Biased Cognitive Biases

Cognitive Bias Codex

Thanks to Apneaman for bringing this image to my attention, it’s very interesting.

This info-graphic was constructed from a list of cognitive biases assembled by a team of experts collaborating via Wikipedia over a 15 year period.

A cognitive bias is defined as:

A cognitive bias is a systematic pattern of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment. Individuals create their own “subjective reality” from their perception of the input. An individual’s construction of reality, not the objective input, may dictate their behavior in the world. Thus, cognitive biases may sometimes lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, illogical interpretation, or what is broadly called irrationality.

Some cognitive biases are presumably adaptive. Cognitive biases may lead to more effective actions in a given context. Furthermore, allowing cognitive biases enables faster decisions which can be desirable when timeliness is more valuable than accuracy, as illustrated in heuristics. Other cognitive biases are a “by-product” of human processing limitations, resulting from a lack of appropriate mental mechanisms (bounded rationality), impact of individual’s constitution and biological state (see embodied cognition), or simply from a limited capacity for information processing.

A continually evolving list of cognitive biases has been identified over the last six decades of research on human judgment and decision-making in cognitive science, social psychology, and behavioral economics.

I counted them. There are 195 distinct cognitive biases named and described in the list.

Have a look. Do you notice something very odd?

The most important and powerful of all human cognitive biases, and the one that created our unique species, is not on the list: denial of unpleasant realities.

Nor is its progenitor, denial of death.

Any half-wit who studies human history will notice that the first wacky thing our species did after evolving into behaviorally modern humans was make up stories (religions) to deny death.

Today our species aggressively denies every single unpleasant reality of substance that threatens its survival including: over-population, non-renewable resource depletion, climate change, pollution, habitat destruction, and species extinction.

So here’s the question…

How is it possible that a group of experts over 15 years can assemble a list of 195 cognitive biases and completely miss the most important one?

The only explanation big enough and powerful enough to explain this gobsmacking dumbfuckery is denial of denial.


31 thoughts on “Biased Cognitive Biases”

  1. Hi Rob
    I admit that I have still have not read Dr. Ajit Varki books. On the list. That said…
    I wonder if our biggest cognitive “bias” of all is just our limited cognitive capacity.
    We think we are smart because we have built up body of knowledge we call science. But mostly we did that through a massively iterative process, a process that maybe really is only a little bit better than the monkeys typing on the typewriter to produce a Shakespeare play.
    Maybe we just cannot cognitively envision our own deaths, or at least, cannot keep the concept in our heads for that long. At funerals, I am reminded of my mortality, but those feelings quickly fade from memory. Life intrudes….
    The above said, I don’t disagree that those who are biased to see things in a positive light would have an evolutionary advantage. If you are too risk adverse (especially as a male) you will not pass on your genes. (Testosterone influences risk taking!)
    And it will not be profitable to walk around contemplating your existence and moping about your future death. My guess is the reproductive rate of philosophers is pretty low compared to their less contemplative kin.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are right that there are good evolutionary reasons to be optimistic.

      There is an alternative to reading Varki’s book. Varki feels his book was rushed and he’s not particularly proud of the finished product. Last year he wrote an excellent paper refining and strengthening the argument for his MORT theory. It takes much less time to read the paper than the book.

      Or, if you prefer, this video talk by Varki is a reasonable proxy for the book.


    2. I agree with the limited cognitive capacity as our biggest bias. We are all the time called on to have opinions about anything and everything, on the most minimal information. But with regard to passing on genes, the risk takers were more often than not happy to be in the front line ….


  2. As a student of religious history (know a little that makes me dangerous, not an expert!), it is of interest that the Hebrew Scriptures, up to a certain point in the history of those documents, was “different” than most in that they did not affirm ‘life after death’. This probably stems from the ‘law’ about having no other gods. If one lives forever, one is obviously a ‘god’. This did change of course with the exposure to Babylonian culture and Greek culture after that. Just a thought!


    1. I’m on record saying that if we ever find a single religion out of the thousands that have existed that does not believe in some form of life after death it will be strong evidence against the MORT theory. There are many good genetic and cultural reasons for religions to exist, but no good reason for them all to have life after death at their core, unless MORT is true.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Or, just to be logically complete, if not evidence-based… “unless either MORT is true OR the soul actually does survive death of the body.” Or maybe that doesn’t qualify as a “good” reason for them all to have it. 😉


  3. Panopticon publishes an excellent daily roundup of economic and climate news. He rarely adds commentary preferring to let the news speak for itself. In today’s post he predicts what will happen over the next few years, which I take seriously, because he has his finger on the pulse much better than most observers.

