Wednesday, January 11, 2012

WHY It Is That Some of Us
Are More Distrustful of Other's Decision Making and Thought Processes
in a Crisis

One of the topics of off-blog conversations with Laci that I enjoy has been about cognition and heuristics, the actual process of thinking, evaluating, decision making. The recent post from Laci, on the Higgs Bosun particle, addressed that higher level of analyzing thinking, as our understanding of thought processes themselves relate to not only academic fields but our everyday thought processes.

That probing of thought processes applies to trusting or distrusting decisions that end lives or cause injury, or even simply addresses one person or group of persons causing fear in others.

An example here would be where we are told that if we don't agree with the current laws that we feel inadequately regulate gun possession and especially gun carry, that we are simply failing to trust the inherent goodness of our fellow man that someone else chooses to hypothesize.  Speaking here for myself, I don't wish to trust a glittering generality like that,when clearly all of us are a mixture of good and evil as human beings.  It is not a matter of trusting human goodness, but trusting other variables in gun use.  Put in an oversimplification, I don't wish to be AS trusting as to which variable, good or evil, might apply to any situation where deadly force is involved.  I also don't wish to trust the wide range of variables in thought processes, good and bad, that I have observed over the years, particularly in crisis judgment situations, and in risk assessment.

For purposes of this post, to establish a common foundation for any discussion and comment, and because they do a great job of introductory level material, I'm going to quote the opening paragraphs from Wikipedia on cognition, and on heuristics, before going further.

In science, cognition refers to mental processes. These processes include attention, remembering, producing and understanding language, solving problems, and making decisions. Cognition is studied in various disciplines such as psychology, philosophy, linguistics, and computer science. Usage of the term varies in different disciplines; for example in psychology and cognitive science, it usually refers to an information processing view of an individual's psychological functions. It is also used in a branch of social psychology called social cognition to explain attitudes, attribution and groups dynamics.
The term cognition (Latin: cognoscere, "to know", "to conceptualize" or "to recognize") refers to a faculty for the processing of information, applying knowledge, and changing preferences. Cognition, or cognitive processes, can be natural or artificial, conscious or unconscious. These processes are analyzed from different perspectives within different contexts, notably in the fields of linguistics, anesthesia, neurology and psychiatry, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, systemics, computer science and creed. Within psychology or philosophy, the concept of cognition is closely related to abstract concepts such as mind, intelligence, cognition is used to refer to the mental functions, mental processes (thoughts) and states of intelligent entities (humans, human organizations, highly autonomous machines and artificial intelligences).
Heuristic (play /hjʉˈrɪstɨk/; or heuristics; Greek: "Εὑρίσκω", "find" or "discover") refers to experience-based techniques for problem solving, learning, and discovery. ... In more precise terms, heuristics are strategies using readily accessible, though loosely applicable, information to control problem solving in human beings and machines.[1]
The area of heuristic thinking that I find most applies to the differences in side-choosing over gun issues is cognitive biases.  Going, again, to Wikipedia, for a common basis for this discussion to go forward:
A cognitive bias is a pattern of poor judgment, often triggered by a particular situation. Identifying "poor judgment," or more precisely, a "deviation in judgment," requires a standard for comparison, i.e. "good judgment". In scientific investigations of cognitive bias, the source of "good judgment" is that of people outside the situation hypothesized to cause the poor judgment, or, if possible, a set of independently verifiable facts. The existence of most of the particular cognitive biases listed below has been verified empirically in psychology experiments.
Cognitive biases, like many behaviors, are influenced by evolution and natural selection pressure. Some are presumably adaptive and beneficial, for example, because they lead to more effective actions in given contexts or enable faster decisions, when faster decisions are of greater value for reproductive success and survival. Others presumably result from a lack of appropriate mental mechanisms, i.e. a general fault in human brain structure, or from the misapplication of a mechanism that is adaptive (beneficial) under different circumstances.
Cognitive bias is a general term that is used to describe many distortions in the human mind that are difficult to eliminate and that lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, or illogical interpretation.[1]
The cognitive biases that most intrigue me as applying to the differences we see here include those categorized as biases in probability and belief such as:
Anchoring effect – the tendency to rely too heavily, or "anchor," on a past reference or on one trait or piece of information when making decisions (also called "insufficient adjustment"). 
Attentional bias – the tendency to neglect relevant data when making judgments of a correlation or association. 
Availability heuristic – estimating what is more likely by what is more available in memory, which is biased toward vivid, unusual, or emotionally charged examples. 
Availability cascade – a self-reinforcing process in which a collective belief gains more and more plausibility through its increasing repetition in public discourse (or "repeat something long enough and it will become true").
Laci recently forwarded to me a radio interview with Daniel Kahneman talking about his book Thinking Fast and Slow.  Unfortunately, blogspot makes it difficult to include or embed that BBC segment here.  Alternatively, I did find this particular review of the book by a colleague of Kahneman to be insightful, and include very small excerpts from that larger review here.

