The Myth of the Closed Mind, 1

The Myth of the Closed Mind is a book by Ray Scott Percival.

I appreciate the conversational style of the writing so far.

EDIT: Note that the early part of the book is introductory in nature and the ideas will be elaborated on more later in the book. And I'm commenting as I go, I did not read the whole book first.

p 1
The myth of the closed mind is the popular theory that some people, or some beliefs, are impervious to argument. Almost everyone today seems to accept the myth of the closed mind.
Not the people I know, e.g. on The Beginning of Infinity email list. It's generally accepted there that such a thing is false.

What people do have is criticism-resistant ideas. But if you know the right thing to say, you can still persuade them. This can be hard. Often the right thing(s) to say isn't the direct approach. Just directly explaining the truth on some subject, in the straightforward way, doesn't reliably work very well with criticism-resistant people/ideas/attitudes.

People do things like argue in circles. Or make a bunch of inconsistent statements to defend some entrenched idea they have, and each time one is refuted they make another, either an old one or an ad hoc new one, and they just keep going forever, not caring that they often contradict themselves and keep being wrong over and over.

Why? Well, one reason is they have some other misconception(s) they aren't communicating which is behind the whole mess. And if you explained better ideas about *that* then you could make progress, but they won't give you much help in figuring out what that is.


Another reason people don't accept ideas we try to persuade them of is that we are mistaken. (They may also be mistaken, too, or not.)

Another common issue is that people are in a mode of trying to lecture and correct you, instead of listening and learning. Or that you are in such a mode and not listening enough. Even if you're mostly right -- and you might not be -- the other guy may have some good points which your view doesn't address well enough. If you improved your view to better address those issues, it'd be more persuasive.

p 2
Our evolution has made us sensitive to the way the world is, given us a degree of general curiosity about the world, a respect for logic, and a respect for effective and efficient means.
Not so. Some cultures, and persons, do not respect logic (really: Percival's conception of logic, which I share, but some people do not share). And biological evolution doesn't have knowledge about logic. These descriptions of our attitudes to life our cultural not biological.

pp 2-3
We can decide not to read or listen to an argument, but we can't decide to remain untouched by a telling argument that we have heard or read.
I agree we can't just arbitrarily decide to ignore it *once we decide it is telling*. But there is a big gap between reading it and understanding why it's telling.

By "we" I mean most people in our culture. There have existed cultures and people that wouldn't care if an argument was telling, and which don't respect reason or logic.

The gap between reading something and understanding it is that you have to *learn the content* which goes beyond the words. One can hear or even memorize sentences without understanding what they are about. To understand, we have to think about them. We have to *guess* the meaning and *improve* and refine our guesses with *criticism*. That's how we learn things.

Whether we take an *active*, learning role -- with guesses and criticism -- or take a *passive* role and don't make the effort to understand -- is a choice that's up to us. Learning is an active process -- requiring activity by the learner himself -- passivity after hearing or reading can sabotage progress.

The book goes on to say we can't decide to be unmoved by arguments that we grasp, and can't knowingly accept error (what we regard as error). I agree there but it's not equivalent to the prior statement and also doesn't elucidate issues about how people must take an active, learning role in order to grasp things. There's a common assumption that if we listen to someone say something in English, and we speak English, then we know what it means automatically. Not so, as Karl Popper's philosophy implies and is covered more in The Beginning of Infinity chapter 10 and here.

p 3
Darwinian evolution has given us rough and ready but robust and irrepressible, specialized brain modules for solving special recurring problems our ancestors faced during the Pleistocene: choosing a mate, detecting cheats, making inferences about the world of people, animals, and objects.
No, as The Beginning of Infinity explains our minds have universality (with regard to creating knowledge), they aren't a collection of special case algorithms.

Even setting that aside, as a matter of logic and some basic facts, nothing from Darwinian evolution is "irrepressible" which means "impossible to repress". Our minds are powerful enough to create technology including technologies for changing human genomes. So at the very least we will be able repress such things using those technologies, when they are a bit more advanced. There's nothing impossible about that kind of technology, and nothing about our genes to absolutely prevent us from taking that kind of action.

