Category Archives: argumentation

‘Neurosexism’ debated

Neuroscientist Larry Cahill takes issue with a Feb 2019 Nature favorable book review of Gina Rippon’s The Gendered Brain: The New Neuroscience That Shatters The Myth Of The Female Brain.

Cahill’s response prompted an interview by Medium Neuroscience writer Meghan Daum.

Scientific findings have a way of upsetting apple carts, especially when we consider our oft-demonstrated human capacity to bend science to advantage some power-coveting groups over others.

Valid research amply shows there are real differences in male and female neuroanatomy and functions. Honest science must follow the evidence where it leads. Clearly, any discovered differences cannot be allowed to justify unequal social or economic opportunities or treatment. Cahill compares the situation to genetics. That people differ genetically in a vast number of ways cannot be taken as cause to misstate scientific findings or preclude further learning about genetics.

There are times and circumstances in which certain research approaches must be blocked for humane or other reasons but that is a different argument than denying the findings of a body of research because they are uncomfortable or inconvenient.

Thoughts?

What are numbers, really?

The nature of math came up in our embodied cognition discussion. Here is a presentation by Dehaene on the topic followed by comments from The Reality Club: George Lakoff, Marc Hauser, Jaron Lanier, Rafael Núñez, Margaret Wertheim, Howard Gardner, Joseph Traub, Steven Pinker, Charles Simonyi. A few brief, edited Lakoff excerpts follow from that discussion. Note that this is a discussion from 1997, so a lot of confirming science has happened since then.

” [Dehaene] has made it clear that our capacity for number has evolved and that the very notion of number is shaped by specific neural systems in our brains. […] We understand the world through our cognitive models and those models are not mirrors of the world, but arise from the detailed peculiarities of our brains.”

“Mathematics is not ‘abstract’, but rather metaphorical, based on projections from sensory-motor areas that make use of ‘inferences’ performed in those areas. The metaphors are not arbitrary, but based on common experiences: putting things into piles, taking steps, turning around, coming close to objects so they appear larger, and so on.”

“Dehaene is right that this requires a nonplatonic philosophy of mathematics that is also not socially constructivist. Indeed, what is required is a special case of experientialist philosophy (or ’embodied realism’). […] Such a philosophy of mathematics is not relativist or socially constructivist, since it is embodied, that is, based on the shared characteristics of human brains and bodies as well as the shared aspects of our physical and interpersonal environments. […] On the other hand, such a philosophy of mathematics is not platonic or objectivist. Consider two simple examples. First, can sets contain themselves or not? This cannot be answered by looking at the mathematical universe. You can have it either way, choosing either the container metaphor or the graph metaphor, depending on your interests.”

“Dehaene is by no means alone is his implicit rejection of the Computer Program Theory. Distinguished figures in neuroscience have rejected it (e.g., Antonio Damasio, Gerald Edelman, Patricia Churchland). Even among computer scientists, connectionism presents a contrasting view. In our lab at the International Computer Science Institute at Berkeley, Jerome Feldman, I, and our co-workers working on a neural theory of language, have discovered results in the course of our work suggesting that the program-mind is not even a remotely good approximation to a real mind.”

Pinker of course also comments and takes issue with Lakoff’s depiction of him. Dehaene also responds to the comments at the end.

News startups aim to improve public discourse

A Nieman Reports article highlights four startups seeking to improve public discourse. Let’s hope efforts to create methods and technologies along these lines accelerate and succeed in producing positive outcomes.

Query on interest in concept mapping

I like using concept maps to organize my thoughts and to plan articles and projects. I would like to share member-editable concept maps through this website.

I’ve used the free Cmap Tools program for many years. Unfortunately, Cmap Tools is developed on the Java platform and I have been unable to get it to work on my Mac for about two years. (Apparently, it needs an older version of the Java Runtime Environment and several other tools I use need a later version, which creates a conflict I’ve not been able to resolve.)

I am able to use Cmap Tools on my Windows 10 virtual machine, so it’s still a good candidate application.

Fortunately, there’s also a free cloud version of Cmap we can use to share concept maps. The downloadable (client) application has many more features for embedding functionality into concept maps, but the cloud environment is excellent for viewing and basic editing. Here’s a sample cmap I built in about five minutes this morning (displayed using the embed code from the Cmap Cloud Viewer):

Because this example is presented in a viewer window, it is not directly editable. If I provide a link to a shared cmap online, you’ll be able to edit it as well. If you install the downloadable version of Cmap Tools, you’ll be able to add richer content and more advanced features, including collapsable detailed nodes, embedded images and other resources, links to other nodes and maps, links to online content, etc.

