Did Reason Evolve For Arguing? - Hugo Mercier

August 15, 2011

Host: Chris Mooney

Why are human beings simultaneously capable of reasoning, and yet so bad at it? Why do we have such faulty mechanisms as the "confirmation bias" embedded in our brains, and yet at the same time, find ourselves capable of brilliant rhetoric and complex mathematical calculations?

According to Hugo Mercier, we've been reasoning about reason all wrong. Reasoning is very good at what it probably evolved to let us do—argue in favor of what we believe and try to convince others that we're right.

In a recent and much discussed paper in the journal Behavioral and Brain Research, Mercier and his colleague Dan Sperber proposed what they call an "argumentative theory of reason." "A wide range of evidence in the psychology of reasoning and decision making can be reinterpreted and better explained in the light of this hypothesis," they write.

Given the discussion this proposal has prompted, Point of Inquiry wanted to hear from Mercier to get more elaboration on his ideas.

Hugo Mercier is a postdoc in the Philosophy, Policy, and Economics program at the University of Pennsylvania. He blogs for Psychology Today.

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I’ve read some of this debate and I’m unimpressed. I’ve devoted considerable thought to this problem, and, while I’m not completely confident of my results so far, I think my own hypothesis on this matter is much better than Mercier’s. The big flaw in his reasoning is that he fails to recognize that rationalism is very much a Western concept, invented by the Greeks. Perhaps he should not have used the term “reason”, preferring “argumentation” instead. In any event, should anybody like to read my own hypothesis on the matter, they can start by following this sequence. I’m sorry about the indirection, but I can’t just paste the URL in, because it includes space characters, which once upon a time were usable, but nowadays are absolutely verboten. I’m in the process of revising my website, so it’ll get fixed eventually. But for now, you have to do the following:

Go to this page and then click on the link to “A History of Thinking”. Sorry about that.

Posted on Aug 15, 2011 at 9:57pm by Chris Crawford Comment #1

Thank you for your comment. Here’s a paragraph from my website on that issue:

” It is also interesting to notice that argumentation is not a modern or a Western phenomenon. Some might have us believe that illiterate people cannot reason, or that Easterners never argue (this is too extreme, no one serious supports these views anymore, but run down versions are still common). This is not true. People argue all over the world, and all the available evidence indicates that they do it well. Also, people seem to reason better in groups everywhere—where data is available at least. And Cicero would have little to reproach to the Easterners’ tradition of argumentation and persuasion. (This is described there: Mercier, H. (in press). On the universality of argumentative reasoning. Journal of Cognition and Culture.)”

The paper can be found there:
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1784902

Posted on Aug 15, 2011 at 10:39pm by Hugo Mercier Comment #2

Mr. Mercier, I believe that our difference lies in the definitions of the verb “reason” that we use. You use it as a synonym for “argue”. I use it for a particular subset of argumentation characterized by an attempt to remain within the confines of logical rigor. Certainly none of the ancient Chinese writings, and none of the ancient Indian writings satisfy my definition of reason. You are welcome to your own definition, of course, but my definition recognizes the profound differences between Western thought and Eastern thought. I’ll also point out that the huge differences between the history of science in Western civilization and all the other civilizations is readily addressed by my own definition, and not addressed by yours.

Posted on Aug 16, 2011 at 7:42am by Chris Crawford Comment #3

I’m mostly interested in psychological mechanisms. From that point of view, it’s the same reasoning abilities that underlie what you call ‘reason’ and other types of arguments. So whether there is an interesting distinction to be drawn between different types of arguments, some which we could call ‘reason’ and others, it’s not really at issue here. For what it’s worth, I very much doubt there’s anything to this distinction, at least in normative terms. If anything, those who follow ‘reason’ too strictly are more likely to end up doing the opposite of science, developing formal systems with no connection with the world.

Posted on Aug 16, 2011 at 7:52am by Hugo Mercier Comment #4

I too am interested in the psychology of this issue—the explanation of my hypothesis on this issue starts with the first nervous systems over 600 million years ago and traces the development of the neural mechanisms underlying this broad kind of processing right up through the development of language. At that point, my explanation switches to historical considerations, and zeroes in on the recovery of Greek society from the post-Bronze Age dark ages around 900 BCE. That society differed from all others in that its basic power structure was mercantile, because agricultural land (which can be dominated by an aristocracy) was in short supply and was better used for tradable commodities (wine and olive oil) than for cereals. There’s a profound difference between mercantile societies and aristocratic societies: logic dominates the former and is irrelevant to the latter. An aristocratic king can be incorrect and still rule; an incorrect merchant goes bankrupt. That’s why Greece developed rationalism, and their devotion to rationalism bursts out of their writings to a degree that never shows up in Chinese or Indian writings. The Chinese adulate the notion of “the gentleman”, but that ideal is distinguished by moral virtues, not rationalism.

I’m surprised that you don’t perceive the vast difference in argumentation styles between Western thinkers and others. It really is a huge difference in the entire mentality, and has been noted by many, many observers. Some characterize it as the difference between holistic thinking and analytical thinking. There have even been psychological studies showing that Chinese subjects are more likely to detect changes in background imagery, while Western subjects are more sensitive to foreground imagery.

True, logic can be overdone; that’s one of the conclusions of my own explanation of rationalism. But there’s no denying that rationalism is the driving force that made the difference between Western civilization in, say, 1900 CE and Chinese civilization at the same time so stark.

Posted on Aug 16, 2011 at 8:13am by Chris Crawford Comment #5

The differences you mention between “Eastern” and “Western” mentalities are probably not as strong as you suggest. This is discussed at length in the paper linked to in my first comment. And I’m not sure many people still think that rationalism drove the industrial revolution.

Posted on Aug 16, 2011 at 8:17am by Hugo Mercier Comment #6

I’m still reading your paper, so I’ll have to defer extended comment on that point until I complete that—and I have a variety of meetings and appointments throughout the rest of today, so it might not be until tomorrow that I can comment. However, for the moment I’ll point out the vast difference in technological achievement between Eastern and Western thought. Given the larger size of the Sinic economy and population, we would expect it to have outpaced the West in technological advance, but its almost total lack of science (as opposed to its engineering, which was developed entirely by trial and error) prevented it from coming anywhere near the West in science. The most astounding difference here is in mathematics. The calculations carried out by Copernicus were utterly beyond the comprehension of any Sinic thinker until perhaps the 19th century, possibly later. And the work of Western mathematicians such as Legendre, Pascal, Newton, Euler, and others simply leaves Sinic thought in the dust. The chasm between Western achievement and Chinese achievement in mathematics is stupendous.

As to the Industrial Revolution, it was only one component of a long process that began in 900 BC. By 1800 CE, Western rationalism had developed so far that it acted only as an enabling factor to the complicated constellation of factors that led to the Industrial Revolution. Have you read A Farewell to Alms? Great stuff, that!

Posted on Aug 16, 2011 at 9:00am by Chris Crawford Comment #7

I agree, on the whole) with your statements about mathematics. Yet it seems as if Eastern populations have not much problem catching up in math, even producing important mathematicians (like Ramanujan). So it seems as if the difference may be more institutional than one of mentalities.

As for A Farewell to Alms, yes, and it has a good discussion of the Malthusian trap, but the whole idea of genetic changes driving the IR is absurd (see for instance the discussion in McCloskey’s Bourgeois Dignity)

Posted on Aug 16, 2011 at 9:49am by Hugo Mercier Comment #8

Perhaps I’m missing something, but the theory doesn’t seem to leave room for nonhuman or preverbal hominid reasoning.  Dr. Mercier is proposing that reason serves argument or, at least, social interaction leaving little room for the enormous benefit of individual, contemplative reasoning in pre or proto verbal groups that were incapable of the types of arguments he presents.  In my opinion, this theory requires another which addresses how language could have gotten off the ground in a hominid brain that had little or no capacity for reason.  The anecdote about the Piraha is as close as he gets and is far from compelling.

Posted on Aug 16, 2011 at 10:27am by shawnpat Comment #9

Thank you for your comment. I think the problem is that you may rely on a wider definition of reasoning that includes most inferences. With our definition (see for instance here:

http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8242469&fulltextType=RA&fileId=S0140525X10000968

) it’s fairly clear that reasoning is not necessary for language.

Posted on Aug 16, 2011 at 10:33am by Hugo Mercier Comment #10

Thank you for your comment. I think the problem is that you may rely on a wider definition of reasoning that includes most inferences. With our definition (see for instance here:

http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8242469&fulltextType=RA&fileId=S0140525X10000968

) it’s fairly clear that reasoning is not necessary for language.

