Posts Tagged ‘Dunning-Kruger Effect’

The Assault on Intelligence

May 19, 2018

Michael V. Hayden has served as the director of both the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). His latest book is “The Assault on Intelligence: American Security in an Age of Lies.” Actually this title is modest. The underlying reality is that this is an attack on American Democracy.

In 2016 the Oxford’s English Dictionary’s word of the year was “post truth,” a condition where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. A. C. Grayling characterized the emerging post-truth world as “over-valuing opinion and preference at the expense of proof and data.” Oxford Dictionaries president Casper Grathwohl predicted that the term could become “one of the defining words of our time.” Change “could” to ‘has,” and change one to “is,” and, unfortunately, you have an accurate characterization of today’s reality.

Kahneman’s two-system view of cognition is fitting here. This is a concept that should be familiar to healthy memory blog readers. System 1, is called, intuition, and refers to the most common mode of our cognitive processing. Normal conversation, or the performance of skilled tasks are System 1 processes. Emotional processing is also done in System 1. System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors do slip through.

Post truth processing is exclusively System 1. It involves neither proof nor accurate data, and is frequently emotional. That is the post truth world. One of the most disturbing facts in Hayden’s book, is that Trump does not care about objective truth. Truth is whatever he feels at a particular time. The possibility that Trump might have a delusional disorder, in which he is incapable of distinguishing fact from fiction has been mentioned in previous health memory blog posts. That was proposed as a possible reason for the enormous number of lies he tells. But it is equally possible that he has no interest in objective truth. As far as he is concerned, objective truth does not exist.

Tom Nichols writes in his 2017 book “The Death of Expertise” “The United States is now a country obsessed with the worship of its own ignorance…Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog sodden…[with] an insistence that strongly held opinions are indistinguishable from facts.” Nichols also writes about the Dunning-Kruger effect, which should also be familiar to healthy memory blog readers. The Dunning-Kruger Effect describes the phenomenon of people thinking they know much more about a topic than they actually know, compared to the knowledgeable individual who is painfully aware of how much he still doesn’t know about the topic in question.

Trump is an ideal example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Mention any topic and Trump will claim that he knows more about the topic than anyone else. He knows more about fighting wars than his generals, He knows more about debt than anyone else (from a personal experience this might be true). He told potential voters that he was the only one who knew how to solve all their problems, without explaining how he knew or what his approach was. In point of fact, the only things he knows, and is unfortunately an expert at, are how to con and cheat people.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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What a 72-Year Old Remembers About Technology

May 7, 2018

When HM was in college, there were only mainframe computers that used tape drives. He took a course in computer programming. Fortran was the primary language for science and engineering, but the mathematicians at Ohio State developed and used Scatran instead. At that time there were no computer science departments. Computer science was divided between the mathematics department and the electrical engineering department. I would write my programs hand them off to the keypunch operators who always complained, and unfortunately justly so, about the illegibility of my printing. Then I would submit my punched cards to the mainframe. They would give an estimate regarding the waiting time, but typically it took several hours.

When you learned the program had been run, you returned and asked for your output. Usually, you could determine from the nature of your output, what had happened. If the output was only several pages, then it was likely that there was a formatting or logical error in your program. If the output was quite thick, then it was likely that you read in the data improperly. If there was a mistake, then you had to debug the program and make your own manual corrections. There were assistants available who provided advice.

HM worked as a clerk-typist in the Army for a while. When mistakes were made, you tried to correct them with white out. If there were too many mistakes, or if a rewrite was needed, then the entire document had to be retyped. As a graduate student HM paid typists to type his Master’s Thesis and doctoral dissertation. As a professional psychologist there were typists on staff. When documents were long, HM made rewrites and corrections and gave the document back to the typist. It was not unusual for the entire document to be retyped. However, when the entire document was retyped there usually were mistakes. Sometimes a point of diminishing returns was reached in which a retyping would result in more errors than were in the document that needed to be retyped.

The first computers usually had the Basic programing language installed and nothing else. These were primarily for hobbyists. When the first word processing programs appeared, they were like a godsend as they made the labor intensive typing task orders of magnitude easier. They eventually resulted in reductions in the secretarial staff, as professionals could do their own typing. However, at this time, most statistical analyses were done on mainframes. This involved having data and programs keypunched, submitted to the mainframe, waiting for processing, and picking up the results.

