Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 84

Here it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

Watching too many television shows about crime fighting reinforces authoritarian tendencies.

Moral enhancement might not work for precisely the reasons it is claimed to be desirable.

A mathematical approach to emergent causality?

Daryl Bem, p-hacking, and why parapsychology is still a pseudoscience.

Why are the languages of transhumanists and religion so similar?

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Categories: Plato's Suggestions

174 replies

  1. Dan,

    Fine. You were not making a serious argument.

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  2. Dan,

    You may consider those criteria stupid. But those are the criteria used by professionals within an academic field that isn’t yours. Be careful not to commit the Coel fallacy…

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  3. I think ejwinner makes an interesting point about the different influences on Japanese & Western kids (I’m a consumer of Japanese manga, I perfectly know what he’s talking about) as they don’t have problems we do, such as crime rate. But it’s also true that we don’t have problems that “they do”. We don’t have the problems associated with the very high number of students who commit suicide in Japan as a result of extreme bullying, or the level of corporate abuse that employees endure. It’s a very rigid & hierarchical society, and there are plenty of people who vote for Far Right parties, so the idea that Japanese culture mitigates authoritarian & violent impulses does not strike as true to the degree that is implied.

    Also political psychology is a broad field regarding studies about public opinion & attitudes and how they are affected by social, economic, and environmental influences. I think there are reasons to be skeptical about the
    extent in which we can make causal relations with this article that Massimo shared, but to say that this level of rigor is representative of the whole field is just wrong. Much of the field is pretty empirically rigorous with many of its conclusions sounding less problematic and making sense. There’s a lot of bullshit in all of the sciences, that doesn’t warrant the whole field to not be considered a science, this is ridiculous. How much have you guys read material in this field?

    Sociology is a politically neutral field? (I think you’re close to implying that) I was of the impression that there’s a huge slant in the nature of the field & the type of people who study it (it’s very left wing). There are plenty of leftists who are bitter denouncers of Stalinist government, but that doesn’t imply they are politically neutral. Anyhow I see no relevance to sociology’s contributions to this subject matter, they are aiming to investigate different details.

    Also I admire Hannah Arendt at somewhat appreciate Adorno, but come on…..

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  4. Massimo, can you give any serious account of how the characteristics I listed are reasonably related to authoritarianism under any interesting meaning of the word?

    Many of our social sciences are in a pretty degenerate state. Anthropology almost died as a discipline because of it, and sociology has seen some pretty hard times too. So, I’m afraid I’m not simply going to accept whatever political scientists say, as if they were chemists or botanists.

    And I don’t think that’s committing the Coel fallacy. The characteristics listed as belonging to the “authoritarian” mindset are characteristics that anyone with good sense who is even a halfway decent parent tries to raise their children with. (And many of them aren’t even opposites of the characteristics with which they are paired.)

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  5. Ej,

    From the beginning I said clearly that the form of Dan’s argument is the same as my father. I obviously agree that the priors in the two cases are different, but that’s irrelevant to my point.

    Also, no the researchers don’t have anecdotal evidence, their research was systematic and sample based.

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  6. Not to mention the hackery involved in assuming that one can’t choose one member of those pairs while also thinking that the other member of the pair is important too, just slightly less so. In such a case, it would be preposterous to associate choosing the former with “authoritarian attitudes,” even if one bought into the association, which I do not.

    Sorry, but the thing is a joke. Hopefully, that isn’t what passes for political “science” in most cases or they should fear for their place in the university too.

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  7. Dan,

    Well, perhaps you know more about the technical psychological literature than I realize, but it sounds to me like you haven’t actually read whatever papers psychologists consider good evidence for using those traits as measuring authoritarian personality. And you are reading the words in a way analogous to Coel’s everyday, but non technical, understanding of philosophical terms like “emotivism.” Again, though, I could be wrong.

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  8. Dan

    Have you seen studies about how Western families answer those questions and how Asian families answer those questions? Many Asian Families are much more likely to answer that it is more important for their kids to be obedient, have good manners, be more well-behaved, and so on, and that is a result of the hierarchical nature of their culture and what they tend to stress in family relations. Your criticism brings up possible good points about the limits of this analysis, but I don’t think the criteria is therefore definitely based on nothing.

