August 3, 2010

W.E.I.R.D.

Jonathan Haidt is one of the more interesting thinkers around. Here's the transcript of a general talk he gave on his work at an Edge conference called The New Science of Morality. He talks about two other articles that have helped instill some caution and humility in him:
So, the first article is called "The Weirdest People in the World," by Joe Henrich, Steve Heine and Ara Norenzayan, and it was published last month in BBS. And the authors begin by noting that psychology as a discipline is an outlier in being the most American of all the scientific fields. Seventy percent of all citations in major psych journals refer to articles published by Americans. In chemistry, by contrast, the figure is just 37 percent. This is a serious problem, because psychology varies across cultures, and chemistry doesn't.

So, in the article, they start by reviewing all the studies they can find that contrast people in industrial societies with small-scale societies. And they show that industrialized people are different, even at some fairly low-level perceptual processing, spatial cognition. Industrialized societies think differently.

The next contrast is Western versus non-Western, within large-scale societies. And there, too, they find that Westerners are different from non-Westerners, in particular on some issues that are relevant for moral psychology, such as individualism and the sense of self.

Their third contrast is America versus the rest of the West. And there, too, Americans are the outliers, the most individualistic, the most analytical in their thinking styles.

And the final contrast is, within the United States, they compare highly educated Americans to those who are not. Same pattern.
All four comparisons point in the same direction, and lead them to the same conclusion, which I've put here on your handout. I'll just read it. "Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human psychology and behavior based on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic societies."  The acronym there being WEIRD. "Our findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans. Overall, these empirical patterns suggest that we need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature, on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin and rather unusual slice of humanity."

An awful lot of theories in evolutionary psychology, for instance, are tested by giving questionnaires to UC Santa Barbara students.
As I read through the article, in terms of summarizing the content, in what way are WEIRD people different, my summary is this: The WEIRDer you are, the more you perceive a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships, and the more you use an analytical thinking style, focusing on categories and laws, rather than a holistic style, focusing on patterns and contexts. ...

Computer programmers call this "object orientation."
Well, let's turn to the second article. It's called, "Why Do Humans Reason?  Arguments for an Argumentative Theory," by Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber. The article is a review of a puzzle that has bedeviled researchers in cognitive psychology and social cognition for a long time. The puzzle is, why are humans so amazingly bad at reasoning in some contexts, and so amazingly good in others?  ...

Why is the confirmation bias, in particular— this is the most damaging one of all—why is the confirmation bias so ineradicable?  That is, why do people automatically search for evidence to support whatever they start off believing, and why is it impossible to train them to undo that?  It's almost impossible. Nobody's found a way to teach critical thinking that gets people to automatically reflect on, well, what's wrong with my position?

And finally, why is reasoning so biased and motivated whenever self-interest or self-presentation are at stake?  Wouldn't it be adaptive to know the truth in social situations, before you then try to manipulate?

The answer, according to Mercier and Sperber, is that reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments. That's why they call it The Argumentative Theory of Reasoning. So, as they put it, and it's here on your handout, "The evidence reviewed here shows not only that reasoning falls quite short of reliably delivering rational beliefs and rational decisions. It may even be, in a variety of cases, detrimental to rationality. Reasoning can lead to poor outcomes, not because humans are bad at it, but because they systematically strive for arguments that justify their beliefs or their actions. This explains the confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, and reason-based choice, among other things."

That why I love the documentary on Sir Andrew Wiles proving Fermat's Last Theorem so much. I particularly like how in 1994 the publication referee Nick Katz devoted two months to reviewing, line by line, Wiles' first manuscript, finally finding a single error that threatened the whole edifice. And Wiles eventually agrees with Katz that his life's work is ruined. (Then, he spends a year before solving the problem, providing a happy ending.)

That ain't natural. Mathematics isn't exactly a social construction, but the culture of mathematicians is, and it's an impressive accomplishment of the human race.

Where did this culture of objective argument begin? The Greeks? The Babylonians before them? How did it get started?

65 comments:

Anonymous said...

The WEIRDer you are, the more you perceive a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships, and the more you use an analytical thinking style, focusing on categories and laws, rather than a holistic style, focusing on patterns and contexts. ...

The potential problem with this is that an internally consistent system of thought that's unfalsifiable and completely at odds with reality can end up completely controlling one's mind and overriding basic, empirical facts and patterns we encounter in life.

Anonymous said...

I suggest: The Africans.

or, the Chinese.

agnostic said...

Weird thing is that psych research could much more easily be done in the unstudied societies, yet everyone pushes them to do fancy and impressive stuff.

The material / methodology / equipment is easier for the researchers to understand, and it's a lot cheaper to run.

Same with collecting folktales like the Grimm Brothers did. Ditto other folk practices -- what games they play, their equivalent of jump-rope rhymes, kids' songs involving potty humor, etc.

Folklore suffers from WEIRDness too -- those "folklore motif index" lists you may have seen are mostly based on European folklore. Animals play a much larger role in African folklore, for instance.