When statistical programs were developed for personal computers, this all could be done by the statistician. In contrast to the old days when there would typically be a break of several hours waiting for the results, the PCs spit the results back within seconds. If there were problems, they needed to be addressed directly. The old break waiting for the results was missed.

When HM took physics in high school, the teacher would have one student design a circuit and provide it to the rest of the class. The students would then need to manually compute the electrical values at different points in the circuit. When HM was assigned this task he designed a circuit where all these values could be computed in one’s head. At this time there were no pocket calculators. Only one student had a slide rule, so the rest of us needed to do the calculations manually. So when no manual calculations had to be made for my circuit, everyone got a perfect score. HM made his point. We all understood electrical circuits, but even after 12 years of education we still made arithmetical errors.

It is difficult for HM to identify what he likes most about the new technology. Of course, word processing is highly appreciated. But the computational aids are especially appreciated. HM worked with MathCad and really appreciated the ease with which complex mathematical equations could be manipulated. HM is sorry he did not have such tools when he was studying these subjects. Doing arithmetic for eight years was tedious and a waste of time. Arithmetic provides little understanding of or appreciation for mathematics.

So although HM is envious of the developments in technology, he is disturbed about how it is used. He fears that the benefits of technology are not being truly exploited and technology is being used in a superficial manner that can be unhealthy. It is unhealthy to be constantly plugged in. But everywhere you go you see people with their faces glued to their smartphones. When they are walking through a park, they are apparently oblivious to nature with their preoccupation with their smartphones. Even at professional conventions, where professionals have traveled to interact personally with other professionals, you see them sitting together, not conversing, but with their faces glued to their smartphones.

People are preoccupied with whether or not they are liked, and count the number of friends they have. But the number of true friends one can have is quite small. Read the healthy memory blog post “How Many Friends are Too Many?” Robin Dunbar concludes that the maximum number of people we can call friends is 150. And the number of true friends is much lower than that. True friends consume both time and effort.

Technology also seems to have exacerbated the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The Dunning-Kruger Effect describes the phenomenon of people thinking they know much more about a topic than they actually know, compared to the knowledgeable individual who is painfully aware of how much he still doesn’t know about the topic in question. The Wikipedia is a tremendous source of knowledge. Unfortunately, people think that since they have accessed a topic in the Wikipedia that they have acquired that knowledge, when what they have done is learned how to access the information. Understanding this knowledge requires time and effort.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Wikipedia Became the Internet’s Good Cop

April 10, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Noam Cohen in the Outlook Section of the 8 April 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The subtitle is “To combat fake news, tech companies want the wisdom of the crowd.”

Actually it is not only tech companies, but it is everyone who should want the wisdom of the crowd. Moreover, the contributors to the Wikipedia constitute a very smart and intelligent crowd. There is a standard that needs to be reached to remain published in Wikipedia.

Wikipedia has sworn off advertising completely. Cohen writes, “When Tim Berners-Lee conceived the web, he imagined that it would look a lot like Wikipedia; that is, “ system in which sharing what you know or thought should be as easy as learning what somewhat else-knew.”

Wikipedia serves as a remedy to the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Previous healthy memory posts have written about the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The effect describes the phenomenon of people thinking they know much more about a topic than they actually know, compared to the knowledgeable individual who is painfully aware of how much he still doesn’t know about the topic in question. HM experiences this effect practically every time he consults the Wikipedia. He fairly soon becomes somewhat familiar with how much he does not know about the topic, and becomes engaged to remedy this shortcoming. But as the effect describes, the more you learn, typically the more you become aware of how much more there is still to learn.

It is not enough just learning the news of the day. Ultimately, this just results in superficial knowledge. In the Wikipedia, one can read meaningful integrated presentations on different topics. Infrequent trips to the Wikipedia are insufficient. The Wikipedia should become, at least, a daily habit.

The Wikipedia is also an outstanding tool for fostering growth mindsets. The practice of the daily learning of new information is emphasized in the healthy memory blog as being one of the primary means for fostering a healthy memory.

