Survivorship Bias

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Survivorship Bias…. I am convinced.

Top 10 this. Top 10 that. Chances are you were “drawn” to these things sprawling across everywhere as “click baits”. “Look-At-Me” Corporate Dinner Awards. Then the pecs. Biceps. Abs.

I know I’ve been drawn to “click” onto these stories should I struggle for attaining “inspirations.”. Or when I am just simply down. No doubt people keeps throwing out knee jerk “advices” and feel good “motivational quotes” around. Claiming he/she has been through “worser” in circumstances, in comparison.

I have been lately quite immersed on finding out why people do this.

It all began from me reading Michael Smith’s blog “Critical Mas”. He believed that the fitness and health industries are subject to this cognitive worshipping known as Survivorship Bias.

How can this be ignoredNo matter where in all realms of sensationalism – celebrities (or more convincingly, deceased), kept being recited over and over again. As driving vehicles for rationalising almost anything. Just by being exposed.

Thus, it seemed fitting that society today measures “Quality” on the basis of Quantified exposures. We see this through “votes”. Politics. And epidemiology.

Worse I’d wager is how today’s norms use this Bias as means to motivate. “Look at <famous people here> Do what they do!”  . “Cheer up! Just focus on the positive.” Yeah right. Simply  being “positive” helps. Subjectivities were not accounted for. “They” are not me.  Yet they have the audacity to preach in form of recycled “lessons” through quotes, and feel good phrases

I am not sure if I ever remember last time I chanted “cheer up long face!”.

Yet ironically I am the punching bag receiving the most “opinions” and “judgments”. 

“Ha! What about all your quotation posters that you did! YOU DO FOLLOW ICONS, FAMOUS PEOPLE AND ALL!”

Consider the emotional output differences between them, and that of your motivational posters google search on 1st page. 

Are they Reflectional? or are they MotivationalLet’s examine the differences.

Type 1/2

Motive. “Mo-tive”-ational quote statements.

Unsplash.com / Matthew Smith

Motivations are never arbitrary. Motives are drawn by inner desire to have an “epi” or “on-top” of unmarked further gesture.

This is likely inspirational quote/s that strikes purely for one’s own objectivism. Likely to be “simplified” in a metaphorical sense. It tries to hide the subjective complexity behind it.

  • “Better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven.”  – Paradise Lost.
  • “Greed; for the lack of the better word – is good.” – Gordon Gekko.
  • “Be greedy when others are fearful and be fearful when others are greedy.” – Warren Buffet.

The above is certainly more “crafty”. But they too, can be egocentrically simplified amongst these examples: 

  • “Cheer up! Never ever give up.”
  • “Seek and you shall find.”
  • “When one door closes, another door opens.”
  • “There is always someone who is worser than you. Suck it up.”

Examine the word motive itself. Mo-tive is “Mo-tion” or at least, a visual, end-process evidence of “movement”. Therefore in order to “move”, you need an objective leverageWhat “MOVES” you after all; IS what motivates you.

Where’s the reflectional understanding of its’ PROCESS? Nothing. You are MOVED simply because of the alluring outcome. 

They’re selling you an illusory carrot. Nothing more. Technology make this somewhat worse. By handily curating amongst only the first two or three pages of search engines. 

There are potentially a lot more “Bill Gates”, “Warren Buffet”, “Robert Kiyosaki”, “Steve Jobs” in our midst. Just with chaotically different backgrounds and contexts. Some may not even be alive. They just aren’t being found or “survived” in first two pages of Google or Youtube. 

Now compare to that with what I consider “Reflectional” statements.

Type 2/2

Reflect. “Re-flect”-tional.

Andrew E Weber / tookapic.com

Reflectional quotes are those that do not speak in any linear outcomes. Interpretively “flexible”. Each neither dictates for objectivist or intrinsic egoism. 

See if these quote/s below ever dictates you have to do things exactly in “this” way. Or “that” way only.

  • “There are no facts. Only interpretations.” – Friedrich Nietsche.
  • “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” – Socrates.
  • “99 percent of who you are is invisible and untouchable.” – Richard Buckminster Fuller.
  • “Thinking is difficult. That is why people judge.” – Carl Gustav Jung.

These I argue as more emotively arresting, and relevant for self-reflections.

Each encourages you to distinguish  between what is “excess” and what is “absent”. What do I mean by this? We have to examine the trait “ego”.

“Ego” (as I define earlier)  is the excess on whatever is obsessed. It is an excess of the explicit (influence, evidence, territory, strategy, vigour, honour, valour, victories/triumphs). As well as an abscence of the implicit (realisations, acceptances, essence, humility, and understanding)

Again, “explicit vs implicit” sounds fittingly similar to the Survivorship Bias theory. After all we are incessantly drawn to the outcomes (Explicit) more than their progress (Implicit).

Hence, I argue the Reflectional statements are more attune to reality.

Because each simply reminds you that nothing in life is black or white. 

Other Cognitive Biases

“Survivorship Bias” is just one of many cognitive biases as encountered in the realm of Economics, politics, applied mathematics and statistical science. The list is not exhaustive, but Anchoring, Bandwagon Theory, Selective Perception amongst many others – nonetheless remain fascinating for one to read further.


How you would react to the above Phenomenon of Survivorship bias? Do you think all this is nonsense? Or has nothing thus far ever caused you to think such thing as being relevant to your day to day normalcy? Let me know what you think below!!

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