This situation must be due to some combination of local apathy about their own culture (as opposed to European can-do Romanticism about their own) and lack of Western support because they want to see Africans doing physics rather than psychology (a dummie major in college).

dearieme said...

It's an old sneer that Psychology teaches the world what American undergraduates say they think. If psychologists have just woken up to it, they've been pretty slow off the mark.

dearieme said...

"Where did this culture of objective argument begin? ... How did it get started?" More urgently, how can it be kept going?

sabril said...

Eliezer Yudkowsky had some interesting thoughts on this subject. He pointed out that learning various logical fallacies can actually make you stupider since it improves your ability to reject arguments you don't like.

But anyway, there is a concept of standby rationality, which holds that even as people deceive themselves about the truth, another part of them is pretty good at figuring out the truth and taking appropriate action.

Standby rationality is arguably why most liberals are smart enough to avoid sending their children to school with NAMs; why Al Gore purchased a condo on low ground in California; and so on.

So people really do search for the truth, it's just that they hide it from themselves when it's convenient to do so. And are very good at inventing rationalizations to fit the two rationality modes together.

l said...

"...why is the confirmation bias so ineradicable?"

Institutions in WEIRD society serve the purpose of intensifying the confirmation bias. The longer one stays in school, for instance, the more ingrained some thinking will be. In the context of education a PhD is a signifier that one has a attained a higher level of confirmation bias.

When near uniformity of thought within any given discipline is reached, this is cited as a sort of proof -- think climatologists and AGW, or Paul Krugman's frequent assertion that "all serious economists" (or some variation) agree with his Keynesian prescriptions.

The 'educated' layperson who wants to think he's smart will accept the consensus opinion of the 'experts' in any given field. Media reinforces this appeal to authority: "experts say" is a frequent incantation heard on the news.

The triumph of heliocentric cosmology is interesting to contemplate. Aristotelian earth-centered cosmology was not proven false by Copernicus et al. Heliocentric cosmology gained dominance because it is a less complicated model. Is assuming where you're standing as a reference point inherently wrong? No. But old-time cosmologists are derided as fools nowadays.

Eileen said...

Isn't it kinda weird that they call us WEIRD?

Gee, thanks a lot. :-/

elvisd said...

I'm really digging these articles on objectivity and the social sciences. A few years ago I stumbled on an essay by a retired sociology professor who came down pretty hard on his own profession, calling what much of the social/behavioral sciences do as "Imperfect Empiricism" as opposed to "Scientific Empiricism". He addressed Kuhn (the "paradigm" guy) as well as the problem of researching around a theory vs. building a theory from existing data.

A friend of mine laments how data mining has undermined the "art" of theorizing. In developing a theory, in the natural or social sciences, we want to be "objective", but there does seem to be something in us that doesn't find that method as appealing as building a theory and letting it survive or die by a thousand experiential cuts.

Anonymous said...

All four comparisons point in the same direction, and lead them to the same conclusion, which I've put here on your handout. I'll just read it. "Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human psychology and behavior based on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic societies."


Since liberals operate on the premise that all people are basically interchangable units, it makes sense in a way that they would feel free to extrapolate from tiny samples drawn from a very limited subset of humanity.

SFG said...

Probably with the Greeks, although it went underground in the Middle Ages and only really re-arose with the Enlightenment. Though you can make a pretty good argument that Gutenberg's printing press, by allowing the re-interpretation of the Bible by everyone who could read, was just as, or more important. A lot of the big industrial powers in Europe were Protestant. The only one that wasn't was France (and half of Germany).

Anonymous said...

"Where did this culture of objective argument begin? The Greeks? The Babylonians before them? How did it get started?"

Surprisingly it started with.....yep, you guessed it- Frank Stallone


Dan in DC

Henry Canaday said...

Emerson noticed the difference between Western analytic thought and the Eastern tendency to think of things in relation to all other things in one of his mid-19th Century essays. It seems that when westerners first encountered the East, they noticed many things that were forgotten for quite a while.

The last time I read the Iliad, I was struck by how many scenes are essentially arguments between characters. In the Odyssey, both Odysseus and his protectress, Pallas Athena, pride themselves on their cleverness, in action and debate. “Two of a kind we are, both contrivers.”

Then Aeschylus brought the dialogue between characters, which was usually an argument, to the stage. I am sure people were arguing long before the 5th Century, B.C.E., but it means something that the Greeks inserted the argument in their highest public art form. Olivier said Greek tragedy was the first art to “glamorize ideas.” He might as well have said to glamorize argument.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure where it begins, but the creation myth is certainly Socrates, who goes around puncturing everyone else's arguments without even supplying an alternate explanation, to allow his dialoguers to at least feel honest by accepting Socrates' position.

And naturally Socrates gets killed for it.

Anonymous said...

"Where did this culture of objective argument begin? The Greeks? The Babylonians before them? How did it get started?"

Neither Greeks, nor Babylonians but... (the drumroll, please) the Culture of Critique. You know which culture I am talking about, right? The Catholic Scholastics, of course. They weren't 100% original in everything they did (no one is) but to them belongs the credit of inventing science and the scientific method.