    FYI, 6 years ago Panopticon was one of two people who encouraged me to proceed with spreading the word on denial. would probably not exist without his kind encouragement.

    Fellow current-affairs junkies, it feels to me as if we are entering a new phase of the pandemic and accompanying economic and financial events. Here is my best guess as to what lies ahead:

    I see a few months of moderate optimism, fuelled by economic data that can’t help but look amazing *relative to where we have come from* as pent-up demand is released, even allowing for the fact that some consumer habits will be constrained by fear of the virus.

    This will probably be interspersed with and tempered by periods of worry about second waves and localised spikes and will ultimately give way to a huge dive in sentiment (consumer and investor) towards the end of the year when government support in developed nations is withdrawn and the reality dawns that we are stuck in a slow, deflationary choke-hold, drowning in debt, with job losses and defaults piling up, and (aside from the possibility of negative rates in the US) the major central banks have mostly shot their bolts.

    Of course that dive in sentiment will be even worse if there is a severe resurgence of the virus and some governments opt for additional lockdowns. And, conversely, if a vaccine or cheap and efficacious treatment emerges, I could see a wave of euphoric relief keeping us buoyant for a year or two.

    We may also see a return of the rising social unrest of 2019, as lockdown and social-distancing measures are eased. Public anger will no doubt be further spiced by the economic fall-out from the pandemic.

    The key thing to bear in mind is that the global economy was already flirting with recession in 2019. World trade volumes declined for the first time since the GFC (-0.4%). Global manufacturing was in contraction for much of the year. Japan, S Korea, the EU and UK were all showing minimal or no growth; some emerging markets like South Africa and Argentina were in recession. Global car sales were declining. India and China were slowing markedly. The World Bank, IMF etc. were *already* sounding the alarm on debt levels. Oil demand was lagging supply forcing OPEC+ into making cuts.

    So, the pandemic is acting as an accelerant for existing issues, catapulting the financial system into its logical end-game and causing disastrous imbalances in supply and demand for services, goods and raw materials around the world.

    Against this background, I feel fairly confident in saying that the global economy is not going to spring vigorously back to where it was before and from there chart a healthy growth trajectory.

    In fact, although you can argue that nations like the UK have been in a situation of declining prosperity for a decade or two with rampant debt-accrual offering an uneven “pseudo-growth”, *the global economy as a totality* has never experienced sustained de-growth (only relatively brief recessions) and this is what we may now be facing. This time there is no new China emerging from the ashes to pull us all forwards.

    As a growth-dependent dissipative structure, the global economy cannot survive sustained de-growth. It becomes chaotic and breaks apart. All we can really hope is that the timeline for this process of disintegration is more extended than one fears it might be and that we have several more years of hot showers and fresh groceries ahead of us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A good look at where this is going, besides Panopticon, is Tim Morgan at Surplus Energy Economics #175 is a new introduction to his thesis.



    If all goes well, a reasonably rapid economic recovery will enable governments and central banks to scale back deficits and monetisation before this process risks impairing credibility. An optimistic scenario would postulate that, by the time that this normalization has been concluded, the authorities will also have worked out how to wind up the deferrals process in ways that protect households and businesses without imperilling landlords and lenders.

    There is, though, an all-too-plausible alternative in which deficit support is still being provided at a point when deferral is no longer feasible. This is a ‘nightmare scenario’ in which, as well as continuing to monetise high levels of fiscal deficits, central banks also have to step in to rescue lenders and landlords.

    Thus understood, governments and central bankers are engaged in a race against time. They cannot carry on monetising deficit support for more than a few months, and neither can they prolong rent and interest deferrals to the point where landlords and lenders are put at risk. This makes it all the more surprising (and disturbing) that some countries are acting in ways that seem almost to invite a crisis-prolonging “second wave” of coronavirus infections.


  5. Yesterday Joe Rogan interviewed Barbara Freese on her new book “Industrial-Strength Denial”.

    I’ve written the same sentence in reviews many times and it almost always involves energy.

    “She understands everything except what matters.”

    Ditto for Steven Pinker, Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, Noam Chomsky, Sean Carroll, Yuval Noah Harari, Matt Ridley, etc. etc.

    How is it possible that an author writing about denial is in denial about her most important topic: climate change?


  6. IMO (no brainer) denial is the most common cog bias & thus by definition must be minimized or excluded from the list.

    Other than being a common criminal, speaking truthfully is the most detrimental thing one can do to hurt their chances of success.

    C’mon, we’ve even categorized blunt speakers who don’t follow the unwritten social rules (most are unwritten) as suffering from a developmental disorder. We call them Autistic. Not normal. Need help. Have you ever seen ‘normals’ around an autistic person who is simply calling things as they see them? Many are anxious as hell. The truth will set them squirming.

