Here is a logic puzzle created by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. "Linda is single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with the issue of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in demonstrations. Which of the following is more probable: Linda is a bank…
Tagged with “yanss” (8)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_3CsKoXwfA When you desire meaning, when you want things to line up, when looking for something specific, you tend to notice patterns everywhere, which leads you to ask the question, "What are the odds?" Usually, the odds are actually pretty good. For instance: Does the Bermuda Triangle seem quite as mysterious once you know that…
YANSS 166 – The psychological phenomena that mask our progress when we attempt to change the world for the better – You Are Not So Smart
In this episode we explore prevalence induced concept change with psychologist David Levari. In a nutshell, when we set out to change the world by reducing examples of something we have deemed problematic, and we succeed, a host of psychological phenomena can mask our progress and make those problems seem intractable — as if we…
The problem with sorting out failures and successes is that failures are often muted, destroyed, or somehow removed from sight while successes are left behind, weighting your decisions and perceptions, tilting your view of the world. That means to be successful you must learn how to seek out what is missing. You must learn what…
Dinner parties used to be where you avoided politics. Now talking about politics at dinner parties is the norm.
Years ago, we avoided politics because we assumed the people at our table had diverse political identities, and we didn’t want to introduce a topic that might lead to an argument. Today, we assume our guests share a single identity, after all, why else would we have invited them?
Something has changed in the United States, and for many of us, it’s only at Thanksgiving dinner, a gathering where we don’t get to sort ourselves by political tribe, that we must face people who see the world differently than ourselves.
We don’t treat all of our beliefs the same.
If you learn that the Great Wall of China isn’t the only man-made object visible from space, and that, in fact, it’s actually very difficult to see the Wall compared to other landmarks, you update your model of reality without much fuss. Some misconceptions we give up readily, replacing them with better information when alerted to our ignorance.
For others constructs though, for your most cherished beliefs about things like climate change or vaccines or Republicans, instead of changing your mind in the face of challenging evidence or compelling counterarguments, you resist. Not only do you fight belief change for some things and not others, but if you successfully deflect such attacks, your challenged beliefs then grow stronger.
The research shows that when a strong-yet-erroneous belief is challenged, yes, you might experience some temporary weakening of your convictions, some softening of your certainty, but most people rebound and not only reassert their original belief at its original strength, but go beyond that and dig in their heels, deepening their resolve over the long run.
Psychologists call this the backfire effect, and this episode is the first of three shows exploring this well-documented and much-studied psychological phenomenon, one that you’ve likely encountered quite a bit lately.
In this episode, we explore its neurological underpinning as two neuroscientists at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute explain how their latest research sheds new light on how the brain reacts when its deepest beliefs are challenged.
By placing subjects in an MRI machine and then asking them to consider counterarguments to their strongly held political beliefs, Jonas Kaplan’s and Sarah Gimbel’s research, conducted along with neuroscientist Sam Harris, revealed that when people were presented with evidence that alerted them to the possibility that their political beliefs might be incorrect, they reacted with the same brain regions that would come online if they were responding to a physical threat.
“The response in the brain that we see is very similar to what would happen if, say, you were walking through the forest and came across a bear,” explains Gimbel in the episode. “Your brain would have this automatic fight-or-flight [response]…and your body prepares to protect itself.”
According to the researchers, some values are apparently so crucial to your identity, that the brain treats a threat to those ideas as if they were a threat to your very existence.
“Remember that the brain’s first and primary job is to protect ourselves,” explains Kaplan in the show. “The brain is basically a big, complicated, sophisticated machine for self-protection, and that extends beyond our physical self, to our psychological self. Once these things become part of our psychological self, I think they are then afforded all the same protections that the brain gives to the body.”
How does the brain take something that is previously neutral and transmutate it into a value that it then protects as if it were flesh and bone? How do neutral, empirical facts about temperature and carbon emissions become politicized? How does an ideological stance on immigration reform become blended with personal identity? We explore those questions and more on this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast.
YANSS 090 – Questioning the nature of reality with cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman – You Are Not So Smart
Back in the early 1900s, the German biologist Jakob Johann Baron von Uexküll couldn’t shake the implication that the inner lives of animals like jellyfish and sea urchins must be radically different from those of humans.
Uexküll was fascinated by how meaty, squishy nervous systems gave rise to perception. Noting that the sense organs of sea creatures and arachnids could perceive things that ours could not, he realized that giant portions of reality must therefore be missing from their subjective experiences, which suggested that the same was true of us. In other words, most ticks can’t enjoy an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical because, among other reasons, they don’t have eyes. On the other hand, unlike ticks, most humans can’t smell butyric acid wafting on the breeze, and so no matter where you sit in the audience, smell isn’t an essential (or intended) element of a Broadway performance of Cats.