I read the paper and thanks for answering my question by pointing at it.  You define “reasoning” as not belonging to system 1 reasoning (fast, frugal, and unconscious reasoning) but instead, yours is everything else; system 2 reasoning defined as the “negative of the former” and then state that the distinction is based on the conventions of almost every sub-discipline in the field of cognitive psychology, as if researchers in these fields share a common view on this distinction. Until I know where these scientists, or even a subset of them, have drawn the line (citation?), I don’t have your definition.  I am also not exactly sure how this definition makes it obvious that reasoning is not necessary for language when the definition of system 2 reasoning includes many elements of cognition - like attention, memory, and learning - that clearly are.  I really don’t think that my definition of reasoning is wider than yours but I simply don’t have enough information to be sure.

I do thank and commend you for addressing the comments.  Regardless of any differences in opinion - or reasoning - among us, I’m sure that Chris and the community appreciate it.

Posted on Aug 16, 2011 at 12:19pm by shawnpat Comment #11

It’s my pleasure to engage with people who find some interest in my work. I’m sorry we didn’t do a better job at making our definition clearer. What you’re referring to is actually not our definition but the standard definition of system 1 and system 2, or intuition and reasoning. Ours is quite a bit different, in that reasoning is much more intuitive than most people think. The next post on my blog will be exactly on that topic, so if you’re interested you can check it out, hopefully it’ll be written by the end of the week:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/social-design

cheers

Posted on Aug 16, 2011 at 12:37pm by Hugo Mercier Comment #12

Thank you for your comment. I think the problem is that you may rely on a wider definition of reasoning that includes most inferences. With our definition (see for instance here:

http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8242469&fulltextType=RA&fileId=S0140525X10000968

...

Forgive me. That is not my field; I am here accidentally. You wrote:

“Reasoning is generally seen as a means to improve knowledge and make better decisions. However, much evidence shows that reasoning often leads to epistemic distortions and poor decisions. This suggests that the function of reasoning should be rethought. Our hypothesis is that the function of reasoning is argumentative. It is to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade.”

Suppose the ending is changed slightly; suppose it becomes ... to persuade ourselves or others. In that case the difference between two functions (making better decisions versus becoming better at arguing) disappears.

Talking to myself, by writing a diary, used to an important part of my attempts to make good decisions (to persuade myself).
.

Posted on Aug 16, 2011 at 6:25pm by Ludwik Kowalski Comment #13

That’s an interesting suggestion. The problem is that it’s not clear what are the evolutionary payoffs of convincing ourself: if you believe something, they you accept it. Empirically, it also seems that people reasoning on their own, even if they think they are being objective and consider different points of view, in fact have a rather massive confirmation bias. Granted there are exceptions, cases in which we appropriately take another point of view, anticipate counter-arguments and change our mind, but that’s what they are: exceptions. In general, it’s just easier and safer to reason with others: they are likely to be more motivated to provide rejoinders and more knowledge to do so.

Posted on Aug 16, 2011 at 6:30pm by Hugo Mercier Comment #14

Well, I had some long gaps during my meetings, and I stayed up late writing this exceedingly lengthy reaction to your paper. I’ll attempt to post it all in one go, but I expect that the editor will choke on the size of the text and I’ll have to break it up into parts. Here goes:

I would like to echo shawnpat’s appreciation of your presence here; it’s always much more productive to discuss an idea with its primary creator. Moreover, I am intensely interested in a closely related topic and so I am eager to benefit from your expertise. I expect, of course, that you might enjoy some benefits by being grilled by this astute group; and I further expect you to depart as soon as you believe that you are no longer deriving any benefits—as would I.

Academics versus intellectualism
I’d like to begin my discussion of your paper with three broad observations. First, this is an academic paper whose ultimate purpose is to advance your academic career. This places a number of important constraints upon it. It must confine itself to those problems that are currently of interest in your field; should you stumble upon a major discovery in microbiology, say, or unearth topless photos of Michelle Bachmann, or reach a startling realization in Old Testament analysis, it would not be of any value to you to publish any of this information. Less sensationally, issues only peripherally related to your field would be of no value even though they might reveal truths that are important in some other field (such as paparazziology, for example).

This constraint can be harmful in highly cross-disciplinary fields such as yours. My own researches on the development of human cognition have wandered through evolutionary theory, evolutionary psychology, linguistics (especially the development of human language), history of science, neurophysiology, economic history, digital electronics, Cicero, the soils and climate of Greece, history of the rise of Greece, cognates of compound conjunctions in Indo-European languages, computer science, St. Thomas Aquinas… it’s a long list. Some of that material is only peripheral to your own investigations, and since you labor under such great pressure to publish, you must be quite discriminating in the material you examine. While this is indeed the most efficient way to proceed, it can rob you of the opportunity to explore some material that can ultimately have utility in this research. Few academics get the opportunity to engage in broad research of this type until they get tenure.

Parochialism
Second, you go to great lengths to combat Western parochialism, and I heartily applaud those efforts. I myself really don’t believe in “better” in the general sense; I instead concentrate on specifics. Yes, Western mathematics was definitely way better than Chinese mathematics throughout most of the last half-millenium. The same can be said for Western science and Western technology. But those are only a few indeces of achievement. It’s ridiculous to get parochial and declare some sort of generalized superiority. I’m surprised that you felt a need to combat such an obvious prejudice, but apparently that problem still haunts your field.

Terminology
Third, you live and breathe a highly specialized argot that concentrates your thinking along one set of lines. This argot makes it easier for you to directly address the issues of interest to your peers and judges, but it can also make it more difficult for you to break out of some confining assumptions. The most obvious example of this arises in your definition of “reasoning” as that form of linguistic expression required to convince others. In Medieval Europe, that was called “rhetoric”. There’s no gain for us to quibble over the “true” meaning of any term; if you want to use “reasoning” to be synonymous with “rhetoric”, that’s fine with me. I will certainly not quibble with your notion that reasoning is that second mode of cognition (analytic as opposed to intuitive). However, I would like to offer you a different way to slice the semantic pie that provides more analytical utility.

My own thinking on this matter divided the pie into “pattern-based cognition” versus “sequential cognition”. I now think that a cleaner terminology is “parallel versus serial”. While it doesn’t quite cover the neurophysiology well, it’s close enough to serve the purpose, and it’s a very clear distinction. Thus, what your tribe calls “intuitive cognition” I call “parallel cognition”; what your tribe calls “analytical cognition”, I call “serial cognition”.

The advantage of my terminology is that it really zeroes in on the mental processes at work. Serial cognition is a neurophysiological kluge, something that neurons really don’t do well, and that’s why it’s so damned difficult. That’s also why mammalian brains are so damned big: it takes a hell of a lot of neurons (which are essentially parallel devices) to cobble together a serial-processing system. And that’s also why human brains are so much bigger than mammalian brains: we do a LOT more serial processing. Language is the primary form of high-intensity serial processing that we do, and language gobbles up neurons by the ganglion.

This line of thinking clearly shows that formal logic, the kind of rigorous serial thinking that made Western math, science, and technology possible, is the most extreme form of serial cognition. It’s also the most difficult to do; we really have to push our brains hard to carry out that processing. My cutesy way of expressing this point is that “serial logic does to the mind what yoga does to the body—you really have to twist yourself around to get it to work.”

Nope, it cut it off. On to part II.

Posted on Aug 16, 2011 at 9:35pm by Chris Crawford Comment #15

Part II:

This is why I distinguish between Western serial thinking and Chinese serial thinking. The Western version is a step or two further down the evolutionary path of thinking. There truly is a big difference here; while you are correct that “Chinese reasoning” (in your terminology) is no worse that “Western reasoning”, it is also true that “Western serial thinking” (in my terminology) has been more productive than “Chinese serial thinking”.

Now, on to some specifics in the paper!

Reasoning versus Logic
At one point in the paper, you characterize your notion of “reasoning” (analytical thinking) as a form of reasoning in which the reasons leading to the conclusion can be articulated. Intuitive thinking simply produces a result with no intermediate steps, but your “reasoning” can be shown to have some kind of supporting elements. This is a broad definition that covers a huge range of thinking that does not, in my view, constitute logical thinking. For example, consider this line of thinking:

“I hate hippies”
And why is that?
“Because they’re lazy and don’t bathe.”

