Monday, July 27, 2015

The Stanovich: Rationality and the Reflective Mind.

On of the notions in my grand theory of everything is that the Liberal advance in Western Society has come about because errors weak-points in Western culture. The Left has been able to exploit these weaknesses to its advantages whilst the Right, bound by a veneration of Western tradition has been unable to adapt. One of the those weak points concerns the subject of human rationality, especially our conception of it.

I've just finished reading Keith Stanovich's Rationality and the Reflective Mind and in my considered opinion it deserves to be one of the foundational texts of the intellectual Right. Stanovich's book, which is really a synthesis of the latest research into the psychology of rationality and the empirical findings should serve as fuel for future Right wing thinkers in their evaluation of the human capacity for dispassionate reason (with all the social, political and propagada implications).  It needs to be understood that this is not a "Right Wing" book. Stanovich does not present that data with a political agenda. It is quite simply a summary of the state of the art of Rationality research. The power of this book lays in its evidence which undermines our concepts of rationality, assumptions which have been disastrous to the Right and have provided fuel for the Left's advance.

The right may have some skepticism with regard to the intelligence of the average man but ultimately believes he is rational. Our notions of human rationality underpin many of the social structures and conventions that have evolved over time. Our jury system is premised on the notion that the jurors can rationally weight evidence. Our democratic system is premised on the notion that our voters can rationally evaluate opposing political views and come to the right choice. Contract law presupposes rational participants and consumer warnings presuppose a rational ability to evaluate the data. The justification for radical equality is many ways premised on the notion that all men are rational beings, able to find happiness in their own way through sober reflection and deep thought. Even the idea of public debate presupposes the notion of rational debaters who are able to be swayed by compelling evidence and logic. And yet, the data would suggest that this is not the case. Stanovich lays it out;
Humans are cognitive misers because their basic tendency is to default to Type 1 processing mechanisms of low computational expense. Using less computational capacity for one task means there is more left over for another task if they both must be completed simultaneously. This would seem to be adaptive. Nevertheless, this strong bias to default to the simplest cognitive mechanism—to be a cognitive miser—means that humans are often less than rational. Increasingly in the modern world, we are presented with decisions and problems that require more accurate responses than those generated by heuristic processing. Type I processes often provide a quick solution that is a first approximation to an optimal response. But modern life often requires more precise thought than this. Modern technological societies are in fact hostile environments for people reliant on only the most easily computed automatic response. Think of the multimillion-dollar advertising industry that has been designed to exploit just this tendency. Modern society keeps proliferating such situations where shallow processing is not sufficient for maximizing personal happiness—precisely because many structures of market-based societies have been designed explicitly to exploit such tendencies.
Stanovich begins his book with a discussion on the subject or rationality, separating the weak notions of it which begin with Aristotle--(and have thus been hugely influential in the formation of Western Culture)--and modern, more rigorous definitions.  The weak notion of rationality equates rationality with the capacity to think.  Harder notions of rationality imply the notion that thinking is not enough; getting the correct answer is important.*  This blog subscribes to this latter view.

Stanovich approaches the subject of human rationality from his background in heuristic and biases research which demonstrates that for majority of humans, thinking is a "least effort" exercise, resulting in predictable errors and faulty logic.  Stanovich places himself in the Meliorist camp, in that he believes by understanding the errors of human reasoning people can be taught to think better and avoid the mistakes. I'm more pessimistic than Stanovich is in this regard and I feel that humans have always had a compelling interest in getting things right and the fact that they don't learn means that group stupidity is part and parcel of the human condition. I suppose I'm a pessimistic Meliorist.
The opportunities for human improvement are minimal.

