Sam Harris and the ideology of reason

by Henry on March 30, 2018

There’s lot’s that has been said in the last couple of days about Sam Harris, and not much to say about Charles Murray, race, and IQ that hasn’t already been said over the decades. But the whole tone of his writing in this exchange, aggrieved postscript and all, is worth noting briefly as a specific example of a broader phenomenon. One of the minor plagues of our time is a specific flavor of Enlightenment Man Rationalism – see Harris, Dawkins, Pinker – in which the Enlightenment Man (gender specificity intended) casts himself as the bold-honest truth-seeker, who is willing to follow reason wherever it takes him, even if (and perhaps especially if) this upsets the vulgar prejudices of the right-thinking herd. Quite often (as in Pinker’ recent book) this is linked to a particular ideal of the Enlightenment, some of the rhetorical aspects of which do support the image of the lonely man of truth standing against the mob.

The problem, as Harris so aptly demonstrates, is that reason usually isn’t independent of our passions, but their slave (see Hume, passim). Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber’s recent book, The Enigma of Reason, is excellent on this throughout, providing a compelling case that reasoning did not evolve as a capacity to figure out the world, so much as an argumentative capacity to generate convincing rationales for why the reasoner is right, and others are wrong.

This doesn’t mean that reason is useless – if harnessed through appropriate social means, it can be extremely valuable in figuring out the truth. The fact that we are much better at poking holes in other people’s rationales than in our own means that groups that harness this capacity can reach better judgments than individuals. But it does highlight the possibility of an unfortunate circuit that can occur where an individual has prejudices, uses reason to elaborate good rationales for those prejudices, and then convinces himself through his own reasoning capacity that he was right all along.

One possible (but by no means necessary) implication is that individuals with an unusually high faith in the power of individual reason to demolish prejudice may, precisely by virtue of that belief, be especially vulnerable to a feedback loop in which their reasoning reinforces their own prejudices rather than undermining them. When you have convinced yourself that you have science on your side, and that your opponents do not, you are going to be more likely to ignore their criticisms, even if they are good ones.

The prejudices thus reinforced might be gross ones, as in the case of Charles Murray, whose idea of a good time in Paris is to count the black and brown faces around him and warn of the foreign hordes overwhelming Europe. They might also be more intellectualized, as is very possibly the case of Sam Harris, whose commitment to Reason as he understands it appears so strong as to be irrational – not obviously susceptible to argument or change in the light of facts. Here, perhaps it is less the content of the heresy than the more refined attraction of iconoclasm itself that charges the circuit.

There’s something peculiarly thick-headed about the New Atheism – the parallels between its idolatry of reason and the faith of more conventional religion have become an argumentative cliche. But there is less (that I’ve seen anyway) about the specific ways in which its more specific notion of individual reason can armor-plate bad ideas against criticism. Finally and obviously, the kind of criticism I’m making here can be turned back itself against critics, myself included. But that’s sort of the point.

{ 336 comments }

1

Hidari 03.30.18 at 3:08 pm

If one has a strong sense of oneself as being ‘Rational’ (this usually being opposed to the ‘irrational’ ‘easily led’ ‘masses’) then this can function as a kind of intellectual Get Out of Jail Free Card. Sam Harris, I imagine, would be less likely to be offended by the accusation of racism than of his being faced with the accusation that he did not arrive at his racist positions by rational thought processes.. Unfortunately for him, both accusations are correct. He’s racist AND he’s ‘irrational’ about it.

Tl;dr Sam Harris is irrational about his rationality.

If anyone cares, I’ve popped up on CT many times to argue that I don’t really see what use ‘rationality’ has as, so to speak, a conversational token, in the absence of a clearly agreed upon definition.

It is, however, one of the key ‘dichotomies’ discussed by Edward Said in Orientalism: ‘We’ (i.e.’we’ in the West) are rational and ‘they’ (i.e. ‘they’ in the ‘East’) are ‘irrational’, although the trope can have a wide variety of uses (the most notorious: men are rational, women are emotional, although I’ve also seen it used in politics as well, in ways I’m sure you can imagine). One of the quickest ways to shut down any conversation is to accuse your intellectual opponent of being ‘irrational’: in which case, why bother continuing the conversation? ‘Meaning is use’. Therefore, normally, not always but normally, ‘you’re being irrational’ just means ‘I don’t like you and I’m not going to listen to you any more.’

2

justme 03.30.18 at 3:21 pm

Can we add Gladwell to that list of examples? I almost stumbled over that sentence when he wasn’t listed.

3

Paul Dulaney 03.30.18 at 3:33 pm

As an Evangelical Christian I am no partisan of Sam Harris. But if human reason serves to advance the cause of personal animus and affection more than the search for Truth, surely that tendency is active with respect to views held by the liberal establishment as much as it does to men like Harris and Murray.

I’m concerned that your approach is tautological, and this can be illustrated by a thought experiment. What if it actually were the case that IQ was a valid measurement of intelligence and that the {blacks < whites < Asian} inequality did in fact attain? Would your approach be able to accept that?

As a Christian I am sometimes accused of holding non-falsifiable beliefs. And I am quick to say guilty as charged! Why? Because they are axiomatic beliefs, not beliefs that are subject to reasoning or sense data. I suspect that for you that Harris is wrong not merely because he is applying reason inappropriately, but rather because his viewpoint is, for you, wrong axiomatically.

4

oldster 03.30.18 at 3:53 pm

There may be some resemblance here to the perils of believing in one’s own moral virtue.

Moral virtue is a good thing! But even those possessed of genuine virtues are probably wiser to be extremely diffident about their virtue. “Maybe I’m being motivated by vanity here,” or excess anger, lust, etc. are all good cautions to keep in mind, even for those whose vanity, anger and lust are generally in a virtuous mean.

So too for dogmatism, prejudice, and the other epistemic vices. Rationality is a virtue! It’s a good thing, and we should all strive for it! (In a balanced way, and not to the exclusion of others.) But however much you have of it, you are still in peril on any given occasion of fooling yourself. Better to doubt your own capacities.

“I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ: think it possible that you may be mistaken.”

I have many reasons to hate Cromwell, but that particular injunction gets something right.

5

Lawrence 03.30.18 at 4:01 pm

Sam Harris also enjoys the annoying contrarian role. After, I think it was the Sandy Hook killing, he published a short on why attempts to regulate semiautomatic guns and large magazines was foolish. His example was the completely unrepresentative and irrelevant example of a man who was a competitive handgun shooter who, using a specially tuned revolver, could fire and reload faster (barely) than most people can with a magazine fed pistol. Sam gets death threats from religious people so he carries a gun and practices ju jitsu. Fair enough. And this is probably his real reason for publishing that critique. My own take on the New Atheists is that they provide the vocabulary for engaging toxic religion. And particularly for people trapped in such communities, they give people permission to make such criticisms. Hitch, Harris, and Dawkins obviously have their personality quirks that get in the way of their message. Sam’s anti Islam bias is particularly bad. The Reason fetish does bother me. It’s self flattery. It is enough to critique Abrahamic religion as toxic and nonsensical even on it’s own terms. Believers already have a weird concept of The Conservation Of Worship where the know, just know, that atheists have a thing they worship instead of their god. The Reason fetish just gives them a name for it. Not heplpful

6

BruceJ 03.30.18 at 4:02 pm

At the time Murray wrote The Bell Curve, these claims were not scientifically controversial

This has nothing to do with ‘reason’; Harris here is engaging in wholesale revisionism.

Most of the criticism of Murray and his plainly racist argument at the time came from scientists familiar with the field. IQ tests had for decades before been recognized as remarkably flawed and subject to a host of confounding variables.

Murray’s (and Harris’s too, btw) understanding of genetics(both population and individual), human development and ‘race’ can be best summed up by this

Wielding ‘reason’ from a position of ignorance is no better than the unreasoning faith Harris abhors. He is proof that the Dunning-Kruger effect is not confined to the conventionally unintelligent…

7

Dipper 03.30.18 at 4:02 pm

The notion that there is something called intelligence, it can be measured by doing an IQ test, and that intelligence has a substantial genetic component is quite an old one. It has been a standard argument of right-wing academics and authors over time and I had thought had been consistently shown to not have sufficient evidence to be seriously considered.

However, the scientific journal Nature is now publishing articles associating intelligence with genes. The abstract states “We found substantial mean genetic differences between students of different school types”. and in the discussion “We find that, on average, students in state non-selective schools have lower polygenic scores for years of education (EduYears) compared to their peers in selective schools. “ [note this is for the UK where some regions have selection at 11 and some don’t]

Is arguing for a genetic basis for intelligence wrong when it is done in support of conclusions we don’t like but right when done in support of conclusions we do like? Is it wrong to say that lower educational results of a particular race are due to genetics but acceptable to say lower educational results of a particular class are due to their inferior genetics?

8

L2P 03.30.18 at 4:03 pm

Anybody who watches Star Trek should know that reason is a tool to find the truth, not the truth itself. You make a good comparison between the unquestioned faith in reason some atheists have and the unquestioned faith in god most religions require.

9

Adam Hammond 03.30.18 at 4:34 pm

Thanks for that insight. I can’t imagine that anyone who has succeeded as an academic has fully avoided the trap that you illuminate. Or maybe I am projecting, because I know that I have stepped in it. I have stepped in most of them it seems.

10

bruce wilder 03.30.18 at 5:24 pm

an argumentative capacity to generate convincing rationales for why the reasoner is right, and others are wrong

or, as is so often demonstrated in blog comments and on cable teevee, why the reasoner’s implicit “tribe” of the like-minded is right and various “others” are wrong and wrong-headed in ways worthy of contempt. The ‘myside bias’ is strongly social — we have a point-of-view certainly, which we may conceive of as individual, and we have this magnetism that aligns us with imagined social groupings with personal identifications.

The individualism of our culture maybe makes us try to reason about reason as if reason is all going on inside an individual’s head, but it is not: thinking is social.

We use the word “reason” to cover a multitude of poorly distinguished behavioral phenomena and individual and group skills. During the several hundred thousand years of human evolution, when the human brain was growing in size, at least two physical components of the brain were increasing in size and capability: the frontal cortex and the cerebellum. (the brain is probably not so neatly compartmentalized that this can be an entirely accurate way of speaking, but bear with me; this is not a comment on anatomy) The former seems to be “where” we imagine meanings and rationalize our behavior after we impulsively do what we do and perhaps also imagine and rehearse our future behavior and ponder the meaning of life and similar silliness. The latter — the cerebellum — is where the control models for our fine motor skills and elaborate learned habits appear to be centered.

Some of what we call “reason” is this process of rationalizing after-the-fact, whatever the impulse or behavioral fact was, plus defining where and with whom we belong and thus, who we are, in an imaginatively abstract social context. Putting this capacity for rationalization into overdrive in elaborate arguments of a philosophical, religious or ideological character appears to have an important social-psychological function, simultaneously enhancing cooperation among strangers and differentiating human sub-groups, in part by manifesting in society the paralyzing ambivalence of the individual. It can be tied up in ritualized pronouncements and rhetoric freighted with meaning, but signifying very little. It hardly seems an exaggeration to venture the possibility that argumentativeness, storytelling, hypnosis and human hyper-sociality are closely related.

Humans also developed this other, complementary capacity for understanding the mechanical, perhaps as a by-product of working with our hands and tools. As JQ was arguing the other day, we are remarkably good at throwing spears and catching balls on the fly.

It is when our tool-making/using capacity employs reason, rather than vice-versa, that we get some taste of the power of reason to do more than — or something other than — motivating the mob.

Consider what we are doing here: using systems of notation. It was no accident, I think, that Newton’s Principia involved the invention of the calculus, a system of “reasoning” employing a system of notation as a means. And, not surprising in a way, that talking rubbish about a Watchmaker God would become a more popular pastime than integration and differentiation.

We do seem to have these two capacities — one for storytelling and one for mechanical control — and they blend together in ways that surprise and befuddle us. By itself, the storytelling capacity feels an affinity for magic: ritual incantations whose meanings have the power to compel. And, the mechanical intelligence invents machines that control natural processes and gets results. Jedi Knights and Sith Lords.

Possibly, we were a happier species when the group was a couple of hundred people and the tool was a dog that seemed to respond to our nurturing, emotions and gestures.

Be that as it may be, we do seem to be confused by having these two capacities resident in our intelligence, individual and social. I am not sure philosophy can ever recover from Aristotle’s discovery of the syllogism or whoever’s proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. When we find a mechanical procedure that works, we imagine that it has meaning as magic. We cannot help ourselves; it is human nature.

I know I’ve made the point in comments before that most casual argument takes the form of hypnotic trance induction, but our rationalization of argument tends to emphasize the power of the “mechanical” form, which is a tribute to mathematics and logic, I suppose. Somehow, if only we could apply the mechanical method of geometry, we could be sure of the truth of our mental map of the world. And, it is true that if we go out and carefully measure, and apply the reasoning of Euclid, we can draw a map as a representation of a mechanical model that works, in a pragmatist’s best sense.

But, it is confusing. The “frontal context” (again not an anatomy lesson) wants to believe, in the sense of believe in something meaningful — not incidentally the believer’s own worth or purpose or motivation. Nothing wrong with that. But, a different process.

The actual, historic Enlightenment shed the illusions of conforming faith and Scholasticism (whose abbes, if anything, loved Reason even more than the philosophes) by adopting critical method: a use of tools along with a skepticism that loosened the grip of belief a bit. They still wanted the belief, of course.

Random musings of the overly caffeinated during a Friday morning off.

11

marcel proust 03.30.18 at 5:34 pm

A personal anecdote: I graduated from UChicago almost exactly 40 years ago. After (no more than) a few years of reflection, I concluded that the most important lesson I learned there was that the value of reason/rationality could be overstated. I don’t believe that this was an intentional lesson on the part of any of my professors nor others responsible for undergraduate education there, but it was based on my experience there both inside and outside the classroom. I am mildly skeptical that I would have learned that lesson at any other US college or university at that time, certainly not so forcefully.

I have since acted on the hypothesis, probably rather banal nowadays, that reason as humans practice it is an evolved capability that (a) must have proven useful in many circumstances, but (b) like many other organs and abilities, has developed in an ad hoc fashion and has many flaws. It bears some resemblance to the Churchillian quote about democracy, the worst possible except for all others that have been tried so far.

12

engels 03.30.18 at 5:42 pm

One possible (but by no means necessary) implication is that individuals with an unusually high faith in the power of individual reason to demolish prejudice may, precisely by virtue of that belief, be especially vulnerable to a feedback loop in which their reasoning reinforces their own prejudices rather than undermining them.

Not defending Pinker et al but I think one could just a plausibly speculate that those who are especially jaded about individual epistemic virtue are more likely to just adjust their cuews to whatever is more expedient to them, professionally and socially.

I was re-reading some if Tony Judt’s old essays today, someone who I imagine must have prided himself on independent thought, and while I’ve never shared his politics I think they stand up very well as a result.

13

magistra 03.30.18 at 5:58 pm

Paul Dulaney@3: What if it actually were the case that IQ was a valid measurement of intelligence and that the {blacks < whites < Asian} inequality did in fact attain?

Well, my current approach is that 50% of the population are going to have below average IQ by definition, so we need to create a society in which such people can lead a happy and satisfying life and contribute fully with their own talents. Because as a (non-evangelical) Christian I know there are many people of all faiths and none whom I could outrank in an IQ test, but would fall well short of on a Helpful and Generous to Others Test.

14

CP Norris 03.30.18 at 5:58 pm

In general I roll my eyes at any argument of the form “I prefer to use data rather than emotion”. Everyone uses data. Everyone uses evidence. Unless you’re in a romcom about a stuffy scientist who learns to love.

When you say something like that, your argument is basically just “I’m smart and you’re dumb”.

15

PatinIowa 03.30.18 at 6:16 pm

As I understand it this is manifestly false:

“At the time Murray wrote The Bell Curve, these claims were not scientifically controversial—though taken together, they proved devastating to his reputation among nonscientists.”

In Iowa City, where ACT lives, and where the people who put that test together were still around in 1987, the general reaction among educational measurement people here was to look at the methods section of the Bell Curve and laugh derisively. I know enough statistics to know why they were laughing.

It’s the essence of reason to show your work. When Murray showed his work, well…

16

Stephen 03.30.18 at 6:18 pm

Henry: you wisely but perhaps ultimately confusingly finish by saying “obviously, the kind of criticism I’m making here can be turned back itself against critics, myself included. But that’s sort of the point”.

Which leaves me wondering. If I had $1,000 for each time I’ve seen a post or article stating that – not that I agree – all supporters of Brexit or of Trump (or before that, Regan) or of Marine Le Pen are by definition stupid or ignorant, I could take a rather long and enjoyable holiday. Likewise for statements (rarely on CT, of course) that all Marxists are by definition stupid, ignorant or murderous.

So if we are in a world where nobody can be expected to put forward a rational argument, but everybody starts with emotionally comfortable beliefs and then rationalises them, what is the use of sites like CT? Other than to echo a restricted set of comfortable beliefs?

17

Francis 03.30.18 at 6:21 pm

Paul:

Your hypothetical founders in face of the basic idea that collective intelligence is about as meaningful as collective penis length. The variance far exceeds the difference. It’s the individual expression that matters. And, mostly, it doesn’t matter at all.

Put another way, why are (certain) researchers so excited about measuring intelligence against race? Why not height? or handedness? or eye color? or hair color? or sex?

If, for example, people with two X chromosomes were, as a group, more intelligent that those with XY, what social policies should be set? Should women be given preferential access to higher education, because they’re more likely to get more benefit out of it?

18

Procopius 03.30.18 at 7:39 pm

@Paul Delaney, #3

Because they are axiomatic beliefs, not beliefs that are subject to reasoning or sense data.

My beliefs exactly. This is why I get so annoyed at those “atheists” who claim they have proven there is no god. I happen to think there is no creator god, but this is not provable through reason. I believe, after many years of pondering the question, that the existence or non-existence of God is an axiom. Just as it has been shown that the whole of geometry is equally complete and valid no matter which of three possible parallel axioms you decide to use.

19

Asteele 03.30.18 at 8:33 pm

The problem with the IQ thing is it’s not where Charles Murray starts. He starts with white supremacy and then in trying to find reasons to support his pre-exsisting views eventually gets around to whatever IQ can measure intelligence stuff. Since this is superficially more plausible than his actual conviction, it’s what he argues for, but their is no reason to indulge him because it only exsists as cover for his real beliefs. If you ever convinced him he was wrong he’d just refocus on single motherhood and “urban culture” or whatever.

20

Phil 03.30.18 at 8:51 pm

A little less than ten years ago I picked up one of those blog questionnaires that used to go round in those days, in this case about atheism. Here’s one of the questions, and my answer:

Q9. Of the “Four Horsemen” (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris) who is your favourite, and why?

None of the above. Both Dawkins and Dennett would be good on their own territory, if only they’d stick to it. I went off Dawkins when I first read about memes, which is some time ago now. Dennett these days is quite openly an evangelist, and I don’t trust evangelists. Hitchens has very little to offer in this area; I haven’t seen much by Sam Harris, but what I have seen suggests that he’s a twit. The only self-proclaimed atheist writer I’ve got any time for is Philip Pullman; he takes religion seriously as part of real, intelligent people’s lives.

Harsh but fair, I feel.

21

Adam 03.30.18 at 9:10 pm

What is your argument here? Are you seriously arguing that when a person supports a position, another can then attack the position by citing that person’s advocacy of reason?

Person A: Sam Harris believes ~X, which makes me sad because I believe X.

Person B: Don’t worry! Sam Harris believes in reason, and is therefore especially vulnerable to a feedback loop in which his reasoning reinforces his own prejudices rather than undermining them.

Person A: Great! My belief in X is no longer threatened.

22

engels 03.30.18 at 9:13 pm

I went off Dawkins when I first read about memes, which is some time ago now

What’s wrong with memes?

23

Lord 03.30.18 at 9:18 pm

Reason is often abused like this, yet what we mostly see is it’s failure. There is no appeal to reason in ‘fake news’, tribal beliefs, and lies, but an admission of its failure and pounding the table.

24

engels 03.30.18 at 9:31 pm

Both Dawkins and Dennett would be good on their own territory, if only they’d stick to it.

Agree with this, except they both *are* good on their isn’t territory, regardless that they don’t stick to it.

25

Jake Gibson 03.30.18 at 9:36 pm

I try to stay away from “New Atheism”. (new and improved with reason!).
I am an agnostic. I do not know anything about whether there is or is not a creator. If there is a creator, I don’t claim to know anything about its nature.
I will say that I find no attraction to the God of Abraham, at least as worshipped by the religious right.
The problem with the New Atheists is that too msny are at least as obnoxious as the religionists they argue with. TBH, sometimes it is hard not to get on their level.

26

PatinIowa 03.30.18 at 9:37 pm

To Asteele @20.

Having read Ibram X. Kendi’s “Stamped from the Beginning” (strongly recommended) recently, I think you’re exactly right.

27

anonymousse 03.30.18 at 10:03 pm

“The notion that there is something called intelligence, it can be measured by doing an IQ test, and that intelligence has a substantial genetic component is quite an old one. It has been a standard argument of right-wing academics and authors over time and I had thought had been consistently shown to not have sufficient evidence to be seriously considered.”

And yet our entire civilization is built upon it. Whether you call them ‘IQ’ tests, or ‘MCAT,”, ‘LSAT,’ ‘GRE’, ‘ASVAB,’ or ‘firefighter’s entrance exam,’ tests are used in virtually every profession to determine ability, reward the able, and filter out the unable. They are used by most of the members of this board (academics), are used by the doctors who cut you open or prescribe penicillin, used by your accountant, and literally virtually everyone you work with with a professional degree.

IQ tests have yielded consistent and repeatable results for 100 years. They are, on the margins, adjustable (through study: I studied for the LSAT hard, for 6 weeks, and raised my score). But they are not adjustable in great terms: no one with an IQ of 85 is going to score a 115 (or 125, or 140, or 165) by fluke.

It really is rational and honest thinkers willing to stand up to the politicized mob. And you are the mob.

anon

28

Emma 03.30.18 at 10:09 pm

I left a similar comment elsewhere today, but: I think the defense of Reason isn’t really anything more than a defense of ‘successful,’ well-educated white men as the rational, worthy owners of culture and knowledge. They see fundamental challenges by people unlike themselves (“identity politics”) as ill-mannered rebellion against the true order of Nature. They want to dismantle any argument that might dispute the legitimacy of their institutional privilege; if we can’t intuitively accept well-educated white men as our overlords because they’re morally superior or economically superior, then by George we’re going to accept them because they’re genetically superior.

This attitude has been adopted even by proponents much farther down the food chain, also. If I’m intemperate enough to indulge in arguments on social media, and I have a visibly-female username/pic, 100% I’m going to be accused of getting emotional or being triggered — no matter how calmly I type, or how diligently I avoid mentioning widows and orphans and homeless dogs. It would be depressing, if I’d ever expected anything else.

29

Clare 03.30.18 at 10:10 pm

Why are so many people uncomfortable thinking of intelligence as a single dimension, or as inherent?

Here is a good definition by Linda Gottfredson.

>”Intelligence is a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to organize large quantities of information into meaningful and useful systems, to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience. It is not merely book-learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts…. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings “catching on,” “making sense” of things, or “figuring out” what to do.”

——-

Intelligence in some deep but ill-defined sense is a real attribute of human beings, not some artificial construct of the psychometricians who who invented intelligence tests. ‘Intelligence’ is a set of core analytical and verbal abilities largely determined via genetics and early childhood…. And it is an unearned gift that individuals should be thankful for and use to improve the world.

We also need to realize that lower intelligence is a limiting factor when it comes to education, employment, and economic success but IQ has NOTHING to do with dignity, friendliness, compassion, honesty and a host of other positive human attributes.

30

b9n10nt 03.30.18 at 10:30 pm

Stephen @16: So if we are in a world where nobody can be expected to put forward a rational argument, but everybody starts with emotionally comfortable beliefs and then rationalises them, what is the use of sites like CT? Other than to echo a restricted set of comfortable beliefs?

“Echoing a set of restricted beliefs” is derisive and simplistic. Simplistic because the tribe has fuzzy borders. It’s beliefs change as do their expression. Derisive because “tribalism” = “connection and belonging”. It’s okay to seek connection and belonging. It’s not a weakness and it’s not undignified. The pose of rugged individual seeker and servant of Truth is a) itself a tribalist pose and b) comes with a lot of irrational aggression/hostility, presumably from a denied vulnerability to the need for the tribe. For examples see: the internet.

Re: the OP (and bruce wilder’s helpful contribution)

I’d be interested for someone to compare/contrast Mercier and Sperber with Hanson’s signalling thesis

The apparent similarities are striking.

31

Faustusnotes 03.30.18 at 10:52 pm

In that email exchange Harris admits that he and Murray didn’t discuss recent research contradicting their theory because it was statistically”over my head”. Yet he wants to stake a claim to being a disinterested observer?

The New Atheists aren’t just smugly convinced of their own rationality, they’re also arrogantly certain that they are very intelligent and that intelligence alone enables them to venture into fields they know nothing about and offer illuminating insight. They’re so arrogantly sure of this that they can’t see how stupid they look when they flounder around out of their depth in those fields, and embarrass themselves.

Sam Harris Leavens this with a nasty streak of upstart rebelliousness and disrespectful behaviour- his nasty little email exchange with Chomsky was an example of foolish youthful exuberance and overweening pride that he still doesn’t seem to understand made him look like an arse. This email exchange goes the same way.

Harris then tops this by claiming he is being silenced or something. Dude you have your own blog and podcast. You write books. No-one is silencing you, they’re just telling you to shut the fuck up because you’re making yourself look stupid. It’s your own dumb fault if you don’t take our advice.

32

John Quiggin 03.30.18 at 10:55 pm

The “self-proclaimed atheist” thing is culturally interesting. The only Australian I can think of who would fit that label is Phillip Adams, who is the exact opposite of the Four Horsemen, both personally and in terms of his politics (left, but non-dogmatic).

Off-topic: googling, I discovered he had just been refused entry to India, but not because he might upset the religious sensibilities of the BJP. Rather, it’s because he, like most Australians, opposes the Adani mine proposal.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/columns/why-did-india-deny-australian-radio-legend-phillip-adams-a-visa/story-1su56eNg9hr2ITz4pWggFL.html

33

John Quiggin 03.30.18 at 11:13 pm

Following the train of thought above, Australia has nothing like New Atheism, AFAICT. Religious belief, which was never intense here, has dropped away gradually. Even during the equal marriage debate, where the churches led the opposition, there wasn’t much pushback against religious belief per se.

I would have expected the same to be true of Britain, but judging by the prominence of Dawkins and Pullman, it isn’t. Maybe it’s to do with the special status of the Church of England?

34

Phil 03.30.18 at 11:32 pm

#33 – Pullman is very very mainstream, as far as English Christianity is concerned; his atheism (if it is atheism) is basically the sound of the melancholy long-withdrawing roar.

Dawkins is odd. I remember reading the ‘memes’ passage in The Blind Watchmaker; after a couple of pages I actually started skipping forward to get to the bit where he’d give up on this extended gag and admit it was just a bit of makes-you-think-eh handwaving. He never quite did, though. Dawkins the Rationalist is in a line of popularisers going back to the likes of J. B. S. Haldane and C. E. M. Joad, but there’s something a bit evangelical about memetics that doesn’t quite fit in – and I think Dawkins the Atheist is an honorary American.

35

engels 03.30.18 at 11:38 pm

I think the defense of Reason isn’t really anything more than a defense of ‘successful,’ well-educated white men as the rational, worthy owners of culture and knowledge

Arise! ye workers from your slumbers;
Arise! ye prisoners of want.
For reason in revolt now thunders
And ends at last the age of cant.

36

Lee A. Arnold 03.30.18 at 11:44 pm

For me the bottom line in the IQ debate is that some schoolkid might learn that there is so-called “scientific evidence” and use it to belittle and ridicule another kid on the playground. That would be really harmful. All of these rational types should cease this discussion at once.

37

Jerry Vinokurov 03.30.18 at 11:56 pm

The thing with Sam Harris and people who follow in his wake is that they’re a lot more like conspiracy theorists than they let themselves believe. They’ve taken their atheism and turned it into a fetish object, thinking that this is proof of their reasonableness, and since they’re reasonable people, the things they do and say are also reasonable, QED. It’s the same cult-like dynamic that drives the weirdos at LessWrong. Like conspiracy theories in other domains, the Harrisites seem to think that they’ve been entrusted with a secret knowledge; anyone who fails to recognize the truth of their preaching is, pick one, in league with the conspiracy/ipso facto unreasonable. That’s really all there is to it.

The thing about “reason” is that it’s actually a lot of work. To make a case for even relatively simple propositions requires a fair amount of effort: you have to marshall evidence, state your assumptions, and work out the causal connections between where you’re starting and where you’re trying to end up. That Murray and Harris are obvious fraudsters can be inferred from the absolute poverty of the very reasoning process they claim to be so fond of: at every opportunity, they cut corners, skip steps, and jump to unwarranted conclusions. When they get called out on it in even the mildest ways (I like to clown on him but I do think Ezra Klein did an decent job of it in a Vox column earlier this week), they bristle and take it as a personal offense. They’re lazy, bad thinkers who are incapable of engaging with contrary ideas, but like all conspiracy theorists they valorize themselves as brave truthtellers, because that’s the easiest path to take.

38

Collin Street 03.30.18 at 11:59 pm

Why are so many people uncomfortable thinking of intelligence as a single dimension, or as inherent?

Because it’s plainly not a single dimension, and because most of the dimensions aren’t inherent, and because the ones that are aren’t hugely useful except in fringe cases. Being smart or stupid isn’t a huge deal almost always: the things that are big deals are things like responses to new information that contradicts what you already “know”, or how to deal with social conflicts… and the vast bulk of that is known to be learned and thus teachable.

So a focus on intelligence-the-innate-bits is… not useful, and suggests either ignorance of the above or bad faith.

[speaking as the product of an extremely expensive education, paid for — thankfully — by my government, the key part of a gifted education program is exposing smart kids to their own propensity to failure before their brain fossilises at around 20 and they think themselves infallible forever. If this doesn’t happen you’re actually better off with the dumb kids.]

39

Layman 03.31.18 at 12:00 am

Clare: “Why are so many people uncomfortable thinking of intelligence as a single dimension, or as inherent?”

Because it doesn’t seem to be? Because absence of evidence showing it to be so? Because we don’t really know how to measure it, which means we don’t even know what it is? Because the way we choose to measure it shows it is dramatically impacted by environmental factors?

Was Einstein more or less intelligent than George Washington Carver? I have no idea, and neither do you.

40

engels 03.31.18 at 12:10 am

Maybe it’s to do with the special status of the Church of England?

If you grow up as a non-believer in mainstream Britain you still get Christianity rammed down your throat at regular intervals albeit in a pretty half-hearted way (at school assemblies, on the radio, etc). This leaves a lingering feeling of annoyance, and causes occasional passive-aggressive outbursts.

41

Heliopause 03.31.18 at 12:44 am

@3
“surely that tendency is active with respect to views held by the liberal establishment as much as it does to men like Harris and Murray.”

It is notable that conservatives often speak about liberals in much the same fashion that Harris and the “New Atheists” are being spoken of here.

“What if it actually were the case that IQ was a valid measurement of intelligence and that the {blacks < whites < Asian} inequality did in fact attain?"

In terms of social policy there would be no consequences, at least in a minimally moral society.

"I suspect that for you that Harris is wrong not merely because he is applying reason inappropriately, but rather because his viewpoint is, for you, wrong axiomatically."

Harris is a lightning rod because he is, well, let's be honest, a dick. His dickishness bears no relation to whether any of his claims are true or not, but makes it more likely that people will argue with them.

42

Kiwanda 03.31.18 at 1:09 am

OP: “Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber’s recent book…”

Don’t tell anybody these guys are evolutionary psychologists.

“providing a compelling case that reasoning did not evolve as a capacity to figure out the world, so much as an argumentative capacity to generate convincing rationales for why the reasoner is right, and others are wrong.”

I don’t understand the notion of “reasoning” being considered. What convincing rationale am I making for beliefs I already hold, when I: conclude that the car in front of me is likely to make a left turn, based on their turn signal flashing; conclude that I need to stop by the ATM because I don’t have enough cash for the farmer’s market; decide that eating a big meal at bedtime gives me insomnia, based on recent experience and elimination of alternative explanations; decide that it’s raining, based on that noise outside; figure out that the problem is in the second for loop, not the first one; catch a ball thrown to me, etc.?

It’s absolutely just some kind of awful prejudice on my part, but I’m not the least surprised that these guys are French: so far, it sounds like trying to use EP to justify pomo bullshit, and if anybody could that, it’s them.

43

john c. halasz 03.31.18 at 1:26 am

engels @35:

That’s actually a rather poor translation of these lines:

Debout! les damnés de la terre!
Debout! les forçats de la faim!
La raison tonne en son cratère,
C’est l’éruption de la fin.

For the rest, has no one here bothered to read Gadamer and his critique of the Enlightenment’s prejudice against prejudice?

44

engels 03.31.18 at 1:30 am

I think Dawkins the Atheist is an honorary American.

I always had him pegged as an honorary Anglican but I’ve only read two of his books and avoided his Twitter.

45

Faustusnotes 03.31.18 at 1:47 am

Didn’t the C of E recently pay to broadcast the Lord’s prayer in cinemas? Shit like that might explain why British atheists are more aggressive.

46

KC 03.31.18 at 1:52 am

We do need good reasoning, but also ought to acknowledge that even good reasoning seldom yields a single correct answer. There can be a range of different,
even sometimes inconsistent, views of a matter. This is not to say there
are no bad reasoning and wrong answers. Good reasoning can help us reject wrong answers without necessarily reaching a single right answer.

I agree that our prejudices, biases, fears and social identities often get in the way of good reasoning. We tend to overestimate our ability to transcend our own parochialism.

A good way to help overcome our parochialism is to pay close attention to external views, especially the views of minorities, other genders, other ethnic groups and foreigners.

47

LFC 03.31.18 at 2:06 am

@ j.c. halasz

has no one here bothered to read Gadamer and his critique of the Enlightenment’s prejudice against prejudice?

I’ve read bits and pieces of Truth and Method. (For some reason I had to in grad school, though it had no obvs. connection w/ what I was studying.) Can’t say it had a big impact on my views. (btw I’m aware of at least one more recent defense of ‘prejudice’ in roughly Gadamer’s sense.) I think I wd come down on the side of a qualified defense of ‘reason’, which does *not* mean I nec. agree w S. Harris, whose views don’t interest me that much.

48

SamChevre 03.31.18 at 2:15 am

Two replies to comments:

Magistra @ 13

my current approach is that 50% of the population are going to have below average IQ by definition, so we need to create a society in which such people can lead a happy and satisfying life and contribute fully with their own talents

That was the main point of Murray’s The Bell Curve; the racial questions were in one chapter, the entire rest of the book was about that exact question–how do we make a decent society for people who aren’t that smart, because things have been getting worse for them for the last 50 years.

Heliopause @ 41
“What if it actually were the case that IQ was a valid measurement of intelligence and that the {blacks < whites < Asian} inequality did in fact attain?"

In terms of social policy there would be no consequences, at least in a minimally moral society.

Except one: we would be unsurprised when engineers and mathematicians were disproportionately Asian, just as we are unsurprised when the fastest runners are disproportionately men.

49

J-D 03.31.18 at 2:22 am

Starting on a second quick skim through the email exchange, I noticed an interesting juxtaposition that Sam Harris had created. Following this sentence

What I propose we discuss is this atmosphere wherein many otherwise sane and ethical people reliably become obscurantists and attack anyone who demurs as an enemy, fit only to be silenced.

the next two sentences (after a paragraph break) were these

However, I doubt that any such discussion could be had with the authors of the paper you published. It is a shoddy piece of work, and they appear to be part of the moral panic I was describing.

and then that paragraph ends with these sentences

Rather, it was out of my growing concern over how fraught our conversations on politically charged topics have become. The publication of this paper has simply added more fuel to the machinery of defamation that I have been trying to resist.

If Sam Harris describes people as part of a moral panic and a machinery of defamation, and if he casts doubt on the possibility of discussion with them, how–if at all–does this differ from attacking them as enemies, fit only to be silenced? When he uses descriptions like that, does he think it is likely to contribute to making conversation less fraught, or making it more fraught?

50

Nicholas Gruen 03.31.18 at 2:28 am

Thanks for this post.

It led to my own post .

51

Nicholas Gruen 03.31.18 at 2:30 am

Please ignore my last comment in which I mucked up the html code for a link.

Thanks for this post. It led to my own in response.

52

Jerry Vinokurov 03.31.18 at 2:44 am

That was the main point of Murray’s The Bell Curve; the racial questions were in one chapter, the entire rest of the book was about that exact question–how do we make a decent society for people who aren’t that smart, because things have been getting worse for them for the last 50 years.

The entire history of everything Charles Murray has ever written suggests that he doesn’t give a fuck about creating a decent society; indeed, undermining the very concept of a decent society has been his life’s work.