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  9. Okay, Massimo, I’ll let it go at that.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Massimo, I’m not going to engage in some round robin with you on this matter. The horse is dead for me. I’ll let Dan speak for himself. But you don’t get me, okay? I’m not saying this: “But are you really saying that experiences we accumulate over years do not change our minds, in more less subtle ways?” Anecdote is a reconstruction of experience, sometimes accumulated, sometimes unique, and sometimes inaccurately depicted. As to which of us is indulging in word play here and to what extent doesn’t interest me. You want to talk about “real” but “minor” effects, and I want to say: Don’t peddle trivialities; otherwise account for how TV viewing habits of crime fighting explain the very “real” fact that one candidate won the popular vote while the other won the electoral vote. That seems a more salient matter than what is conveyed by the article in question. Bottom line: You think this article is onto something, and I don’t. That’s a “real effect” too. Take it for what it’s worth–nothing earth-shaking going on here.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Massimo,
    I don’t doubt the systematicity of the studies involved, I’m aware that their analyses follow professional guidelines and professionally accepted criteria.

    However, behavioral surveys generally follow the form of a series of questions; the subjects respond either yes or no (or along some continuum, ie., “agree ,”agree strongly,” etc,) or in declarative sentences. Further, the yes/no, and continuum responses can be translated into declarative sentences.

    When declarative sentences thread along a single theme or narrative, they become anecdotal.

    “I watch six hours of television a night, I like cop shows; I believe we need a strong leader in the White House; I voted for Trump” – any string of responses following thematic/narrative patterns like this are by nature anecdotal.

    No matter how systematic, no matter how structured the sampling, the bottom line is the dependence on the reports of the subjects. Must of us should know that conscientious researchers take pains to reduce problems with this and enhance reliability, not only of the reports but of the analysis of these. But the raw materials are still primarily verbal reports, and can be read narratively as anecdotal.

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  12. Also to add in more concrete research on the relation between television & public attitudes, I’m just going to rip this off a book:

    “This result makes perfect sense from the perspective of narrative research, which reveals that the human mind does not have a “toggle switch” to interpret fiction and nonfiction narratives differently.75 If, as some psychologists believe, our minds have evolved to be best-suited to thinking in narrative form, then the massive number of fictional stories we see on television will over time powerfully affect our worldviews.76 Heavy viewers of television unconsciously perceive the fictional narratives they watch as describing the real world they inhabit.77

    Experiments measuring reaction time to questions about the prevalence of crime in the real world show that heavy viewers respond faster – indicating that memories of fictional crimes seen on TV were highly accessible in memory and were being used to make judgments about the real world.78 This same effect was found for heavy viewers of soap operas: they were able to more quickly access instances of (dramatized) crime in memory, leading them to estimate an unrealistically high prevalence of crime.79 (Accessibility in memory is only one pathway through which cultivation effects occur; in the soap opera study, heavy viewers overestimated the real world prevalence of marital discord, but this was not linked to memories of fictional marital problems.)

    As a result, heavy viewers of television believe that crime is far more common and pervasive than it really is, and that in general the world is a mean and dangerous place. Compared to light viewers (who also have more realistic perceptions of crime and its occurrence), heavy viewers are more likely to believe that people cannot be trusted, and that everyone is primarily looking out for themselves.80 The more likely one is to confuse fact with fiction, the more one is likely to view the real world as the world portrayed on television: mean and violent.81 An alternative hypothesis is that people who view the world as mean and violent choose to watch more television to confirm their views; however, this explanation has been tested and rejected through a series of experiments.82

    Heavy viewers exhibit many more interesting differences from light viewers. Exposure to television is positively correlated with the development of materialistic values in both children83 and adults84 – particularly for adults with a high need for cognition, who pay close attention to what they view on television. (Materialism, incidentally, has been shown to lead to unhappiness in countries around the world.)85 Exposure to gender stereotyping on television increases sex-stereotypical behavior and attitudes.86

