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. ejwinner

    if you want explicit evidence, here:

    http://time.com/4067019/gallup-horse-race-polling/

    “The announcement this week that Gallup, one of America’s most storied pollsters, will no longer do horse-race polling on who’s ahead in the 2016 election cycle only underscored the huge changes in the industry.
    Michael Dimock, president of the Pew Research Center, said it’s simply not worth it for places like Gallup to stay in the game.

    “It feels like some kind of pivot, mostly because they way the rest of the polling market has developed,” he told TIME. “What you’ve seen is the arrival of a whole ton of polls that are covering that horse race side of it, just jamming us with new data day in and day out on the fortunes of the candidates.”

    Both Pew and Gallup are instead marshaling their resources to find out what voters think about the issues.
    Cliff Zukin, a professor of public policy and political science at Rutgers University, said that makes sense, given the costs involved with doing reliable polling for a place like Gallup. The decision also came after a botched final pre-election poll in 2012 that put Mitt Romney ahead of President Obama.”

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  2. Massimo: I gave you 3 examples of time asymmetries in physics, and your found an article classifying them into 3 kinds. Okay fine, but they are still asymmetries.

    You say the 2nd Law is not fundamental because it is classical and not quantum. But the 2nd Law holds in quantum systems also. It is because the 2nd Law is so fundamental that it applies in all areas of physics.

    Your article says: “One position is to say that the constant increase of entropy we observe happens only because of the initial state of our universe.” Okay, maybe so. Another view is that God made the universe that way. Another is that we would not know how to make sense out the universe otherwise. Take your pick. Regardless, entropy is a time asymmetry.

    You say: “nobody is questioning the fact that quantum mechanics predicts the outcomes of experiments.” Right, but you are questioning whether time asymmetries occur in physics, and especially in quantum mechanics and relativity. I say that they do, and I have given you examples.

    I suppose you could take some quantum mechanics equation, declare it to be more fundamental than all the other equations, do a time reversal on it, apply a CP transformation, ignore neutrinos, put it in a closed universe with no big bang, avoid doing any measurements, assume everything is in thermal equilibrium, and conclude that the new equation describes the world just as well as the original.

    Is that the time symmetry you have in mind?

    If you look at the modern theories of physics, as taught in textbooks and as practiced by physicists, there is an arrow of time.

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  3. I’ve been refereeing papers and books for top journals and academic publishers for almost 20 years now, and I can tell you that “it is not the job of a peer reviewer to check for noteworthiness” is absolute nonsense. Of course they do.

    When physical review letters (PRL) ask you to review a paper they explicitly ask yo to comment on ‘noteworthiness’. PRL is explicitly intended as a journal for ‘note worthy’ papers.

    There are other journals for merely correct papers. Everybody wants to be in PRL. Myself I prefer a journal that gives one enough space to explain your result rather than ‘letter’ format that only allows on to announce it with barely enough space to get across what you result is.

    Anyway evaluating ‘noteworthiness’ is definitively part of the review. Even lessor journals are not interested in correct results of little interest to anyone.

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  4. Actually, EJ, in certain fields of psychology, such as behavioral psychology, the research doesn’t depend on self-reporting at all.

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  5. Massimo: “Dan, while I too am skeptical of this sort of findings, your argument is the same as my father’s about smoking: I knew a guy who smoked 90 years and he was fine. My father died of cancer at 69.”

    https://goo.gl/hPWSdf — Commander Cody — ‘Been smoking ’em all my life and I ain’t dead yet.’

    My uncle Steve smoked till he was 85. He died at 92. My father never smoked or drank had to bypass surgeries and died at 82. Maybe Steve’s drinking canceled out the smoking.

    </:_)=

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  6. ejwinner

    All I can see is that you’re trying to deflect from the crucial points about the discussion in every possible way. So you’re trying to disrepute the Gallup Polls now? I don’t think you’re aware of the kind of work they do. They’re one of the most reputable international polling agencies that track & present public opinion, and they do valuable work with generally sound analysis without overstepping variables.

    There’s a lot in the social sciences that I’m skeptical of or evil hostile to (I complain about social scientists A LOT) but the extent to which you’re making an effort to dismiss straightforward data is honestly beyond my understanding.

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  7. Eric,
    “I oppose the magical form of panpsychism”
    You mean there is a non magical form?

    It’s really good to hear you say that Massimo. Sometimes I look to my left and right and wonder if everyone is going to simply accept this shit, or might we instead laughing these people down!

    No, I don’t have first hand experience of naturalistic panpsychists. Instead a friend of mine has told me about this breed of them. Apparently they are naturalistic purely by means of definition — they define anything that reacts with anything to have an element of “consciousness” to it, even in a causal realm. Thus here the consciousness term means virtually nothing.

