Category Archives: Uncategorized

Nervous States –Promises

 

This is the third and final post looking at William Davies book Nervous States–Democracy and the Decline of Reason. Davies provides some ideas for getting out of this mess at the end of the book. I believe that they are well thought out. First, Davies notes that there is one problem confronting humanity that may never go away, and which computers do nothing to alleviate: how to make promises. A promise made to a child or a public audience has a binding power. It can be broken, but the breaking of it is a breach that can leave deep emotional and cultural wounds. Davies states:

“Whether we like it or not, the starting point for this venture will be the same as it was for Hobbes:  the modern state, issuing laws backed by sovereign power.  It is difficult to conceive how promises can be made at scale, in a complex modern society, without the use of contracts, rights and statutes underpinned by sovereign law. Only law really has the ability to push back against the rapidly rising tide of digital algorithmic power. It remains possible to make legal demands on the owners and controllers of machines, regardless of how sophisticated those machines are.”

 

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Nervous States: Counterpoint

This is the second of three posts discussing William Davies’ book Nervous States–Democracy and the Decline of Reason. I pick a couple of areas to argue with some of the scenarios Davies presents.

Markets and Evolution

Davies discusses Hayek as the guy who believes in free markets above all else, and who has helped us reach this point of not agreeing on reality.  When I read Hayek (The Road to Serfdom), he said to me that free markets with the right stable rules in place are the best system for everyone. Unfortunately, determining the right stable rules is difficult and the job of government.  Hayek seems to have taken Adam Smith’s invisible hand and run with it. David Sloan Wilson in This View of Life- Completing the Darwinian Revolution makes clear that the invisible hand only works at one scale of a market (see posts Evolution for Everyone and Multilevel Selection Theory).

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Nervous States- Democracy and the Decline of Reason

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.

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Attention

This post is inspired by The Attention Merchants, Tim Wu, Vintage Books, 2017, New York. Decision making is not a front line issue in the book, but it is also clear that we cannot control our decision making if we cannot control our attention. The book begins as a history of what has grabbed our attention from newspapers and posters to radio to television to computers and video games,  to the internet and its vehicles including our present attention grabber, the cell phone.  Of course, each attention platform has ultimately had to make money and advertising has been the dominant path chosen. Advertising is the villain only to the extent that it puts able resources into effectively capturing our attention. But we do not check our email so often or play video games so long due to advertising. There is definitely some behavioral conditioning going on.  Wu mentions that video games can even:  “induce a ‘flow state’, that form of contentment, of optimal experience, described by the cognitive scientist Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi, in which people feel ‘strong, alert, if effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.”

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Confidence, Part I

Confidence is defined as our degree of belief that a certain thought or action is correct. There is confidence in your own individual decisions or perceptions and then the between person confidence where you defer your own decision making to someone else.

Why am I thinking of confidence? An article by Cass Sunstein explains it well. The article appeared in Bloomberg, Politics & Policy, October 18, 2018, Bloomberg Opinion, “Donald Trump is Amazing. Here’s the Science to Prove It.”

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Celiac Disease and the Prediction Machine

I discovered that I was a celiac a few months ago and accordingly I am on a gluten free diet.  Compared to most conditions discovered in one’s late sixties, celiac disease seems almost inconsequential. However, it fits into the idea of prediction error minimization.  In effect, the environment has changed and I need  to change my predictions. Bread and beer are now bad. My automatic, intuitive prediction machine has not been getting it right. It is disorienting. I can no longer “See food, eat food.” I can change the environment at home, but in the wider world I need to be aware. My brain needs to dedicate perpetual, and at least for now, conscious effort to this cause. It is almost as if I became instantly even dumber.  It makes me more self absorbed in social settings that involve food. Not known for my social skills, I have been a good listener, but now not so much.  On my Dad’s 94th birthday, I ate a big piece of German chocolate cake, enjoyed it thoroughly, and then remembered that it was not allowed. In my particular case, I do not get sick or nauseated when I make such a mistake so my commitment is always under threat. This demands an even larger share of my brain to be compliant. My main incentive to comply is those photos of my scalloped small intestine. I note that I was diagnosed after years of trying to figure out my low ferritin levels. (It will be extremely disappointing if I find that my ferritin is still low.) Continue reading

A Nice Surprise

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.

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Intuition and Creativity

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.

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Denver Bullet Study

This post is largely a continuation of the Kenneth R Hammond post, but one prompted by recent current events. My opinion on gun control is probably readily apparent. But if it is not, let me say that I go crazy when mental health is bandied about as the reason for our school shootings or when we hear that  arming teachers is a solution to anything. However,  going crazy or questioning the sincerity of people with whom you are arguing is not a good idea. Dan Kahan (See my posts Cultural Cognition or Curiosity or his blog Cultural Cognition) has some great ideas on this, but Ken Hammond actually had accomplishments and they could help guide all of us today. I should note also that I was unable to quickly find the original sources so I am relying completely on: “Kenneth R. Hammond’s contributions to the study of judgment and decision making,” written by Mandeep K. Dhami and Jeryl L. Mumpower that appeared in  Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 13, No. 1, January 2018, pp. 1–22.