It appears that the Wikipedia has replaced the encyclopedia. In the traditional encyclopedia experts were hired to write about topics. The crowd-sourced Wikipedia provides a more diverse coverage of most topics.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith andhealthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Could a Trump Triumph? —- Part Two

February 7, 2018

The question posed in this post is identical to a chapter title in “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump” by Allen Francis, MD.

Many people were disturbed as to how an advanced country like Germany could be taken over by the Nazis. Theodor Adorno conducted a survey in the Unites States that revealed that many Americans also have the characteristics of what he called, “the Authoritarian Personality.” These characteristics include strongly defending conventions; being submissive to those above, and domineering to those below; devaluing intellectual activity; overvaluing power and toughness; blaming others; being cynical; and believing conspiracy theories and superstitions. People with this “Authoritarian Personality” obey, rally together and sometimes become powerful and dominating leaders. They respond aggressively to outsiders especially when they feel threatened. By acting tough, Trump displays his own (and plays to his followers) authoritarian inclinations.

It is clear that Trump’s base consists of people with this Authoritarian Personality. This was quite clear to his response to the demonstrators in Charlottesville. He said that there were good people demonstrating with the neo-nazis. He is reluctant to disavow support from the nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. And it is clear why. They constitute the majority of his solid base.

Trump is the ultimate confidence man. There’s the statement “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Trump says our world is broken and that he and he alone can fix it. Francis writes, “But the transparency of Trump’s deceptions did not discourage his faithful followers from accepting that he is truthful and that the reporters he hates are the “most dishonest people on earth.”

“In a fearful and uncertain world, Trump is ever the clever confidence man, cynically trading on the overconfidence that is an inherent part of human psychology. He embodies within himself and unconsciously exploits in others, the “Dunning-Kruger effect.” There have been several healthy memory blog posts on the “Dunning-Kruger effect.” These Cornell psychologists have shown that people with less ability at any given task are more likely to overestimate their own skill and underestimate the skill of others. In effect people are massively ignorant of what they don’t know. They flaunt their ignorance and show contempt for the individuals who have expertise that the ignorant people need. If you don’t know what you don’t know, you can’t correct your ignorance. If you don’t know when you are making a mistake, you’ll keep making it. Francis quotes Shakespeare, “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man know himself to be a fool.”

It is next to impossible to campaign against this ignorance. There are ample contradictions in what Trump says himself to discredit him, but his supporters fail to notice these contradictions. And they have contempt for people with the relevant knowledge to deal with the problems we face.

Francis wrote “Trump understood that people who feel desperate, anxious, angry, and helpless are not in a mood to listen to rational arguments. His fear mongering pitch is that we are now living in the worst of worlds, in the worst of times; that there are even worse dangers ahead; that enemies lurk on all sides; and that we can trust him to keep us safe. He daily succeeds in passing off a fusillade of “alternative facts’ because frightened people are ready to accept them. Human irrationality in the face of stress has a long past and may, unfortunately, also enjoy a great future.”

“In the no-holds-barred U.S. political wars, bold untruth has become the most powerful of all political weapons. Ultraright-Wing talk radio, conspiracy theory internet sites, and Fox News spew forth a constant spate of alternative facts and extreme opinions that are often outright lies and always anything but ‘fair and balanced.’ They follow the chilling advice of Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels: ‘It would not be impossible to prove, with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas in disguise.’”

Socrates and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

November 21, 2017

Socrates asked, “How is not this the most reprehensible ignorance, to think that one knows what one does not know?”

There are two parts to the Dunning-Kruger effect.  The first refers to the cognitive bias in which relatively unskilled persons suffer illusory superiority.  The second part refers to a cognitive bias for highly skilled individuals to underestimate the relative competence of unskilled individuals and assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others.

So people who truly know a topic are aware of what they don’t know. But people who think they know a topic can be woefully ignorant of what they don’t know. So knowledgeable people typically qualify there answers. This was the problem President Truman had with economists. They would tell him on one hand there was x, but on the other hand there was y. Truman asked for one-handed economists. It is hoped that he never found one.

There is reason to think that the Dunning-Kruger effect has been magnified in this current era of technology. Life has become an open-book test. All one has to do is to look something up. But true knowledge requires thinking, and thinking takes time and effort. It is not analogous to downloading a file from the computer.