53

bianca steele 03.31.18 at 3:28 am

Sometimes I read someone who, I think, would have been perfectly happy agreeing that his beliefs were prejudices, except that someone once told him that his beliefs couldn’t be prejudices because they were the wrong beliefs—that the fact that he was operating on reason, and opposed to prejudice, was obvious from the content of his beliefs. And he’s never been able to think straight since. Pinker, at least, seems to have escaped that fate. I’m not sure Dawkins and Harris have.

54

Nicholas Gruen 03.31.18 at 4:24 am

Jerry Vinokurov @ 37, you’ve put it very well – earning you a re-post on on the same subject ;)

55

dax 03.31.18 at 5:23 am

“This doesn’t mean that reason is useless – if harnessed through appropriate social means, it can be extremely valuable in figuring out the truth. The fact that we are much better at poking holes in other people’s rationales than in our own means that groups that harness this capacity can reach better judgments than individuals.”

I’m mildly skeptical of this claim. First, societies have biases – 19th century British and French society and colonialism for instance. Or mid-19th century American Southern society and slavery.

Secondly, I wouldn’t want to wager on what Americans in general would say to the assertion, “Black I.Q. is lower than White I.Q.” If indeed more than half would agree, what does that say about groups in general? There seem to be many many instances where groups are worse off arriving at truth than individuals, such as the existence of God.

56

J-D 03.31.18 at 5:25 am

If you expect an action or event to have consequences of one kind, and it turns out to have consequences of a different kind, then the rational response, and especially the scientifically rational response, is probably to reflect on the likelihood that there are defects in your understanding and that you need to revise your views. A scientist who conducts an experiment or takes an observation and gets results at odds with the theoretical model has to consider whether the theoretical model should be amended.

In this instance, on Sam Harris’s own account, the results he got when he published his email exchange were at odds with his expectations; if he wants to behave rationally, he should react by considering how he might have got things wrong. Ezra Klein had different expectations about the results of that publication, so perhaps Sam Harris has something to learn from Ezra Klein on the point in question.

57

ph 03.31.18 at 5:48 am

Henry, this is one of your finest, especially the final two paragraphs – very droll and perspicacious. The comments are generally very good.

I followed the initial bun-fight between two VSPs I find almost equally dull and disingenuous. Klein and company can be quite pithy when speaking privately. Recall Spenser Ackerman’s ‘find a right-winger a smash his face through a plate-glass window and send it out as a Christmas Card’ with Micheal Tomasky moaning ecstatically ‘Yes, a thousand times, yes.’ Klein’s hit pieces was pure discourse policing. Harris knew that Murray was ‘beyond the pale’ and should have expected blow-back, unfair and otherwise. Murray’s uncritical and sloppy thinking deliberately misunderstands questions of intelligence and ‘race’ and he really can’t complain about being treated unfairly. Harris, himself, is equally guilty of some equally uncharitable readings of those he dislikes. So, again, no sympathy from me. I do think everyone should be aware of Murray, however, and of his ilk. Their pseudo-scientific claptrap needs to be studied and picked apart. There’s a great deal of bunk written about ‘frugal’ Scots, ‘hardworking’ Japanese, ‘passionate’ Latins etc. The only way to combat this nonsense is by a regular and open airing of the fictions we construct for ourselves.

@10 I think you’re being a bit unfair to Newton and to his readers. It was only in his second edition published many years after his initial argument that he made any mention of a deity. I just reviewed some current modern critics and the argument seems today to be that Newton believed in the centrality of god in his universe all along, but just forgot to mention the (ahem) essential role of the almighty to the arguments proposed in the Principia and Optiks. (Jonathan Edwards’s Philosophy of Nature: The Re-enchantment of the World. Avihu Zakai, (2010) p.175. Christianity and mathematics were, in a sense, how early enlightenment thinkers viewed the world. I’ve always seen the addition of the appendix on God in the second edition as part and parcel of his reply to Leibnitz – responses to criticism that could not be ignored. The divine watchmaker allows folks to plug the gaps that exist in our current understanding of reality, an understanding that I hope all agree, is less than complete. There’s a lot we don’t know, calculus is difficult and doesn’t explain everything, and many folks like the idea of divine purpose and structure, at least as a placeholder.

58

b9n10nt 03.31.18 at 5:59 am

Magistra @ 13

Well, my current approach is that 50% of the population are going to have below average IQ by definition, so we need to create a society in which such people can lead a happy and satisfying life and contribute fully with their own talents.

And then SamChevre @ 48

That was the main point of The Bell Curve

& it’s a mistaken approach unless you can show that IQ is (1) primarily independent from environmental/social factors and (2) that a genetically “cognitive elite” has found a way and will continue to prevail as an independent social class to the relative detriment of others.

The main point of the Bell Curve was to establish (1) and (2) and then propose social remedies that allowed for (2) to continue. But

59

b9n10nt 03.31.18 at 6:08 am

…The Bell Curve did not establish (1) much less (2). Furthermore, the plausability was “primed” by a hierarchical, race-conscious and historically undemocratic and racist society. The whiff of plausibility is a reflection of our social history, not serious scholarship.

We need not be hypnotized into believing that there is some imminent crisis in <50%- median IQ folks leading happy satisfying lives unless society actively withholds status and resources to such people as a group.

60

Hidari 03.31.18 at 6:22 am

Reason

Reason had a pair of shoes
But quickly wore them out;
The uppers still looked very well,
But underneath was doubt.

Of course that let the water in,
And then it let in stones:
They skinned her feet; the flesh was thin,
And soon she walked on bones.

Why not? But now, the trouble is
The joints are working loose.
At what point will the girl admit
You can be too abstruse?

C. H. Sisson (1976)

61

b9n10nt 03.31.18 at 6:44 am

dax @55:

I think Henry’s point (& Jerry Vinokov @ 37) is that reason best helps us when practiced as a committed group. As an individual exercise it is fraught. (Hence, science progresses “1 funeral at a time”). Merely holding beliefs as a group is besides the point.

J-D @56 graph 2:

The perception of unchanging units, forces, and relationships in the natural world undergirds the rational expectation that we can learn from our models’ failures. Social discourse is free of these perceptions: what appears “vindicating” in one instance can fail to replicate for no reason whatsoever. Harris is off the hook here, in this instance.

62

b9n10nt 03.31.18 at 7:14 am

Kiwanda @42:

What convincing rationale am I making for beliefs I already hold, when I: conclude that the car in front of me is likely to make a left turn, based on their turn signal flashing; conclude that I need to stop by the ATM because I don’t have enough cash for the farmer’s market; decide that eating a big meal at bedtime gives me insomnia, based on recent experience and elimination of alternative explanations; decide that it’s raining, based on that noise outside

Speculating here because I haven’t read the book, but the author’s could very well distinguish between actions based on observation, pattern recognition, and explicit social instruction (each of your examples) and those based on abstract reasoning.

Communal decisions will have often fallen beyond the realm of the former 3: should we stay longer and forage here or look elsewhere for food? The person with a limp has an answer, but it requires a convincing argument.

63

nastywoman 03.31.18 at 7:33 am

”One of the minor plagues of our time is a specific flavor of Enlightenment Man Rationalism… – in which the Enlightenment Man (gender specificity intended) casts himself as the bold-honest truth-seeker, who is willing to follow reason wherever it takes him”

There is this theory -(by some of my best friends) – that ”the reason” for ”following reason wherever it takes” is –
(Drum Roll!)
that ”white men can’t dance”.
And please – don’t delete this comment -(you probably would love to do for some ”good reason”) – as seriously there is lots and lot’s of ”stuff” certain ”races” do much better than white men – and if you -(like me?) would believe that IQ is highly overrated and there would be a lot more (good) reasons to dissect EQ the way Charles Murray dissected IQ –
”Sam Harris and his ideology” could be seen like some very bad moves in a dance.
-(especially as he knew himself that some of his reasoning was quite ”emotional”?)

BUT that doesn’t mean that this Klein Dude is ”a much better dancer” – and I say that as somebody who has a (tested!) much lower IQ than my best so called ”black” friend – but on the other that might have to do with the fact that I’m a ”natural” blond and did this Murray dude ever do his ”scientific thing” with ”Blonds against Blacks”?

Now wouldn’t that be really ”reasonable” and good enough reason to dance to it?

shake it off
who is willing to follow ”moves” wherever they take them ”

64

Collin Street 03.31.18 at 7:50 am

how do we make a decent society for people who aren’t that smart, because things have been getting worse for them for the last 50 years.

And that’s how you can tell that Murray isn’t that smart, because as an actually-smart person things have been getting worse for me too. An actual proper-smart person would have controlled for that, but Murray is just a poseur, a wanker.

I’ve mentioned before… certain personalities lead to a lack of social success and to conspiricising about how people are working together to keep people like you down. And this isn’t dependent on race/gender/sexuality… but the fact that there is in fact systemic oppression/marginalisation means that some people — the members of marginalised groups — will blunder into correct insights, and straight white guys will just disappear up their own arseholes.

65

nastywoman 03.31.18 at 7:55 am

AND – I took the freedom to post my (completely ”unreasonable” comment) only because I was encourage –

by Hidari
who came up
with ”poetri”!

and another thing beautiful black people do much better than the Harris -(and the Murray – dude) for sure is ”singing” -(didn’t they ever watch ”Bodyguard”) – and why isn’t there so little science out there why ”Blacks” are such ”better singers”?
-(especially since one can make so much more dough with singing very well – than with talking IQ)

66

engels 03.31.18 at 8:34 am

#43 well yes, but ‘la raison tonne en son cratère’ would make the same point, would it not?

67

Hidari 03.31.18 at 9:59 am

I don’t know whether this is common knowledge and if it is, apologies, but do we all know that Harris’s commitment to science and reason is, shall we say, provisional?

‘(Harris’s) bilious attack on faith only sets the stage for what seems to be his real goal: a defense – nay, a celebration of – Harris’s own Buddhist/Hindu spirituality. (He has been influenced by the esoteric teachings of Dzogchen Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta and has spent many years practicing various techniques of meditation, Harris informs his readers). Spirituality is the answer to Islam’s and Christianity’s superstitions and wars, Harris wants to convince us. While he is quick to pour scorn on such childish ideas as the virgin birth, heaven and hell, the great rationalist has only winks and nods to offer when it comes to such “higher” truths as near-death experiences, ESP and the existence of disembodied souls, all of which he finds plausible. Our fearless crusader against faith puts his reason to sleep when it comes to the soul-stuff of the Eastern faith traditions that he himself subscribes to.

Harris has made a name for himself as an uncompromising and fearless champion of reason. His The End of Faith has made it to the New York Times best-seller list, and he is being feted by secularist organizations and thinkers in America and around the world. I am sure that Hindu nationalists in India, who have long condemned “Semitic monotheisms” (their preferred label for Islam and Christianity) as irrational and superstitions as compared to Hinduism’s rational mysticism, will find much to celebrate in Harris as well. Be that as it may, if being a rationalist has come down to declaring a war against those who we deem beyond the pale of reason in the name of “higher” truths of mystics, then at least this rationalist wants no part of it.’

http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2005/trading-faith-for-spirituality-the-mystifications-of-sam-harris/

68

steven t johnson 03.31.18 at 1:13 pm

Charles Murray has nothing to do with New Atheism, being more of a piece with people like James Q. Wilson or Daniel Patrick Moynihan and all those researchers at policy institutes who devise elaborate justifications for the policies they were hired to support. The idea that the marketplace of ideas is an imperfect market because of big money seems to me to get powerful support precisely because in spite of everything Charles Murray is taken seriously. (Pinker is neither a New Atheist nor is he a traditional conservative, as Pinkerian Panglossianism has never been a favored tactic of reactionaries. They vastly prefer the loss of the golden age…of the world in their youth as they misremember it. Or moan about how the Bad People are destroying all that is holy and good.)

So moving on, the thing about the New Atheists is that they are 9/11 atheists. What’s New about them is that they are all right-wingers. Their pose as tough-minded respecters of fact and logic, exemplars of reason and martyrs thereof, is the same pose of libertarians and economists frustrated by the wooly-minded irrationality of people who refuse to accept the validity of economic theorems. Libertarians and economists ae entirely reputable categories of people in the academy. It is hard to understand why they should be singled out for their self-pity.

There are two issues about these right-wing atheists. First, does it really make sense to attack the idea of rationalism as intrinsically flawed? That kind of buys into their self-image, even though the real issue I think is scientism, in the sense of a fallacious appeal to authority. The thing about their “science” is that it’s bad science. As near as I can tell, they are mostly sincere, like libertarians and economists, because their political prejudices motivate them to accept weak conclusions from partial evidence (like libertarians, or economists who ignore economic history.)

In addition, they are very commonly I think prone to scientism in a second sense, the belief that a set scientific method defines science, and that research mimicking their preferred model of real science is more convincing than other kinds of evidence. As in, Charles Murray’s elaborate statistical studies are science, because they look like their idea of science, whereas the mere fact that every race has made great intellectual achievements isn’t. Africans domesticating plants doesn’t count as evidence. Only science, as they define it, counts.

There is the second issue about atheists, which is, are atheists a bunch of assholes because theism, supernaturalism, religion isn’t a problem? I know that the rightward shift of the owners is changing the political landscape. But Trump recently recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel to please his base. The notion that it is merely ill-mannered to attack sweet, harmless religion seems like a bold assumption to me.

Lastly, Mercier and Sperber are basically arguing that people who are good debaters get laid more, and that the differential reproduction of good debaters over the millennia has driven selection for “intelligence.” Hansen and Simler have recently added that self-deception over motives is so helpful to being a good liar/debater that self-deceivers about their own motives, since they got laid more, that over the millennia self-deception as to motives was hardwired into the brain. I seriously doubt that either partnership has made any case at all for such selective advantage, much less a compelling one.

But I concede that blather about evolution sure sounds like science, and coming up with experiments and statistical studies looks like science. Pinker’s graphs sure look like good science, at a glance. Nonetheless, I think, it’s scientism. Talking about rationalism as an evil seems entirely beside the point.

69

bianca steele 03.31.18 at 1:27 pm

“& it’s a mistaken approach unless you can show that IQ is (1) primarily independent from environmental/social factors and (2) that a genetically “cognitive elite” has found a way and will continue to prevail as an independent social class to the relative detriment of others.”

Yes, people who “believe in reason” do often enough believe everyone’s capable of it if they get the best education, etc., that they can. It’s those with doubts who tend to believe at least half of the people in the world are irremediably dumb. (I hesitate to say “half” in part because there’s sure to be someone out there saying silently “we all know which half, too, well apparently you don’t, *bianca*.”)

Strangely, it’s those with doubts about reason who seem most sure that the more intelligent are a separate caste, with the power and responsibility to protect the less intelligent from enlightenment. And that the less intelligent can just go bumbling along safely in the world, with the greatest danger to themselves being that they might realize “prejudices” are false. (Those prejudices never harming them, directly or indirectly, either.)

70

bianca steele 03.31.18 at 1:29 pm

Not meant as a defense of Harris. I’ve read his book and I wouldn’t put it on the reasonable side in this debate unless “reasonable” means “offending and not offending the ‘correct’ people.”

71

William Timberman 03.31.18 at 2:37 pm

In their day, the regicides and priest-stranglers had a point. It wasn’t at all unreasonable at the time to suppose that Reason made more sense as a way to organize a just society than relying on Dieu et mon droit. The Romantics chafed at the strait-jacketed ordinariness of it all, and made a reasonable case that Reason, for all its virtues, had feet of clay underneath. Then Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Freud, Kafka, et al. peered a little deeper into the abyss, and gave us fair warning that things weren’t as straightforward as they’d seemed to the Philosophes.

If we doubted that at the time, Hitler, Stalin and the isms of the 20th century provided plenty of evidence that Reason itself could serve as handmaiden to the worst forms of madness. Never mind that now, if pressed, we can go dig up Wittgenstein to reassure us, or turn to neuroscientists, who seem confident just a bit more research, a bit more focus, can finally get everyone sorted out and on the right path. No more witchcraft, no more blind assumptions. That certainly would be refreshing, if true. I doubt it, but we who are still rattled may as well let the string play out.

72

Theophylact 03.31.18 at 3:14 pm

I always liked the apparent ambiguity of Goya’s “El sueño de la razon produce monstruos”. Is it when reason falls asleep and loses its hold, or is it that reason itself dreams up these horrors?

But it turns out that Goya’s epigraph to the etching makes it clear that the former meaning was intended.

73

engels 03.31.18 at 3:53 pm

What’s New about them is that they are all right-wingers

In Dawkins’ case I think he’s somewhat to the Left of the US Democrats, so call that what you will, and his anti-religious polemics long preceded 9/11 (agree with the points about scientism, religion and anti-rationalism though).

74

M Caswell 03.31.18 at 3:55 pm

A helpful corrective may be found in the argument for original sin by a certain Enlightenment thinker- see this website’s epigraph.

75

Whirrlaway 03.31.18 at 4:04 pm

Whyever is it an evolutionary advantage to be able to justify yourself? What bully ever traded in fairness?

In martial arts we have disciplined, orderly, safe-as-possible practice, and then we go out and have hell-for-leather all-in life-or-death encounters a few times in a life, or a daily walk through potentially explosive traffic. “Reason” directs practice, but it is way too slow and over-simplified to manage encounter. Practice conditions the cerebellum to act without consideration, in the moment. Pre-positioning a solution, as it were. Once that “practice” thing got started, “reason” got hypertrophied like deer antlers, for better or worse: nb, both frontal cortex and cerebellum enlarged. Martial art, general toolmaking, language, social organization, all aspects of the same facility.

… the Harris/Klein brouhaha appears to me as a conflict of frames. Harris is trying to do a “Four Corners” analysis, resisting Kleins attempt to contextualize. That seems to be the basis for an awful lot of contemporary political discussion.

76

Heliopause 03.31.18 at 4:22 pm

@48
“Except one: we would be unsurprised when engineers and mathematicians were disproportionately Asian, just as we are unsurprised when the fastest runners are disproportionately men.”

I was speaking of social policy, not expectations.

77

Raven Onthill 03.31.18 at 4:24 pm

Oh, for heaven’s sake! After Flynn, how can anyone believe that the various tests which measure something called intelligence are anything but enormously influenced by environment in ways which we don’t understand? Why are we still having this discussion?

There is something about the reification of qualities in numbers, however poorly done, that seems to turn some people’s brains to mush.

78

Heliopause 03.31.18 at 4:24 pm

@68
“the thing about the New Atheists is that they are 9/11 atheists. What’s New about them is that they are all right-wingers.”

This is not true.

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b9n10nt 03.31.18 at 5:06 pm

steven t johnson @68

Lastly, Mercier and Sperber are basically arguing that people who are good debaters get laid more, and that the differential reproduction of good debaters over the millennia has driven selection for “intelligence.” Hansen and Simler have recently added that self-deception over motives is so helpful to being a good liar/debater that self-deceivers about their own motives, since they got laid more, that over the millennia self-deception as to motives was hardwired into the brain. I seriously doubt that either partnership has made any case at all for such selective advantage, much less a compelling one.

Sure, it’s conjecture. But “any case at all”? A group that reasons it’s way into survival would likely out-reproduce a group that merely acts on instinct, memory, and pattern recognition. As to motives, there’s no reason to suspect that our stories about our own motivations will correspond to deeper drives and imprinting that exist unconsciously. (Tonya Harding’s mother hit her because “she deserved it”, not because “I am deeply afraid of feeling out of control of my daughter”).

So, conjecture, sure. But who can be heroically agnostic about this stuff? Between either willing an ascetic opacity or accepting a naive transparency about human motivation, what better story do we have? And besides, do you reject the neurophysiological research into motivate reasoning?

To me, some of these evo-psyche stories aren’t just plausible, but useful. To situate human motivation and human capabilities as instrinsically social is to wake up from a vulgar Spencerian individualism that has been pernicous.

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Kiwanda 03.31.18 at 5:11 pm

b9n10nt:

Speculating here because I haven’t read the book, but the author’s could very well distinguish between actions based on observation, pattern recognition, and explicit social instruction (each of your examples) and those based on abstract reasoning.

These distinctions are so fuzzy as to be untenable: maybe I apply modus ponens to a statement by my driving instructor regarding turn signals, and the observed turn signal; probably I need to carry out some addition and subtraction to estimate my needed cash reserves; the evaluation of explanations for insomnia can surely be an abstract, deductive process.

Even if reasoning is not explicit and at a conscious level, it’s still reasoning, whether or not it falls in Kahneman and Tversky’s “System 2“. Surely the intention is not to focus the analysis so much as to verge on tautology, that is, saying that “reasoning” == “abstract reasoning” == “argument”, and by these restrictions to claim that “reasoning” is mainly used to persuade.

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b9n10nt 03.31.18 at 5:19 pm

bianca steele @ 69:

I think we all lazily fall back into group essentialism (a separate caste). A belief in a contemporary cogntive meritocracy is certainly a pleasing story for the Rockefeller Republicans still among us. Better not make the effort to question the idea too carefully.

82

Hidari 03.31.18 at 5:21 pm

Slightly off topic but this piece shows yet again the rhetorical power of appeals to ‘reason’.

Tl;dr The Economist magazine has consistently posited the battle between austerity and its opponents as one between austerity’s ‘rationality’ and its opponents ‘irrationality’.

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/businessreview/2018/03/31/how-the-economist-has-portrayed-austerity-since-1945/

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PatinIowa 03.31.18 at 6:12 pm

@31

Faustusnotes, it’s worse than that. What Harris said was this: “As for Murray’s answer, I agree that it was not very satisfying. And there wasn’t much I could do when he cited work he claimed was over his head statistically, because I was unfamiliar with the work he was referring to.”

If you’ve looked at The Bell Curve, you’ll believe it. Lots of statistical reasoning is plainly over Murray’s head. He doesn’t understand it, which is precisely what allows him to draw the conclusions he does about intelligence, race and social hierarchies.

It’s one thing to say that there are connections between genetics, human populations, and social hierarchies. No shit. To be crude about it: genotype + environment = phenotype. There’s consensus on that, am I right?

It’s another thing to say, “There are correlations between the racial categories imposed on human beings by white supremicists and performance on tests devised by people to measure a seriously contested quality, whose definition is anything but universally accepted.” Put that way, I think most people would go along.

It’s yet another to say, “The correlations between human beings slotted into these various racial categories and their performance on those tests explain and justify the way I believe we ought to organize our society.” It’s my feeling that most of the people who believe this aren’t experts in educational measurement and statistics.

And if you add to that, “I can’t reply to my critics, because I don’t understand the statistics they’re using,” haven’t you just admitted you don’t belong in the conversation?

Unless, of course, you’re a white dude beloved of AEI, and the National Review. There, a PhD in political science makes you a “scientist.” As the kids say, “ROTFLMAO”

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Donald Johnson 03.31.18 at 7:54 pm

For anyone interested, I followed the links back through the Ezra Klein vs Harris argument and found this review about the current state ( as of several years ago that is) of research on intelligence.

https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/amp-67-2-130.pdf

This was co authored by the psychologist whose piece upset Harris.

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Hidari 03.31.18 at 8:35 pm

‘@68
“the thing about the New Atheists is that they are 9/11 atheists. What’s New about them is that they are all right-wingers.”

This is not true.’

It might not be literally true of all of them, but it is certainly true of most of them.

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engels 03.31.18 at 9:31 pm

Bad people use ‘facts’ and ‘logic’
Bad people are bad
Therefore facts and logic are bad

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Dipper 03.31.18 at 9:33 pm

well now I’m confused, which isn’t hard, but the paper Donald Johnson links to (84) states “Almost no genetic polymorphisms have been discovered that are consistently associated with variation in IQ in the normal range” but Nature publishes a paper that states “it is possible to create a genetic score for each individual in an independent sample, which explains a substantial proportion of the genetic variation [in exam performance]” and later “These scores, dubbed ‘genome-wide polygenic scores’ (GPS) are a game-changer for genetic research and have already proved insightful within the area of educational achievement”

Those two papers would appear to flatly contradict each other.

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J-D 03.31.18 at 9:33 pm

I got curious, and when I checked I found, unsurprisingly, that there is an article about New Atheism on Wikipedia, where I found, among other things, this sentence

In his book Why I Am Not a Christian, published in 1927, the philosopher Bertrand Russell put forward similar positions as those espoused by the New Atheists, suggesting that there are no substantive differences between traditional atheism and new atheism according to Richard Ostling.

and this sentence

In a 2010 column entitled “Why I Don’t Believe in the New Atheism”, Tom Flynn contends that what has been called “New Atheism” is neither a movement nor new, and that what was new was the publication of atheist material by big-name publishers, read by millions, and appearing on bestseller lists.

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b9n10nt 03.31.18 at 9:43 pm

Kiwanda @ 80

Take a look here

It seems that they do indeed define “reasoning” as explicitly conscious.

“Abstract reasoning” == “argument” is not a tautology. They claim their “argumentative” hypothesis explains diverse findings in psych (why reasoning so often leads subjects to erroneous conclusions, why confirmation bias is immune -to put it mildly- to the act of reasoning).

Their approach may yet prove futile, but it’s not using Ev. Psych to prove pomo bs. Rather, it’s a rational attempt to parsimoniously explain diverse research findings.

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Mario 03.31.18 at 9:58 pm

The problem with reason is that those pesky things called axioms, definitions, and goals, are what give an argument a truth value. Since my axioms, definitions and goals are different from yours, and since they are a matter of choice, my arguments are immune to yours and vice-versa.

Most, if not all political / social discourse of the type referred to by the OP is a kind of marketing. Like, X is true, despite what the despicable Y say or stuff like that, where the emphasis is, in case you missed it, in the despicable part. Such maneuvers are just code for Don’t be a Y, believe X!. Like an old cigarette commercial, but for axioms, definitions and goals.

It’s not completely pointless, though, as it usually keeps us from just shooting at each other. Or from starting to talk like a cheap Osho clone after looking into the dark abyss that lies behind.

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nastywoman 03.31.18 at 10:23 pm

@
”And yet our entire civilization is built upon it. Whether you call them ‘IQ’ tests, or ‘MCAT,”, ‘LSAT,’ ‘GRE’, ‘ASVAB,’ or ‘firefighter’s entrance exam,’…
They are used by most of the members of this board (academics)…

That’s only because ”most of the members of this board” probably wouldn’t get into any Night Club in Miami Beach? -(or any other ”Clubs our entire civilization is built upon”)
And reading all the comments about IQ reminded me how much easier it is to live in a ”civilization” where people only get judged by how they look like.

without …And by That might be the problem? as in the real world our entire civilizati

tests are used in virtually every profession to determine ability, reward the able, and filter out the unable.”

Are you guys… as I was in Miami Beach not to long ago – and nowhere is ”rewarding the able, and filter out the unable” done more professional than by
the Scientists who guard the doors of Clubs like

that’s why I much more comfortable in cities or environment

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Faustusnotes 04.01.18 at 12:30 am

J-D, good point about the earlier atheists. I doubt the current crop are humble enough to admit that Russell did it first and better, and for all his bleating about how terribly he is eving censored I doubt Sam Harris will ever suffer the workplace problems Russell did (he was barred from employment at a university in the us I think). I can see why they wouldn’t want to give credit too much though – for all his rabble fishing Russell never had the same strain of arseholey bullshit that the modern crop show. And I think he was way less likely to be misled by racism and violent bigotry masquerading as reason.

Shoulders of giants and all that.

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mclaren 04.01.18 at 12:41 am

Some of the more obvious points:

1) No one appears to have succeeded in defining “intelligence” in such a way that it can reliably be measured objectively. Rule of thumb: if you can’t define something, you can’t measure it…and if you can’t measure it, you can’t do science on it.
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/12/17/none-of-the-above

“When the children of Southern Italian immigrants were given I.Q. tests in the early part of the past century, for example, they recorded median scores in the high seventies and low eighties, a full standard deviation below their American and Western European counterparts. Southern Italians did as poorly on I.Q. tests as Hispanics and blacks did. (..) The psychologist Michael Cole and some colleagues once gave members of the Kpelle tribe, in Liberia, a version of the WISC similarities test: they took a basket of food, tools, containers, and clothing and asked the tribesmen to sort them into appropriate categories. To the frustration of the researchers, the Kpelle chose functional pairings. They put a potato and a knife together because a knife is used to cut a potato. `A wise man could only do such-and-such,’ they explained. Finally, the researchers asked, `How would a fool do it?’ The tribesmen immediately re-sorted the items into the `right’ categories.” [“None of the Above: What IQ doesn’t tell you about race,” Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker, 17 December, 2007]

2) Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has marshaled a wealth of evidence that emotion plays a central role in human cognition, as opposed to pure reason. See “Descarte’s Error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain,” 2005.
https://www.amazon.com/Descartes-Error-Emotion-Reason-Human/dp/014303622X

As a thought experiment, we can imagine the fun we’d have with a superintelligent AI to whom we gave the task of eliminating all crime in a major city. “Simple,” the AI responds, “kill all the citizens.” “OK, but we can’t kill anyone, so please, O great AI, give us the answer.” “Sure,” says, the AI, “just sedate all the people in the city.” “OK, wait, we can’t kill or sedate everyone–” So the AI immediately retorts, “No problemo, just put everyone in the city in jail for life,” and so it goes, down an endless rabbithole. Defining “intelligence” as problem-solving remains wholly inadequate, since nearly infinite ranges of valid solutions to important problems remain unacceptable for social, ethical, moral, and cultural reasons. See “confiscate all guns in the USA except for bolt-action hunting rifles and double-barreled shotguns and then disarm all police and return to Peel’s 9 principles of policing” as a solution to American gun violence. Simple, effective, yet socially unacceptable in America.

3) History suggests humans are tiny little blobs of frontal cortex atop great big mountains of lizard brain. Consequently the main use of intelligence throughout human history has involved confecting fantastically elaborate justifications for our crazy self-destructive behaviour. The utility of measuring intelligence therefore amounts to a project akin to using a spectrophotometer to measure the gorgeousness of the colors in a peacock’s tail feathers in order to promote the best-looking and most spectacular peacock to a position of power.

4) Stephen Jay Gould’s criticism in “The Mismeasure of Man” of the multivariate factor analytic methods used to resolve g into single dimension seems unanswerable. It’s a statistical bit of legedermain useful for nothing other than making a cloud of quasirandom data points overfit into a regression to which no independent evidence suggests they causally relate. Gould points out that the statistical evidence used by psychometricians are in fact artifacts of the intelligence tests themselves (the evidence adduced by Flynn and by anthrophpologists who have given IQ tests to non-western groups offers strong support for this claim) via analytic techniques that tautologically support a priori assumptions about the nature of human intelligence, i.e., that it is a single scalar, rather than a more complex vector, or a time-varying cultural quantity (as suggested by Howard Gardner in his 1983 book “Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences”).

Since we’re rapidly devolving into a stratokakistokleptocracy, though, (society run by the worst via endless war and looting), these kinds of debates seem like much effort for naught. Simpler to just get out our calipers, start measuring skulls again, and admit it’s all hokum designed to reinforce the power of affluent well-educated elites and there’s nothing we can do about it, since the future of America belongs to the Roy Moores and the Donald Trumps of the world.

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Kiwanda 04.01.18 at 12:43 am

b9n10nt:

“Abstract reasoning” == “argument” is not a tautology.

Nor did I claim it to be, but maybe I was unclear. My “equality” that you quote is a narrowing of the focus of discussion, not the tautology you get if you do narrow the focus.

Thanks for the link; indeed, what could broadly be construed as reasoning, they call *inference*, and by *reasoning*, they mean a particular system 2 version: “Reasoning, as commonly understood, refers to a very special form of inference at the conceptual level, where not only is a new mental representation (or conclusion) consciously produced, but the previously held representations (or premises) that warrant it are also consciously entertained.”

Their claim is an evolutionary one: “The main function of reasoning is argumentative; Reasoning has evolved and persisted mainly because it makes human communication more effective and advantageous”. Here the sense of “argumentative” is I think intended to mean something far broader than the OP’s “…argumentative capacity to generate convincing rationales for why the reasoner is right, and others are wrong.” Reasoning is inference, in the broad sense, rendered into communicable form. As such, it’s plausible, and not particular surprising, to regard its function as communication. (Where function is used here and by the authors in a biological sense: an effect of a trait that causally explains its evolution and persistence.)

This is a much more plausible understanding of “reasoning” than what comes across in the OP, which is more or less that reasoning (with no specificity, just *reasoning*) is only how we “win”, by bullshitting others, or feel better about our beliefs, by bullshitting ourselves. Nor do the circumstances of its evolution, even if correct, constrain the use of reasoning only to persuasion (per M&S) or “wining arguments” (per interpretations of M&S).

95

steven t johnson 04.01.18 at 12:53 am

The New Atheism is new in its right-wing politics, suitable for mass consumption after 9/11. The atheist ideas are not new at all. But Bertrand Russell is not perceived as a rightwinger. Most of the people labeled New Atheists and their friends are to the right not just of Bertrand Russell, but Col. Robert Ingersoll, who is a close predecessor in many ways to the New Atheists. The New Atheists got scared about religious fanaticism after 9/11, and their hatred for religious superstition plays favorites. Christian countries bombing Muslim countries is nowhere near as horrifying as FGM, which is in their eyes an Islamic practice. The US funding Islamic terrorists and its support for Saudi is not nearly as great a concern as opinion polls showing how many Muslims support the death penalty for apostasy. And so forth and so on.

As to whether they are all right-wingers, there is not actually a club with a membership roster. Nonetheless, all that I know about are right-wingers of one kind or another*, which is why some atheists who fancy themselves as leftists (like P.Z. Myers or Massimo Piglucci,) have explicitly denounced the New Atheists, for their politics. Pinker is very much a part of this general trend, but he is neither an atheist crusader nor an orthodox conservative. It’s not an accident that Harris and Pinker each have Jerry Coyne as a great friend. Richard Dawkins’ notorious “Dear Muslima” alone serves as his credentials, I think.

Mercier and Sperber were the subject of a thread here some time back, and the article I read was terrible. I’m sure the book is a follow up, suspect it probably incorporates it more or less intact. Even if you imagine that a good persuader does in fact laid so much more often a whole cognitive function for abstract reasoning will be honed, it is not even clear to me why Mercier and Sperber think abstract reason makes for good rhetoric. Appeals to emotion seem to be more persuasive. Nor am I clear on how we really know that sincerely lying about your motives makes you a better liar. That doesn’t seem to be the experience of confidence men at all, to my inexpert knowledge.

*I think if someone espouses a sharply reactionary position in matters of life or death, the great issues, then you cannot plausibly argue that person is a leftist. Someone who supports imperialist war in Syria or supports the fascist regime in Ukraine may have lots of lefty positions on detesting Trump or progressive taxation. A line drawn in blood is much more important. And when it comes to supporting the awful pseudoscience of Evolutionary Psychology, I’ve concluded that it’s basically the New Scientific Racism, and henceforth no EPer is a lefty, not one. Scientific racism=scientistic, fallacious appeal to authority kind.

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J-D 04.01.18 at 12:59 am

Dipper

Those two papers would appear to flatly contradict each other.

I don’t think that’s right; it seems to me that both are consistent with the possibility that a combination of many different genes can have a significant effect on intelligence but no single gene has a significant effect.

Incidentally, I notice that you posed a couple a of questions earlier which nobody responded to, so for whatever they’re worth I offer you my responses:

Is arguing for a genetic basis for intelligence wrong when it is done in support of conclusions we don’t like but right when done in support of conclusions we do like?

No.

Is it wrong to say that lower educational results of a particular race are due to genetics but acceptable to say lower educational results of a particular class are due to their inferior genetics?

No.

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LFC 04.01.18 at 1:29 am

@faustusnotes
Russell, iirc, was dismissed from his position at Cambridge because of his opp. to WW 1, and also spent some time in jail, again WW 1 related.

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Nicholas Gruen 04.01.18 at 2:37 am

By what double-think are we calling the schoolboy atheists ‘right wing’? Those I’m at all aware of would describe themselves as moderate left-leaning – social democratic – though it’s quite true that they’ve been very influenced by their own participation in resisting identity politics and standing up for free speech as they see it.

They’re intellectual authoritarians of a particularly unreflective kind, but calling people who never vote conservative (which at least it seems is true of Dawkins and I’d also guess characterises Harris having listened to a few of his podcasts) seems like a voice from an echo-chamber.

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Heliopause 04.01.18 at 2:39 am

@85
“It might not be literally true of all of them, but it is certainly true of most of them.”

No, it’s not. To the extent that I’ve seen them express political views at all Dawkins and Dennett have tended toward center-liberalism. Hitchens was a leftist, but also a contrarian and iconoclast who felt like he had to mix it up with some bizarre takes. Harris is Harris.

As far as atheists in general, surveys show they tend strongly toward liberalism. That they are all a bunch of libertarians or something is one of those zombie ideas that just won’t go away.

100

Heliopause 04.01.18 at 3:08 am

@95
You realize, of course, that if everybody who supported Western interventionism in the early 2000s is a right-winger then large percentages of self-identified centrists and liberals, maybe even quite a few here, are right-wingers. Principled opposition to it was not common and to cast it as a problem peculiar to atheists is strange.

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engels 04.01.18 at 3:23 am

The New Atheists got scared about religious fanaticism after 9/11, and their hatred for religious superstition plays favorites. Christian countries bombing Muslim countries is nowhere near as horrifying as FGM, which is in their eyes an Islamic practice.