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Kenneth R Hammond

This post is based on selections from: “Kenneth R. Hammond’s contributions to the study of judgment and decision making,” written by Mandeep K. Dhami and Jeryl L. Mumpower that appeared in  Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 13, No. 1, January 2018, pp. 1–22. I am going to become more familiar with the work of the authors since they clearly share my admiration for  Hammond and were his colleagues. They also understand better than I how he fit into the discipline of judgment and decision making (The links take you to past Posts.). I merely cherry pick my opinion of his most significant contributions.

As a student of Egon Brunswik, Hammond advanced Brunswik’s theory of probabilistic functionalism and the idea of representative design. Hammond pioneered the use of Brunswik’s lens model as a framework for studying how individuals use information from the task environment to make judgments. Hammond introduced the lens model equation to the study of judgment processes, and used this to measure the utility of different forms of feedback in multiple-cue probability learning.

Hammond proposed cognitive continuum theory which states that quasirationality is an important middle-ground between intuition and analysis and that cognitive performance is dictated by the match between task properties and mode of cognition. Intuition (often also referred to as System 1, experiential, heuristic, and associative thinking) is generally considered to be an unconscious, implicit, automatic, holistic, fast process, with great capacity, requiring little cognitive effort. By contrast, analysis (often also referred to as System 2, rational, and rule-based thinking) is generally characterized as a conscious, explicit, controlled, deliberative, slow process that has limited capacity and is cognitively demanding.  For Hammond, quasirationality is distinct from rationality. It comprises different combinations of intuition and analysis, and so may sometimes lie closer to the intuitive end of the cognitive continuum and at other times closer to the analytic end. Brunswik  pointed to the adaptive nature of perception (and cognition). Dhami and Mumpower suggest that for Hammond, modes of cognition are determined by properties of the task (and/or expertise with the task). Task properties include, for example, the amount of information, its degree of redundancy, format, and order of presentation, as well as the decision maker’s familiarity with the task, opportunity for feedback, and extent of time pressure. The cognitive mode induced will depend on the number, nature and degree of task properties present.

Movement along the cognitive continuum is characterized as oscillatory or alternating, thus allowing different forms of compromise between intuition and analysis. Success on a task inhibits movement along the cognitive continuum (or change in cognitive mode) while failure stimulates it. In my opinion,  Glöckner and his colleagues have built upon Hammond’s work. Parallel constraint satisfaction theory suggests that intuition and analysis operate in an integrative fashion and in concert with Hammond’s idea of oscillation between the two. Glockner suggests that intuition makes the decisions through an iterative lens model type process, but sends analysis out for more information  when there is no clear winner.

Hammond returned to the themes of analysis and intuition and the cognitive continuum in his last book entitled Beyond Rationality: The Search for Wisdom in a Troubled Time, published at age 92 in 2007. This is a frank look at the world that pulls few punches. At the heart of his argument is the proposition that the key to wisdom lies in being able to match modes of cognition to properties of the task.

In 1996, Hammond published a book entitled Human Judgment and Social Policy: Irreducible Uncertainty, Inevitable Error, Unavoidable Injustice which attempted to understand the policy formation process. The book emphasized two key themes. The first theme was whether our decision making should be judged on coherence competence or on correspondence competence. The issue, according to Hammond, was whether in a policy context, it was more important to be rational (internally and logically consistent) or to be empirically accurate. Analysis is best judged with coherence, while intuition is best judged by accuracy. To achieve balance–quasirationality and eventually wisdom, the key lies in how we think about error, which was the second theme. Hammond  emphasized the duality of error. Brunswik demonstrated that the error distributions for intuitive and analytical processes were quite different. Intuitive processes led to distributions in which there were few precisely correct responses but also few large errors, whereas with analysis there were often many precisely correct responses but occasional large errors. According to Hammond, duality of error inevitably occurs whenever decisions must be made in the face of irreducible uncertainty, or uncertainty that cannot be reduced at the moment action is required. Thus, there are two potential mistakes that may arise — false positives (Type I errors) and false negatives (Type II errors)—whenever policy decisions involve dichotomous choices, such as whether to admit or reject college applications, claims for welfare benefits, and so on. Hammond argued that any policy problem involving irreducible uncertainty has the potential for dual error, and consequently unavoidable injustice in which mistakes are made that favor one group over another. He identified two tools of particular value for analyzing policy making in the face of irreducible environmental uncertainty and duality of error. These were Signal Detection Theory and the Taylor-Russell  paradigm. These concepts also applicable to best designing airplane instruments (See post Technology and the Ecological Hybrid.).