Or, similarly, we could upload our minds into computers to escape our genes. I don't think such drastic steps are necessary to be autonomous persons in control of our own lives, but in any case they mean it is possible to repress our genes.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

The Myth of the Closed Mind, 2

The Myth of the Closed Mind is a book by Ray Scott Percival.

Page 4 begins a list of arguments in favor of the closed mind, each with a rebuttal. I don't agree with any of the arguments for the closed mind, but I also don't agree with some of the rebuttals. Some comments and criticisms follow:

#1 Rebuttal relies on evolutionary psychology which is false.

#2 Assumes we have to continue to believe refuted ideas in order to continue considering them. We don't. We can take a more sophisticated view that something is both refuted and worth trying to save (create a related idea that isn't refuted), without actually believing the refuted idea.

#3 Rebuttal is too weak and concedes too much. It concedes that people can get stuck in frameworks but points out that not everyone will. A better answer is Popper's criticism of frameworks in The Myth of the Framework; we don't need to make concessions here.

Also the rebuttal says "the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis has been shown to be false" but doesn't include any source nor enough explanation to judge or criticize this idea well; apparently the reader is intended to believe there is persuasive, unspecified research on the matter and take it on authority.

#4 Agreed.

#5 Agreed.

#6 I'd add that faith doesn't guarantee a closed mind since it's well known that people sometimes lose faith.

#8 This badly misrepresents Dawkins' view and is false. In The Selfish Gene, when introducing memes, Dawkins did not say memes are mind-viruses. He explained a meme as a unit of cultural transmission, and replicator, and gave various examples and explanations making it clear that they can be good or bad, and the concept doesn't have anything built-in about memes exercising control over humans.

#9 The crucial point here is that just because people make mistakes does not imply that can't learn better.


I'm up to page 24 now. I think the book so far mixes up arguments. It argues two different things at different times: 1) all people are not literally 100% closed minded. 2) most people are significantly open minded and can learn things and make progress in real life in practice

(1) is easy to argue for and true, but (2) is what people care about. (2) is a bit vague but would be true if elaborated in a reasonable way. The book states (1) as its thesis and keeps repeating it and arguing for it, but then at other times the argument for (1) is trivial but it spends time arguing for (2), apparently because (1) isn't enough.

Page 24 asserts both Ayn Rand and Marx as examples of people who wanted to spread their ideas without any criticism allowed, like leaders of religious sects. That's insulting, offensive and unargued.

The book generalizes about people too much. Example on p 25:
People prefer to adopt and spread ideologies that: [list of 6 criteria]
Some people use those criteria and some don't. People can and do invent all sorts of criteria. People aren't all the same and don't have all the same preferences, values or ways of thinking.

Page 25 also locks in claims about how evolution shapes our thinking as part of books main point. This is elaborated on p 28 with statements like
Evolutionary psychology shows us that...
Note that this and many related assertions are unsourced.

Page 200 tells us that it would be "impossible" to understand Ayn Rand's ideas about art, morality or metaphysics from her novels, without reading her non-fiction. The novels only explain classical liberal ideas "identical" to those of Herbert Spencer and Ludwig von Mises.

The "impossible" and "identical" claims are silly. While similar, her politics aren't identical to those others. One reason is that you can't completely separate politics from morality and Rand's morality is different. More mundanely I'm not aware of Mises proposing an end to coercive taxation as Ayn Rand did. And according to Wikipedia Spencer opposed land being private property so that's very different!

Regarding "impossible", it's hard, certainly, to understand Objectivism without studying it carefully, but the novels have a lot of information and if you thought about it a lot why couldn't you learn more from them than Percival allows for? What's to stop you and make it *impossible*? Take Rand's morality. She does explain and illustrate a lot about that in her novels. I'd say her novels are the *best* source for learning her morality. Why does Percival -- who apparently dislikes Ayn Rand even though her philosophy has a great deal in common with Popper's -- choose to make such strong and negative comments about her in passing?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Myth of the Closed Mind, 3

The Myth of the Closed Mind is a book by Ray Scott Percival.