Review of Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Do cognitive biases show up in people other than college sophomores? Do people make decision mistakes outside the lab, when real incentives are on the line? Are smart people immune from bias? Are these biases really mistakes? Does experience eliminate biases?
As a card-carrying member of the biases-and-heuristics crowd of the behavioral decision research field, these are the questions I have continually been asked over the years, despite my belief that they were answered conclusively long ago. In accepting an invitation to review Thinking, Fast and Slow (TFS) by Daniel (Danny) Kahneman, I anticipated getting a comprehensive and clear response to these decades-old questions.
The field of behavioral decision research has proven to be remarkably robust, demonstrating effects that have had profound influences on economics, finance, marketing, medicine, law, and negotiation, among other applied fields. Behavioral decision research has diffused to other academic areas faster than any topic in the history of psychology. And Danny has been recognized with the Nobel Prize in Economics, among many other well-deserved awards. But for the past 35 years, one ongoing criticism of the behavioral decision research field, particularly the work focusing on heuristics and biases, is that it doesn’t offer enough detail about the psychological mechanisms underlying the fascinating effects it documents. This tension about the nature of the field, and about the nature of evidence needed for journal publication, may be partially responsible for behavioral decision research developing more in professional schools than in psychology departments in recent years. (Of course, there are other explanations as well.) ....      Answering the many questions about psychological mechanisms underlying behavioral decision research is at the core of TFS,...
In that context, I saw a great deal of myself at the same age in the following video,although without glasses:

One of the qualities, besides an interest in how we think, how we make decisions, that I share with Laci is a lifetime of risk taking behavior.   That has made both of us very thoughtful and analytical about our own abilities and processes of risk assessment and response, and it makes us similarly critical of the thought processes of others, much of which is sadly superficial.


  1. That was vaguely self congratulatory and largely made of definitions (of which some of them need more discussion). You haven't shown anything in all of what you wrote that puts our thinking on one side and yours on the other. For example, I see cognitive bias as one of your problems.

    Ah well, we'll be here when you're ready to get back to the discussion.

  2. Of course, when it comes to the topic of cognition, greg fails miserably.

    Is it that you are incapable of intelligent thought, greg?

    or that you are just unwilling to try to use whatever intelligence you might possess to try and figure out what is going on.

    Given that my opinion of you is that you are a complete dumbfuck, Greg, I think the first is the proper answer.

  3. I should add that this isn't really self-congratulatory. My post on the standard model was indeed something about thinking and thought processes.

    In fact, that is exactly what that was.

    of course, the gun loon crowd is too stupid to realise that (inclusive of the physicist--who might be a physiscist, but is pretty much a moron otherwise).

    I was comparing two different "standard models" that I found interesting in that they both appeared to answer the question, but when examined are found lacking.

    Of course, greg, you are too intellectually dishonest to understand any of this (which is being generous since I think you are a complete dumbfuck who couldn't pour piss out of your boots with the instructions written on the soles).

    If you were truly intellectually honest, greg, you wouldn't make the majority of comments that you do.

    Fortunately, you are too fucking stupid to realise how much you go around talking horseshit.

    Unfortunatly (for you, I would prefer to not try to have any dealings with someone who is as thick as you are, greg.

    But, you are fun to insult.

    Your mere existance is an insult for that matter.

  4. Well, you weren't comparing two models, you just copied and pastes someone else's writing word for word.

  5. MAgunowner said...

    Well, you weren't comparing two models, you just copied and pastes someone else's writing word for word.

    No, Laci was clearly acknowledging the similarly flawed premises accepted far too uncritically by gun loons.

    Perhaps you should take a longer look at how much of this is Laci's commentary and how much is cited, clearly, as other people's words.

