Category Archives: in-group bias

More on Haidt

Continuing this previous post:

I’m looking at the section “conclusion and critique” of Haidt starting on p. 31. Gibbs appreciates that we should account for our earlier human history and more primitive brain centers in describing morality. But to limit it to these structures and history at the expense of later brain structures and evolutionary development is another thing.

“The negative skew in Haidt’s descriptive work discourages study in moral psychology of higher reaches of morality such as rational moral reflection, empathy for the plight of entire out-groups, moral courage, and the cultivation of responsible, mature moral agency —broadly, study of ‘the scope of human possibilities, of what people can do morally, if they are prepared, through development and education, to approach life’s important issues in a thoughtful way’” (34).

Several neuroscientific studies make clear which parts of the brain are emphasized in liberals and conservatives. The amygdala (indicative of fight or flight fear) is a much older evolutionary brain structure, while the anterior cingulate cortex (higher thinking functions) much newer. Hence there is neuroscientific brain evidence for the evolution of morality per Kohlberg. Haidt admits that conservative morality is rooted in these more evolutionary earlier brain structures, and liberal morality in the newer structures.

The newer neocortex then coordinates and integrates the older brain functions so that the latter do not dominate and send us backward in evolution. It’s not that liberals don’t have the conservative moral traits like Haidt claims; it’s that those earlier evolutionary traits are now modified under neocortex control. Yes, there is a value judgment involved here, but it’s supported by evolutionary science, not ideology.

The abstract from “Neural correlates or post-conventional moral reasoning”:

“Going back to Kohlberg, moral development research affirms that people progress through different stages of moral reasoning as cognitive abilities mature. Individuals at a lower level of moral reasoning judge moral issues mainly based on self-interest (personal interests schema) or based on adherence to laws and rules (maintaining norms schema), whereas individuals at the post-conventional level judge moral issues based on deeper principles and shared ideals. However, the extent to which moral development is reflected in structural brain architecture remains unknown. To investigate this question, we used voxel-based morphometry and examined the brain structure in a sample of 67 Master of Business Administration (MBA) students. Subjects completed the Defining Issues Test (DIT-2) which measures moral development in terms of cognitive schema preference. Results demonstrate that subjects at the post-conventional level of moral reasoning were characterized by increased gray matter volume in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, compared with subjects at a lower level of moral reasoning. Our findings support an important role for both cognitive and emotional processes in moral reasoning and provide first evidence for individual differences in brain structure according to the stages of moral reasoning first proposed by Kohlberg decades ago.”

From Mendez, M. (2017). “A neurology of the conservative-liberal dimension of political ideology.” The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.

“Differences in political ideology are a major source of human disagreement and conflict. There is increasing evidence that neurobiological mechanisms mediate individual differences in political ideology through effects on a conservative-liberal axis. This review summarizes personality, evolutionary and genetic, cognitive, neuroimaging, and neurological studies of conservatism-liberalism and discusses how they might affect political ideology. What emerges from this highly variable literature is evidence for a normal right-sided cconservative-complex’ involving structures sensitive to negativity bias, threat, disgust, and avoidance.”

The blind spot of science

Good essay by an astrophysicist, theoretical physicist and philosopher on the nature of human experience and its relationship to science. Some excerpts:

“This brings us back to the Blind Spot. When we look at the objects of scientific knowledge, we don’t tend to see the experiences that underpin them. We do not see how experience makes their presence to us possible. Because we lose sight of the necessity of experience, we erect a false idol of science as something that bestows absolute knowledge of reality, independent of how it shows up and how we interact with it.”

“To bring the point home, consider that in certain intense states of absorption – during meditation, dance or highly skilled performances – the subject-object structure can drop away, and we are left with a sense of sheer felt presence. How is such phenomenal presence possible in a physical world? Science is silent on this question. And yet, without such phenomenal presence, science is impossible, for presence is a precondition for any observation or measurement to be possible.”

“Scientific materialists will argue that the scientific method enables us to get outside of experience and grasp the world as it is in itself. As will be clear by now, we disagree; indeed, we believe that this way of thinking misrepresents the very method and practice of science.”

“The Blind Spot arises when we start to believe that this method gives us access to unvarnished reality. But experience is present at every step. Scientific models must be pulled out from observations, often mediated by our complex scientific equipment. They are idealisations, not actual things in the world.  […] Scientific ‘objectivity’ can’t stand outside experience; in this context, ‘objective’ simply means something that’s true to the observations agreed upon by a community of investigators using certain tools.”