    Another way to look as the biases is that they are part of the denial reaching process. Pre denial. For example, take climate denial. For every climate denial hit piece there are many dozens of scientistic papers, record smashing consequences & predictions coming to pass. This causes great cognitive dissonance in the denier brain & the only way to cancel the dissonance & maintain their denial is for the biases to go to work. Too much supporting evidence – ignore it & only read the stuff that confirms what you already believe. Not quite enough? Add a few more biases, just like ordering extra pizza toppings until it’s exactly how you like it & you’re cognitively satiated.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t find the 195 biases as satisfying an explanation as denial for what I observe. They are complicated and subtle whereas denial is simple, powerful, and everywhere you look.

      The climate denial that fascinates me the most are the people like Barbara Freese above who have taken the time to study and totally get how serious the climate situation is, yet don’t spend a second studying how their solar panel solution will power the tractors, combines, trucks, trains, and ships that feed us. The’re all focused on electricity and electric cars. Screw gasoline, we can bike to the grocery store if we have to. Diesel is the core problem. Fertilizer, steel, cement, and glass are not far behind.


    2. Says a guy in massive denial about lies being told by race-baiters who trash cities in the name of criminals like George Floyd while overlooking the obvious reason cops “racially profile” (they go where the damned crime IS). It’s just their job. They didn’t invent black crime in modern times, regardless of past white sins. Nor were police specifically created to oppress minorities.

      I dug up the full list of terms from the cognitive bias codex and these stand out:

      Clustering Illusion (small samples of bad arrests are mistaken for a trend, boosted by today’s prevalence of easy cameras)

      Bandwagon Effect (well-known term explains how protest mobs quickly expand without facts or context)

      Fun fact: Arab Muslims kept black slaves for centuries, yet now we can’t shame either group for bad behavior without being called racist.

      Everything’s gotta be the white man’s fault these days, period. It’s a false narrative and many are fed up with it as we watch our cities wrecked by naive mobs of SJW thug-enablers.

      Rob, if you want to go full un-denial, I encourage you to tackle this topic, unless you’d rather boot me from the site and avoid any viral criticism (I get it). If you’re willing, a socially acceptable starting point is black thinkers like Coleman Hughes and John McWhorter, or the more “radical” and blacker-sounding Taleeb Starkes. For non-racist reasons, I like white Heather Mac Donald for her data clarity and persistence.


      1. I’m sure there are interesting issues to discuss about race, like for example, why are most Polacks so damn debonair, but this site’s not the place to have those discussions.

        From the un-Denial perspective, we all descended from one small tribe in Africa about a hundred thousand years ago and therefore we’re all pretty much the same clever monkeys competing for a bigger slice of the energy/dopamine pie, while denying that the pie is getting smaller.


        1. I get your fairness angle, but one can’t logically ignore behavioral (brain) differences among races when they manifest themselves in cultures and living-standards, and when they’re ignored to coddle rioting cop-haters. America’s riot zones physically resemble normal life in many African cities: (thatch huts are more dignified but not dissimilar in effort required)

          Except for the types who fired Jimmy The Greek in 1988, people have no problem acknowledging black athleticism and musculoskeletal differences in basketball and football, but brain topics are taboo because they hit a deeper level of self-worth. You must be aware of this, but it’s your blog and I’ll desist after this post.

          The main issue I have with Black Lives Matter is their dangerous vilification of cops based on BAD MATH. Of the roughly 1,000 Americans killed by cops each year, about 25% are black, and BLM cites this as proof of racism since blacks are only about 14% of the U.S. population. Leftist blacks refuse to weigh their much higher crime rate than other races, which is WHY they have so many police interactions. Cops don’t enter rough neighborhoods for fun. They go where the evidence takes them.

          Because of those relative numbers, odds lead to more black fatalities, mainly while resisting arrest like George Floyd did (media lied about that at first). He was being sat on because he refused to get into the SUV twice, not because they hated his blackness per se. What happened next was cruel use of a common hold, not outright murder unless Chauvin decided to throw away his career on camera. He didn’t prove ACAB, it just made dramatic footage and was cited as a rule, not an exception. BLM’s abuse of logical fallacies is not worth the cost of obscene riots with “peaceful” onlookers who deny crime stats.

          Black economist Roland Fryer did a 2016 study showing the above: but BLM insists white cops are their nemesis, not their own high crime rates. The media fuels their narrative by cherry-picking white-on-black cases instead of saying resisting arrest is dangerous for all races. I’ll be happy if BLM and news outlets are sued for cleanup and hospital time for injured cops.

