Imagine a scenario where one hundred witnesses are asked to identify the robber out of several suspects in a police lineup. Do you think the case is closed if all one hundred of them pick the same suspect? If your answer is yes, you’d be wrong. Statistically, there’s a higher chance that the selected person is innocent. Researchers proved that as the group of unanimously agreeing witnesses increases, the probability of them being correct decreases until it is no more valid than a random guess. This phenomenon is called the paradox of unanimity.
The Bayesian analysis is the mathematical reasoning behind this paradox. To understand the Bayesian analysis, let’s look at flipping a coin. When you flip a coin, you know it has about a 50% chance to land on either heads or tails. But imagine if you flip the coin one hundred times, and it lands on heads every time. You’d instantly know that something is wrong. Similarly, getting a large group of unanimous witnesses is so unlikely, according to the laws of probability, that it’s more likely that something went wrong.
To understand how the paradox relates to your journey of questioning everything, let’s explore how it applies to society. Does it mean we should discredit every popular opinion? Not exactly. For simple, easy-to-understand questions, it makes sense for humans to choose the correct answer unanimously. For example, if the witnesses had to pick a strawberry out of a lineup of blueberries, then the ease of this task makes the unanimous decision more reliable. But as the difficulty of the question increases, the mass consensus becomes more unreliable.
The key here is to understand that the paradox doesn’t strictly apply to complete unanimity but instead it increases as the consensus increases. A large part of society—politics, entertainment, business, religions—is built around a majority vote and widespread consensus. When asking yourself tough questions, you shouldn’t simply fall in line with the majority. Go out and seek answers for yourself. The more complex the question is, the more uncertain a group of people are. The more uncertain a group of people are, the more varied their opinions should be. When faced with a mass adopted opinion, research and question it yourself because there’s a high chance the majority doesn’t even know they’re wrong.
Today's idea is a thought I had about music and the time we live in. Before technology was this rampant, plenty of people made great amateur music, but the pathways of sharing it were limited. Their music never saw the light of day because the filters that determined what music went to the masses or not were limited to musicians who were masters of their craft. Now, technology has widened that filter and made distributing music accessible to the masses. Someone across the world can start making music today, share it on the internet, and the next day people are chanting the hook around the globe.
"Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change."—Michael Michalko