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Ch. 3: Elephants Rule 
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Post Ch. 3: Elephants Rule
Ch. 3: Elephants Rule



Tue Dec 10, 2019 3:29 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 3: Elephants Rule
The experiment by Todorov puzzled me. From a single photograph of each candidate running for the same office, subjects judged which seemed more competent. This snap judgment turned out to be fairly predictive of who actually won the election, meaning that the voters reflected the same judgment. Presumably, they had more opportunity to check out the candidates, but still the conclusion is that they often followed along with the subjects who gave the matter a second's "thought." I wonder if the experiment was replicated.

We're proud of our ability to reason, partly because it seems to confirm our sense that we have free will to decide. So we might resist what Haidt is telling us--that in cases of judging and assessing other people we mostly employ intuitions, which are like sub-emotions that go off automatically. Then, if asked or pressed, we'll give our reasons. Reasons have more social status than emotions. In a few places, Haidt says that we have no cause to apologize for our intuition-based moral thinking. Our elephant is intelligent. And without our elephant setting an initial course for us, our reason might be proved a more faulty instrument. That's the lesson from studies of psychopathy and cases of damage to a certain area of the brain. I also think of leaders trying to change people's intuitions, or rather get them to override them for the sake of a reasoned higher cause. It's necessary to be ruthless ("work the dark side," as Cheney said), because sometimes you need to fight harm with harm.

I can see the truth in the research Haidt discusses about the emotional quality of seemingly very neutral things. We do attach emotional valence to many of our mundane encounters. This happens every time I drive down my street (more so than when I walk, interestingly). We're not really ambivalent very often, perhaps.

What did you think about Haidt's skewering of deontology?



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Post Re: Ch. 3: Elephants Rule
DWill wrote:
The experiment by Todorov puzzled me. From a single photograph of each candidate running for the same office, subjects judged which seemed more competent. This snap judgment turned out to be fairly predictive of who actually won the election, meaning that the voters reflected the same judgment. Presumably, they had more opportunity to check out the candidates, but still the conclusion is that they often followed along with the subjects who gave the matter a second's "thought." I wonder if the experiment was replicated.


I think I have seen that experiments like Todorov's have been replicated. Wikipedia (under Alexander Todorov, oddly not giving his name with "Alex") mentions media attention to the work but says nothing about replication. Not sure, but he is still at Princeton. I found myself wondering if the result came from voters who are proud of their "independence" but who really just want the inner vote of confidence of going with their gut feeling about the person. Since I usually vote on positions and plans, the idea of voting based on my first impression seems utterly foreign.

But this year, with a premium on "electability" I have been more open to my gut feelings about how other people would feel about the candidate. I can remember having serious doubts about Biden's fire, and Klobuchar's ability to project mastery, based almost entirely on how they came across on television. Frankly Booker and Buttigieg seemed the most charismatic to me, but I can see how Bernie and Liz Warren could also have deep appeal. If Booker had had the same ability to put together themes and narratives that Buttigieg has shown, the combination might have been irresistible.

DWill wrote:
We're proud of our ability to reason, partly because it seems to confirm our sense that we have free will to decide. So we might resist what Haidt is telling us--that in cases of judging and assessing other people we mostly employ intuitions, which are like sub-emotions that go off automatically. Then, if asked or pressed, we'll give our reasons.
Yes, this is Haidt's central message, and I have seen enough of human nature to feel it is confirmed. I still think free will exists, but I also think it resides almost entirely in the relatively small proportion of our judgments that actually put our reasoning faculties to work. How often does the average person make a decision that both matters and also might have gone the other way? I would be surprised if it is more than once per month.

DWill wrote:
Reasons have more social status than emotions.
I think our myth of reason's primacy rests on far more than status. It rests, I think, on the core reason for the status, which is that the ability to think things through carefully is typically dispositive. A good judge can recognize which aspects of the law matter, and can set aside her or his feelings about what "should" be the outcome and rule according to principles that will be sustainable over decades. The psychology profession has hammered for my whole lifetime on the vulnerability of juries to being misled, and that is fair enough, but it doesn't imply either that there is no such thing as reason or that reason doesn't matter.

DWill wrote:
In a few places, Haidt says that we have no cause to apologize for our intuition-based moral thinking. Our elephant is intelligent. And without our elephant setting an initial course for us, our reason might be proved a more faulty instrument. That's the lesson from studies of psychopathy and cases of damage to a certain area of the brain.
Yes, I think this is the same result that comes from a lot of the material in "Thinking: Fast and Slow" by Kahneman. Our quick, perception-based thinking is sloppy, and can be systematically misled, but on the whole is doing good work for us.

