WYSIATI explained: What You See Is All There Is

Updated: Oct 15, 2020

Consider that on your way to office you are stuck in a heavy traffic jam. You are getting late. The driver of the car behind you keeps honking. You look at him, he seems to be in his twenties, with a muscular body and maintained beard and mustache. When only the traffic starts moving at a turtle pace, the car from your behind overtakes you impatiently and manages to get ahead. Needless to say, you will be angered. What will be your judgement of that driver? Will it be, how impatient and rash the driver is? He must be a spoiled brat, he did not even care about cooperating in a heavy jam like this. Everybody is stuck in the same problem and he is no VIP.

If yes, then you have built a plausible story/judgment for yourself based on minimal information: impatient behavior, a man in his 20's. What if you are told now that the man is rushing to a hospital because his fiancee has met with an accident and has been brought to the hospital. You will shower all your empathy for the man.

However let us pretend that we do not have the second set of information, and let's stick to your previous judgment. The information provided about the man was very little, vague, and inconclusive to reach any judgment. Nonetheless, our brain processed the available information and built a story to believe in, neglecting the importance of more information before concluding anything. It believed in what it saw, what was right before the eyes, irrespective of the fact that it would have needed more information before drawing a character analysis of the man. WHAT YOU SEE IS ALL THERE IS was in effect.

The acronym WYSIATI for "What you see is all there is" was coined by the Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast & Slow. The concept unveils our cognitive bias towards available and unavailable information. Our brain reacts asymmetrically towards available information, which fetches our memory, experiences, or the existing opinions and activates ideas from the subconscious mind, while unavailable/unretrieved information is treated as non-existent.

Our minds often do not need much information, only so much as to build a coherent story. Less information is better at this job, while more and complex information only complicates the story. Worthless or poor info is not treated as a complete lack of info and therefore is capable of leaving an impact on our minds.

Effects of WYSIATI:

  1. Overconfidence: The better the quality of the story we can tell ourselves, regardless of the quality or quantity of the information, the higher will be our confidence.

  2. Framing effect: If you are told 80% of the population of XYZ city are well behaved, you will have a better image of the city than if you were told that 20% of the city's population is arrogant and demeaning.

  3. Base rate neglect: An incident that occurs with us or we are exposed to appears to be far more prominent and more likely to happen than the actual probability of that incident occurring in general if studied.

WYSIATI around us:

Familiar with the viewers who watch programs like Crime Petrol or Savdhan India and become skeptical of every tiny thing around them? Viewers of such television content tend to overestimate the rates of all types of crime they view on TV.

In WYSIATI what we "See" is not limited to our vision, but our knowledge. Our dependence on traditional media for reliable information is insurmountable. Even though a segment of the audience is educated and aware of the discrepancies that follow in these news, lack of this awareness among a huge population of India is what helps political propaganda to further via media. However, a rational man tries to evade every fake, distorted or biased news, the busy life schedule, exposure to countless information and thus countless news, make it impossible to avoid.

Businesses make a huge chunk by promoting their goods and services portraying an exclusive factor associated with their products. Brands in particular are all about perceptions, created by promotional activities. Viewers watch advertisements, they are exposed to the glittery side of owning or using a particular brand/product. The impact by the advertisement is so much that it often compels us into buying things that we might not even need. Many times a lot of products fail at their job, but we are influenced by another brand and end up trying it. The cycle is a vicious one. Each brand promises to deliver an assured result and we yield to their presentations. After all, WYSIATI.

We are quick at thinking. We jump to conclusions with not enough facts, and therefore most of the decisions made in haste are waste. If in a situation the outcome of a decision matters, slow thinking and introspecting is the go-to option. It is then that our brain comes up with a logical argument, or judgment or solution.

What an irony it is then that our "Andha Kanoon" (rather Judiciary worldwide) also works on the evidence that can be presented, for what cannot be presented is treated as non-existent. I doubt there could be a better way for justice to prevail, for this is the only flaw that the judiciary carries worldwide.

So next time you see somebody on Instagram with a feed full of savoring delights, travel destinations, pleasurable moments, and jaw-dropping pictures, or when your colleague tells you that the new boss is a nightmare, just know that What You See Is Not All That There Is.

Could we say that superstitions, dogmas, and certain beliefs go unchecked for generations and manage to persist so long because WYSIATI, and not enough people question it further?

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