Chapter 1 begins on p 39. It offers an analogy comparing ideas to fish, "all competing for resources and opportunities for reproduction". I think this is meant to dramatize and illustrate the connections between the logic of genes and memes. Percival adds that, "People have only so much attention and memory capacity to devote to these ideas. Because of these constraints..." These are important constraints but I don't think they are the most important ones to focus on. People reject memes they consider immoral, consider false, or have some other criticism of. That constraint is crucial to the logic of how memes work, as explained in David Deutsch's book The Beginning of Infinity. I bring this up primarily because I consider human choice a very important part of life, and I am wary of how some meme theory tries to attack that and deny us responsibility for our choices (sometimes by denying we made them at all). Which fish are successful in an ocean is an issue that doesn't involve human judgment, choice or responsibility, but which ideas are successful in a culture does involve those human factors, so that's a major difference the analogy doesn't capture. Maybe we'll get more detail on this later.


pp 40-41 talks about ideas with more content or generality that are easier to refute but would be more valuable if true, and ideas with less content, less potential value, but also less opportunity to refute them. It's the issue of more or less bold ideas. Percival gives a nice clear example:
A. All cyclists live longer than non-cyclists.
B. All non-smoking cyclists live longer than non-cyclists.
Idea A is bolder and tells us more about the world, but can be refuted more easily than B (by a smoking cyclist who dies young).

p 41 comments about how making ideas more attractive (more general purpose, meaning more content) may unintentionally make them more open to criticism. While the intended point is right (more bold ideas that say more can be refuted in more ways), I think there's an issue here. We can criticize ideas for lack of boldness! The moral of the story, as I see it, is that there is simply no way to hide from criticism. All ideas are always quite vulnerable. Similarly, vague ideas may try to avoid criticism by not providing any clear statements to be disputed, but vagueness is itself a well known and important flaw to criticize.


p 42 advocates the "modular hypothesis" that the human mind is not like a general purpose computer but has specific modules for specific tasks (it leaves open the possibility of some general-purpose thinking too). But Popper's method of conjecture and refutation is inherently general purpose (it's how we learn all types of things, it applies to every field), so what is the appeal of the modular hypothesis? If we think by conjecturing and refuting when it comes to every topic, why have different modules for different topics? This Popperian objection is not discussed and the book quickly changes topic (maybe it will come up again later?).


I skipped some pages about religion and then find, p 51
There is a similarity between being converted to a religion and being struck by the power of a scientific explanation.
I don't know about that. The vast majority of religious conversions are done with children who don't know much about critical thinking yet, while being struck by the power of scientific explanation in the usual way requires knowledge of critical thinking and scientific method as a prerequisite. Percival goes on to attribute the spread of Christianity and Islam (partly) to them having some closeness to the truth and value (monotheism is an example). I'm not so sure about that either because there are Eastern religions with vast numbers of followers which lack monotheism and other valuable attributes of Christianity.



p 57 says Popper and Bartley have "claimed that some ideologies and their proponents are impervious to criticism. I disagree." No source is given. Where did Popper say that? What I know he did say is that all frameworks can be criticized, and we can always learn from each other despite differences in perspective. That's in his essay The Myth of the Framework. Also, fallibility itself implies nothing will be completely impervious.

There are ideologies -- e.g. Freud's -- which are impervious to direct criticism because they have general purpose anti-critical methods built in. But they are still open to criticism, e.g. for their closedness to criticism itself. Whenever there is an anti-critical mechanism which is impervious to some category of criticism, we can still analyze it itself and criticize in a different way. I think Popper knew this. He himself did criticize Freud's ideology, so I don't think it makes sense to consider him to have believed it was completely impervious to all types of criticism.

p 58 quotes Popper saying:
no rational argument will have a rational effect on a man who does not want to adopt a rational attitude.
Percival calls this "pessimistic". But what's wrong with it? By an effort we can improve. If we don't want to, and try not to, we won't. Learning requires active thinking, taking steps to learn, in general it can't be forced on someone from without. If you tie someone to a chair and play some educational videos, hey may not pay attention. If you tell him a rational argument, he may not listen (he may literally walk away and put in ear plugs). So what?

