Bias in Learning

The best reason to write is to understand your own ideas. At least for me, if I don’t write my ideas down, they just hang around and I don’t get any news ones. I don’t know how that works exactly, but the past 20 years leave me no room for doubt.

Sometimes the new ideas are simply better ways of phrasing the old ones. This is another angle on the question of the perils of education, but with an interesting new way of looking at it.


This has nothing to do with modern wokeness or politics. Bear with me.

In machine learning, there is an important mathematical concept of bias related to what a given output a program can produce.

Suppose you create an image recognition program that can output that something is either a bicycle or a mountain. That is all it can output. No matter what inputs are provided, it will ultimately say “bicycle” or “mountain”. It is hard for us rich, complicated humans to deeply understand this, but it is all this little program knows.

Give it a picture of a banana? Bicycle.

The Mona Lisa? Mountain.

A mountain? Mountain… at least, one hopes.

This algorithm’s bias is that it can only “see” a bicycle or a mountain. All algorithms have this representational bias, because they can only produce some finite set of outputs that is by necessity far less complex than the real world. Unlike the political meaning of the term, “bias” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just is something you have to be aware of, because you can not get rid of it. There is no such thing as an “unbiased” algorithm.

You can partially imagine a bias as simply the set of ideas that an algorithm is even capable of representing internally. Our silly program above is incapable of representing “door”, for instance. There is no configuration of numbers inside it that will produce that output.

Human Biases

This definition turns out to be useful in real life, because you are biased in this manner too. So am I. We are finite beings. Even were we otherwise perfect, that alone would be enough to bias us, but we also are limited by our intelligence, experience, and all sorts of other factors. There are thoughts that we can not internally represent. Some of these thoughts other people can, because of their difference in intelligence, experience, talents, etc.

This can also be hard to deeply understand, because we can not be someone else. But there is another person that we have access to… our past selves. You should be able to think of something that you can now conceive of that you used to be unable to do so. It doesn’t have to be an idea; it can be a skill that you’ve spent 10 years developing, and now you can just feel how to play that musical instrument. But do you remember what it was like the first time you picked it up? You’ve grown your bias for that instrument considerably since then.

Or, as I just sat here with my pre-teen son watching a television show in which there was a bit of kissing, can you recall what it felt like for it to be inconceivable that adults liked to do that?

Our conventional definition of bias for humans is not exactly the same as this, but if you think about it for a bit, you may realize they’re more closely connected than is immediately obvious, and there’s a good reason that machine learning uses the word “bias” for this concept.

Higher Education’s Statement

As I mentioned in the first perils of education essay, an education by necessity involves telling people non-obvious things. Let me get somewhat specific and say that education has a lot of statements of the form:

  1. There is this thing X…
  2. … that appear to you to happen because of A and B.
  3. But in reality, T combines with U, and together with V and W,
  4. What is actually happening is Y.

Once you get past rote memorization of lists of facts, a lot of education takes this form. As I said, the entire point of education is to teach you about things where your initial assessment of what is true is incorrect, because there’s no need to teach you about things where your snap judgment is already correct.

But that’s a very complicated statement up there. Some people may already be having their brain blow out just with the letters above, but when you start filling it in with details it gets even worse.

The simple fact is, some people simply do not have the capacity to represent such a complicated statement in their brain. Their representational bias simply does not encompass such statements.

Therefore, by mathematical necessity, what they will get out of their education must be something their representational bias includes.

You have experienced this any number of times in your life, when you say something to someone, and as you continue to converse with them it becomes clear that they didn’t understand what you said, and eventually you realize they can’t understand what you said. But they think they understood. They heard something that you would consider a simplification, or a terrible distortion of what you said. This comes up a lot when trying to teach, but it can come up in online debates and all sorts of other cases.

The Midwit Mistake

The midwit mistake is for the midwit’s inability to handle complication to end up representing the statement above as:

  1. There is this thing X…
  2. But because I say so (“blah blah blah”)
  3. What is actually happening is Y.

This is the “taking it on authority” pattern. Unfortunately, with the middle part being “blah blah blah”, the midwit is left with no basis to analyze which authority they listen. They also have no basis to analyze whether or not the statement is even true… because “because I say so”, the thing you think you see is not true, something else is true.

This then creates in own second-order pathologies, like sticking to a particular authority long past the time they should have given the authority up, and treating which authority you believe in as a marker for which tribe you belong to.

If you were told for 16 of the most formative years of your intellectual life that this is what being smart is, how could this not mess you up?

This is also behind the fear of “misinformation”; there’s a lot of people in the world who assume that if you read something, you will simply believe it. Because that is essentially what they do. Thus, the solution to creating Goodthink is to eliminate anybody saying anything that contradicts the authority they’ve chosen, because the only reason that anybody believes anything is because they are accepting some authority.

These people can not internally represent the idea that people could analyze ideas on a basis other than authority. It isn’t that they don’t agree with that statement, it is that they can’t imagine it. Even if you ask them point-blank whether they believe it, they will give you a spurious answer because they can’t even process the question properly. It is literally a thought they can not think.