You’ll agree that this constitutes reasoning in your sense. But I think you’ll also agree that this doesn’t constitute logical reasoning.

On page 4, you assert that “reasoning is a profoundly social mechanism whose function is to find and evaluate arguments so as to convince other people and be convinced only when it is appropriate.” What bothers me about this statement is that it fails to give what is, in my opinion, proper credit to other forms of manipulating people. My belief on this matter is that the most common technique for manipulating people is the use of intimidation, followed by emotional manipulation, with reasoning dead last in importance. Certainly I have great difficulty imagining the progress of human history being guided by reasoning. Rulers did not convince anybody of their power; they simply executed those who failed to obey. Popes and Caliphs did not rely on sweet reason to convince people of the truth of their creeds; the stake did that job more effectively. I can think of few serious disputes in history that were NOT resolved by recourse to arms; the instances in which some form of reasoning provided a resolution are few enough to be startling footnotes in history. Reasoning works only with reasonable people; how many such people are there in our world? I need only mention the name “Michelle Bachmann” to conclusively prove the low place that reasoning holds in modern American political thinking.

I am confused by the arguments at the top of page 5. Later in the page, you seem to be reciting counter-arguments for later refutatio, but at the top of the page, you declare “According to this theory there is no reason to expect a special kind of selection (such as sexual selection or frequency dependent selection) to have had strong effects on the shaping of our reasoning skills. This implies that these abilities should be shared by all (non-pathological) human populations.”

This statement makes no sense to me. First, there is the question of whether there was ever any selection effect in favor of reasoning. You referred to this obliquely on page 4, sweeping it away with the comment that it is discussed elsewhere. Unfortunately, I do not have access to the publications to which you refer. However, I am most skeptical of any claim that there were any selection effects for reasoning. It’s true that social reasoning skills played an important role in human evolution, and I strongly support the notion of a social reasoning mental module. But this talent is highly gender-specific and, as I mentioned earlier, reasoning (in my opinion) plays third fiddle to intimidation and emotional manipulation.

Moreover, if there were no selection effect (which is what you seem to be saying), then why would reasoning skills be universal? I would expect that a trait without selection effects would die out quickly, but you seem to be saying the reverse: that the absence of a selection effect renders the trait universal. What am I missing here?

On page 6, the advantage of my pie-slicing (parallel versus serial) is clearly demonstrated by the problems you encounter dealing with the notion of abstract thinking. What in the hell do we really mean by “abstract thinking”? I’ve always considered that phrase to be one of those wishy-washy terms that sounds great but is impossible to pin down. I am aware of one way to define abstract thinking in terms of serial thinking, but in general, that term provides more in the way of obfuscation than clarification.

On page 10, you conclude a long argument with the observation “This should put to rest the claims that natives and/or illiterates are incapable of abstract thought.” My reaction to this statement is, “Who’s talking about individuals?” We’ve all known for generations that you can take any infant out of any culture and raise that child to adulthood in another culture, and they’ll fit right in and be perfectly normal in their adopted culture. This isn’t about individuals, it’s about cultures.

Next: Part III!

Posted on Aug 16, 2011 at 9:36pm by Chris Crawford Comment #16

Next follows a long section that particularly bothered me because it is entirely anecdotal in nature. You provide lots of anecdotal evidence of Asian logic and Western rejection of logic. What bothers me here is the gigantic size of our evidentiary samples. We both could assemble thousands of examples of Western and Asian logic and illogic—but what would that tell us? Do we count anecdotes to decide which “side” has more anecdotal evidence? Your logical strategy establishes plausibility only; it does not provide anything in the way of logical force. I think that a more productive logical strategy is to look for phenomena that integrate the total problem-solving intellectual output of a civilization over the course of time. I say “problem-solving” because this is what logical thinking empowers us to do. Of course, your definition of “reasoning” would look only at the extent to which people argue—but I find that to be an unquantifiable concept. How do we measure the role of argumentation in a civilization? By the number of arguments people have? By the amount of ink spilled or paper consumed in pursuance of arguments? Your terminology doesn’t lend itself to analysis of the problem.

By contrast, we can indeed make comparisons of the intellectual output of different civilizations in different kinds of problem-solving. In particular, we can state with much confidence that, around the year 1900, before much intermixing of Sinic with Western civilization, the West was far ahead of Sinic civilization in mathematics, science, and technology. The gap between those two civilizations is all the more striking because Sinic civilization had been well ahead of Western civilization two thousand years earlier, and had both a larger population and a larger GDP than Western civilization for much of the intervening period. By all rights, the Chinese should have retained a dominant position in intellectual prowess, but in fact, it fell far behind the West. This is a development every bit as striking as, say, the demise of the dinosaurs, or the invention of the atomic bomb. It demands a damn good explanation, and the accelerated development of logic in Western civilization is clearly the explanation.

On pages 23 and 24, you cite a number of studies of Americans and Chinese that demonstrate similar reasoning talents. I have no problem accepting these studies at face value, but I do question their explanatory significance. In my opinion, these studies demonstrate just how completely the Western intellectual model, based on logic (not reasoning!) has been embraced by other civilizations. No longer do Chinese examinations challenge the student’s knowledge of Confucian thought and its complex ramifications. Instead, Chinese students today spend their time studying mathematics, science, and logic—just like their Western counterparts. I expect that, given the intellectual energy of the Chinese people, they will quickly make it their own and begin producing outstanding mathematicians, scientists, and engineers. However, I don’t understand the intellectual utility of these observations—they are obvious. Are you trying to prove the obvious point that people around the world share similar intellectual capabilities? If so, I fear that you are beating a dead horse. My interest is in the historical process that got us to where we are today, and historically there was a vast difference between Western and Eastern approaches to the process of thought. I emphasize that I am using past tense (“was”) in that statement.

On page 26, you write “For the theory defended here, however, reasoning (system 2, analytic reasoning), is not a mere style of thinking but an essential ingredient of human psychology.” This statement implies that you percieve a biological foundation for analytic reasoning—that the capacity for analytic reasoning is encoded in our genes. While I agree that the capacity for complex serial thinking is indeed built into our genes, I would not go as far as you do. After all, if it were in our genes, why didn’t we solve Pascal’s Theorem in 30,000 BCE? Our genes really haven’t changed much in the interim.

Finally, a quibble on your concluding comments on page 30: you write “By seeing reasoning and logic as tools primarily designed for individual epistemic improvement, the Greeks may have bequeathed upon their intellectual heirs a rather flawed conception.” I claim that it was only the high-falutin’ Greek philosophers who saw reasoning that way. Greek civilization as a whole saw reasoning and logic as tools for getting ahead in the world. Reasoning and logic allowed Greek merchants to perceive market opportunities faster, to calculate risks and benefits more precisely, and so to prosper. This was the heritage that actually sank into the pores of Western civilization, the heritage that was passed on through the societies as a whole, rather than the thoughts of the elite, which were little known by most in the West. Because merchants in the West weilded considerable power (and were not disdained as they were in China), the value system of the merchant, based on logical analysis of market conditions, permeated all aspects of Western societies and later produced the intellectual explosion that swept the world over the last 400 years.

Posted on Aug 16, 2011 at 9:37pm by Chris Crawford Comment #17

>Terminology
Third, you live and breathe a highly specialized argot that concentrates your thinking along one set of lines. This argot makes it easier for you to directly address the issues of interest to your peers and judges, but it can also make it more difficult for you to break out of some confining assumptions. The most obvious example of this arises in your definition of “reasoning” as that form of linguistic expression required to convince others. In Medieval Europe, that was called “rhetoric”. There’s no gain for us to quibble over the “true” meaning of any term; if you want to use “reasoning” to be synonymous with “rhetoric”, that’s fine with me. I will certainly not quibble with your notion that reasoning is that second mode of cognition (analytic as opposed to intuitive). However, I would like to offer you a different way to slice the semantic pie that provides more analytical utility.
My own thinking on this matter divided the pie into “pattern-based cognition” versus “sequential cognition”. I now think that a cleaner terminology is “parallel versus serial”. While it doesn’t quite cover the neurophysiology well, it’s close enough to serve the purpose, and it’s a very clear distinction. Thus, what your tribe calls “intuitive cognition” I call “parallel cognition”; what your tribe calls “analytical cognition”, I call “serial cognition”.