In our society, almost all people do want to adopt rational attitudes -- at least partially and inconsistently -- because they are aware of some of the value of such an attitude. But there is nothing a priori necessary about this, and there have been cultures in which no one knew what rationality was nor wanted to be rational.

I don't see anything bad in people having some control over their lives. Consider: you might disagree with me about what is a rational attitude and which arguments are rational (or true). And you might disagree even more fundamentally about what kinds of attitudes and arguments are good (if any). That's freedom! That's important. I might be mistaken. I might have gross misconceptions about what rational arguments are, what rationality is, what is good, and so on. It's important that anyone can disagree and live life their way. This is a wonderful thing. If what I deemed a "rational argument" was guaranteed to affect you, against your will, then you would lack freedom, I would have an awful sort of power over you. That would be a sad state of affairs; the one Popper speaks of is a happy situation.

None of this is to say that I actually agree with Popper's full position on this topic. He was mistaken when he wrote "Thus a comprehensive rationalism is untenable." and "irrational faith in reason" (in OSE). But when Popper says the blockquote above or "a rationalist attitude must be first adopted if any argument or experience is to be effective", he's right.

The mistake which he's struggling with is foundationalism and justificationism. The solution is not to justify reason itself, nor anything else, and not to base it on any foundation. Popper wrote, "[the rationalist attitude] cannot therefore be based upon argument or experience." Yes, but so what?

Rationality is about methods of thinking which allow for the correction of mistakes. It's wise because irrational attitudes, if they are mistaken, stay mistaken. Mistakes in rational attitudes can be fixed. Can someone reject the premises of my argument, or refuse to listen to it if they don't want to, or misunderstand it? Yes. And for all I know they can understand it and reject it -- maybe I'm wrong. But none of this is a problem or bad thing. Progress doesn't come from airtight arguments that force people to accept reason or anything else. It comes from voluntary action, people choosing to think and wanting to gain values by thinking, people having problems they want to improve on, people recognizing their mistakes and wanting a better life. Life presents problems which can inspire people to take some initiative in improving, we don't have to worry about forcing passive people to live the way we deem correct (and we must not do that, because we might be mistaken; a tolerant society is the only rational society).

Summary: reject justificationism (which Popper struggled with early on. He was the first person to understand this, but at first only partially) and then there is no longer any problem of justifying reason. And as to people being free to choose not to listen, that isn't a problem at all but a virtue of a free society.

Percival starts talking about how Popper must think irrationalism is psychologically viable. But I think he recognized that in our society basically no one fully embraces it. One can be interested in refuting irrationalism for other reasons, e.g. because it's an important philosophical position.

Percival misreads Popper in the discussion. Popper wrote (OSE):
That is to say, a rationalist attitude must be first adopted if any argument or experience is to be effective, and it cannot therefore be based upon argument or experience. (And this consideration is quite independent of the question whether or not there exist any convincing rational arguments which favour the adoption of the rationalist attitude.)
Percival writes:
Popper first says that the rationalist attitude must be adopted to make criticism effective, but then immediately retracts this implicitly by saying that this is independent of whether there are any convincing arguments for adopting rationalism. Is Popper saying that a convincing argument can fail to convince?
The parenthetical was not a retraction, it's a correct logical point. And Percival mixes up the concepts of "convincing argument" and "convincing rational argument". Popper does not discuss convincing arguments, unqualified.

The point is that we must adopt a rational attitude (one capable of learning, correcting mistakes) in order to learn from any argument (or experience). Correct so far. Then, Popper adds, this point is true regardless of whether or not there is a rational argument for adopting a rational attitude. Whether or not such an argument exists has no bearing on the first statement that irrational attitudes prevent learning.

