Category Archives: motivated reasoning

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.”

Objective reality does not exist

From this article at MIT Technology Review:

“Massimiliano Proietti at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and a few colleagues say they have performed this experiment for the first time: they have created different realities and compared them. Their conclusion is that Wigner was correct—these realities can be made irreconcilable so that it is impossible to agree on objective facts about an experiment. .[…] ‘This calls into question the objective status of the facts established by the two observers,’ say Proietti and co.” […] Proietti and co’s result suggests that objective reality does not exist. In other words, the experiment suggests that one or more of the assumptions—the idea that there is a reality we can agree on, the idea that we have freedom of choice, or the idea of locality—must be wrong.”

Do our models get in the way?

We’ve seen quite a few descriptions of an emerging paradigm known as the collaborative commons (CC). But a problem arises when we take another step by extrapolating from that data and then try to prescribe what we need to do in order to create a CC. I.e., we form a model of what the CC should be, and top down we try to implement it. Whereas the technology that enables the CC to grow organically has no apparent need of this top down imposition. To the contrary, it seems more of a capitalistic holdover instead of the middle out way the CC is naturally evolving.

Bonnita Roy has noted that “In a world as diverse in people and rich in meanings as ours, big change might come from small acts by everyone operating everywhere in the contexts that already present themselves in their ordinary lives.” It is quite the contrast from the enlightened heroes figuring it all out from their complex ivory towers which supposedly and hopefully ‘trickles down’ to the rest of us. This seems much more how the CC works in practice. Political and social revolution arises from the external socioeconomic system, the mode of production. Development is accomplished not by having a ‘higher’ model to which one must conform, but by the actual practice of operating within the emerging socioeconomic system.

Jennifer Gidley noted a similar phenomenon in that there is a difference between research that identifies postformal operations from those who enact those operations. And much of that research identifying it has itself “been framed and presented from a formal, mental-rational mode.” Plus those enacting postformal operations don’t “necessarily conceptualize it as such.” So are those that identify postformality via formal methodology really just a formal interpretation of what it might be? Especially since those enacting it disagree with some of the very premises of those identifying them?

The online discussions I engage with on meta-models is representative of this difference. It seems the abstract modeling of the development of the CC is what is operating to create it in a top-down manner. Not only that, what appears to be happening in all cases is that not only does each individual have their own thoughts and opinions on the topic, which is to be expected in diverse groups, we all end up justifying our own take over others. We all seem to be so attached to our own discoveries that we build an edifice and seek out and find supporting evidence to justify it. When confronted with different perspectives or evidence, our first inclination is to see how it fits into our own model or worldview, how we can twist and manipulate it to support our biases. What is there in common that holds us together if we are so closed to taking in new information from other perspectives, allowing them to sit in their own right, their own space, instead of trying to fit them into our own predispositions?

I’m reminded of what Said Dawlabani said, that the distributed network of the collaborative commons follows no ideologies. That it is open source, highly networked and depends on the wisdom of the crowd. I’m guessing that equally applies to our models on trying to create the CC, as we tend to idealize and attach to them. Is our ownership of our ideas more indicative of capitalism that the CC? It also seems that those who are enacting this new paradigm are doing so without need of any explicit theory or model about it. So is arguing about the correct theory even a necessary part of its enactment, as if like capitalism it too needs a top down elite model to implement it? Are our models just getting in the way and actually counter-productive to its natural evolution?

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.

history and philosophy of ecological psychology

Article from Frontiers in Psychology at this link. From the Introduction:

“Ecological psychology is an embodied, situated, and non-representationalist approach to cognition pioneered by J. J. Gibson (1904–1979) in the field of perception and by E. J. Gibson (1910–2002) in the field of developmental psychology. Ecological psychology, in its very origins, aimed to offer an innovative perspective for understanding perception and perceptual learning that overcomes the traditional psychological dichotomies of perception/action, organism/environment, subjective/objective, and mind/body.”

AI-enabled software creates 3D face from single photo

I wrote on my blog about this development and more generally about the increasing ease with which AI tools can forge convincing media. Go see my creepy 3D face.

A dive into the black waters under the surface of persuasive design

A Guardian article last October brings the darker aspects of the attention economy, particularly the techniques and tools of neural hijacking, into sharp focus. The piece summarizes some interaction design principles and trends that signal a fundamental shift in means, deployment, and startling effectiveness of mass persuasion. The mechanisms reliably and efficiently leverage neural reward (dopamine) circuits to seize, hold, and direct attention toward whatever end the designer and content providers choose.

The organizer of a $1,700 per person event convened to show marketers and technicians “how to manipulate people into habitual use of their products,” put it baldly.

subtle psychological tricks … can be used to make people develop habits, such as varying the rewards people receive to create “a craving”, or exploiting negative emotions that can act as “triggers”. “Feelings of boredom, loneliness, frustration, confusion and indecisiveness often instigate a slight pain or irritation and prompt an almost instantaneous and often mindless action to quell the negative sensation”

Particularly telling of the growing ethical worry are the defections from social media among Silicon Valley insiders.

Pearlman, then a product manager at Facebook and on the team that created the Facebook “like”,  … confirmed via email that she, too, has grown disaffected with Facebook “likes” and other addictive feedback loops. She has installed a web browser plug-in to eradicate her Facebook news feed, and hired a social media manager to monitor her Facebook page so that she doesn’t have to.
It is revealing that many of these younger technologists are weaning themselves off their own products, sending their children to elite Silicon Valley schools where iPhones, iPads and even laptops are banned. They appear to be abiding by a Biggie Smalls lyric from their own youth about the perils of dealing crack cocaine: never get high on your own supply.

If you read the article, please comment on any future meeting topics you detect. I find it a vibrant collection of concepts for further exploration.

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.”