Coherence vs. Ambiguity
By: Geoff Dorn
Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance.
— Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

As an artist, I’m interested in creating unexpected narratives and letting others explore their own interpretations of my collage artworks. I’m also interested in how our own perspective influences what we see and what we interpret.

The perspective of the viewer is paramount in a recent series of my collages that include pictures of Donald Trump’s face. For the past year I’ve been posting them to Instagram as #paintbyscissors. What began as fun and funny turned more serious as the campaign wore on and the results of election day took a majority by surprise.

I’ve been told that the ambiguous point of view in this series makes people uncomfortable. They are unsure if the artwork is intended to be a positive or negative statement on Trump. My intention, however, is not to advocate a position, but to generate a variety of thoughts and meanings that differ from person to person. I don’t believe people want art to tell them what to think, rather they seek art in order to think in different ways.

Kahneman, quoted above, is an experimental psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002. His book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,”  has helped me better understand my own thinking as well as that of others. Kahneman believes that while ambiguity is a source of creativity, the discomfort it causes leads us to opt for familiar, safe interpretations about the world, even if our comfortable assertions have only a tenuous connection to reality.

As an artist, making people uncomfortable may allow viewers to see things they weren’t aware of before. If art opens us to new ideas in a moment of insight or recognition, my conversations with clients as an insurance agent represent a slower, deliberative process. I help people understand when familiar, unquestioned interpretations of the world, or bias, may cause them harm.

While we are susceptible to many forms of bias, for now we’ll discuss two differing forms that I see in my work with clients.

The Katrina Bias

One of the more interesting biases I see occurs when people think that trends and patterns they have observed in the recent past will continue on into the future. For example, I have some wonderful clients who moved here from New Orleans after hurricane Katrina devastated their city. We had a very frank discussion about how Katrina had affected their perception of the fragility of everyday existence and how events outside of our control can suddenly change everything.

As a result of their Katrina experience, they have a deep desire to protect themselves from a future loss and so they purchased separate flood insurance even though they are aware that its limited usefulness, given their home’s location on high ground in Portland.

It provides them some assurance that the unwanted event will never happen. They have taken an extra precaution to protect them from financial risk, albeit one with a low-percentage chance of occurring. It’s worth it to them to sleep better at night, coming from a painful experience.


“That Will Never Happen to Me” 

We are prone to overestimate how much we understand about the world and to underestimate the role of chance in events.
— Daniel Kahneman

The flip side of the Katrina Bias is more common and more concerning to me. I call it the ‘That Will Never Happen to Me’ bias. It is based on the idea that since the negative event being contemplated (a car crash, a cancer diagnosis) has never happened to you or anyone close to you, it probably never will.

This bias has a partner in obfuscation, the ‘I’m a Good Driver’ bias. Both are variations on a similar theme. The Good Driver bias occurs when people attribute positive events to their own character or abilities, and attribute negative events to external factors. While ‘That Will Never Happen to Me,’ is aligned with the thought that life is predictable, or follows recognized patterns, The ‘Good Driver’ bias is informed by our notions of control.  

When I hear, “I don’t need high liability limits, I’m a safe driver, I've never been in an accident and besides, I don’t drive much,” I sympathize. I haven’t been in an accident for twenty-five years, and I don’t think I’m going to be in an accident anytime soon. But if I’m being honest, I’d have to admit there have been a few close calls over the years that could have easily gone the other way.

For all of us, the ambiguous future plays a leading role in our projection of what lies ahead. Insurance is an industry built on statistical analysis where policies and prices are based on the historical and predictive likelihood of events happening. It is an industry that uses its experiences with millions of clients to charge the right premium for the right risk.

The issue isn’t whether or not you believe you will cause or be involved in an accident. It’s really about safeguarding you and your family’s financial future if something unavoidable happens. Every client I work with has goals they hope to achieve, and my role is to help them secure the foundation they need to reach them.

Unlike the insurance company, where the law of large numbers prevails and each policyholder is just a sliver of a large pie, my clients are one of one. If and when they make a claim, the policy choices that they made at the point of purchase will be extremely important to their financial security.


Geoff Dorn is an Insurance Representative for Country Financial. “When it comes to decisions that impact your financial security, you want to know and trust who you’re working with. Call or email to begin a conversation and get to know me better.”

Geoff’s office is also home to The Best Art Gallery in Portland

You can also follow Geoff on Instagram at @geoffdorn

Country Financial
1468 NE Alberta
Portland, OR 97211