This book, Nervous States – Democracy and the Decline of Reason, 2019, written by William Davies tries to explain the state we are in. The end of truth or the domination of feelings or the end of expertise all come to mind. People perceive that change is so fast that the slow knowledge developed by reason and learning is devalued, while instant knowledge that will be worthless tomorrow like that used by commodity, bond or stock trading networks is highly valued. Davies builds on Hayek and says many things that ring true. In three posts, I will present the main points of Davies’ book, argue with some of the points, and present what Davies says we can do about it. Devaluing reason is a big deal for decision making.
This post is based on a paper written by Andy Clark, author of Surfing Uncertainty (See Paper Predictive Processing for a fuller treatment.), “A nice surprise? Predictive processing and the active pursuit of novelty,” that appeared in Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, pp. 1-14. DOI: 10.1007/s11097-017-9525-z. For me this is a chance to learn how Andy Clark has polished up his arguments since his book. It also strikes me as connected to my recent posts on Curiosity and Creativity.
Clark and Friston (See post The Prediction Machine) depict human brains as devices that minimize prediction error signals: signals that encode the difference between actual and expected sensory simulations. But we know that we are attracted to the unexpected. We humans often seem to actively seek out surprising events, deliberately seeking novel and exciting streams of sensory stimulation. So how does that square with the idea of minimizing prediction error.
Understanding or inferring the intentions, feelings and beliefs of others is a hallmark of human social cognition often referred to as having a Theory of Mind. ToM has been described as a cognitive ability to infer the intentions and beliefs of others, through processing of their physical appearance, clothes, bodily and facial expressions. Of course, the repertoire of hypotheses of our ToM is borrowed from the hypotheses that cause our own behavior.
But how can processing of internal visceral/autonomic information (interoception) contribute to the understanding of others’ intentions? The authors consider interoceptive inference as a special case of active inference. Friston (see post Prediction Error Minimization) has theorized that the goal of the brain is to minimize prediction error and that this can be achieved both by changing predictions to match the observed data and, via action, changing the sensory input to match predictions. When you drop the knife and then catch it with the other hand, you are using active inference.
This post is derived from a review article: “The Role of Intuition in the Generation and Evaluation Stages of Creativity,” authored by Judit Pétervári, Magda Osman and Joydeep Bhattacharya that appeared in Frontiers of Psychology, September 2016 doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01420. It struck me that in all this blog’s posts, creativity had almost never come up. Then I threw it together with Edward O Wilson’s 2017 book: The Origins of Creativity, Liveright Publishing, New York. (See posts Evolution for Everyone and Cultural Evolution for more from Edward O. Wilson. He is the ant guy. He is interesting, understandable, and forthright.)
Creativity is notoriously difficult to capture by a single definition. Petervari et al suggest that creativity is a process that is broadly similar to problem solving, in which, for both, information is coordinated toward reaching a specific goal, and the information is organized in a novel, unexpected way. Problems which require creative solutions are ill-defined, primarily because there are multiple hypothetical solutions that would satisfy the goals. Wilson sees creativity beyond typical problem solving.
This post is based on the paper: “Cultural differences are not always reducible to individual differences,” written by Jinkyung Na, Igor Grossmann, Michael E. W. Varnum, Shinobu Kitayama, Richard Gonzalez, and Richard E. Nisbett p 6192-6197 | PNAS | April 6, 2010 | vol.107.
As people, I think that we want to believe that cultural differences can be reduced to individual differences. But is it actually true? The authors studied whether or not cultural constructs can be conceptualized as psychological traits at the individual level.
According to the authors, cultural psychology has placed a heavy emphasis on two constructs: social orientation and cognitive style. These two constructs seem applicable to decision making and make me want to apply them when there are international negotiations going on. Some cultures, such as the United States, are characterized by a social orientation valuing independence: emphasizing uniqueness, having relatively low sensitivity to social cues, and encouraging behaviors that affirm autonomy. In contrast, other cultures including China, Japan, and Korea tend to value interdependence: emphasizing harmonious relations with others, promoting sensitivity to social cues, and encouraging behaviors that affirm relatedness to others. Similarly, cultures have been shown to vary along the analytic holistic dimension in cognitive style. Some cultures are analytic: detaching a focal object from the perceptual field, categorizing objects taxonomically, and ascribing causality to focal actors or objects. Other cultures are holistic: paying attention to the entire perceptual field, especially relations among objects and events, categorizing objects on the basis of their thematic relations, and attributing causality to context.