I’m not sure that any broad categorization of cognitive abilities along the lines of “system 1” “system 2,” “analytic” “associative,” etc. is of much use. Our definition of reasoning is much more specific. And no, we can’t quite equate it with rhetoric, it is just what people doing psychology of reasoning have been talking about. In any case, the terminological dispute is not interesting. What matters is the way to carve up the mind. We think there is a reasoning mechanism that is very specific and dedicated, not a whole “mode of thinking.”

>The advantage of my terminology is that it really zeroes in on the mental processes at work. Serial cognition is a neurophysiological kluge, something that neurons really don’t do well, and that’s why it’s so damned difficult. That’s also why mammalian brains are so damned big: it takes a hell of a lot of neurons (which are essentially parallel devices) to cobble together a serial-processing system. And that’s also why human brains are so much bigger than mammalian brains: we do a LOT more serial processing. Language is the primary form of high-intensity serial processing that we do, and language gobbles up neurons by the ganglion.
This line of thinking clearly shows that formal logic, the kind of rigorous serial thinking that made Western math, science, and technology possible, is the most extreme form of serial cognition. It’s also the most difficult to do; we really have to push our brains hard to carry out that processing. My cutesy way of expressing this point is that “serial logic does to the mind what yoga does to the body—you really have to twist yourself around to get it to work.”

Yes, but only because the type of reasoning your thinking about is a highly unnatural use of reasoning. Argumentation recruits the same mechanisms, but much more spontaneously.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid I won’t be able to keep up with this exchange—as you point out, I’m facing pressure to publish papers (and also to look after a 2 month old baby at this point…), and so I’m going to have to go back to that.

Thanks for the exchange, it’s been fun. Sorry if I’ve been curt at times, it’s this question of not having as much time as I wish I had. And I appreciate the advantage of being able to delve on many topics. That’s actually what I do too, although that doesn’t show yet in my academic papers (publication constraints). It’s not common enough, but more common that you may think only by reading people’s academic papers: in real life, we are often less focused than that.

Posted on Aug 16, 2011 at 9:55pm by Hugo Mercier Comment #18

While I’m disappointed that my long posts were in vain, I completely understand the predicament you find yourself in. You’re a postdoc, under intense pressure to produce papers in your chosen field. “Publish or perish”, for you, is red in tooth. This, I think, is one of the most serious flaws in the academic system. The intense competition forces overspecialization, and sharp minds are allowed to wander more broadly only after they have obtained tenure. The system works well with fields that support specialization; most of the physical sciences fall into this category. For example, climatology was something of a backwater until the 1990s. Then, with concern about climate change growing, a great many specialists from related fields were able to convert quickly to address the scientific problems of climate change. This episode reveals the academic system at its best.

In the behavioral sciences, however, the system doesn’t work so well, largely because human behavior is so dauntingly complex. Academics have made a worthy effort at breaking it down into analyzable components, but the subject matter itself defies clean analysis. As I mentioned earlier, my own investigations into the development of rationalism and logic involved a gigantic range of materials, far too broad for anybody to assess in less than several decades. It is these broadly multidisciplinary topics that hover out of the reach of academic aspirations; humanity’s grasp of them remains weak.

Posted on Aug 17, 2011 at 9:19am by Chris Crawford Comment #19

I find the distinction between the use the brain for argument and for logic based reasoning fascinating. Argument can often force us to examine our reasoning with more rigour than we might if we are left to ourselves. Much depends on the approach or motivation of the arguers, whether winning the argument or finding the truth is most important. Thus I found this podcast very interesting. I believe it is obvious that pure logic can take us to the point of decision making but is not capable of taking us through it. (I use decision making here to refer to decisions of the “what’s best to do” type. It may be possible to make decisions of the what/how something happens type, with pure logic.)In other words at best it can predict the outcomes of differnet courses of action, but cannot on it’s own determine which outcome is better. This depends on the motivation of those making the decision and pure logic can not provide motivation.

However I have a difficulty with the question “Did Reason Evolve For Arguing”, and to a lesser extent to referring to the “function” of Reason. My difficulty is that the word “for” implies an element of design or predetermined purpose. This language is too close for my liking to the Intelligent Design notion. I know that avoiding this kind of language may require a more elaborate sentence which may become tiresome but I believe this would be worth the effort given that the language we use can so strongly influence how we think. I am not well studied in evolution but as I understand it variations occur in species, and the individuals with the variations that turn out to be most suitable to the environment survive best. Evolutionists do not, I understand, make any claim that the variations occur “so that” the species may survive.  We may readily speak of an “evolutionary advantage”. Given the CFI and POI position on skeptical thinking I believe this, or a similar form, should be used. Even the form “evolutionary imperative” carries a hint of a predetermined purpose. We may validly theorise and research whether our brains have evolved in a a way which is best suited to arguing or to logical reasoning, but to ascribe to this the “purpose” of evolution is to encourage acceptance of some pre -determined purpose, something we should try to avoid.

Posted on Aug 22, 2011 at 4:42pm by donalobyrne Comment #20

Well, there’s no question that it wasn’t GENETIC evolution that produced rationalism—it was a cultural process (although Mr. Mercier might disagree). Rough rule of thumb: you need 500 generations under strong selective pressure for a trait to spread widely through the gene pool. That’s 10,000 years for humans. I very much doubt that there was strong selective pressure for rationalism: many other factors were more important. Thus, we’d be looking at many more generations. One experiment demonstrated 20,000 generations in order for a weakly selected trait to spread through the gene pool. Thus, 10,000 years is the shortest possible adaptation time for something really important (such as resistance to a deadly infectious disease), and we’re more likely looking at several hundred thousand years for something so weakly selected for as rationalism.

My own investigations into this zero in on post-Bronze Age Greece as the site where rationalism got started. I’m not talking about classical Greece (Plato, Aristotle, and that crowd), I’m talking 400 years before those guys. The fact that its development was confined to Western civilization clearly demonstrates its cultural foundation.

Mr. Mercier was kind enough to visit us and respond to some of my plaints, but his responses did not satisfy me.

Posted on Aug 22, 2011 at 5:07pm by Chris Crawford Comment #21

To Chris Crawford’s first post:
>While I’m disappointed that my long posts were in vain, I completely understand the predicament you find yourself in. You’re a postdoc, under intense pressure to produce papers in your chosen field. “Publish or perish”, for you, is red in tooth. This, I think, is one of the most serious flaws in the academic system. The intense competition forces overspecialization, and sharp minds are allowed to wander more broadly only after they have obtained tenure. The system works well with fields that support specialization; most of the physical sciences fall into this category. For example, climatology was something of a backwater until the 1990s. Then, with concern about climate change growing, a great many specialists from related fields were able to convert quickly to address the scientific problems of climate change. This episode reveals the academic system at its best.
In the behavioral sciences, however, the system doesn’t work so well, largely because human behavior is so dauntingly complex. Academics have made a worthy effort at breaking it down into analyzable components, but the subject matter itself defies clean analysis. As I mentioned earlier, my own investigations into the development of rationalism and logic involved a gigantic range of materials, far too broad for anybody to assess in less than several decades. It is these broadly multidisciplinary topics that hover out of the reach of academic aspirations; humanity’s grasp of them remains weak.

Thanks for understanding, and good luck in your endeavours!

Posted on Aug 22, 2011 at 5:24pm by Hugo Mercier Comment #22

To donalobyrne

>However I have a difficulty with the question “Did Reason Evolve For Arguing”, and to a lesser extent to referring to the “function” of Reason. My difficulty is that the word “for” implies an element of design or predetermined purpose. This language is too close for my liking to the Intelligent Design notion.

Not necessarily. I think (and I think most people in evolutionary biology would agree), saying that the eye is for seeing is quite ok. And it is most certainly normal to speak of function.

>I know that avoiding this kind of language may require a more elaborate sentence which may become tiresome but I believe this would be worth the effort given that the language we use can so strongly influence how we think. I am not well studied in evolution but as I understand it variations occur in species, and the individuals with the variations that turn out to be most suitable to the environment survive best. Evolutionists do not, I understand, make any claim that the variations occur “so that” the species may survive.

Actually, it’s not for the species, but for the individual or the genes. (see for instance: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adaptation_and_Natural_Selection)

Posted on Aug 22, 2011 at 5:27pm by Hugo Mercier Comment #23

Had a chance to hear this podcast last night before being up all night working.

Just wanted to thank Chris both for hosting a very interesting and thought-provoking guest and for asking exactly the questions that I would have wanted to ask had I researched and thought carefully through the subject matter in advance.
Excellent work!