“So the belief that scientific models correspond to how things truly are doesn’t follow from the scientific method. Instead, it comes from an ancient impulse – one often found in monotheistic religions – to know the world as it is in itself, as God does. The contention that science reveals a perfectly objective ‘reality’ is more theological than scientific.”

“Recent philosophers of science who target such ‘naive realism’ argue that science doesn’t culminate in a single picture of a theory-independent world. Rather, various aspects of the world – from chemical interactions to the growth and development of organisms, brain dynamics and social interactions – can be more or less successfully described by partial models. These models are always bound to our observations and actions, and circumscribed in their application.”

Mental rigidity in both Parties

Another one of those studies comparing political identification. The study is about extreme attachment to a Party. What about those who strongly identify with humanity with high cognitive complexity and flexibility who don’t identify with a Party? Are their nuanced arguments that account for numerous factors and their interplay ‘extreme?’ Is the Green New Deal extreme? If a living wage extreme? Is corporations paying their fair share extreme? Is addressing the climate crisis extreme? Is transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy extreme? I think we all know the answer to those questions.

“They also found that self-described Independents displayed greater cognitive flexibility compared to both Democrats and Republicans. Other cognitive traits, such as originality or fluency of thought, were not related to heightened political partisanship. […] The aim of this research is not to draw false equivalences between different, and sometimes opposing, ideologies.”

The Map and the Territory

Recent book by Wuppulari and Doria. F___ing Amen man. This would be a good one for discussion. From the Intro by Penrose:

“Is there a global map that can simulate every other map under some constraint? […] If two maps cannot be integrated, is this a limitation of our scientific cartography or is it the nature of the underlying territory itself that prevents us from such an attempt? […] It is safer to let the gaps remain as gaps while we let our maps remain as maps, rather than giving in to the seemingly seductive approach of trading in our understanding and intermingling maps with territory to fill in the conceptual gaps—however, much this may comfort us and appeal to our tastes!”


From the blurb at b-ok.org:

This volume presents essays by pioneering thinkers including Tyler Burge, Gregory Chaitin, Daniel Dennett, Barry Mazur, Nicholas Humphrey, John Searle and Ian Stewart. Together they illuminate the Map/Territory Distinction that underlies at the foundation of the scientific method, thought and the very reality itself.

It is imperative to distinguish Map from the Territory while analyzing any subject but we often mistake map for the territory. Meaning for the Reference. Computational tool for what it computes. Representations are handy and tempting that we often end up committing the category error of over-marrying the representation with what is represented, so much so that the distinction between the former and the latter is lost. This error that has its roots in the pedagogy often generates a plethora of paradoxes/confusions which hinder the proper understanding of the subject. What are wave functions? Fields? Forces? Numbers? Sets? Classes? Operators? Functions? Alphabets and Sentences? Are they a part of our map (theory/representation)? Or do they actually belong to the territory (Reality)? Researcher, like a cartographer, clothes (or creates?) the reality by stitching multitudes of maps that simultaneously co-exist. A simple apple, for example, can be analyzed from several viewpoints beginning with evolution and biology, all the way down its microscopic quantum mechanical components. Is there a reality (or a real apple) out there apart from these maps? How do these various maps interact/intermingle with each other to produce a coherent reality that we interact with? Or do they not?

Does our brain uses its own internal maps to facilitate “physicist/mathematician” in us to construct the maps about the external territories in turn? If so, what is the nature of these internal maps? Are there meta-maps? Evolution definitely fences our perception and thereby our ability to construct maps, revealing to us only those aspects beneficial for our survival. But the question is, to what extent? Is there a way out of the metaphorical Platonic cave erected around us by the nature? While “Map is not the territory” as Alfred Korzybski remarked, join us in this journey to know more, while we inquire on the nature and the reality of the maps which try to map the reality out there.

The book also includes a foreword by Sir Roger Penrose and an afterword by Dagfinn Follesdal.

Applying artificial intelligence for social good

This McKinsey article is an excellent overview of this more extensive article (3 MB PDF) enumerating the ways in which varieties of deep learning can improve existence. Worth a look.