I see Popper's position on this topic in OSE as flawed, Percival's analyze of it as also confused, and I think my take on the topic resolves the issue (basically there is no issue, there only seems to be from a justificationist perspective). Next, Percival discusses Bartley on this topic (who he also thinks isn't good enough), and then I think he will present his own answers after, we'll find out next time.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Myth of the Closed Mind, 4

The Myth of the Closed Mind is a book by Ray Scott Percival.

p 60 talks about Bartley wanting to define criticism in terms of truth instead of justification. Meaning criticism doesn't try to show something is unjustified, it tries to show it's false. I agree. That's good.

It doesn't define what a criticism is though. So I will. A criticism is an explanatory idea about a flaw/mistake/error in another idea. A criticism both identifies some aspect of an idea and explains why it's bad. The explanation is necessary because one has to say *why* the thing is bad. The identification is necessary to point out what's being criticized (this is trivial in some cases where one criticizes an idea directly, but we can also criticzie meta-aspects of ideas and implications of ideas, in which case identifying the thing being criticized is less simple).

p 63 says:
In this chapter I will be arguing that the logic of the propagandist's situation impels him, on pain of failure to spread his ideas, to be -- among other things -- corrigible [open to correction]. In the next chapter, I will argue that Darwinian theory suggests that no person is incorrigible in their beliefs.
This is true. But I also think it misses the point a bit. It doesn't mean people will be corrigible. They might not care about spreading their ideas, or they might be mistaken about what methods will be effective. Error is everywhere and routine, and the mistakes people make can be arbitrary, and so they can easily confuse people on any point such as how to be an effective propagandist or whether they should want to spread their ideas or have discussions at all. But so what? There's also many different paths to solutions everywhere too. In practice, no one is totally closed to incoming information in all areas. So one way they can improve is by improving in the areas they like and listen some in. And those improvements can have implications for other areas.

This point that living irrationally makes one an ineffective propagandist does not contradict Popper's points discussed earlier about how people can live irrationally if they want to and basically good rational arguments cannot force anyone to do otherwise (which is not a bad thing!).

As to how being closed to correction makes one a poor propagandist, I think it's easy. We're all fallible. We make lots of mistakes. That means without error correction we'll be bad at absolutely anything, because we'll make lots of mistakes at it and never fix them. Anything includes being a propagandist.

As to Darwinian theory next chapter, that sounds like it's going to be more evolutionary psychology, which is false. One issue is: by what mechanism do the evolved genes control human pscyhology?

p 63 continues by bringing up Marxism and Freudianism as examples of ideologists that Popper and Bartley consider irrational. Percival takes this as meaning Popper thinks Marxists are beyond help, and takes issue with that. But I don't think Popper ever thought that, I think it's just a misunderstanding. Marxism is an irrational, closed system with general purpose ways to deflect criticism. But you can reach Marxists with meta-criticism. Popper's essay The Myth of the Framework is a good discussion of this sort of issue about how people who are very different and come at things from different perspectives can still always learn from each other and make progress.

So we get, p 64, "The propagandist who restricts his propagandistic efforts in the hope of evading criticsm and rival positions has to incur a number of costs:". Yes, indeed, irrational lifestyles have costs, and have ways out! This is just a special case.

p 77 points out that even if people use brain surgery to prevent creativity, they couldn't perpetuate a static society indefinitely b/c successfully dealing with all natural disasters that may come up requires some innovative thinking, without that they will one day fail. And if they allow any innovative thinking, the consequences are unforeseeable and can get out of hand. More generally I'd add (following The Beginning of Infinity) that *problems are inevitable* and *solving arbitrary problems requires creative thought*, and the consequences of creative thought cannot be arbitrary restricted (there is a nice sci-fi book touching on this issue, Quarantine by Greg Egan).

p 78
Martyrdom and other religious sacrifices are rational decisions of people trying to achieve their personally conceived ends by what they regard as effective and efficient means.
This is a misunderstanding of rationality. You cannot take someone's idea and just directly judge if it's rational. Rationality is an attribute of the methods by which one deals with ideas. To judge if ideas are held rationally, one must do things like suggest better ideas and offer criticisms, and see how the guy reacts to the possibility of change.