If you might be interested in viewing and/or collaborating on concept maps, please reply and identify the operating system of the computer you would use. (If you don’t want to post your OS reply, please tell me by email.) Once you create a free account online, we’ll be able to collaboratively work on cmaps, which is a great way to negotiate meaning with a bit more structure and persistence than real-time conversations.

Last, if you want to know how cmaps and other visual representation benefit learning, read the articles on the IHMC site. I also highly recommend the little book, Learning How to Learn, by Novak and Gowin. Thanks!

Persuasion: Do you want to be effective or just feel righteous?

A recent article in The Atlantic reports fascinating research on the relative effectiveness of typical and moral-framing based approaches to persuading people of an opposing political orientation to see value in alternative positions. The upshot is that there are verifiably effective methods for getting around entrenched, reflexive opposition.

Analysis of inept interviewer raises several interesting questions

Misleading and sensationalist news personalities have ceased to be noteworthy. They are the norm in American mainstream media. Interviewers strive to oversimplify and shape guests’ messages–tactics interviewees who are good communicators can cast in sharp relief. Experts tend to present information in systemic, relational, and process terms no longer welcome in or compatible with the aims of popular media outlets.

A fascinating article in The Atlantic not only surfaces these tactics (which may have become habits more than deliberate interviewing methods) but highlights the challenge any expert or systems thinker faces when attempting to convey concepts of any complexity or nuance.

I also found the interviewee’s (a sociologist) points very interesting in themselves. For example,

Peterson (expert): There’s this idea that hierarchical structures are a sociological construct of the Western patriarchy. And that is so untrue that it’s almost unbelievable. I use the lobster as an example: We diverged from lobsters evolutionarily history about 350 million years ago. And lobsters exist in hierarchies. They have a nervous system attuned to the hierarchy. And that nervous system runs on serotonin just like ours. The nervous system of the lobster and the human being is so similar that anti-depressants work on lobsters. And it’s part of my attempt to demonstrate that the idea of hierarchy has absolutely nothing to do with sociocultural construction, which it doesn’t.

Newman (journalist): Let me get this straight. You’re saying that we should organize our societies along the lines of the lobsters?

It would be funny as an SNL skit, but as a supposed demonstration of professional journalism, it is a sad commentary on the state of affairs.

More in line with this group’s focus is Peterson’s point on the evolutionary reality of the hierarchical organization of species, including humans. Of course, this was not a moral or political statement, but a reference to neurochemical bases for perceptions and behaviors.

I appreciate that in our discussions we can press into more nuanced conceptual territories than Ms. Newman was willing to allow Dr. Peterson.

Real and false reason

Some liberals (and scientists) still think that reason is somehow above and beyond emotion. When I suggest framing in emotional terms they say sure, but that works only for emotional issues as if reason is something beyond emotion. So here’s a reminder from  this Lakoff classic:

“It is a basic principle of false reason that every human being has the same reason governed by logic — and that if you just tell people the truth, they will reason to the right conclusion. […] But many liberals, assuming a false view of reason, think that such a [moral, emotional] messaging system for ideas they believe in would be illegitimate — doing the things that the conservatives do that they consider underhanded. Appealing honestly to the way people really think is seen as emotional and hence irrational and immoral. Liberals, clinging to false reason, simply resist paying attention to real reason.”

“Real reason is embodied in two ways. It is physical, in our brain circuitry. And it is based on our bodies as the function in the everyday world, using thought that arises from embodied metaphors. And it is mostly unconscious.  False reason sees reason as fully conscious, as literal, disembodied, yet somehow fitting the world directly, and working not via frame-based, metaphorical, narrative and emotional logic, but via the logic of logicians alone.”

“Real reason is inexplicably tied up with emotion; you cannot be rational without being emotional. False reason thinks that emotion is the enemy of reason,  that it is unscrupulous to call on emotion. Yet people with brain damage who cannot feel emotion cannot make rational decisions because they do not know what to want, since like and not like mean nothing. ‘Rational’ decisions are based on a long history of emotional responses by oneself and others. Real reason requires emotion.”

How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail

Cognitive bias article of the day: How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail

A concise, timely look at how worldview-driven cognitive dissonance leads people to double down on their misbeliefs in the face of challenging evidence. It also recommends steps for having more meaningful conversations with others whose irrational positions differ from your own. 😉