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  8. Hi Dan,

    And rock and roll turned us boomers into sex maniacs! Hail Hail Rock and Roll!

    https://goo.gl/LmpX4H

    Nothing new. I imagine people complained about Beethoven (before asking him to ‘roll over’)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I would doubt the statistical methodologies of make these kind of claims. E.g., big studies lead to effects that are statically significant, but insignificant (meaningless). Small effects even in physics tend to be dominated by systematic effects. Sociology even more so! And the sponsors of such ‘research’ tend to have preconceptions.

    It’s Bull.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thomas Jones: I’m finding that the people in my party (Democrats) are looking for any reason possible to explain why they lost to Trump, other than themselves. That’s why they’re going to lose again next time.

    There is, of course, no one reason for the loss to Trump. Things add up. With margins so narrow in key states Russian hacking (e.g., of voter rolls) could be a significant contributor (remember the unknown unknowns), but the democrats would be best advised to work on the problems they can control, i.e., their own blunders.

    As overall fix one of the best would be to do away with or dilute the effect of the electoral college. We could w/o a constitutional amendment get the states to distribute the electoral votes by popular vote. This would still overweight small states, but would not be subject to very small numbers of votes changing the result making both cheating and hacking ineffective. As it is scrambling the voter rolls in Madison and a few other places could flip Wisconsin.

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  11. CHiPs and Adam-12

    I found these shows tedious.

    The worse was ‘mission impossible’ in which you could tell what was about to happen by watching your watch. The plots were always identical [a] to the minute.

    [a] I had a girl friend who liked MI a lot and saw a lot more of it than I cared to see. My wife’s brother liked CHiPs. He’s an idiot though not a Repub, so I guess it didn’t have that much effect on him.

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  12. Well, perhaps you know more about the technical psychological literature than I realize

    Massimo,

    Besides generating more heat than light, this argument seems like you and Dan have reversed rolls as far as arguments from authority.

    I have some expertise in statistics and I suspect their is a flaw there. In form of my wifes master’s thesis adviser in Poli Sci. I have witnessed some real howlers committed by Social Scientist (n=1 I admit). The most likely one appears to me to confuse statistical significance with ordinary common sense significance. A sin widely committed in medicine and drug testing too.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Hi Massimo,

    You mean there is a non magical form?

    Yes, we are discussing one right now. Remember your article “On Panpsychism” and Christof Koch’s comment “as a natural scientist, I find a version of panpsychism modified for the 21st century to be the single most elegant and parsimonious explanation for the universe I find myself in.”

    He was referring to Tononi’s “Integrated Information Theory” and Hoel’s work is part of that project, as Eric is pointing out.

    I am pretty skeptical of the new panpsychism stuff myself, but Hoel’s paper we are currently discussing, although part of that whole project, can stand alone and my only objection to it is on the technical ground I already mentioned.

    However I don’t think that either Hoel’s or Tononi’s claims can be called ‘magical’.

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  14. Another factor is the cause and effect may well be confused. All they have is a correlation and it may be that fearful people who tend to be authoritarian (as alleged by some ‘studies’) and thus like watching comforting cop shows where the bad guy is always caught. Either way it is apparently a rather small effect likely to be well within the systematic error on surveys and such.

    And studies that fnd no effect never make it into the press. Even Science News likes something they can hype — recently some Santa Fe Institute types claim to explain consciousness, etc. with information theory. Claude Shannon might be rolling over in his grave…if he’s in one.

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  15. I must admit to having a good laugh at so many people who abuse Coel and DM on this blog, acting identically when there are academic results that they don’t want to accept. The strawman arguments, ignoring technical definitions, relating a small correlation to their own personal behaviour, etc. I hope Coel and DM enjoy the wonderful irony.

    Personally, I would be surprised if a significant part of our values didn’t come from the media we consume. Entertainment is rarely value neutral, and cop shows, in particular the adult-themed ones, push a pretty pernicious agenda where torture, prisoner abuse, lack of lawyer rights, is normalised. Not to mention the way people with drug, alcohol and mental health issues are always treated as subhuman.

    So no, it doesn’t mean that watching CHiPs as a teen will make you vote for Trump, but maybe a steady diet of so called “gritty” shows gives people a false view of crime, criminals and the criminal justice system.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Schlafly,

    “You say the 2nd Law is not fundamental because it is classical and not quantum. But the 2nd Law holds in quantum systems also.”

    I can only repeat what I said before, which is standard textbook physics: the 2nd law is classical mechanics, and classical mechanics is not fundamental in the sense we are discussing.

    “Regardless, entropy is a time asymmetry.”