The problem with a midwit is that even if they take a red pill or two, they’re just switching authorities for what probably isn’t a well-grounded reason. I think I will write a later blog post on how to escape the midwit mistake.

The “Simple Man” Mistake

Another easy simplification is:

  1. There is this thing X…
  2. that happens because of A and B.
  3. Blah blah blah ivory tower garbage.

This is amounts to rejecting education. This is usually accompanied by various rationalizations about how someone thinking this way is better off than those ivory tower idiots, which is why I included that in step three.

Now, if I had to choose between being a Simple Man and a Midwit, I think Simple Man is the way to go in a heartbeat. A Simple Man is wrong about a lot of things, but, honestly, the specific ways in which they are wrong are often time tested and basically functional, and while that may not be the best intellectual strategy, there’s at least some wisdom in it.

A Simple Man is very resistant to being jerked around by an Authority spouting off garbage in an attempt to manipulate the Simple Man. It bounces right off him, because by golly, X happens because of A and B, it’s plainly obvious, so what’s this nonsense about some other Y thing all about anyhow?

IQ bell curve meme. The idiot on the left says, that's a mountain. The genius on the right says, I have learned many things about that mountain. The midwit in the middle says, that may look like a mountain but my sensei says it's actually...
First it is a mountain. Then it is not a mountain. Then it is a mountain again.

There is a reason why in the Bible, Lady Wisdom has many important things to say, and Lady Intelligence is a no-show.

Nevertheless… while the Simple Man may be choosing the better choice for a Simple Man, the Simple Man is wrong. It isn’t just X happening because of A and B. (Remember, we’re talking about real and true education here; fake education is its own problem.)

The Confused

This simplification is:

  1. There is this thing X…
  2. … that appear to you to happen because of A and B.
  3. But in reality, uhh… blah blah blah… something…. blah blah…
  4. What is actually happening is Y(ish).

I see this a lot when people start talking about anything “quantum”. There is a correct understanding that there is at least something wrong about the standard A and B explanation, and some awareness that there is something else going on, but they’re very hazy on what the reality is and often get the educated answer wrong.

A common second order effect is to get very incensed about whatever their understanding of the third step is, angrily denouncing things that nobody (educated) is really claiming, or angrily denouncing what seems to be logical conclusions of the misunderstanding of Y(ish) that isn’t actually the Y being proposed by education, or just generally, being very confused.

But this is by no means limited to “quantum”… it’s just by far the easiest example to cite. You can see it in all sorts of other things.

The “You Plebian”

One of the most annoying ones to encounter…

  1. There is this thing X…
  2. … that appear to you to happen because of A and B.
  3. But in reality, look, it’s really complicated, OK? It’s just… complicated.
  4. What is actually happening is Y(ish).
  5. I must be very smart for understanding all that complicated stuff in step 3.

In practice this comes out the same as a midwit, except they’re even more annoying about insisting on informing you about how complicated it is and how you just need to take it from them that it’s really complicated and that it just is Y, OK?

If you want to amuse yourself you can try to get them to explain what’s complicated about. You will certainly get some sort of complicated word mash back. Whether it bears any relation to real complications in reality would probably take more analysis than it is worth.

One thing to be aware of though is that if you are talking to a real expert in their field, perhaps one who isn’t good at communicating outside of their field, their explanations could sound this way to you, because of your own bias issues and inability to represent what they are saying in your own head.

Why Higher Education Isn’t For Everyone

Education, beyond certain bare facts and skill acquisition like reading and basic arithemetic, isn’t for everyone because anyone whose brains can not help but make these sorts of mistakes is simply facing intellectual hazard in an educational setting with no offsetting advantage.

Many of the people blindly following perceived authorities today do so because they are midwits, and their brains were given years of exercise in regurgitation and unnuanced acceptance of authority. They’d be better off without those years.

A simple man may avoid some of the hazards, but they’re certainly wasting time and probably simply becoming more contemptuous of the real values of education by the year.

And so on for the other issues as well. If your brain, temprement, and experience does not have the correct bias that gives the ability to fully comprehend arguments like the first one, to be able to hold the whole thing in your head at once and examine it, or use intellectual tools correctly to examine the full proposition, you are worse off in a lot of ways than if you were just left alone. Or left to go develop some useful skill, where the basis is gaining experience and a feel for the skill rather than having to be educated.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Powers that Be want everyone to be run through as much “Higher Education” as possible. Along with the obvious fiscal benefits of debt slavery, supporting a huge parasite academic class to create voters for you, and the opportunity for direct propaganda, most of the ways that education can go wrong for those that can’t handle it play to their benefit. You don’t even have to lie; you can give them a perfectly truthful education and the elites still get quite a bit of what they want.

Though of course rounding it out with lies never hurt them any.

Midwits and Contradictory Evidence Quercetin Report