This isn’t what happened with Dawkins, who opposed it long before 9/11 and strongly opposed Bush and the war in Iraq (which many on the American academic ‘Left’ didn’t) although I’m sure the post-9/11 climate gave his atheist views more media prominence. According to this page he mostly voted Labour prior to Blair and while there’s long list of stuff that offended religious groups and American left-liberals (lots of which I disagree with) I think the overall impression is extreme civil libertarianism and anti-religious crankery coupled with political naivety rather than any ideological commitment to conservatism or neoliberalism.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_views_of_Richard_Dawkins

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engels 04.01.18 at 3:25 am

(Tbc I’m not defending him or claiming he’s on the Left)

103

Joseph Brenner 04.01.18 at 3:43 am

“This doesn’t mean that reason is useless – if harnessed through appropriate social means, it can be extremely valuable in figuring out the truth.”

So then: how do we connect human beings together so that we get smarter as a whole?

“The fact that we are much better at poking holes in other people’s rationales than in our own means that groups that harness this capacity can reach better judgments than individuals.”

Right, that’s an angle. We have existing institutions that set-up adversarial situations (court-room trials, formal debates) where two factions committed to a cause pit their arguments against each other.

So how about a web site that specializes in organized competition between different intellectual tribes? Members can vote to pick representatives from lists of Famous Smart People, crowd-funding is used to try to raise the necessary funds to pay them to engage in debate– a panel of judges declares a winner, but the debate format would require them to make testable predictions so in the long run a different judgment of “who won?” might emerge. There’d also be the usual furniture for public comments, and more importantly a system to summarize and fact-check arguments.

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engels 04.01.18 at 3:46 am

On February 26, 1940, the Board of Higher Education of New York City appointed British philosopher, logician, essayist, and social critic Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) to a Philosophy chair at the College of the City of New York to teach courses in mathematics and logic. As soon as the announcement became public, William Manning, a bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church, sent a letter to the New York Times denouncing Russell as a recognized propagandist against both religion and morality. This letter prompted strong opposition against the appointment, voiced particularly by organized conservative religious and patriotic groups. … The debate moved to the courts when a mother filed a suit against the Board of Higher Education requesting the annulment of the appointment. The legal argument was that Russell was a foreigner, and aliens were not eligible for civil service jobs unless they proved their expertise in a competitive examination–something that the college failed to do. The court case against Russell also included ‘moral’ arguments, accusing his books of being “lecherous, salacious, libidinous, lustful, venerous, erotomaniac, aphrodisiac, atheistic, irreverent, narrow-minded, untruthful, and bereft of moral fiber” (cited in Dykhuizen 1973:20). A month later, in spite of the fact that great philosophers like Whitehead, Montague, Ducasse, and Dewey defended the appointment and praised Russell’s academic and moral qualifications, the judge favored the plaintiff, and rescinded Russell’s contract on the ground that his writings menaced the public health, safety, and morals of the community. The court ruling went even further, stating that the appointment constituted a “chair of indecency, ” and that it was “an insult to the people of New York.” The court’s order was unsuccessfully appealed, and Russell was not allowed to teach.

http://schugurensky.faculty.asu.edu/moments/1940russell.html

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engels 04.01.18 at 4:01 am

Russell, iirc, was dismissed from his position at Cambridge because of his opp. to WW 1, and also spent some time in jail, again WW 1 related.

And later for CND activism. There’s an overview of his life here
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/russell/#CRL

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engels 04.01.18 at 4:38 am

Skimming the Dawkins page, I would consider some of the comments islamophobic—unfortunately I don’t think that places him on the Right. Anyway I probably shouldn’t have waded into this as I’ve never paid attention to any of them for years…

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Joseph Brenner 04.01.18 at 5:29 am

I’ve heard a story about some data: Korean kids raised in Japan– where there’s wide-spread prejudice against Koreans– show depressed scores compared to Korean kids in Korea. I like this story quite a bit, and would like to have it referenced (my cursory searches have yet to turn up anything): I think this factoid alone is an excellent counter-argument to the various oh-so-reasonable defenses of “scientific racism”. If you try to confront the arguments head on you can get lost in the weeds trying to determine whether “g” works as a measure of general gooditity or some-such and lose track of the stunningly obvious possibility that being raised as a member of a reviled minority really can mess with your head.

I fantasize about doing a talk where you hit the audience with “bell curves” for two different populations for different properties, and then ask the audience if they think it’s fair to favor population B over population A. You then explain to them that that graph of violent criminal behavior has been broken down into male and female populations, and they seem to be strongly prejudiced against men. And the graphs of SAT scores is showing whites vs Asian-Americans, and they’re all prejudiced against white people.

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David Duffy 04.01.18 at 6:07 am

Let’s pretend that Harris is correctly representing the current state of the genetics of cognitive traits – which is right as far as I know it (eg the recent Nature and PNAS papers cite above and by the David Reich essay). Then does one’s assessment of the tone of the email exchanges alter?

109

Alex SL 04.01.18 at 6:59 am

Some of the commenters here arguing against rationality / reason fetishism are, I think, trying to prove too much. Of course irrational people can call themselves rationalists merely to use it as a shield to ward off uncomfortable arguments. Of course it is not a good idea to start from the position that one is right and then merely search for rationalisations.

But surely rejecting rationality as such, withdrawing to the idea that “I have my axioms, you have yours, and that’s all there is to it” would be ‘proving too much’? First, if that is the case then no discussion or argument can ever be had about anything, we are all epistemic islands. Second, that is clearly not how even those who advance that kind of nihilistic attitude behave themselves where it matters. If one of them starts with the axiom that they can walk through walls they either revise that idea after receiving the first few bruises, or they are generally considered insane. And the same for everything else that has to do with empirical observations.

I would, for example, argue that the question, mentioned above, of the existence of a creator god is of the same kind as the question for the existence of fairies or the Loch Ness Monster, or the question of whether there are humans who can walk through solid walls. Yes, we cannot disprove any of those through deductive reasoning from first principles and, yes, we cannot ever completely disprove any of those because hey, maybe the fairies hide where we haven’t looked yet, and maybe somebody was able to walk through a wall once in southern France in 1314? But that’s just the thing: We can famously not even prove from first principles that the sun will rise again tomorrow, yet we all feel comfortable living our lives in the confidence that it will. Because what we can do is look at a large amount of empirical evidence and build a coherent system of most probable models of how the world works, and surely there are more and less reasonable models among those.

Point is, we all do that every day, only we are not usually good at doing it very consistently. Many people using inductive reasoning and evidence when deciding whether they can walk through walls or not or whether the sun is likely to persist until tomorrow will bracket out their deeply held religious beliefs from the same kind of reasoning and evidence, or their deeply held racist biases, or their deeply held economic ideology, or whether their beloved own son is a bully or not.

That does not mean that reason and evidence are therefore somehow flawed approaches, quite the opposite; one could argue that there would potentially be some merit to intellectual consistency, to applying the approach that demonstrably works so very well in the walking through walls case to all other questions. That merit might still be there despite the fact that some people who make a show of promoting such an approach do poorly at applying it to their own biases.

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Hidari 04.01.18 at 7:14 am

If one reads and accepts the arguments of Corey Robin in The Reactionary Mind it’s pretty obvious why right wingers (like the ‘New’ Atheists) get excited by an alleged ‘measure’ of intelligence. If it were proven that ‘G’ is a real thing and that it follows the Bell Curve (as Murray has argued) regardless of whether or not this is a racial thing, it would be a piece of evidence in favour of hierarchy. And the Right is all about hierarchy.

111

Dipper 04.01.18 at 7:39 am

@ J-D. I think we are at the hair-splitting stage. There is no philosophical difference between saying something is determined by a single gene or determined by a group of genes.

Personally I don’t like the concept of intelligence, and definitely not IQ. The arguments in favour of social and economic factors behind individual educational achievement and against some kind of genetic influence seem to be overwhelming, so it is disappointing to say the least to see articles showing that superior academic results of selective schools are down to genetics. It is sadly entirely typical of the modern UK left that Toby Young arguing that genetic influence of intelligence could be used to raise working class achievement is regarded as unacceptably eugenicist but a paper showing that academic under-performance of working class children is due to their inferior genes is applauded.

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roger gathmann 04.01.18 at 8:49 am

That intelligence is a thing in itself is sorta weird, especially given that natural selection would suggest that adaptation to different environments would make such a property very fungible, more a family resemblance than a substance. But that an IQ test devised and revised long before we knew anything about neurology, designed for the classroom, a miniscule bit of natural history that has existed for a couple hundred years at most, seems like basing our physics entirely on what happens with a sputtering gasoline combustion engine in a 1952 lawnmower. Basically, this essentially neurological story has been shifted to a mystical gene controversy because it is all just a mcguffin for KKK-philia. The themes pursued by the racists – Sullivan, Murray, et al. – long preexisted IQ. A good look at the history of “scientific” racism – and the way Darwin, reacting against it, thought through the theory of natural selection – is presented in Adrian Desmond’s Darwin’s Sacred Cause – which shows how political Darwin’s theory was, and how that was a good thing.

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Faustusnotes 04.01.18 at 8:58 am

LFC I thought he got reufsed a position at CUNY for his atheism, or at least a public attempt was made to stop him:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bertrand_Russell_Case

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Neil Levy 04.01.18 at 9:22 am

“Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber’s recent book, The Enigma of Reason, is excellent on this throughout, providing a compelling case that reasoning did not evolve as a capacity to figure out the world, so much as an argumentative capacity to generate convincing rationales for why the reasoner is right, and others are wrong.”

That is what Mercier and Sperber say that they say. But it really isn’t what they say. They provide a compelling case that reasoning did not evolve as a capacity for individuals to figure out the world, so much as an argumentative capacity that allows us to figure out the world together. It’s a really excellent book; it is perhaps an ironic confirmation of their thesis that they persist in misrepresenting it.

As for the “getting laid more” argument in the comments thread: I love debates between people none of whom seem to have read the book they’re arguing about. There is no argument anything like that in the book. The commenters seem to be reasoning as follows: the high-profile school of evolutionary psychology (Cosmides, Tooby, Buss and so on) seem to reduce everything to getting laid more (a bit unfair with regard to Cosmides and Tooby, not so much to Thornhill or Buss or Miller). Therefore, anyone who appeals to evolutionary considerations must reduce everything to getting laid more. In fact, these days pretty much everyone on all sides is aware of the need for theorising to be constrained by evolutionary plausibility, but not everyone is a follower of Tooby and Cosmides.

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James Wimberley 04.01.18 at 9:32 am

Nobody has mentioned the thought experiment on human differentiation in Larry Niven’s Ringworld, especially the second volume. If you don’t know it, the Ringworld is a gigantic artificial habitat, hundreds of times the surface of the Earth. It was seeded with early humans by the vanished Pak 100,000 years or so ago. In the vast habitat, humans have differentiated into numerous species: ghouls (cannibal scavengers), vampires, watermen, high-altitude dwellers, as well as people like us. They differ in intelligence as well as drastic adaptations to different niches. The species cannot interbreed (the main definition of a speeies), but non-reproductive interspecies sex is an institution, for diplomatic and trade purposes.

Niven isn’t much interested in the question of rights, but let’s think a bit. NB: the fantasy is strictly counterfactual. Our species, homo sapiens, is unusually uniform genetically. It is the only meme of its genus. The other hominids all disappeared, or more likely were disappeared by us.)

One: slavery and other violations of fundamental rights are still wrong between species, in spite of their manifest inequality of aptitudes. This was roughly Lincoln’s position.

Two: The principle of non-discrimination has to be modified quite considerably. However, general intelligence (ghouls are brighter than vampires) is usually of little relevance and dominated by more specific skills, as in our world. If you are salvaging a wrecked spaceship from a deep lake, it’s reasonable to pick web-footed watermen who can hold their breath for 15 minutes without fuss. If your only choices are ghouls and vampires, why pick the ghouls?

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bianca steele 04.01.18 at 1:55 pm

From his book I would have guessed Harris, if he weren’t motivated by hatred against Islam and the Islamic world, was contemptuous of people who he felt refused to dissociate fundamentalism from a more reasonable form of Islam, as one might say has happened with Christianity. I didn’t know about his interest in Hindu or Buddhist thought. It doesn’t come across in the book as that, only as Westernized woo. Which is what it *would* come across as, if he’d learned it mostly from books, right?

Hitchens did start out on the left, but consciously moved to the right after 9/11. Maybe after Clinton and 1998.

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b9n10nt 04.01.18 at 1:59 pm

Joseph Brenner @107

I recall the same Korean anecdote; I wonder if it was from Inequality By Design

Re: your fantasy

Given random variation, you could genotype all Red Sox fans and all Yankees fans and find that one group has a statistically significant higher frequency of a number of particular genetic variants than the other group — perhaps even the same sort of variation that Reich found for the prostate cancer–related genes he studied. This does not mean that Red Sox fans and Yankees fans are genetically distinct races (though many might try to tell you they are). (NB to the Brits: Yankees and Red Sox are “American cricket” clubs)

That’s from here

Re: your other fantasy @103 of a “www.debate.edu”, I’ve often had the same vision myself.

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bianca steele 04.01.18 at 2:07 pm

I’m willing to concede that Sperber and Mercier are talking about something most people call reason. I’m not willing to concede that I’ve been using the word the wrong way because I use it differently than they do.

“As for the “getting laid more” argument in the comments thread: I love debates between people none of whom seem to have read the book they’re arguing about.”

Though in this case the people who do follow Tooby and Cosmides are so numerous and annoying in places like this that I’d rather disagree with them entirely than give the impression there are a few places where I could be persuaded to agree with them.

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b9n10nt 04.01.18 at 2:14 pm

David Duffy @ 108

No.

IQ and race are having yet another mini-moment. The reasons don’t really matter, and the arguments are exactly the same as they have been every time before. On the “blacks are dumber” side, it always goes something like this:

-IQ is real; it matters; it’s partly determined by genetics; and blacks, on average, score lower on IQ tests than whites.

Therefore:

-Group IQ differences between blacks and whites are at least partly genetic.

There is enormous evidence to back up everything in the first bullet. But none of it implies that the second bullet is true, even though it might seem like common sense to people who haven’t thought very hard about it. Unfortunately, this includes almost everyone, which makes it easy to perpetuate the meme that blacks are genetically less intelligent than whites. This is sometimes done explicitly, but more often with a sort of wink-wink-nudge-nudge bit of handwaving.

That’s from Kevin Drum here.

Harris is defending Murray’s “brave” handwaving, and not bothering to emphasize the distinction between the two “bullets”. This is behavior worthy of condemnation.

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b9n10nt 04.01.18 at 2:32 pm

Neil Levy @114

Thank you for the clarifying intervention.

However, there’s no getting around that neuro-adaptive explanations for a fixed trait require long-term differential reproductive success among variants. “Getting laid more” is only reductive to the extent that it implies an ego-centric adaptive process.

Your In fact, these days pretty much everyone on all sides is aware of the need for theorising to be constrained by evolutionary plausibility doesn’t contradict your antecedent anyone who appeals to evolutionary considerations must reduce everything to getting laid more. Am I misunderstanding?

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bianca steele 04.01.18 at 2:39 pm

After coffee, I realize my @116 “most” should be “some”. I deleted a sentence that read something like “even if some do, I don’t concede that ‘I don’t and I’ve discovered some do therefore I should conclude most do and I should’” which would have made it clearer,

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alfredlordbleep 04.01.18 at 4:42 pm

Faustus @113

While looking for my copy of Why I Am Not A Christian I found two fine Russell quotes (OT but which I will post w/the moderator’s indulgence later). In the meanwhile:

Bertrand Russell – part 4: The same intellectual integrity that made the philosopher unable to accept religious beliefs also prevented him from embracing atheism

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/09/bertrand-russell-agnostic-atheism

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steven t johnson 04.01.18 at 4:55 pm

Perhaps every internet discussion of any serious topic (one that really matters to people, not just fans and the dreaded stakeholders,) by law comes to a point where someone points out that generalizations are never invariably true, and concludes that only wicked people draw generalizations, because generalizations are lies. Call it Godwin’s True Law, perhaps?

Again, atheism, not even a particular style, is not a defining trait of the New Atheists. Nor is atheism a particular defining trait of conservatives in general. Atheism historically has been held to be a defining characteristic of leftists. No doubt the phrase “atheistic Communism” is from deplorables circles unknown to the reliably high-minded and sophisticated circles that are offended by schoolboy atheism, rather than US foreign policy favoring Saudi Arabia in its war on Yemen etc. Or in sending billions of dollars a year to Saudi’s discreet ally Israel. Nonetheless, the shtick in New Atheism is being a standard atheist but on the right.

And yes, supporting the BS about WMD in Iraq was a powerful symptom of motivated reasoning, the motive being total commitment to the US government as possessing the rights of life and death judgment over all humanity. As I recall, the authority to kill was the original meaning of the Roman “imperium.”

But I was thinking actually more about the support for Islamist terror and ethnic cleansing/genocide in Syria, rather than defend a secular national government. Any democratic revolutionary element in Syria was buried within weeks, and pretending otherwise is exactly parallel to pretending there really was a threat from Iraq. Also, just as revealing, the notion that the democratic movement in Syria was not to settle for anything less than regime change absolutely denies any autonomy, not even tactical, to the alleged objects of concern. Requiring them to fight for a US government goal is indeed a commitment to imperialist war. My opinion, of course.

Dennett’s book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea was in many regards about attacking Stephen Jay Gould and Noam Chomsky, not just as wrong, but as wrong-headed, superstitious, ignorant, deceitful and with deeply suspicious personal motives. I think the funniest thing about Dennett was that in his desperate drive to savage Chomsky he claimed that the proper evolutionary theory of language has been achieved. For some inexplicable reason, he didn’t trouble to recap this theory, which if I remembered correctly he announced in a footnote. Talk about burying the lede! That’s like Scientific American casually mentioning the unified field theory has been found, then omitting details. He obviously prefers Pinker. So, sorry, I think the friends and enemies approach can be valid.

Last and least, if you aren’t talking about differential reproduction, you aren’t talking about natural selection. And Cosmides and Tooby, and Buss and others, may talk about it but they don’t (the last time I looked) do a good job of demonstrating it. The EPers who don’t even talk about it have even less credibility than the ones who do. Cosmides and Tooby et al. at least know why it matters.

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alfredlordbleep 04.01.18 at 4:59 pm

Off-topic but worth a look—
Bertrand Russell (1922, “Free Thought and Official Propaganda”)
It is clear that thought is not free if all the arguments on one side of a controversy are perpetually presented as attractively as possible, while the arguments on the other side can only be discovered by diligent search. Both these obstacles exist in every large country known to me, except China, which is (or was) the last refuge of freedom. . . Credulity is a greater evil in the present day, because, owing to the growth of education, it is much easier than it used to be to spread information, and owing to democracy, the spread of misinformation is more important than in former times to the holders of power. (reprinted in Sceptical Essays)

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Joseph Brenner 04.01.18 at 5:02 pm

Hidari@110:

“If it were proven that ‘G’ is a real thing and that it follows the Bell Curve (as Murray has argued) regardless of whether or not this is a racial thing, it would be a piece of evidence in favour of hierarchy. And the Right is all about hierarchy.”

I, for one, welcome our Asian female college educated liberal masters.

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Dr. Hilarius 04.01.18 at 6:07 pm

It’s been years since I last went into the swamp of heredity and IQ but I appreciate Dipper’s frustration. The problem is that “heritability ” does not have the meaning most people think it does and that includes researchers who have no excuse.

Heritability (in the narrow sense, h2) is the additive genetic variance for a quantitative trait divided by the total phenotypic variation within a particular environment. It is a population statistic and does not say anything about inheritance or genetic determination of a trait in any individual.

Heritability is not a constant even for clones with the exact same genes. It varies for the same population in different environments. A trait can be totally determined by genetics and have a heritability of zero. Example: normal limb development is controlled by genetic factors with no environmental input (other than gross defects due to toxins). Everybody has five fingers. But because there is no genetic variance for number of fingers the heritability of having five fingers is zero. Heritability of a trait can be 100% in one environment but be zero in another.

Claims that gene associations with school performance say something about genetic determination of educational ability for any other population or any other environment are misleading at best.

Cosma Shalizi, a statistician associated with Crooked Timber, has attempted to make the issue of heritability and IQ accessible to those with a minimal background in math. It’s well worth reading: ( http://bactra.org/weblog/520.html) as is his paper on intelligence and factor analysis (http://bactra.org/weblog/523.html) Richard Lewontin has written extensively on the misuse of heritability as well: http://arthurjensen.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Lewontin-Jensen-Bulletin-of-the-Atomic-Scientists.pd

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Joseph Brenner 04.01.18 at 7:13 pm

b9n10nt@117:
“I recall the same Korean anecdote; I wonder if it was from Inequality By Design”

Thanks, that looks like a good lead.

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anon 04.01.18 at 8:10 pm

Confessions of a eugenicist (excerpts from an April 1, 2068 FT interview of former IQuest CEO Eugene White):
Ft: So, you got in at the ground floor of the eugenics industry in the late 20 teens. What was it like?
Eugene: Well, it was a heady experience as you might imagine. Total exhilaration, we were changing the world -conquering the world with human intelligence. High-resolution genotyping of human populations was just getting underway, universal IQ testing was controversial but happening anyway. I and a couple of buddies at DKP were chatting over coffee one morning and suddenly realized that we knew how to do it – that is breed humans for intelligence. There were some legal and ethical obstacles to over-come but that’s what made it fun in a way. It was all done through self-selection mind you – coerced matings were strictly out of bounds even then.
FT: Really, no coerced matings even in the early years? What about the infamous Jacobs affair?
Eugene: Well, you had to bring that up didn’t you. Yes, there was the Jacobs scamdal. Simple story. One of our founding partners, Jordan Jacobs set up his own shop off the books in a remote corner of the world, got involved in human trafficking, sex-slavery and forced matings. We were as astonished and appalled as anyone when it came to light, and there it was happening right under our noses.
FT: You had nothing to do with his operation? Derived no benefit?
Eugene: Let me be clear, any progeny of the Jacob pedigrees that happened join us later did so voluntarily. I would love to say more but I am constrained by legal counsel.
FT: To this day?
Eugene: Unfortunately, yes there are still places in the world I cannot go out of fear of being thrown in jail. Some people just have no idea what we’ve done to… er for them. Our breeding approach on the other hand was entirely voluntary, prospective mates knew what they were getting into. Everything was arranged through social media. And it worked, of course. Our genome selection models were primitive by todays standards and not terribly accurate, but more than good enough to breed with. Once the easy alleles were combined we went after the hard stuff, the rare alleles and epistatic factors.
FT: At what point did you realize that the concept of race, which was popular then, was irrelevant?
Eugene: Oh, right from the beginning, of course. Anyone who knew anything about human genetics even in those days knew that race was a myth, a social construct maintained for political purposes. Even us lowly DKP grads knew that IQ is determined by hundreds of loci. In that case, what were the odds that all of the best alleles ended up exclusively in European and Asian populations? It all seems obvious now, but back then it was an uphill battle against entrenched prejudice. By arranging blind matings through social media we were able to circumvent cultural barriers to interbreeding thus unlocking the awesome power of human genetics! It was genius! …. Sorry, I still get excited. … In fact, because Africa is the center of origin of the human species, the population there was a huge repository of rare favorable alleles. We were the first to take advantage of that and spent enormous resources in genotyping the African populations in order to bring those alleles into play. We are all the smarter for it!
FT: Were you not surprised then when it was your industry that actually lead to destruction of racial barriers?
Eugene: I wish I could say we saw that coming but the honest answer is no. We had our own cultural blind spots. By focusing on IQ, traits traditionally associated with race such as skin color, facial features, etc were quickly homogenized. In hind sight it seems so obvious. Of course, the down side was that at least initially many of our elite progeny were considered unattractive – ugly even. Not because of skin color mind you, café au lait was quite appealing across most cultures even in those days. Rather, the problem came with other physical characteristics: outsized head (bigger brain), small frame (less muscle mass to compete with the brain), barrel chest (large lung capacity to keep the brain oxygenated).
FT: So do you find me unattractive then?
Eugene: No offense, but actually I suppose not. But that hardly matters standards for physical beauty have since evolved accordingly. In any case, I am sure you are attractive enough to your mate.
FT: Indeed, he is a sleek SuperG40. If you don’t mind my asking what is your IQ?
Eugene: Ah, I was hoping you would get around to that. Last tested In 2018 my IQ was 125, smart enough but not genius level. Adjusting to the current standardization that corresponds to an IQ of about 80. Its not that I have gotten dumber of course, its that rest of the mostly younger population has gotten smarter. So you see, in just a couple of generations we have made great strides in elevating the IQ of the general population. I am quite proud of that and also humbled because of course I have been left in the dust.
FT: Are you bitter about having been deposed as CEO, by a SuperG30 no less?
Eugene: Well, it might have been handled more gracefully certainly. The irony is that the SuperG30’s were our breakout generation of IQ elites. Smart as a whip and utterly ruthless, if a bit clumsy on the dance floor. On the other hand, have you been in her house? The women has no taste. Sometimes I think we have gone too far in ignoring other traits of humanity in favor of IQ.
FT: Well I quite like Amanda’s decor – stark and austere – straight to the point. Seriously, do you have regrets?
Eugene: Sometimes when I am in the shower I wonder how things might have worked out if we had gone a different direction – say breeding for athletic ability instead of IQ. We did marketing studies and IQ was actually less popular than physical prowess. But, I was not athletic and had a relatively high IQ so I went with my prejudice. Ironically, had we gone the other way I might still be a considered a mental giant!
Ft: Yes, it is remarkable that so much was achieved by a group of humans that were by today’s standards rather dim. So how do you spend your days in retirement?
Eugene: Well my alma mater, Dunning-Kruger Polytechnic, gave me an office. So I am writing a memoir. “Few remember the IQ wars and why we fought”.

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Joseph Brenner 04.01.18 at 8:25 pm

steven t johnson@123:

“I think the funniest thing about Dennett was that in his desperate drive to savage Chomsky he claimed that the proper evolutionary theory of language has been achieved. For some inexplicable reason, he didn’t trouble to recap this theory, which if I remembered correctly he announced in a footnote. Talk about burying the lede!”

E.O. Wilson’s “Consilience” mentions in passing that there’s scientific proof for something that sounds an awful lot like Jung’s “collective unconscious” idea. His footnote on that referenced a single, relatively obscure monograph from someone at Stony Brook that purported to show a cross-cultural fear-of-snakes.

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Faustusnotes 04.01.18 at 9:30 pm

Continuing the russell side topic, something about the new Atheists public behaviour that has always turned me off is that they act as if they’re the first people in the world to notice there is no God, and they are all chuffed as if they’re presenting a great revelation to us all. I don’t get the feeling they give much credit to previous generations of thinkers for whom this revelation may have been more troublesome, and who may have been slightly less publicly offensive in their presentation of it. I don’t read these dudes’ books because I’m confident in my atheism and feel no need to assert or affirm it, so I don’t need one of their dumb rhetorical guidebooks, especially if it’s leavened with a heavy faith in the power of American weapons to redeem Muslims. But in their “deeper” written works do they give credit to past thinkers? Do they build on their work in any way? Or are they just restating Russell with extra sneer?

(I *have* read some Russell, not because I sought comfort in others sneering at the religious, but because I was under the impression that he was a great thinker separately from the sideshow that is modern atheism)

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J-D 04.01.18 at 11:00 pm

Dipper

It is sadly entirely typical of the modern UK left that Toby Young arguing that genetic influence of intelligence could be used to raise working class achievement is regarded as unacceptably eugenicist but a paper showing that academic under-performance of working class children is due to their inferior genes is applauded.

I am not familiar with the incidents you are referring to.

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Layman 04.02.18 at 12:47 am

b9n10nt: “NB to the Brits: Yankees and Red Sox are ‘American cricket’ clubs”

LOL. Waiting for a study on why Americans are so obtuse as to require dumbed-down cricket. Hereditary? Who can say?

(I’m American, but only recently recognizing my genetic limitations.)

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Raven Onthill 04.02.18 at 12:54 am

Faustusnotes@130: “Continuing the Russell side topic, something about the New Atheists public behaviour that has always turned me off is that they act as if they’re the first people in the world to notice there is no God, and they are all chuffed as if they’re presenting a great revelation to us all.”

And they repeat millennia-old atheist arguments as though they were decisive. But if they were, why has the issue not been settled? Just about any of the Greeks would have made hash of the New Atheists in debate. Paging John Holbo…

BTW, if anyone cares about the science in the area of intelligence measurement (talk about arguments that never get settled!) they might want to look into the 1998 The Rising Curve: Long-Term Gains in IQ and Related Measures, edited by Ulrich Neisser.

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Travitt Hamilton 04.02.18 at 1:33 am

1) The so-called New Atheists are not by any reasonable standard right wing. In the US at least there’s essentially no such thing as an atheist right winger.

As for their support of hierarchy, it seems to me that it comes down to a support for listening to people who I’m now what they’re talking about, and privileging those inputs over those of people with less expertise.

2) I’ve read a fair amount of Harris and I listen to the podcast regularly, and I don’t believe he is a racist. He thinks religion is a font of bad, violent ideas, and that the worst of religious extremism and violence (today) comes from Islam.

As far as I know he doesn’t endorse Murray’s hypothesis, and has on numerous occasions on his podcast questioned the motives of anyone who strongly advocates for the research. But Harris is a free speech absolutist, and while that’s problematic in a lot of cases to me, it’s clearly not the same thing as endorsing Murray’s conclusions. Which, again, he doesn’t.

3) None of 4 Horsemen claim to have proven God’s non-existence.
4) “Scientism,” is a weird insult. The reason scientism is a thing is because science (scientific naturalism) works. No other system of “knowledge,” or so called methods of knowing has so consistently been demonstrated to accurately describe reality.
I agree with Dennett, who considered accusations of scientism an “all-purpose, wild-card smear.”
5) Harris’s use of the term ‘deplatforming,’ is dumb and makes him sound like a whiny right winger, which again, he’s not.
6) Murray is pretty clearly a racist, or at least racist-curious, and Harris shouldn’t have given him a respectful platform for broadcast it. That said, I don’t think Harris was ‘taken in,’ by pseudoscience, I think rather that it demonstrates the limits of free speech absolutism.
7) I did find Klein’s responses to be evasive and couches in false collegiality. I listen to both of Vox’s podcasts regularly (weekly, pretty much) and really like them and Klein. I also enjoy Harris’s podcast, and listen to it pretty much every time as well, although he can be, as someone noted upthread, a dick.

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Layman 04.02.18 at 1:48 am

“The so-called New Atheists are not by any reasonable standard right wing.”

Anyone who thinks Hitch and Harris aren’t right wing isn’t paying attention. Which right-wing boxes do they miss ticking?

“…it comes down to a support for listening to people who I’m now what they’re talking about..”

Appeal to authority fallacy?

“He thinks religion is a font of bad, violent ideas, and that the worst of religious extremism and violence (today) comes from Islam.”

Not racist at all! He hates all the religions, it’s just an odd coincidence that he’s most concerned about the religion of those dark-skinned folks.

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engels 04.02.18 at 1:52 am

The accusation of ‘scientism’ doesn’t prwsuppose that science doesn’t ‘work’ but that it is not the only form of intelkectusl inquiry that works.

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b9n10nt 04.02.18 at 2:39 am

Travis Hamilton @134: re: “4) Scientism is a weird insult”

I disagree.

1). Epistemic humility is a good thing. 2) Culture (and privilege) is like a gravitational field that pulls scientific practice towards observations and hypotheses that affirm conventional and/or elitist priors. 3). Pretty much all societies feature great injustices inflicted by the priveleged against others, and when these injustices become systemic there are ideologies to support them. 4). The social sciences especially can put on a good show of science without being able to either identify and control for all relevant variables in experiments or replicate observations. You can measure and model all you want, but there’s a fundamental unknowability about economics, sociology, etc…that do not similarly handicap the physical sciences.

Thus scientism (I’ll define this as the rhetorical use of plausible conjecture in the social sciences and other realms outside of phys-chem-bio) is only useful to the degree that it challenges c0nventional “knowledge” and is pernicious to the degree that it does not and gives us (and the priveleged, especially) a scientifically-false appearance of knowing.

This addresses where I think I agree and disagree with bianca steele, above.

Also, more Cosma Shalizi’s please (my brain hurts, but thanks Dr. Hilarius)

Also, too…anon @ 128 nice!

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Gabriel 04.02.18 at 2:50 am

“In the US at least there’s essentially no such thing as an atheist right winger.”

Reason, ladies and gentlemen. Tickets five dollars, please tip the doorman on your way out.

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J-D 04.02.18 at 3:10 am

Layman

Waiting for a study on why Americans are so obtuse as to require dumbed-down cricket.

This detailed comparative analysis by a self-described cricket fan strongly suggests that baseball is generally the more complicated game and cricket mostly the simpler one:
http://dangermouse.net/cricket/baseball.html

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Camembert 04.02.18 at 3:25 am

The alt-right can accurately be described as exclusively atheist right-wingers.

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Collin Street 04.02.18 at 3:47 am

“Scientism,” is a weird insult. The reason scientism is a thing is because science (scientific naturalism) works. No other system of “knowledge,” or so called methods of knowing has so consistently been demonstrated to accurately describe reality.

Sigh.

The “science” process has some pretty severe limitations: to work properly, it needs vast quantities of data, and on small datasets it works quite badly. Areas of study that work with small datasets generally use science-type tools sparingly, because — bluntly — for those situations some of the more… I guess you might call them narrative tools work better.

I mean, historians can’t run a control wwii exactly the same but with hitler dead in 1939; this means there’s no scientific way of knowing that hitler’s personality had a negative impact on german war goals. But we do know this, because science isn’t the only way of knowing.

Scientism is, specifically, the mistake of not realising this. Science as all knowledge. Either not seeing the limits of the scientific approach or not seeing the successes of non-science thinking.

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bianca steele 04.02.18 at 3:49 am

I’d like to find a definition of “scientism” that means something, but in practice what it means is being a scientist, rather than one of the elect who knows how to put natural science in its place and reinterpret it to be more socially useful for the speaker’s purpose.

How anyone purports to know that science is always in the interest of the cruel and powerful, and other forms of knowledge are always in the interest of the weak, is beyond me. Both that and the reverse are equally ridiculous.

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Alex SL 04.02.18 at 5:09 am

Raven Onthill @133: And they repeat millennia-old atheist arguments as though they were decisive. But if they were, why has the issue not been settled?

Surely you jest? This is like asking why people haven’t stopped marketing pyramid schemes the moment somebody figured out that they were unsustainable. Of course observations readily available thousands of years ago, for example that a blow to the head or intoxication can confuse our thinking, are all the evidence one needs to realise, for example, that our mind cannot be an immaterial thing independent from the organic brain and is thus unlikely to survive bodily death, but such insights are of little use against wishful thinking, fear and fraud.

As for scientism: The following two statements can be correct at the same time, as they are not in contradiction.

(1) Science can be broadly construed as encompassing every demonstrably working form of inquiry into empirical questions, including social or historical matters. It them becomes true by definition that science is the only way to reliably answer empirical questions, even if e.g. pure logic or mathematics are not science because they deal with non-empirical questions the answers to which are independent from the actually observed nature of the universe. I assume charitably that many people charged with scientism have such a broad definition of science, not least because it is also mine.

(2) Some people charged with scientism do indeed arrogantly dismiss everything as STEM as useless, generally not even realising when they (often ineptly) use philosophy themselves.

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b9n10nt 04.02.18 at 5:17 am

bianca steele:

Elites aren’t only purveyors of injustice, but they always are. There isn’t a law that “Science serves the masters”, but a tendency: Gravitational fields exist, but they are often overcome or simply have no relevance. Light is bent, but it illuminates nonetheless.

The null hypothesis would be that the institutionalized practice of science is merely the pursuit of Truth, outside of any social context. The study of geology has had no relation to oil extraction, the study of physics has had no relation to militaries, likewise computer science, biology no relation to imperialism, etc…

It’s untenable to suppose that the distribution of scientific inquiry stems from some self-evident awareness of what’s a problem and what’s a priority.

& this has not been unique to science! On the contrary, science has been socially catholic (happy Easter!) compared to the Arts.

Engels cd say this much shorter and to the point…

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Neil Levy 04.02.18 at 5:59 am

b9n10nt @ 120

Sperber is a big name in the field of cultural evolution. Cultural evolution doesn’t entail changes in gene frequencies. Evolution can occur whenever you have differential replications; the replicators need not be genes.

But it is just false that genetic evolution boils down to selection for getting laid more. Helping at the nest – when a non-reproducing bird helps a breeding pair – is widespread and well understood. It evolved. But helpers may not get laid at all, ever. The chain from fit behaviour to changes in gene frequencies is typically long and convulated. And then there are mechanisms like drift, where the chain doesn’t lead back.

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nastywoman 04.02.18 at 7:02 am

@128
”Smart as a whip and utterly ruthless, if a bit clumsy on the dance floor. On the other hand, have you been in her house? The women has no taste. Sometimes I think we have gone too far in ignoring other traits of humanity in favor of IQ.”

