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Assumptions are dangerous

I assume you will love this post so much that I will swim in gold. Thus, I will buy a boat.

Intentional vs. unintentional assumptions

Assumptions are necessary. You can’t live without them because you got no perfect information about the world. There is always some factor which is undiscovered or some uncertainty. Nothing special. You already knew this.

Yet there are basically two types of assumptions. The first one, is the good one, the one you make explicitly. For example, if someone asks you how many barbers are in your state. You start by making explicit assumptions like “I go about once a month to a barber, therefore ….”. These types of assumptions could also be called hypotheses. You can formulate testable statements. In the barber example, you may assume because you go once a month so does everybody on average. The hypothesis is then “Everybody goes once a month to a barber on average”. This is testable and you can reject it. You can take a survey or look up statistics or just sit in front of barbers all day counting the people.

The bad kinds are the unintentional assumptions. These can be abstractions you hold in your unconscious mind. For example, stuff you experienced in your childhood or just made up. Or they can be prejudices. For example, you assume that your fellow students in college won’t like you because your current classmates don’t like you. This can be dangerous. In every part of your life you can face these assumptions. They become especially dangerous if you don’t adjust them or don’t even think about them. This is a big part of cognitive psychology. You have to make your assumptions concrete to correct them.

Assumptions which aren’t necessary

Some assumptions are made although they aren’t necessary. Most often they come from fear. “I will be seem as dumb if I ask this” – that’s also an assumption. These can rank from not asking to repeat something if you didn’t understand it to life threatening events. If a doctor assumes that you don’t have allergies and injects drugs which are you allergic to, you have a good chance to die. I would call these kinds of assumptions: “Just ask”. It’s such a great and easy way to deal with these types of assumptions. They are everywhere. The girl who would reject you. Just ask. The company doesn’t need me. Just ask. My wife hates me for golfing. Just ask. It’s so easy to destroy these assumptions. Which is the first one you destroyed?

Assumptions can ruin everything

I talked a bit about this in the previous paragraphs. They can ruin everything. One of the most important steps is that you become aware of your assumptions. Then you can start thinking rational about them and reject them if they are wrong or adjust them. If you imagine how much better your life would be if you would ask and adjust your assumptions instead of hiding behind them. You may live with the love of your life, have your dream job and have the greatest friends possible. Not very likely I admit. Still, you can improve your (mental) life a lot if you start to ask instead of just assuming.

Assumptions and self-fulfilling prophecies

This step follows nicely. You assumptions are your core believes about something. People also have the tendency to have a conformation bias, i.e. they put more weight on things that strengthen their existing believes. If you assume that your neighbor’s child must be “bad” (whatever that means) because your neighbor is an asshole, you will start to see more bad than good behaviors of him. Continually, your assumptions will be stronger and your prophecy will fulfill yourself in your perception. If you are somebody who has a lot of power over somebody else (parents, teachers, bosses, etc.) your assumptions will influence your behavior which will then in turn influence the behavior of your protegé. There were multiple studies where teachers were given wrong information about the ability of their students. After some time, the students developed towards this wrong information. The assumptions teachers made became self-fulfilling prophecies.

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