One of the best examples was the response a woman, who was wearing her technology and was well-plugged in to the question of what she thought about Obamacare. She responded that it was terrible and should be repealed. However, when she was asked about the Affordable Care Act, she thought it was wonderful. She did not caveat either response.

First of all, we need to be aware of faux news. So we need to evaluate the source and soundness of everything we see or hear. We should also consider other information that either supports or refutes the new information.

But even for topics we think we know, we need to explore the other side and follow not only the reasoning, but also data. In the case of governments offering health care to all its citizens, every other advanced country does so, and they do so with single payer government systems. Moreover, their medical systems are not only more effective, they are also significantly cheaper. This seems to be a glaring source of ignorance in the United States.

Readers might also consider reading or rereading the healthy memory blog post “Ignorance.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What Cognitive Science Tells Us About Trump

November 6, 2017

The immediately preceding post reviews three effects from Cognitive Science that explain much of what and why Donald Trump does. The first is the Dunning-Kruger Effect which states people tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. And this is because people who are unskilled in the domain suffer a dual burden: not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it. It is clear that Trump could not pass a high school civics test. He is a president who has no idea how government works. He thought he could get things done by firing and threatening to fire people. It worked on his show so he is surprised that it does not work in government. There are three independent branches of government. He has control of only one. He is also the leader of the Republican Party. But party members cannot be ordered to do something; they must be convinced that it is in their and their constituents interest. To do this requires some knowledge of the laws and policies he is advocating. He is very short on knowledge, and his opinions vary over time

He has also said that he does not need advisers, that he knows what needs to be done and he’ll do it. He had his cabinet members sing his praises for what he had done when he had not done anything. This is something that is done in North Korea, not the United States. The President needs to understand many different and complex topics. That he thinks he can operate on his own without advisers shows the depth of his ignorance. He needs advice, good advice, but he is woefully unaware of his own ignorance.

Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition is also relevant here. System 1 is fast and is called intuition.  System 1 needs to be fast so we can process language and make the fast decisions we need to make everyday.  System 1 is also the seat of our emotions.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.  System 2 requires mental effort and our attentional processes. Trump rarely, if ever, uses System 2. Indeed, one doubts that he is capable of System 2 processing. He works almost exclusively in the emotional, System 1, domain. So he is unaware when he contradicts himself. It is somewhat ironic, but this is also the basis of his success. Too many citizens never use System 2 processes and work almost exclusively on what they feel in their guts. In this sense, they are simpatico with Trump.

Then there is classical conditioning that Pavlov found with his salivating dogs. He paired the ringing of a bell with the presentation of food. The dogs became conditioned, so that they salivated just upon hearing the bell. Whomever or whatever Trump does not like he attacks with names that become conditioned to the targets of his attacks. “Crooked Hillary,” “Little Marco,” “faux news.” These terms continue to be used over and over. This is how “Big Lies” work.

These factors make Trump the worst president this country has ever suffered, and we can only hope and pray that our country will survive.

Should anyone wonder why this post, which is apparently political, is in the healthy memory blog is because System 2 processing is essential for a healthy memory. It is also important for an effective democracy.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Hillary’s High Negatives

November 3, 2017

Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote. Unfortunately, she lost the Electoral College and hence, the presidency. It is interesting that the primary justification for the Electoral College was to prevent a political unknown who did not understand how government worked from being elected. Well, that happened, so it seems that the justification for the Electoral College is gone. So let’s go to a popular election where all citizens’ votes count. There is no justification for the votes of citizens in lowly populated states counting for more than votes of citizens in highly populated states. The argument that politicians will not campaign there is irrelevant. They should campaign where most voters reside. Every state gets two senators so small states already have a disproportionally heavier weight in Congress.