Also, I found Mr. Mercier’s replies to be highly articulate, honest, on-point, and generally persuasive, though if I had the time I’d want to research the data and the implications much more deeply.

Regarding the debate / disagreements over biological vs. social or psychological evolution, it’s always seemed to me that both sides do a lot of talking past each other when both sorts of phenomena obviously exist.  The problem often seems one of definition of terms and understanding of circumstances rather than disparity of fact, as far as I can see.
Not that that ever happens in any other area of discourse…

Going back to sleep now…

Posted on Aug 27, 2011 at 11:28am by Trail Rider Comment #24

Thanks, Brad!

Posted on Aug 27, 2011 at 11:33am by Hugo Mercier Comment #25

I have just listened to the podcast.

I enjoyed it.

I understood you to have been suggesting that confirmation bias and other failures of reasoning are fine because, set in the context of a dialectic process, truth will likely out.  And you assume that “truth” is the best outcome.

What if, however, its more like a tussle for a scrap of meat between hyenas.
It does not matter who owned the meat in the first place. 
What matters is who gets the meat.

Likewise, thinking about reasoning between humans. 
Perhaps what matters most is who wins.
Because he who wins is one notch further up the pecking order.

To my mind this fits rather better and explains how so many online discussions end up smelling more of testosterone than of “truth” (whatever that smells like!)

So confirmation biases and the like allow men to argue more successfully - by sacrificing truth for force of rhetoric.

Posted on Aug 27, 2011 at 3:45pm by Millicent_Tendency Comment #26

Thanks for your comment Millicent_Tendency.

The idea is that argumentation is supposed to work within people who have some interest in collaborating. If it’s a purely competitive, zero-sum game context, then there should be no communication, and no argumentation either. Yet clearly people sometimes engage in shouting matches that cannot be won. In that case, I’d say they’re not using argumentation as it was supposed to be: they do it to show off to their peers rather than convince their interlocutor.

Posted on Aug 27, 2011 at 7:26pm by Hugo Mercier Comment #27

I am given to understand that, in America culture, there are strong differences between group problem-solving as practiced by the two genders. Male problem-solving groups tend to be strongly hierarchical, with the lower-status males being careful not to confront the higher-status males, while males of equal status tend to engage in zero-sum arguments about whose idea is better. Among females, problem-solving sessions tend to be much more socially tempered, with lots of free exploration of ideas, digressions, and nobody ever directly contradicting anybody else. In the real world, we tend to get mixing of the two styles, a source of intense frustration for many females. There has been some interesting work on the different styles of men and women in the business context, and how this has been changing since the 1970s.

There is also the difference between Asian deliberative styles and Western deliberative styles. The former tend to avoid direct confrontations, while the latter encourage tightly-regulated, rule-based confrontation. Perhaps this is best revealed in legal styles. The American adversarial system is intensely confrontational, while being very tightly controlled by very detailed rules. By contrast, there’s the old Chinese legal scholar who wrote that laws should not be overly specific, so that judges have the freedom to apply them with true justice.

Posted on Aug 27, 2011 at 8:29pm by Chris Crawford Comment #28

Forgive me, because I’m wading shoulder deep in my ignorance here, being neither a social anthropologist nor brain scientist but…

While your thesis makes a lot of sense to me, I do wonder if you are over-emphasising the knowledge generating aspect of argumentation as against its social value.

I’d say they’re not using argumentation as it was supposed to be: they do it to show off to their peers rather than convince their interlocutor.

I’m sure you don’t mean it this way, but this almost looks like an Intelligent Design viewpoint: i.e. we occasionally waste the god-given gift of reasoning.

My understanding of natural selection is that characteristics persist because they confer survival benefits.

I can quite see how enhanced dialectic reasoning powers could improve the survival of a group, but it does not quite seem right that it would lead to reasoning faculties that contain so many flaws - group-think, confirmation biases, and the like - without some other factor coming into play as well.

I’d argue that in societies where there are strong dis-benefits to physical manifestations of rivalry between members, prowess at argumentation is a great proxy.  And “showing off to your peers” is a crucial component of establishing one’s position in the pecking order.

Much as the peacock’s feathers demonstrate healthy genes and therefore suitability for mating, so, perhaps competent argumentation demonstrates mental fitness, and therefore suitability for the “alpha-male” position.

Obviously there are great subtleties in human interaction and this is only one of many facets of male rivalry, but it might explain why men are more prone to aggressive forms of argumentation than women.

So might a refinement to your thesis therefore be that:

- human reasoning capabilities evolved through arguing, and

- the persistence (or exaggeration) of certain flaws in human reasoning can be partially explained by the social benefits for rival males of winning arguments?

Posted on Aug 28, 2011 at 3:17am by Millicent_Tendency Comment #29

>I’m sure you don’t mean it this way, but this almost looks like an Intelligent Design viewpoint: i.e. we occasionally waste the god-given gift of reasoning.

I didn’t mean it normatively. In the same way, I could say of people walking on their hands that they’re not using them as they are supposed to do.

>My understanding of natural selection is that characteristics persist because they confer survival benefits.

Actually, it’s mostly a matter of reproduction, but I think you get the gist.

>I can quite see how enhanced dialectic reasoning powers could improve the survival of a group,

It’s not the group but the individual.

>it does not quite seem right that it would lead to reasoning faculties that contain so many flaws - group-think, confirmation biases, and the like - without some other factor coming into play as well.

Yet that’s what makes the strength of our theory. The display theory does not predict the confirmation bias for instance. If it’s just a matter of demonstrating my brilliance, then arguments for either side would do.

Actually, a couple of the commentators on our main paper made suggestions along the same line, you can find them and our reply there:

http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8242469

Posted on Aug 28, 2011 at 4:43am by Hugo Mercier Comment #30

Thank you Hugo for the link to your excellent paper and the subsequent exchanges.
It’s a rich source of very interesting material, that I’m sure I’ll be digging into again.
(Although I was a bit deafened by the noise of axe grinding while reading the Open Peer Commentary   ;-) )


I understand the point you make about confirmation bias: why would we need it if we are arguing for display?
You propose it would be redundant.
But, I’d suggest that confirmation bias is particularly useful when arguing for display (or more accurately position), rather than from principal.
Indeed, you may be underestimating the extent to which men establish position through argument (rather than displays of running and fighting).


Cognitive bias helps in a “Leader Debate”
What’s most important when arguing for position is rapidly to marshall your “ammunition”. 
If you are engaged in a leader debate on a topic with which you may not be familiar you need to be able to find good arguments as fast as you can.
Confirmation bias is a filter that helps us see the useful “missiles” in amongst the dirt and undergrowth.
Additionally, it helps us avoid voicing ideas that would be contrary to the line we are taking.
Nerds, who may have the best ideas, don’t win leader debates if they are too deliberative or too socially awkward at expressing their views. 
(And, of course, they rarely get the girl, without the help of a Hollywood script-writer.)


The importance of followership
That leads on to a point Chris Crawford made above: namely the mechanism by which good argumentation skills lead to a favourable selection effect.
The most favourable position from a selection perspective is to be an alpha male.
To be the leader of the pack.  But no leader can exist without followers.
Argumentation skills confer on the alpha male the capacity to build followership.
In advanced societies we select our leaders inter alia on the same basis: we tend to favour the decisive over the deliberative.
(Of course not all debates are “leader debates”, but argument can also establish support for the “worthy challenger”.)


Argumentation is a key leadership tool
In many contexts, and I suspect in emerging human society, it’s crucial to have a leader who is decisive and persuasive.
This is not to say that good leaders should be bombastic idiots.  Far from it.  (But some who get to those exalted positions are - “W” there I’ve said it.)
In my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to see some excellent entrepreneurs.
The skill is to focus the group effort on clear goals, rather than to allow resources to diffuse through endless debate and fruitless false-starts.
This is about clarity of communication, which relies on a coherent narrative or argument.
But the good entrepreneur also knows when to change tack, and she’s able to redirect the team towards this new goal that everyone supports.
The entrepreneur must therefore be able to marshall a completely new narrative and to sell it to her followers.
(Of course, argumentation is not the only way leaders win and encourage followers - emotional skills are also crucial - but the argumentation helps.)


