that person or "the book" for yourself. Overall i liked this article a lot.

I really liked you blog. The cartoon really grabbed my attention and you had a lot of interesting things to say about heuristics. Also liked the video from Monty Python!

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This page contains a single entry by hodac001 published on March 4, 2012 1:27 PM.

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