The standard and mistaken conception of rationality has to do with ideas being *good*, true, correct, legitimate, justified or having authority. It's about the quality of the idea, not the attitude to the idea. The point Percival is making is basically that even martyrdom and other apparently bad ideas can be good ideas from the perspective of the person doing them. That's true. And certainly such sacrifices can be done rationally, but also irrationally.

Rationality allows for unlimited mistakes, so trying to argue that something isn't or needn't be a mistake is missing the point. You don't have to argue that to point out something is or could be a rational decision. And you can't show something is rational just by showing it's correct. Maybe the person was thinking irrationally but got lucky. Maybe he relied on traditional knoweldge he never criticized but which had a lot of truth to it.

End of chapter 1 (there are only 4 long chapters, plus a prologue, for 275 pages).

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Myth of the Closed Mind, 5

The Myth of the Closed Mind is a book by Ray Scott Percival.

p 81 begins chapter 2 by saying "Darwinian evolution has made us rational." A bit later:
Cognitive psychology has shown that children already have an intuitive grasp of the world.
This is an appeal to authority. Worse, it's also unsourced. The purpose of appeals to authority is to justify ideas; they are a justificationist error. They do not serve as good criticisms or explanations, which are the tools of learning.

One of the propositions it's used to support/justify is:
[Children] also have the capability of forming hypotheses
There's no reason to appeal to authority for this claim. It can be argued for in a short, Popperian way. Children learn things. We know this because if you wait a while you'll find they know a bunch of stuff they didn't know before. And how does learning work? By conjecture and refutation. So the implication is that children can conjecture (aka form hypotheses). And, by the way, they can also think of criticisms.

This argument could be evaluated by the reader instead of just irrationally accepted (how are you supposed to correct errors in the propositions you accept without knowing the reasoning for them?). I think this argument is an important part of child psychology and more generally that using epistemology is crucial to understanding how people think, but the discussion in the book has a different approach.

p 81
If a child sees a cow give birth to a live calf, the child will be surprised if told the next one will lay eggs. Children are born with a categorizing disposition that places animals into natural exclusive classes, all the members of which are assumed to have the same characteristics. This is their intuitive natural history.
This is pretty much advocacy of induction and non-general-purpose thinking (Popperian conjecture and refutation is general purpose, this is something else). It claims children observe stuff and generalize it and then are surprised if their (inductive) generalizations turn out false. And the stuff about categorizing sounds like induction too, it doesn't say anything about conjecturing what categories will solve problems and criticizing one's categories until they are useful, or other Popperian stuff.

Next, in a book about how everyone is rational, we're told about how children will "automatically assume" things which is the epitome of irrationality (since automatic assumptions is a method of thinking that doesn't involve error correction or criticism, or even any opportunity for choice or thinking).

p 85 tells us:
This approach [denial of universality of human thinking; modular approach] fits well with what psychologists have found. Our reasoning abilities are domain-specific and have their own biases and limitations.
This contradictions Popper's general purpose explanation of how we create knowledge (by conjectures and refutations). And it's an appeal to the authority of unnamed psychologists. And it's unsourced.

I get that the modular approach is required for evolutionary psychology (because different variants of genes could make the modules be built in different ways, with different biases), but this stuff is all false.

p 85
Jerry Fodor (1983) was the first to conjecture that the mind has a collection of special-purpose machines.
I have a very hard time believing no one ever thought of that idea before 1983. No argument that he was the first is provided, apparently I'm just supposed to accept it on authority.