The articles cover the following:

  • Mapping AI use cases to domains of social good
  • AI capabilities that can be used for social good
  • Overcoming bottlenecks, especially around data and talent
  • Risks to be managed
  • Scaling up the use of AI for social good

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.

Neuroscience report on Dumpsters

See this report. While it also applies to ignorant Dems, however “studies have shown that Democrats now tend to be generally more educated than Republicans, making the latter more vulnerable to the Dunning-Kruger effect.”

“Perhaps this helps explain why Trump supporters seem to be so easily tricked into believing obvious falsehoods when their leader delivers his ‘alternative facts’ sprinkled with language designed to activate partisan identities. Because they lack knowledge but are confident that they do […] they are less likely than others to actually fact-check the claims that the President makes. This speculation is supported by evidence from empirical studies.”

Dunning-Kruger effect:

“In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority comes from the inability of low-ability people to recognize their lack of ability; without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their actual competence or incompetence.”

“A new study published in the journal Political Psychology, carried out by the political scientist Ian Anson at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, not only found that the Dunning-Kruger effect applies to politics, it also appears to be exacerbated when partisan identities are made more salient. In other words, those who score low on political knowledge tend to overestimate their expertise even more when greater emphasis is placed on political affiliation. […] This occurred with both Republicans and Democrats, but only in those who scored low on political knowledge to begin with.”

“We should not lose all hope in trying to reach the victims of the Dunning-Kruger effect. At least one study found that incompetent students increased their ability to accurately estimate their class rank after being tutored in the skills they lacked. With the right education methods and a willingness to learn, the uninformed on both sides of the political aisle can gain a meta-awareness that can help them perceive themselves more objectively.”

White American intolerance connected to authoritarianism

 Good article discussing this recent study.

The threat to our democracy isn’t partisanship on both sides; it’s intolerant white Americans that are prone to authoritarianism. When the imagine that their white identity is threatened they support undemocratic, authoritarian rule. And of course Dump is the perfect authoritarian to stoke their prejudices to impose undemocratic restrictions on some of the population. Which is, of course, a “repudiation of American values and democratic commitments.”

Of course this phenomenon has been going on before Dump; it’s been in the Repugnantan playbook for decades with vote ID laws and other voter suppression tactics that are specifically aimed at those of color. So it’s no wonder that Dump comes along and takes over a playing field well prepared for just such a racist authoritarian.

So remember that what’s going on is not equivalent on both sides of the political spectrum.* Liberals may be partisan but they do not suggest laws that curtail democracy but rather reinforce it.** These intolerant white Repugnantans are more than partisan; they are authoritarian and don’t care if democracy is destroyed in the process of enacting authoritarian rule.

*Like Dump proclaiming that there were good people on both sides of a Nazi march. You know, the good Nazis.

** If you’re thinking of the liberal student protestors wanting to prevent Nazis from speaking at their university, remember that the 1st Amendment does not allow any or all speech, e.g. fighting words. Being intolerant of racist hatred, a clear violation of free speech law, is not in any way the same as inciting racist hatred.

Differences in liberal and conservative bias

Thanks to Normalanga for sending this study to me,  in which participants were paid to read opposing political Twitter feeds for a month. The results were that conservatives were “substantially more conservative” after the experiment, while liberals were “slightly more liberal […] though none of these effects were statistically significant.” It is obvious that liberal and conservative bias is on an asymmetrical scale.

Why some conservatives are blind to climate change

Article by Jiaying Zhao et al. in The Conversation. Some excerpts:

“Despite the strong evidence that human activities are contributing to climate change, a small minority of the public disagrees with the scientific consensus. […] When we analyzed the data, we found a pattern: Conservatives who were less concerned about climate change were less likely to see climate-related words than liberals who were worried about the issue. In short, conservatives showed climate change blindness.”

“Now that we know people’s political orientation affects their visual attention to climate change, this raises a possible feedback loop, where concerned liberals readily tune their attention to news headlines about climate change and become even more concerned. But unconcerned conservatives may be more blind to the same headlines about climate change and therefore become more entrenched in their disbelief. The visual blindness can further deepen the denial of the real risks of climate change such as flooding, hurricanes, drought and heatwaves, and consequently a lack of action to mitigate climate change.”

The article goes on to suggest ways of framing climate change in terms amenable to these conservatives. See the link for more.