    Albert Bandura expands this list further, arguing that “many of the shared misconceptions. about occupational pursuits, ethnic groups, minorities, the elderly, social and sex roles, and other aspects of life are at least partly cultivated through symbolic modeling of stereotypes” on television.87 Such stereotypes can have direct political effects, like when television portrayals of successful ethnic minority characters lead to the conclusion that racism is no longer a problem, and that poor members of ethnic minorities must have only themselves to blame.88 Heavy viewers were also more likely to be misinformed about the Gulf War, and to support the use of violence “for a good reason.”89

    “Crooked Timber and the Broken Branch: The Invisible Hand in the Market Place of Ideas”

    75 Richard J. Gerrig, Experiencing Narrative Worlds: On the Psychological Activities of Reading (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1993) 196-242.
    76 Shanahan and Morgan, Television, 193.
    77 Michael Morgan et al., “Growing Up with Television: Cultivation Processes,” in Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research, ed. Jennings Bryant and Mary Beth Oliver, 34-49 (New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2009): 40-41.
    78 L. J. Shrum, “Media Consumption and Perceptions of Social Reality: Effects and Underlying Processes,” in Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research, ed. Jennings Bryant and Mary Beth Oliver, 50-73 (New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2009): 59.
    79 L. J. Shrum, “Psychological Processes Underlying Cultivation Effects: Further Tests of Construct Accessibility,” Human Communication Research 22, no. 4 (1996).
    80 Morgan et al., “Growing Up,” 39.
    81 Shanahan and Morgan, Television, 186-188.
    82 L. J. Shrum et al., “The Effects of Television Consumption on Social Perceptions: The Use of Priming Procedures to Investigate Psychological Processes,” Journal of Consumer Research 24, no. 4 (1998).
    83 Dale Kunkel et al., “Report of the APA Task Force on Advertising and Children” (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2004): 30, 60; George P. Moschis and Roy L. Moore, “A Longitudinal Study of Television Advertising Effects,” Journal of Consumer Research (1982).
    84 Shrum, “Media Consumption,” 68.
    85 Tim Kasser, The High Price of Materialism (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2003).
    86 Patricia A. Oppliger, “Effects of Gender Stereotyping on Socialization,” in Mass Media Effects Research: Advances through Meta-Analysis, ed. Raymond W. Preiss et al., 199-214 (Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2007).
    87 Bandura, “Social Cognitive,” 107-108.
    88 Shanahan and Morgan, Television, 95-96.
    89 Ibid., 223.

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  13. Not to mention the hackery involved in assuming that one can’t choose one member of those pairs while also thinking that the other member of the pair is important too, just slightly less so. In such a case, it would be preposterous to associate choosing the former with “authoritarian attitudes,” even if one bought into the association,

    = =

    Those types of tests can’t show that any individual is authoritarian, but they can show that some level of preference with the terms on one side tends to correlate with a more authoritarian attitude (a measure that comes from much more elaborate questionnaires).

    These simple tests are often used as proof or to say things the tests can’t or don’t support, especially the ones that use simple either or choices (the kind of test I think should probably be avoided in most cases).

    = =

    My take on the article was: stuff influence us, and the correlations could be valid, but does that tell us anything useful.

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  14. Also one more thing, political psychology is obviously utilizes social sciences but it’s more on the psychology side of the spectrum than the social science side of the spectrum like economics, sociology, and anthropology are. So it relies more from the empirical investigation & verification standards of the field of psychology in contrast to the much more imprecise methods you see in some of the social sciences. Now psychology is also vulnerable to imprecision in contrast to say chemistry, but it’s not to the extent that it can be considered a pseudoscience.

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  15. ejwinner

    This strikes me as completely off. Anecdotal Evidence suggests that the conclusion is driven by the claims inherent in testimonies. This is not the case for these studies.

    Anecdotal evidence in describing crime scenes for instance is fallible because of problems with memory, honesty, and perceptions that can distort the observations’ accuracy to empirical reality. Dan’s anecdotal case is unreliable because it doesn’t take into account the experience of all others, and his judgment of his own experience may be inaccurate.

    But are we seriously supposed to doubt claims when people are surveyed about liking certain tv shows, whether they voted for Trump, and so on? Those are the methods by the Gallup Polls, Pew Research Center, or any polling agency. That doesn’t count as anecdotal evidence.