As I wrote before -(and like always – it was ignored) – y’all need to learn how to dance – it also solves all these ”religious and racial” problems – and about having ”no taste” – that’s the other thing – all these friends of mine with a great IQ’s have this major problem with ”interior design” – not as much as our ”F…faces” but… still…

What’s about this obsession with Kant Quotes on the walls of y’all toilets anyway…?

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J-D 04.02.18 at 8:44 am

You published an article (and tweets) that directly attacked my intellectual integrity. At a minimum, you claimed that I was taken in by Murray, because I didn’t know enough of the relevant science. Consequently, we peddled “junk science” or “pseudoscience” on my podcast.
You published an article (and tweets) that directly attacked my moral integrity. Murray is “dangerous,” and my treating him as a free speech case is “disastrous.” We are “racialists” (this is scarcely a euphemism for “racist”). There is no way to read that article (or your tweets) without concluding that Murray and I are unconscionably reckless (if not actually bad) people.

If you tell me that I have made a mistake, or that I am ignorant of important facts, or that I have been deceived, I don’t think that is automatically equivalent to an attack on my intellectual integrity; and in any case, I think what I should be more concerned with is not whether my intellectual integrity has been attacked but whether I have in fact made a mistake, or been ignorant of important facts, or deceived. Likewise, if you tell me that something I have done is dangerous, or disastrous, or unconscionably reckless, I think I should be more concerned with whether that is in fact the case than with whether my moral integrity has been attacked.

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Smass 04.02.18 at 10:35 am

Charges of scientism against people like Harris (or Pinker inter alia) don’t quite hit the mark. I think it’s more that they are often just purveyors of sciency-ness. Their use or reference to some of the trappings of the physical sciences seems ‘sciency’, and bolsters their credentials as hard-nosed rationalists, but it mostly cannit be described as rigorous and systematic inquiry.

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Faustusnotes 04.02.18 at 10:43 am

J-D that’s only true if there’s any possibility you could be wrong about anything. Since Harris obviously knows that he is never wrong, your suggested approach doesn’t apply to him.

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anon 04.02.18 at 11:07 am

nastywoman @146
“if a bit clumsy on the dance floor.”
That bit was indeed inspired by your sage comments.

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Faustusnotes 04.02.18 at 11:45 am

Being sciency in the way amass described is just as much pedlding woo as being an anti vaxxer or a homeopath.

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Z 04.02.18 at 1:00 pm

I don’t have much interests in the Rational™ squad (Harris, Pinker, the Less Wrong guys… Dawkins and Dennett I admit I find more interesting, but not so much either), mainly because (as Jerry Vinokurov and the OP pointed out), they actually tend to be too close to pseudo-science to my taste.

But I would welcome a CT discussion of Mercier and Sperber. Like steven t johnson, I remember reading their article in the context of a thread here by John Holbo, and I remember liking the psychology part but also being completely unconvinced by the evolutionary part of the argument. Beside, I admit I’m rather skeptical of the idea “a compelling case that reasoning did not evolve as a capacity to figure out the world, so much as an argumentative capacity to generate convincing rationales for why the reasoner is right, and others are wrong” can be made at all (for reasons I gave in the original thread). But I would be glad to see a discussion of their arguments by people who are convinced (like Henry here, apparently).

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Layman 04.02.18 at 1:02 pm

J-D @ 139, thanks for the link, I enjoyed it. I don’t agree with his argument, though I’ll save it for a future cricket thread.

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politicalfootball 04.02.18 at 1:18 pm

Murray is pretty clearly a racist, or at least racist-curious

Murray contends that Africans are inherently intellectually inferior to white people. That’s racist. If Murray were to argue honestly, he would contend that racism is the correct lens through which to view human history and biology.

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politicalfootball 04.02.18 at 1:30 pm

I’d like to find a definition of “scientism” that means something, but in practice what it means is being a scientist, rather than one of the elect who knows how to put natural science in its place and reinterpret it to be more socially useful for the speaker’s purpose.

Your point, and Smass’s in 148, are well-taken, but I think Harris can be reasonably accused of scientism in his critique of Stephen Jay Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria.

Gould’s central point strikes me as obvious to the point of banality, though I’ll grant that I’m not entirely comfortable with all of the ways he applies it. Harris contends that the only valid form of human knowledge is science. I think that’s incorrect, but just as “racism” is an accurate description of Murray’s view, “scientism” is a valid label for Harris’s position.

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steven t johnson 04.02.18 at 2:03 pm

Dr. Hilarius@126 is of course quite correct that heritability is a tricky concept. I would only add that heritability is rarely measured or even discussed in EP work. By rarely, I mean I’ve never seen any example whatsoever. But the heritability of an adaptive trait matters very much in evolutionary history.

anon@128 hits the sore spot, right between too true to be funny and too plausible for a good April Fools’. But I’m a bad person and was amused anyhow.

Joseph Brenner@129 is also funny. If it’s an April Fools’, it fooled me.

Faustusnotes@130 also forget Col. Ingersoll, or even H.L. Mencken etc. Most curious is the bizarre idea that religion is a sideshow, when it is philosophy that is in the small tent. It is not clear that Russell is relevant for anything. The Spanish barber shaves all the men who come to his barbershop, and the ones who don’t come to the barber shop, shave themselves. There is Russell’s teapot…but that’s atheism, and even more to the point, most people refuse to accept the point about science.

engels@136 “The accusation of ‘scientism’ doesn’t presuppose that science doesn’t ‘work’ but that it is not the only form of intellectual inquiry that works.” I disagree. Science has demonstrated variation in human beings, for instance, in sexual behavior, including homosexual behavior. Anyone who insists that moral and legal systems should acknowledge this behavior is often properly condemned as scientistic. The more pompous reactionaries will prattle about Hume’s Is/Ought distinction, ignoring empirical issues like Can’t Be/Must Be/Can’t Know/Results Will Vary. The charge of scientism is that science doesn’t work in the sense that the anti-scientist intends on accepting some other way of knowing, no matter what the empirical evidence is. Like the OP, most people do not contest scientism as a fallacious appeal to authority, a false claim as to what the science really says. Indeed, like the OP falling for Mercier and Sperber, they will make their own fallacious appeals. Hostility to scientism (or as the OP has it,) does not arm you against sciencey rhetoric.

Benign Intent@137 defends the validity of seeing scientism as a crime precisely because he thinks science doesn’t “work.” That thinking science does work is epistemic arrogance. I think it’s the other ways of knowing that don’t work and that insisting they can supersede mere science is the real epistemic arrogance. “The social sciences especially can put on a good show of science without being able to either identify and control for all relevant variables in experiments or replicate observations. You can measure and model all you want, but there’s a fundamental unknowability about economics, sociology, etc…that do not similarly handicap the physical sciences.” The belief that only investigation relying on the exact same scientific methods—or worse, THE scientific method—count as real science is itself the second most common form of scientism I think. (Again, fallacious appeal to the authority of science, alleging it says something it does not, would be I think the most common.)

Or to put it another way: Philosophy, religion and law are likely the three largest competitors to science for making truth claims about the world, not the social sciences. I think it would be foolish to claim epistemic humility for any of them, especially in comparison to science. Yet it would be foolish to claim the social sciences are no more successful at finding out how things are than philosophy, religion or law, because the social sciences don’t seem to do controlled experiments the way they do in physics. Besides, if you look closely, the historical natural sciences have the same epistemological problems as any historical social science, which means you can’t even hold this position consistently in regards to the natural sciences.

Collin Street@141 “I mean, historians can’t run a control wwii exactly the same but with hitler dead in 1939; this means there’s no scientific way of knowing that hitler’s personality had a negative impact on german war goals. But we do know this, because science isn’t the only way of knowing.” This again expresses the scientism in thinking the only way to really know is using the controlled experiment a la the natural sciences. It is no accident that the example offered is not a good one. It is not at all clear that Hitler’s “personality” had a negative effect on German war goals. There was considerable continuity in Germany’s goals in WWI and in WWII, regardless of Hitler’s personality. And Germany in the last analysis started a war it couldn’t win in WWI without Hitler’s “personality” causing failure.

“Scientism is, specifically, the mistake of not realising this. Science as all knowledge. Either not seeing the limits of the scientific approach or not seeing the successes of non-science thinking.” Who said they see science as all knowledge? Direct experience of the world gives us all a great deal of knowledge. It’s just that science is indeed the best way to give us more knowledge of the world, beyond our personal experience. Again, the implicit claim that philosophy, religion and law have taught us more about the world is breathtaking, but not in a good way.

Trying to read this charitably, it may be the real objection is that there’s more to life than science. Indeed there is. It’s claimed that there are people who think if it’s not STEM it’s worthless. I’ve seen a lot more people who think if it’s not Godly, then it’s worthless. But for what it’s worth, I disagree with both. Science is the only good way to learn the world. It’s not why we live, but it really helps with how we live, which is a good thing in my book. The thing is, thinks like literature and drama and cooking and dance and love are experiences, not knowledge.

Neil Levy@145 has claimed that Mercier and Sperber are misunderstood because they are inadvertently misrepresenting their own work. It would be best then to explain that to them, not us. But regarding the idea that Sperber is a cultural evolutionist rather than an Evolutionary Psychologist? That seems to be based on the idea that evolutionary theory applies to anything that can be labeled a replicator. I don’t agree, for a start, because genes are not replicators, cells are, no matter what Dawkins said in The Selfish Gene.

Further I think that heritable variation in the population is essential to an evolutionary theory. I don’t know how you can define variation in a culture. I don’t know how you can distinguish replication in a culture from historical change. The idea is as incoherent as the meme concept. I don’t know what speciation of cultures could mean. I don’t know what could constitute reproductive isolation of cultures could mean. I don’t what differential reproduction of cultures could mean. I don’t know what convergent evolution of cultures could mean. I don’t know what homology could possibly mean when talking about cultures.

I’m not very familiar with cultural evolution people (save thepossibly related Structural Demographic Theory from Peter Turchin.) But a lot of it sounds very much like a borrowing of terminology to sound more scientific, i.e., like the natural sciences. Which is to say, it sounds like scientism. If it’s like Turchin, a fixation on hypothesis falsification is completely compatible with amazing explanatory lacunae.

“The chain from fit behaviour to changes in gene frequencies is typically long and convoluted. And then there are mechanisms like drift, where the chain doesn’t lead back.” Even with kin selection, there is differential reproduction (more getting laid) on relatives’ part. But I agree wholeheartedly with your point about genetic drift being an alternative explanation. I would suggest for example, that reasoning abilities are partly a random outcome of increased encephalization in the hominin lineages. The increased encephalization is associated with increased life span. Longer living adults had more offspring survive. It’s Sperber who insists there has to be an adaptive reason for the reasoning powers. If there are evolutionary theorists who pay more than lip service to genetic drift, well, I can only say they don’t ever write popular science.

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b9n10nt 04.02.18 at 3:02 pm

Neil Levy @145

Oh… cultural evolution. Someone should have said something (or, err…read the book, gulp.)

Yes, drift and neutral evo are a thing but they are non-adaptive heritable changes in populations. Adaptive change by definition entails differential reproductive success of individuals with the adaptive trait. Kin selection, which is what I believe you are describing with the non-reproducting birds, is not an exception to natural selection any more than semelparity (which is when most salmon die after they spawn, thus purposely forgoing further reproduction) is.

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novakant 04.02.18 at 3:04 pm

#147

Sam Harris is complaining about attacks on his “intellectual and moral integrity”?!

He doesn’t possess a shred of integrity, he is a complete fraud.

He calls himself a neuroscientist – well, he isn’t.

He calls himself a philosopher – well, he isn’t.

Furthermore, he is utterly shallow and vulgar: he talks about “reason” as if there hadn’t been a philosophical debate about what that word is supposed to mean for the past 2500 years. He talks about science as if the layman’s idea of the Wiener Kreis was correct and their purported ideas had triumphed. He talks about Islam like someone who did a bit of reading on Wikipedia and then picked up his talking points from the neocon/alt-right kabal.

I can’t believe we’re even taking people like him seriously at all, the same goes for Jordan Peterson – a complete fraud as well. Just check out e.g. his ramblings on postmodernism: he hasn’t read or understood a thing, neither Derrida, nor Foucault, nor Habermas or whathaveyou – it’s obvious, and yet he claims to enlighten the world with deep and previously unspeakable insights.

We should stop engaging with fraudsters like this and not play their game – it’s beneath us.

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nastywoman 04.02.18 at 3:52 pm

@”That bit was indeed inspired by your sage comments.”
So you must be a different ”anon” than that ”anon” of @27 who – heavily in favor of IQ tests wrote:
”It really is rational and honest thinkers willing to stand up to the politicized mob. And you are the mob.” – which made me finally think that this whole… ”thing” with Murray and Harris and ”reason” might be just another -(tragic-or funny?) misunderstanding?

BE-cause ME and my best so called ”Black” friend -(who has a very well documented higher IQ than I am) – are huge fans of IQ tests -(and it’s many surprising results) –
and we also always will believe in ”Human general intelligence” and that IQ tests do a pretty good job of measuring it.

That’s why we were part of one of the most extensive IQ tests ever executed -(by the US government) with the shocking result how far higher the IQ of any so called ”Blacks” were compared to any ”White Man”. And my best – so called ”Black” friend -(who has a very well documented higher IQ than I am) – couldn’t have agreed more with Murray about – it is safe to say how much damage the wrong environment can do – to somebody like Murray or Harris.

Take for example this so called ”Black” friend of mine -(who has a very well documented higher IQ than I am) and ME.
Like this so called ”Black” friend of mine -(who has a very well documented higher IQ than I am) grew up entirely in Germany – while I spend the first five years of my life in my homeland the US – and that’s why I had a really hard time to believe that Americans have a much lower IQ than Blacks who grow up in Germany.

But then – all of these ”White Americans” failed the most important IQ test of this (new) century) – while most of the so called Black passed with so called ”flying color” in NOT electing a moron for president!

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Omega Centauri 04.02.18 at 4:13 pm

Layman @135 thinking that stating “the worst of religious extremism and violence (today) comes from Islam.” implies racism, is really an inference too far if you ask me. In today’s world many
would agree that that statement is true. That doesn’t imply that belief in its correctness is the same as believing this is due to character defects unique to brown people or whatever. In fact many historians and many CTers would state that its primarily a reaction to colonialism. Having a
plausible explanation other than (that religion is intrinsically bad), doesn’t make his statement untrue. It would help if the atheists would acknowledge that the position of being the currently most violent religion has changed with time, and that that just might imply that other historical circumstances are a major driver of extremist violence.

The actual charge of racism, requires more than just of dislike of a particular religion.

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James Graham 04.02.18 at 5:21 pm

“I am hopeless at deductive sequencing…I never scored particularly well on so-called objective tests of intelligence because they stress logical reasoning… “

Stephan Jay Gould, The New York Review of Books, March 29, 1984.

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Stephen 04.02.18 at 6:48 pm

Going right back to the OP: “an individual has prejudices, uses reason to elaborate good rationales for those prejudices, and then convinces himself through his own reasoning capacity that he was right all along”.

But if you live long enough, you will very likely find that as time passes you have changed your mind on several matters, and even if you haven’t you will notice that some other people have.

It seems to me that this must be due to being convinced by reasoned arguments against one’s original prejudices, or to collision with or abrasion against objective reality persuading one, rationally, that the original prejudices were wrong.

If that is so, then reason can overcome passions.

I realise this argument will not appeal to those who can never change their minds.

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Trader Joe 04.02.18 at 7:08 pm

Maybe its a bit late for this in a very tangent laden thread, but as soon as someone says they are an atheist because of “reason” or that those who are religious don’t have reason on their side I know the person doesn’t at all understand what they are arguing against such that even if maybe, they are right in conclusion, they are absolutely flawed in methodology.

Faith/religion begins exactly at the point where reason ends.

Every day I root for scientists to learn more, extend the boundaries of knowledge and reveal more about the world we live in, its inhabitants and our universe. As the horizons of understanding get ever more fully pushed back I become more sure in my faith that we live in an amazing world/universe.

Perhaps there is no God and that will be one more thing in life I am wrong about – but perhaps there is and my awe at this amazing universe of ours is even more enhanced because of it. How does one prove awe? Maybe there’s a checklist.

My reasoning in this applies only to me. If my reasoning persuades you I may be an apostle, but I don’t intend to be evangelical.

I cannot prove to you I love my mother, does that make it not true? It is true for me. I think and I am.

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Mario 04.02.18 at 9:05 pm

I notice that some of you guys and gals seem to be quite ready to accept that blacks are dumber than whites, it’s just that you just don’t find the arguments and models convincing enough. Is that true?

The reasoned answer to the average IQ hierarchy (black < white < asian) is, when it comes to policy: so what? No way anyone is seriously going to be ok with discriminating a person on the basis that someone else who shares some vague phenotipics with him/her happens to be dumb.

BTW, here’s new and interesting data. Kids of rich whites stay rich, while kids of rich blacks… not so much.

Buried in the article under a lot of other things is a striking observation:

these pockets [where black boys did well as adults] were the places where many lower-income black children had fathers at home. Poor black boys did well in such places, whether their own fathers were present or not.

It’s funny in a way, really, because if you had asked Larry Elder a while ago, that’s about exactly what he would have told you (among a plethora of other related things).

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Swami 04.02.18 at 9:13 pm

I certainly agree there is a lot of rationality in search of persuasion on both sides. The last two paragraphs of the post are perfect examples. If the other readers of this blog can’t grasp the argument for preserving the cultural identity of their nation, then I can always explain it for you all.

As for the actual science, see an actual expert’s opinion on the topic. Richard Haier’s comments on the issue:

http://quillette.com/2017/06/11/no-voice-vox-sense-nonsense-discussing-iq-race/

Andrew Sullivans, piece on the kerfuffle was also enlightening and extremely well balanced.

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hellblazer 04.02.18 at 11:09 pm

Swami: oh go on, please explain to me the argument for preserving the cultural identity of my nation… Even better, explain what the hell this has to do with either the original post, or the issues of IQ and race as constructs or reifications…

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Kiwanda 04.03.18 at 12:53 am

Layman:

“The so-called New Atheists are not by any reasonable standard right wing.”

Anyone who thinks Hitch and Harris aren’t right wing isn’t paying attention. Which right-wing boxes do they miss ticking?

Hitchens was against the first Iraq invasion, anti-Zionist, pro-choice, against capital punishment, against the “War on Drugs”, pro LGBT rights, fought NSA surveillance, favored intervention to protect Muslims in Bosnia, favored Nader in 2000, Obama in 2008. And not a big fan of Henry Kissinger or Mother Teresa.

And of course, an atheist. By American standards, these are not right-wing positions.

On the other hand, Hitchens supported the second Iraq invasion and Bush in 2004. Of course these appalling positions are associated with the right-wing, although there were many sorts of useful idiots in 2002-2003. So then?

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Kiwanda 04.03.18 at 12:57 am

Trader Joe:

Perhaps there is no God and that will be one more thing in life I am wrong about – but perhaps there is and my awe at this amazing universe of ours is even more enhanced because of it.

Perhaps there is a God and that will be one more thing in life I am wrong about – but perhaps there is none, and my awe at this amazing universe of ours is even more enhanced because of it.

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b9n10nt 04.03.18 at 1:04 am

steven t johnson @156

Benign Intent@137 defends the validity of seeing scientism as a crime precisely because he thinks science doesn’t “work.” That thinking science does work is epistemic arrogance.

This is not what I intended to convey. I would argue that science is the one successful method at discovering truths about the physical world that abide whether they are known or not. I.e. Water molecules consist of 2 H’s and 1 O, and this is universally true regardless of the degree to which a knower knows it. No other way of knowing can be objective like this.

I think it’s the other ways of knowing that don’t work and that insisting they can supersede mere science is the real epistemic arrogance.

So this is exactly what I agree with. But that leaves me confused as to your point because then you write…

Philosophy, religion and law are likely the three largest competitors to science for making truth claims about the world, not the social sciences. I think it would be foolish to claim epistemic humility for any of them, especially in comparison to science.

So “murder of a non-threatening neighbor is bad” is epistemologically equivalent to “water is 2 H’s and 1 O”? I would agree that we experience the former as being more relevant than the latter, but I would not agree that the latter is more or equally true.

Besides, if you look closely, the historical natural sciences have the same epistemological problems as any historical social science, which means you can’t even hold this position consistently in regards to the natural sciences.

An example might be helpful. “Hawaii was formed by a hot spot” can not be proven to have historically happened, but it can be inferred from controlled observations that can be replicated and thus themselves proven to be true (to a greater extent than the following counter-example).

“The modern German state was formed by a merging of smaller kingdoms”, even though the events in questioned occurred in recent recorded history and were seemingly observed directly, can not be similarly be proven to be true. None of the causality can be proven. Perhaps it was capitalism, or democracy, or nationalism, or a force we have yet to discover, that formed the state and the geopolitical merging was an epiphenomenon that had no causal influence. All the definitions (state, kingdom, capitalism, etc…) are relatively fuzzy, and from these fuzzy definitions we can only observe seeming correlations, but not causation. No predictions will replicate and prove the claim.

If knowledge = that which is true independent from a knower knowing it to be so, then nothing butters our bread like science. Now…none of this necessarily implies an answer to “Should I believe things to be true as if they were as true or more true than scientific knowledge?” or “is knowing a more valuable experience of self compared to feeling, believing, or other modes of experience?”. But still. Yay science?!?

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bianca steele 04.03.18 at 2:39 am

politicalfootball @ 155

I’m probably even more uncomfortable with Gould’s distinction than you. He kind of arrogantly decides that he has the right to say what authorities there should be for everything that is “not science.” He decides he has the right to say that all the methods of thought he thinks are good, are not methods non-scientists should ever get to use, and he calls that respect for non-scientists.

I would agree that there’s something off about Harris’s use of science. My issue with “scientism” is this: I can agree that there are wrong ways of using science. The philosophers who use the word “scientism” believe there are wrong ways of using science, which they use the word “scientism” for. If I use the same word, I implicitly say I agree with them about other things too. I don’t.

I suppose I could say, “well, I’m sure they’re reasonable, so I’ll assume they agree with me,” and use the word anyway.

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F. Foundling 04.03.18 at 3:23 am

>Sam Harris, whose commitment to Reason as he understands it appears so strong as to be irrational – not obviously susceptible to argument or change in the light of facts.

‘As he understands it’ does a lot of work here. If he truly ignores sound arguments and facts, then the problem is his insufficient or inconsistent commitment to reason and not his excessive belief in it or New Atheists’ alleged ‘idolatry’ of it. Such wordings, and attempts to discredit reason through cynical observations about its workings and origins, seem to imply that we should be committed to something else than reason, but it remains unclear what that something is. The alternatives that spring to mind are faith (in the opinions of one’s group) and loyalty (to one’s group), and I don’t find any (ahem) reason to consider these alternatives superior, to say the least. In general, the fact that the advocates of an ideal (in this case, reason) don’t always manage to live up to it is not an argument to discard the ideal and replace it with another.

The OP suggests that we should be sceptical towards ‘invividual reason’ while approving of its ‘being harnessed’ by ‘groups’. I think it’s important to emphasise (as Mercier does) that ‘the group’ needs to be a group of individuals of different opinions freely discussing them and presenting their different arguments in order to convince each other, so that people can get closer to the truth and change their minds; not a group that demands loyalty and subjugates reason as a tool to advance its ends. That is, the group crucially relies on faith in *individual*’s ability to reason. A group of like-minded individuals can have prejudices and support and reinforce them with seemingly rational arguments no less than an individual can. And, conversely, it is by no means impossible to be, indeed, a lone person standing against a group (or ‘mob’) and to be right. Whether one is or isn’t must, once again, be established by reason.

As an aside, Mercier’s claim about the origins of reason doesn’t sound convincing; if we are capable of using reason to evaluate correctly other people’s statements and justifications, then surely we must be capable of using reason to achieve knowledge and make decisions, too; indeed, such evaluations are in themselves a form of ‘knowledge’ that informs ‘making of decisions’. In a similar way, one can and does ‘discuss’ alternative possibilities with oneself wihin one’s own mind. Also, to even make statements and justifications to our peers, we need to have some rational understanding of logic and the way the world works in advance.

>in which the Enlightenment Man (gender specificity intended) …

I don’t see why gender specificity should be intended; nothing in the position as described or in its logic precludes the person’s being a woman, and there are women in those circles, too. This strikes me as a covert accusation of sexism or gender bias that is not supported with any overt argument.

It does seem that in most minorities, deviant segments of the population or groups with unusual views, as well as among various kinds of dissenters and loners, there tend to be more men than women. This may have to do with the fact that culturally, people have been taught that being ‘the lonely truth-seeker’ or any kind of loner is a role associated with men; in addition, various factors have, historically, made a degree of isolation and independence more affordable for men than for women. This is no more an argument against being in the minority in one way or another, or a loner, than the historical preponderance of men among mathematicians or firefighters is an argument against mathematics and firefighting, or than the historical origin of the right of due process in the Magna Carta as a concern of the most privileged barons makes it a posh whim unworthy of the attention of the ‘Real Proletarian’.

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Hidari 04.03.18 at 6:43 am

‘I can’t believe we’re even taking people like him seriously at all, the same goes for Jordan Peterson – a complete fraud as well. Just check out e.g. his ramblings on postmodernism: he hasn’t read or understood a thing, neither Derrida, nor Foucault, nor Habermas or whathaveyou – it’s obvious, and yet he claims to enlighten the world with deep and previously unspeakable insights.’

As you point out, these people are objectively stupid (and how ironic is that). When they excoriate those with ‘low IQs’ it never occurs to them that they might be prime examples of such people (it’s difficult to imagine isn’t it? A stupid middle class white person).

But while we all sit around and wonder ‘why, why could it possibly be, that the mass media are so friendly to Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris and Steven Pinker et al and, on the other hand, so unfriendly to Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman and Alain Badiou and David Harvey et al (and in terms of column inches and TV interviews…this is unarguably true)’…you do have to ask:

cui bono?

Or, as I always ask myself before considering the truth of any political proposition, think:

‘Who would benefit if it were widely believed that this were true?’

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Hidari 04.03.18 at 6:47 am

@165

Your argument and discussion of an ‘actual expert’ presupposes that ‘IQ Research’ is a hard science and that to talk about an ‘actual expert’ on ‘IQ’ is the same as talking about ‘an actual expert’ on condensed matter physics or analytical chemistry.

But that’s precisely what is in doubt.

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nastywoman 04.03.18 at 7:26 am

@165
”If the other readers of this blog can’t grasp the argument for preserving the cultural identity of their nation, then I can always explain it for you all.”

You for sure don’t have to – as lately it has been explained so often – by all kind of… ”explainers” with all kind of… different ”reasons”… and as I don’t know what ”nation” is your ”nation” – and thusly what ”cultural identity” you want to ”preserve” – and nearly all of my friends are ”multicultural” and most of them are ”multinational” – and that seems to be kind of the unavoidable future – at least for all of the so called ”advanced countries” – what ”cultural identity” – again do you want to preserve?

And please don’t tell US the ”German-American Identity” as it got such a bad name lately with all of these erections of Baron Von Clownstick!

On the other hand if you would say you want to preserve the Italian-Irish-American Indian identity WE would be all with you – but only if you don’t overcook the Pasta!

Capisce?

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nastywoman 04.03.18 at 7:37 am

– and isn’t this actually the damndest thing?

That one has to discuss on a blog which is based in the US of A – a country which is totally and absolutely based on the awesome immigration of all… people and ”nations” – something silly as ”a national identity of who”?

”Americans”?

Or as my Italian teacher used to say: Firstly you -(and he meant ME) has to learn NEVER EVER to wear Flip-Flops in a (Italian) church!!
Now THAT’S a reasonable way to preserve a ”national identity” – AND on top of it it – it could say something about Atheism too?

Or in other words – did Harris ever were wear ”Flip-Flops” -(or a US ”wife-beating-shirt”) in a catholic church?

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J-D 04.03.18 at 9:18 am

Swami
In the article you cite, Richard Haier writes, in part

If we can change environments or genes to increase IQ in individuals, we have a moral obligation to do so because more intelligence is better than less. … This progress does not depend at all on whether or not average group differences are due partially to genetic influences.

If he’s right, and progress does not depend at all on whether average group differences are due partially to genetic influences, then it would seem there’s no good reason to investigate that question.

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Layman 04.03.18 at 10:24 am

Omega Centauri: “In today’s world many would agree that that statement is true.”

Congratulations! No one has ever thought of this as a justification for beliefs before!

“It would help if the atheists would acknowledge that the position of being the currently most violent religion has changed with time.”

Tell it to evangelical Christian George W Bush.

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bianca steele 04.03.18 at 12:15 pm

Trader Joe @ 163

It seems to me that someone who says “I’m an atheist” isn’t arguing against anything, but describing what they believe. Telling them an atheist he doesn’t understand religion because he disagrees with you, and that he has an obligation to understand your religion, seems no different to me than telling a Jew the same thing.

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TM 04.03.18 at 2:58 pm

The mistake of equating reproductive success with “getting laid” is truly annoying. Folks, getting laid is a necessary but not sufficient condition of reproduction. And the difference isn’t a joke. It matters greatly for Mercer’s and Sperber’s argument whether the capacity of reasoning was evolutionary successful because it gave people endowed with it a better chance of surviving, or whether its success worked through sexual selection. Theories of sexual selection in humans have a well-earned bad reputation.

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bianca steele 04.03.18 at 3:10 pm

My memory, which may be faulty, is that Hitchens didn’t just support the 2003 Iraq War, he supported the Republican Party, Republican/neoconservative publications and pundits, and Republican candidates. And that Hitchens started attacking people on the left for anti-war positions. That seems pretty decisive to me as evidence that he didn’t consider himself a leftist anymore.

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Trader Joe 04.03.18 at 3:32 pm

@ bianca steele 178

I guess the point I was trying to make is that if an atheist will only accept fact or reason as a counter to their point of view they’ve pretty well decided there shall never be any scope for a changed view as religion(s) tend to be rather short of these things and fairly long on faith, belief and tradition.

Its no less the same for the firmly religious. Patiently explaining facts and probabilities about the formation of the cosmos, parting of seas or any other phenomenon that religion would describe in different terms is unlikely to gain traction.

While there are at least two ‘sides’ to the argument, its my thought that they each rarely meet each other on the same battlefield.

@Kiwanda – I’m sure between the two of us we shall both be properly amazed.

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Wild Cat 04.03.18 at 4:09 pm

180. Yes. With high sin taxes in NYC, booze and smokes don’t come cheap. He was a disgusting slag.

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politicalfootball 04.03.18 at 4:23 pm

He kind of arrogantly decides that he has the right to say what authorities there should be for everything that is “not science.”

I would say, rather, that he is a bit too accepting of the authority of conventional religious leaders. But I don’t think I’ve seen him go so far as to “say what authorities there should be.” Perhaps there’s something I’ve missed.

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b9n10nt 04.03.18 at 4:26 pm

TM @ 179

Very helpful clarification. Thank you.

F. Foundling:

That is, the group crucially relies on faith in *individual*’s ability to reason

I think your very thoughtful post (pointing out the dangers of group-think) elides a distinction that can best be explained by analogy to the hardware/software distinction. Reason may be a social “app” that relies on discrete modules of “hardware” (pre-frontal cortices) to run, much like on-line gaming. Thus, the individual is necessary for effective reasoning, but reason still does not reside in the individual. Just as on-line gaming doesn’t achieve its potential if you’re doing it alone, so reason is somewhat defective if the “app” is only running on a single piece of hardware at a time.

. In a similar way, one can and does ‘discuss’ alternative possibilities with oneself wihin one’s own mind.

But this is precisely when “reason” is likely to just be “rationalization”. Or so the research indicates…It takes enormous self-discipline and (again) social support to act on reason as opposed to telling ourselves that we’re acting on reason.

attempts to discredit reason through cynical observations about its workings and origins, seem to imply that we should be committed to something else than reason, but it remains unclear what that something is.

In groups, under the right conditions, as you say, reason works like nothing else.

But, individually…commit to “self”-awareness as a non-cognitive experience. Slow way way down, meditate, contemplate, attend to immediate pre-conceptual experience (“the foot feels the foot when it feels the ground”). Practice seeing through the ego without denying the ego.

Radical epistemic humility is your licence for such “woo”. It’s not like we’re doing what we’re doing because of reason, anyway.

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Joseph Brenner 04.03.18 at 4:35 pm

engels@22 wrote:

Phil@20 wrote:

I went off Dawkins when I first read about memes, which is some time ago now

What’s wrong with memes?

I don’t know what Phil’s issue with them is precisely, myself I would say there’s nothing wrong with the idea of memes, and logically something like “memetic evolution” has to be going on, but the idea doesn’t seem to have any explanatory power. Nothing that happens in the realm of human affairs really needs to be thought of as some sort of meme phenomena.

There is one thing that memes get you, which is a point of view where questions about motives become irrelevant– if you take the case of someone like Sam Harris, he does such a bad job of being an apostle of reason you’ll find many people suggesting it’s all a put-on, and he’s just behaving outrageously on purpose to attract attention. If you stop thinking in terms of human minds generating ideas and think of ideas as things which use human minds, you can side step a lot of that.

It also works as an arch insult– I espouse reasoned argument, you are a conduit for mental viruses– which often seems to be all we’ve gotten out of cognitive science thus far.

Though actually, doesn’t it seem like human ideas should be more fluid if it’s all a matter of meme recombination? Remember memetic evolution is more “Lamarckian” than “Darwinian”, you’d expect it to proceed much faster. You need to invoke some sort of countervailing force that explains why human ideas are so stable— they rarely change very much throughout the life time of an individual. Why is the tide of human affairs so much longer than the flu season?

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Heliopause 04.03.18 at 5:09 pm

@167
“On the other hand, Hitchens supported the second Iraq invasion and Bush in 2004. Of course these appalling positions are associated with the right-wing, although there were many sorts of useful idiots in 2002-2003. So then?”

I’ll just say again that if every liberal or leftist who supported Western intervention at some point in their lives is a right-winger then probably most of them are. If they want to take the position that liberals are in fact right-wingers, fine, but then damned near everybody is a right-winger and identifying it as a peculiarly atheist problem is meaningless.

What we’re seeing here is not cogent analysis of the class known as atheists but rather retrofitting of reality to fit a preconception. Atheists come in all political types but tend not to be right-wingers. Even a few minutes of internet research shows this.

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Heliopause 04.03.18 at 5:14 pm

@80
“I’m not a conservative of any kind.” Hitchens, when asked if he was a conservative in the post 9/11 era.

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J-D 04.03.18 at 6:15 pm

Omega CentauriThe predictable effect of suggesting an association between Islam and extremist violence in the context of airport security is to encourage airport security staff to hassle people with dark skin; in this way, Sam Harris chose to do something that would contribute to making the world a worse place for people with dark skin. Do you suppose he’s too great a dolt to understand this?

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steven t johnson 04.03.18 at 6:17 pm

Kiwanda@167 manages to assume social issue positions a libertarian might pretend to count as left wing, while ignoring Hitchens’ support for imperialist war on Serbia (and the Chinese embassy,) misrepresenting it as defending Muslims. Or that supporting Obama was left! Also, viciously opposing Bill Clinton for sex rather than bombing Serbia and much else is highly symptomatic. After seeing the background Christopher came from in the person on his brother, I would double check his anti-Zionism for influence from familial anti-Semitism. Paul Craig Roberts is anti-Zionist, too. Like feminism, anti-Zionism isn’t always left-wing. Basically, the assertion is that atheistic Communism is the real atheism, and the Communism is the defining characteristic. Arguing the proposition is exactly what is New about the New Atheists. In my opinion obviously.

Benign Intent@169 (the numbers make my brain glitch and jump straight to the answer to the riddle) starts by limiting science to the physical world. Assuming the conclusion does speed up the argument. It also defines knowledge as both eternal and necessarily so. I have no use for so-called “scientists” who haven’t got the balls to say “There is no magic,” but not even the natural sciences give us this sort of knowledge. This is really more a philosophical/religious/legal notion of truth. I think, looking at so much of philosophy, religion and law, this is what we don’t get. What we get instead are impositions, impostures of this non-existent kind of truth, ultimately playing the role of dogma. The pretense to authority on the part of philosophy, religion and law has an indispensable apologetic function.

“So ‘murder of a non-threatening neighbor is bad’ is epistemologically equivalent to ‘water is 2 H’s and 1 O’? I would agree that we experience the former as being more relevant than the latter, but I would not agree that the latter is more or equally true.”
This is Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria, complete with the absurd idea that philosophy, religion and law have any magisterium. It simply isn’t true that philosophy, religion and law have authoritatively taught that killing a non-threatening neighbor is bad. Read the Old Testament. Or if you want something more recent/less mythological, consider the highly reputable custom of dueling. If you deem “non-threatening” to include points of honor, then your whole approach is so arbitrary as to be useless. The instant assumption that philosophy, religion and law have taught any single thing is the real epistemic arrogance, in my opinion. It’s science that has showed there is no objective way to ascertain one kind of person is superior to another. It is scientism to insist philosophy, religion and law adjust themselves to this (which they notably haven’t, by the way!) then I am all for scientism, just as I am against people who falsify science to promote the old ideals of philosophy, religion and law.