DWill wrote:
I also think of leaders trying to change people's intuitions, or rather get them to override them for the sake of a reasoned higher cause. It's necessary to be ruthless ("work the dark side," as Cheney said), because sometimes you need to fight harm with harm.
Well, that's the big danger with psychological understanding. The Willie Horton soft underbelly of liberalism is vulnerable to those willing to work the dark side. And the more that science understand the more workable it becomes, leaving us wide open to the megabillions of corporate capitalism.

There was a truly chilling Op-Ed in the NY Times yesterday pointing out how Big Tech abuses the data we surrender to it, including using Pokemon Go to steer people to McDonald's and using experiments to find out how they can sense the moods of individuals and steer ads adjusted to those moods. It gets worse - they can now experimentally verify which messages will cause us to take particular actions (on average, of course, and for reasonably small percentages) but the day may not be far off when Putin money or Koch money can swing an election by tampering with people's smart houses to make them grumpy on Election Day.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/24/opin ... alism.html

DWill wrote:
What did you think about Haidt's skewering of deontology?
I have been suspicious of the absolutism of Kant's deontological approach for a long time. Yet I am sympathetic to its potential to stiffen the spine of the wavering soul in temptation. I have trouble with Haidt's (or Greene's, or Wilson's) narrative that says deontology is just a cover story (for particularly prim moral instincts, presumably) ginned up to justify the leanings of the elephant. They base this kind of critique on people's trouble with ambiguous or unfamiliar cases, not on things that have been reasoned about in advance.

A better narrative might be that Kant was dealing with both the everyday willingness to sacrifice principle for expediency and the beginning of Enlightenment thought, such as Descartes and Hume, questioning moral truisms. So Kant pushed back hard with a set of philosophical absolutes that seemingly refute both the sloppy behavior in the marketplace and the skeptical doubting of the philosophers. But that doesn't mean Kant has thought through either the philosophical truths of morality or the true account of the behavior of moral agents living in real time.

Kant's basic principle of reciprocity has been further developed and given real explanatory power by Rawls and others since then. It is a landmark of thought in the world of rational assessment of morality. I don't question Haidt's basic insight about the primacy of moral intuition, nor Wilson's and Greene's relevant findings. But I think Haidt goes too far when he attempts to critique Kant's principles based on ambiguous cases and the way people actually struggle with them. The point of good thinking is to correct the systematic errors of the snap judgment system. Slow thinking is precisely about improving on the rough connections of the fast system. So to turn around and suggest that successful principles of fast thinking are not improvements because they aren't used, in practice, to adjudicate ambiguous situations, is to put the cart of "everyday thinking" before the horse of "careful thinking". He is applying an inappropriate standard, IMO, reasoning from how people usually clumsily proceed to a judgment about how we should proceed.



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Post Re: Ch. 3: Elephants Rule
Harry Marks wrote:
But this year, with a premium on "electability" I have been more open to my gut feelings about how other people would feel about the candidate. I can remember having serious doubts about Biden's fire, and Klobuchar's ability to project mastery, based almost entirely on how they came across on television. Frankly Booker and Buttigieg seemed the most charismatic to me, but I can see how Bernie and Liz Warren could also have deep appeal. If Booker had had the same ability to put together themes and narratives that Buttigieg has shown, the combination might have been irresistible.

Maybe it was only when Abraham Lincoln's personal presentation was out of people's minds--because he was long dead--that his words and actions could come to seem extraordinary. Snap, intuitional judgment is important in face-to-face relations, and it looks as though media give us the same assessment opportunity without the personal contact. Of course, we often are too influenced by what we see, as shown by the polling of the Nixon-Kennedy debates, where radio listeners judged RN to be the winner, while TV viewers picked JFK. I suppose it's regrettable that reason doesn't prevail, but it might be more important that the democratic process plays out, even with the excesses of our primary/debate system, than that the "right" candidate wins. He or she is only a leader, really not supposed to be a single person on whom our country depends.
Harry Marks wrote:
DWill wrote:
We're proud of our ability to reason, partly because it seems to confirm our sense that we have free will to decide. So we might resist what Haidt is telling us--that in cases of judging and assessing other people we mostly employ intuitions, which are like sub-emotions that go off automatically. Then, if asked or pressed, we'll give our reasons.
Yes, this is Haidt's central message, and I have seen enough of human nature to feel it is confirmed. I still think free will exists, but I also think it resides almost entirely in the relatively small proportion of our judgments that actually put our reasoning faculties to work. How often does the average person make a decision that both matters and also might have gone the other way? I would be surprised if it is more than once per month.

