To Whit…

by rsbakker

Definition of the Day – Logic: something only you possess in full, and lacking in others the degree to which they disagree with you. See, Force, the.

Noticed another Voxday blip on the counter so I thought I would check it out. Found a treasure trove of tidbits referring to ‘us’ like this:

They’re morally confused individuals who suffer from either insufficient intelligence or a surfeit of modern secularist dogma which renders them unable accept the conclusions that logic forces them to confront. So, like overmatched mid-wits usually do, they attempt to move the goalposts, desperately attempt to avoid admitting that they’ve been shown to be incorrect, and launch bitchy little passive-aggressive assaults in an attempt to maintain their self-image as rational and intelligent individuals.

But of course. This is exactlywhat we are–as is every other human being in the planet, including Theo and his readers. It’s the presumption otherwise that makes us laughable, and at times, even dangerous. Thus the Three Pound Brain.

Theo, I know you’re reading this: I’m sure you wouldn’t argue the studies that show how the vast majority of individuals assume they are more moral and more intelligent than their peers. So, given that everyone assumes they’re largely in the right and that the other guys are largely in the wrong, all things being equal, the chances of any individual actually being right on a given issue depends on the number of  possible competing interpretations of that issue. In other words, all things being equal, the odds of any individual being ‘largely in the right’ are actually quite small. So my question to you is simply: What makes you the exception?

Most everyone I ask (I’ve made a hobby of plaguing liberal academics with this question) cites education, disposition, or revelation either individually or in some combination. They’ve either read more, or read more strategically, or been blessed by some happy mutation, or have had some direct experience with divinity. Since there’s no way to arbitrate any of these things (Whose reading list? What kind of IQ? Whose deity?) they tend to sound like forms of ‘special pleading,’ like people simply crying “But I’m the exception for real!”

But what if you’re not the exception, Theo? What if you’re just another dupe like me?

The only solution that I’ve been able to come up with is the one first posed by the ancient skeptics more than two millennia ago: doubt, doubt, and more doubt. Which is the harder road, and certainly the one less travelled. Certainty, we are beginning to learn, is a kind native reflex (which is why all humans suffer it to varying degrees), something that attaches itself to our claims independently of reason or empirical evidence. The only recourse, it seems to me, is to resist the reflex and admit that we’re just guessing.

(Relativists, you could say, try to make a metaphysical virtue out this situation, confusing our collective inability to decisively arbitrate between truth-claims with the nature of truth itself).

Otherwise, what do you make of things like the 1999 Dunning and Kruger study that draws a strong correlation between logical incompetence and the tendency to overestimate logical competence in self-assessments, as well as vice versa? The highest performers, in other words, consistently underestimate their performance. There’s this great graph charting the relationship that I always wanted to have made into T-shirts, where the steep rising line charting actual performance is plotted against the almost horizontal line charting the performer’s self-assessments.

Generalizing, you might say the less intelligent you are in fact, the more intelligent you are often prone to feel, and the more intelligent you are in fact, the more stupid you are often prone to feel.

I’m not making this stuff up, Theo. Cognitive psychology has been picking away at our self-congratulatory sense of intelligence and rectitude for decades now. Cognitive neuroscience is beginning to discover some downright creepy possibilities. For starters, check out this wonderful little website

Then tell us all how you happen to be the only human being on the planet who doesn’t suffer from confirmation bias, my-side bias, hindsight bias, familiarity bias, and so on and so on. The Grand Prize Winner of the Magical Belief Lottery.