Anonymous said...

"The WEIRDer you are, the more you perceive a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships, and the more you use an analytical thinking style, focusing on categories and laws, rather than a holistic style, focusing on patterns and contexts".

I think Haidt – whose work I enjoy – seems to have completely ignored all the research about the most mature stages of adult development, in what he has written here.

If you read Susanne Cook-Greuter's research on the 'Construct-Aware' or 'Unitive' stages of development, or Otto Laske's work on 'Dialectical thought forms' (in cognitive development) you certainly don't find this atomistic and mechanistic world that Haidt claims is the ultimate norm for educated Westerners.

But Haidt comes from a very anti-developmental and relativist background, so the notion that a growing number of Westerners might be maturing to very subtle, wise and holistic stages of psychological development is probably something he's not really on the look-out for.

Anonymous said...

The answer, according to Mercier and Sperber, is that reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments.

This is a really profoundly cynical, anti-Western, grotesquely nihilistic piece of propaganda.

pzed said...

so doesn't manzi have a point regarding experimentation in light of the WEIRD results? even if there are a multitude of experimental studies, the applicability of these studies to a general public is very questionable.

Sheila said...

Interesting post. WEIRD explains why I can no longer tolerate reading most movement conservative sites (and most comment threads anywhere); since I see both the forest and the trees I have no patience for those who are blind to one or another or both. Perhaps that's why I am rebutted by ad hominem attacks labeling me a liberal, a racist, or a purveyor or despair (try paleoconservative/race realist/Christian HBDer). No, I've merely been fascinated with seeing how the parts fit together with the whole and most everyone else is busy with their individual perspective which skews both parts and whole. Does that make me weirder than WEIRD?

Ray Sawhill said...

Interesting stuff. The philosopher Stephen Toulmin (who started out as a scientist, and who died recently) was very interesting on these subjects. I wrote a blog posting about him a while back:

http://tinyurl.com/33zc4nb

Anonymous said...

The WEIRD paper Mr. Haidt mentioned is cautionary and provocative.

But if by "interesting," you mean "conventional," then Jonathan Haidt is one of the more interesting thinkers around. At least one a priori of his position on morality and moral inquiry comes down to, "Of course Jesus Christ was just some dude, OK?"

"But who do you say that I am?" (Mark 8:29), indeed.

But this is not a religious trip. It's an observation. Now that we live in Truly Modern Times, moral inquiry has devolved into something that Mr. Haidt thinks can only barely rise, haltingly, to the level of sports-writing, or perhaps taxonomy: Cause and Chance worked on thus-and-so evolved predilection to produce such-and-such, where-and-when. And that's all that we can say -- or at least, should say -- in polite circles.

The faux-silver lining? That particular devolution is at least one step up from the We Are All Gay Now Because of the Bonobos that one normally gets in these circles.

The problem is not precisely the trivialization of moral inquiry. It's the trivialization of moral inquiry because that move now appears obvious to all Bright and Sensitive People.

In the 1980s and 90s Alasdair MacIntyre (for example, in Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry) tried to get people to notice that moral inquiry as an endeavor had completely lost its mojo, and to suggest that there were reasons why it had. If by "interesting," you mean "conventional," then MacIntyre's work is far less interesting than Haidt's.

It's not that one should automatically consider anything in MacIntyre correct. But, if wrong -- where wrong -- Mr. MacIntyre is a lot more usefully wrong than anything Mr. Haidt's Matrix-morality could ever come up with.

So, if by "caution and humility," you mean, "arrogance and ignorance," then Mr. Haidt has indeed shown he has had "caution and humility" instilled in him.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

adfadfadfdf said...

"Where did this culture of objective argument begin? The Greeks? The Babylonians before them? How did it get started?"

It began before the development of language. After all, reasoning is a power that all higher animals have. Chimps use reason to make tools and to get food. Cats use reason to learn from mistakes in hunting techniques. Over time, they get better and better. So, all these animals learned to use reason for their survival, interest, and well-being.
As higher creatures developed higher forms of communication--a cat can only go meow meow but a chimp can go ah-ah, ee ee, ooh ooh, ee-ah-ooh-ah-ah-ah, they developed new ways of communicative skills to get things their way. But even among the lesser animals, the use of communication is often for SELF-INTEREST. When a cub feels hungry, it starts mewling to get the attention of its mother. It's instinctive, but it's still a case of using communication to get attention and food. And when two rival animals meet, they communicate by growling at one another, as if to say, 'this is my turf, and you better get lost or I'm gonna kick your ass.' When two grizzly bear males meet, it can be frightening. And there is also communication for the purpose of mating, as when birds sing out, as if to say, "I'm the best lover, so come here and be my darling."
These are not forms of reasoning, but they are form of communicating---mainly for self-interest.

