Re: Guest Post: The Problem is People

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I was talking to a cognitive scientists in the bar the other night. He sounded more enthused about his job than the guy on my other side who delivered rental furniture.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 8:23 AM
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-s. Anyway, he had a big, hardcover notebook and was writing in it.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 8:24 AM
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My best in-person trick by far (which I got from the internets) is asking the other person to explain their reasoning.

I figured somebody else probably checked all the envelopes and that if something seemed off, the presenter would ask "What's up" before announcing something to the world.


Posted by: Opinionated Price Waterhouse Accountant | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 8:29 AM
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.ikcfu


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 9:05 AM
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The problem is mosquitoes landing on my keyboard.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 9:06 AM
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I think also getting the interlocutor to consider the implications of a policy if it were to affect them personally. My vicariously Republican father once argued in favor of mountain-top removal mining (on the grounds essentially that liberal activists oppose it.) I said, "So, if someone wanted to blow up [mountain he has loved hiking on since before I was born] so they could mine coal for 6 months, you'd be happy with that?" Shut him up right quick.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 9:06 AM
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Over the summers, I meet with my old grad advisor to collaborate some, but now I record our meetings so that I can go back and think through everything at a reasonable pace.

Right now I'm listening to some meetings from last summer on a commute, and he went off on a giant rant about the TPP being a good thing and liberals shouldn't kneejerk protest just because it's also good for corporations, because the workers in the developing countries might see their incomes increase by $\epsilon$.

I had to listen to myself meekly challenge him, "Are there actual worker protections in the TPP? I'm not very well-informed. Is there reason to believe that we wouldn't just be exploiting people in desperate poverty?" I did get him to rant for a while and conclude that it was thorny. But I really, really wished I'd thought to say, "Why exactly do you trust the corporations that stand to benefit to write legislation that benefits the extremely poor people in Vietnam?"


Posted by: Ladybird Johnson | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 9:13 AM
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What I'd like is strategies to make sure that I am not making [too many] baseless assumptions. And then there's the whole question - which is much more vexed for me - of what actually constitutes evidence. I've had a falling out with a friend, for instance, because she is very, very against any kind of decriminalization of sex work and views all sex workers everywhere as victims or dupes of the patriarchy. Since I actually have friends who do or have done sex work, I have a very different immediate background on this issue. We can both adduce "evidence" in terms of sex worker testimony and statistics. I think her evidence is phony, cherrypicked and part of a weird ressentiment/anxiety thing about sex, and no doubt she thinks the same about mine. Which of us is the one with the baseless claims? And how to know?


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 9:31 AM
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But I really, really wished I'd thought to say, "Why exactly do you trust the corporations that stand to benefit to write legislation that benefits the extremely poor people in Vietnam?"

Based on the OP a possible question would be, "If you had to guess, what do you think the 4 or 5 largest effects of the TPP would be and how would you go about estimating (back-of-the-envelope) which effects will be larger? How much information would we need to judge whether, say, geopolitical/diplomatic impacts will be more important than financial impact on wage-labor or the financial impact for copyright holders?"

That might not convince him of anything but it might make him reduce his confidence in his own correctness.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 9:32 AM
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With the TPP, I suspect that the secrecy surrounding its actual contents went a long way towards turning people against it. "It's going to be great. So great that we won't tell you anything about it until it's been approved."


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 9:43 AM
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I think it's almost inevitable that the line of argumentation in the New Yorker piece is taken too far. People tend to read these pieces as counseling futility: You can't convince anybody of anything through honest means.

Not having read the study itself, I don't know what the data says, but there is a glass-quarter-full reading available to us. Contrary to the emphasis of the New Yorker article (and probably the emphasis of the research itself), we see here that people received new information and changed their opinions -- just not as much as would be justified by the new information.

That's different from what the article implies: That new information is worthless once someone has settled on a set of facts.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 9:48 AM
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I believe that I have far-above-average knowledge and understanding of TPP, but if I'm going to be honest about it, my opposition to it is impressionistic:

But I really, really wished I'd thought to say, "Why exactly do you trust the corporations that stand to benefit to write legislation that benefits the extremely poor people in Vietnam?"

Yup. That's really why I don't like it: My assumption is that any ambiguities are going to be resolved in favor of the bad guys. But however valid, that's just a heuristic. It's not based on hard facts about the contents of the agreement.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 9:54 AM
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Based on the OP a possible question would be, "If you had to guess, what do you think the 4 or 5 largest effects of the TPP would be and how would you go about estimating (back-of-the-envelope) which effects will be larger? How much information would we need to judge whether, say, geopolitical/diplomatic impacts will be more important than financial impact on wage-labor or the financial impact for copyright holders?"

What I did ask was, "So, do you think that NAFTA helped poor Mexicans?" which got him to hem and haw for a while.

However, he didn't see me as the opposition in the conversation - he'd gotten some email from Democracy Now! asking him to sign a petition, and was firing back an irate response, and I was the sideline spectator who was presumed lefty-neutral.


Posted by: Ladybird Johnson | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 9:59 AM
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And note the spurious evolutionary reasoning:

Mercier and Sperber's argument runs, more or less, as follows: Humans' biggest advantage over other species is our ability to coöperate.

Tell that to the bees and the ants.*

Mind you, I'm not saying that the human mind necessarily developed the way it did because of the evolutionary utility of reason, but it seems awfully hard to dismiss that as a hypothesis. There are some pretty big advantages to abstract reasoning, at least in the short term -- the 200,000-or-so years that people have existed.