    GC, I set out the foundation for the discussion. That was necessary before going forward.

    I consider the possibility of my own cognitive bias, regularly.

    But if you would like to get specific, why don't you identify yours for us. Let's take them alphabetically, beginning with anchoring effect and assumptions about firearms.

    I'm particularly looking forward to the three cognative biases I have listed after that.

    I've done the heavy lifting so far; have at it.

    IF you can.

  6. "No, Laci was clearly acknowledging the similarly flawed premises accepted far too uncritically by gun loons."

    What I mean was Laci the dog's entire paragraph starting with:
    "In a paper published in Physical Review Letter on December 3, 2001"

    was plagiarized from this 2001 article:

    I've taken screen shots, should he try to change it now like the weasel he is.

  7. Laci the Dog,

    Is it possible for you to make an argument without tossing out insults and foul language? This is the reason that I have no respect for you. If you could confine yourself to addressing ideas, rather than the person expressing them, you would be worthy of my attention. I know that you're capable of making intelligent arguments. But you weaken your position by your style.

    Dog Gone,

    Once again, you want me to build your case. You've laid out a set of definitions, most of which are clear, even while they could be stated in simpler ways without loss of meaning. The four specific categories of bias may or may not be useful, but I'm willing to play with them, so long as we understand that I haven't necessarily accepted the validity of this method of analysis:

    1. Anchoring effect.

    I've never been the victim of a crime, nor have I had to use my weapons in self defense, so I have no personal experience to anchor with. I can say from my own experience that owning firearms and carrying handguns can be done safely. With practice, firearms can be used safely. It is possible to use a firearm in self defense, even though it is not a guarantee of success.

    2. Attentional bias.

    I suppose that you mean here that I ignore gun violence in this country. I do not ignore it. I also am aware that some people do stupid things with firearms, things that they did not intend to do. But since I value choice somewhat more than safety, I don't see those events as a sufficient reason to ban firearms. I also recognize that most gun owners cause no harm with their guns. Debating the importance of numbers is not attenional bias.

    3. Availability heuristic.

    As I said, I have no personal experiences of violence to go on here, so all discussions of what other people experience is equally vivid and equally detached from my personal emotions.

    4. Availability cascade.

    I do not accept the oft repeated line about how more guns equals less crime. I know that gun numbers and crime numbers are not strongly correlated and that correlation by itself does not equal causation. I also am suspicious every time I'm presented with a quotation from some famous person about guns. A lot of them strike me as too convenient to be immediately plausible, even if quotations by themselves matter.

    My cognitive bias is toward freedom. By nature, I don't like authorities who exercise power over others. Whenever I see proposals for more control, more regulation, more concentrated power, I reflexively object. I recognize that this bias shapes my thinking in many areas, but I believe that I have good objective reasons for at least some of those. My belief in allowing a great measure of personal choice in our lives comes from this. I also understand that in some matters, society must exercise control, particularly when my actions affect others.

    Consider pollution, for example. If I operate a factory that produces pollution, my actions cause harm to innocent people. Society is correct in asking me to reduce or eliminate the pollution that I create, depending on the effect that such measures have on other parts of our lives--if I make an essential product, for example, reduction rather than elimination is likely what will be asked of me.

    Since firearms can be owned and carried in responsible ways, I don't see a compelling need for the regulations that you propose.

    I do hope that we can continue this civilized form of discussion, free from personal attacks.

  8. Dog Gone,

    While we wait for your response, allow me to ask you to include a discussion of your own cognitive biases. Don't just tell us that you have them. I want to know what they are.

    By the way, that picture of the guy with the Minnie Mouse ears isn't in the spirit of civilized discussion.

  9. Greg, when Laci and I fault you for being an utter failure at critical thinking, we aren't, as you postulate, "simply disagreeing with you".

    We genuinely find you incapable of valid critical thinking to an extreme degree.

    Crunchy (used as an affectionate nick name btw, not snark) wondered if I was a psychologist. No, I'm not, but I spent a decade in a long term domestic relationship with one, from the time he finished up his Bachelor's through his PhD on different aspects of cognition. So, inevitably I picked up a great deal of the lingo, and a functional grasp of the concepts.

    He's currently a professor on the east coast--- and was, incidentally, the person whose abundant curly chest hair prompted the idea of setting up MA Gunner.