Humans too are animals so they have animal natures based on sex drives, territoriality, will to power dominance, and etc. And so, they are emotionally bound to use communication skills the same way--mainly to get better sex, food, turf, pride, power, etc. Being smarter and equipped with language which is capable of using and conveying reason at the highest level, humans have this conceit that they are different from animals when, in fact, as shown in Kubrick films, humans are essentially animals with higher communicative powers. Since reason is conveyed through communication and since communication developed among animals for the purpose of self-interest and self-preservation, much of reason is bound to serve primal instincts.

asdfasdfasf said...

Now, one may ask, what does two geeks arguing over some funny stuff have to do with sexuality, territoriality, or animalish forms of power or survival? Well, it is a territorial struggle in the sense that humans inhabit not just the physical space but mental space--due to our imagination, memory, and thinking ability. Thus, the winner of the arguments grabs more of the mental or thought space. Thus, if a Marxist wins an argument with a fascist, he feels as if he's colonizing and laying claim to mental space, and this, in time, may lead to taking of physical space or territory as well. After all, Christians not only won the spiritual argument but also came to win the territory of Europe from pagans who not only lost the moral and spiritual argument but their lands as well. And look at the rise of Islam. Islam not only won the argument but huge territories. As for Mongols, they had no ideas but only brute force, so when their military power subsided, they left nothing behind. But those who win the argument can lay claim to territory even after they lose. Jews have been undefeated spiritually since they had this powerful idea or argument about God.
But even non-humans like dogs 'argue' sometimes just to win, just to prove who has the last bark. Ever hear dogs barking at one another. They don't necessarily hate one another nor wanna fight but they just keep barking to get the last bark. It's like doggish pride.

So, it's not like 'pure reason' developed to win arguments but communication developed to win self-interest and power. And in time, the higher form of communication led to higher reasoning. Since even higher reasoning is used by human-animals, it mainly serves self-interest, but for a select few who are able to go beyond the narrow confines of the ego, reason can be something more, the tool for finding the impersonal truth. But then there is geekish pride, the worst kind of pride there is.

Anonymous said...

"Neither Greeks, nor Babylonians but... (the drumroll, please) the Culture of Critique. You know which culture I am talking about, right? The Catholic Scholastics, of course. They weren't 100% original in everything they did (no one is) but to them belongs the credit of inventing science and the scientific method."

Thales was a priest?

good to know

Anonymous said...

"Probably with the Greeks, although it went underground in the Middle Ages and only really re-arose with the Enlightenment."

Uh...never heard of the quaestio? Medieval philosophy was incredibly concerned with logical reasoning.

persona au gratin said...

The answer, according to Mercier and Sperber, is that reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments.

Yes absolutely, the mind is "designed" for rationalization: I'm right, your wrong; my interests are good and true and just, yours aren't; we should be following my plan and these priorities right now, not those. Rationalization and justification are what intelligence is for, along with a little manipulation of the external environment as well.

Sociability, what developed these abilities in the first place, ironically requires a certain responsiveness to other individual's interests, leading to the ability to compromise, cooperate, and even sacrifice. The unusually high intelligence of humans created by this extreme sociability deceives people into treating intelligence as an all purpose property that defines us as a species.

It amazes me that it has taken this long for psychologists to start acknowledging and expressing this.

R N McCauley wrote this paper in 2000 The Naturalness of Religion and the Unnaturalness of Science

Anonymous said...

How can you conclude that reason is not a tool to discover the truth but is "designed to win arguments" without applying reason to evidence and drawing conclusions that comporte with reason. And is their conclusion, therefore, simply an attempt to convince us of something - and therefore control our beliefs along trains that favor them?

Harmonious Jim said...

Haidt's talk is chock full of other interesting thoughts. Were many of the famed philosophers of the past on the Asperger spectrum? (Probably) Does liberal dominance of academia reinforce confirmation bias? (Yes) Do WEIRD philosophers tend to overlook moralities of purity and ingroup loyalty. (No doubt)

The paper he cites on WEIRDness is also worth looking at. Yes, it shows that WEIRD people are different from tribals, nonWesterns, the uneducated. But it does acknowledge some universals (eg the 0.7 waist-to-hip ratio preference). Unfortunately, the WEIRD paper does not feel able to acknowledge that IQ differs among groups.

Steve: all this is grist for a week's worth of blogging!

Severn said...

Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments.


This implies that the great god Evolution "designed" something called reason, and did so with a specific purpose in mind. We're better off is we discard the notion there there is anything like "design" involved in evolution.

Reason was not "designed" with any specific intended purpose, any more than your biceps were. Like your biceps reason is a general purpose tool. It can be used to come up with clever rationalizations for doing what you already want to do. And it can be used in attacking those rationalizations.

Reason is just a tool. It's not something deserving of worship.

Anonymous said...

How can you conclude that reason is not a tool to discover the truth


By understanding the nature of "truth".

dearieme said...

Well catholics don't need science now - they've got an infallible pope.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Steve, the thrust of your essay was spot on but the remark about "object oriented" is off the mark.

Originally computer languages were what was subsequently termed "imperative". You wrote in COBOL, FORTRAN or BASIC the specific steps that the machine was to perform.