Opposing the Meliorist camp are the Panglossians. This latter group tends to come from the Evo-psyche crowd who argue that there is no correct answer, rather the most common answer is the evolutionary right one.
The difference between the Panglossian and the Meliorist was captured colloquially in an article in The Economist magazine where a subheading asked, “Economists Make Sense of the World by Assuming that People Know What they Want. Advertisers Assume that They Do Not. Who Is Right?” The Meliorist thinks that the advertisers are right—people often do not know what they want and can be influenced so as to maximize the advertiser’s profits rather than their own personal utility. A Panglossian view of perfect rationality in the market place would need to defend the view that people take only from advertising what optimizes their consumption utility. In contrast, the Meliorist does not assume that consumers will process the advertiser’s information in a way that optimizes things for the consumer (as opposed to the advertiser). Thus, Meliorists are much more sympathetic to government attempts to regulate advertising because, in the Meliorist view, such regulation can act to increase the utility of the total population. This is just one example of how the Great Rationality Debate has profound political implications.
The contrasting positions of the Panglossians and Meliorists define the differing poles in what has been termed the Great Rationality Debate in cognitive science—the debate about how much irrationality to attribute to human cognition. Tetlock and Mellers  have noted that “the debate over human rationality is a high-stakes controversy that mixes primordial political and psychological prejudices in combustible combinations.” The great debate about human rationality is a “high-stakes controversy” because it involves nothing less than the models of human nature that underlie economics, moral philosophy, and the personal theories (folk theories) we use to understand the  behavior of other humans. For example, a very influential part of the Panglossian camp is represented by the mainstream of the discipline of economics that is notable for using strong rationality assumptions as fundamental tools.
Panglossians tend to "explain away" defects in reasoning, attributing fault to the experimenter or the experiment construction. Stanovich explains at length how this view is wrong.

Stanovich's book, exhaustively referenced, lists multiple type of cognitive errors  such as problems in probability estimates, bias toward emotionally favoured responses, poor logic, "framing effects", etc but what comes across quite forcefully in this book is...
...just how little correlation IQ has with rationality.
One of the most baleful influences that HBD crowd has bought to the modern "Dark Enlightenment" is the notion that IQ is be all explanation for individual and cultural success.

Firstly Stanovich subscribes to the notion of Spearman's g and the Cattell-Horn extrapolation of it. He is not an IQ denialist and anyone expecting a defence of "creative" and "emotional" intelligence best look elsewhere. He fully recognises the importance of IQ in the ability to abstractly think and makes oblique references to the genetic component of it, it's just that high IQ people can make surprisingly dumb mistakes especially when they're not aware that they are making them. Stanovich recognises that the concept of IQ is incomplete when it comes to the concept of rationality. Furthermore, Stanovich fully understands the sociological implications of the misplaced veneration of IQ.
The ability or inability to think rationally profoundly affects people’s lives. Yet we fail to teach the tools of rational thinking in schools and refuse to focus our attention on them as a society. Instead, we keep using intelligence proxies as selection devices in a range of educational institutions from exclusive preschools to graduate schools. Corporations and the military are likewise excessively focused on IQ measures. Consider the example of lvy League universities in the United States.These institutions are selecting society's future elite. What societal goals are served by the selection mechanisms (e.g., SAT tests) that they use? Social critics have argued that the tests serve only to maintain an  economic elite. But the social critics seem to have missed a golden opportunity to critique current selection mechanisms by failing to ask the question “Why select for intelligence only and ignore rationality completely?”

In short, we have been valuing only the algorithmic mind and not the reflective mind. This is in part the result of historical accident. We had measures of algorithmic-level processing efllciency long before we had measures of rational thought and the operation of the reflective mind. The dominance and ubiquitousness of early IQ tests served to divert attention firom any aspect of cognition except algorithmic-level efliciency. And then, because of this historical accident, we have been trying to back out of this mistake (overvaluing the algorithmic part of the mind) ever since.