A final thought
As a final thought, I’ve occasionally caught myself taking a stance that reflects my personal feelings for an interlocutor.
I’m minded to argue for my friends, even if I’m ambivalent about their proposals.
And, I find myself occasionally arguing against something of which I am a natural supporter, because I’m arguing with someone I don’t particularly care for.
And I’m far less willing to admit defeat than I would be if arguments weren’t as much, if not more, about “face” rather than “fact”.
In other words, my choice of argument is socially contextual.
I can’t cite sociological studies that confirm my behaviour as normal rather than aberrant, but I’m willing to bet money that I am not alone.  :)

Posted on Aug 28, 2011 at 8:58am by Millicent_Tendency Comment #31

I can’t cite sociological studies that confirm my behaviour as normal rather than aberrant, but I’m willing to bet money that I am not alone.

I’ll add myself as a second data point, for I engage in the same behaviors you describe. That makes two of us. It’s a simple extrapolation to the other 7 billion people on this planet.  :cheese:

Posted on Aug 28, 2011 at 10:15am by Chris Crawford Comment #32

LOL

I’ll add myself as a second data point, for I engage in the same behaviors you describe. That makes two of us. It’s a simple extrapolation to the other 7 billion people on this planet.  :cheese:

Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world .....  ...

Posted on Aug 28, 2011 at 11:49am by Millicent_Tendency Comment #33

Why is Chris Crawford saying that western man invented rationalism before anyone else? Him and me argued about this in an earlier thread, and I said the same thing basically, but he disagreed with me. What gives here?

Posted on Aug 29, 2011 at 1:09am by mid atlantic Comment #34

Mid Atlantic, could you point me to the place where you interpret my writing that way? I’ll look at it and respond here. Perhaps I’ll start a topic devoted to the matter so we can thrash out the details.

Posted on Aug 29, 2011 at 8:02am by Chris Crawford Comment #35

In post #1 - The big flaw in his reasoning is that he fails to recognize that rationalism is very much a western phenomonon, invented by the Greeks

Posted on Aug 29, 2011 at 1:01pm by mid atlantic Comment #36

The title of the podcast was “Did Reason Evolve For Arguing?”  Shouldn’t the title be “Did Cognitive Bias Evolve For Arguing?”  The analogy that Mr. Mercier used was trying to find the purpose of a hammer if one had never seen a hammer before.  A hammer is a very specific tool.  It has very few uses.  Reason on the other hand can have many uses.  Arguing was probably one of them.  Reason could still have been used to come up with an accurate interpretations of reality, develop coping strategies do deal with that reality, and then implement those strategies.  Cognitive bias may have gotten in the way of reasoning in the past, but due to its high value in establishing dominance (as Millicent_Tendency has argued) it still had survival value for the genes of those leaders.

Posted on Aug 29, 2011 at 4:00pm by brightfut Comment #37

Thank you for your comment, brightfut.

We’ve argued that reasoning is in fact much more specific than you suggest. It is not a general purpose capacity, but the ability to find and evaluate reasons. This is what many philosophers and psychologists refer to by reasoning, by contrast with other psychological mechanisms such as social cognition, planning, imagination, etc.

As for cognitive bias, I still don’t see how it could have benefited for establishing dominance. Having wrong beliefs because of biases is not going to help. And there is no reason that being biased should be respected as a display behavior. On the contrary, if people argued primarily to show off their intellectual skills, they should simply try to go for the best arguments, whether they support their beliefs or not.

Posted on Aug 29, 2011 at 4:04pm by Hugo Mercier Comment #38

  On the contrary, if people argued primarily to show off their intellectual skills, they should simply try to go for the best arguments, whether they support their beliefs or not.

Contradicting oneself in a heated argument in front of a social group would look foolish and weak.  The person would lose face.  It’s good to be open minded when creating one’s own beliefs, but when in an argument when it really counts when social standing is on the line, you’d better have the bugs worked out of it.  (This isn’t the way the CFI Forum should work where people calmly discuss differences of opinion, but I’m talking about a different time). Back then they didn’t have science to tell them what was objectively true.  All they had was one person’s opinion’s vs other people’s opinions.  If nobody could tell what was objectively true then the best arguer, the one with the most confidence and sophistry skills would win.  You see this in politics today - Never ever admit you are wrong.

Posted on Aug 29, 2011 at 5:23pm by brightfut Comment #39

The whole idea is that the guy with the best arguments is more often right than the other. Otherwise argumentation would be moot. Likewise, if you take two debaters and say that it had nothing to do with the truth, then following the one who wins (i.e. changing one’s mind to follow the one who wins) would be counteradaptive, so people wouldn’t listen and argumentation wouldn’t evolve.

Posted on Aug 29, 2011 at 5:52pm by Hugo Mercier Comment #40

Thanks for clarifying that for me, MidAtlantic; now I understand your point. Yes, I do claim that rationalism first arose in post-Bronze Dark Age Greece and was developed into logic during the Classical period, and into science much later. I further claim that no other civilization made much of a dent on rationalism. My misunderstanding with Mr. Mercier is semantic: he uses the word “reason” in a very different sense than I do. There’s no traction in arguing semantics; it would be better if we declare that “Mr. Crawford thinks that the emphasis on rigorous argumentation was created by the Greeks, and Mr. Mercier thinks that the skills of convincing argumentation developed much earlier.” There really isn’t any conflict between our two points of view; the conflict was in our interpretation of the word “reason”.

But if you’d like to discuss my claim, perhaps I should start a topic on that so that we don’t contaminate this topic.

Posted on Aug 29, 2011 at 8:29pm by Chris Crawford Comment #41

According to Hugo Mercier, we’ve been reasoning about reason all wrong. Reasoning is very good at what it probably evolved to let us do—argue in favor of what we believe and try to convince others that we’re right.

  As for cognitive bias, I still don’t see how it could have benefited for establishing dominance. Having wrong beliefs because of biases is not going to help. And there is no reason that being biased should be respected as a display behavior. On the contrary, if people argued primarily to show off their intellectual skills, they should simply try to go for the best arguments, whether they support their beliefs or not.

I’m confused.  Cognitive bias/confirmation bias were given as evidence that reason did not evolve for what we used to think it evolved for - to correctly apprehend reality (which is useful for coping).  It seems like in the second quote, here, that Mr. Mercier is saying that cognitive bias is not helpful in arguing.  I thought cognitive bias/confirmation bias were given as evidence by Mr. Mercier that reason evolved for arguing?  If cognitive bias/confirmation bias is not helpful in personal coping or in arguing then what is it good for?  It would just be a software bug if it was good for nothing, like people believing that we have to live forever in order for our lives to have meaning.  Thanks for answering my questions Mr. Mercier.

Posted on Aug 30, 2011 at 3:23pm by brightfut Comment #42

>It seems like in the second quote, here, that Mr. Mercier is saying that cognitive bias is not helpful in arguing.

Sorry for not being clear. What I’m saying is that biases are not useful if the point of argumentation is to display one’s rhetorical skills as opposed to convince one’s audience. If the goal is to convince, then the confirmation bias is useful in the production of arguments.

Posted on Aug 30, 2011 at 3:26pm by Hugo Mercier Comment #43

  Sorry for not being clear. What I’m saying is that biases are not useful if the point of argumentation is to display one’s rhetorical skills as opposed to convince one’s audience. If the goal is to convince, then the confirmation bias is useful in the production of arguments.

The whole idea is that the guy with the best arguments is more often right than the other. Otherwise argumentation would be moot. Likewise, if you take two debaters and say that it had nothing to do with the truth, then following the one who wins (i.e. changing one’s mind to follow the one who wins) would be counteradaptive, so people wouldn’t listen and argumentation wouldn’t evolve.

You said it is more than just convincing one’s audience through rhetoric.  The debater has to be right otherwise argumentation would be moot.  The debater was right because of good reasoning skills of correctly apprehending reality which you said was not why reason evolved.  Cognitive bias/confirmation bias don’t help in correctly apprehending reality and yet being right is important for arguing and evolving.  As I see it, a debater first needs good reasoning skills to come up with right ideas, then the debater uses cognitive bias/confirmation bias to argue for those ideas.

Posted on Aug 30, 2011 at 3:56pm by brightfut Comment #44

>The debater was right because of good reasoning skills of correctly apprehending reality which you said was not why reason evolved.

In general, no: people are right because other mechanisms besides reasoning (perception, inference) have worked properly. People can also be right because of reasoning, mostly when they have evaluated a good argument and accepted its conclusion.

In science, this is often what happens. Scientists come up with an idea mostly through intuition and then try to find a way to show that they’re right through reasoning.