Resorting to a pose of epistemological skepticism re the formation of the island of Hawaii doesn’t help. There is no such thing as “controlled observation” in this context, for a start. (I googled a definition, and got this https://psychologydictionary.org/controlled-observation/, which is the opposite of the kind of historical—-or even field!—investigation needed here.) For second, I say that the historical origin of Hawaii has been proven in the sense that it would be childish to hypothesize some other explanation. I insist that the details may be corrected without this somehow constituting a refutation, because I don’t believe in metaphysically necessary and eternal Truth.

Epistemological skepticism is always a conservative substitute for undermining unwelcome conclusions from science. Foregoing the hopess task of making a case for its positive views, it assumes its views are common sense, nay, common decency and merely attacks the unwelcome conclusions as unproven, in some weirdly mystical way. The skeptic may pose, may be personally, genial in personal manners. The great example of course David Hume, who was of course the great Tory historian, whose history was so great because it was so philosophical….supposedly.

“No predictions will replicate and prove the claim.” The commonest modes of scientific investigation in physics are not scientific method. This is the scientistic error again. The idea that one cannot even make a factual claim about the origin of the German state is bizarre on the face of it. Confusing a simple factual claim like imperial Germany began when Prussia incorporated Bavaria et al. with a causal statement is only possible I think when one surreptitiously admits other ways of knowing under guise of rigor. The claim that one can’t say that Imperial Germany wasn’t a mere epiphenomenon means ignoring the physical existence of the people and property that made up the Imperial German state. The implication that there is no epistemological difference between concepts like democracy and capitalism to concepts like the Will of God and Human Nature and, yes, the National Character (to refer back to Hume,) is I think crazy. But it follows directly from the insistence that only the methods of the natural sciences count as science. As I’ve said, the second most common form of scientism in my estimation.

“If knowledge = that which is true independent from a knower knowing it to be so, then nothing butters our bread like science. Now…none of this necessarily implies an answer to ‘Should I believe things to be true as if they were as true or more true than scientific knowledge?’ or ‘is knowing a more valuable experience of self compared to feeling, believing, or other modes of experience?’. But still. Yay science?!?” There is truth about what happened in the Battle of the Granicus, and that is independent of the knower, but that’s not knowledge. The wonderful thing about science, unlike philosophy, religion and law, is we can know more about the world with the help of others. Sometimes our knowledge leaves the unsatisfying feeling that we don’t know and can’t know because the evidence is gone, or the evidence we need we don’t know how to get, or, most unsatisfying, that we don’t even know enough yet to ask the right questions. Those blank space are science too. If it’s scientism to insist we can’t just scribble in any old thing we want in the blanks, up with scientism!

As to your first question, there is intellectual assent to propositions about the world, and there are our feelings. We would be well advised to arrange actions inspired by our feelings in accordance with the way the world is. But if you’re talking about feeling certain? I have never found philosophy, religion or law to be any better at changing my feelings than scientific discourse. Maybe my feelings are particularly unruly because I’m an inferior person. If you’re talking about whether you should consult your feelings for motives rather than science, I am baffled as to what you think reason is for. Reason is for attaining our ends. Curiosity is a motive, hence science. I do understand why philosophy, religion and law are unnerved by curiosity.

As to your second question, I am baffled as to how belief is not feeling, or feelings are not experience, or…actually, I’m mostly baffled. If the question is something like, is it better to feel like God/Human Nature/DNA has arranged things so the world is more or less the way it should be, rather than to feel insulted at being told you’re wrong? It’s better to feel insulted, that’ll go away.

Neil Levy said Sperber was a cultural evolutionist. I thought the big names there were Henrich, Boyd, Richerson, Messoudi, LaLand, Henrich at https://fivebooks.com/best-books/joe-henrich-cultural-evolution/ adds Dawkins (surely for the memes, I think,) Jared Diamond, Joyce Marcus and Michael Tommasello. Perhaps Sperber is mistakenly misrepresenting himself as an EPer?

TM@179 is truly annoyed at people forgetting that reasoning powers may contribute to reproductive success by direct contributions to survival. The thing is, the whole point of Mercier and Sperber is that reason is not necessarily adaptive for survival. They are the ones offering an alternative theory. Jonathan Haidt is generally admired in these quarters, and he wrote: “”The article,” Haidt said, “is a review of a puzzle that has bedeviled researchers in cognitive psychology and social cognition for a long time. The puzzle is, why are humans so amazingly bad at reasoning in some contexts, and so amazingly good in others?”

“Reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments. That’s why they call it The Argumentative Theory of Reasoning. So, as they put it, “The evidence reviewed here shows not only that reasoning falls quite short of reliably delivering rational beliefs and rational decisions. It may even be, in a variety of cases, detrimental to rationality. Reasoning can lead to poor outcomes, not because humans are bad at it, but because they systematically strive for arguments that justify their beliefs or their actions. This explains the confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, and reason-based choice, among other things.” https://www.edge.org/conversation/hugo_mercier-the-argumentative-theory

So, no, I don’t think you can salvage Mercier and Sperber by arguing that superior survival is what they are arguing, and that avoids all the sexual selection nonsense.

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Swami 04.03.18 at 6:52 pm

Hellblazer, the argument is quite simple. Institutions are essential to outcomes, and cultural mindsets and shared values are the underlying foundation upon which formal institutions (such as the rule of law, democracy, property rights and such) are built. The reason I mentioned it is that the original post denigrated Murray for noting that the emerging makeup of France is in risk of becoming no longer French and therefore extremely likely to be made up of people without shared French cultural mindsets and values. This threatens to undermine the institutional fabric of the nation.

Hidari, Psychology is certainly a different field from physics. Yet, there is overwhelming evidence that IQ can be measured and that it is strongly associated with outcomes in life, including career success, school success, income, marriage, avoidance of drug abuse, cooperation, patience and avoidance of crime. It is an extremely powerful characteristic in social science, and pretending it isn’t emasculates the field. If you want links so you can brush up on the topic I will gladly provide them if you promise to read them and respond.

Nasty, My family is multi ethnic (black, white and Hispanic mixture). What is your point? See my response above to Hellblazer. The point is that massive sudden population movements of people from another culture with radically different values, shared mindsets, expectations and beliefs will undermine the institutions of society. I was speaking specifically of France in response to the original post’s hackneyed attempt to suggest massive inflows don’t matter and to imply that Murray (who experts in the field overwhelmingly agree with) is a racist for stating what the experts believe to be true.

JD, the reason to investigate the question is to understand which levers will best respond to improving social outcomes. Is the problem a dysfunctional family culture? Victim mentality? Failure to read to children? Low expectations? Inequality of outcomes affecting desire to try? Lack of education? Poor nutrition? Institutional discrimination? Low IQ? In most cases it is going to be a mix of these and others, but the remedies need to correspond to the diagnosis.

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Chris Grant 04.03.18 at 8:35 pm

No need to rely upon potentially faulty memories. There’s an extensively documented Wikipedia article entitled “Political views of Christopher Hitchens”.

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F. Foundling 04.03.18 at 8:42 pm

@Trader Joe 04.02.18 at 7:08 pm
>as soon as someone says they are an atheist because of “reason” or that those who are religious don’t have reason on their side I know the person doesn’t at all understand what they are arguing against … Faith/religion begins exactly at the point where reason ends.

Well, that (basing beliefs on something other than reason) is exactly what is unacceptable to a (typical) atheist. You are saying that religious belief cannot be assessed by rational inquiry, and they don’t think that any belief should be exempt from assessment through rational inquiry. They do understand you – to the extent that it is possible to understand this – they just think it’s a wrong and harmful attitude towards thinking and life. What’s more, you, too, would agree – as would most sane people – that this is a wrong and harmful attitude with respect to any other subject that one may think about besides religion. ‘I just *believe* that I/you can fly if I/you jump out of this window, and I don’t have to justify it rationally?’ ‘I just *believe* that this and not that medicine will help me/you against this disease, and I don’t have to justify it rationally?’ ‘I just *believe* that Trump is a good president, and I don’t have to justify it rationally?’ ‘I just *believe* that the tenets of Marxism-Leninism are correct and I don’t have to justify it rationally?’ This is just not how ‘believing’ is supposed to work. In fact, back in the old days, when religions thrived and proliferated, they did do their best to justify themselves rationally with alleged facts (so-called miracles, prophecies, epiphanies etc.) just like any other conviction needs to be justified. It’s just that in their case, the facts happened to be false.

Unlike love and awe, faith is not primarily a feeling but a conviction that something is a fact, implying the affirmation of said fact. (A fact other than one’s own emotional state that one registers, that is). And basing any conviction or affirmation of such a fact solely on feeling is, again, unacceptable to a (typical) atheist (as well as, again, to a typical theist when it comes to issues other than religion). You are free to say that you love Batman and that you are awed by Batman; as soon as you say that you think Batman actually exists, people will expect you to substantiate that.

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engels 04.04.18 at 1:35 am

I’ve never read Sperber but a quick google reveals he’s very popular with just the guys Henry is wheeling him out to bash (not sure whether that helps or hinders Henry…)

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Peter T 04.04.18 at 2:09 am

If rationality is the use of means appropriate to the ends, then reason is the means by which we arrive at the most rational solutions. Patient attention to the real world tells us that cloud-seeding works better than dancing if the end is inducing rain. Cross-checking, repetition, accurate measurement, agreed standards are all tools to aid in this. Nothing mysterious here – my dog is rational when he looks up and down the fence and then decides that one way offers a better route than the other. Bees decide on the best nest site by communicating their finds, checking the information on offer and then “voting” – that is, they reason their way to a solution.

This says nothing about ends, and ends are complicated. There is almost always more than one, and situations are rarely static. Every predator has to weigh the prospect of injury against the worth of the meal, and re-evaluate this as the contest goes on (just as the prey has to weigh flight against fight). Many judgements about rationality are judgements about ends.

Science works best when the ends are simple (“we want to how stars work” is a simple end, even if the means to get there are complex). Studying human (or animal) behaviour involves first assessing multiple, competing, changing ends, always from incomplete information. Why anyone would think the same methods are appropriate is a mystery to me.

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floopmeister 04.04.18 at 2:21 am

For Procopius and Jake Gibson – let’s hear it for the Radical Agnostics, who are so much smarter than atheists – statistics proves it!

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2007/02/agnostics-smarter-than-atheists/#.WsQ3ffnFKUk

Oh, and for F Foundling:

Batman is real… Real enough to have and named after him in my city.

:)

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floopmeister 04.04.18 at 2:25 am

Ok – so I lost the ‘/end sarcasm’ tag on the last post (no, I don’t believe in the statistical basis for the greater intelligence of agnostics)

And also stuffed up the links for my batman photos:

Batman Station: https://goo.gl/images/86kCVh
and Batman Park: https://goo.gl/images/5HzA7s

Now going to focus on paid employment for the rest of the day, as I should have been doing…

:(

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Omega Centauri 04.04.18 at 2:51 am

J-D @187.
So you are making a consequentialist argument, that what Harris does (or writes) makes the world tougher for Muslims (or people who may be naively confused for being Muslims). I’m thinking more about how the owner of those beliefs probably constructed them. I’m not sure if Harris is willing to let potential consequences to others affect what he say’s in public. Now I suspect I understand where Harris is coming from (although I temper what a say/write, because I want to make the world a better place in general):

So putting on my atheist rationalist hat: “if belief in god is harmful, then a religion which makes its highest priority obedience to the will of some human-constructed god, must be extra harmful”. No reference to race is needed to construct that line of thought, which I can state should be very persuasive for someone who thinks that the effects of religion are far more negative than positive.

Now, he may well be a racist, but more evidence than a single belief about a single religion is needed to make that diagnosis.

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Joseph Brenner 04.04.18 at 3:43 am

I feel like I’ve got something to say about this, but keep having trouble pinning it down. Here’s one last try:

Sam Harris seems like a good example of someone who believes he’s reasonable, but clearly isn’t– in fact it’s so clear, there are some who doubt he’s really trying, but I don’t see any need to go there. Human beings are capable of bigger delusions.

When confronted with someone like this, there are a few natural reactions– you might try to pin down the source of his delusions; you might try to contrive an argument that can punch through them; you might look for arguments that might win over the undecided spectators– or you might just spout off to show other members of your tribe how smart you are, and how tightly you belong.

There’s another step after all that though, which Henry alludes to at the end of his piece: how do you know you’re any better?

At this point we have many examples of people who should know better falling into cognitive traps, and worse denying the problem and resting contrary evidence with convoluted arguments.

(Even a man who is pure of mind, and recites his Socrates at night may become a wolf…)

A really intelligent person can rationalize almost anything.

Since Ezra Klein is on everyone’s minds, I might remind you all about his piece from 2014, “Politics Makes Us Stupid”, http://www.vox.com/2014/4/6/5556462/brain-dead-how-politics-makes-us-stupid

To spend much time with Kahan’s research is to stare into a kind of intellectual abyss. If the work of gathering evidence and reasoning through thorny, polarizing political questions is actually the process by which we trick ourselves into finding the answers we want, then what’s the right way to search for answers? How can we know the answers we come up with, no matter how well-intentioned, aren’t just more motivated cognition? How can we know the experts we’re relying on haven’t subtly biased their answers, too? How can I know that this article isn’t a form of identity protection? Kahan’s research tells us we can’t trust our own reason. How do we reason our way out of that?”

There have been many results that point in this direction in recent years, and there’s very little in the way of encouraging news. We keep learning more about how bad the traps are without hearing any good way of staying out of the traps.

Do I need to point out that there are few, if any intellectual tribes that can claim to be immune to them? The liberal/left/educated may indeed be doing better than the right at present– I certainly think they are– but it’s also pretty clear to me that the left sometimes fails, sometimes pretty badly, and when it does it’s *just* as recalcitrant to listen to anything like reason on the subject.

One possible conclusion from this is to simply give up on reason: we’re all fools and knaves on some level, so we might as well embrace it and learn how to play the game…. and personally I think I’ve been seeing an increase in numbers of people who’ve essentially given up on anything like reasoned debate. At this point everyone knows that there’s evidence out there that contrary facts don’t seem to persuade, and in fact they seem to cause people to dig in and cling harder to their errors. If the only thing that persuades is an engaging narrative however devoid of facts, than what else can we do but give ’em what they want?

Now, this strikes me as a dangerous development, even from the point of view of a persuasive strategy– playing fast and loose with the facts is just handing ammunition to the other side. If you don’t like the “both sides do it” line, then you probably shouldn’t start doing it.

Sam Harris is indeed overplaying his stance as a bold defender of reason, but in this light, it strikes me as the vice that pays tribute to virtue. We may yet wish for more such defenders of Reason, though preferably ones a bit better than Harris or Pinker.

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nastywoman 04.04.18 at 5:59 am

@189
”I was speaking specifically of France…”

Ah: ”France”? – and I was speaking specifically of ”US”.

”…in response to the original post’s hackneyed attempt to suggest massive inflows don’t matter”

My point was that ”massive inflows” and ”movements of people from another culture(s) with radically different values, shared mindsets, expectations and beliefs” -(like in the case of US) – do matter in undermining the institutions of -(a outdated) society” – in order to create a new society with all kind of ”different values” and without the restrictions of reactonairy ”shared mindsets, expectations and beliefs”.

But you – as a ”black, white and Hispanic mixture” – must know that – like ME – a ”Multi-Ethnic Too”.
And about ”France” –
Doesn’t such a – once very unpleasant ”colonialists” country – deserve to be changed the US-way with radically different values and NO (racial) shared mindsets, expectations and beliefs anymore?

– and about that Murray-Dude?
Come on! –
WE -(the ”Multi Ethnics”) – who are NOT ”experts” in any field – know ”a racist” if we meet one – especially if we have watched him counting ”brown” people in France – and then him ”stating what the experts believe to be true” – becomes – just one of these silly efforts to prove that he isn’t a racist.

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b9n10nt 04.04.18 at 7:07 am

steven t johnson

Thank you very much for taking the time to respond. I’ve very much enjoyed reading and contributing to this thread. I’m going to try and be clear (for my own sake, I suppose) on the distinction between scientific knowledge and the presumption of social scientific knowledge. It’s entirely possible there’s some error to my thinking so…caveat emptor!

First of all, I realize I likely misunderstood you back @156 when you wrote:

Philosophy, religion and law are likely the three largest competitors to science for making truth claims about the world, not the social sciences. I think it would be foolish to claim epistemic humility for any of them, especially in comparison to science.

In other words, you were saying that philosophy, religion, and the law arrogantly make truth claims when they should realize how provisional (at best) their supposed truths are. In essence, you believe that they should exhibit epistemic humility, but they do not.

I took you to mean the opposite, but if I now read you correctly this time then I entirely agree.

@188 you respond to my example of knowledge “killing non-threatening neighbors is bad”. I was only trying to come up with a prosaic example of legal, religious, or philosophical knowledge to show that it wasn’t true, at least not in the same manner that scientific knowledge is true. My example was clumsy, but we agree that, as you put it, ” The instant assumption that philosophy, religion and law have taught any single thing is the real epistemic arrogance, in my opinion. “

Now, with regard to the natural history of Hawaii…As I wrote, the geological history of Hawii is inferred from controlled observations. The physics used to establish the ages of the different islands, their chemical composition, as well the ecology of colonization and biology of subsequent evolution can all be proven via controlled experiments. We know that Hawaii is volcanic rock, that it formed X millions of years ago, that the inhabitants colonized the islands and evolved there. We know this about Hawaii not merely due to historical inference, but inferences based upon (or verified by) controlled observations. It is the controlled observations that justify our certainty.

The idea that one cannot even make a factual claim about the origin of the German state is bizarre on the face of it.

Really? Okay, it’s bizarre, I grant you that, but it is wrong?

First of all, the statement “the German state originated when…” is either a causal statement or it’s merely an unverifiable tautology (what we often refer to as a “fact”). Let’s assume we’re not discussing the latter:

When, precisely, does the German state originate? & what properties constitute the existence of the German state that were lacking before it’s origination? What happened that caused it to exist when before it did not? If there was a ceremony or a document that we claim established the state, would we allow that such an event or artifact merely represented the state that had already, for all intents and purposes, formed? Would it not be strange, and equally ignorant of the people and institutions that existed 1 hour, 1 day, 1 year, or 100 years prior to say, “Before this moment, there was no state. It was birthed into being at 9:45 pm on this Thursday 1871.” That seems equally bizarre! (Or again, simply tautological declaration of no historical -which is to say, causal- import).

Otherwise, if we grant the social sciences “facts” that are somehow true even though they can’t be known independently of a knower the way scientific knowledge can be, are we to suppose then that the social world is a separate “magisterium” from the physical world? That there are different kinds of knowledge that pertain to each and can not be evaluated by a consistent, definable, criteria? That, too, would be bizarre.

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F. Foundling 04.04.18 at 7:40 am

@Peter T 04.04.18 at 2:09 am
> reason is the means by which we arrive at the most rational solutions.

Reason(ing) is first and foremost a way of thinking and reaching conclusions through logic. It is defined internally by its principles and procedures, not by its external results; in particular, it is not defined in terms of its practical application and a practical application or expression is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for it.

>let’s hear it for the Radical Agnostics, who are so much smarter than atheists – statistics proves it!

As long as they extend their emphatic agnosticism to the existence of Batman, I will agree that they are philosophically consistent.

@floopmeister 04.04.18 at 2:21 am
>Batman is real… Real enough to have and named after him in my city.

I have to admit that the linked article did surprise me a little. ‘Darebin City Council wants to rename Batman Park in Northcote … MP David Feeney said he would support the change if Wurundjeri elders felt Batman’s name “was an affront to them, their traditions and their history”. … there are some historians who point to Batman’s behaviour and his alleged involvement in the collection of bounties by hunting First Australians in Tasmania.’

Note to comic book creators: sometimes a superhero’s backstory *can* get too rich.

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Z 04.04.18 at 7:48 am

@Joseph Brenner If the work of gathering evidence and reasoning through thorny, polarizing political questions is actually the process by which we trick ourselves into finding the answers we want, then what’s the right way to search for answers? How can we know the answers we come up with, no matter how well-intentioned, aren’t just more motivated cognition? […] Kahan’s research tells us we can’t trust our own reason. How do we reason our way out of that?

We – in the sense of a collection of individual selves – don’t reason our way out of that. Because reasoning our way out by carefully weighing evidence and examining logic using our own reason is not how things work. I would even say that’s not how things are supposed to work. The way it actually works, which also happens to be massively more efficient, is that other people force us to understand. So we never understand injustice, we never see the flaw in our reasoning, we never examine our prejudices: they make us understand, they point out the flaws, they challenge our prejudices.

And for that process to work, it is sufficient (but also necessary) that they may be heard by us</i. And there is the rub.

Do I need to point out that there are few, if any intellectual tribes that can claim to be immune to them?

Because, see, neither intellectual nor political society should be structured as “tribes” and if they are, they cease to be intellectual or political society properly understood. Left and right in the relatively functioning democracies of the XXth century for instance were not opposing tribes, they were opposing modes of expression of groups who did not convene (which I understand in the sense of Spinoza) on some questions (typically the legitimacy of sharing political power with the lower classes) but who generally convened on significantly larger questions (explicitly, typically national values; implicitly, shared educative achievements within a common social system). When this situation of confrontation within a larger system of shared values prevails, superior cognitive properties emerge from the confrontation.

But current advanced democratic western societies do not satisfy the property of shared educative achievements, so have become too unequal to allow this formerly mode of convening. Hence, only pure confrontations between unequal groups remain, and in that social context there is indeed neither theoretical argument, nor empirical ones, nor indeed realistic hopes that superior cognitive achievements will emerge from the confrontations.

So

[H]ow do you know you’re any better?

You aren’t and you never will be. Never. Your society might be, though. So if you value reason, a rational approach to problems… then you should strive to establish the social conditions that allows for the “universalization of the means of access to universal” as wrote a dearly missed friend. In that respect, I’m not impressed by the achievements of the Rational™ squad, to say the least, but those of the recent standard-bearers of political liberalism (both Clintons, Blair, Obama, Macron…) are from stellar either.

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Nicholas Gruen 04.04.18 at 8:02 am

Thanks Joseph for a wonderful comment.

My own response to this is to try to remain agnostically pluralist and cooperative throughout.

For instance in arguing with a greenhouse sceptic, from , I wasn’t pretending that we could ‘get to the bottom of it’ especially in our ignorance compared with specialists.

I was on a search for informed good-will.

That’s how I navigate the treacherous world you identify anyway. I’m trying to tap into he wisdom of the crowd and make my own modest contribution to it along the way, even if that contribution is not substantive so much as related to the tone of discussion.

Does that make sense?

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Travitt Hamilton 04.04.18 at 8:14 am

Layman @ 135
As I said, I listen to Harris regularly, and have read him a fair amount. I don’t think he is a right winger or a racist He dislikes religion and thinks Islam is worse than Christianity right now. He is a very strong supporter of ex-muslims (Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali).

Noting that the majority of religiously motivated violence comes from one religion (he may be wrong, I think this is a complex question), and that the tenets of that religion encourage violence is not racist (I’m thinking of the fatwa againdt Rushdie and the Charlie Hebdoe attack). Again, he may be wrong I just don’t think he’s a racist.

Is it an Appeal to Authority to listen to climate scientists on climate? Or biologists on evolution? Or geologists on deep time? Or to listen to epidemiologists instead of anti-vaxxers? I think they bemoan the death of respect for competence and expertise, especially as it relates to government, science, medicine, etc…

b9n10nt @ 134
I’m not really thinking about the social sciences here, but rather the so-called hard sciences.

To your second point, I don’t disagree, but the corrective to that is more and better science, not to counter it with faith-based assertions or woo.

Collin Street @ 141
Science indeed has a lot of severe limitations. It’s a very ugly and messy way of knowing, but still superior to the alternatives.

How do we know what effect Hitler’s personality had on Germany’s war goals You assert that we know it was negative, but that’s all it is… An assertion. You would support it by marshalling and assessing facts (or as close to facts as we can get in this kind of very fuzzy case). I guess I’m talking about empiricism.

Also, I don’t know what you were trying to achieve with your condescending ‘sigh,’ but I’m confident it didn’t have the effect you were aiming for.

Alex SL @ 143
Your point 1) is essentially the definition I’m using.

Politicalfootball @ 154
I agree with you. Murray is a racist.

Steven t. Johnson @ 156
What you said…

Omega Centauri @ 160
I generally agree with you, and you said what i was tiring to say more coherently than I was able to, but I think that most of the Big Name, or movement atheists, or whatever you want to call them, would acknowledge that the position of being the most violent religion has changed. But would also assert that eliminating religion would radically reduce violence.

Mario @ 163
Where are you getting the idea that anyone on this thread is ‘quite ready to accept that blacks are dumber than whites?’ I don’t think there’s a single comment that could possibly be read that way.

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TM 04.04.18 at 9:05 am

stj 189: My point was a rather narrow one about your use of terminology but thanks for clarifying that “the whole point of Mercier and Sperber is that reason is not necessarily adaptive for survival.”

Btw it seems highly dubious that “reason” can be understood as an isolated property that selection could act on (as opposed to an emergent property of a whole complex of mental abilities). It’s unlikely that evolution favored a capacity to do philosophy either because philosophers survived longer or were more sexually attractive.

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J-D 04.04.18 at 9:20 am

Swami
In the article you previously cited, Richard Haier wrote, in part

If we can change environments or genes to increase IQ in individuals, we have a moral obligation to do so because more intelligence is better than less. … This progress does not depend at all on whether or not average group differences are due partially to genetic influences.

Now you write that

the reason to investigate the question is to understand which levers will best respond to improving social outcomes

If it is true that ‘progress does not depend at all on whether average group differences are due partially to genetic influences’, then it cannot be the case that investigating the question will contribute to understanding ‘which levers will best respond to improving social outcomes. If Haier is right on this point, you must be wrong; if you are right on this point, Haier must be wrong.

Omega Centauri
You are eliding the difference between a belief and a statement (spoken or written). The speaking or writing of a statement is an action and more than a belief; an explanation or justification of the belief is never enough by itself to explain or justify the making of the statement.

The question I asked you which you did not answer was about whether you thought Sam Harris was such a dolt as to fail to understand the predictable consequences of his action. I did not refer to the possibility, which you have since suggested

I’m not sure if Harris is willing to let potential consequences to others affect what he say’s in public

that he does know but doesn’t care; that would be worse, not better. Indifference to the harm one’s actions cause to others is vicious and monstrous.

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Layman 04.04.18 at 10:25 am

Swami: “…the emerging makeup of France is in risk of becoming no longer French and therefore extremely likely to be made up of people without shared French cultural mindsets and values. This threatens to undermine the institutional fabric of the nation.”

Is it lost on you that those on the far right in France have been saying this exact thing for nearly 150 years? The identity of the Other morphs over time, but it is always the case to the right that France is on the verge of not being France.

“My family is multi ethnic (black, white and Hispanic mixture).”

So what? Would white people on the right in France view you as part of the solution to protecting France, or part of the problem? If they see you as part of the solution, then clearly fears of the Other are silly and racist. If they see you as part of the problem, then you’re very confused, man.

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casmilus 04.04.18 at 10:32 am

@3

“As a Christian I am sometimes accused of holding non-falsifiable beliefs. And I am quick to say guilty as charged! Why? Because they are axiomatic beliefs, not beliefs that are subject to reasoning or sense data. I suspect that for you that Harris is wrong not merely because he is applying reason inappropriately, but rather because his viewpoint is, for you, wrong axiomatically.”

I’ve noticed this over the years on web forums where creationists battle their critics: their belief that labelling a proposition as an “axiom” means “not requiring any justification ever”.

You’d think a rationalist would have set them right about it by now. Or at least one of the theists who do understand logical theory (there are a few).

Parallel to this is is the misconception that Godel’s Theorem shows “everything is based on faith”, which I’ve seen Jordan Peterson tweeting. In so far as the claim is that “Everyone has unjustified axioms”, it doesn’t require Godel to be mentioned, as it’s already built in to the way creationist use the term “axiom”.

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Trader Joe 04.04.18 at 11:56 am

@F Foundling 192

Your post quite nicely illustrates my point of why its so rare that a rationalist Atheist and a religious person can have a constructive discussion. You immediately begin talking about leaping out of windows and not accepting medicine as being some sort of parallel to religious faith – they are not and I imagine you know this.

I don’t frankly care whether you agree with my views or not. They harm no one and as explicitly stated aren’t meant to convince anyone of anything.

You say I am free to love Batman and be awed by him but must prove his existence – why should this be so? Must I explain why I enjoy a beautiful sunset, prefer the color orange or the taste of IPA? Science might allow me to do these things but they are true as I see them even if I’m ignorant of the science. Indeed they would have been true (for me) even before anyone understood the science.

Many scientists seem convinced there is a thing called dark matter yet they can’t seem to prove its existence – shall I, upon your reasoning, discard all science because they can’t prove the existence of this one thing? Yes, that would be poor reasoning.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.04.18 at 1:07 pm

F. Foundling #192: “…back in the old days, when religions thrived and proliferated, they did do their best to justify themselves rationally… It’s just that in their case, the facts happened to be false.”

I think the first part of this is correct, but the second needs amendment. To begin, reason is the same, in BOTH cases of science and religion.

First let’s define reason, to get us all on the same page. The mechanism of reason is the weighing of distinctions. These distinctions always boil down into being paired, i.e. into having two parts. There is a rather small set of distinctions: Identity (between two things). Difference (between two things). Equality. Inequality. Number (which is generated by pairwise operations: succession, addition, division). Negatives. Opposites. Before/after. Flow (with beginning and end). Cause/effect. Subject/predicate.

Exclude “subject/predicate” for a moment, and try to make any statement in science or religion without using one of the others, at least in the basis of your statement.

The distinctions of reason fall into two main groupings, Separated (e.g. difference; negatives) vs. Endpoints of a continuity (e.g. before/after; subject/predicate). These two groups are very much like Points vs. Size, a cognitive distinction which shows up in the arithmetical cognition of very young children. (And is very close to cardinal vs. ordinal in mathematics).

We can categorize further. Reason is performed within an even smaller set of general fields: Space, Time, and Grammar. Grammar miniaturizes space and time; it’s a combined form within a boundary. (Example, you are taking time to direct your eyes over these symbols in the spatial format of this comments thread.) Grammar is therefore the precursor that envelops smaller well-known subsets, e.g. the game.

Advanced reason often overlaps the distinctions and the fields, into various higher forms.

This is a present metaphysics of reason, quite in advance of its use in science.
__________________

All the mechanical distinctions of reason are used in religion too.

But you write that with regard to FACTS in religion, “in their case, the facts happened to be false.”

I think this is not quite right. In the case of religion, the facts are “not falsifiable”.

Science is defined NOT by the mechanics of reason. Science is defined by 1. presumed falsifiability of results, and 2. its restriction of domain to the material universe. The history of science shows that science’s results can be extended further into the material world, into new and unexpected discoveries, into deeper theories. This is its virtue.

But consider that science works and finds new things, yet we have difficulty characterizing the eternal status of its results. The history of science so far demonstrates that it finds no final laws, at least we wouldn’t know how to recognize or to say if it did. There are just ever-more basic laws in a process of erasure and expansion that may have no end. It might be wiser to say that new science is the unfixed, expanding membrane of intellectual cognition. (Some discussions in Quine follow upon this conception.)

Thus it is, that there may be no final scientific laws, just as there may be no God.

But for people who need a closure, that won’t do. Religion’s unfalsifiability is a NECESSARY function, to call them out of despair or out of consciousness of sin by salvation through faith. A change in intellectual opinion or intellectual framework is not a change in consciousness. Change in consciousness is a nonverbal thing. Yet verbal reason is all we possess to communicate outside of direct personal contact. So religion employs the mechanisms of reason in a discourse that is heavily characterized by repetition, storytelling, circularity, metaphor, taboo and hiddenness.

Indeed several religions go further for some few of their most intellectual adepts, with a practice or symbolic construction that first sets up a discourse by reason, and then directly contradicts it with negation or mystery. There are examples in jnana yoga, Zen koans, meditation upon the Christian trinity, etc.

This process may be illuminated in the future by brain science, but for now, athiests who would expunge religion ought to consider that it offers a lot of things to people in need. Society is not about to put all of them into psychotherapy at $200 an hour — and often it isn’t what they need, it doesn’t work as well.

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Z 04.04.18 at 2:07 pm

TM @200 Btw it seems highly dubious that “reason” can be understood as an isolated property that selection could act on (as opposed to an emergent property of a whole complex of mental abilities).

That seems absolutely right to me, and that’s one of the main reason (though not the single one) I doubt the evolutionary part of Mercier and Sperber argument can hold water.

About Swami’s @190 the emerging makeup of France is in risk of becoming no longer French and therefore extremely likely to be made up of people without shared French cultural mindsets and values

Layman already dealt with that assertion, but I just want to add the obvious logical observation that therefore above only holds if people living in a given country do not quickly adopt the “shared cultural mindsets and values” of that country. If, on the other hand, such an adoption happens reasonably quickly and efficiently, then the changing ethnic make up of a given country may have little impact on its cultural values. It seems to me pretty empirically uncontroversial that the latter hypothesis is the correct one* except – and this is of course crucial – when the dominant part of the society actively stigmatizes the people in question (which in fact are not necessarily of foreign origin, see Burakumin in Japan).

*And indeed this is another reason why I doubt that the evolutionary part of Mercier and Sperber can be valid: plainly reasoning in the sense of their article (and presumably book) is a highly malleable cultural practice, not a rigid cognitive module.

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Kiwanda 04.04.18 at 3:25 pm

steven t johnson:

Kiwanda@167 manages to assume social issue positions a libertarian might pretend to count as left wing, while ignoring Hitchens’ support for imperialist war on Serbia (and the Chinese embassy,) misrepresenting it as defending Muslims.

Evidently I need to repeat the conversation. Why did I note, from the wikipedia article on Hitchens’ political views, that Hitchens was “against the first Iraq invasion, anti-Zionist, pro-choice, against capital punishment, against the “War on Drugs”, pro LGBT rights, fought NSA surveillance, favored intervention to protect Muslims in Bosnia, favored Nader in 2000, Obama in 2008. And not a big fan of Henry Kissinger or Mother Teresa.”?

Because I was responding to Layman: “Anyone who thinks Hitch and Harris aren’t right wing isn’t paying attention. Which right-wing boxes do they miss ticking? “

So Hitchens misses ticking a few right-wing boxes. Although, again, as I noted, he supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, so there’s that.

Now maybe, per bianca steele, he ceased being a leftist, because leftists were against the 2003 Iraq invasion, and he attacked them for that: attack leftists, for any reason, and you’re not one. Maybe, per steven t johnson, those not-right-wing positions are coming from Hitchens’ dark libertarian heart, and not a true and good leftist one, and his anti-Zionist views were an expression of crypto-anti-semitism, despite many of his statements.

So maybe Hitchens was no true leftist, despite a variety of not-right-wing positions. Yeah, OK, sure. I don’t actually know why this is an interesting question. He was anti-Zionist; in general, that’s good. He was in favor of the 2003 Iraq invasion; that’s bad. Why is it important which particular tribal box he is placed in, or whether a good position comes from an unstated, unknown, bad motive? It isn’t, and doesn’t. What matters are issues, not tribes.

And not personalities, either. I don’t know why here, Henry needs to get clear that Sam Harris is a bad, bad person, just as last round, he needed to get clear that Jon Chait is a bad, bad person, and next week, presumably he’ll need to affirm that James Fallows is History’s Greatest Monster.

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steven t johnson 04.04.18 at 3:29 pm

Here’s an algorithm for calculating the quality of a historiographical dissertation:

weight of dissertation X percentage of pages devoted to endnotes X number of works listed in bibliography, the product then divided by the number of citations of the dissertation supervisor The larger the final sum, the weightier the work, obviously.

So, the metaquestion: Is this algorithm scientism?

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Mario 04.04.18 at 4:18 pm

I’ve noticed this over the years on web forums where creationists battle their critics: their belief that labelling a proposition as an “axiom” means “not requiring any justification ever”.

Please, tell me: before whom does one have to justify one’s axoims? and who enforces the proper justification of axioms and definitions? And furthermore – who ensures that appropriateness is judged in a nondiscriminatory and appropriate way?

I’m sure this logical theory of yours has something to say on the matter, but I wonder: on what, then, are these assertions based?

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Stephen 04.04.18 at 5:05 pm

hidari@172: “before considering the truth of any political proposition, think: ‘Who would benefit if it were widely believed that this were true?’”.

And having thought that, what then?

Do you conclude that if people you like would benefit if it were widely believed to be true, it is Rightthinking and therefore to be supported; while if people you dislike would benefit if it were widely believed to be true, it is Wrongthinking and therefore to be condemned? Irrespective of any actual evidence for it being true or false?

If that’s not what you mean, what did you mean?

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Swami 04.04.18 at 5:37 pm

@JD,

“If Haier is right on this point, you must be wrong; if you are right on this point, Haier must be wrong.”