Another approach was tried with languages that created virtual entities that had certain properties. These entities could be told to perform complex multi part actions rather than the tedious specification of each tiny step. This was modeled on human supervision techniques. You don't tell a subordinate to first move their left foot and then their right foot, etc. You just say, "Sweetie get me a cup of coffee".

This new way of communicating with a programmable machine was called "Actor languages". The idea being an analogy with how a stage director gets the people on stage to perform.

Later the term evolved into Object Languages and then Object Oriented Languages.

Object oriented connotes a style of reduced responsibility for the programmer and a way of being more concise and efficient. It does not mean that you see fewer relationships or that you see the world as less continuous - rather the opposite.

Some of the concepts in object oriented programming include: class, inheritance and polymorphism. Very simplistically these concepts mean the programmer sees problems in a context of relationships. This is roughly speaking holistic and so by your typology it would be non-Western.

But actually most of this sort of confusion arises because of the inappropriate connotations that arise from the use of the word object. Just substitute the earlier term actor and a lot of the confusion dissipates. Seeing the world as populated by autonomous self directed actors isn't a hallmark of modern western thought but rather is characteristic of pantheistic tribal primitives.

Albertosaurus

Deckin said...

Haidt's major axe is, of course, moral psychology, but his major premise in this talk is the fashionable extension of Tversky's and Kahneman's work on the irrationality of 'people'.

As one of the last commenters noted in passing, IQ is a glaring omission in this argument. When Haidt repeats the claims that 'people' are 'bad' at reasoning or cites approvingly the theory that rationality isn't a vehicle for truth attainment, he overlooks the incredible variation in how 'people' perform at things like the Wason test and other things. It's not that 'people' are bad at irrationality, it's that the smarter you are, the better you are at them, and the better you are at lots of things: living well, living long, etc. There's nothing systematically distorted about giving rationality centrality in human endeavors and claiming that it's a truth detecting mechanism--it does that well, it's just that most people aren't good at either truth detection or rationality.

His argument that science, as a social endeavor, doesn't support putting rationality on a normative pedestal is weak. It took individual intelligences to devise the collective system of science and it only works in places with a high percentage of rational people.

Also, I find the argument that Bentham had Asperger's to be really weak. Everything Mill says can be read in a completely different, and non-psychopathological, way.

Anonymous said...

"Well catholics don't need science now - they've got an infallible pope."

Ex cathedra science?

Or do you have no idea what you're talking about?

Severn said...

Unfortunately, the WEIRD paper does not feel able to acknowledge that IQ differs among groups.


I think it does.

"The domains reviewed include visual perception, fairness, cooperation, spatial reasoning, categorization and inferential induction, moral reasoning, reasoning styles, self‐concepts and related motivations, and the heritability of IQ. The comparative findings suggest that members of Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic societies, including young children, are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans."

IQ is not singled out, but the fact that it differs among groups is mentioned in passing.

Severn said...

Deckin, here's the sort of truth he is talking about.

Because philosophy went this way, into hyper-systemizing, and because moral psychology in the 20th century followed them, referring to Kant and other moral philosophers, I think we ended up violating the two giant warning flags that I talked about, from these two BBS articles. We took WEIRD morality to be representative of human morality, and we've placed way too much emphasis on reasoning, treating it as though it was capable of independently seeking out moral truth.


He's right, science has not got the foggiest idea about how to arrive at moral truths. He's not saying that reason is useless at calculating the area of a circle, just pointing out its limitations.

Caledonian said...

He's right, science has not got the foggiest idea about how to arrive at moral truths.

Try Game Theory, buddy.

What science is NOT capable of is finding justifications for arbitrary cultural conventions, which is what people usually mean when they talk about 'moral truths'. Actual truth? Yeah, science handles that pretty well.

not a hacker said...

interesting how users of the term confirmation bias never notice how prevalent it is on this very board. Take the issue of blacks and education. istevers are so intent on defeating IQ supersitition (laudable in itself) that they excuse themselves from ruling out the more likely reasons for black underachivement, such as anti-white hostility or the indifference of a population that knows it will not be allowed to starve. Since the chief concern of modern moral philosophy is the distrubutional fairness question, this empirical issue has to be front and center for anyone interested in genuine social science.

Svigor said...

the more likely reasons for black underachivement, such as anti-white hostility or the indifference of a population that knows it will not be allowed to starve.

I see both (throwing up their hands on account of group animus, indifference to self-sufficiency) as stupid, but that's just me.

Anonymous said...

"Try Game Theory, buddy.

What science is NOT capable of is finding justifications for arbitrary cultural conventions, which is what people usually mean when they talk about 'moral truths'. Actual truth? Yeah, science handles that pretty well."

Hi, naturalist fallacy!

Anonymous said...

Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments.

It seems true that creatures do not reason except as far as the quality of reasoning has a differential reproductive and survival advantage (or else it's a neutral trait). Why not? It's true of every other human quality. It may provide us with the truth but that's not why we have it. Just as vision may provide us with some degree of truth about how the world is, but we don't have vision so we can see the truth.

asdfasdfadf said...

