This category contains 7 posts

Muslims and the availability heuristic


The availability heuristic is a cognitive bias, or mental shortcut, which underlies our tendency to overestimate the significance of information that comes easily to hand. Such information may be something we heard recently or often, or it may be something that we remember simply because it is emotionally charged. The following (recent, of course) article in The Economist is an example of this tendency in action, and may have something to say about the frequency and nature of media reporting about Islam in Europe.

Islam in Europe

THE brutal murder of 12 people at the offices of a satirical magazine in Paris today appears to have been carried out by militant Islamists.

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Scientism and other monsters under your bed

There seem to be certain ideas that most polite intellectuals are quick to shy away from. Fundamentalist religion is one – many believe in God among their college-educated peers they are often quick to point out that they don’t believe it THAT God, the one with beard who does all the smiting. Likewise, atheism is out of the question. Sure, some might say, God is unlikely, but we can’t know, can we? They will call themselves something else – agnostics or skeptics perhaps, but certainly not the Christopher Hitchens sort of raving atheist.

Scientism seems to rank among this catalog of extremes which most thoughtful people hope to avoid.… Read the rest

Book Review: The Happiness Hypothesis, by Jonathan Haidt

I know what you’re thinking – the last thing the world needs is yet another self-help book telling you to be nice to people, love yourself and ask the universe for stuff. And generally, I’d agree.

But The Happiness Hypothesis is different. Haidt is a psychology professor and researcher at the University of Virginia, and his book his a well-written, fairly dense synthesis of the latest research on happiness expressed in laymen’s terms. Haidt organizes his discussion around ten pieces of “ancient wisdom” – one might be forgiven for suspecting that his publisher forced him to put it this way – but the result is a broad exploration of things that studies have consistently shown contribute to human happiness, along with a certain amount of speculation on the evolutionary advantages of certain behaviors and inbuilt reactions.… Read the rest

Daniel Kahneman on bias, reason and the human sciences

In this recent interview with Nigel Warburton, pioneering psychology researcher Daniel Kahneman discusses how we think vs. how we think we think. We like to believe that we come to conclusions – about politics, for example – by applying our capacity for conscious reasoning. After all, we’re reasonable people, aren’t we? Kahneman explains the more common process of coming to conclusions subconsciously, largely emotionally, and then applying reason to ratify our decisions.… Read the rest

Evolution, reason and rhetoric

Reason has long been considered one of the hallmarks of being human. It’s a tool we have developed – or so the story goes – to help us on our path towards truth, an evolutionary adaptation that allows us the better to evaluate situations and come to correct decisions. Maybe. Hugo Mercer and Dan Sperber, cognitive social scientists advocating what is being called the argumentative theory of reasoning, think otherwise. They have argued that reason developed not as a truth-finding tool, but as a social tool to help us to win arguments. For a concise account of their groundbreaking work, see this NY Times article.… Read the rest

The perils of reason

Reason is one of the most powerful tools we have in understanding the world around us. Most of us consider ourselves to be reasonable people, yet reason is a complicated business. Biases, fallacies, and unexamined suppressed premises can lead even careful thinkers astray and make reason a perilous road on the way to truth. This famous scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail underlines just how tricky the actual application of reason can be.… Read the rest

Begging to Differ

Article by Catherine Z Elgin from The Philosophers’ Magazine.
Disagreement abounds. People disagree about everything from sports and politics to science and child rearing. When disagreements stem from the manifest ignorance, bias, or stupidity of one of the disputants, they are epistemologically benign. That someone who clearly does not know what he is talking about disagrees with you gives you no reason to rethink your position. But some disagreements are more worrisome. Equally intelligent, knowledgeable, thoughtful and open-minded people often disagree. Let us call such parties intellectual equals. Should disagreements among intellectual equals give us pause? Read more at The Philosophers’ Magazine. Read the rest

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