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  16. saphsin,
    There’s no doubt that sociology went left in the ’60s, and soggy in analysis, and even sentimental. But it was not ever thus. At one time it was at least as rigorous as anthropology. And that’s when its primary research into the rise of authoritarian governments took place.

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  17. saphsin,
    The problem with the Crooked Timber analysis is that it can easily be interpreted in reverse – people want to believe there is a higher incidence of crime and so watch crime shows validating that belief; they wanted revenge after 9/11, so they wanted television that validated that desire; and so forth. There’s no doubt that television gives these viewers what they want, oft in the worst way. But the fault, dear Brutus, lies not with the programmers but with ourselves. The fact is that large numbers of people just are invested in such beliefs, and thus form a market for such programming. But they would be that way without any television at all. Ignorance, aggression, prejudice – such failings are, unfortunately part and parcel of the human condition – of many humans, anyway.

    Again, I have no love for television. For my own take, please read my most recent post at my blog, “Toward a phenomenology of television.” The problem with television is not how individual programs effect our behavior, that’s only marketing – but how it fills our time – because it must, that’s really what it’s all about.

    The individual programs are just a means to get us to watch it. Again, if there is anything pathological in the programming (and I don’t deny there is), this is because the pathology already exists among the viewing public.

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  18. Second up: Causal Emergence
    Hoel holds that when something is put altogether it may actually contain attributes which do not follow from its constituents. Though I do consider emergence to be a very useful concept for us non all knowing humans, where a topic such as English may emerge from more fundamental topics like biology, we naturalists presume that there is still a full causal chain by which biological mechanisms create the English language. We say that this language emerges from biology simply because humans don’t need to understand things like how life works in order to speak or explore English. Here the emergent term isn’t meant to suggest that biology creates separate “English stuff”. Instead the presumption is that everything functions under the same cause/effect system.

    Conversely Hoel seems to mean that consciousness is fundamentally separate stuff, as displayed by the “emergent causality” title, or that a separate kind of causality dynamic emerges here. Earlier today Michael Smith over at Self Aware Patterns referred to this view as “pandualism”, or a dualistic form of panpsychism. (He also presented a “naturalistic panpsychism” where the consciousness term is simply degraded such that anything which interacts with anything is defined to contain an associated measure of consciousness, thus rendering the distinction trivial. His wonderful site is found here: https://selfawarepatterns.com/2017/06/24/panpsychism-and-layers-of-consciousness/)

    Note that the Hoel article didn’t even state that a panpsychist theory was being presented! I presume that the general strategy here is to seduce people by means of an involved technical discussion, and then reel them in once the technicals matters soften critical analysis up. From there an “Oh my, are we being unnatural?” observation may not be quite as problematic — “Look at all of our technical mumbo jumbo!” I doubt that many of these pandualists even consider themselves to be supernaturalists.

    I oppose the magical form of panpsychism given my monistic belief in causality. Then as for the definitional form of it, the consciousness term itself looses its significance once we define interaction itself to represent consciousness, which I also can’t abide by.

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  19. saphsin,
    my point is that behavioral studies (such as those we’re discussing) rely on verbal report of the subjects; these accumulate into narratives, of which each specific response is a fragment. Part of the analysis of such reports is in fact an attempt to reconstruct the narrative. But this reconstruction is only partial, since the questions are frequently particular, fragmentary, incomplete.

    However, when restructured narratively by whatever means, what you have is a story, an anecdote. The only way you can get around this is by denying that such studies are dependent on verbal report of the subjects, which is prima facie absurd.

    We have a verbal report? We have an anecdote. That may not be precise, or technical, or scientific; but it is true.

    All we know of others’ beliefs are the stories they tell.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. saphsin,
    “But are we seriously supposed to doubt claims when people are surveyed about liking certain tv shows, whether they voted for Trump, and so on?”

    Who said that anecdotes were to be doubted? On the contrary, that’s all we’re going to get in a study, either sociological or psychological. The trouble is that stories are not reducible to singular causal factors.

    It is any analysis that reduces such stories to singular causal factors that (rightfully, in my opinion) are held suspect.