*Mercier and Sperber are probably making a more sophisticated argument than this. But still.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 10:04 AM
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I write my reasoning down with a veldt-tipped pen but my handwriting looks too primitive to be taken seriously.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 10:24 AM
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14: I think they are just making a critique of pure reason.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 10:36 AM
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I think it's almost inevitable that the line of argumentation in the New Yorker piece is taken too far. People tend to read these pieces as counseling futility: You can't convince anybody of anything through honest means.

I think that's overstated. For one thing, I don't take the research as saying that nobody changes their minds. I take it as saying that it becomes much more difficult to change people's minds once something has become an identifiably partisan issue. Which is a different (which I say based on this article as much as the NYer article.

But it also makes me think that there is some process by which people become open to re-assessing their beliefs, and that there mere presence of contradictory information isn't sufficient. My intuition is that it helps to have some combination of (at least) three things (1) some reason to have had prior doubts about a belief, (2) an immediate stimulus to re-assess, which might be contradictory evidence, but might be something else, and (3) a setting in which it's possible to change beliefs without too much embarrassment. Again, that's not based on the research, just my own intuition based on my experience of changing my own mind.

Additionally, FWIW, I saw the link to the article tweeted by one of the the NBA writers that I follow who wrote, "I think the study of how we change minds (and why we don't) is probably the most important research being undertaken right now."

He's one of the couple-dozen people who have been most visible in the ongoing 15-year discussion about how advanced statistics can be used to inform our knowledge of what's going on in a basketball game. Over that time there's been a lot of resistance, but also a steady and growing acceptance of not only the value but, on some level, the truth of those statistical models. So I'd wager that he, personally, has a bunch of experience both watching people dig in and defend their own ideas against outside evidence and also of watching people change their minds. That said, he's also made a number of political tweets since the election*, and it's possible that the article struck him because he's just as freaked out as any of us right now.

* Not that many, but I don't remember any political tweets prior.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 10:41 AM
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I'm too confrontational to convince people to change their minds.

As far as I can see, though, very few people are acquainted with the idea of rational argument. They might be willing to trade views, but, even if you can get over the biases built into human minds, they are mostly unaware of defined informal logical fallacies. I sometimes think the most pursuasive rhetoric is to deliberately commit them. (I probably commit many without trying.)


Posted by: Robert | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 11:10 AM
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Tell that to the bees and the ants.

Our biggest advantage over bees and ants, one individual to another, is the fact that we're about a thousand times bigger. Our biggest advantage over ants, one species to another is... it's hard to say. We seem to be playing two different games. Our biggest advantage over bees, one species to another, is that humans are apparently a lot less sensitive to environmental pollution and a lot less dependent on one food supply than they are. (Those are the two leading guesses for the cause of colony collapse disorder, right?)

I think it is fair to say that cooperation is our biggest advantage over other land-based vertebrates.

Re: the OP, I normally assume that people who are coming right out and saying what they believe aren't persuadable, and I worry more about how my case looks to any onlookers. This might mean an exhaustively documented and well-sourced comment or it might just mean pithy derision, depending on how the original speaker acted.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 11:15 AM
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Quite a few land based vertebrates are cooperative up to a point, and most primates extremely so. If there's anything to this argument, then it lies in our ability to cooperate outside small closely related groups.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 11:24 AM
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HEH.


Posted by: OPINIONATED 2016 | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 11:40 AM
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18.2: I definitely see cases* where people claim things that are contradicted by the evidence, and in the course of arguing it's not clear they know what would be a solid basis for their claim.

I know I've gotten into arguments where I've lost track of what the evidence would be, especially in conversation.

*In online arguments where I'm reading the comments, even though I shouldn't.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 12:34 PM
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I sometimes think the most pursuasive rhetoric is to deliberately commit them.

Right. I've stopped thinking of them as logical fallacies. In many cases, they are rhetorical techniques.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 1:03 PM
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||
NYC-area folks, does anyone have a local primary care physician that they like, or know of one who's good at dealing with people who have complex medical conditions?
|>


Posted by: sral | Link to this comment | 02-27-17 8:55 PM
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Mercier and Sperber's argument runs, more or less, as follows: Humans' biggest advantage over other species is our ability to coöperate.

Tell that to the bees and the ants.*

Humans are far better at cooperating than bees and ants.

a) Humans can cooperate with other humans that they aren't related to. This makes us not only different from ants but different from pretty much every other animal.

b) Humans can specialise to a far greater degree. Eusocial insects generally have only a few castes; worker, reproductives, maybe soldiers, in some species repletes. Within the workers you sometimes find behavioural castes, but the highest number is six. Humans can happily run projects which involve the cooperation of hundreds of thousands of behavioural castes - many of which castes are there to manage the cooperation of smaller subsets of other castes.

c) Language allows us to cooperate over time and space. Ants can't do this and it leads to a lot of wasted effort (as is clear to anyone who's watched an ant nest).


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 02-28-17 4:18 AM
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Like, have the Borg *ever* beaten a player character? Even once?


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 02-28-17 4:55 AM
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a) Humans can cooperate with other humans that they aren't related to. This makes us not only different from ants but different from pretty much every other animal.

To be fair, in practice most ants are related to each other in that sense, so it's kind of moot.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 02-28-17 5:13 AM
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Most of one species of ant, that is...


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 02-28-17 5:29 AM
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Normal human reasoning is perfectly fine. It works well enough and it isn't like we have much choice in the matter. At least you get to pick your team now.


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 02-28-17 8:03 AM
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At least you get to pick your team now.

And I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 02-28-17 8:12 AM
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24: Nope, sorry. I have a practice I have nothing against, but I don't really go to them for anything, so I can't recommend them.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02-28-17 8:18 AM
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