The bug at the top.

Edward Taaffe
6 min readMar 21, 2022

It’s not just a quirky thing that we all suffer with. The best brains of the Kremlin inventing embedded software to enslave us would be justifiably proud.
What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.”
— Warren Buffett

Lewis Carroll stated, “we are what we believe we are,” but it can be rewritten to say that the world is also what we believe it to be.

Tolstoy talked about selective recall and indeed he uncovered a real problem because the better linkage with which we store information in our memory (linkage to cherished concepts naturally), the more readily it will be recalled. Every teacher and every manipulator of news understands this all too well.

In its own right, cognitive bias gives us focused and efficient thinking at the cost of an occasional very painful fall. The latter results of course, from our having rejected the balancing or correcting viewpoint and carried on over the cliff. This after all, is how we continue to out-run computers and will do for many a century to come. Even on a bad day we usually know when the risks have escalated and closer attention is justified.
Like Google, or an academic Journal, we trust stuff from people we trust rather more highly. None of this is fool-proof, indeed in skilled hands it’s an API to our distracted hat hangers, but it has worked well for longer than our collective memories can recall.
Few academic researchers would fail to recognise this way of thinking and these occasional risks, though they might be coy on the subject.

Things can get complicated fast.

It’s one thing to be ridiculed by one’s peers, but quite another when caught on the wrong side of fast moving negotiation for example.
To return to Lewis Carroll, “the world is what we believe it to be”, it becomes necessary to be able to accept realities we don’t recognize or agree with, not as a defence against cognitive bias, but because there’s little less real than reality and thats the currency we have to deal with.
The thing we are negotiating right now is not what we want it to be, nor what it is in any empirical sense, but what the bulk of us and especially those who are key to the negotiation, believe it to be. Hence a complex Comms plan.
In fact the first step towards progress, though the toughest, is to define what it is beyond doubt. (What we collectively believe it to be). A sort of Terms of Reference and nor does that require agreement on how anybody got to where we now are.

It is noticeably difficult, or often impossible for the engineers and scientists amongst us to free their minds to such a level and be capable of operating in such an environment, having spent a lifetime wed to the notion of fact, but such people must be found when the need arises.

The garbage can again.

The concept of Garbage Can Politics, one I have considerable respect for, describes people campaigning or negotiating for project A, while in reality they are motivated by side-effect 3 and the whys and wherefores just send them to sleep.
What it teaches us is fundamentally the same lesson.
Not only is your interpretation of a term, much less a concept or situation likely to differ from most or all others round the table, but it’s often the side-effect unknown to most of us that wins the day.

If you are keen to understand what’s going on and you want at least to try to vote the right way and support the right people then don’t be disheartened. You may as well be doing that as picking horses for Saturday and maybe if you focus more on the players including media, what they are not saying, but seemed interested in previously and those contradictory messages, who knows, you might get it right.

Disinformation is easier to spot

A key warning sign always is the use of villains to switch off our ears and eyes from a large slice of the information we need to be absorbing. Our trust in information from known sources is a significant risk just recently, but our eagerness to adapt a popular villain and scream names at him is a foundation stone of internet age campaigning.
If you can spot side-effect 3, then you’ll get it right most of the time, but it’s hard work.

Be ready to adapt different viewpoints.

Viewpoint changes reality dramatically. Plato’s allegory of the cave gives a powerful example, but I like also Ansell Adams’ comment that the key to a photograph is where you stand.
The point is that reality only exists for a person, one person at that. Your reality exists for you and you only. Never get upset with others for seeing things differently.

By adapting and testing different viewpoints, you gain insight into a situation from other players’ viewpoints and that is the recipe to spot side-effects and put yourself in the driving seat.

Disinformation driving the herd.

So what is happening when a whole nation or a huge audience is baying for the blood of the villain or they all want a major show stopped or a government changed? Is that a strong contradiction of what I just said.

Well I believe not. We are however, sliding into tricky and complicated territory.
Thinking logically is unique to humans, but we don’t all have control over it and then not all of the time. Most of the time we are driven by subcortical survival instincts that are not connected to logic. The theory is that survival does not have time for deliberation. Follow the rules and play the odds. It’s the same for a soldier or a policeman.

As a mostly prey animal we always found safety in great groups, families, and right up to nations. The herd instinct is no different to that of a sheep. Our response to fear is to hide or flee. In groups we can hide towards the centre where our risk of loss is minimal and at the same time flee with the herd, trusting the leaders to make the best decisions. That’s the scenario that prevails when we are deeply immersed in herd culture.
Is it a bad idea? well not always. Is it logical? definitely not. Receiving a message via a herd amplifies the message by a factor of dozens or hundreds and creates urgency that further reduces the likelihood of our applying logic.

The issue in 2022 is that we are no longer dealing with wolves, but with animals that understand in great depth how to push our neural buttons and utilise these very instincts for our destruction just like a pack of hunting wolves will drive a herd of wildebeest right over the edge of a cliff at full speed and then eat them in a leisurely manner at the bottom.

Hanging around in herds is fun and we will always do it, but we absolutely must learn to spot when we are being manipulated and we must automatically reject and then question all narratives that arrive via this route. Our survival no longer relies on the herd, but we can if we feel the need agree with the herd publicly and question it in private.

Stay safe.

Some recent stuff that got my attention as remarkably like convenient side effects, government herding and more as climate change bites and Ukraine war rages:

1. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer: “We’re At War” And America Needs To Be United

2. Shell releases new plan for North Sea gas field development.

3. President Biden bans Russian oil and labels higher energy costs Putin’s Price Rise.

4. Social media
“Dog faced pony Soldier!
Did you already forget all the executive orders you signed on Days 1 & 2?
Let me be clear”, you shut down a pipe line, you dissolved land leases for drilling, you have actively pursued higher gas prices to make “Green Energy” costs more”

5. Newsweek
China Peddles Russia’s Claim That U.S. Has Bioweapons in Ukraine
There’s been a lot more though have you noticed any?



Edward Taaffe

Ed is a technical consultant and writer in the areas of Digital and Products. He writes here on random subjects that catch the eye.