The root of a word is often able to paint a much more interesting and useful picture of what a concept is about than its definition in the dictionary.

You could say I am biased in favour of etymology. You may be right. But what may also be right is that the word bias itself is an example of what I’m talking about.

Biases are slopes in your conscious mind. The word comes from the French ‘biais’, which calls to mind a bent, am inclination, an inflection, something oblique or crosswise. Like many popular words today, its distant origins are lost in the mist of time. The most common speculation is that it comes from an unlikely Greek word, but for all my biases, I’m not buying it.

On this understanding, we all have biases because our minds are not flatlands. They are rugged mountain ranges where the traveller finds it hard to keep the balance.

There are no straight lines, only slopes and peaks, the broken lines of our cognitive biases.

The question to ask is not ‘do you have a bias’, but ‘what’s your gradient for this or that slope’. You may dance gracefully on a few degrees, but make it too steep and you’re sliding down the mountainside towards falsehood, injustice and ignorance.

We’ll always have the slopescape, but we can change the gradient.

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