That's a new and useful way for me to think about the free will debate.
Harry Marks wrote:
DWill wrote:
Reasons have more social status than emotions.
I think our myth of reason's primacy rests on far more than status. It rests, I think, on the core reason for the status, which is that the ability to think things through carefully is typically dispositive. A good judge can recognize which aspects of the law matter, and can set aside her or his feelings about what "should" be the outcome and rule according to principles that will be sustainable over decades. The psychology profession has hammered for my whole lifetime on the vulnerability of juries to being misled, and that is fair enough, but it doesn't imply either that there is no such thing as reason or that reason doesn't matter.

The status of reasoning derives from the attempt to refer to a common understanding, something that we could agree doesn't come from the source that decides what our favorite color is. The subjects in Haidt's harmless taboo experiments seem to be going for that authority when they cite reasons, often tripping themselves up on invalid ones.

Reason can be dispositive, as you say, and should be highly valued. With a neutral observer or judge operating within an overall fair system, reason can prevail more often than it can when the parties are involved ones. The literature Haidt and others cite shows that reasons based on facts don't change minds; rather, since the whole encounter is oppositional, the reasons add resistance.

You seem to be saying Haidt goes too far in denying that individuals can reason their way through moral problems. Haidt himself said that Hume went too far in calling reason the slave of passion. I think I might agree with you that we have the ability to cultivate questioning of moral intuitions. Didn't Haidt demonstrate that with his anecdote about his wife reminding him to clean his dirty dishes? Unless it is only in the power of moral psychologists to reflect on their intuitional burst and see the light of reason, it's worthwhile to work against nature, so to speak, and grow that ability, also teach it to young people.
Harry Marks wrote:
DWill wrote:
In a few places, Haidt says that we have no cause to apologize for our intuition-based moral thinking. Our elephant is intelligent. And without our elephant setting an initial course for us, our reason might be proved a more faulty instrument. That's the lesson from studies of psychopathy and cases of damage to a certain area of the brain.
Yes, I think this is the same result that comes from a lot of the material in "Thinking: Fast and Slow" by Kahneman. Our quick, perception-based thinking is sloppy, and can be systematically misled, but on the whole is doing good work for us.

I like the elephant-rider metaphor, although a little less since my wife asked me to consider the ethics of people riding elephants to check off bucket-list items. Darn, she's right.
Quote:
There was a truly chilling Op-Ed in the NY Times yesterday pointing out how Big Tech abuses the data we surrender to it, including using Pokemon Go to steer people to McDonald's and using experiments to find out how they can sense the moods of individuals and steer ads adjusted to those moods. It gets worse - they can now experimentally verify which messages will cause us to take particular actions (on average, of course, and for reasonably small percentages) but the day may not be far off when Putin money or Koch money can swing an election by tampering with people's smart houses to make them grumpy on Election Day.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/24/opin ... alism.html

Could a movement we might call "screening out" (not using internet-connected screens) even be possible at this point? Book Talk is the only social-media organ I use, but I order things through Amazon and am linked to data bases I don't even know about.
Harry Marks wrote:
DWill wrote:
What did you think about Haidt's skewering of deontology?

But I think Haidt goes too far when he attempts to critique Kant's principles based on ambiguous cases and the way people actually struggle with them. The point of good thinking is to correct the systematic errors of the snap judgment system. Slow thinking is precisely about improving on the rough connections of the fast system. So to turn around and suggest that successful principles of fast thinking are not improvements because they aren't used, in practice, to adjudicate ambiguous situations, is to put the cart of "everyday thinking" before the horse of "careful thinking". He is applying an inappropriate standard, IMO, reasoning from how people usually clumsily proceed to a judgment about how we should proceed.

Is Haidt also inadvertently sending a message that idealism is somehow not good, because it is hard to justify scientifically? It is a good thing to know what is really going on in the world of moral thinking, so I support his efforts to apply science. On the other hand, I agree that description doesn't preclude prescription. I wonder if the next chapter will give a different look at all. Not to spoil it if you haven't read it, but I'm thinking of his statement that going with our gut often leads to disaster when it comes to policy. I would change that to include important matters for individuals. He tells us he wants reason available to correct course, but that requires group process. Individuals aren't capable of it.