Uexküll imagined that each animal’s subjective experience was confined to a private sensory world he called an umwelt. Each animal’s umwelt was different, he said, distinctive from that of another animal in the same environment, and each therefore was tuned to take in only a small portion of the total picture. Not that any animal would likely know that, which was Uexküll’s other big idea. Because no organism can perceive the totality of objective reality, each animal likely assumes that what it can perceive is all that can be perceived. Each umwelt is a private universe, fitted to its niche, and the subjective experiences of all of Earth’s creatures are like a sea filled with a panoply of bounded virtual realities floating past one another, each unaware that it is unaware.
Like all ideas, Uexküll’s weren’t completely new. Philosophers had wondered about the differences in subjective and objective reality going back to Plato’s cave (and are still wondering). But even though Uexküll’s ideas weren’t strictly original, he brought them into a new academic silo – biology. In doing so, he generated lines of academic research into neuroscience and the nature of consciousness that are still going today.
For instance, when the philosopher Thomas Nagel famously asked, “What is it like to be a bat?” he thought there was no answer to his question because it would be impossible to think in that way. Bat sonar, he said, is nothing like anything we possess, “and there is no reason to suppose that it is subjectively like anything we can experience or imagine.” All one can do, said Nagel, is imagine what it would be like for a person, like yourself, to be a bat. Imagining what it would be like for a bat to be a bat is impossible. This was part of an overall criticism on the limits of reductionist thinking, and is, of course, still the subject of much debate.
The siblings of these notions appear in the writings of everyone from Timothy Leary with his “reality tunnels” to J.J. Gibson’s “ecological optics” to psychologist Charles Tart and his “consensus trances.” From the Wachowski’s Matrix to Kant’s “noumenon” to Daniel Dennett’s “conscious robots,” we’ve been wondering about these questions for a very long time. You too, I suspect, have stumbled on these problems, asking something along the lines of “do we all see the same colors?” at some point. The answer, by the way, is no.
The assumption in most of these musings is that we humans are unique because we can escape our umwelten. We have reason, philosophy, science, and physics which free us from the prison of our limited human perceptions. We can use tools to extend our senses, to see the background radiation left behind by the big bang or hear the ultrasonic laughter of ticklish mice. Sure, the table seems solid enough when we knock on it, and if you were still trapped in your umwelt, you wouldn’t think otherwise, but now you know it is actually mostly empty space thanks to your understanding of protons and electrons. We assume that more layers of truth reveal themselves to us with each successive paradigm shift.
In this episode of the You Are Not So Smart podcast, we sit down with a scientist who is challenging these assumptions.
Donald Hoffman, a cognitive psychologist at the University of California with a background in artificial intelligence, game theory, and evolutionary biology has developed a new theory of consciousness that, should it prove true, would rearrange our understanding of not only the mind and the brain, but physics itself.
“I agree up to a point,” said Hoffman, “that different organisms are in effectively different perceptual worlds, but where I disagree is that these worlds are seeing different parts of the truth. I don’t think they are seeing the truth at all.”
Hoffman wondered if evolution truly favored veridical minds, so he and his graduate students created computer models of natural selection that included accurate perceptions of reality as a variable.
“We simulated hundreds of thousands of random worlds and put organisms in those worlds that could see all of the truth, part of the truth, or none of the truth,” explained Hoffman. “What we found in our simulations was that organisms that saw reality as-it-is could never outcompete organisms that saw none of reality and were just tuned to fitness, as long as they were of equal complexity.”
The implication, Hoffman said, is that an organism that can see the truth will never be favored by natural selection. This suggests that literally nothing we can conceive of can be said to represent objective reality, not even atoms, molecules, or physical laws. Physics and chemistry are still inside the umwelt. There’s no escape.
“If our perceptual systems evolved by natural selection, then the probability that we see reality as it actually is, in any way, is zero. Precisely zero,” said Hoffman.
Well aware that these ideas come across as woo, Hoffman welcomes challenges from his peers and other interested parties, and in the interview you’ll hear what they’ve said so far and how you can investigate these concepts for yourself.
Also in the show, Hoffman explains his ideas in detail in addition to discussing the bicameral mind, artificial intelligence, and the hard problem of consciousness in this mindbending episode about how we make sense of our world, our existence, and ourselves.
(by David McRaney)
You are a pile of atoms.
When you eat vanilla pudding, which is also a pile of atoms, you are really just putting those atoms next to your atoms and waiting for some of them trade places.
If things had turned out differently back when your mom had that second glass of wine while your dad told that story about when he sat on a jellyfish while skinny dipping, the same atoms that glommed together to make your bones and your skin, your tongue and your brain could have been been rearranged to make other things. Carbon, oxygen, hydrogen – the whole collection of elements that make up your body right down to the vanadium, molybdenum and arsenic could be popped off of you, collected, and reused to make something else – if such a seemingly impossible technology existed.
Like a cosmic box of Legos, the building blocks of matter can take the shape of every form we know of from mountains to monkeys.
If you think about this long enough, you might stumble into the same odd questions scientists and philosophers ask from time to time. If we had an atom-exchanging machine, and traded one atom at a time from your body with an atom from the body of Edward James Olmos, at what point would you cease to be you and Olmos cease to be Edward James? During that process, would you lose your mind and gain his? At some point would each person’s thoughts and dreams and memories change hands?