    Indeed. But entropy increase is simply an empirical observation. It’s not found anywhere in the equations. And that is the problem. Nobody denies that entropy increases, that time exists (well, actually some do), or that causes precede effects. The problem is that none of this is found in the equations of either quantum mechanics or general relativity. And those are the only fundamental theories about reality we have.

    “you are questioning whether time asymmetries occur in physics”

    No, I am not. See paragraph above.

    “you could take some quantum mechanics equation, declare it to be more fundamental than all the other equations, do a time reversal on it, apply a CP transformation, ignore neutrinos, put it in a closed universe with no big bang, avoid doing any measurements, assume everything is in thermal equilibrium, and conclude that the new equation describes the world just as well as the original”

    I don’t know what you are getting at here. First, it’s not me who declares q.m. to be fundamental, it’s physicists. Second, the problem with the Big Bang, has Smolin very clearly explains in his book (see: http://tinyurl.com/ohaum9e) does, in fact, present a problem for people who accept at face value the implications of general relativity and the so called block-universe: if one denies the fundamentally of time, then one has to conclude that the biggest discovery of modern cosmology, that the universe had a beginning, is in a deep sense an illusion. I’m not taking sides here, simply pointing out that there is a fundamental problem that keeps physicists up at night.

    “If you look at the modern theories of physics, as taught in textbooks and as practiced by physicists, there is an arrow of time.”

    I’ve looked, and no, there isn’t. There is in general cosmology and in thermodynamics, but neither of those are fundamental. Hence the problem.

    Synred,

    “Besides generating more heat than light, this argument seems like you and Dan have reversed rolls as far as arguments from authority”

    As I explained in the past (http://tinyurl.com/ybfjrm3u) informal fallacies are context dependent. It’s not that experts are right because they are experts, period. But it is the case that if one wishes to challenge expertise in a technical field one ought to do it from a position of knowledge. Dan often chides Coel (often, though not always, for good reasons) for failing at the latter. Here I thought Dan was failing himself. No doubt in many cases I have too, and you guys should call me on it.

    Robin,

    “He was referring to Tononi’s “Integrated Information Theory” and Hoel’s work is part of that project, as Eric is pointing out.”

    Yes, but as you point out, the Hoel paper is actually independent of Tononi’s take on panpsychism. Regarding the latter, I still think it’s magic, since I haven’t seen any type of empirical evidence, or serious theoretical reason, to believe in panpsychism. I could be wrong, of course.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Re: authoritarianism correlating with TV shows.

    Note the word “correlates”. If those watching certain TV shows are more likely to be authoritarian, does that imply that the TV makes them so, or does it merely tell us about the TV-viewing preferences of those who tend to be authoritarian?

    One has to be very careful with social sciences since much of that field is steeped with the “blank slate” ideology that people do not have innate (genetic) preferences. Thus they discount the “authoritarians prefer authoritarian TV shows” explanation because they reject on principle that people could be innate authoritarians. That leaves only “TV makes them authoritarian”.

    I haven’t read the underlying papers here since they are under paywalls — and can I reiterate my point from an earlier thread about the benefits of open access and hence pay-to-publish? — but a good rule of thumb is this: whenever you encounter a correlation and a claim of causation, ask whether running the causation in reverse makes as much sense. (Another good rule of thumb: if it’s about biology, do not exclude the likelihood that the underlying cause is genetic.)

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  18. Massimo,

    Much of the discussion about physical causation seems to confuse two concepts, the direction of time and the arrow of time, that are actually distinct. An account of causation is directly relevant to the direction of time, but not really to the arrow of time.

    The direction of time is the concept that the state at time t causes (“leads to”) the state at time t+1. (“Causes precede effects”)

    The arrow of time is the concept that sequences of past-to-future look different from sequences of future-to-past (a video tape running backwards looks different from one running forwards).

    These are distinct because it is possible to conceive of a system with a direction of time but no arrow of time. (I think that’s the point Schlafly was making earlier.)
    Note also that while one can conceive of an arrow of time running either forwards or backwards compared to the direction of time, it doesn’t seem possible to coherently conceive of reversing the direction of time.

    Further, the direction of time is unrelated to whether the laws of physics are time-symmetric. That’s because the laws of physics are descriptive and not causative. In contrast, the arrow of time is indeed tied up with time-asymmetry in the laws of (“description of …”) physics. (Thus one would expect time-symmetric laws in a world with a direction of time but no arrow of time.)

    Further, the arrow of time might be directly related to causation, but need not be. For example, one way of having an arrow of time is simply to choose a particular starting point (which is how some people explain the 2nd law of thermo).

    Another possibility, however, is a dose of indeterminism (the state at time t+1 is partially but not entirely entailed by the state at time t, with there also being a probabilistic element). This would in itself produce an arrow of time (2nd law behaviour) even when the basic laws are time-symmetric; thus in this case the arrow of time would be directly related to notions of casuation, specifically the lack of full deterministic causation.