The lavish attention devoted to intelligence (raising it, praising it, worrying when it is low, etc. seems wastefiil in light of the fact that we choose to virtually ignore another set of mental skills with just as much social consequence—rational thinking mindware and procedures. Popular books tell parents how to raise more intelligent children, educational psychology textbooks discuss the raising of students’ intelligence, and we feel reassured when hearing that a particular disability does not impair intelligence. There is no corresponding concem on the part of parents that their children grow into rational beings, no corresponding concern on the part of schools that their students reason judiciously, and no corresponding recognition that intelligence is useless to a child unable to adapt to the world.
l simply do not think that society has weighed the consequences of its failure to focus on irrationality as a real social problem. Because of inadequately developed rational thinking abilities—because of the processing biases and mindware problems discussed in this book—physicians choose less effective medical treatments; people fail to accurately assess risks in their environment; information is misused in legal proceedings; millions of dollars are spent on unneeded projects by government and private industry; parents fail to vaccinate their children; unnecessary surgery is performed; animals are hunted to extinction;billions of dollars are wasted on fraudulent medical remedies; and costly financial misjudgments are made. Distorted processes of belief formation are also
implicated in various forms of ethnocentric, racist, sexist, and homophobic hatred.
The poor performance of the college students in the experiments in the literature on reasoning and decision making is not in the least paradoxical.The college students who fail laboratory tests of decision making and probabilistic reasoning are indeed the future jurists who, despite decent cognitive capacities, will reason badly. These students have never been specifically screened for rationality before entering the laboratory. And they will not be so assessed at any other time. If they are at elite state universities or elite private schools, they will continue up the academic, corporate, political, and economic ladders by passing SATs, GREs, placement tests, and performance simulations that primarily assess the algorithmic mind. Rationality assessment will never take place.
But What if it did? It is an interestingly open question, for example, whether race and social class differences on measures of rationality would be found to be as large as those displayed on intelligence tests. Suggestively, Sternberg (2004) finds that race and class differences on measures of practical intelligence (the aspect of his broad view of intelligence that is closest to rationality) are less than they are on IQ tests. The framework that I have outlined in this volume would at least predict that rankings of individuals on assessments of rational thinking would be different from rankings on intelligence. The reason is that rationality involves thinking dispositions of the reflective mind not assessed on intelligence tests.
Interestingly, Stanovich recognises that certain forms of cognitive error require a certain degree of intelligence to seriously entertain them.

Regarding the sixth category in Figure 8-1—contaminated mind ware-—we would of course expect more intelligent individuals to acquire more mindware of all types based on their superior learning abilities. This would result in them acquiring more mindware that fosters rational thought. However, this superior learning ability would not preclude more intelligent individuals from acquiring contaminated mindware—that is, mindware that literally causes irrationality. Many parasitic belief systems are conceptually  somewhat complex. Examples of complex parasitic mindware would be Holocaust denial (Lipstadt, 1994; Shermer, 1997) and many financial get-rich-quick schemes as well as bogus tax evasion schemes. Such complex mindware might even require a certain level of intelligence to be enticing to the host. George Orwell conjectured in this vein when discussing political attitudes in the World War II era: “There is no limit to the follies that can be swallowed if one is under the influence of feelings of this kind. . .. One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool” (1968, p. 379).

This conjecture is supported by the results of a study commissioned by the National Association of Securities Dealers (Consumer Fraud Research Group, 20o6).The study found that the investment fraud victims had significantly more education than a comparison group—68.6% of the investment fraud victims group had at least a BA degree compared to just 37.2% in the control group. Finally, surveys show that pseudoscientific beliefs have a quite high prevalence among those of high intelligence (Chatillon, 1989). Also suggestive is a study reported by Zagorsky (2007) in which a regression analysis showed a positive beta weight for intelligence as a predictor of income but a negative beta weight for intelligence as a predictor of wealth and financial distress (debt problems, bankruptcy, etc.). Income is more dependent on IQ-type selection devices used by selective schools, corporations, and the military (SAT, GRE, LSAT, GM.AT,ASVAB, etc.). In contrast, Wealth management and personal financial decision making involve much more the rational thinking skills that go largely unassessed by conventional IQ tests and intelligence test proxies such as the SAT.[ED]
High IQ is no protection against stupid if your conception of how the world works is wrong, of if you have faulty understandings of cause and effect and are romantic impulsive. Furthermore, the failure to error check and test your theories seems to make one prone to irrationality. Indeed, one of the big factors with seems to be strongly correlated with rationality is thinking styles or personality.  People who are conscientious, deliberative and committed to the truth seem better at thinking rationally than those who are not.  What's interesting to speculate upon here is the relationship between values culture and intelligence.  High IQ is of little protection when you ditch a commitment to the Truth or embrace ideologies (Marxism) which negatively affect rational thought.The cultural revolution in the 60's may have had repercussions which extended beyond the sexual revolution and may have interfered with the rational capacity of Western populations. Stanovich proposes the following taxonomy with regard to some rational errors and their solution.

If I had to fault this book it is in the fact that Stanovich does not go into the subject of thinking styles enough.  The whole point of a book on irrationality by implication is how to avoid it, and if thinking style are causatively linked to rationality some further exposition on the subject was warranted.  However, given the quality of the rest of the book this is a small nitpicking.

Stanovich may have set out to write a book on rationality but I feel he has unintentionally given us a foundational text for the intelligent Right.  It's a must have.

*This philosophically assumes that there is a truth. Red Pill.