It is always possible HE is wrong (pun intended), but actually I read him as saying we are morally obligated regardless of the root cause, not that the cure is generic regardless of cause. IOW, it doesn’t matter if the cause of traffic fatalities is texting or speeding but we need to reduce it either way, but the way we reduce it differs based upon the root causes.

@Layman,

“Is it lost on you that those on the far right in France have been saying this exact thing for nearly 150 years?”

No. People abuse arguments on every side of a debate, especially when politics is involved. To dismiss a sound argument because someone abused an unsound but similar argument is just bad reasoning.

I am extremely pro immigration. But immigration can not be overwhelming. The immigrants need to adapt to (or gradually add to and improve) the cultural mindset and values. Slow rates of immigration, which allow diverse groups to assimilate are probably extremely healthy (they have been in the US), especially in higher IQ groups (college degrees, doctors, IT professionals, etc). This is absolutely not the case with the current crop of Muslims entering Europe (though I believe it is very true for most Muslim immigrants in the US).

Again, even though my family is mostly… (oops, you don’t want to hear it), I worry the rate of Hispanic immigration in the US has been too fast (for healthy assimilation) since the late 60’s. This is certainly debatable, but I spend a lot of time in subsections of California with poorly integrated sub-culture. This can lead to the situation where first and second generation immigrants thrive, but third generation revert back to the institutional and cultural problems they were trying to run from in the first place.

“Would white people on the right in France view you as part of the solution to protecting France, or part of the problem? If they see you as part of the solution, then clearly fears of the Other are silly and racist. If they see you as part of the problem, then you’re very confused, man.”

I am sure they have multiple perspectives, but as being neither of the right or French I can’t say exactly. The key point is that it is rational and moral to be concerned with the make up of the group one belongs to, especially in a democracy where those entering can help to determine what you have to do even if it is against your will or interest.

I strongly support the economic arguments of moderately high levels of liberal immigration, my concern is with overwhelming tides of rapid immigration which undermines the institutional foundation of a successful nation. To the extent some in France recognize this danger then I am in agreement with them, even if this means that they don’t want me in their tribe (I don’t speak a lick of French and honestly doubt I share many of their mindsets or values, though I almost certainly share more than does an uneducated, clannish Syrian refuge).

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Kiwanda 04.04.18 at 5:57 pm

(And yes, I suppose I am concluding that Henry is a bad, bad person.)

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J-D 04.04.18 at 8:44 pm

Swami

The reason I mentioned it is that the original post denigrated Murray for noting that the emerging makeup of France is in risk of becoming no longer French and therefore extremely likely to be made up of people without shared French cultural mindsets and values.

That is a distortion; the original post described Murray as counting black and brown faces. The idea that you can detect likely changes in mindsets and values by counting black and brown faces is both ludicrous and vicious.

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J-D 04.04.18 at 9:00 pm

Swami
If you set yourself the goal of increasing people’s intelligence, then it will probably be essential and certainly be helpful to find out as much as you can about what factors affect people’s intelligence and how they might be amenable to manipulation. There’s something to be said in favour of setting that goal. For example, recognising that exposure to environmental lead has a negative effect on people’s cognitive development (among other adverse health effects) probably contributed to the pressure to get lead out of petrol and to other continuing efforts to clean up environmental lead.

If you set yourself the goal of reducing the differences which have been detected between the average IQ scores of different groups of people, then it will probably be essential and certainly be helpful to find out as much as you can about the factors that contribute to those differences between averages; but why would you set yourself that goal? There’s nothing to be said in favour of that goal, and nothing to be said in favour of selecting that question for investigation.

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engels 04.04.18 at 9:28 pm

I don’t frankly care whether you agree with my views or not. They harm no one

So glad the American Christian Right’s craziness never has any effects on anyone else

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Peter T 04.05.18 at 2:01 am

“Reason(ing) is first and foremost a way of thinking and reaching conclusions through logic. It is defined internally by its principles and procedures, not by its external results; in particular, it is not defined in terms of its practical application and a practical application or expression is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for it.”

That’s one form of reason. Formal deductive logic has its appeal, but we would be puzzled to find our way in the world relying on it alone. Reasoning is a bundle of techniques, and much or the art is in selecting those appropriate to the object of our understanding. The historian’s reasoning is not the chemist’s, and we have seen many sad results from trying to apply the methods of the natural sciences to the arts (or vice versa).

This is not to require practical applications – understanding may be its own goal.

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F. Foundling 04.05.18 at 2:42 am

I might address any response(s) to my comments in more detail later, but for now – just a quick note on the specific commonly raised objection that religious views harm nobody, which I happened to catch a glimpse of. Now, a very abstract deism with no practical implications may harm nobody *directly*, but it’s a bad habit – if you indulge in such thinking in this respect, you are likely to indulge in it in other, more directly harmful respects. Personally, I would get a bit nervous if I were to hear a person in my proximity assert seriously their belief that there is a giant seven-legged pink elephant with three and a half compound eyes hovering in the sky above us, even if this had no obvious consequences for our current interactions in practice and the person appeared to be speaking and acting, for the time being, in an entirely sane manner in every other respect.

However, apart from the precedent one gives to oneself, there is the issue of the precedent one gives to others. Most theists don’t just stop at a very abstract deism, but rather have more detailed ideas about God with specific implications for everyday life, ethics, laws and so on, and that is where the results really get messy (I need not elaborate on this). And that’s the real purpose of theism, really. I mean, come on – what would be the point of having such a dramatically deviant notion about the very essence of our universe if one *didn’t* use it to draw any conclusions about one’s actual life from them? Really, everything in our entire existence just happens to be produced and at least potentially controlled by a living rational being with unimaginable and possibly infinite capabilities, but this *won’t* have any practical implications for our lives? Please. The function of a God in a human’s worldview is to be an *authority*, a higher primate in the hierarchy – someone whose favour one seeks to earn and whose disfavour one seeks to avoid by obeying them and pleasing them. As long as we have theism, this is what we’ll get; and as long as we have this, we will be having the trouble resulting from that obedience and favour-seeking. And as long as some people are able to justify their abstract deism devoid of practical implications in an irrational way, others will be able to justify their regular theism with practical implications in the same irrational way.

As an aside – I have never paid much attention to Sam Harris and it looks as if I would disagree with him on quite a few things, but looking at his website and his interaction with Jordan Peterson, I have to say one thing in his favour: at least he is *not* Jordan Peterson.

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Swami 04.05.18 at 2:44 am

@J-D, you are right, Murray’s quote was at best poorly worded.

I am not following why you would not want to set a goal to increase IQ in a subgroup which may have been more prone to lead exposure or bad nutrition. If I knew that predominantly X group populations were affected by the problem, then I would consider aiming some of my efforts in X group. I may be misunderstanding you though.

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Robespierre 04.05.18 at 4:18 am

@219 “but why would you set yourself that goal? There’s nothing to be said in favour of that goal”

You cannot possibly be serious.

225

faustusnotes 04.05.18 at 4:46 am

Let’s note the pattern of Swami’s thoughts here (perhaps also Murray’s). He or she has gone from accepting that there is an IQ gap between white Americans and some black Americans who were imported into America and viciously mistreated for generations …

… through a side discussion of how there are lots of Muslim and African migrants in France today (based on some shit Murray said) …

… to an assumption that this will be bad because they don’t share the same cultural traits (nothing to do with IQ) …

… to a general position that we should restrict immigration.

The latter position is the one Swami appeared to start from, and in particular with reference to Mexicans in America.

This application of “reason” to the “problem” of black IQ shows exactly why people like Murray are seen as racist. They don’t seem to be able to stay entirely within the confines of their logical rails, and suddenly a whole bunch of other political consequences appear to occur to them. And those political consequences always seem to come with a high cost for black people and foreigners. Sure it might be a coincidence that they always fall that way. But then again …

I followed the unfogged discussion of this Harris/Klein debate to a past debate he had on security profiling, and his opening gambit shows the same kind of viciousness. He started with the example of a terrorist who has strapped a bomb to his 4 year old daughter and is going to use her to blow up a plane. Sure he may just have lucked onto that particular vicious example. But one could also wonder – why is it that these arseholes always imagine the worst possible scenario from Muslims? Could it be because they really really have a bad view of Muslims? And if so, are they really arguing in good faith?

Those are rhetorical questions, obviously. We all know that people like Harris and Murray are not arguing in good faith. They’re racists.

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nastywoman 04.05.18 at 4:56 am

@216
– when the famous Mayflower anchored at what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts, on the tip of Cape Cod – and small scouting groups began exploring the land in search of a place to build Plymouth Colony, they were encountered by members of the Wampanoag tribe – Robert Cushman, a member of the Pilgrim church referred to as ”heathens”
– and one of the Indians – a very wise and very reasonable man told the new settlers:

”I am extremely pro immigration. But immigration can not be overwhelming. The immigrants need to adapt to (or gradually add to and improve) the cultural mindset and values. Slow rates of immigration, which allow diverse groups to assimilate are probably extremely healthy (they have been in England), especially in higher IQ groups (royalty, etc). This is absolutely not the case with the current (around 1620) crop of Muslims entering Europe (though I believe it might become true for most Muslim immigrants if one day also Muslims will immigrate to the US)

How visionary?

and awesome… reason?

227

nastywoman 04.05.18 at 4:59 am

Wait!!
I forgot – the American Indian told the Mayflower Crowd that he was afraid that America won’t be America anymore!

228

nastywoman 04.05.18 at 5:13 am

But on the other side:

the slow rates of immigration, which allowed diverse groups to assimilate in London probably were extremely healthy for the London Real Estate Market – especially in higher wealth -(and not necessarily IQ) – groups (Muslim Sheiks, etc). This is absolutely not the case with the current crop of Muslims entering Europe – they just don’t bring enough dough – and I’m just joking –
if it is allowed?

229

nastywoman 04.05.18 at 5:21 am

– and man! – do I want to pie people who say stuff like:

”France won’t be France anymore”!
(copyright by Trump)

230

b9n10nt 04.05.18 at 5:45 am

An open letter to fervent agnostics and atheists:

Religious conviction is merely the most common “spell” that enables greed, fear, and ignorance to motivate people’s actions. There’s plenty of evidence that conviction in reason, or “the ancestors”, or ____ would do the trick just as well were they to similarly capture peoples’ attention.

If you try to kill their gods with any hint of arrogant disdain, with any sense of I-know-something-you-don’t-know, with any trace of greed or fear in the attempt, they will resurrect their gods with even greater conviction, or buy into your wisdom but make a cheap dogmatism of it and go about their ignorance just as they were.

There’s a subtle but profound difference between trying to fight religious conviction and trying to make religious conviction socially-irrelevant. Sam Harris and the New Atheists seem like they are doing the former. I think it’s gratifying for them but not wise.

231

John Quiggin 04.05.18 at 7:19 am

Isn’t “fervent agnostic” an oxymoron?

More seriously, agnosticism seems to me to be associated with a political position of the general form “No one can determine the truth about religion one way or the other, so believe whatever you want, as long as you don’t try to impose it on everyone else”. That’s a position that’s only really tenable when there are a lot of agnostics in the population. As someone said “Religious tolerance only prevails where religious indifference throws its weight into the scales”.

232

Hidar 04.05.18 at 8:02 am

@215

Despite what you seem to think, it wasn’t me that thought up ‘cui bono’. And the phrase has persisted for thousands of years. You might want to think about why.

As for your second point, I have noticed that many ‘types’ get hysterical when it is pointed out to them that most statements of ‘fact’ (most of all in the political realm) are not made by disinterested, unmotivated scientists, dispassionately searching for truth, but instead by people who ‘have skin in the game’: i.e. people who have interests (which may well be material), motives and reasons for making statements, and not just in general, but motives for making claims at this specific time. And it is an essential part of critical thinking to think about what these motives and reasons might be, and how they affect what we, as listeners and readers, are to make of these truth claims.

It would be superfluous to go through (e.g.) the front page of the New York Times or the Guardian today and go through all the ‘big stories’ and reflect on whose interests they might serve: i.e. as I said, who would benefit if it were widely believed if these stories were true? And not just ask ‘why are these claims being made’ but (as someone on CT once pointed out) to also ask: ‘why are these claims being made now‘?

Superfluous, but not uninteresting.

233

casmilus 04.05.18 at 8:54 am

@214

First of all: calm down, dear. You’re getting overexcited.

Secondly: I’ll use the on-line creationist notion of “axiom”, and insist I don’t have to justify anything, ever. No interesting discussion can ensue from this, but it doesn’t look like one is available anyway.

Meanwhile, the fact that a proposition has the position of an axiom in a logical system does not mean we have no reasons to doubt the applicability of the system and its inferences.

I can’t see any rational grounds for judging teenage C.S.Lewis cultists as any more profound than the Dawkins fanboys.

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casmilus 04.05.18 at 10:31 am

I find the on-line partisans of New Atheism and creationism have a lot in common, since they both have a tendency to invoke “logic” as a cover for gaps in justification, and they both seem to be unclear about their epistemology, which is the real issue, not logic. NAs tend to unreflectively take a crude positivistic view, but their fearless opponents don’t seem to be clear that they’ve broken away from that game, rather than just playing it differently. Similarly, as far as “scientism” is a failing it seems to occur as much within the world of Young Earth Creationism, the ideological controls on permissible data are just set differently but there’s the same degree of bawling that Science Says what it was required to say.

Anyway I’ve just seen this:
http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/religious-conservatives-can-remind-the-rest-of-us-how-to-argue/

235

Gabriel 04.05.18 at 1:08 pm

That seems quite an ahistorical statement, John. Are we to ignore religiously tolerant pre-Enlightenment societies (Al-Andalus, Rome) that were anything but religiously indifferent? Are we to further ignore that one of the foundational beliefs behind a lot of modern religious contention – that a religion consists of a list of things one must believe – is a very modern concept that doesn’t apply outside of a relatively modern Judeo-Christo-Islamic context?

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bruce wilder 04.05.18 at 1:14 pm

Religious diversity might have something to do with fostering religious tolerance. Diversity of any social kind, perhaps. Conformity, more than conviction, seems to have been the usual goal of those who would campaign for shared and common rituals. I understand the village mayor who wants silence for the Presbyterian minister doing the invocation at a high school football game. I am not sure what militant atheists are after.

I do not “believe in” facts. I am tempted to joke that the facts do not need my faith in them and I find it tiresome to provide what is unnecessary. I do sometimes need to believe in the worth of more intangible entities, including my “self”. In this, I think I avoid a category error. But, I can see the heroic pose of fighting for Truth might serve a similar purpose.

237

Z 04.05.18 at 2:36 pm

engels @22 (in the off-chance you are still reading) What’s wrong with memes?

I broadly concur with Jospeh Brenner, but to express it slightly differently, I find that using the word meme rather than the more precise concept, idea, cultural practice etc… obscures more than it illuminates, not only because it puts together (and implicitly identifies) concepts that may very well differ in fact widely in their evolutionary properties but also because it suggests – if only phonetically – a similarity with genes as understood in Darwinian evolution. This is in my opinion very detrimental, as are all such analogies which purport to somehow apply Darwinian evolutionary analysis to domains which lack the genotype/phenotype distinction.

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William Berry 04.05.18 at 3:14 pm

@JQ: I agree that “fervent agnostic” is probably an oxymoron. But if an agnostic is also insomniac and dyslexic, then surely that one will lie awake nights wondering if there really is a Dog.

When I started reading this thread I was wondering when someone would bring in Cosma Shalizi’s excellent work on the subject of “factor g”. Here is what I think is the best-known paper (discussed at length here on CT a few years back, AIR):

http://bactra.org/weblog/523.html

Then someone did (around comment 100 I think). Thanks for that.

The usual suspects would do well to read it closely, try to understand it, and ponder it for a few days, or years, or whatever. Even if they finally can’t manage to wrap their heads around it then, at least the time spent thinking about it will save them from dropping what are (to be generous, perhaps unconsciously so) essentialist and racist arguments into these threads.

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TM 04.05.18 at 3:17 pm

230: This observation raises an important question: what strategy should agnostics and atheists employ in a society where they are hugely outnumbered, such as the US? Is it really advisable to offend all religious people (the Dawkins strategy), or should they try to form alliances with the more “reasonable” among the religious (the Gould strategy)? Given the reality that most people profess some form of religious belief, I just don’t see the appeal of a predominantly confrontational, anti-religious approach. Plus, I think the charge that religion as such is the cause of all the bad things religious people do is simplistic. People have invented all sorts of justifications for committing mass murder, whether appealing to religion or tribe or nation or party. Fanaticism can exist without religion and even be directed against religion. That I think is why many take issue with the anti-religious fervor of certain atheists – it can come across as fanatical. And yes, there can be fanaticism in the name of reason.

I think we need to read the Dialectic of Enlightenment again.

240

TM 04.05.18 at 3:47 pm

Re 190 etc. Those who consider the number of Muslims in France (about 9% of the population) “overwhelming” should be reminded that France until quite recently ruled over a large colonial empire with many Muslim populations. It is perplexing that often the very same Frenchpeople who oppose the presence of Muslims in their country regret the French retreat from Algeria.

241

Paul Dulaney 04.05.18 at 4:55 pm

I was a bit slow to grasp how comments on others’ comments are handled on this site…

If I am responding to someone who has called me out I have prepended an asterisk to the tag.

*@magistra 13 – I completely agree — intelligence is a gift from God, not a virtue. My point was not that I believe the asserted IQ inequality, but rather that it is disingenuous to assert that it is false just because you don’t like it. If I say that men are generally more adept at STEM than women, some people will get in a huff. But few will raise an eyebrow if I assert that 95% of violent crimes are committed by men, or that in the US white males are much more likely to commit suicide than anyone else. Truth is never the enemy, though the purposes to which one puts it often are.

*@Francis 17 – I agree. And that’s my beef with the whole women in STEM meme. Are women being harassed at tech firms or being discriminated against or having roadblocks put in their way? To the extent that they are, remedies must be immediate and certain. But in every case the best candidate should get the job, be promoted, etc. Most importantly, each person should be treated as an individual, not as a member of a group.

*@Procopius 18 – Thank you for the kind comments. But see my response to

@asteele 19 – This is a key observation. It is one thing to accept the results of well-conducted research that one feels compelled to accept as true. It is quite another to have a sordid agenda and to seek to confirm it with numbers. I don’t know enough about Murray to know if your assertion is true, but if it is, it is a damning assertion indeed.

*@casmilus 208 – Your comment was my favorite because it really made me think. I think your point is that properly speaking, an axiom is an assertion that is undeniably true – and consequently my belief in God is not axiomatic insofar as the claim that God exists is by no means self-evident to all. (Indeed, in my understanding of Christian theology, proper belief in God is self-evident to no one; the Holy Spirit must reveal the existence of God to each believer individually.) That is the sense one gets about “axiom” from reading both Wikipedia and the Oxford English Dictionary. Poking around Wikipedia leads me to think that more properly I should say that my belief in God is a First Principle or an a priori, not an axiom. But this website (http://www.importanceofphilosophy.com/Metaphysics_Axiom.html) defines axiom as: “An axiom is an irreducible primary. It doesn’t rest upon anything in order to be valid, and it cannot be proven by any ‘more basic’ premises. A true axiom cannot be refuted because the act of trying to refute it requires that very axiom as a premise. An attempt to contradict an axiom can only end in a contradiction.” This definition, which I like, suggests that while axioms often are self-evident, that is not their essential quality. But whether or not an axiom is self-evident, it is nonetheless an irreducible primary – which means that “not requiring any justification ever” when speaking of axioms makes perfect sense. In fact, by definition, no justification CAN be given.

242

Layman 04.05.18 at 6:12 pm

Swami: “I am sure they have multiple perspectives, but as being neither of the right or French I can’t say exactly.”

Ah. So you know so much about France, French culture, and the nature of French immigration policy that you are prepared to argue that the latter is an existential threat to the former; while you know so little about France and French culture that you cannot hazard a guess as to where you, personally, might lie on the immigration hazard scale imagined by Frenchmen?

That’s a fine needle you’ve threaded! I’m tempted to think you understand what I was getting at, and so are simply dodging the question.

That aside, if you don’t know anything about France, why did you bring it up?

243

Ogden Wernstrom 04.05.18 at 7:24 pm

Swami 04.04.18 at 5:37 pm, in part:

The immigrants need to adapt to (or gradually add to and improve) the cultural mindset and values.

Why do they need to do this? Is it just to avoid being beat up by racists? (If so, it might be more accurate to say that the racists are the ones with a need, not the immigrants.)

In the US, tell your need-to-adapt theory to the Mennonites, the Russian Old-Believers, the Danes in Solvang, the Cornish who celebrate St. Piran’s Day in the US, and the Scots (with their insistence on loudly playing their ethnic music while wearing their ethnic costumes in parades and such). (I noticed the use of the word, “clannish” later in the thread, so I suspect that you know about the Scots Scourge in the USofA. At least we’ve banned haggis, so we don’t have to assimilate the offal.)

244

engels 04.05.18 at 8:19 pm

Isn’t “fervent agnostic” an oxymoron

No: the content of a position is independent from the force with which one defends it (cf. raging moderate)

245

b9n10nt 04.05.18 at 9:20 pm

Okay okay pardon me my rhetorical flourish!

The point is: those who single out faith as inherently problematic should instead single out status-seeking and it’s shadow (deference to authority) as the more universal social toxin that corrupts religion but not only that.

Granted, as John Quiggin alludes to, today religion is easier to single out for condemnation. But, as Lee A. Arnold alludes to @210, religious faith is a cognitive medicine for those of us seeking transcendence (or simply peace of mind).

246

Mario 04.05.18 at 10:08 pm

casmilus

Apologies if it sounded somehow “excited”, I didn’t mean it to, I just wanted to highlight the problem all of this rationality business has when taken by its word. At the end, you either accept that somewhere at the core of every system of arguments there is one or more leaps of faith, or you keep banging your head at the “irrationality” of other people.

Your appeal to the proposition that no interesting discussion is possible unless your framework applies reminds me of the way many religious folks argue: if God did not exist, then the world would be horrible. Therefore… . I sympathize, really, I do.

At the end, evolution as an explanation for the existence of life requires a mind that is ready to understand and accept both the arguments and the data. This involves a model of the universe (axioms), and a certain type of goal when assimilating information that not everybody has. Arguments can’t normally change that.

247

Mario 04.05.18 at 10:11 pm

Ogden Wernstrom,

Why do they need to do this? Is it just to avoid being beat up by racists? (If so, it might be more accurate to say that the racists are the ones with a need, not the immigrants.)

Is it to you an even remote possibility that, in some cases, the locals may have to be protected from the violence of the immigrants? Or is that categorically impossible?

248

Mario 04.05.18 at 10:17 pm

Travitt Hamilton @204

Where are you getting the idea that anyone on this thread is ‘quite ready to accept that blacks are dumber than whites?’ I don’t think there’s a single comment that could possibly be read that way.

Well, if someone comes to you saying “I have this data that shows blacks are dumber than whites”, and your reply is not an F-word and an U, but instead is “I’m not convinced by the data”, you have certainly bought the form of the argument. You are, implicitly, saying: “Other data may convince me”.

There’s enough of that in this thread.

249

John Quiggin 04.05.18 at 10:58 pm

Gabriel @235 On Rome, I’ll hand over to Edward Gibbon

“The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord.”

It’s the locus classicus for indifference (in three different forms) producing and being enhanced by toleration.

250

Peter T 04.05.18 at 11:08 pm

John

The study of history has progressed since the 18th century.

251

Faustusnotes 04.05.18 at 11:29 pm

Paul Delaney re women in STEM, please revisit history. Mathematics used to be the preferred subject for elite girls. I recommend reading The Mind has no Sex. Once you’ve done that you might understand how wayward your positions are.

252

Heliopause 04.06.18 at 12:09 am

@244
Did someone ever ask you a question and you responded, “I don’t know.” Then they ask you again and you say, “I. Don’t. Know.” Then they ask you a third time and you say, “I don’t f****** know, stop f****** asking me!”

253

Robespierre 04.06.18 at 1:38 am

@240: And was this empire, by any chance, a democracy that awarded Muslims equal political rights and gave their religion the same disrespect it gave others? (In family law, for instance).
No, of course it wasn’t. It also fell after little more than a century, and it was never even remotely as stable and peaceful as we imagine a modern country would be – far less peaceful than modern France is right now.

254

J-D 04.06.18 at 1:56 am

Swami
I am not sure I understand what you mean when you write that the cited account from Charles Murray was ‘at best poorly worded’.

If somebody supposes that it is possible to get a good idea of a person’s cultural values and mindset by observing skin colour, the idea is both ludicrous and vicious.

If somebody does not suppose that it is possible to do such a thing, but writes an account which suggests belief in some such idea, then the account is (obviously) poorly worded.

If you concur that it is not possible to get a good idea of a person’s cultural values and mindset by observing skin colour, but you think there is some method of getting a good idea of a person’s cultural values and mindset by some other kind of quick and easy scanning method that would be applicable on a large scale (as, for example, in immigration screening, or in airport security screening), you have not made clear what you think that method is, and I can’t think of any myself.

For people whose actual purpose is to select out individuals of darker (or lighter) skin colour, in some such context as immigration screening or airport security screening, we can at least say that what they are proposing is practicable, although it can have only pernicious effects.

If you dream of selecting people, in a similar context, by their cultural values and mindsets, it’s pure fantasy.

It makes sense to frame an objective of reducing the harm caused by something like malnutrition, or environmental lead exposure; that’s a good objective, and that’s a sensible way of framing it. If it happens to be the case that some groups of people have been more severely harmed by malnutrition than other groups, then it’s highly likely that one effect of reducing the harm caused by malnutrition will be to reduce inter-group differences, but that does not make it sensible to frame that as the objective. If you pose the question in the form ‘How can we reduce inter-group differences?’ then you have no basis for denying that one means of attaining your objective is to starve everybody so that they’re all equally malnourished, which shows that you have made a poor choice of framing.

255

John Quiggin 04.06.18 at 3:19 am

Peter T @250 And?

256

ph 04.06.18 at 3:43 am

Nothing quite so enjoyable as bashing the people of faith on the weekend where (some?) are celebrating pacifist resistance and the life of Martin Luther King. Religions and faiths vary a great deal.

Anyone else notice that?

257

Gabriel 04.06.18 at 4:25 am

Perhaps you are using an idiosyncratic meaning of the term ‘indifference’, John, but Romans were hardly indifferent to religion. Some were fervent believers, some belonged to more than one cult that included somewhat contrary beliefs (very Japanese), and yes, some were indifferent. This included ‘the people’, ‘philosophers’ included, despite what your pithy quote contends. Religions birthed cults birthed new religions. Religions were imported, changed, sent out again. Various Imperial cults waxed and waned. Some religions were orthodoxic, more were orthopraxic, some were ritualistic, but religion was central to Roman life.

Like most modern critics of religion speaking outside of their field (probably starting with Freud), you’ve taken observed elements of modern Judeo-Christianity and generalized them to encompass religion in all times and places. This doesn’t work, and there’s a reason you don’t see it in either History or Religious Studies departments. It says nothing about religion, and a lot about the speaker.

258

Peter T 04.06.18 at 5:07 am

I thought you were quoting Gibbon in support of actual Roman attitudes, rather than borrowing his words to express a certain enlightenment outlook on religion.

If the former, Mary Beard is a better source: “Romans knew the gods existed; they did not believe in them in the internalised sense familiar from most modern world religions.” The magistrates certainly took religion very seriously, as they were certain the power and prosperity of Rome rested on divine favour.

259

Gabriel 04.06.18 at 8:14 am

Why quote a modern expert in her field, Peter, when one can quote cutting-edge scholarship from two-hundred and fifty years ago?

260

F. Foundling 04.06.18 at 2:56 pm

@b9n10nt 04.03.18 at 4:26 pm
It is one thing to say that reason works best or ‘achieves its full potential’ in groups, it is quite another, and very extreme, to say that it does not even reside in the individual. The very procedures of reasoning by definition do take place in individual brains and there is nothing in their nature that presupposes a group. A discussion still changes only individual minds. Once again, a group can ‘rationalise’ just like an individual can, and a lot of things unrelated to reason can cause a discussion to result in a wrong consensus, or to shift the opinions of most participants in a wrong direction. Conversely, when we think individually, we are never truly alone, the internalised voices of other people – as well as the voices of our own previous or alternative ‘selves’ – are, in a way, present constantly. Therefore, I don’t even see what this discussion is about, in practice. ‘Think it possible that you may be mistaken’? Yeah, not a bad idea, but it should not degenerate into ‘assume that you are mistaken if the majority disagrees with you’.

>commit to “self”-awareness as a non-cognitive experience
I readily admit that I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about and how this can be an alternative to reasoning.

261

F. Foundling 04.06.18 at 3:39 pm

@Trader Joe 04.04.18 at 11:56 am
>You immediately begin talking about leaping out of windows and not accepting medicine as being some sort of parallel to religious faith – they are not and I imagine you know this.

The main difference is that in the first case, an irrational stance has immediately obvious practical consequences; in the second case, they are not so immediately obvious. However, religion has, in fact, led people to not accept medical treatment or to harm themselves and/or others in other ways.

> Must I explain why I enjoy a beautiful sunset, prefer the color orange or the taste of IPA?

Already addressed. It’s one thing to point out what you feel, it’s another to assert that (you believe that) something (outside of your own feelings) is true.

> Many scientists seem convinced there is a thing called dark matter yet they can’t seem to prove its existence…

Nothing can ever be proved absolutely, everything is a theory, it’s just that some are more plausible than others on rational grounds. For instance, from my perspective, the most cogent explanation for the appearance of your comments on this site is that you exist, even though some sort of alien or CIA conspiracy to simulate your existence is not strictly impossible, just highly implausible. Even if I were to see you in person, that might still be a hallucination, but the alternative explanation – namely, that you are real – would be far more likely, and I would act in accordance with that assumption. There is evidence that makes the existence of dark matter a highly plausible theory on rational grounds; the same does not hold true of the existence of God. That is precisely why people often demand an exemption from rational assessment for the existence of God but not for the existence of dark matter.

@Lee A. Arnold 04.04.18 at 1:07 pm
>I think this is not quite right. In the case of religion, the facts are “not falsifiable”.

The alleged facts that were used as evidence for the truth of religions (miracles, prophecies etc), are, in principle, falsifiable; and one can certainly say, in view of what is currently known and observable, that it is highly likely that the events in question did not occur. As for what religion offers – I’m generally against lying to oneself and to others, and I think that it does more harm than good both to the individual and to the community.

262

Stephen 04.06.18 at 4:12 pm

Hidari@232

I had never supposed you thought up the useful phrase “cui bono”, since I do know who first used it. I’m not sure you know that, though. (Hint: it wasn’t Cicero.) But I rather doubt that you know the context in which it was used: when investigating a crime, ask yourself which of the suspects profited by it. If you think that committing a crime is the same as putting forward a political proposition, you are deeply confused.

I note that you haven’t answered my question. I will rephrase it. Would you accept that a political proposition may be true even though its being believed would benefit people you dislike, or false even though it would benefit people you like?

If not, why not?

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Ogden Wernstrom 04.06.18 at 4:55 pm

Mario 04.05.18 at 10:11 pm:

Is it to you an even remote possibility that, in some cases, the locals may have to be protected from the violence of the immigrants? Or is that categorically impossible?

Your comment is categorically unrelated to your quote of what I said @243, in which I made my best guess at a possible reason that Swami might think the immigrants should feel a need to change.

Unless you are taking the position that failure-of-immigrants-to-assimilate is violence – that’s my best guess at why you would bring up “the violence of the immigrants”. (In which case, you might not want to attend any Highland Games. You might get squashed during the caber toss, for instance.)

I don’t know if English (RP, AE, BE or any other form) is your first language, but the wording “the violence of the immigrants” does sound as if it is describing a characteristic of immigrants. Maybe you interpreted what I was said as a plea to give immigrants greater protections than those afforded to…non-immigrants? Maybe it was my use of the word “racist” that triggered you
r response.

264

F. Foundling 04.06.18 at 4:59 pm

@Mario 03.31.18 at 9:58 pm
>The problem with reason is that those pesky things called axioms, definitions, and goals, are what give an argument a truth value. Since my axioms, definitions and goals are different from yours, and since they are a matter of choice, my arguments are immune to yours and vice-versa.

As I see that Alex SL 04.01.18 at 6:59 am has pointed out, if that were true, all discussion between humans would be impossible. As for goals, I don’t think that they should affect the truth value of a statement. As for differences in definitions, they should only lead to the use of different language, not to substantially different factual statements (also, differences in definitions should be, as far as possible, minimised and explicitly clarified, or else discussion can become impossible). As for axioms, ‘first principles’ and such-like (factual ones, not value judgements), they are legitimate only if they are truly self-evident to any human (stuff like ‘five is more than three’ and suchlike); if we disagree about their veracity (as in ‘there is a God’), they shouldn’t be considered axioms, or else, again, discussion will be impossible.

@nastywoman 04.05.18 at 4:56 am
Ahem. If you are looking for a way to advertise the benefits of allowing immigration into your country, drawing attention to the historical experience of the Native Americans may not be your best choice.

265

engels 04.06.18 at 5:06 pm

“I don’t f****** know, stop f****** asking me!”

Good example

266

Paul Dulaney 04.06.18 at 5:19 pm

@Faustusnotes 251 – Am I wrong to think that men may have an inherent advantage when it comes to STEM? Perhaps. But either way my policy is still the best: Don’t worry about equal outcomes; just be as fair as possible.

I also think that the idea that we should be pressuring females to do STEM is entirely wrong-headed and is going to contribute to a lot of women wishing they had done what they wanted to do instead of what some STEM-inflamed counselor or teacher encouraged them to do. There is indeed a lesson to be learned from the “paradoxical” fact that women participate most in STEM in countries where women have the least freedom. I am an engineer myself and most of my supervisors for the past 20 years have been women. They’re great and they love what they do. But they are doing it because they wanted to, not because someone pushed them into it.

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Hidari 04.06.18 at 7:46 pm

This article may or may not be relevant to some of these topics. And some of the positions that people hold on them.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/sdfe/pdf/download/eid/1-s2.0-S1053810017306219/first-page-pdf

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Swami 04.06.18 at 8:13 pm

@Layman,

I didn’t bring up France, the OP did. I didn’t suggest an “existential” threat, I suggested that dramatically changing the cultural values by rapidly changing the population will undermine the institutions. I fully endorse a people’s right to decide whether they want to offer me the ability to immigrate. Whether I “make the cut” is totally irrelevant to me. The larger principle here is that I support self determination. My guess is that 90% of the readers of this blog did too until their political tribe lined up against it a year or two ago, in response to what the other political tribe did.

@ Ogden

The longer thread explained my reasoning. The answer is that a massive influx of people with dramatically different underlying values and cultural mindsets and shared beliefs, habits and metaphysical worldviews undermines the institutions of a society. This isn’t an argument against immigration (I am strongly pro increased immigration) it is an argument against excessive rapid unassimilated immigration where it undermines a nations instititions — formal and informal.

If France wants to allow immigrants at a level which threatens to undermine its cultural institutions, they should be free to do so. I hope they do so knowingly though and not naively. Your Mennonite etc discussion misses the point altogether. My concern isn’t with thousands of Mennonites, it is with so many Mennonites arriving so quickly in such overwhelmingly large numbers that the social fabric of the nation is uprooted (obviously not a real threat). I think citizens should have a say on the matter before this happens.

@faustusnotes

Try following the conversation and try to avoid calling people names and distorting their arguments. It shuts down dialogue and open-minded inquiry (possibly your goal?)

I am a strong proponent of legal immigration. I am strongly against unmitigated illegal immigration. Yes, I would recommend the legal immigration be broad based (to avoid significant unassimilated sub pops from forming), be based upon education, or employer need, but that is just me. As above, the decision is the French peoples’. In the US, it is our decision, and we have ways to make that decision within our established institutional traditions.

@JD
“If you concur that it is not possible to get a good idea of a person’s cultural values and mindset by observing skin colour….”

I do concur, but after walking around Paris and actually interacting with people in France I did indeed encounter a large number of people who were clearly very, very culturally different from those traditionally in France. But you are of course right that skin color was insufficient to determine this.

“If you dream of selecting people, in a similar context, by their cultural values and mindsets, it’s pure fantasy.”

My argument has been restated repeatedly. I see no harm with small reasonable amounts (the rate arrived at democratically) from diverse, even extremely diverse, cultures. The reason is that they will tend to assimilate quickly as people adapt to the dominant culture. Large, sudden, overwhelming influxes of people with vastly different cultures from the receiving state threatens to undermine the institutions.

Screening (for increased legal immigration) is easy based upon cultural similarity and proportions. In the US, there is no issue with assimilation from Canadians, for example. They share most underlying beliefs, worldviews, language, education and cultural habits. Another screen can be based upon education or being a doctor or being a professional, or by allowing employers to bring in qualified workers. I strongly recommend against suddenly importing massively excessive numbers of non-Enlightenment cultures, which will have trouble assimilating -clan based cultures, cultures not believing in individualism and universal morality and so on.

“If you pose the question in the form ‘How can we reduce inter-group differences?’ then you have no basis for denying that one means of attaining your objective is to starve everybody so that they’re all equally malnourished, which shows that you have made a poor choice of framing.”

