Human cognition exists, from an evolutionary perspective, to perpetuate our genes. In human societies this is mostly a question of zero-sum status, settled through mainly verbal means. We should model opinions as social acts which exist to raise our status. Usually this will be about allying with the in-group; in some situations having a controversial opinion and sticking to it can itself signal high status. Not having an opinion is just as bad as having the wrong opinion, because if you’re not in the in-group, you’re in the out-group.
A wise man:
Reason is the way we achieve truth and all good things in life, but reason is slow, and error prone. The root of wisdom lies in acknowledging the limits of what we know, in quantifying our uncertainty. Of that which we cannot speak we must be silent.
Words are acts with lasting consequences, both socially and internally. It is hard to change your mind publicly, you will seek instead to defend what you’ve already concluded. One synthesis is to find groups where epistemic caution itself is high-status.
Shane Parrish discusses The Work Required to Have an Opinion.
When faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.
The simplest and most common substitution imaginable: When you are asked “What do you think about this?” substitute instead “How do I feel about this?”
This comes to mind today because of the events described here. In short, a popular blogger has been writing under a pseudonym. The New York Times wanted to write a piece about him, found out his real name, and told him they intend to publish his real name over his objections. In response he deleted the blog, in an attempt to disincentivize them from publishing the story: since their actions would now be part of the story.
I’ve been a fan of the blog for a long time, so I went straight to Twitter, where many other followers were beginning to post their thoughts. Whether the Times’ actions were morally wrong, what is the meaning of “newsworthy”, what is the place of a for-profit press in our society, the value of pseudonymity to a healthy public sphere, and so on. What actions were appropriate for supporters to take. These are important questions, but I realized that all I wanted to do was be a little sad about it.
However, I’m skeptical of the recent popularity of “self care”, and applying “the grieving process” to our feelings on distant political topics. Internalizing social and political problems as emotions removes the possibility of collective action and cedes power.
Is there a harmonious unity to achieve. Can our emotional need be met, our intuitive wisdom acknowledged and fed in healthy ways into our intellectual development and political actions?
A decade in, post-replication-crisis, I think of Kahneman more as a philosopher than a scientist. ↩
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