Posted on Aug 30, 2011 at 4:54pm by Hugo Mercier Comment #45

I’d like to back up Mr. Mercier’s point here with a useful data point: I once read one of Cicero’s murder defenses. It’s long and quite tedious. However, if you carefully analyze it, Cicero actually had an ironclad case, but he didn’t realize it. He could have proven (in the logical sense) that his client had not committed the murder. Yet instead he presented a long-winded defense that emphasized what a sweet, noble, kind, loving, charitable, loyal, faithful, brave, and courteous person his client was, while the deceased was a nasty, vicious, mean-spirited, ugly, hateful, degenerate, deceitful, greedy bastard.

Cicero won, but not because he used logical reasoning; he won because he presented an argument that convinced the judges.

Posted on Aug 30, 2011 at 5:21pm by Chris Crawford Comment #46

I’d like to back up Mr. Mercier’s point here with a useful data point: I once read one of Cicero’s murder defenses. It’s long and quite tedious. However, if you carefully analyze it, Cicero actually had an ironclad case, but he didn’t realize it. He could have proven (in the logical sense) that his client had not committed the murder. Yet instead he presented a long-winded defense that emphasized what a sweet, noble, kind, loving, charitable, loyal, faithful, brave, and courteous person his client was, while the deceased was a nasty, vicious, mean-spirited, ugly, hateful, degenerate, deceitful, greedy bastard.

Cicero won, but not because he used logical reasoning; he won because he presented an argument that convinced the judges.

I don’t think that’s backing up Mr. Mercier’s point.  First of all it’s anecdotal evidence.  Secondly, Mr. Mercier’s point (I think) is that reason is used similar to rhetorical methods to convince people.  Cicero, didn’t use reasoning to argue his case in this instance.  He used non-rational rhetoric; emotional appeals.

Posted on Sep 01, 2011 at 3:20pm by brightfut Comment #47

Cicero, didn’t use reasoning to argue his case in this instance.  He used non-rational rhetoric; emotional appeals.

I think that this is included in Mr. Mercier’s working definition of “reason”. It’s not my own definition, but he’s entitled to use the word however he sees fit.

Posted on Sep 01, 2011 at 4:31pm by Chris Crawford Comment #48

Actually, emotional appeals would not be part of reasoning. Reasoning is about arguments. But then I haven’t read that Cicero speech, so I’m not sure how much would qualify as argument (for me at least).

Posted on Sep 01, 2011 at 5:11pm by Hugo Mercier Comment #49

  On the contrary, if people argued primarily to show off their intellectual skills, they should simply try to go for the best arguments, whether they support their beliefs or not.

Contradicting oneself in a heated argument in front of a social group would look foolish and weak.  The person would lose face.  It’s good to be open minded when creating one’s own beliefs, but when in an argument when it really counts when social standing is on the line, you’d better have the bugs worked out of it.  (This isn’t the way the CFI Forum should work where people calmly discuss differences of opinion, but I’m talking about a different time). Back then they didn’t have science to tell them what was objectively true.  All they had was one person’s opinion’s vs other people’s opinions.  If nobody could tell what was objectively true then the best arguer, the one with the most confidence and sophistry skills would win.  You see this in politics today - Never ever admit you are wrong.

Sophistry is not reasoning.  Ultimately it is LYING.  We have a world running on complicated bullsh#.  That is why so much is screwing up.

Physics does not give a damn about bullsh#.

What do you mean economists can pretend that cars don’t wear out?  :lol:

psik

Posted on Sep 04, 2011 at 1:56pm by psikeyhackr Comment #50

I always thought that “planned obsolence” was an economic strategy, not a result of negligence.

Posted on Sep 04, 2011 at 4:37pm by Write4U Comment #51

>The debater was right because of good reasoning skills of correctly apprehending reality which you said was not why reason evolved.

In general, no: people are right because other mechanisms besides reasoning (perception, inference) have worked properly. People can also be right because of reasoning, mostly when they have evaluated a good argument and accepted its conclusion.

In science, this is often what happens. Scientists come up with an idea mostly through intuition and then try to find a way to show that they’re right through reasoning.

Does cognition (recognition) not come before reason? Intuition is often the subconscious recognition of an underlying principle. Reason is then applied to discover and present this observation.
Reason and debating skills are different things. Often they are in opposition. As Occam says, “succinctness, clarity’s core”. One can weave a long story pro and con about those three words, but it will do nothing to change the truth of that simple statement.

Posted on Sep 04, 2011 at 5:01pm by Write4U Comment #52

I always thought that “planned obsolence” was an economic strategy, not a result of negligence.

If planned obsolescence is going on then that means the so called durable consumer goods depreciate more rapidly than necessary.  It is not the fault of the manufacturers that economists say nothing about all of that depreciation.  I have only found one economist who pointed it out.  Raymond Goldsmith PhD and he did that back in 1952.

http://www.roiw.org/4/11.pdf

http://www.nytimes.com/1988/07/15/obituaries/raymond-goldsmith-noted-economist-dies-at-83.html

I have no explanation for why the economics profession has said nothing since then.

Of course some economist at the University of Calgary called me a Loony for bringing it up.  But another economist said I was correct and that the textbooks were wrong.  It is just grade school algebra.  But how can thousands of economists from dozens of countries explain doing algebra incorrectly for decades?  The Laws of Physics do not care.  The junk depreciates regardless.  But no one can pretend that banks and used car dealers don’t know about the depreciation of automobiles regardless of whether or not they are capital or consumer goods.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5DCwN28y8o

psik

Posted on Sep 04, 2011 at 6:29pm by psikeyhackr Comment #53

I always thought that “planned obsolence” was an economic strategy, not a result of negligence.

If planned obsolescence is going on then that means the so called durable consumer goods depreciate more rapidly than necessary.  It is not the fault of the manufacturers that economists say nothing about all of that depreciation.  I have only found one economist who pointed it out.  Raymond Goldsmith PhD and he did that back in 1952.

http://www.roiw.org/4/11.pdf

http://www.nytimes.com/1988/07/15/obituaries/raymond-goldsmith-noted-economist-dies-at-83.html

I have no explanation for why the economics profession has said nothing since then.

Of course some economist at the University of Calgary called me a Loony for bringing it up.  But another economist said I was correct and that the textbooks were wrong.  It is just grade school algebra.  But how can thousands of economists from dozens of countries explain doing algebra incorrectly for decades?  The Laws of Physics do not care.  The junk depreciates regardless.  But no one can pretend that banks and used car dealers don’t know about the depreciation of automobiles regardless of whether or not they are capital or consumer goods.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5DCwN28y8o

psik

I agree, but IMO some economists may argue that planned obsolesence is good for the economy. It provides jobs for more people making junk, banks making loans, and repair shops fixing “worn” parts. It is all part of a consumer driven economy. But eventually there is a price to pay for all that waste. Witness the junk yards filled with millions of car hulks and the endless stream of pollutants entering our biosphere.
Humans are the only species that produce waste which is not only unusable by other species, but detrimental to life in general.

Posted on Sep 04, 2011 at 7:39pm by Write4U Comment #54

Write4U, just FYI obsolescence is one of Psik’s two obsessions, along with 9/11 conspiracies. He brings them up time after time in unrelated discussions, and in neither case has been the least bit convincing to anyone.

Posted on Sep 05, 2011 at 5:05am by dougsmith Comment #55

Write4U, just FYI obsolescence is one of Psik’s two obsessions, along with 9/11 conspiracies. He brings them up time after time in unrelated discussions, and in neither case has been the least bit convincing to anyone.

I don’t talk about or give a damn about conspiracy theories and have NEVER proposed any.

But the destruction of skyscrapers and design of automobiles relate to physics. 

So it is extremely interesting that atheists who portray themselves as intelligent, rational and scientific haven’t settled such simple physics problems long ago.  :lol:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdTOY-giMy4

psik

Posted on Sep 05, 2011 at 11:07am by psikeyhackr Comment #56

Write4U, just FYI obsolescence is one of Psik’s two obsessions, along with 9/11 conspiracies. He brings them up time after time in unrelated discussions, and in neither case has been the least bit convincing to anyone.

I am not proposing that planned obsolesence is actually planned, IMO it is greed to save that extra dollar in manufacturing. Moreover most parts in a car are from other sources, china, japan, etc. so as long as they pass inspection at time of assembly, they are ‘good enough”.