The continual drumbeat throughout the election was that Hillary had high negatives. Now some voters did resent Hillary trying to drag them kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. They are certainly entitled to their opinion, but the failure to modernize will ultimately have disastrous effects. But many seemed to have a seething rage and could not articulate why. A explanation can be found by adding one psychological effect to the Dunning-Kruger Effect and Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition that were discussed in the immediately preceding post. The following is repeated from the immediately preceding post, ““people tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. And this is because people who are unskilled in the domain suffer a dual burden: not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.” Here is how Dunning explained in “Politico” why so many people seemed untroubled by Trump’s ignorance or gaffes. “Many voters, “especially those facing significant distress in their life, might like some of what they hear from Trump, but they do not know enough to hold him accountable for the serious gaffes he makes. They fail to recognize those gaffes as missteps.” He noted that the problem was not simply that voters were ignorant, “it is that they are often misinformed—their heads filled with false data, facts and theories that can lead to misguided conclusions held with tenacious confidence and extreme partisanship…”

According to Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition, System 1 is fast and is called intuition.  System 1 needs to be fast so we can process language and make the fast decisions we need to make everyday.  System 1 is also the seat of our emotions.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.  System 2 requires mental effort and our attentional processes.

So the answer to why are so many people willing to believe is that they believe fake news because they wanted to and because it was easy. Ideally we might assume that people want to seek out information that is true, but this is a basic misunderstanding of the human psyche, which feels more comfortable with familiar information or stories that confirm their biases. Kahneman refers to this as “cognitive ease,” the process by which we avoid and resist inconvenient facts that might make us have to think harder. It is much, much easier to bask in a flow of information that tells us that we have been right all along and confirms our view of the world. So many of these facts are so outlandish that it is hard to understand how they can possibly be believed. Cognitive ease is further confounded by the Dunning-Krueger Effect, as more and more false information simply increases the feeling that one truly knows and this can and does build into the construction of alternative (false) realities.

HM’s personal favorite faux belief about Hillary was that she was running a sex ring using children in Washington. Someone even showed up at the place where this sex ring was supposedly being run with a rifle and shot at people.

The other relevant psychological effect is classical conditioning. Most people have heard about Pavlov’s salivating dogs. By pairing a bell with food, the dog’s learn to salivate at the sound of the bell alone. By pairing something bad with the name “Hillary Clinton” negative connotations and denotations are planted in the mind. Hence, high negatives are created. As System 1 is emotional and not cognitive it provides an explanation of negative feelings that could not be articulated. Social media, aided and abetted by Russia had an especially large effect here.

The final paragraph from the preceding post is also relevant here. Social psychology also plays an important role here. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes the power of tribalism in shaping our ideas. He wrote in “The Righteous Mind,” Once people join a political team they get ensnared in its moral matrix. They see confirmation of their grand narrative everywhere, and it’s difficult—perhaps impossible—to convince them that they are wrong if you argue with them outside the matrix. Political Scientist Don Kinder writes that political opinions become “badges of social membership.”

A majority of citizens did vote for Hillary, but they were not rewarded with her winning the presidency. This is especially unfortunate as many believe that she was the most qualified candidate who ever ran for the presidency. And these people could actually articulate their reasons.

Should anyone wonder why this post, which is apparently political, is in the healthy memory blog is because System 2 processing is essential for a healthy memory. It is also important for an effective democracy.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Why the Right Lost Its Mind

October 31, 2017

“How the Right Lost Its Mind” is an important book by the conservative, Charles J. Sykes. He reviews the history of the political right from the John Birch Society through William F. Buckley up to Breitbart and Donald Trump. At one time Sykes was a respected conservative. No longer. George Will resigned from the Republican Party, and Ronald Reagan is probably thrashing about in his grave. Sykes reviews the history of the reasons for this change that includes the key individuals, organizations, and the revolutionary changes in technology. He provides a compelling account of the reasons for the insanity in which we are living. The purpose of this post is to provide some key parts of cognitive psychology to explain why such chaos has resulted.

To Sykes credit, he includes these concepts in the book. They are especially important here because they are also examples of what makes memories unhealthy. One is the Dunning-Kruger effect, which has been written about in this blog previously. Research has found that “people tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. And this is because people who are unskilled in the domain suffer a dual burden: not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.” Here is how Dunning explained in “Politico” why so many people seemed untroubled by Trump’s ignorance or gaffes. “Many voters, “especially those facing significant distress in their life, might like some of what they hear from Trump, but they do not know enough to hold him accountable for the serious gaffes he makes. They fail to recognize those gaffes as missteps.” He noted that the problem was not simply that voters were ignorant, “it is that they are often misinformed—their heads filled with false data, facts and theories that can lead to misguided conclusions held with tenacious confidence and extreme partisanship…”

Much has been written in this blog about Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s Two Process Theory of Cognition. This theory was expanded upon in Kahneman’s best selling book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.”  System 1 is fast and is called intuition.  System 1 needs to be fast so we can process language and make the fast decisions we need to make everyday.  System 1 is also the seat of our emotions.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.  System 2 requires mental effort and our attentional processes.