          Thanks for indulging this. “10-7od”


  7. I was wondering if there’s denial of ugliness. How many people that are truly ugly will admit it to themselves? If you are quite ugly and admit it to yourself it may create a state of inaction in the mating game. Strong denial could work in the favor of the ugly. Having evolved in a social context, the human brain is overly occupied with social issues and fairness and obtaining rewards. It never evolved to forego rewards for the benefit of the “environment” and so it doesn’t. I’m not even sure a denial mechanism needs to be considered with regard to environmental destruction. But for sure ugly lives matter (ULM) and this is one area in which denial can pay some real dividends by lowering the reluctance at giving the mating game a shot. Even though most of the potential mates may have an innate bias toward perfect bilateral symmetry and other beauty markers, it is for certain according to a normal distribution of mental traits, that others are not as discerning of beauty and/or are afflicted with ugliness themselves. ULM . Do you think beautiful statues, mirrors and “ugly” epithets should be banned to help maintain ugly people denial?


    1. ULM LOL! Smash all the mirrors!

      My observations differ from yours.

      I see daily examples of people that deny their impact on the environment. Climate scientists flying many times a year to conferences is one of many examples. Sports fishers who bemoan the collapse of wild fish stocks yet still go fishing is another.

      I think people tend to be quite realistic about their appearance. Good lookers seek and pair up with good lookers, and ugly lookers seek and pair up with ugly lookers. Rich ugly men of course are always good looking. I’m thinking that if evolution denied ugliness, reproductive fitness would fall, so reality prevails here.


      1. “Rich ugly men are always good looking.” But are rich ugly women equally good looking? I find this Wodaabe culture interesting, the men are real peacocks.

        In Western society I believe men pay much more attention to their hair or lack thereof than they do to any environmental problems. The environmental problem is on the radar screen but doesn’t come close to pushing aside more immediate and personally more important concerns. “Rich ugly men are always good looking.” and that’s why the environment is being turned into “richness” at the fastest rate possible. Then there’s the story of the women in the California fires that perished because she took the extra time to put on her make-up before leaving the house. The human brain is very focused on the important things in life.


        1. There are more than 10 rich men for every rich female, so rich females are too rare for us to care how they look.

          Nice article on the Wodaabe. I observe that with humans any behavior that is physically possible has probably existed somewhere, except denial, which exists everywhere.

          A reader recommended a book on the Pirahã people who live in the Amazon. I’m mid-way and really enjoying it. They seem to be less driven by the Maximum Power Principle but they do still seem to deny death because they bury loved ones with their valuable possessions.

          I agree most men are concerned about their appearance. This could be evidence that we accept the reality of our looks and try to improve them where possible.


          1. Glad your enjoying it. I’m currently rereading a book called “A man called possum”. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a copy in Canada but here’s an overview.
            This guy puts the north pond hermit to shame
            Both are incredible feats of survival.
            Defective reality denial genes maybe? Although Possum believed in God so probably not.


  8. Matt Taibbi is always worth reading. Today he explains that Americans have gone crazy.

    The best explanation for these sudden reversals in rhetoric is that Trump broke the brains of America’s educated classes. Like Russian aristocrats who spent the last days of the Tsarist empire flocking to fortune-tellers and mystics, upscale blue-staters have lost themselves lately in quasi-religious tracts like White Fragility, and are lining up to flog themselves for personal and historical sins.

    Personally I think there’s a simpler explanation. The middle class are becoming poorer and are struggling to pay their bills, while at the same time the rich are getting richer. All relevant discussions by leaders, intellectuals, and the media are fact free reality denial that seeks to blame someone, rather than trying to understand what’s actually going on and what to do about it.

    P.S. I did not link to the original essay because it’s behind a paywall.


  9. U.S. Energy Independence that lasted for less than one year, is over. With the collapse of the domestic oil drilling rig count, U.S. shale oil production will begin to fall off a cliff in the next 3-6 months. This should also destroy the notion of a “V-Shaped” economic recovery once and for all.

    According to, U.S. shale oil production peaked at 8.3 million barrels per day (mbd) in November 2019 and declined to 7.8 mbd by March this year. However, the oil rig count from November to March was about the same, 683 rigs. During these five months with the oil rig count about the same, shale oil production declined 500,000 barrels per day.

    Unfortunately, since mid-March, the domestic oil rig count has collapsed from 683 to 185 today (Source: Baker Hughes). That is nearly a loss of 500 oil drilling rigs.

    Again, with the U.S. oil drilling rig count down 73% in just the past four months, watch for a significant decline in shale oil production over the next few months. Even if the shale oil industry starts to add more drilling rigs, the damage is already done.


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