If a refrigerator door outlasts the life of the refrigerator, why can we not design a car door that outlasts the car? I have a 2000 blazer and had to replace the hinge pins on both sides twice, the automatic window motor twice and the drivers side lock once. FYI, to replace a hardened pin in the door hinge costs 160.00. Why does the door sealing tapes start sticking and tearing until the rain finds a way inside the car? We are talking about a 30,000.00 car!!!  If they can make a refrigerator door (very much like a car door) that lasts 25-30 years why can they not design a frigging car door that lasts?  The plastic locking gas cap broke twice and I had to buy new caps. Mirrors fall off during hot weather. $30,000.00 worth???
Is it wonder that I have often wished for a Subaru, which is twice the car at the same price.

The same thing happens with prescription drugs. Some may be effective but all have side effects which may be as troublesome as the original condition. What about the cigarette manufacturers insisting that nicotine is not addictive and smoking is safe. These CEOs knew, but did not care.

I hate this term “acceptable risk” (the people who will die from using the drug are just a small percentage, so that’s ok). If we get sued the pay off will be less than the profits we make, so lets just go ahead, it’ll be a long time before they discover the dangers.

How many times have tens of thousands cars been recalled for a life threatening defect? Been following the Zoloft lawsuit lately? How about oil rig valves failing causing untold damage to the environment?  As I understand it, there were better systems available, but alas, they were just too expensive and would cut into the billion dollar profits.

And of course, now we are lifting ever more control and oversight on imports, manufacturing and financial institutions. 

All this may not be “planned” but it is certainly looked at as acceptable risk vs maximum profit.

Back OT,  it is obvious that concerns (cognition) are the prime causality for argument for and against, reasonable or not.

Posted on Sep 05, 2011 at 3:46pm by Write4U Comment #57

I am not proposing that planned obsolesence is actually planned, IMO it is greed to save that extra dollar in manufacturing. Moreover most parts in a car are from other sources, china, japan, etc. so as long as they pass inspection at time of assembly, they are ‘good enough”.

Did you watch the link?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5DCwN28y8o

Physics does not change year to year and human beings do not change shape.  Stop redesigning the cars and put the savings into quality materials.  The price of the Model-T went from $850 in 1908 to $300.  We have wasted trillions on crapmobiles.

Reason must have evolved for problem solving.  But what did lying evolve for?  Reason must have evolved before the creation of language.  So what does the misuse of language do to the mind?  How much more complex has reality become in the last 10,000 years?  Far more to know and be lied to about.

How many arguments are based on lies?

psik

Posted on Sep 05, 2011 at 6:33pm by psikeyhackr Comment #58

Ok…I revise my statement to include “planned” obsolesence. Not surprising. It is the most nefarious form of capitalism.
I browsed through a book named, Business as a Game, where the underlying message was that cheating is ok as long as you don’t get caught.

How is that for a morality message?

Posted on Sep 05, 2011 at 7:41pm by Write4U Comment #59

Does cognition (recognition) not come before reason? Intuition is often the subconscious recognition of an underlying principle. Reason is then applied to discover and present this observation.

Most of our problem here lies in our definitions of terms. Mr. Mercier uses the term “reason” in a way very much at odds with my own understanding of the term; I suspect that it deviates somewhat from the notions of all but Mr. Mercier’s colleagues’. However, this is not to criticize Mr. Mercier’s work; many times when dealing with complex subjects we must narrow our definitions to make progress. Here’s how I slice the semantic pie:

“pattern-based”, “holistic”, or “parallel” neural processing: the basic form of processing in the brain. Easy to do, unconscious, “natural” in feel. Always gives an answer, but never rigorous and sometimes wrong.

“Serial” or “sequential” processing: a form of processing achieved through a mammoth neural hack requiring lots of neurons. Most evident in mammals and birds; all but absent in fish, amphibians, and reptiles. Permits understanding of serial processes such as birdsong, path planning, and, in its most complicated form, language.

“rationalism”: the classical attitude that we must subordinate our passions to “reason”, which is loosely defined as processing that can be explained by means of language and meets subjective standards of validity. Socrates was usually rational, but sometimes his reasoning falls apart under close examination.

“logic”: the rigorous form of reason, pretty much invented by Aristotle but developed over two millenia into something pretty powerful. The soul and spirit of Western Civilization.

I just threw these explanations together, so I can’t call them rigorous.

Posted on Sep 06, 2011 at 8:47am by Chris Crawford Comment #60

Rereading the TT.

IMO, the question is misleading.

Chris has clearly laid out the tenets of reason, but that does not address the meaning of arguing.
One can argue from and with reason on a variety of subjects, but one can also argue from passion but without reason. The Tea Party comes to mind.

Thus reason and argument are not necessarily connected and the question if reason evolved for purposes of argument is a misleading question itself. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

However, from an evolutionary standpoint, it seems self evident that anlyzing an observation (cognition) is a function of reason (be it true or false).
Thus reason (analysis) must have preceeded argument if a specific observation is indeed true or false. Argument is a natural development where there are confliction cognitive interpretations of the same observation.

My take is that Reason evolved spontaneously, where Argument is the method by which the truth of a reasoned proposition may be revealed

Posted on Sep 06, 2011 at 10:02am by Write4U Comment #61

At the risk of appearing to be engaging in self-promotion, I would like to once again refer you to a long hyperdocument I’ve been working on for years now:

The History of Thinking

and I apologize to everybody else for posting this a second (or third?) time.

I think that this presents a carefully-thought out line of thinking regarding how all these things fit together.

Posted on Sep 06, 2011 at 10:24am by Chris Crawford Comment #62

At the risk of appearing to be engaging in self-promotion, I would like to once again refer you to a long hyperdocument I’ve been working on for years now:

The History of Thinking.

I got Page not Found when I clicked that.

psik

Posted on Sep 06, 2011 at 10:48am by psikeyhackr Comment #63

At the risk of appearing to be engaging in self-promotion, I would like to once again refer you to a long hyperdocument I’ve been working on for years now:

The History of Thinking.

I got Page not Found when I clicked that.

psik

edit the url to show only the basic addy without the library and topic.

Posted on Sep 06, 2011 at 11:30am by Write4U Comment #64

Damn! Sorry I forgot about that. Here’s an algorithm to get there:

1. go to http://www.erasmatazz.com/TheLibrary/Library2.html

2. Click on “The Mind”

3. Click on “A History of Thinking”

I’ve GOT to fix that damn spaced URL!!!!! :shut:

Posted on Sep 06, 2011 at 11:46am by Chris Crawford Comment #65

You ask, “Why are human beings simultaneously capable of reasoning, and yet so bad at it? Why do we have such faulty mechanisms as the “confirmation bias” embedded in our brains, and yet at the same time, find ourselves capable of brilliant rhetoric and complex mathematical calculation?”

Our capacities have been determined by whether are not they have been selected phylogenetically by our ancestors survival to reproduction.  But as social beings our capacities are also promoted to a greater or lesser degree by the cultures within which we develop. Cultures are selected by the belief systems and behaviors of their members that promote the continuation of those cultures. 

I would submit that reasoning abilities such as “brilliant rhetoric and complex mathematical calculation” have probably contributed to some of our ancestors survival to reproduction and also to the continuation of cultures that our ancestors were a part of. 

Now the tricky part, “confirmation bias” has probably also contributed to some of our ancestors survival to reproduction and to the continuation of cultures that our ancestors were a part of.

One other important factor is that we only know that humans have these capacities, because we see them actualized.  One’s capacity for reasoning is actualized during one’s lifetime because it is shaped through the environment and the reinforcing experiences that one is exposed to as reasoning behaviors occur and develop.  Again, some environmental and cultural settings are more likely than others to promote and reinforce complex calculating and brilliant rhetoric.  But also when one does brilliant rhetoric and complex calculations, I suspect that there is some inherent satisfaction in doing so.  Is there not also some subjective satisfaction in a biased confirmation, as long as you do not realize it is biased?

It is also beneficial for many cultures to establish, within its members, biased beliefs that are not subject to any objective discrepancies. (Humans have acutely developed the ability to have faith, aka, believing without evidence or in spite of contrary evidence. This has probably had phylogenetic survival value as well.)

A culture or other setting that is strictly based on empirical thinking and the scientific method would tend not to select for one exhibiting or learning to do biased confirmation, but most of humanity does not live in such a culture or setting. (And our ancestors have not lived in such settings or cultures.) So even scientists must struggle against bias, because it is inherently <or often externally, as in grant money depends on it, or previous theories that made my reputation depend on it> reinforcing to believe some things despite contrary objective evidence. 

Hence, one can be skilled at certain types of reasoning and completely lack skill at another.

Posted on Nov 05, 2011 at 12:09am by TimB Comment #66