    I spent a decade not only proof-reading papers on the topic, and discussions over meals and during long car trips, but had my own thought processes critiqued what felt like endlessly for a variety of faults (and strengths), including itemized cognitive biases, 7 days a week for ten years.

    So when I tell you I am aware of looking at my own thought processes with an appreciation of self-critiquing for faults, including biases, I really do know how.

    Knowing how, I may not be perfectly free from them - Kahneman doesn't propose he is free from them either, btw - but rather I have a very different understanding of what critical thinking is (and isn't) and an understanding of HOW to critique myself and others.

    I find Laci to be an excellent objective and external critic of my thought processes as well.

    I don't think you have a grasp of the fundamentals Greg, much less any insight into what the cognitive biases are that I listed, or any understanding of how they operate.

    That was the point.

    But it might be fun to take the list of cognitive biases as listed alphabetically and apply them to comments which demonstrate each bias.

    The question in my mind is.....if you are too intellectually dishonest to acknowledge when you are wrong or when you lose an argument, why bother?

  10. Dog Gone,

    I see. So despite my attempt to move our discussions into rationality instead of personal attack, you're incapable of following suit. Your response was again filled with unspecified claims about my arguing style and boasting about how great you are (way too much personal information, by the way).

    How about this:

    1. In the future, rather than stating that I don't know how to reason, confine yourself to explaining what specifically is wrong with what I say. It's not enough to claim that I am wrong; you must also show how I am wrong. That, of course, requires work--and removing your head from your arse.

    2. Tell us more about your own qualifications. We don't know what you do for a living, nor do we know what specific instruction you've had in firearms. On the latter, you give some vague hints, but nothing in detail. What do you know that the rest of us supposedly do not?

    3. At the very least, address the main point of a comment, rather than worrying over minor details. For example, I gave a detailed response in answer to your request on this thread, and you've said nothing about those details.

    You claim that I am dishonest, and you claim that I lose arguments here, but you don't win an argument by whining, I'm right, and sticking out your tongue.

  11. 1. In the future, rather than stating that I don't know how to reason, confine yourself to explaining what specifically is wrong with what I say. It's not enough to claim that I am wrong; you must also show how I am wrong. That, of course, requires work--and removing your head from your arse.

    Actually, we explain what is wrong with your reasoning, very specifically, quite often. It is sadly wasted on you.

    You ignore it, or you brush it off as a simple difference in belief.

    You fail to distinguish,for starters, between faith and fact, belief and objective information.

    You are particularly poor in your assumptions, and you are broadly dishonest in how you characterize what we write.

    An example qualifying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a 'new idea' that 'a few people' came up with, when in fact it has had world wide support for more than 60 years.

    Here is a list of the original subscribing nations to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    Republic of China
    Costa Rica
    the Dominican Republic
    El Salvador
    the Netherlands
    New Zealand
    the Philippines
    the United Kingdom
    the United States

    That's not 'a few people', particularly since more have been added since.

    From wikipedia:
    The Guinness Book of Records describes the UDHR as the "Most Translated Document"[17] in the world. In the preamble, governments commit themselves and their people to progressive measures which secure the universal and effective recognition and observance of the human rights set out in the Declaration. Eleanor Roosevelt supported the adoption of the UDHR as a declaration rather than as a treaty, because she believed that it would have the same kind of influence on global society as the United States Declaration of Independence had within the United States. In this, she proved to be correct. Even though it is not legally binding, the Declaration has been adopted in or has influenced most national constitutions since 1948. It has also served as the foundation for a growing number of national laws, international laws, and treaties, as well as regional, national, and sub-national institutions protecting and promoting human rights.

    A 'new idea'? A few people?

    Do you think that was a remotely fair, objective, or accurate characterization, in contrast to the largely passee notions of natural law?

    The premise of a freedom from fear PREDATES the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

    You never actually made a valid argument. You said new wasn't necessarily better.......but you failed to show in any way that a prior concept that was superseded by a couple of centuries of philosophers and other deep thinkers was inferior. And to do so, you dishonestly presented the opposing information.

    So, I took the position of identifying cognitive biases, by type. I want to see some evidence that you grasp what those biases are.

    I haven't seen that so far.