"Take the issue of blacks and education. istevers are so intent on defeating IQ supersitition (laudable in itself) that they excuse themselves from ruling out the more likely reasons for black underachivement, such as anti-white hostility or the indifference of a population that knows it will not be allowed to starve."

Hostility toward whites certainly didn't prevent Jews from getting good grades, in fact much better grades than what whites got.
And who worries about starving in the US? It applies to whites, Jews, and blacks, who can all apply for welfare.
And there are plenty of blacks in Africa who seem to love Americans and are on the verge of starvation, but they don't seem to be producing many geniuses lately.

adfafasdfa said...

We know that for lawyers, arguing is big bucks. Many lawyers will argue according to whom they are representing--or who's paying them--than what they really believe. So, a person could privately believe one thing but argue another. In a dangerous world of fallen souls, a person may figure, 'my nation, side, tribe, people, right or wrong' instead of 'THE truth shall prevail'.

So, there is private reason and public reason. An American diplomat may personally believe America is more at fault on a certain issue but he will PUBLICLY argue for America's position since that's how the game is played. There is no guarantee that if you play fair, the other side will reciprocate.
In World Cup soccer, many athletes were aware of fouls on their side but were only too happy to get away with them. They prolly figured, 'we got shafted the last time, so it's payback'. And most of nature is like this. It's kill or be killed, and that's how we evolved.

With greater rule of law, there is greater rule of universal reason, and the early 60s was the peak in the US but once the rule of law began to break down with rampant crime, affirmative action which violated the concept of anti-discrimination, and out-of-control borders and rise of multiculturalism, there came to be far less reasonable debate between left and right, among black/brown/white, etc. Just look at our news today. FOX vs MSNBC. It's not news but tribal-ideologicalism.

For reason to prevail, there must be same laws that apply equally to everyone.
If most of the calls in sports were fair, there would be much greater sportsmanship among athletes; some athletes will even volunteer their errors or violations. But if rules are haphazardly enforced, every side will feel slighted and 'reason' becomes just a tactic to gain an advantage.
So, we need a nation of laws, not of lawyers.

PS. Oddly enough, we often think emotions drive us apart while reason brings us together, but it can be the other way around. It is Christian, Buddhist, or Islamic spiritualism which emotes and preaches that we are all ONE while scientific studies on race can very well conclude that certain races may well be different and shouldn't mix in huge numbers. Reason can just as well use arguments to build wall as to tear them down whereas the feeling inherent in certain religions emphasize the fuzzy thing called the SOUL which all of us supposedly possess. Buddhists say even animals have souls and we should not kill them. Science says beef has protein and so we should kill and eat cows.
A man and a woman may come to hate one another in the realm of reasoned debate, but LOVE--emotions--can bring them together. Just look at Mary whoozits who married the monkey-faced Clintonite boy down in Louisiana. What's his name? She's on the right, he's on the left, but I guess they fell in love, and that had nothing to do with reason. Nor in her case, not even sanity. Damn, the dude is ugly.

David said...

Why should psychology be about people who are purportedly very different from us?

Imagine the same line in, say, hard science. "The Earth is very exceptional. The norm is empty space and lethal radiation. Therefore, biology is unrepresentative, weird, parochial, and Maybe Racist."

Here's the same line in industry. "Here at Widget Inc. we have spent millions studying and working on widgets. But widgets are only ONE product in a vast market. In fact, widgets are only .5% of GNP. Therefore, our concern with widgets is weird and narrow. We should study ice cream cones much more than we study widgets."

In art: "Western artists are but a small fraction of the population of the Earth. Why should art professors study them? They are very unrepresentative! People concerned with art should instead study rice farmers in China."

In short, Haidt Henrich Heine et al. are just putting a spin on a hoary leftist worldview, to wit: The West is weird and unimportant in the vast scheme of things, blah blah blah. "The Weirdest People in the World." Guess that means whites, so - it's another anti-white smear. Time to do a little Googling on these people's backgrounds.

Anonymous said...

the more likely reasons for black underachievement, such as anti-white hostility



It's not obvious to me that anti-white hostility on the part of blacks is a likely reason for their underachievement.

Anonymous said...

Actual truth? Yeah, science handles that pretty well.


Uh huh. And what is "actual truth"?

Severn said...

In short, Haidt Henrich Heine et al. are just putting a spin on a hoary leftist worldview, to wit: The West is weird and unimportant in the vast scheme of things, blah blah blah


Hmmm. You did not read the article, did you?


Why should psychology be about people who are purportedly very different from us?


The notion that different people are different is fundamental to HBD and to evolution, properly understood. Why does this trouble you?

Anonymous said...

If it started with the Greeks, it wasn't Socrates or Plato. It was Aristotle. He was WEIRDer than the other two by virtue of being the great analyser and cataloger of stuff. Strangely, that makes him less weird (lower case) to read in so many ways.

Also I would agree with the criticism of the O-O programming analogy. Earlier methods were more analytical, less holistic, etc (and, may I add, less full of self-regarding BS?)

