Sunday, July 10, 2011

reconciliation of frames of reference by hindsight bias

I missed an aspect of free will in wildly varying frames of reference. Namely, the confusion fades. As time passes, manifestations of free will, which were formerly judged as harsh failures of the decision-maker's character, begin to be judged as moderate mistakes, challenges, catalysts, or bridges. For the religious, outrage could have been the contemporary reaction to an outrageous act or abstention, but feelings change as someone is said to "grow wiser", "see the larger picture", "accept it", "learn the lesson". Through these transforming sentiments, the present rationalizations for the past confounding decision are assumed to be part of the original frame of reference responsible for it. It seemed like nonsensical or malicious evil at the time, but now it's an enriching albeit formidable episode in the saga. There were unseen reasons and side-effects that become retroactive justifications.

However, the mechanism is suspect. Healthy humans have resiliency and emotions that are ever-changing. Dramatic inner screams that the world is ending have been wrong many times. The impact of an old memory is less than the impact of immediate sensation, so it's natural to underestimate the severity of the recalled event. Intellectually, the "hindsight bias" is probably active during remembrance. Since it's pretty easy to invent a likely narrative once all the facts are already known, hindsight fools someone into thinking that random occurrences with little warning were "obviously" inevitable and predictable. History defuses complexity.

In the grip of bias, and all too eager to tame and exploit troublesome data, storytellers turn the lead of negative tests of a god's principles into golden "insights" that teach the surprising nuances of the god's frame of reference. Looming over the past as they remember it, humans are thought to be that much closer to approximating the transcendental view. Not so. A decision-maker who excludes nothing from the balance-scale is nevertheless inscrutable. The human frame of reference for any decision may be a simple "good" balanced against a simple "evil". Yet the sweeping global frame of reference for that decision may have mile-high stacks of evil implications intermixed with the "good", and therefore the simple "evil" choice is the cosmic better. Pity the foolish human who tries to accurately score experiments of an impenetrable viewpoint, or gauge the illusory value of a decision through the hubris of hindsight. 

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