For new information, our default is accept. We would advance very slowly if we questioned everything we heard, everything we encountered. However, it is the role of System 2 processes to monitor System 1 to correct any errors. This can be illustrated by presenting statements to a participant and monitoring responses recorded from the brain. If the statement accords with the person’s beliefs, there is little activity. However, if the statement does not accord with a the person’s beliefs, there is a noticeable signal in the brain. At this point the person can either ignore the information or decide to think about it further. Remember that System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking. And remember that System 2 requires mental effort and our attentional processes.

So the answer to why are so many people willing to believe is that they believe fake news because they wanted to and because it was easy. Ideally we might assume that people want to seek out information that is true, but this is a basic misunderstanding of the human psyche, which feels more comfortable with familiar information or stories that confirm their biases. Kahneman refers to this as “cognitive ease,” the process by which we avoid and resist inconvenient facts that might make us have to think harder. It is much, much easier to bask in a flow of information that tells that we have been right all along and confirmed our view of the world. So many of these facts are so outlandish that it is hard to understand how they can possibly be believed. Cognitive ease is further confounded by the Dunning-Krueger Effect, as more and more false information simply increases the feeling that one truly knows and this can and does build into the construction of alternative (false) realities.

Social psychology also plays an important role here. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes the power of tribalism in shaping our ideas. He wrote in “The Righteous Mind,” Once people join a political team they get ensnared in its moral matrix. They see confirmation of their grand narrative everywhere, and it’s difficult—perhaps impossible—to convince them that they are wrong if you argue with them outside the matrix. Political Scientist Don Kinder writes that political opinions become “badges of social membership.”

Conclusion: Appraising Ignorance and Illusion

July 16, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of the final chapter of The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (Unabridged), written by Steven Sloman and Phillip Fernbach. The authors note that this book has three central themes: ignorance, the community of knowledge, and the illusion of understanding.

The authors note that ignorance is inevitable simply because there’s too much complexity in the world for any individual to master. The Dunning-Kruger effect, which has been discussed in previous healthy memory posts, is that those who perform the worst overrate their own skills the most. This effect can be found by giving a group of people a task to do and then asking them how well they think they’ve done on the task. Poor performers overestimate how well they’ve done; strong performers often underestimate their performance. This effect has been found many times both in the psychological laboratory and in many real-world environments: among students, in offices, and among doctors. Dunning has collected an impressive amount of evidence that the reason it happens is that those who lack skills also lack the knowledge of what skills they’re missing. Consequently, they think they’re pretty good. However, those who are knowledgeable have a better sense of how matters should be handled and they know what skills they need to improve on. Dunning stresses the importance of this effect because all of us are unskilled in most domains of our lives.

The authors wrote, “As for the community of knowledge, intelligence resides in the community and not in any individual. So decision-making procedures that elicit the wisdom of the community are more likely to produce better outcomes than procedures that depend on the relative ignorance of lone individuals. A strong leader is one who knows how to inspire a community and take advantage of the knowledge within it, and can delegate responsibility to those with the most expertise.”

There are good and bad aspects of the illusion of understanding. We’re more likely to be accurate by avoiding illusion. We have a good idea of what we know and what we don’t know, and this should help us achieve our goals. We won’t take on projects that are beyond us, and we’ll be less likely to disappoint others, and we’ll be better positioned to deliver on our promises.

But they also note that illusion is a pleasure, as many of us spend a significant part of our lives living in illusions quite intentionally. We entertain ourselves with fictional worlds. Illusions can stimulate creative products by inspiring us to imagine alternative worlds, goals, and outcomes. And they can motivate us to attempt what we wouldn’t otherwise attempt.

Many posts have been devoted to this book because it addresses an important topic. It provides us with a more accurate picture of what we know and the consequences of shortfalls in knowledge. The title states “why we never think alone.” Perhaps it should read, “why we should never think alone.” Although he has certainly tried, HM has not done this volume justice, and he encourages you to read it for yourself.