The book does have some arguments. Like an example: people who open their eyes "can't help but see a stable three-dimensional environment". I don't think that's actually true -- sometimes I tune out and don't look at the world around me even though my eyes are open. Further, the test subjects are all adults or at least people who know how to communicate, so assuming it applies to all people is unwarranted. Nor do I think if everyone had this experience would that prove it was built into our brains -- we could all learn this approach, much like basically all Americans learn to spell "cat" the same way. Arguing something is common is not a proof that it isn't learned. I don't see anything surprising about convergence on some truths about vision and knowledge about how to see the world being widespread in our culture and reliably passed on to children, so this example fails to impress me.

Backing up, the arguments for the modular approach do not address my arguments against it. They don't address the clash with the Popperian conjectures-and-refutations approach, nor the arguments in David Deutsch's universality arguments in his book The Beginning of Infinity. And more generally, I don't think the book shows any understanding of what it would take to imply specialized brain modules as the only explanation and rule out all alternatives, so it never provides successful arguments that can actually refute all the rival ideas. Since the arguments I find compelling are not addressed, Percival fails to persuade me. Consequently I'm skipping the rest of chapter 2.

Chapter 3 (p 169) is titled "Does Emotion Cloud Our Reason?" and will presumably argue for "no", which I agree with. This sounds more interesting.

But the first sentence of the chapter treats "irrational" as being "insulated against all criticism". But irrationally is normally (perhaps always) partial. It's not all or nothing. We can be better or worse at correcting errors (more or less rational). No one is perfect. Percival also then immediately asks if emotion-based irrationality would make ideologies spread better. This topic comes from chapter 1.

p 169 says
I grant that intense emotion engendered by an ideology may impair the appreciation of critical argument, but I insist that argument is always relevant because our emotions are under the control of our theory of the world and our place in it.
I agree. Good point.

I would add William Godwin's argument: even when people are in the most emotional, passionate situations, such as in the middle of intense sex, or whatever other scenario you want to bring up -- at a moving Church service, immensely enjoying getting married, mourning at a funeral, excited by a sports game, extremely angry, etc -- they will promptly snap out of it and put the emotion aside if presented with something more important (in their own judgment) than what they are doing. Like if a terrorist shows up and points a gun at them, they will forget about the wedding or prayer or football game or whatever, and pay attention to the threat to their life. Emotions can be abruptly dismissed when people want strongly enough to focus on something else. And actually emotional states are pretty fragile which is why people having sex will seek privacy and put lots of effort into preventing anything from "ruining the mood".

Really angry people have also been observed to abruptly change to apologetic when they are told some simple fact they hadn't known before and it puts them in the wrong. This refutes the concept that we are slaves to emotion. Certainly sometimes you correct an angry person and he stays angry, but the point is people *can* resist their anger, not that they have to. They can choose to live badly. That people do both things shows that they have the choice.

p 170-171 presents an argument by Pareto which blatantly assumes justificationism as a premise and thus goes wrong. It's really a non-sequitur. And then there is an assertion that that irrational faith can only be based on feelings, which is given as the conclusion of an argument but is actually just a premise written at the end and isn't argued for in any way previously. Percival doesn't point these things out though, I don't know why.

p 179
Psychological research, on non-human animals at least, shows that the range of conditioned responses that can be established depends on the specifies of animal.
More unsourced appeal to authority. This also assumes without argument that animals have psychology, a proposition I reject on primarily philosophical grounds (so even if I were impressed by appeals to scientific authority, that would miss the point!).

This style is common throughout, e.g. p 180
Experimental research into emotion suggests that...
Worse, we're then told, p 180
Everyone agrees that...
Then, p 180
Now research seems to show that...
There is a section heading, p 180, which reads, "Evidence From Psychology". Then we are told things like "research ... suggests that [stuff]". But evidence does not suggest anything, it is used in criticism, not to establish any positive ideas. So this is non-Popperian.

Then we get, p 180
More recently, Schachter and Singer tested the theory that both cognition and physiological arousal were necessary for a genuine experience of emotion.
This is scientism. It is the purported application of scientific method to reach conclusions outside the domain of science. Supposedly they are research scientists doing scientific tests to figure stuff out. But that isn't what's going on. The meaning and proper way to think about "genuine experience of emotion" is a philosophical issue. Genuineness is not an issue open to scientific research, except perhaps after having some philosophical ideas about it, which, depending on what they say, could then be open to some kind of scientific investigation.