  12. Dog Gone,

    My area of interest is ancient and mediaeval literature, so sixty years is not any time at all from my perspective. But let's look at what you said, something that you rarely do with me:

    1. Did you actually read that list of nations as you copied and pasted it? Your list just makes my point. Nations that already believed in those rights continued to do so, while those that never gave a damn about rights have remained unchanged. There have been small steps backward and forward, but on the whole, the Declaration looks to be exactly the kind of product one expects from the United Nations: a lot of talk.

    2. You trot out the Declaration as if it answers everything that I say, but nothing in it goes against my principles. There's no statement about disarming private citizens. There's nothing that requires a discretionary licensing system. In fact, the property and due process rights of the individual are specifically asserted.

    3. You claim errors in my thinking, but you do not show them. You merely want me to accept without proof that you are correct in your judgements about me. I'm well aware of how hard it is to explain what's wrong in a piece of reasoning (I have to do that with students all the time), but you claim to be able to do it.

    4. Again, you're asking me to do all the work for you. Yes, you listed someone else's ideas about cognitive biases, without offering any reason to accept those ideas, but you didn't explain how they apply to me, if they do.

    5. It is legitimate for me to take the idea of natural rights as an axiom of my thinking on morality and social policy. I've never been dishonest about that, since I've stated my position many times. You are free to choose other starting points. I note that you haven't identified what those are, so between the two of us, you're the one with difficulties in honesty.

    6. You claim that I'm also dishonest in how I characterize your position, but that implies that I have no right to draw conclusions from statements that you make. The totality of proposals offered on this site tell me that you want only a tiny number of gun owners in America and you want them to be heavily regulated. I see no evidence of restraint in your desire to take guns away and to control the few that would remain.

    As I asked before, is it possible for you to address specific and important points without making personal attacks? Is it possible for you to answer questions that we ask of you? I'm still hoping that it is.

  13. Greg Camp wrote:Did you actually read that list of nations as you copied and pasted it?

    Yes. Those aren't the only supporters of the Declaration btw; many other nations have ratified the declaration since those original signatories to it.

    You are changing the point, because it doesn't support your claim of being the idea of 'a few people'. There we go with the dishonesty again.

    You also have failed utterly to support your assertion that this does not represent a change from previous beliefs in these countries. I would argue that the changes over the past near century DOES represent a change from the Enlightenment concept of rights.

    Your list just makes my point. Nations that already believed in those rights continued to do so, while those that never gave a damn about rights have remained unchanged.

    Prove your point. Provide a list of which countries you mean, and then show what their original 'beliefs' about rights were.

    DO be sure to use the most recent list of countries.

    For example, if you were as knowledgeable as you would have us believe on the topic of rights, then you must know that the freedom from fear - not carrying firearms for self defense, freedom from FEAR of being harmed (you know -like shot by gun nuts) was one of the agreed on principles among the allied powers in WW II, in response to German war atrocities like the concentration camps and some of the war crimes by the Axis powers.

    So, since Germany has been a signator since aprox 1949, AND incorporated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into T?HEIR constitution, it would seem to suggest that there HAS been a change in beliefs among countries since the Enlightenment.

    But do make us a list of your countries which have no respect for human rights and which have not changed since this was drawn up.

    Personally, given the thorough vetting that the Universal Declaration and associated documents has had, versus your very limited understanding of the topic, I think you're just talking through your hat. I doubt you have any clue to the arguments in favor or against either the Enlightenment concepts OR the Universal Declaration.

    What this really seems to be about is that you cherry pick and choose whatever fits what you want, and there is no real honesty in what you claim to support at all.

  14. Dog Gone,

    You truly are dense. Again, you refused to address many points, and you focus on one, providing nonsense as an answer. You want a list of nations that didn't live up to the Declaration's ideals? From your own list:

    Afghanistan, Cuba, Egypt, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, and Venezuela

    Many others have had questionable records on human rights. Some spent decades violating those rights and have only recently made changes, largely because of the economic advantage in doing so.

    And regarding your notion that freedom from fear means disarming me, that's nonsense. The Declaration doesn't promise freedom from irrational fear. You have no reason to fear me, other than your inflated need to control the lives of others. Unless you make a direct and immediate threat to my life, I will not harm you.

    I thought that we could change how we discuss things, but apparently I was wrong in that. You are incapable of addressing the main points of someone who disagrees with you. You engage in misdirection and name-calling. Oh well.