Zia Hassan

Cognitive Error

It’s been discussed in many books that humans are driven by narrative. That even when we think we’re being rational and logical, we’re really just validating the stories we tell ourselves. Data can prove almost anything, it turns out.

A friend of mine once referred to these instances as “cognitive errors.” But to a technologist, an error means that a system didn’t work as designed. But that’s not the case with the brain: it was “designed” to tell stories, to complete narratives. It’s why we find movies and TV and books to be so compelling. It’s a biological instinct that helps us survive: we fill in missing information, and while it is sometimes to our detriment is often a practice that can save us.

And of course, when it comes to technology, there’s also user error: when a system that works as designed is used improperly by a user. Sometimes we experience “user error” with the brain and that’s why meditation is such a useful tool. It helps us understand that we are the user of our brain, and not one with the brain.

It’s becoming more and more useful to me to think of the brain is a technology. A complex, misunderstood, and mysterious technology, but a technology nonetheless, and one that we could choose to operate manually instead of on auto-pilot.