Deckin said...

Severn,

His ultimate point is that there are no moral truths, so a fortiori, rationality can't get them. But his premise depends on the claim that rationality can't get at ordinary truth; or else why the talk about the confirmation bias? That has nothing special to do with moral truth after all. So I think the IQ criticism still holds.

TGGP said...

I'm surprised Gene Callahan didn't reference the Azande.

Felix said...

"according to Mercier and Sperber, is that reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments."

Until those funky cave dwelling philosophers discovered that, hey, reasoning also helped them avoid predators and find food?

Modernistic BS. And WEIRD.

jody said...

some interesting ideas here. really liked the WEIRD acronym.

David said...

>The notion that different people are different is fundamental to HBD and to evolution, properly understood. Why does this trouble you?<

Why do you miss my point entirely?

The purpose of psychology should be to help the people involved. So why object when psychologists in the US, for example, study US people? Why call them "W.E.I.R.D.," parochial, etc.?

To say: "studying x is more practical than studying y" is not to say: "y troubles me."

Can't you think except in terms of emotions ("troubles you," phobias, etc.)? Well, I suppose that's the natural bent of certain psychologists - part of their passive-aggressive games.

dfasfasfasdf said...

Reason isn't about true or false but using logic within a given system with set of premises. Star Trek isn't reality but people can use reason to discuss the world within Star Trek based on the show's premises. For reasoned argument or debate on any system, there has to be a set of consistent rules or premises. So, if a certain horror movie has ghosts who can slip through walls but can't walk on water, argument of possibile scenarios must take those premises into account. You can't suddenly have ghost walk on water. It is because all sci-fi and fantasy stories have some systemic premises--even if imagined--that we can suspend our disbelief and 'believe' in their worlds.

As for the real world, one of the problem is we all have differnt knowledge of facts and data, and no social data is ever 100% correct. Is average Jewish IQ 110 or 115? Are there 12 or 20 million illegals in the US? Are they a net plus or minus in economic terms? Lies, damned lies, statistics, as they say. Not only are all data partly faulty but they can be selectively mixed and matched and correlated in innumerable ways.
So, it coudl be both sides are indeed dealing with actual data and properly applying reason, but what if they selected different datas or correlated them differently?

And there is also the factor of skepticism. Some truthers, JFK conspiracy nuts, and birthers are indeed dumb and deranged. But others are have become so disillusioned with government and MSM--which has lied to them so many times--that they refuse to believe official assurances, and this kind of skepticism isn't always crazy. Skepticism and even cynicism are okay, but in many cases, the skeptic or contrarian becomes blindly devoted to an argument or theory that is directly opposite the official story. They fall into the fallacy that since something is probaby false, its opposite must be true. So, if Oswald the commie didn't kill Kennedy, it must have been the US government itself!!
Or since the US government lied about drugs, stuff like heroin is harmless!!

Better facts and data allow for better reasoning, but there are some people who will always prefer to project their archetypal thought processes onto the world than draw conclusions based on facts of the world.

adfasdfasdf said...

Intellectuals need to be mugged by reality. Literally.

Severn said...

The purpose of psychology should be to help the people involved. So why object when psychologists in the US, for example, study US people? Why call them "W.E.I.R.D.," parochial, etc.?


Because they do not claim to be "helping people" but describing human psychology. Not US psychology (which likewise cannot be evaluated by asking questions of a small sample of US college students) but human psychology.
And you can't make claims about the psychology of goat herders in Mongolia based on a questionnaire you gave to your Tufts University sophomore class. That's why.

Anonymous said...

his premise depends on the claim that rationality can't get at ordinary truth; or else why the talk about the confirmation bias?


What is "ordinary truth"? Lot's of people are throwing this "truth" word around like it's been well defined.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

What class of truths are these?

Severn said...

To say: "studying x is more practical than studying y" is not to say: "y troubles me."

No doubt. But you never said anything along the lines of "studying x is more practical than studying y". Instead you couched your objection in terms of your belief that "Haidt Henrich Heine et al. are just putting a spin on a hoary leftist worldview, to wit: The West is weird and unimportant in the vast scheme of things, blah blah blah."

You even suggested they are guilty of anti-white racism -""The Weirdest People in the World." Guess that means whites, so - it's another anti-white smear."

So you'll pardon me if I don't indulge you in your conceit that you're being calm, rational, and factual.

Caledonian said...

Uh huh. And what is "actual truth"?

Statements which correspond to the behavior of universe.

Sensible people can grasp that systems of thought like homeopathy are garbage because they don't function - they may be internally consistent, but they don't correspond to our observations.

Game theory lets us explain how effective strategies can arise from uncertainty and trial-and-error; it gives us a cognitive framework to understand how and why a given strategy is better than another. Moral claims, which generally involve assertions about what ought to be done, constitute a domain of noise.

Just as evolutionary theory permits us to explain how orderly adaptation to the environment arises from uncontrolled and random variance.

leslie said...