 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Head In The Cloud

November 18, 2016

“Head In The Cloud” is an important book by William Poundstone.  The subtitle is “Why Knowing Things Matters When Facts Are So Easy to Look Up.”  Psychologists make the distinction between information that is accessible in memory and information that is available in memory.  Information that you can easily recall is obviously accessible in memory.  However, there is other information that you might not be able to recall now, but that you know that you know it.  This information eventually becomes accessible and can appear suddenly unsummoned in consciousness.

Transactive memory refers to information you can get from our fellow humans or from technology.  Most information available in technology can readily be summoned via Google searches.  An extreme view argues that since all this information is available, we do not need to remember the information itself as long as we know how to search for the information.  Whenever we encounter new information we are confronted with the question as to whether we need to commit this information to our biological memory.  This is a nontrivial question as committing information to memory requires cognitive effort, thinking, or in terms of Kahneman’s Two Process Theory, engaging our System 2 processes.  The healthy memory blog  has a category devoted to mnemonic techniques explicitly designed to assist in memorizing information as well as other discussions regarding how to make information memorable.  But all of this involves effort, so why bother if it can simply be looked up?  “Head in the Cloud” explains the benefits of moving some information from the cloud into our brains.

Poundstone describes an experiment done in 2011 by Daniel Wegner.  He presented volunteers with a list of forty trivia facts—short, pithy statement such as “An ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain.”  Half of the volunteers were told to remember the facts.  The other half were not.  Within each of these groups half were informed that their work would be stored on the computer, and half were told that their work would be immediately erased after the task’s completion.    All these volunteers were later given a quiz on the facts they typed.  It did not matter whether they had been instructed to remember the information or not.  It only mattered if they thought their work was going to be erased after the task.  These volunteers remembered more regardless of whether they were told to remember the information.

The following is directly from the text “It is impossible to remember everything.  The brain must constantly be doing triage on memories, without conscious intervention.  And apparently it recognizes that there is less need to stock our minds with information that can be readily retrieved.  So facts are more often forgotten when people believe the facts will be archived.  This phenomenon has earned a name—the Google effect—describing the automatic forgetting of information that can be found online.”

HM does not disagree with any of the above quote.  However, he is alarmed by what is omitted.  That omission regards a conscious decision as to whether the information should be further processed to increase its accessibility without technology and whether it is related to other information that might require further research.  It is true that we are time constrained, so that depending on the situation the time available for such consideration will be important.  But as Poundstone will show, it is important to get some information out of the cloud and into the brain, and we can consciously alter the processing we give to the retrieved information.  Sans attention, it will likely remain in the cloud.

Poundstone reports an enormous amount of research conducted by a new type of polling called an Internet panel survey.  These are conducted by an organization that has recruited a large group of subjects (the panel)  who agree to participate in surveys.  When a new survey begins, the software selects a random sample of the panel to contact.  E-mails containing links are sent to the selected participants, typically in several waves to achieve a demographic balance closely approximating the general populations.  The sample can be balance for sex, age, ethnicity, education, income, and other demographic markers of interest to the research project.

A prior healthy memory blog post appropriately titled “The Dunning-Kruger Effect” discusses the Dunning-Kruger Effect.  Dunning is a psychology professor and Kruger was a graduate student.  The effect is that “Those most lacking in knowledge and skills are least able to understand their lack of knowledge.”  The flip-side of this effect is that those most knowledgeable are most aware of any holes in their knowledge.

“Actor John Cleese concisely explains the Dunning-Kruger effect in a much-shared You Tube video:  ‘If you’re very, very stupid how can you possibly realize that you’re very, very stupid?  You’d have to be relatively intelligent to realize how stupid you are…And this explains not just Hollywood but almost the entirety of Fox News’”

The chaos and contradictions of the current political environment can perhaps best be characterized as a glaring example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.  Just a few moments of contemplation should reveal the potential danger from this effect.  Poundstone’s book reveals the glaring lack of knowledge in many important areas by too many individuals.  He also provides ample evidence of the benefits of moving certain information from the cloud and into our brains.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.