Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
What was the underlying cause that resulted in Homo sapiens becoming the sole and dominant human species on the earth? One answer could be that cognitive bias, confirmation bias and argumentative theory were survival mechanisms that were genetically selected for that now appear in Homo sapiens. How could these traits be the most useful in the survival and dominance of a species over the last 4 million years?
In an extraordinarily complex world with and infinite number of stimuli and social circumstances that can surround an individual, perhaps it was beneficial to have a cognitive bias. Rather than analyze an infinite number of stimuli and social circumstances, the brain takes a short cut and has cognitive biases that allow the individual to make quick decisions and survive in his environment. A cognitive bias might also explain an inherent fear of the unknown. If a lone Australopithecus heard some rumblings in the brush, he would probably run and seek protection in a large group. If the sound was made by a large predator like a lion, that cognitive bias resulted in the individual not being killed by a predator. If the sound was made by a non-predator like an antelope, the individual didn’t have to leave for protection. But when in such a situation, if many individuals did not seek protection in a large group, chances are good a number of them would be killed by a predator, which would then lessen the chances of that species surviving. So evolution for the species genetically selected the cognitive bias short cut – the fight or flight response, in this case flight. Fear of the unknown may be the result of cognitive bias. If there was a tribe of 50 Homo habili that peered over a ridge and saw a group of 50 Homo rudolfensi that they had never encountered before, what should they do? Should all 50 habili meander over the ridge unarmed and introduce themselves, should they just ignore the Homo rudolfensi and go on their way, could they scout the group and decide to surprise attack, should they send a group of armed individuals to introduce themselves and their tribe. The answer to this question is not known, but for survival of the Homo habili, walking up unarmed or ignoring the other group altogether could result in their annihilation, rudolfensi might attack them. So a fear of the unknown could be a tribal instinct that is itself a cognitive bias that has been genetically selected and helped the survival of our species and the extinction of others. And in this scenario, Homo habilis may have started projecting their cognitive biases forward in making a decision as to what to do upon encountering that unknown Homo rudolfensi tribe. Did they scout the village from afar and see evidence of their cognitive bias, their fear of the unknown? If so this would then be a confirmation bias, which could very well influence their decision as to what to do.
Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, age or sexual orientation could also be a product of cognitive bias – as was the case described above with Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensi regarding race/ethicity. Someone today may have a preconceived notion, a prejudice, a cognitive bias, about any such group other than their own and apply that prejudice to that individual or group. This kind of discrimination could be the result of the cognitive biases that have been genetically selected and neurologically wired over the course of the successful evolution of Homo sapiens, including the next step of applying a confirmation bias as described above with Homo habili and Homo rudolfensi, which is mow present in us, the sole dominant Homo sapien species of today. Our brain’s perception of the world, our neuroreality, is influenced by our evolutionarily selected and genetically expressed cognitive biases from our evolutionary past.
As a very very small piece of anecdotal evidence, I recall an incident watching Sesame Street at the age of 3+, I’m a white male. A black bald man appeared on Sesame Street reciting the alphabet, that was the first time I had ever seen such. I ran screaming and scared crying to my mother yelling “What’s that mommy, what’s that?” She calmly explained that that was another person who happened to have no hair and different color skin, and that there are all kinds of people in the world of different color, shapes and sizes, that we were all the same people, and he was just like me. After that I developed a liking for the guy and looked forward to seeing him again on Sesame Street. But what was it that caused my initial response? At the age of 3+ there is no way I could have developed and learned a bias to a black bald man that I had never seen before, so that bias must have been that genetically selected cognitive bias of fear of the unknown.
Once the developing human brain had these cognitive biases as a means of survival, the next step would be to apply this bias in a forward manner in social context. When your cognitive biases are in place, in new situations you look for confirmations of these biases, as most likely was the case with Homo habilis encountering Homo rudolfensi as earlier described. The cognitive bias comes first, then the confirmation bias finds information confirming that bias.
Let’s review Argumentative Theory: Argumentative Theory is a concept proposed by Mercier and Sperber in, Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory: "Reasoning is generally seen as a means to improve knowledge and make better decisions. However, much evidence shows that reasoning often leads to distortions and poor decisions. This suggests that the function of reasoning should be rethought. Argumentative theory claims that the function of reasoning is argumentative. It is to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade. Reasoning is adaptive given the exceptional dependence of humans on communication and their vulnerability to misinformation. Skilled arguers are not after the truth but after arguments supporting their views. This explains the notorious confirmation bias. This bias is apparent not only when people are actually arguing, but also when they are reasoning proactively from the perspective of having to defend their opinions. Reasoning so motivated can distort evaluations and attitudes and allow erroneous beliefs to persist. Proactively used reasoning also favors decisions that are easy to justify but not necessarily better. In all these instances traditionally described as failures or flaws, reasoning does exactly what can be expected of an argumentative device: Look for arguments that support a given conclusion."
From: A Conversation with Hugo Mercer
"Reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments. That's why they call it The Argumentative Theory of Reasoning. So, as Mercier and Sperber put it, 'The evidence reviewed here shows not only that reasoning falls quite short of reliably delivering rational beliefs and rational decisions. It may even be, in a variety of cases, detrimental to rationality. Reasoning can lead to poor outcomes, not because humans are bad at it, but because they systematically strive for arguments that justify their beliefs or their actions. This explains the confirmation bias.'" Here argumentative theory is an extension of confirmation bias.
So the Argumentative Theory as stated above explains the genetically selected human confirmation bias. So a more expanded explanation of human brain development may be that the genetically selected and neurologically wired cognitive biases resulted in the development of confirmation biases that explain the thought processes described in the Argumentative Theory. I make this statement from the evolutionary perspective. Have you ever been walking through the woods when suddenly nearby a squirrel runs up a tree, or a bird suddenly flies away – you jump, that’s the instinctive fight or flight response. That is exactly what the Australopithecus did when she ran away for protection from the rumbling in the bushes and when I ran to my mother after having seen a black bald guy for the first time. This is a bias genetically existent in most animals and us as well, so this could very well be a cognitive hard-wired bias. So once such cognitive biases were in place in the animal brain, they could be applied down the evolutionary line in more complex situations. Upon encountering the rudolfensi village with their fear of the unknown cognitive bias, Homo habilis may have relied on confirmation bias, seeing evidence of their fear of the unknown, which may very well have been involved in their decision as to what to do.
This confirmation bias in Homo habilis could have then lead to the Argumentative Theory, which may have developed as Homo erectus migrated out of Africa 2 million years ago and inhabitted most of Eurasia in more complex tribes and villages. This then lead to Homo sapiens, their exit from Africa 70,000 years ago, and their migration and dominance over the entire world. This then lead to the development of agriculture and the advent of civilization some 5000 years ago, then the industrial revolution, and now the digital revolution and information age. In the extraordinarily complex society of today, the instinctive cognitive biases, the resulting confirmation bias, applied in the argumentative theory, may all very well be present in the 100 billion neurons in your brain helping to generate your perception of reality, your neuroreality.