Perhaps off topic, but not to me. There's a book called "High Road to the Stake" about an infamous witch trial of 1600 in which an entire family and a couple cohorts were gruesomely tortured and burned. Even the 11 yr old son was eventually burned, and the burning, or any style of execution, of children was previously unheard of in German lands.
The Church is often blamed but in fact Churchmen and priests were among the most likely to protest because they heard the intimate, end-of-life confessions and KNEW these people were innocent of intending harm or experiencing possession. In Spain, despite the Inquisition, there were almost no witch trials because of the actions of certain clergy to prevent them. It was promoted in these circles that "witches" were mentally ill. Sadly the whole mess would not burn out until the last few decades of the 1600s.
The New England witch trials (which did not burn anybody, btw) were a piece of moldy rye comparison to those blazing in the heartland of Europe.
Kunze makes the case that it was not religion, which figures only tangentially in trials, but fears about monetary and temporal power. Priests were threatened if they protested and were frequently prevented from hearing confessions. Who does Kunze believe fanned the flames? Lawyers.
The practice of law, in a bizarre and, to us, irrational way, was integral in witch trials occurring AFTER 1500 (before that they were realtively rare and based mostly on folk superstitions.) After 1500and a functioning press, in a more literate and lawyer-ridden (even then) society, cases had to be "proved." Unfortunately, the people were accustomed to brutal methods. One judge left a victim hanging in strapedo while he went to lunch. People were tried by judges and courts, not religious bodies in most German cases.
The press of words, words, and more words, especially the printed word, to argue cases was not entirely new, but it was used on an unprecedented scale. There is another book, pub. c. 1997, which title escapes me, that made a similar claim--that the printed word introduced to a population that had not been used to it was a lethal combination and explains why despots from Pol Pot, to Papa Doc, to the Taliban, to the Soviet Union in the early 20th century, marked the educated and professors for demolition, and destroyed schools. They just couldn't cope with the inundation of words and the abstractions they conveyed, aside from perhaps some old and prescribed religous writings. There's a lot more to it, so please don't write it off as too bizarre. I was sceptical at first.
WIERD people are simply that segment of the population that has integrated abstract, rational thinking into their mental processes and are more comfortable with it than they are with -- well, whatever they would have been doing without it. I do think we are developing and evolving, albeit very slowly.

leslie said...

There was a book called "High Road to the Stake" by Kunze, about an infamouse torture/burning of a family and a couple cohorts in 1600 in Germany, and which pointed out that most of the prosecuters of witches, at least in the German trials, AFTER 1500 (and the printing press) were lawyers, not clergy. Indeed, clergy had outright prevented witch trials in Spain, land of the Inquisition, as a result of a clergyman who declared them to be disturbed, not possessed. Clergy were often kept from hearing confessions during witch trials in Germany because they knew the accused were innocent. Kunze blames lawyers and the expansion of the legal profession, then armed with a plethora of words to argue against "evil." They argued on behalf of the holders of power and money.

The gruesome torture and burning of the family, including an 11 year old boy eventually, was unprecedented in Germany in 1600. Before 1500, witch trials were mostly religious and based on folk superstitions and were fairly rare. Afer 1500, they increased enormously finally burning themselves out in the last decades of the 1600s. btw, there were no burnings in the relatively mild witch trials of New England.\
Another book, pub. c. 1997, makes a similar claim--that the printed word and the labyrinth of abstractions a previously illiterate society was forced to contend with, led to despots targeting "intellectual", such as grade-school teachers, destroying schools and forbidding education.
Introduction of mass quantities of the printed word literally drives societies crazy that aren't used to processing abstractions, esp. if they themselves didn't invent them.
WIERD people are simply that segment that has come to integrate abstract, rational thinking and find it more comfortably than, well, whatever they would be doing without it.
I do think we are progressing, albeit very slowly.

chebek said...

"Other subpopulation differences could arise from genetic variation."

- from the WIERD article.

Jim Bowery said...

Confirmation bias is primarily economic. Think about a data compressor that encounters a pattern, stores it in a dictionary and then seeks to match subsequent data with that pattern. Back-tracking compressors suffer from combinatorial explosion in computation load. The heuristic for back-tracking is simply a threshold rate at which the dictionary grows. If too many things "don't fit" over too close a time, you start "thinking", ie: back-tracking.

Anonymous said...

"Moral claims, which generally involve assertions about what ought to be done, constitute a domain of noise."

Nah, but ethics is tough for some people. Maybe you just don't have the brain for it. Accept that and stop blaming the entire field.

I mean, goodness, if we dismissed every field you couldn't comprehend, where would we be?

Caledonian said...

Nah, but ethics is tough for some people. Maybe you just don't have the brain for it. Accept that and stop blaming the entire field.

1) We're discussing morality, not ethics.
2) If there are indeed actual, objective standards for resolving moral questions, it's certainly possible that some people could be better - or worse - than others. But suggesting that I'm cognitive deficient in regards to morality is meaningful only if cognition is relevant - in other words, if moral questions are subject to rational analysis.

Science is the only methodology capable of dealing with reality. If morality is beyond science, it is necessarily unreal.