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  21. Sociology had a distinctive left-wing leaning flavor since it’s origins, though it may have been further dragged to the Left in more recent decades. I don’t think it went more soggy in its analysis than before depending on the work being done.

    How you’re dealing with the term authoritarian is outside the context of what is being considered in the context of this article as Massimo has reiterated. There’s a lot of blaming fields instead without zooming in what’s wrong with the data.

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  22. ejwinner

    “The problem with the Crooked Timber analysis is that it can easily be interpreted in reverse – people want to believe there is a higher incidence of crime and so watch crime shows validating that belief; they wanted revenge after 9/11, so they wanted television that validated that desire; and so forth.”

    Seriously? So I guess Dan and others were consciously or unconsciously deciding to watch CHiPs and Adam-12 to validate inner desires about distorted empirical realities then. Your scenario is much less convincing & realistic.

    And no, when the Gallup Polls gathers public opinion on what people claim to support, who they voted for, and their opinions on issues and so on, it’s an analysis based on focused data within an existing sample size. You’re really expanding way beyond what people means by anecdotal evidence.

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  23. saphsin,
    “How you’re dealing with the term authoritarian is outside the context of what is being considered in the context of this article as Massimo has reiterated. How you’re dealing with the term authoritarian is outside the context of what is being considered in the context of this article as Massimo has reiterated. How you’re dealing with the term authoritarian is outside the context of what is being considered in the context of this article as Massimo has reiterated.”
    I admit that sociology leaned left before the ’60s, there are historical -contextual reasons for this, none of which mitigate the research done at the time.

    The term “authoritarian personality” was popularized by Hannah Arendt and this cannot be considered outside the discussion here. You’re denying the historicity of the discussion; I will not agree to that.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. saphsin,
    notably, nothing you say in response touches my primary point – psychological studies depend on the verbal report of the subjects – effectively, anecdotal in kind.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. On this peer review business where notable theorists will quite obviously get published regardless of merit, I just though of a delicious idea! I suppose that it must have been been proposed countless times, even given that it can never happen. The thought is to mandate triple blind submissions — reviewers are given no obvious clues that they’re reading papers from superstars or from schmucks like me! Consider the implications of that!

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  26. saphsin,
    “You’re really expanding way beyond what people means by anecdotal evidence.’ Not really; either the surveys are based on verbal reports of the subject or not.

    Not all television wiving is pathological! And I never said that. However, if you watch any particular program, it must invite you into it, or what would be the point?

    (You seem to be demanding – and attacking – an absolutism that I don’t adhere to. However, verbal reports coalesce into narratives, and thus anecdotes. I don’t see any way around that.)

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  27. ejwinner

    I’m afraid I don’t know point you’re trying to make about Arendt nor do I think it’s really the point.

    Massimo, am I the only one who finds what ejwinner describes as anecdotal data completely off? I’m asking because you’re the philosopher of science here so you probably have a more nuanced understanding of what counts as anecdotal evidence.

    If the Gallup Polls or Pew Research Center collect data on the distribution of Trump supporters who support Medicare & Social Security through polling surveys, and then they make a few suggestions of possible conclusions based on that data, is that considered anecdotal evidence because they’re based on verbal reports?

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  28. “when the Gallup Polls gathers public opinion on what people claim to support, who they voted for, and their opinions on issues and so on, it’s an analysis based on focused data within an existing sample size” – just BTW, this failed – profoundly – in the lead up to the recent election; so I wouldn’t be so swift to use the Gallup pole, or most 2016 poles, as evidence here.

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  29. Thomas,

    I’m sorry but now I lost what your point was to begin with.

    “. You want to talk about “real” but “minor” effects, and I want to say: Don’t peddle trivialities”

    I don’t think I’ve been peddling anything at all, let alone trivialities.

    Ej,

    “But the raw materials are still primarily verbal reports, and can be read narratively as anecdotal.”

    I’m sorry, but as it has been pointed out to you by others, you are using the word “anectodal” in the wrong sense. That is just not what it means.

    Eric,

    “I oppose the magical form of panpsychism”

    You mean there is a non magical form?

    Liked by 1 person

  30. ejwinner

    Gallup Polls didn’t make any predictions about the election, that’s not the type of analysis they do.

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