I'm reading a new psychology book whose principle author is Daniel Kahneman, the author of Thinking, Fast and Slow. The new book is called Noise: A Flaw in Human Thinking and It's about the psychology of making judgements. Noise is different from ordinary bias as explained in the book. But there are different forms of noise in decision making. One particular form of noise got me thinking.

When people make decisions, they place considerations on a scale of importance to arrive at a judgement. Different people make remarkably different judgements because they use scales that differ from others as well as from past judgements of their own.

Fair enough, until we see from experiments that the first judgement affects all subsequent judgements. Once people make a judgement on one scale, that tend to establish it as an 'anchor' in memory, which then infects subsequent judgements despite important changes in context.

To put it crudely, once you've done the hard work of thinking through a judgement (right or wrong), it becomes a rule of thumb and is applied to any other question perceived to be similar.

This is the essence of Thinking, Fast and Slow. On the first judgement, we think slow to find a satisfactory solution for that moment. That sets the anchor, which allows us to then apply that scale in future decisions in order to think fast.

"This is what I thought before so I don't need to waste time thinking about this new thing that seems similar."

The baseline judgement becomes part of who you are. It becomes an unquestioned habit and affects all subsequent thinking. It affects judgement not only at the personal level but at the collective level.

My view is that this habit is what's affecting our collective thinking about Russia. Seventy years of Cold War propaganda have established a formidable and unquestioned anchor in our personal and collective decision-making. Generations of our families have thought this way and we have thought this way for our whole lives. So we don't need to do the hard work of re-thinking our perceptions and conclusions only to find we wasted that effort because we were right in the first place.

Or worse, potentially feeling the immense guilt and community alienation that would come from admitting that we were wrong. Human psychology stacks the odds against admitting we were wrong - in the case of Russia, in order to find peace. So much so that we will suffer unnecessary deprivation and even war before questioning our anchored judgements.

(Posted origninally on Facebook)