From this piece located at the publications page of the International Computer Science Institute. “Mathematical models help describe reality, but only by ignoring its inherent integrity.” Computers work on binary logic and the world is full of ‘noise.’ Hence computers, and mathematical models for that matter, can only approximate reality by eliminating that noise.
“Can a bunch of bits represent reality exactly, in a way that can be controlled and predicted indefinitely? The answer is no, because nature is inherently chaotic, while a bunch of bits representing a program can never be so, by definition.”
Which leads us to ask: “Are our mathematical models just a desperate, failed attempt to de-noise an otherwise very confusing, extremely blurred reality?”
So yes, math and computers are quite useful as long as we keep the above in mind instead of assuming they reveal reality as it is. And as long as we also search for that noisy humanity in the spaces between binary logic, which will never be revealed by math or computers alone.
From Gibbs’ Moral Development and Reality:
“Haidt’s new synthesis leads to recognition of at least three serious limitations: descriptive inadequacy or negative skew; unwarranted exclusion or studied avoidance of prescriptive implications; and moral relativism” (33). He then goes into detail on those inadequacies. From the section on moral relativism:
“Haidt’s (2012) sentiment that liberals and conservatives should share meals and narratives and ‘get along’ is helpful, but missing is any call for rational dialogue or moral progress. Nor did Haidt appeal to ‘the right’ (consistency, reversibility, etc.), objective accuracy, or cognitive development. […] As noted, Haidt even likened moral judgments to diversely shaped babblings or tastes. […] Yet if ethical judgments ‘are nothing but the outflow’ of subjective affects, of esthetic feelings or sensory tastes, then ‘it would be as inappropriate to criticize ethical judgment as it would be to criticize gastronomic preferences.’ Given such analogies, what happens to moral objectivity? […]
“In the twenty-first century, the relativist tide has returned; we must swim against it as did Kohlberg and Piaget in their eras. Now, as then, we cannot afford the moral paralysis of a moral psychology that reduces development to enculturation or socialization. Fundamentally, we cannot afford a relativistic moral psychology whose functionalist evolutionary perspective encompasses pragmatic success, advantage, or utility, but not progress, consistency, or truth” (37).
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.
In her new book, Reader Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World, author Maryanne Wolf explores how reading affects the brain and mind. What different effects result from consuming digital media rather than print media and long forms rather than tweets, posts, and other microcontent? In her excellent recent article, she says,
Will new readers develop the more time-demanding cognitive processes nurtured by print-based mediums as they absorb and acquire new cognitive capacities emphasized by digital media? For example, will the combination of reading on digital formats and daily immersion in a variety of digital experiences — from social media to virtual games — impede the formation of the slower cognitive processes, such as critical thinking, personal reflection, imagination, and empathy, that are all part of deep reading?
Wolf first addressed the evolution of reading and its implications in her earlier book, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. She summarizes her thesis in this interview (14 min video).
Stanislas Dehaene, an author whose work we’ve discussed, also investigated the brain circuits involved in reading. Hear him speak on the topic in this video (33 min).
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 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.
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.
I’ve found some thought-provoking answers on the Q&A social media site, Quora. Follow the link to a perceptive and helpful answer to, “Can a person be able to objectively identify exactly when and how their thinking processes are being affected by cognitive biases?”
The author provides some practical (if exhausting) recommendations that, if even partly followed by a third-to-half of people (my guestimate), would possibly collapse the adversarial culture in our country.
As much of the world settles into the spectacle and cozy embrace of culturally reinforced magical thinking, New Scientist has several interesting recent articles about the evolved intuitive nature of religious thinking as a cognitive by-product (of the value of assuming agency in environmental phenomena, for example) and delving into how atheism is and is not like religious thinking. I find the point interesting that religion and atheism (or any ism), as social constructs, cannot be studied and compared in the same ways that objectively real objects and phenomena can, but we can learn much from systematic approaches to investigating the underlying neurological functions and their probable evolutionary value.
If you don’t subscribe, Albuquerque Public Libraries carry New Scientist.
We’ve come to appreciate Ed Berge’s thoughtful posts on consciousness, metaphorical thinking, etc. Check out his fun, informative blog, Proactive Progressive Propagation. (Where I work, that would definitely become ‘P3.’)