You also cannot establish what is necessary for emotion from a handful of examples that you test. A single example could refute that X is necessary by observing emotion in the presence of Y but no X. But how can any finite number of tests establish that X is required for genuine emotional experience? Just because you invoke emotions 500 different ways, all with X, and you try to invoke them 50,000 other ways without X and fail every time, simply does not logically imply that X is necessary to emotion. So the project is utterly incapable of reaching the conclusion it purports to reach. And it has failed -- like bad science often does -- due to philosophical issues.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Myth of the Closed Mind, 6

The Myth of the Closed Mind is a book by Ray Scott Percival.

The fourth and final part of the book discusses immunizing strategies (ways of changing ideas to protect them against criticism to try to avoid refutation). The book says these strategies are costly. I agree.

In general, changing ideas, by adding exceptions, or any other ways, ruins the explanation. So the ideas lose their appeal and the new ones are actually really easy to criticize for lacking a good explanation, even if they're hard to criticize empirically. David Deutsch covers this in his books, especially the dialog about induction which is chapter 7 in The Fabric of Reality.

So I consider this topic already covered and not terribly interesting because it's easy to see the answer from more general principles.

Another way to look at it is that if you can easily vary an idea in the face of criticism, then your idea is easy to vary. You may hope this will protect it against criticism, but being easy to vary is itself an important criticism (as Deutsch explains at length in The Beginning of Infinity). So this kind of thing doesn't work.

I think the problem situation which is concerned that people will try to avoid criticism is wrong. What do you care what they do? People can live badly and there is nothing you can do to stop them, other than violence or persuasion. And if they don't want to be persuaded by you, they won't be, at least not directly. They don't have to listen to you at all, they don't have to read your books or arguments, they can turn off the TV or radio when you come on, etc... People have to use some of their own initiative to learn things. It's a choice.

I think the problem situation which is overly concerned with immunizing strategies, and big general principles like "is human nature rational enough that persuasion will always work?" is too concerned with proof, with formal argument, with having some sort of rules of the game under which progress can be made that people cannot resist. It's concerned that if people have free will they may use it badly. It wants guarantees for reason, progress, etc...

But I don't mind if people can make choices, even bad ones. I'm happy to tolerate diversity. I know that will include irrationality and other mistakes, but so what? I draw the line at violence but that's it. I recognize my philosophy is fallible and conflicts need to be worked out by reason, to the extent people want to, and if they would rather do something else for now that is part of freedom. There are plenty of people interested in learning things who might want to read my writing or have discussions or improve society, and that's good enough. We don't have to make every single person pursue our vision of progress or find some way to prevent them from choosing to ignore us; we shouldn't want that, it's anti-liberty.

Let people do whatever they want, don't worry about it too much. Offer them value and some people will come around because they are motivated by their problems to seek some solutions and they find value in what you have to say. Some of them will tell their friends, persuasion can happen and can spread. We don't have to worry about people shutting out our criticism because reality provides criticism too -- problems are inevitable and motivate people to try to improve. People who don't have bad lives and in the extreme it becomes obvious their lifestyles are worse when they have a thousandth the wealth we do or that kind of thing. People notice that, even bad people, and make get jealous or angry, but the point is they don't completely ignore all their problems and do care to improve, so there's nothing to worry about. I think this sort of perspective is a better problem situation than trying to figure out what to do about people who don't want our help -- the proper answer to that is to leave them alone.

Live your own life, make it awesome, cooperate on a voluntary basis with the best people you can find, offer up value with mass appeal if you want. The book tries to solve a problem that this sort of good attitude to life doesn't have. And the more you start worrying about trying to find ways to stop people living irrationally in your view, the closer you may get to intolerance, tyranny, anti-freedom.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)