This post is based on a paper, “Cross Cultural Differences in Decisions from Experience: Evidence from Denmark, Israel, and Taiwan,” authored by Sibilla Di Guida, Ido Erev, and David Marchiori. It is a 2015 working paper of ECARES. It immediately reminded me Richard Nisbett’s Geography of Thought.
Richard Nisbett in Geography of Thought provides interesting insights into such differences. He divides the world into Easterners and Westerners. Easterners have difficulty in recognizing changes in objects, while Westerners cannot recognize changes in backgrounds. Easterners believe that the world is complicated and inscrutable. Westerners believe that they can understand the world. Westerners create simple and useful models that can be tested, but tend to focus on the object and slight the possible role of context. Westerners are particularly susceptible to the fundamental attribution error–thinking other people’s actions are explained by what they are, while my actions are explained by circumstances. The table below sets out some more distinctions.
An interesting example of the hierarchical predictive coding model is binocular rivalry. Binocular rivalry is a form of visual experience that occurs when, using a special experimental set-up, each eye is presented (simultaneously) with a different visual stimulus. Thus, the right eye might be presented with an image of a house, while the left receives an image of a face. Under these albeit artificial conditions, subjective experience unfolds in a surprising, “bi-stable” manner. Instead of visually experiencing a confusing all-points merger of house and face information, subjects report a kind of perceptual alternation between seeing the house and seeing the face.
This post is based on the paper: “Can We Trust Intuitive Jurors? Standards of Proof and the Probative Value of Evidence in Coherence-Based Reasoning,” written by Andreas Glöckner and Christoph Engel, Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Volume 10, Issue 2, 230–252, June 2013. Standards of proof discussed in the article are not included in this post.
Glockner and Engel explain that Jury members have a difficult task. They have to make decisions based on multiple pieces of probabilistic evidence. These pieces of information are usually contradictory, essentially always incomplete, presented in multiple formats (making them hard to compare and integrate), and introduced by parties clearly intending to bias the jury. How do jury members then make meaningful decisions? Glockner and Engel suggest that there is mounting evidence that most people do not mathematically integrate evidence. Their behavior is better explained by sense making and constructing coherent stories from the evidence. Jurors attempt to create complete narratives from the pieces of evidence they hear.
This post brings up the latest paper by Dan Kahan and his colleagues, Erica Dawson, Ellen Peters, and Paul Slovic: “Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government,” Cultural Cognition Project, Working Paper No. 116. This paper strengthens the already strong arguments.
The experiment that was the subject of this paper was designed to test two opposing accounts of conflict over decision relevant science. The first—the Science Comprehension Thesis (“SCT”)—attributes such conflicts to the limited capacity of the public to understand the significance of valid empirical evidence. The second—the Identity-protective Cognition Thesis (“ICT”)—sees a particular recurring form of group conflict as disabling the capacities that individuals have to make sense of decision-relevant science: when policy-relevant facts become identified as symbols of membership in and loyalty to affinity groups that figure in important ways in individuals’ lives, they will be motivated to engage empirical evidence and other information in a manner that more reliably connects their beliefs to the positions that predominate in their particular groups than to the positions that are best supported by the evidence.
I loved the book Why Men Rebel by Ted Robert Gurr. I read it over forty years ago. It gave me what seemed like a truth that I had not thought about before. That truth was: “Don’t expect anyone to be happy based on some threshold level of consumption and attainment of goals.” Our expectations are created by looking around and seeing what everyone else has and with media and communications, we all know what everyone else has.
This is the concept of relative deprivation. Relative deprivation is defined as our perception of discrepancy between our value expectations and our value capabilities. Value expectations are the goods and conditions of life to which people believe they are rightfully entitled. Value capabilities are the goods and conditions they think they are capable of getting and keeping. This idea finally got through to me the weakness of the “rational” model–maximizing expected utility, and that there might be other concepts of rationality. Posts like Everyone else is a Hypocrite, Feeling is for Doing, Cultural Evolution, and Human Kinds Perception emphasize this. Gurr was interested in what spurred men to violence. Recently, on the fortieth anniversary of the book, Gurr discussed his book.