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Post Re: Ch. 3: Elephants Rule
DWill wrote:
. . . We're proud of our ability to reason, partly because it seems to confirm our sense that we have free will to decide. So we might resist what Haidt is telling us--that in cases of judging and assessing other people we mostly employ intuitions, which are like sub-emotions that go off automatically. Then, if asked or pressed, we'll give our reasons. Reasons have more social status than emotions. In a few places, Haidt says that we have no cause to apologize for our intuition-based moral thinking. Our elephant is intelligent. And without our elephant setting an initial course for us, our reason might be proved a more faulty instrument. That's the lesson from studies of psychopathy and cases of damage to a certain area of the brain. I also think of leaders trying to change people's intuitions, or rather get them to override them for the sake of a reasoned higher cause. It's necessary to be ruthless ("work the dark side," as Cheney said), because sometimes you need to fight harm with harm.


It may be true that our elephant is pretty smart, but I struggle with what Haidt is saying about our higher reasoning (the driver). In the next chapter, he says the "worship" of reason is one of the most long-lived delusions in Western history." I would replace "worship" with "cherish" but more importantly I would say that we need to shift to the driver to solve many of our complex problems, such as climate change. What else, but our intellect, is going to help us get along and rise above petty tribalism, which is probably the elephant's domain.

What would Haidt say, I wonder, to the following comment by Kurt Vonnegut?

Kurt Vonnegut wrote:
Human beings have had to guess about almost everything for the past million years or so. The leading characters in our history books have been our most enthralling, and sometimes our most terrifying, guessers. . . . Some of the loudest, most proudly ignorant guessing in the world is going on in Washington today. Our leaders are sick of all the solid information that has been dumped on humanity by research and scholarship and investigative reporting. They think that the whole country is sick of it, and they could be right.


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Post Re: Ch. 3: Elephants Rule
geo wrote:
It may be true that our elephant is pretty smart, but I struggle with what Haidt is saying about our higher reasoning (the driver). In the next chapter, he says the "worship" of reason is one of the most long-lived delusions in Western history." I would replace "worship" with "cherish" but more importantly I would say that we need to shift to the driver to solve many of our complex problems, such as climate change. What else, but our intellect, is going to help us get along and rise above petty tribalism, which is probably the elephant's domain.

I think Haidt's generalization about reason that you cite from chapter 4 is unfortunate, the kind of sweeping statement authors are sometimes tempted to make. "Worship," these days, is always seen as a negative word, charging someone with making a god or idol of some idea. And he uses "reason" without qualification, leaving himself open to your objection. He has really been using "reason" in a special sense or context in the book: that when it comes to our expressed moral feelings, reasoning doesn't describe the process we used to arrive at the position, or rather it's at best a weak control, like a rider trying to steer an elephant.

Also in Chapter 4, he says, as if to head off the wrong impression, that he's not advocating that "we stop reasoning and go with our gut feelings." That would be harmful in the wider realm of "public policy, law, and science." (I think it's often harmful on the individual level, too.) Then he comes to his essential criterion: that individuals aren't trustworthy arbiters of moral thinking, because they can't be expected to overcome their intuitions (or passions, as Hume would say). It's by exchanging views with others with open minds that we reasoning riders might have a chance to be more competent in managing our emotional elephants.

It's a bit strange for a scientist to dis reason as Haidt appears to, but I think he's just getting a little loose with his terms. It would have been helpful if he had included a brief primer on the topic of reason, analyzing its several uses. My own impression of reason, as it has been seen over the ages, is as the individual's essential balancing of emotion and forethougth. Some things feel good to us--sex, drugs, aggression, having power over others--but we exercise reason when we limit our indulgence out of awareness of "too much of a good thing." Reason and moderation are linked, IMO.
Quote:
What would Haidt say, I wonder, to the following comment by Kurt Vonnegut?

Kurt Vonnegut wrote:
Human beings have had to guess about almost everything for the past million years or so. The leading characters in our history books have been our most enthralling, and sometimes our most terrifying, guessers. . . . Some of the loudest, most proudly ignorant guessing in the world is going on in Washington today. Our leaders are sick of all the solid information that has been dumped on humanity by research and scholarship and investigative reporting. They think that the whole country is sick of it, and they could be right.

He said that at least 13 years ago. I didn't know he had died in '07 until I looked it up. I don't know what Haidt might say, of course, but it could be that these leaders who denied the products of reason still used seeming reasons to justify their stances. Trump, to use a contemporary example, exemplifies just the denial of facts that Vonnegut identified. Trump has a visceral dislike of non-European immigrants. But he will cite supposed reasons such as immigrants being too costly to our country, in supporting tight limits on immigration. He hates wind energy because proposed turbines would spoil the view from one of his golf courses in Scotland. He spouts spurious reasons against wind turbines to give heft to his personal animus against them. More often, though, I think he uses simple fear and resentments to get the public behind him, so that's different from what Haidt is talking about.



