Don’t platonify me so much, please!

In the book I’m reading (The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb), the author presents a very interesting concept: “Platonicy”. This is the tendency to believe in forms and models (in a Platonic sense) which makes us misunderstand reality in a very drastic way.

I think this is a very intelligent and useful concept. We “platonify” people, countries, situations… We constantly disregard complexity and we simplify things to the point of simply not understanding them at all.

Along with this tendency to generalize and platonify things, we tend to only notice things that confirm our first impressions (the famous confirmation bias). Therefore, our models and forms start acquiring the aspect of reality, being confirmed everyday in our brains.

We do this with friends! When we know someone, we platonify the person: we include them in one of the categories we had in our brain and create a model or form of the person in our head. Then, we only notice what confirms that first platonification and we think that idea in our head is the real person.

This makes it possible to know someone for years and even so be very far from the reality of that person. I have some friends who I know have a very strange idea of myself — they inserted me in a very specific category and I find them talking not about me but about the model of myself they have in their heads (yes, I know we all do this about ourselves, but that’s exactly the point!).

We then become very surprised when the person does not act according to the model we have of them (this could amount to a Black Swan incident). We notice those bursts of complexity only when they are so strong we could not ignore them. We then think they are the exception — or we break the model and start another one from the ground up, thinking the person in question has changed.

Anyway, what to do about this? We must be aware of our limitations and we must be prepared to fight the confirmation bias we all fall prey to. We should constantly ask: “couldn’t it be that I’m wrong about this/them?”.

I’ll get back to this.

Black swan Nederlands: Zwarte zwaan Français :...

Black swan Nederlands: Zwarte zwaan Français : Cygne noir (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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