So in your mind I am now borderline arguing for malnourishing people? May I suggest we end it with that?

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J-D 04.06.18 at 11:22 pm

Swami

I suggested that dramatically changing the cultural values by rapidly changing the population will undermine the institutions

I think it’s worth paying close attention to the word choice there.

‘… changing … changing … undermine …’

‘Undermine’ and ‘change’ are not synonyms. So what happens if we modify that sentence to read as follows: ‘changing the cultural values by changing the population will change the institutions’. Then it’s obviously true, but why is the point worth making? Here are some things which are true now about any country, and which have also been true about any country at any time in the past: its population in the future will be different from its population now; its cultural values in the future will be different from its cultural values now; its institutions in the future will be different from its institutions now. All these things are true independently of the level or composition of the immigration to the country. It’s impossible to stop things from changing, and there’s no good general reason to resist change. Of course some changes should be resisted, but others are to be welcomed, and knowing whether the change was or is affected by immigration doesn’t help you to distinguish.

I do concur, but after walking around Paris and actually interacting with people in France I did indeed encounter a large number of people who were clearly very, very culturally different from those traditionally in France.

I don’t doubt it. I’m sure it’s possible to detect differences in cultural values and mindsets. My point is that the methods suitable for doing so are inapplicable to contexts like airport security screening or immigration screening.

Screening (for increased legal immigration) is easy based upon cultural similarity and proportions. In the US, there is no issue with assimilation from Canadians, for example. They share most underlying beliefs, worldviews, language, education and cultural habits. Another screen can be based upon education or being a doctor or being a professional, or by allowing employers to bring in qualified workers. I strongly recommend against suddenly importing massively excessive numbers of non-Enlightenment cultures, which will have trouble assimilating -clan based cultures, cultures not believing in individualism and universal morality and so on.

If you think that information about whether a person is Canadian, or is a doctor, or is a professional, or has been nominated by an employer as qualified, or about what education that person has had, is a reliable guide to that person’s cultural values and mindset, you are mistaken.

So in your mind I am now borderline arguing for malnourishing people?

No; my point is that the framing you have suggested is capable of supporting a conclusion which I’m sure you would reject, and that you should treat that as an occasion for reconsidering what’s a good way of framing the issue.

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Faustusnotes 04.07.18 at 12:30 am

Look at that swami, doing a Harris. As soon as someone points out to you that you are arguing not from reason but from a pre existing set of assumptions, you start whining that you’re being censored. No one is shutting down debate, just pointing out that you have avoided any logic in your arguments. You’ve used a slippery set of non-sequiturs to hijack a discussion about whether black people have lower IQ into support for your pre existing view that Mexicans shouldn’t come to America, via muslims in France. If you don’t want people assuming you’re a racist, try and construct an argument that doesn’t depend entirely and completely in your pre existing prejudices.

You might also try remembering that France had many African Muslim colonies and most of those non-assimilating black people are actually French. But you’ve already made it clear you know nothing about France, so it doesn’t surprise me that you just assumed French people must be white. Again, when someone makes an argument on wrong assumptions to get to a position they already obviously held, one is inclined to assume they have motives. If you want to disprove that assumption, don’t whine about being shit down, make a better argument, perhaps starting with some facts. We’re talking about reason, remember.

Paul Delaney, men don’t have an “inherent” advantage, they have an explicit one: they stop women going into STEM. it’s not a case of being fair to everyone but of undoing the unfairness directed at women in his field. There’s plenty of work been done on these subtle and not so subtle barriers, it isn’t hard to find. If you care about the truth of this (and I suspect from your throwaway “if I’m wrong,so what?” That you don’t ) then read the book I recommend, it has a lot of very useful information about the history of women in STEM and why women don’t do STEM now, when they used to be so into it.

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Collin Street 04.07.18 at 3:27 am

So in your mind I am now borderline arguing for malnourishing people?

No.

In formal-logic terms, it’s a reductio-ad-absurdum disproof of your argument. “You say X, but X means Y, and Y is absurd and plainly erroneous; you should stop saying X”.

That is, your argument is in error because we don’t think you’re supporting malnutrition, even though that’s what your argument suggests.

More-systemically… I’ve been watching your debate approach for a while, and… it appears to reflect a poorly-grounded epistemology that I don’t think you’ve recognised. You don’t really have a firm grasp on ‘truth’ or ‘error’, I think. I could point out specific examples, but… if you could recognise the mistakes you wouldn’t have made them, and it’s an awful lot of work on my part. If you can just say to yourself, “I, swami, will adopt a general attitude of greater humility”, that — and actually acting on it — is all you really need.

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b9n10nt 04.07.18 at 6:41 am

F. Foundling @260

It is one thing to say that reason works best or ‘achieves its full potential’ in groups, it is quite another, and very extreme, to say that it does not even reside in the individual. The very procedures of reasoning by definition do take place in individual brains and there is nothing in their nature that presupposes a group. A discussion still changes only individual minds. Once again, a group can ‘rationalise’ just like an individual can

This is all very clear and reasonable. Obviously “the train’s been running late, I can sleep in 5 more minutes” is experienced as effortless and individual. There’s an innate capacity that is felt. What is a plausible path from that to “reasoning does not reside in the individual”? You could start by seeing that mathematics is itself always culturally-transmitted. Yes, we calculate instinctively, but through symbolic thought and language, we developed & preserved mathematics, which becomes emergent from our ability to instictively calculate and use language. Could the development of mathematics be construed as “social”, not “residing in an individual” until it was downloaded, so to speak?

Leaves a group of humans to be reared by non-communicative robots, and they will develope a language with each other, I would predict. Mathematics isn’t happening, though. Is reasoning more like language or is it more like mathematics? How do we know?

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Peter T 04.07.18 at 11:56 am

“Leave[s] a group of humans to be reared by non-communicative robots, and they will develop a language with each other, I would predict.”

It’s been tried with single humans. They do not develop a language, and are severely handicapped in many ways. Derek Bickerton studied the development of pidgins (rudimentary languages) and creoles (full languages born from the fusion of two languages, like Urdu or English). People without a common language develop a pidgin; their children spontaneously develop a creole.

But your point stands – language is social and essential to complex thought.

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engels 04.07.18 at 3:19 pm

Just gonna leave this here
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groupthink

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F. Foundling 04.08.18 at 3:34 am

@ bruce wilder 04.05.18 at 1:14 pm

You are using the words ‘believe’ and ‘faith’ in a secondarily developed specific sense, which I would summarise, off the top of my head, as something along the lines of: strongly held convictions in the validity of general human positions and attitudes, implying commitment to values (such as reason, freedom of speech etc.). Yet the original and basic meanings, which continue to co-exist with the new ones, are simply ‘considering something to be true’ and ‘trusting someone’, and the secondary meanings are just subcategories of those; that fact immediately raises the question of the justification of said opinion or trust. More importantly, the secondary sense – where the answer, while still necessary, may indeed be vague – is properly limited to the ‘anthropological’ sphere of values, not to things like the structure and history of the cosmos, including the existence of deities; I am not the one who mixed up the two in the same syncretic hotchpotch, the religious did.

On conviction vs conformity – religious faith is supposed to be about conviction and/or interaction with a supernatural entity, and professing it just for conformity’s sake is hypocritical; in addition, I am strongly opposed to displays of and emphasis on conformity for conformity’s sake.

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Swami 04.08.18 at 3:49 am

JD,

Thanks for being the only person who actually even tries to address the argument.

The reason I use the word “undermine” is specifically because I am obviously referring to adverse change according to the citizens. I never implied they were synonyms, one is a subset of the other, and i was indeed making the point that adverse “changes should be resisted” as you said it. Of course there are adverse changes other than caused by massive immigration, but here we are right back to the prior issue of understanding root causes. In addition, as per my original word choice of “change”, I am recognizing that the immigrants can make positive improvements too.

Let me provide a simple example. Let us say you have two neighboring states. State A is made up of almost exclusively of five million well educated Hispanics, and has a high standard of living, high levels of trust and low crime. State B is made up of 100 million radical white supremacists, who though generally peaceful are very low in trust, have no rule of law, low average levels of education and intelligence, a non scientific world view, with an extremely dysfunctional economy with double digit unemployment and standard of living one tenth of state A. Due to the discrepancy in economic opportunity, tens of millions of people from B would love to immigrate to A, but in doing so would convert (pervert?) A to something closer to B.

I am arguing that it would be both logical and just for the People of state A to democratically decide (if they choose) to prohibit the immigration of excessively large numbers people from state B. Indeed, failure to do so would completely undermine their institutions and way of life. Screening is kind of obvious. They could take no people from state B, or a subpopulation least likely to be low trust white supremacists.

If you disagree, please tell me why.

On screening….

When bringing in millions of immigrants, one does not need to be exact in determining that each individual is likely to assimilate and add value to society. Canadians, on average would be a much safer bet for France or Panama than the average person from the white supremacy state. Doctors would be a better screen for intelligence than the unemployed. Native speakers would be superior, all else equal to those not speaking the language of the receiving country. In addition, part of the argument for assimilation is that balance of country of origin in general helps assimilation by repressing the tendency of forming non assimilated enclaves within the larger society. Again, the screening process in such a case could be as simple as a maximum of one hundred thousand people per nation per year with no other screening at all.

Immigration is screenable for cultural similarities and assimilation, if that is what is desired by the receiving nation.

“…my point is that the framing you have suggested is capable of supporting a conclusion which I’m sure you would reject…”

I did not frame it that way, you suggested framing it that way and then went on to engage in this silly repudiation. I explicitly framed it (building off Haier who is the subject matter expert) as desiring to increase intelligence by understanding where challenging subpops and increasing the problem area via targeted solutions. The original point was that Haier and I wanted to increase intelligence not make it equal and lower. This is an absolutely absurd distortion of the argument. See my example on smoking rates to Collin below.

Faustus,

I never complained of (or mentioned) censoring, just of you trying to stifle conversation and suppress dissenting views by name calling. My complaint to you was to quit calling people “racist,” now resurrected as “doing a Harris” and “pre-existing prejudices”. I have repeated my argument on excessive levels of unassimilated immigration threatening to undermine institutions at least a half dozen times. Could you please try to repeat it or even copy and past it and respond to it? I have provided a concrete example to make it easier above. Feel free to join in, but please stop the personal attacks, it really does suppress open conversation, and an open dialogue is what we want, right?

Collin,

The argument was clearly to INCREASE INTELLIGENCE and to do so it would be useful to understand and address differences in subpops by targeting solutions to the challenge areas. To argue that this suggests enforced malnourishment to force equality reflects an error in JD’s framing.

If I wanted to reduce lung cancer rates and subpop studies showed that smoking was four times as prevalent in Asian Americans, for you and JD to conclude this justifies forcing Hispanics to take up smoking is absolutely silly. Please try to engage in the issue at hand rather than (ineptly) shifting the discussion to me ( textbook ad hominem).

Feel free to answer whether state A is justified in repressing or managing immigration from state B as above.

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F. Foundling 04.08.18 at 4:15 am

A general note on some other issues brought up in earlier comments:

Do people do bad things because of religion?

They do bad things because of, inter alia:

1. tribalistic prioritising of group affiliation and conformity over reason, truth and justice

2. blind trust in authority as opposed to reason

3. self-serving self-delusion and intellectual and moral compartmentalisation

– all of which can often be found in all speres of human life, including secular or explicitly atheistic ideologies; but in religion, they are always necessarily present, and present in an extremely pure, obvious, practically overt form. One of the worst things that I can say about a secular ideology or group is that it begins to resemble a religion in these ways. I don’t think that it makes any sense to be opposed to these phenomena without being opposed to religion.

Re the arguments about ‘not offending the believers’, ‘maintaining alliances’ etc.: nice ‘reasonable’ moderates need nasty noisy ‘fanatic’ radicals because Overton window. Nonsense unchallenged will soon be nonsense extreme and nonsense triumphant. If you believe things that many others consider to be nonsense, you get offended: that’s how public discourse works. I certainly believe things that many others consider to be nonsense, and I do not expect not to be offended. Evangelicalism is how public discourse works, too: religious people would be absolutely right and indeed obliged to be evangelical, if they were right about religion at all.

I’ve always found Dawkins’ use of 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror’ as an argument against religion simplistic and cheaply populistic in the worst sense of the word. The New Atheists have certainly tended to overemphasise the role of religion per se as a cause of the world’s evils, while remaining blind to other problems, and have taken various more or less misguided positions on a variety of subjects. Nevertheless, for all their faults, they remain basically right specifically in their criticism of religion and its influence in public life, and I consider that to be a positive and useful tendency.

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F. Foundling 04.08.18 at 4:57 am

@b9n10nt 04.07.18 at 6:41 am

The way I use the words at least, the fact that something is, wholly or partly, culturally transmitted does not justify saying that it does not ‘reside’ in an individual. I can learn to ride a bicycle from someone else, but once I have learnt it, I’m the one riding it. I fully agree that reason(ing) relies heavily on cultural transmission; in addition, it always operates in interaction with other humans’ reasoning, unless the individual lives on a desert island – which is exactly why the whole discussion is pointless: the injunction ‘Don’t let your reason operate alone’ is unnecessary, because it never operates alone. Whatever Sam Harris’s mistake was, it wasn’t that his reason ‘operated alone’, it was inevitably interacting with the reasons of lots and lots of other people. Now, if the injunction is really a way to say ‘don’t let your reason reach conclusions different from those of (our) group’, then it is no longer superfluous, but it gets pernicious instead. Anyway, this has become too much of an argument about words, nuances and connotations, so I’d rather stop here.

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Collin Street 04.08.18 at 5:02 am

Swami, we can deal with the claims you really intended to make after, only after, we clean up the wreakage of your first attempt. This is how it is done.

(If you can’t admit error then you can’t recpgnise your own mistakes and can’t learn from them. And if you can’t learn from your mistakes… thee’s not much else yoy can learn from. Thrash about and attempt to deny it all you like, the fact is you made a claim you now know to be false in the form you advanced it: anything that leads to you trying to convince us you were right is a deliberate attempt to decieve, a lie.

Don’t do that.

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J-D 04.08.18 at 7:20 am

Swami

I am unable to imagine how anything resembling your example of ‘State A’ and ‘State B’ could arise; it is so far remote from anything I have knowledge or esperience of that I don’t feel competent to comment on it. If you would like to provide some information about a case that actually exists, I will do my best to comment on it if I can.

Moving away from specific cases to general principles, I observe that people have a range of reasons for migrating from one country to another, but many of them can be grouped under two general headings. Sometimes migrants find that what it’s like to live in their country of origin is unsatisfactory; sometimes they expect that what it’s like to live in their country of destination (or what they imagine it’s like) will have features congenial to them. Using the example you’ve mentioned of migration from Canada to America, it’s unlikely that the people who make that choice would want to turn America into something close to a copy of Canada; if they preferred Canadian culture and values to American culture and values, they’d be unlikely to be trying to migrate in the first place.

When bringing in millions of immigrants, one does not need to be exact in determining that each individual is likely to assimilate and add value to society. Canadians, on average would be a much safer bet for France or Panama than the average person from the white supremacy state. Doctors would be a better screen for intelligence than the unemployed. Native speakers would be superior, all else equal to those not speaking the language of the receiving country. In addition, part of the argument for assimilation is that balance of country of origin in general helps assimilation by repressing the tendency of forming non assimilated enclaves within the larger society. Again, the screening process in such a case could be as simple as a maximum of one hundred thousand people per nation per year with no other screening at all.

Immigration is screenable for cultural similarities and assimilation, if that is what is desired by the receiving nation.

I didn’t believe that the first time you affirmed it, and repeating it does not make me more disposed to accept it. I can’t myself figure out how such screening could be done effectively, and I can’t figure out what your suggested model is; for example, I can’t figure out whether you’re suggesting aiming at drawing the migrant intake from a range of countries or the opposite, deliberately preferring some countries of origin to others.

The original point was that Haier and I wanted to increase intelligence not make it equal and lower.

I still can’t figure out how it’s supposed to contribute to that goal to investigate the reasons for inter-group differences (if any) in intelligence.

If I wanted to reduce lung cancer rates and subpop studies showed that smoking was four times as prevalent in Asian Americans, for you and JD to conclude this justifies forcing Hispanics to take up smoking is absolutely silly.

If you want to reduce lung cancer rates, it’s clear how trying to reduce smoking rates across the board is helpful, but it’s not clear how investigating differences in lung cancer rates between different groups is supposed to be helpful.

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Layman 04.08.18 at 10:30 am

Swami: ‘I didn’t bring up France, the OP did. I didn’t suggest an “existential” threat, I suggested that dramatically changing the cultural values by rapidly changing the population will undermine the institutions.’

Sorry, but this is just silly. You chose to comment on threats to France, then said you were to ignorant of France and the French to offer comment on how they viewed their culture and threats to it.

As for existential threat, you wrote this: “Institutions are essential to outcomes, and cultural mindsets and shared values are the underlying foundation upon which formal institutions (such as the rule of law, democracy, property rights and such) are built. The reason I mentioned it is that the original post denigrated Murray for noting that the emerging makeup of France is in risk of becoming no longer French and therefore extremely likely to be made up of people without shared French cultural mindsets and values. This threatens to undermine the institutional fabric of the nation.”

How is one to read this as anything other than a claim of existential threat? You say that immigration will make France something other than France, and that something will lack e.g. the rule of law, democracy, property rights. Isn’t a not-France not, well, not France?

As for this: “I do concur, but after walking around Paris and actually interacting with people in France I did indeed encounter a large number of people who were clearly very, very culturally different from those traditionally in France. But you are of course right that skin color was insufficient to determine this.”

One wonders how you know those people were clearly and culturally different from ‘France’. What is your experience of France? When did you go, and for how long? Had you been before in, say, 1950? 1970? 1990? If not, how did you make the comparison? And, as you are admittedly ignorant of what is and isn’t acceptably ‘French’ in the mind of the French, what are you still saying things like this?

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Faustusnotes 04.08.18 at 11:44 am

Oh swami, please tell me how name calling silences your “dissenting voice “? Who or what are you “dissenting “ from, did you mean to say “disagreeing”? And are you such a delicate flower that the mere sight of a stranger on the internet accusing you of doing a Harris makes you lose your will to reply? Truly it must be difficult to “dissent” under such circumstances! Yet here you are, still making the same mistakes.

There are three errors in your attempt at argument. Shall we go through them? The first is your assumption that institutions require the same mindset and cultural values to survive. If we allow your position that “the rule of law” is an institution, it certainly does not need everyone to have the same mindset – it simply needs them to know the law, or even less onerously, to do what the police say. People within a culture can have vastly differing mindsets without immigration, and yet you seem unperturbed by the possibility that native Americans or French are undermining their own institutions. Which leads us to your second error – the assumption you share with Murray that black and brown people are not French. You have repeatedly given us this assumption- you push me to respond to it as your concrete example – despite having been repeatedly told that you are wrong. There are many French from Africa and the pacific who are black or brown, who were born in France during or after the colonial era. You have acknowledged you know nothing about France but despite being told that you are wrong and given examples, you persist in this error.

Perhaps you don’t know this, or don’t understand, but let me lay it out plainly for you: when you say black people cannot be French you are being racist. When you persist in this view despite evidence to the contrary in the face of determined opposition, you are being stubbornly racist. I’m sorry if telling you this makes you feel your “dissenting “ voice is being stifled, but words have meaning and in this case this word means what you are doing.

So, what is your third error? The idea that assimilation is a good and positive immigration outcome that can be achieved, and that is good for the institutions of a country. I know why you make this error – because you don’t know anything about migration politics, multiculturalism, defenses of multiculturalism from the right, or the body of criticism of frances experiment in assimilation. It’s no ones job here to enlighten you on a huge body of work that you clearly are ignorant of. I might make the effort, but your response to error 2 really doesn’t convince me its worth the time. Haters gonna hate, amirite?

I recommend you back up and figure out how you got all this shit so wrong, reflect carefully on why you came on here making an openly racist statement and then repeatedly defended it, and then ask yourself if you really are up to the task of criticizing other people’s reasoning faculties.

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Swami 04.08.18 at 12:36 pm

Collin, please make some effort to actually point out the error. I already assured you, and any review of the earlier comment thread will back up, that I was not making the claim that our goal was equalizing outcomes. My goal was raising intelligence and that targeting efforts to problem subpops could be helpful. I think I said so about a half dozen times.

Get on the topic and get off your personal attacks/diversions, or butt out of the dialogue.

Do you agree that state A is justified in resisting unrestricted immigration from state B? If not please elaborate why. Honestly, I suspect the reason you are avoiding the actual issue is that you know your answer to the question aligns with Murray’s. Feel free to prove me wrong.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.08.18 at 12:57 pm

Certainly dogmatism is bad in all its forms, religious or scientific. On this we already agree! I think the challenge is to characterize the difference between science and religion without going off into our own definitions. The cause is intellectual clarity. We all feel and know the difference, the challenge is to put it into words. Maybe we keep stumbling because science and religion are different kinds of fictions.

Science never proves anything. It may disprove prior hypotheses. If it leads to a new discovery, then science is successful. Yet the causes that are suggested, even for the mechanism underneath a new discovery, may be changed in the future. So we can’t say that science gets us to anything final. It is always possible that the laws may be revised.

Deeper than that, science depends upon a metaphysical-type structure that seems to simply appear to us — time, extension, mass, force, field etc. Mass, force and field have undergone their own revisions, and perhaps will be revised or even erased in the future, for a better metaphysical playground. But what are numbers and logic and where did they come from?

According to the dictionary definitions of “miracle” and “falsifiable”, a miracle is NOT falsifiable, even “in principle”. The only thing one can certainly say, is that the claim that a miracle previously occurred is “not physically verifiable”. It must be taken on faith — which is the whole point, to some religions! A miracle is not an occurrence that is repeatable like a science experiment. “In principle” here seems to mean something like, “If only I were there to refute it, when it allegedly happened”. But you weren’t.

The important scientific point is, what is the FUNCTION of a miracle to religion? It is to call upon faith, in order to disconnect the individual’s rational discourse — because rationality always locks-in the level of consciousness from which it is spoken, and it must be disconnected to allow a real change in consciousness. Then afterward, rational speech is re-entered or reconnected from the next level. So it may appear to an outside observer that nothing has changed. (This is what psychotherapists try to do too. At least, good ones do. They reframe your story.)

Note that religion need NOT be based upon miracles, upon trust in authority, etc. Buddhism is a good example. It is entirely to be validated by internal experiment, and it has stood the test of “repeatableness” over centuries. What in Buddhism serves as the replacement to faith? Ans.: steps 7 & 8 of the eightfold path.

On the other hand, Kurt Gödel was a theist. I think that for him (he does not write this), the exact problem was, where does logic come from? What is logic’s substratum? He explored the descriptions of perception in Husserl and decided that the universe must be a Leibnizian monadology with God as the central monad.

This is not an “argument from authority”. Forget any refutation of this belief, forget your disparagement of it. The proper question is, quite aside from what you yourself believe, how and why did a genius like Gödel come to this fiction?

A problem for evolutionary theory is how it would generate the mechanics of reason. There are some clues which might push forward the investigation. We know already from research into the arithmetical perception of very young children that they exhibit two abilities: counting, and comparing sizes of sets. The little ones don’t yet know, but we do, that these combine into the higher number operations. There’s a possible avenue for future brain research: maybe arithmetic has something to do with brain development from birth (ontogeny).

On a different question, the origin of negatives — There is an interesting theory by Derek Bickerton (whom Peter T mentioned in #273 above) that evolutionary advantage would have been gained by a species that evolved or learned to communicate about the availability of food that is NOT seen before us, but is available in another place (e.g. a bee dance). Abstractly, this is an “indication-of-something-absent”, a new ability which afterward might be combined into further evolution. It may be the essence of symbol.

So that is a good hypothesis for the social origination of one of the most important basic rational operations, “not”.

But after science proposes, how could we have gone from these natural origins of the perception of numbers and negatives, to a valid physical mathematical theory which then applies IN RETROSPECT, all the way back to the minutes after the Big Bang — but billions of years BEFORE life evolved the math?

It seems as if evolution is getting us to something that somehow already pre-exists, but which needs an advanced symbolic form to be expressed. We seem compelled to posit a sort of pre-existing metaphysical space in which the math is already there, waiting to be discovered. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem, a circular logic. Science has uncovered an arc which it has snipped out of some cosmic circle, an arc which it widens and fortifies successfully with evolved symbol and technology. Maybe the snipping is coexistent with reason’s bipartite form: the making of endpoints is a necessary requirement, and science can never be complete. It is will always be an arc of a larger circle.

This makes religionists like Berkeley wary, because they know that circular logic already has a prior home in religious discourse. So how is science different?

Scientists shrug and say, “Well, it’s obviously a success, and we will learn more, and maybe figure it out later.” But that could be nascent dogmatism. Then, science is just better religion.

Maybe the circularities and paradoxes exist in any description, and this is the next big clue.

For me this isn’t a call to theism. It’s an observation that we may be inside of fictions of varying usefulness. The mechanics of reason, including Kant’s categories and the like, are the storyteller’s frameworks. Gregory Bateson made the point that perhaps if we see that it’s also a systematic distortion, we might find a rigorous way to go wider. The circularities, uncertainties, paradoxes may be part of the glue. We would have to call them out, and explain how they keep getting revised, updated. We might be able to describe a surface onto which reason, consciousness, aesthetics & the sacred can all be mapped.

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Chip Daniels 04.08.18 at 4:16 pm

@280
What Swami is referencing of course, is State A as the coastal educated liberal American states filled with progress and an enlightened worldview, and State B as the poorer, uneducated southern and interior states, riven with racism and a nonscientific worldview.

And he proceeds to construct a powerful argument as to why the wealthy liberal states like California should restrict access to their wealth and education establishments to immigrants from those backwards places like Alabama and treat their members with the sort of caution one reserves for smallpox virus.

Now, to be clear, I don’t endorse this view!
I believe that people are not reducible to caricature and this sort of cultural determinism is itself the result of bigotry.

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Swami 04.08.18 at 5:30 pm

JD,

“I am unable to imagine how anything resembling your example of ‘State A’ and ‘State B’ could arise; it is so far remote from anything I have knowledge or esperience of that I don’t feel competent to comment on it.”

It is an extreme hypothetical to determine if there are any situations where you would agree to restrict immigration. It is like the old joke where the man asks a woman if she would sleep with him for a million dollars.

“Of course” she answers.
“Would you take a hundred dollars?” He responds.
“Of course not,” she replies, “what do you think I am — a prostitute?”
“We’ve already established that,” he says, “now we are just haggling over price”

Feel free to back off from there and let me know where you would personally draw the line. But if you concede the point, then you, and I and Charles Murray are in agreement that it is justified and probably wise to restrict or control immigration in some cases, and that this does not need to have anything to do with racism. Again, I already suggested that the representative democracy can then draw its line as it sees fit.

“…if they preferred Canadian culture and values to American culture and values, they’d be unlikely to be trying to migrate in the first place.”

People immigrate for other reasons than preferring culture and values. Do you need examples?

“I didn’t believe that the first time you affirmed it, and repeating it does not make me more disposed to accept it.”

I didn’t repeat it, I provided simple, indeed glaringly obvious, examples. The most obvious part of the answer is that an immigrant (on average, assuming large numbers) from Finland to Sweden is more likely to share cultural similarities than a person from Vietnam or Syria. If that isn’t obvious, then I do not know what is. A wave of immigrants speaking the native tongue is easier to assimilate, all else equal, than one not doing so, especially if those not speaking the language are coming in in large enough numbers to establish a subcultural enclave. If selecting for intelligence, patience, trust, and cooperativeness, studies show these are highly correlated with intelligence and thus you could select for education and so forth.

“If you want to reduce lung cancer rates, it’s clear how trying to reduce smoking rates across the board is helpful, but it’s not clear how investigating differences in lung cancer rates between different groups is supposed to be helpful.”

I guess you never worked in marketing then. If you can identify characteristics of the target subpop which can respond to your efforts, then you can address the issue more efficiently. This could involve setting up clinics in the problem area, writing messages in the language or aimed at viewing habits of the target group and so on.

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Swami 04.08.18 at 6:28 pm

Layman,

When you are done rambling on about what is and is not an existential threat or whether I brought something up or responded to the OP, then feel free to join the discussion. I am not pretending to be qualified to discuss ANY other countries’ desires on who should or should not be allowed to immigrate (indeed I am but a single voice on MY country’s decision.)

My point in general is that the people of each country in question are best capable of making that determination, including the option of not controlling it at all. My other point is that failure to make that decision can undermine the institutions of the receiving state. Still their choice though, even if it excludes me.

You can extend the situation to South Africa if it makes you more comfortable (one more country I do not pretend to be an expert in). I am arguing that S Africa is justified in refusing unlimited immigration IF THEY CHOOSE of Europeans (or other Africans or Asians or whatever) Your side of the argument implies that they are not justified. They need to take all comers.

So how is it that you categorically reject the justification of any and all countries from having a say in who and how many people immigrate? Please do elaborate.

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Layman 04.08.18 at 7:34 pm

Swami: “When you are done rambling on about what is and is not an existential threat or whether I brought something up or responded to the OP…”

I’d say I’m with Collin on this: If you can’t own up to what you’ve said thus far, or understand the problems with it, there’s not much point in talking with you.

“I am not pretending to be qualified to discuss ANY other countries’ desires…”

Yet here you are, so doing.

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Layman 04.08.18 at 7:40 pm

Swami: “The most obvious part of the answer is that an immigrant (on average, assuming large numbers) from Finland to Sweden is more likely to share cultural similarities than a person from Vietnam or Syria.“

Why? How? What do you mean by ‘cultural similarities’? And what does it matter?

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Collin Street 04.08.18 at 8:57 pm

I already assured you, and any review of the earlier comment thread will back up, that I was not making the claim that our goal was equalizing outcomes.

Swami: you’ve run out of free support.

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Mario 04.08.18 at 9:56 pm

Swami: “The most obvious part of the answer is that an immigrant (on average, assuming large numbers) from Finland to Sweden is more likely to share cultural similarities than a person from Vietnam or Syria.“

Why? How? What do you mean by ‘cultural similarities’? And what does it matter?

Here, dear Swami, you have in concentrated form solid evidence of the fact that you are wasting your time. Layman and co live in a different logical and moral framework than you. They subscribe to different axioms and have different goals than you. You will not find common ground with them in this matter.

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Faustusnotes 04.08.18 at 11:09 pm

Swami is around rambling but refusing to respond to the three errors I pointed out, even after he or she asked me to specifically detail errors. Could it be that swami is t arguing in good faith!?

Oh but here now we have another good example of swami being ignorant on migration: he or she thinks Swedes would make better migrants than Vietnamese because they have closer cultural values. The Vietnamese, of course, came as refugees in large and largely uncontrolled numbers to a variety of western countries, and have proven to be excellent migrants in all of them. They follow the rule of law, support institutions, generally just get along. Oops! Swami’s theory fails. They were probably much less compatible with swami’s vague notion of “western cultural mindset” (wtf is that anyway!?) than Syrians, who are fleeing from the near east, a much more developed country than 1970s Vietnam, an obvious familiarity with Christianity, and a long history of interconnection with cosmopolitan cultures in the region. Yet swami has Lumped a bunch of rich Muslim/Christian middle easterners in with a bunch of very poor Buddhist South East Asians. I wonder what Vietnamese and Syrians have in common that would cause swami to lump them together in opposition to western people, given their huge differences… anybody … anybody … ?

Really swami if you want to persist in this line of reasoning you’re going to have to try harder. Alternatively you could give up, admit you know nothing about the politics or history of migration, and start wondering what prejudices led you to “reason” your way into this dead end.

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b9n10nt 04.09.18 at 4:30 am

Lee A. Arnold @164

Thankyou for that post.

So then I would summarize that reason is a pan-human cultural phenomenon , culturally over-determined by the marriage of instinctive calculation with instinctive representation emerging from within the new practice of language, at perhaps some early bottleneck.

Another node to get someone knowledgeable to chime in about: When reason is sufficiently released from the necessity of survival, it priors become more abstract, individually-motivated, and contentious. Because reason is inherently social (yes including the thoughts you are having) it produces a (boundedly) rational politics that will become fractious in wealthy societies. Perhaps we can explain an oft-observed phenomenon with greater precision? I like my story just so ;)

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J-D 04.09.18 at 4:35 am

Swami
1. If it is important to you to have an answer from me to the question ‘Is there any possible situation in which restrictions on immigration are or would be justified?’, then my answer is ‘Probably there are, although I’m not sure, but in any case I don’t understand how the question is supposed to be of any practical relevance.’ In particular, the question has no evidence relevance to the present discussion of what Charles Murray has said or of what Sam Harris has said. More generally, as a matter of fact all countries do currently have laws and policies regulating immigration, and there is no practical possibility in the foreseeable future of any country abandoning these (even though I know that some people argue that they should, and their arguments have some merit).

2. Of the many ways in which immigration (to one country or another) has been regulated in the past, or is regulated in the present, or which have a realistic possibility of being adopted in the foreseeable future, some are in fact racist, and they don’t stop being so just because there are others which are non-racist.

3. In the original post, Henry wrote:

The prejudices thus reinforced might be gross ones, as in the case of Charles Murray, whose idea of a good time in Paris is to count the black and brown faces around him and warn of the foreign hordes overwhelming Europe.

Whatever was going on in Charles Murray’s mind, which we can’t read, the practical effect of his statement was to encourage racism; if he didn’t recognise that, it was foolish of him, and it would also be foolish for us not to recognise that.

Also, Europe is not in danger of being overwhelmed by foreign hordes, and has no need to change its current immigration laws or policies to defend against a danger of being overwhelmed by foreign hordes. In practice, suggesting otherwise has the effect of encouraging racism, and it’s foolish not to recognise that.

4. Sam Harris has suggested that airport security screening should focus on people who might conceivably be Muslims. If there are any people who could not conceivably be Muslims, and who could be detected as such at an airport security screening, the number of them must be insignificantly small; Sam Harris stated, when challenged, that he himself falls within the scope of the category ‘people who might conceivably be Muslims. So the suggestion has no value for improving airport security; but in practice it has the effect of encouraging racism, and it’s foolish not to recognise that.

People with dark skin getting hassled by airport security because of their dark skin is not a purely hypothetical issue but something that has been reported as actually happening. It should not be encouraged.

5. What you have written has not made clear to me in sufficient detail what immigration policy you are advocating. There isn’t enough information for me to form a view about whether what you’re suggesting is feasible or about whether, if feasible, it’s a good idea. However, talk about the importance of immigrants being ‘culturally similar’ or ‘ready to assimilate’ is the kind of thing that often, in practice, has the effect of encouraging racism, and it’s foolish not to recognise that.

I can’t at this instant think of any reports of people with dark skin being hassled by immigration officials because they have dark skin, but when I reflect it seems it would be surprising if that doesn’t happen, and it’s something else that should not be encouraged.

6.

I guess you never worked in marketing then.

You guess right. I don’t know whether you consider that to be a deficiency, but I don’t.

Given what is known about smoking and about lung cancer, it seems obvious to me that information about them should be disseminated so as to reach as many people as possible through as many media as possible in as many languages as possible, independently of variations (if any) in rates of lung cancer in different population groups. You don’t need that kind of demographic information to perceive the value of putting warnings on every cigarette pack, for example.

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engels 04.09.18 at 11:31 am

On the other hand, Kurt Gödel was a theist… The proper question is, quite aside from what you yourself believe, how and why did a genius like Gödel come to this fiction?

Another question: how and why did he literally starve himself to death after his wife was hospitalised because he didn’t trust anyone else not to poison his food?
https://www.nature.com/articles/435019a

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Z 04.09.18 at 12:40 pm

Lee A. Arnold I enjoyed your posts in the thread. But I do want to push back a bit against your 284.

But after science proposes, how could we have gone from these natural origins of the perception of numbers and negatives, to a valid physical mathematical theory which then applies IN RETROSPECT, all the way back to the minutes after the Big Bang — but billions of years BEFORE life evolved the math?

Through an excruciatingly difficult process of trial and error that literally lasted millennia and which is of course ongoing. That’s how. And then again, our best theories are far from being even remotely valid, and we know it. Indeed, that’s just about all we really know.

It seems as if evolution is getting us to something that somehow already pre-exists, but which needs an advanced symbolic form to be expressed.

Nah. Evolution got us some cognitive tools, forged for some ends (talking, social interactions, locating food, whatever). And we make the best we can with them to figure out a world that couldn’t care less for our goals and prospects. So we almost always get things dramatically wrong, and rarely achieve any progress, even of the most minute sort. All this keeping in mind that these cognitive tools are dramatically maladapted to the tasks and we probably can’t really transcend them.

We seem compelled to posit a sort of pre-existing metaphysical space in which the math is already there, waiting to be discovered.

Really? I don’t think so. There is something to be discovered, sure. And we’re trying out best with our feeble abilities. Mostly we fail, but occasionally, we make modest progress. That’s it. Nothing pre-existing or metaphysical there. In essence, everything we’re doing is just like my two-year old who sees his ball rolling under the couch, then peaks under it and is happy to see it there (and ten minutes later losses his ball in another room and nevertheless peaks under the couch, because it worked last time around).