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Post Re: Ch. 3: Elephants Rule
DWill wrote:
I think Haidt's generalization about reason that you cite from chapter 4 is unfortunate, the kind of sweeping statement authors are sometimes tempted to make. "Worship," these days, is always seen as a negative word, charging someone with making a god or idol of some idea. And he uses "reason" without qualification, leaving himself open to your objection. He has really been using "reason" in a special sense or context in the book: that when it comes to our expressed moral feelings, reasoning doesn't describe the process we used to arrive at the position, or rather it's at best a weak control, like a rider trying to steer an elephant.

Also in Chapter 4, he says, as if to head off the wrong impression, that he's not advocating that "we stop reasoning and go with our gut feelings." That would be harmful in the wider realm of "public policy, law, and science." (I think it's often harmful on the individual level, too.) Then he comes to his essential criterion: that individuals aren't trustworthy arbiters of moral thinking, because they can't be expected to overcome their intuitions (or passions, as Hume would say). It's by exchanging views with others with open minds that we reasoning riders might have a chance to be more competent in managing our emotional elephants.


I do get where Haidt is going with all of this. I also recognize that he's still laying groundwork for his Moral Foundations Theory. And, finally, maybe I need to remind myself that Haidt's focus is the moral realm. I believe that's where some of my confusion comes in. A lot of life's problems depend on a rational response. For example, my car just ran out of gas on a busy highway. How best should I respond? This is the driver's domain.

Regarding bold section above, Haidt will argue in the next few chapters that conservatives have sort of an edge over liberals in terms of messaging because they are touching upon more of the moral foundations than liberals, who focus almost exclusively on fairness/oppression. But I would argue that it's up to each citizen to stay informed and to know when we are being manipulated. Certainly we don't help ourselves by staying in echo chambers, surrounding ourselves with "friends" who already share our views. But isn't it the driver who gets us to, as you say, "exchange views with others with open minds," and to study human psychology and read books like The Righteous Mind? I would agree with DWill in that respect. Haidt's work in the field of moral psychology is the work of his driver, not his elephant.

I appreciate your comments, DWill. I'm sorry that I'm not doing a very good job keeping up. But by all means, keep going.


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Post Re: Ch. 3: Elephants Rule
Maybe seeing Haidt's use of "reason" as more in line with "rationalization" would bring us closer to his true meaning. The responses his experimental subjects give do seem like rationalizations. The problems they're given aren't all that amenable to being solved through reason in the first place, yet many people still try. Or maybe Haidt would say they give bad reasons.

Exchanging views with others of open mind is what the organization Better Angels promotes. I might have mentioned that group somewhere else. It's a worthy effort, but it appears that the self-selection factor weakens its impact. The participants already want to engage with diverse views, so perhaps no dramatic change is produced. Getting us to want to emerge from our silos is the hard part.



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Post Re: Ch. 3: Elephants Rule
Sorry to have dropped out for a little while. I am trying to put together the time to read as well as read the comments, and I miss the chance to comment in detail. I do enjoy the back and forth that has been going on with some great comments here. These are such fascinating issues.

I think Haidt has managed to be fair in his perspective on moral reasoning, even while being provocative because that's the message his research is pointing to. The previous book, about different cultures, is great background because there are so many differences in how moral issues are heard, depending on region, urbanization, etc. Still, my main goal in re-reading is to pick up on where I think he spins his results to suggest more than they really back up.

The point about the influence of those around us takes on special relevance. The more we are siloed by which news source we prefer, the more we will fail to have our assumptions challenged and our worldview widened.

I feel that university departments bear a special responsibility here, to keep the debate broad, and instead have let the drift within academic fields entrench a lot of cant and shallow doctrine. The billionaire funding of departments to promote diverse views (e.g. some conservatism) has not really helped because then it is all to easy for the endowed chairs to become toadies and the doctrinaire left to dismiss the conservative voices (like Haidt) as paid hacks.

Maybe it's because I am from economics, which is by far the most conservative discipline in the social sciences, but I see one of our major institutions spinning out of control and giving young people a very one-sided view of things. An example is the attraction of Sanders to young people who hear "wipe out all student debt" and interpret it as "finally a candidate who gets the problems of our life" and "capitalism is the problem." Students have heard "capitalism is the problem" all the way through university from people who are sure that they are contributing to society by making that claim, but the students have never had cause to consider problems with that view.

So it should not be too surprising that I welcome Haidt's voice in the grand debate. But I also want him held accountable in the same way I advocate holding the left accountable.



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