Furthest Right

Scenario Fulfillment, Task Fixation, Expectation Bias, and the First Mover Principle

Many of us have begun to notice that there is something wrong not just with our governments or our nation-states, but with humanity itself. The species seems compelled to seek illusion, which makes us wonder where our thinking went wrong at a level more primal than politics itself.

This means that something in the way that we think about the world or organize our perceptions tends to push us toward unrealistic conclusions before we have even begun to think about what we have seen. We are in the grips of a tendency to see things incorrectly and then not correct that assumption.

Knowing the Schopenhauerian critique of the intellect, namely that it perceives the world through itself and thus is prone to mistaking its own impulses for aspects of reality, we can extend that analysis to say that too often humans respond to the visual as being both literal and universal, as in the case of scenario fulfillment:

Scenario fulfillment occurs in highly trained and regimented organisations that have practised particular drills and simulations over and over, until responses to a particular scenario become automatic. So powerful are the reflex procedures that those in them will sometimes ignore or misinterpret information before the eyes that contradicts the scenario. Such as the fact that the aircraft approaching is an airliner, not a fighter plane, and is ascending, not descending.

When you expect a certain result, your brain takes that as an assumption and shoehorns in all the facts to fit the scenario. This is a classic “thesis in search of data” instead of “data in search of a thesis,” also known as means-over-ends because the actual end of finding the right solution has been forgotten and replaced by the method of cherry-picking.

The worst part about this thought process is that it causes people to discard nonconforming facts much as tyrants oppress those who fail to conform to the dominant narrative:

In their report, Fogarty’s investigators said that “stress, task fixation and unconscious distortion of data may have played a major role in the incident.”

But improvements can, they said, make less likely what the Fogarty commission called “scenario fulfillment syndrome” in the Vincennes incident–the assumption that an approaching aircraft is what you initially believe it to be, even in the presence of contradictory evidence.

Those who analyzed the situation later found that it was a classic case of an initial assumption which was supported by some of the evidence, but when all of the evidence was considered, did not fully fit the scenario. In addition, signals and anonymous voices contributed to the confusion of a projected scenario with the data at hand:

Erroneous Expectancies

  • Memories of USS Stark incident initiated “scenario fulfillment” occurrence
  • Operators claimed the incoming aircraft was descending and picking up speed
  • Anonymous shouts and warnings contributed to tense atmosphere
  • Capt Rogers paid more attention to emergency signals than computer displays
  • Stress, tension, lack of time, and fog and friction of war all contributed to the problem

When the human looks for a crisis, one is easily found that fits enough of the data to be plausible, which causes the brain to reject the rest. It is as if our brains seek some description of events into which the data can fit, without wondering if it is the best fit.

Parallelism — the philosophy written about here — says that patterns exist in parallel among mind, matter, and energy. To find the right pattern, you look for the parallels, meaning that it corresponds to all data points, instead of effectively cherry-picking by matchin enough points to make a plausible argument at the pub.

The other philosophy, which we might call “minimum match,” looks for what is popular among the people in a group, and then uses it to discard all other theories so that the group can act. This causes a pattern blindness that rejects anything but the mental image first conceived:

Expectancy bias occurs when people expecting something to happen allow this to distort their view of what is actually happening to match their expectations. Nisbett proposed that because the Vincennes’ crew believed the blip was a hostile plane, they failed to see the ascending Airbus. Instead they apparently imagined a descending enemy fighter. But expectations, like simulations, are similar to theories. All three are mental versions of situations as opposed to perceptions that reveal the situations themselves. In other words, by pointing the finger at the people involved and their possible propensities to see what they expected to “see” instead of what was actually there, Nisbett overlooked the more basic role that substituting a cognitive for a perceptual process — a theory for actual evidence — played in promoting this event.

Part of the problem here is individualism, or the tendency to choose what is convenient for personal lifestyles and status, since that rewards doing what is socially popular over taking the time to do what is logical according to the facts beyond what the group sees.

As Arrow’s Theorem states, people choose options based on what is convenient for them personally, and this makes it even harder for them to come to agreement on any solution based on externally-defined choices:

For any method of deriving social choice; by aggregating individual preference patterns which satisfies certain natural conditions, it is possible to find individual preference patterns which give rise to a social choice pattern which is not a linear ordering. In particular, this is very likely to be the case if, as is frequently assumed, each individual’s preferences among social states are derived purely from his personal consumption-leisure-saving situation in each.

In the case of the Vincennes, the externally-defined choices were created once other people started telling the captain what was occurring or shouting out their support for certain ideas. They set forth the choices, and he picked the one that made him feel best about himself.

This shows us the problem of the first mover, which says essentially that whoever speaks first defines the topic to which one either conforms or rebels, and everything in the middle is lost:

A first mover is a service or product that gains a competitive advantage by being the first to market with a product or service. Being first typically enables a company to establish strong brand recognition and customer loyalty before competitors enter the arena. Other advantages include additional time to perfect its product or service and setting the market price for the new item.

First movers in an industry are almost always followed by competitors that attempt to capitalize on the first mover’s success and gain market share. Most often, the first mover has established sufficient market share and a solid enough customer base that it maintains the majority of the market.

Whoever offers the solution that seems the most complete, meaning that it is simple and explains the situation in a comprehensible manner, will define the argument, even if other necessary facts have yet to arise and inconvenient facts must be discarded.

That in turn shows us the fallacy of misplaced concreteness which occurs when people want a single immediate answer instead of complex and ambiguous future investigation or nuanced assessments:

Rabbinge calls this the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness,” whereby bureaucrats lawyers and economists, in particular, tend to want to see hard-and-fast rules rather than the incremental and iterative approach of mineral bookkeeping and the similar “4R” program in Canada.

Chain these together and you have a mind that is both neurotic and certain of itself. It asks not what is true, but what it can think that will make it feel confident and happy, and therefore selects the facts that fit that model instead of muddling through all the facts to find the end result.

Similarly, our pursuit of contentment and happiness makes us neurotic. A human might ask, “Am I happy now? No, I am unsettled because I am wondering if I am happy now.” The question itself is cyclical. It loops back into itself because it is an assumed goal that does not match what is real.

Each time humans get together, they fall into the same illusions and eventually defeat themselves. This is a trait that we must understand and expunge from our species if we are ever to make it past the stage of being neurotic technological apes who worry too much.

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