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Face on Mars


19. Bias

A bias is a way of keeping beliefs alive and reinforcing them. A bias is a disproportionate weight in favor or against an idea or cause, usually in a way that is closed, or unfair. (See further here).

There are many types of bias, and everybody, including serious and intelligent scientists, is guilty of it.

Take, for example, what is called "confirmation bias".

This is the tendency to take seriously that which confirms your belief rather than that which would refute your belief.

Someone who is hypochondriac will find "evidence" all over the Internet that, upon seeing a spot on his arm, he definitely has cancer. The article or the doctor who says it is a harmless pigmentation will not be believed. The hypochondriac is already convinced and so will seek and find confirmation everywhere to back up his belief. Anything that does not support his belief is overlooked or denied.

But beware: not only hypochondriacs do this. Everyone more or less has this tendency.

"We human beings love smooth sailing. We crave assurance and comforting concepts. We want our beliefs supported and approved, not challenged and possibly discredited. That psychological fact is called the "confirmation bias". To state it briefly, human beings tend to give too much weight to evidence that corroborates what they already believe or desire to believe, while giving too little weight, discounting out of hand, or even forgetting entirely, evidence that tends to contradict what they already believe or desire to believe."

Robert Saltzman, The Ten Thousand Things

Social media have made confirmation bias almost standard by programmatically showing more of what matches a user's previous search. And so after seeing an innocuous video about the "face on Mars", you also end up with the apparent image of Jesus in a piece of toast and thence to other "paranormal" states and before you know it you see nothing but alien abductions and spirit apparitions.

Seeing a face on Mars or Jesus in a piece of toast is itself another form of bias called "apophenia" or "pareidolia": the tendency to see patterns in what are actually random configurations. And everybody recognizes a "face" on the moon.

For that matter, people naturally tend to see faces in everything, in the dots of balatum canvas on the floor or in stumps of trees. I guess it has to do with survival as a baby to recognize the mother's face. And everyone also knows the example of seeing a snake that is in fact a piece of rope. Recognizing danger in time is of course of the utmost importance, but it can also be very misleading.


In some spiritual circles it is believed that the older something is, the more value and truth a particular idea must contain. For example, "Ki energy" (also written as "Chi" or "Qi") is a Chinese concept that is several thousand years old. But is that the reason why this energy also must exist? Ki energy is used to explain the beneficial effects of movement teachings such as "T'ai chi" and "Chi Kong". The procedure of acupuncture is also said to be based on it. No such energy has yet been found by science, which otherwise does not detract from the possible beneficialness of these practices. Supporters, however, are unimpressed that modern science cannot find the Ki. This is then explained as being a "subtle" energy that cannot be detected by the "crude" scientific equipment or even that other "dimensions" are involved. It just has to be true, simply because it is so old and because so many people believe in it…


Our view of reality is limited. Friedrich Nietzsche called this principle "perspectivism", opposing the idea that it is possible to gain "absolute" or "ultimate" knowledge, seeing through the eyes of God, as it were:

"For, my lords philosophers, let us henceforth beware better of the dangerous old fable of conception, which came up with a pure, will-less, painless, timeless subject of knowledge, let us beware of the trappings of such contradictory notions as pure reason, absolute mind, knowledge in itself: here a thinking activity is always demanded of an eye that cannot even be thought, an eye that may have no direction at all, in which the active and interpreting forces must be blocked, absent, forces that make seeing anyway only a seeing-of-something, here, therefore, an incongruity and absurdity is always demanded of the eye. There is only a perspectival seeing, only a perspectival knowing; and the more affects we have about a matter, the more eyes, different eyes, we know how to use for the same matter, the more complete will be our understanding of this matter, our objectivity."

Friedrich Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morality (III:12)

And so it is not possible to break free of all bias. At the very least, it is not possible to break free from the fact that we simply take the point of view of a certain kind of primate animal.


A special form of bias, unrecognized by almost everybody, is a form of thinking that could be called "hierarchism". Hierarchism is the bias that claims that both universe and mind must be characterized by the (idea of the) One, the One on which everything depends. More on that further on.