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Lee A. Arnold 04.09.18 at 1:25 pm

Why did Gödel literally starve himself to death? Hard to know exactly. People who knew him said he believed that his childhood bout with rheumatic fever gave him a very weak heart, and as a consequence he was a lifelong hypochondriac. He was hospitalized for depression several times, he paid constant attention to his diet and digestion, his wife was devoted to these needs, and they led a very sedate, quiet, routinized home life.

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casmilus 04.09.18 at 4:28 pm

“It seems as if evolution is getting us to something that somehow already pre-exists, but which needs an advanced symbolic form to be expressed.”

You mean like the Periodic Table? That expresses facts that already existed before life, at least according to what is called “scientific realism” in Anglophone philosophy, and also according to “speculative realists” such as Quentin Meillasoux. If you read “After Finitude” you can see the latter does also have a line about taking the side of science against religious obsurantism, although he doesn’t play it as his strongest card.

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Ogden Wernstrom 04.09.18 at 5:11 pm

@285, Chip Daniels 04.08.18 at 4:16 pm:

@280
What Swami is referencing of course, is State A as the coastal educated liberal American states filled with progress and an enlightened worldview, and State B as the poorer, uneducated southern and interior states, riven with racism and a nonscientific worldview.

At first, I thought that Swami might be worried that Lebanon (State A) will be overrun by immigrants from Syria (State B), thereby threatening the Lebanese culture and institutions with extinction.

But the hypothetical posed @280, [attempting to appeal to left-wingers with] well-to-do Hispanics being overrun by [attempt-to-disgust-left-wingers with] stupid, lawless racists, made me picture (State B,) a subset of the USofA consisting of 100 million racists who want to move to (State A,) a better-educated, wealthier Nació Cataluña. I can not deduce why; did Cataluña strike oil? (Bonus: Once bubbas overrun Cataluña, Spain might encourage Carles Puigdemont to Barcelexit.)

But, as J-D points out, that’s so far from any current reality that Swami appears to be practicing argumentum ad phantasia.

The proximity to the 9th of April makes me think that maybe Swami was using the 1940 German invasion of Denmark as a model? The ratio of populations was close to the example, but the Danes were not Hispanic. (Or was Danish culture changed much more than I know? They still ride bicycles quite a bit, but no longer have a bicycle infantry.)

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Lee A. Arnold 04.09.18 at 7:37 pm

Z #296: “our best theories are far from being even remotely valid… rarely achieve any progress…”

I think that many physicists and chemists would disagree with these assertions, but I don’t want to make a massive fallacious “argument from authority”.

My problem is that science sometimes uses mathematics to find something very new, unexpected, even revolutionary. Discrepancies in the positions of the known planets vs. the gravitational equations led to the discovery of farther planets in our solar system. Maxwell’s mathematical laws led to the prediction of the existence of radio waves. Planck’s mathematical assumption to explain the absence of any real “ultraviolet catastrophe” that was predicted in error by a mathematical law before his correction, led quickly to the development of quantum mechanics — a theory which is valid to remote decimal places. There are other examples of this particular method of discovery in science.

I think we can state that certain branches of mathematics somehow apply deeply and extensively to some things which must have existed before humans.

So then the question would be, what is the “somehow” in that statement? Why does mathematics apply? How do we characterize the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics”? (Wigner)

The evolutionary supposition is that trials and errors lead us to greater and greater cognitive comportment with the regular patterns which existed before (or so we presume it existed before) the time of humans in the universe. (For surely, as you write, “there is something to be discovered”.) Investigations find these regularities repeated across a wide range of physical phenomena, and they can be abstracted into symbolic form, divorced by the mind from any physical instantiation.

If the regularities are so well-described by mathematics (which is also productive of further discovery), why can’t we say that this mathematics pre-existed too, and we are discovering it?

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Swami 04.09.18 at 11:58 pm

Faustusnotes,

Sorry, I’ve been busy surfing (a nice swell is hitting the coast) and attending to family matters (include a celebration of life for a close relative).

“There are three errors in your attempt at argument. Shall we go through them? The first is your assumption that institutions require the same mindset and cultural values to survive.”

Thanks for being specific, but that is not really a correct summary of my position. My position is that EXCESSIVE variation in underlying values and mindsets or large change in the underlying values CAN undermine or transform the formal institutions into something different, leading to different outcomes (not always bad of course).

This is pretty basic institutional theory. May I suggest reading North, Acemoglu, Lal, Mokyr, McCloskey and others on institutions, values and social outcomes? You may also wan to research Schelling points. One great place to start on the relation between institutions and values is this article:

https://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/jel.53.4.898

Some important shared beliefs and cultural mindsets include beliefs that transfer-of-rule should be peaceful, the separation of church and state, generalized vs narrow or group-clannish morality, equality of opportunity for gays and women, levels of trust, patience, and that one is free to question another’s religion or change religion or reject it altogether. The article above can explain it better, though. Read it, if not convinced I can suggest others.

In addition, addressing your comment that all we have to do is simply follow the law. This is insufficient in a democracy where people have a say in what the law is. A state with 5 million Scandinavians is not going to have the same institutions, beliefs and lifestyles as one with 5 million Scandinavians and, say, five million non-assimilating Middle Eastern Muslims. Over time it won’t have the same laws either. And different institutions and laws can lead to different outcomes, and these may not be what said Scandinavians want. Perversely it may not be what the Muslim descendants want either (different long range economic outcomes, levels of freedom and tolerance).

“Which leads us to your second error – the assumption you share with Murray that black and brown people are not French.”

No. I stated Murray — at best — misspoke on this issue. Honestly on the surface it sounds kind of racist to me too, but I would not just throw that term around, especially for such an esteemed scholar as Murray. (LOL)

“So, what is your third error? The idea that assimilation is a good and positive immigration outcome that can be achieved, and that is good for the institutions of a country.”

Sorry, wrong again. If you actually read what I wrote in my first couple of comments I am a big fan of assimilation and substantial increases in legal immigration. Yes, immigrants can have a positive impact on institutions, I have said so several times, in addition I believe it is often good for the economy and great for the immigrants. My issue was excessive amounts of unassimilated immigration which can undermine the institutional fabric. On a personal level, much of my family’s heritage comes from recent immigrants (specifically Mexico and Jamaica). I believe we have added value to society, and I believe a country the size of the US could wisely and justly legally assimilate millions annually.

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Swami 04.10.18 at 12:27 am

Layman,

“Why? How? What do you mean by ‘cultural similarities’? And what does it matter?”

This has been my central argument throughout the discussion with at least a half dozen people. The argument is that society is a complex adaptive system made up of the coordination of millions of people. The coordination is accomplished by a combination of

INFORMAL VALUES , habits, mindsets, behavioral tendencies, beliefs and so on, along with,

FORMAL INSTITUTIONS and organizations. The formal institutions include rules and laws, constitutions, corporate entities, formal religions, social orgs and so on

The basic argument is that the formal institutions and informal culture are complex and codependent. They fit together like puzzle pieces and evolve together with interactions going both directions, but that changes in one leads to changes and adaptations in the other. An institution within one set of cultural values may work differently or not all in another cultural setting (a common argument is that democracy works differently in clan based religious rather than individual based and liberal societies).

See the link in the comment above to Faust for more details.

Canada and the US, for example, share many cultural and institutional similarities in part due to their common or shared histories and extensive interactions. Vietnam and Chad, as another example, share few.

What does this have to do with immigration? Simple. Extremely large numbers of very different cultural immigrants not assimilating into the culture will change the institutions and institutional outcomes (not always for the better either). This is the non racist explanation for managed immigration (I support large scale legal, well assimilated immigration).

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faustusnotes 04.10.18 at 1:09 am

Swami, this is what you said way up above:

The reason I mentioned it is that the original post denigrated Murray for noting that the emerging makeup of France is in risk of becoming no longer French and therefore extremely likely to be made up of people without shared French cultural mindsets and values. This threatens to undermine the institutional fabric of the nation.

You are defending Murray’s counting of black and brown faces as not French. I’m sorry, but you can’t run away from that. I’ll say again: When you say black or brown people cannot be French, you are being racist.

You still need to define what a “cultural mindset” is, because it’s a bullshit term you’re bandying about as if it meant something. But let’s consider the cultural mindset you describe now:

transfer-of-rule should be peaceful, the separation of church and state, generalized vs narrow or group-clannish morality, equality of opportunity for gays and women, levels of trust, patience, and that one is free to question another’s religion or change religion or reject it altogether

Most of these “cultural mindset” value thingies (whatever bullshit term you want to apply to them) are not believed by evangelicals in the USA. The threat to institutions does not just come from outside, which is why this simplistic “cultural mindset” stuff is not meaningful for migration.

Finally, you deny the third error (believing assimilation is important) then go on to talk about how important assimilation is. So I’ll tell you again: you don’t understand the politics of migration. Assimilation is not a good thing, it’s not achievable, and you don’t understand why it’s not a good thing or even what the difference is between assimilation and multiculturalism as policies.

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Z 04.10.18 at 8:19 am

Lee A. Arnold I think we can state that certain branches of mathematics somehow apply deeply and extensively to some things which must have existed before humans.

Agreed, mathematics has proven to be a very efficient tool to describe the physical world.

So then the question would be, what is the “somehow” in that statement? Why does mathematics apply?

Any answer to that question will necessarily involve a certain amount of circularity, as it purports to reason on the tools we use to reason, but here is what’s happening, in my opinion. The physical world exists and is mostly very simple, logically speaking, so it exhibits a lot of regularities. Math being more or less the name we give to the outcome of our human cognitive capabilities when they are exercised in the search of the regularities produced by the rigid application of simple rules, I’m not surprised that math is the most efficient tools we have to investigate the physical world (to me, the question is bit like asking why a single rope is somehow a convenient tool to draw circles, or why a round form will somehow be efficient if we want to roll things). Note that this outlook makes the clear prediction that math should relatively less useful to describe phenomenon with a lot of inbuilt contingent complexities. This prediction is I think correct, think about the relative uselessness of math in history or even evolutionary biology (the latter case being the most interesting in terms of demarcation, as the part of it in which math is indeed useful – say cladistic or predator/prey interactions – are precisely the ones which indeed conform to logically simple rules).

The evolutionary supposition is that trials and errors lead us to greater and greater cognitive comportment with the regular patterns which existed before (or so we presume it existed before) the time of humans in the universe.

I don’t understand this sentence. More specifically, I don’t understand the meaning of “comportment with the regular patters”.

Investigations find these regularities repeated across a wide range of physical phenomena, and they can be abstracted into symbolic form, divorced by the mind from any physical instantiation.

Yes, because this physical phenomena share the property of being logically simple, and the way human minds investigate logically simple constructions is through a range of symbolic computations we call math (and which I believe we are able to perform for completely different reasons) .

If the regularities are so well-described by mathematics (which is also productive of further discovery), why can’t we say that this mathematics pre-existed too, and we are discovering it?

Well, you can say it, for sure. It sounds more or less like standard Platonism, which is a fine philosophical position. But I’m personally not convinced that anything we said before gives any really strong evidence for this position. The symbolic part (so the math proper) depends in my opinion much too strongly on the peculiar cognitive characteristics of the human brain. So young Homo sapiens find it easy to manipulate discreet units, then to count with natural numbers and then build maths around this starting point. A tiny proportion of them eventually learn (with great efforts) Fourier transforms and the Poisson formula. Perhaps young Rhinolophus sapiens (a sapient horseshoe bat) would find it easy to manipulate Fourier transforms and the Poisson formula, and some would eventually learn (with great efforts) that the Poisson formula can be conceptualized as integrating over a discrete set called the natural numbers. Whose math is the pre-existing one we are all discovering? All of them, as for Balaguer? What does that even mean? More precisely, how is this position bringing us any new useful knowledge? At least the position in which math is seen a human tool which we use (among other use) to investigate the world has the virtue of making clear predictions as to which field will benefit from mathematical investigation, as we saw above.

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John Holbo 04.10.18 at 8:53 am

Interesting discussion in the Sam Harris subreddit. (I’ve never written that sentence before!)

https://www.reddit.com/r/samharris/comments/8azcwh/does_sam_engage_in_identity_politics_the_most/

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Layman 04.10.18 at 11:52 am

Swami: “Extremely large numbers of very different cultural immigrants not assimilating into the culture will change the institutions and institutional outcomes (not always for the better either).”

Yes, I understand you’re saying that, but 1) I don’t think you’re going to find many good examples – or any for that matter – that demonstrate this phenomenon (unless you count invasions as immigration), and 2) ‘not always for the better’ is hardly a defense of the claim Murray makes.

This is the entire point of my original retort about France and the right claiming the looming demise of France-ness due to the Other for 150 years. Here we are 150 years later and France is still France!

Similarly, US immigration was essentially open and unconstrained, other than by the economics of the effort required, for decades. Many people complained (as do you) that this influx of Irish or Italians or Poles or Germans would destroy the culture and institutions of the country; yet here we are, culture different but not destroyed, institutions more or less intact.*

And of course you’ll reply that those people weren’t very culturally ‘different’ from us, but that is not what people like you said and thought at the time. They were wrong, as I suspect you are wrong. Why not? Why should you (and Murray, and Harris) be right this time when everyone else has been wrong on this exact matter in this exact way? How is your claim different, better founded, than when it has been made many times before?

(*I suppose you could argue that our institutions are quite wobbly, but I’d blame the rabid right and the people they elect for that, not the immigrants they discriminate against. Wouldn’t you?)

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Swami 04.10.18 at 12:53 pm

JD,

Yeah, I agree Murray’s comment was foolish, as would be any effort to screen airports based upon face color. The term “foreign horde” sounds pretty racist too. Let’s avoid it.

But Muslims are not a race, they are adherents of a religion and one with extremely different cultural history, values and beliefs. As such, I would agree with Murray and many Europeans that unmitigated immigration along with differing pop growth rates and religious beliefs which resist assimilation and have clearly led to high crime rates, high safety net dependency and unemployment can create a situation where the population change could undermine the institutions of Europe. This change is likely to occur both due to the population change and how the non Muslims react (and even overreact) to the change (Trump being one local example which hits home)

With heavy levels of immigration, some estimates are that places like France and Sweden could see 30 to 50 percent Muslim population mid century. This would fundamentally change the fabric of society, leading potentially to vastly different rules, crime rates, levels of tolerance, social safety nets, economic growth rates and so on. If I was a European I would take this very, very seriously. I also see the the problem though of simply refusing someone because of their religion. Thus I would prefer qualifications based upon employment, skills, education and language proficiency.

Similarly, southwestern US states are seeing extremely large rates of illegal immigration of Hispanics. I believe the current number of immigrants in the US is close to 40 million. Hispanics do not have as many cultural dissimilarities, and they do tend to assimilate. However, I would not allow (even encourage) illegal immigration, I would instead replace it with legal screened immigration ala Canada, which even The NY Times praises;

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/28/opinion/canada-immigration-policy-trump.html

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Lee A. Arnold 04.10.18 at 12:59 pm

Z #304: “not convinced that anything we said before gives any really strong evidence for this position.”

I am not arguing for that position. I am trying to describe the contours of a story which has made it undecidable. To that end, I want to point out that the following may not be true:

“The physical world…is mostly very simple, logically speaking”

The physical world may not be mostly simple. The physical world might be mostly complex, but then simplicity emerges at progressively higher levels of organization.

Example: Dozens of elementary particles –> Atoms of hydrogen & oxygen –> Molecule of water.

In this case, simplicity emerges from complexity. This is the inverse of the observation that complexity can be generated from simple rules. But it needn’t be either/or. Maybe the universe exhibits BOTH complexity-to-simplicity and simplicity-to-complexity in different phenomena. Any way, it would have no bearing on the ontological status of numbers and mathematics.

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Faustusnotes 04.10.18 at 2:18 pm

It’s worth noting that with his 30-50 percent Muslim figure that “some people” are claiming might happen, swami is referring to Charles gave, a French lunatic whose predictions are not taken seriously.

Just in case anyone thought Swami was arguing in good faith, when he’s really just here to parrot racist nutjobs like gave and Murray.

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Layman 04.10.18 at 2:35 pm

Swami: “Similarly, southwestern US states are seeing extremely large rates of illegal immigration of Hispanics. I believe the current number of immigrants in the US is close to 40 million.”

It is hard to make any sense at all of this claim. Hispanic immigration into the US – both legal and illegal – has been declining for nearly two decades. More people of Hispanic ancestry are born in the US in each year than immigrate to the US, by a very wide margin, and this has been the case for two decades. Nearly two-thirds of people of Hispanic ancestry in the US were born in the US – which means they are citizens, part of the ‘culture’ of America you’re so worried about – and that proportion is growing, not declining, largely because the rate of immigration has been falling for two decades.

http://www.pewhispanic.org/2017/09/18/facts-on-u-s-latinos/

If it is the case that a US population with greater than 17.6% Hispanic ancestry (or 20%, or 50%, or more) will no longer be American, how do you explain the quintessential American-ness of Texas (40%)? California (40%)? Colorado (20%)? Have you been to those places? I get that you’re no expert on France, but how about somewhere closer to home?

And for all this railing about Hispanic immigration, are you aware of the fact that the majority of immigrants to the US each year are not Hispanic? That nearly as many people from Asian nations immigrate to the US as those from the Americas? Did you know that the proportion of foreign-born residents of the US is not significantly higher today than it was in the 1910s and 1920s? How did we mange to survive that with our ‘culture’ and our ‘institutions’ intact, I wonder?

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casmilus 04.10.18 at 2:44 pm

@308

“Example: Dozens of elementary particles –> Atoms of hydrogen & oxygen –> Molecule of water.”

What’s simple about a molecule of water?

To start with: what isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen make it up? What vibrational, rotational states are the component atoms and the delocalised electrons bonding them together in? How close is the molecule to other molecule, how is it interacting with other water molecules or with ionic particles of solutes? All the stuff abstracted away in the simple stick-diagram world of Junior Science Encyclopedia.

Everything is simple when you make simplifying assumptions and exclude “irrelevant” details.

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Z 04.10.18 at 3:24 pm

Lee A. Arnold. I agree with what you write, especially

Maybe the universe exhibits BOTH complexity-to-simplicity and simplicity-to-complexity in different phenomena. Any way, it would have no bearing on the ontological status of numbers and mathematics.

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Layman 04.10.18 at 8:33 pm

@Swami, since you choose to defend and promote Murray – or maybe you defend and promote Harris in his defense and promotion of Murray, who knows? – do you agree or disagree with Matt Yglesias’ summation of the concluding policy prescriptions of The Bell Curve specifically and Murray’s books and speeches in general?

“The actual conclusion of The Bell Curve is that America should stop trying to improve poor kids’ material living standards because doing so encourages poor, low-IQ women to have more children — you read that correctly. It also concludes that the United States should substantially curtail immigration from Latin America and Africa. These are controversial policy recommendations, not banal observations about psychometrics.”

https://www.vox.com/2018/4/10/17182692/bell-curve-charles-murray-policy-wrong

Is Yglesias right? If so, do you think Murray us doing science? Or if you think Yglesias is wrong, how is he wrong?

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Faustusnotes 04.10.18 at 9:44 pm

Perhaps Lee a Arnold is unaware of the existence of the three body problem? Or the joke about how quantum chromodynamics can’t even solve the zero body problem…?

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Lee A. Arnold 04.10.18 at 11:27 pm

How would the three-body problem, or any other system that doesn’t have a deterministic solution, be used in an argument to validate or invalidate the metaphysical pre-existence of numbers or even of complex mathematical relationships?

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Mario 04.11.18 at 9:46 am

How would the three-body problem, or any other system that doesn’t have a deterministic solution, be used in an argument to validate or invalidate the metaphysical pre-existence of numbers or even of complex mathematical relationships?

You wouldn’t, if you were wise. Whoever comes with “metaphysical pre-existence of numbers” is a crank and should be ignored.

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casmilus 04.11.18 at 10:02 am

@315

It wouldn’t, but no one tried to do that. The point is we’re following up your separate thread about simplicity/complexity, which you yourself said was independent of the stuff about mathematical realism. Which incidentally is a topic with an existing philosophical literature, Penelope Maddy is someone who wrote about it (I think she also did the SEP article, which is always a good place to start, for any philosophical debate).

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casmilus 04.11.18 at 10:05 am

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Hidari 04.11.18 at 1:08 pm

@305
No one has ever written that sentence before.
And no one ever will, ever again.

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Michael Sullivan 04.11.18 at 2:08 pm

Layman at 313 links the Matthew Yglesias article that outlines the biggest problem with Murray and anyone who defends him — the step to *actual* policy prescriptions where his proposed consequences aren’t actually supported by data/science, while the racist consequences of those policies *are* fairly well supported.

There’s also a stair step argument affect that I’ve often seen from self-described “rationalists” who’ve suffered what the old less wrong refers to as an “affective death spiral”, basically the consequence of only treating people who largely agree with you as other “rationalists” that Henry describes.

Basically the argument runs in steps from solidly or fairly well supported weak propositions to *much* stronger propositions with very weak or no support, and if you argue with any part of the chain, you are treated as if you are arguing *only* with the initial relatively well supported propositions and thus “irrational”.

The anatomy of it runs like this.

1. Relatively weak proposition for which there is at least *some* fairly solid scientific backing, even if it may be disputable — e.g. “There is such a thing as general intelligence”. Yes, we can smash a bunch of vectors of intellectual skills into one vector and call it G or IQ, and it turns out there’s some good evidence that people can’t change this IQ dramatically by learning.

Arguing against the entire structure of 1. is fairly fraught and possibly “irrational” but there are serious caveats for which there is pretty good scientific backing as well. a) Our measurements of this IQ have a pretty large error component. b) Results can change *somewhat* due to experience. As an anonymous commenter said above, “85 doesn’t go to 115”, *but* it certainly might go to 90-100 depending on teaching and environmental context and that could make a huge difference in people’s lived experience. c) Most of the common IQ tests and *especially* nearly all of the proxy tests (like SAT/MCAT/etc.) have very clear and well established racial, cultural and educational biases. d) The vector mashing to achieve one score elides the fact that it’s possible to have very high competencies in some realms of intelligence along with very weak ones in others, resulting an average IQ score, but vastly different potential than “average” depending on how much your future context values your competencies.

2. Somewhat stronger proposition for which there is less but still pretty good support:
“Because there’s this thing called general intelligence that doesn’t appear to change dramatically over time or with training, it is a genetic trait, determined at birth.”
Somewhat less conclusive, caveat b above already notes that there is *some* fluidity, and it’s extremely hard to tease out the difference between genetics and very early environment, especially pre-natal environment.

3. Much stronger proposition for which there is much weaker and highly disputed evidence: “Racial groups exhibit differences in IQ. This is partly the result of a genetic trait inherent in those racial groups.” Disputed strongly due to clear and obvious racial biases in most tests. Murray and others hang their hat on the fact that this effect still exists (though much smaller) in tests without known or obvious (but not necessarily non-existent!) racial/cultural/educational biases, but this still hand-waves away other context (discrimination contributing to poorer average pre-natal and early childhood environments which clearly *does* affect tested IQ). It also does not answer deconstructions of the exact way in which we mash the vectors to create G/IQ. The actual algorithm used much weight different components of intelligence, and the way in which they do so may contain further racial/cultural/educational biases. The mere fact of significant racial disparities in the results of apparently non-biased tests that line up with stereotypes should probably cause us to question either the tests further or the inherent weightings of our G calculation about as quickly as we question a prior that there should not be major racial disparities, but this never seems to occur to these “rationalists.”

4. Finally we get to the meat of the argument where things go completely off the rails! They now introduce a proposition for which the balance of scientific evidence is almost completely on the other side and present it as the inevitable “rational/logical” conclusion from arguments 1-3. I.E. “The disparities in socio-economic results between racial groups is primarily/only the result of differences in their overall IQ”. This completely ignores the “glass ceiling” phenomenon combined with the the *HUGE* variance in individual G/IQ which *swamps* even fairly large racial disparities. It completely ignores *clearly substantiated* factors which have nothing to do with IQ that have produced and continue to contribute to real and wide socio-economic disparities between races like, say, *slavery*, Jim Crow laws, or redlining. It completely ignores that discrimination and poverty *have been shown to reduce results on every IQ test, not just obviously biased ones*. It ignores that while “you can’t get 130 from 85”, most of the difference in racial group results on not-obviously biased tests is within the range of what you *can* get from a combination of environmental differences.

5. The wacky completely unsubstantiated claim in 4 is now used as the basis for policy prescriptions that go completely *against* all reasonable evidence. “We should not attempt to rectify socio-economic imbalances based on race/ethnicity because it is futile. It’s all encased in genetics and nothing we do can help.” This completely ignores the huge individual variance in IQ, and completely ignores the wide and strong body of evidence that IQ *is* variable to a small degree based on environment and known interventions, especially in early childhood. And completely ignores the other factors noted in 4. that contribute to disparity which have nothing to do with intelligence.

Yglesias pretty solidly demolishes 5. in the article linked in 313, so I won’t waste more words there, but there’s a lot more to be said about the problems with this string of arguments and how people like Murray work (I haven’t read Harris, so I’m sort of assuming he does similar things as I trust Henry and others *far* more than I trust anyone who gives Murray the time of day in an argument).

The main argument tactic for the purveyor of the stack is to treat as many of your arguments as possible as if they are supposed to apply further up the stack than you intend. If you ever even once *mention* that there is *some* legitimate dispute about whether you can really claim 1. or 2. at all or whether it is useful, given the caveats, to claim 1. or 2., You can reliably assume that every point you bring against any other spot on the stack or step moving down it will be treated as if it is supposed to be an argument against 1. or 2. and if it fails as such, you are clearly being “irrational”.

In general, you will almost always be treated as if any point you make is supposed to apply to something further up the stack (i.e. more supportable) than what you are *actually* making a point against. The better debaters are good at making these pushes smaller and more believable to the point where you can easily get caught by them if you’re not familiar with the structure of and constantly on the lookout for this gambit. The real fools and hacks will basically answer the Yglesias article (which focuses primarily on step 5) as if he has solely and exclusively offered arguments that genetic intelligence does not even exist, even though he’s clearly *granted* that point for the sake of argument.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.11.18 at 4:17 pm

Casmilus #317: “no one tried to do that.”

I can’t think of another reason why #314 asked if I am unaware… I think that the SEP is great, and one nice thing is that they update. I’ve been reading philosophy of mathematics for decades and I remember standing in a bookstore and reading through Maddy’s Realism in Mathematics back when it was published. A large number of philosophers puzzled over mathematics’ applicability to the world. There are passages in Plato, Descartes, Berkeley, Kant, Mill, Husserl, Wittgenstein, to name just a few before philosophy of math branched into a subfield.

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Faustusnotes 04.12.18 at 12:22 am

Lee a Arnold I was just pissing about.

When I was 15 I got my hands on a book of IQ tests and, certain that I would be great, did one. I don’t recall my exact score but it was shockingly bad, maybe 85. So I went through the solutions, figured out how the tests work, did another one and got a much higher score, again I don’t recall but it was above avergse. These tests obviously depend on education, and most obviously anyone from a school or background that encourages this kind of testing will likely have been schooled in stuff like pattern recognition. The instructions for the questions are also often very vague and highly dependent on how the test taker understands questions, formal English, etc.

As someone with a background in maths and physics I don’t believe that intelligence is a meaningful idea at this stage in our cultural development. It simply can’t be teased out from education (most obviously, you score 0 on an IQ test of you can’t read). While I have met people with obvious real “talent” for mathematics the vast majority of us were trained – rigorously and continuously. But people with no background in maths think we’re smart. It’s obvious to me that in the soup of environmental, educational and cultural influences on intellectual development, our native biology is probably irrelevant, and certainly impossible to tease out.

Also I have never met a self confessed MENSA member who wasn’t a dickhead. So there’s that.

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F. Foundling 04.12.18 at 2:16 am

If there have been any responses to my last comments, I have not read them – I might do so at a later point – but right now I’m just posting to add a few further notes on conformity for conformity’s sake that seem relevant as a follow-up to 04.08.18 at 3:34 am. Briefly – when someone conforms for conformity’s sake, they are: 1. likely to engage in noxious and immoral or foolish actions when conformity entails them; 2. they are betting on and investing in a version of ‘the rules of the game’ where conformity is rewarded and, by extension, non-conformity is punished. Thus, conformism, especially emphatic, demonstrative and militant conformism, implies arbitrary and unjust intolerance. That is why I am not tolerant of conformism, and why I also detest it in a visceral way.

Every time somebody greets me with ‘Christ is risen!’ after Easter, they imply the stance that every (normal) member of the community must be a Christian and will respond in the only socially adequate way with ‘He is risen indeed!’ – anything else is unthinkable. This is a form of improper pressure. One might say that this is a mere social convention, but the point is exactly that it is a social convention which is, at the same time, a (declaration of an) opinion, and these two things should not be mixed – (statements of) opinions should not become a matter of mere social convention. I am quite certain that the same person who fervently declares today that ‘Christ is risen’ because everybody says so, will say tomorrow, with equal fervour, ‘Kill all the Jews’ because everybody says so. It is the freedom and responsibility of each individual human being to think as truthfully and act as justly and beneficially (for themselves as well as others) as they can; renouncing that for the sake of group allegiance and unity is unpardonable.

And, on a slightly different note, not primarily connected to religion – it is tragic to see how even the extremely sharp, inquisitive, awe-inspiringly powerful intellects of incredibly talented, knowledgeable and brilliant individuals can be utterly and hopelessly wasted, when they have no moral compass/spine and drift ‘by default’ towards serving the idol(s) of conformity – energetically so if they happen to be energetic as well.

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John Quiggin 04.12.18 at 7:06 am

@323 “Every time somebody greets me with ‘Christ is risen!’ after Easter”

That’s very interesting. Where do you live, FF, and what is the majority Christian sect?

No-one ever said that to me, or in my hearing, even in my Anglican churchgoing youth, Not only that, but it would seem deeply weird in any context other than an actual religious service.

I’m in Australia, where the default assumption is either agnosticism or nominal Christianity, depending on the social group.

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Peter T 04.12.18 at 9:39 am

There is a charming story in Werner Bergengruen’s The Last Captain of Horse of the Tsar offering the traditional Easter greeting (and not getting the usual response).

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steven t johnson 04.12.18 at 2:20 pm

John Quiggin@324 has apparently not had much contact with religious people. This particular observance I think is Orthodox, if not specifically Russian Orthodox. But the basic principle that religious people are relentless in their efforts to pressure people is one that doesn’t take much experience to learn. When Gideon Bibles are distributed to display in business waiting rooms and high school class rooms, they are making a statement. That’s why the OP’s contempt for atheists is so dubious. Atheists aren’t just the kind of people who enjoy telling kids there’s no Santa Claus.

(I suppose at this point I have to acknowledge that philosophy cannot justify saying there’s no God any more than most philosophy of science can justify saying there’s no magic. I don’t know why people think so highly of philosophy and anti-science “science” that agrees philosophy has a point.)

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ph 04.12.18 at 9:56 pm

Things you can learn from spending five minutes on the internet.

“In accordance with the rite established by the Church, we exchange a Paschal kiss during Matins on the first day of Holy Pascha. The rite is both important and comforting.

Ordinarily, when we exchange that kiss, we say, “Christ is Risen!” and are answered with the words “Truly He is Risen!” In so doing, we emulate the earliest of the Lord’s disciples and students, who after His Resurrection discussed the Resurrection among themselves, and said: the Lord is Risen indeed (Luke 24: 14-35). Moreover, in pronouncing that greeting, we clearly and concisely express to one another the history of today’s Feast.”

https://stjohndc.org/en/content/origin-and-meaning-paschal-greeting

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ph 04.12.18 at 10:38 pm

And if we’re talking about who believes black folks are different – let’s not forget all those appalled by the Access Hollywood tape, who yet somehow are totally cool with…
https://www.newsbusters.org/blogs/culture/gabriel-hays/2018/04/12/hateful-hip-hop-top-us-rbhip-hop-songs-objectify-women-55

The evidence is pretty damning. I grew up with Gil Scott-Heron. The notion that genes or skin pigment predicts anything seems entirely loopy. Cultures?

That’s an entirely different question. Restaurant features b/w snaps of Bardot topless is ‘degrading’ – music lyrics about ‘b—” and sundry other sexist slang. The coolest, as the Grammy awards and Billboard charts confirm each year.

Different rules and expectations from white liberals regarding black folks?

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F. Foundling 04.13.18 at 12:10 am

@John Quiggin 04.12.18 at 7:06 am

Oh, my case is a bit special. In spite of my English screenname, I live in a former communist country in Eastern Europe. The custom, along with other demonstrations of religiosity, was (re-)introduced after the fall of communism. I’d say that it was embraced with particular fervour by the intellectuals, as were the obligatory right-wing views; the whole thing functioned as a way for people to distance themselves from the defeated former system and to display allegiance to the victorious new one. ‘I have (already) all the (newly) correct opinions and am not a legitimate target (any more) – what about you?’ ‘Certainly, certainly, I have all the correct opinions too and I’m not a legitimate target either, God forbid!’ Of course, the actual biographies and backgrounds of many of the people involved made them even more desperate to affirm their new loyalties. I dare say that it certainly doesn’t reflect any deep religious conviction in the overwhelming majority of cases (not that an actual conviction would have been preferable).

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Matt 04.13.18 at 12:36 am

Similar to steven t johnson, I was going to say that the “Christ has risen” exchange was very common in Russia (around Easter) when I lived there, and so I’d assumed it was an Orthodox thing. (I hadn’t much otherwise heard it outside of an actual church in the US.) That it was somewhat inescapable was a well known source for jokes, too – there was a funny story about people using the “indeed he is” reply inappropriately because of having said it so many times, where then leader of the communist party, Zyuganov, was especially made fun of for having done this.

On Australia, I wonder if it’s regional, John, or if you just don’t notice the religious life anymore. When I moved to Melbourne about 8 months ago, one of the first things that stuck me was the large number of churches and, especially, religious schools for kids. (There are _many_ more of those than in most parts of the US, I think.) Within a KM or so of my house, there are very large and fancy Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, and Anglican schools (some gender segregated as well.) They advertise their religious affiliation quite heavily, and talk about “teaching values”, so I’d be surprised if there wasn’t some substantial religious element. And, the “anti” adds on TV during the mail-ballot over same sex marriage were as vicious or worse than anything I’ve seen in the US. (Statements made by the Catholic church here in Australia were just as bad or worse than in the US, too.) So, maybe Melbourne is different than Brisbane, or perhaps it’s just (happily) blurred into the background for you. I’m not sure.

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John Quiggin 04.13.18 at 5:46 am

Matt @330 I don’t think the religious aspect of private schools with a mainstream Protestant affiliation is taken very seriously, whatever their PR might say. They are just wealthy private schools, the natural products of a voucher-style system of public funding. Lots of my colleagues at UQ send their kids to these schools, and they don’t worry one way or the other about the religious affiliation. The exceptions to this are fundamentalist Christian schools (a relatively new development), and, to a declining extent, the Catholic system.

The anti-ads were certainly vicious, but the No side got thumped pretty convincingly. The exceptions were mostly
1. Rural areas, with which I’m pretty familiar, and can confidently assert that the No vote was mainly due to general social conservatism rather than religiosity.
2. Urban areas with heavy concentrations of first-generation migrants. Here it seems that religious belief (not exclusively Christian) was the big factor.

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Matt 04.13.18 at 8:46 am

Thanks for the clarification, John – I appreciate it. (I’m interested to learn more about the education system in Australia – my impression is that the private system is fancy and wealthy [and often religiously affiliated, though as you say, that may be somewhat nominal], and that the public system is under-funded. If you or anyone else can recommend a good source on it, I’d be grateful.)

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Faustusnotes 04.13.18 at 12:16 pm

Under his eye.

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F. Foundling 04.13.18 at 1:52 pm

@Matt 04.13.18 at 12:36 am

Indeed, in some of the more eastern parts of the former Soviet Bloc the picture is completed by the fact that even the poor inept hustlers that have picked the ungrateful job of claiming some part of the communist heritage for themselves – and who are consequently shunned and derided by the advanced and sophisticated pro-Western polite society* – have tended to embrace religion as part of their general reorientation towards local identity and tradition.

* which tends to prefer the likes of Reagan, Thatcher, Yeltsin, Pinochet and maybe, you know, just a little bit of that nostalgic flavour of Franco~Mussolini~you-know-who for old times’ sake – as well as anything currently sponsored by USAID, NED, etc.

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Jerry Vinokurov 04.13.18 at 3:51 pm

Michael Sullivan’s comment at 320 was so good that I just wanted to pop in and say that.

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F. Foundling 04.14.18 at 12:36 am

@F. Foundling 04.13.18 at 1:52 pm

I had to post again, as I felt some remorse for formulating my previous comment about ‘hustlers’ in a general way that could be interpreted as maligning also the numerous fundamentally decent, often aging people active in or supportive of the (ex-)communist organisations, especially in the rank and file. Their unflinching loyalty maintained in spite of vicious abuse and ridicule is quite admirable. Unfortunately, the leadership is mostly cynical and corrupt, and it is the one taking the initiative to embrace religion – or, in many countries, right-wing economic ideology, figures like Thatcher and Churchill, etc.

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