    In summary, it seems helpful to me to reduce confusion by keeping the two concepts (“direction” vs “arrow” of time) distinct. The basic point is that discussing the concept of “causation” is not the same as discussing the “arrow” of time, but is the same as discussing the “direction” of time.

    [PS Did an earlier comment of mine disappear into the ether?]

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  19. Massimo,
    I’m willing to back off on the use of the term ‘anecdotal,’ if dispute over this term leads to misunderstanding. But self-reporting remains fragments from the subject’s personal narrative. And that I cannot back off from – partly because no analysis of self-reporting – which involves narrative-reconstruction – makes sense otherwise.

    Socratic,
    I’m aware there are other practices used in behavioral labs; but I was addressing the kind of behavioral assessment survey used in the article.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Coel,

    “Note the word “correlates”.”

    Indeed, as did the author of the article. Let us also keep in mind, though, that one cannot dismiss a study because it is “only” correlative. As statisticians often say, causation is not the same as correlation, but the two are highly correlated…

    “One has to be very careful with social sciences since much of that field is steeped with the “blank slate” ideology that people do not have innate (genetic) preferences.”

    I think you have a tendency to exaggerated that view of the social sciences, no doubt influenced by Pinker’s Blank Slate, which is a caricature of the field.

    “can I reiterate my point from an earlier thread about the benefits of open access and hence pay-to-publish?”

    You can, but the reality of that is that: (i) not every author has access to grants all the time, so sometimes one simply cannot pay; and (ii) there is the issue that pay-to-publish grades into vanity publishing.

    Thanks for the helpful clarification about the direction and the arrow of time, though that doesn’t really seem to settle the discussion, nor certainly to go in the direction of Schlafly wants it to go.

    “it is possible to conceive of a system with a direction of time but no arrow of time. (I think that’s the point Schlafly was making earlier.)”

    Yes to the first, but I can’t see how to read Schlafly’s comments that way.

    Also, what is germane here is not that it is possible to conceive of a world organized that way, but rather that our world isn’t that way. And that the fundamental laws of physics do not make a distinction there.

    “it doesn’t seem possible to coherently conceive of reversing the direction of time”

    Why not? If time is a dimension of spacetime, and I can conceive moving back and forth a space dimension, why can I not move back and forth in the time direction? That seems to have to do with direction, not the arrow, unless I misunderstood what you said.

    “the direction of time is unrelated to whether the laws of physics are time-symmetric. That’s because the laws of physics are descriptive and not causative”

    Ah, but that’s precisely why we have a difference between fundamental physics and the rest of science. Generalizations in biology, for instance, are causative, not just descriptive.

    “the arrow of time might be directly related to causation, but need not be. For example, one way of having an arrow of time is simply to choose a particular starting point”

    That seems highly unsatisfactory, as the Big Bang doesn’t seem to be just an arbitrary starting point, but the starting point for our universe.

    So, bottom line, it sounds to me like “philosophers” were right all along: the special sciences use causation all the time, while fundamental physical laws have no way to account for it, meaning that it doesn’t show up anywhere in their equations, because those equations are time symmetric.

    “Did an earlier comment of mine disappear into the ether?”

    Probably, I don’t keep track. Since I started moderation I have partially edited comments (to eliminate gratuitous or insulting remarks) and ditched comments that were either irrelevant or repetitive.

    So, everyone, make sure you put some thought into your comments, because they may “disappear into the ether”…

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  21. Coel

    Where dud you get thw idea that the docial sciences are steeped in blsnk slate ideology? From Steve Pinker?

    Steve Pinker asserts that the social sciences are steeped in so-cslled blank ideology, but it doesn’t make it so.

    I have pointed out before how Pinker absurdly illustrates this claim by a quote from someone who’s extreme views are unrepresentative of the social sciences.

    I don’t know how scientific the “crime drama/authoritarian” study is but it deserves not to be judged on the basis of Pinker’s unscientific smear.

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  22. “But self-reporting remains fragments from the subject’s personal narrative. And that I cannot back off from – partly because no analysis of self-reporting – which involves narrative-reconstruction – makes sense otherwise.”

    So is there a concern for empirical inaccuracy if someone surveyed for a poll says that he voted for Trump, supports social security, and has watched a certain television program? Who cares?

    You might say you are backtracking on the term anecdotal evidence, but you are just reiterating it as anecdotal evidence in principle when it’s not that.

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  23. saphsin,
    I accept there is much to learn from any statistical study of behavior, whether polls or clinical behavioral research. However, I’m not going to swallow them whole without critical questioning of some their founding presumptions, which may prove flawed on analysis.

    I didn’t attempt to ‘disrepute’ the Gallup Poll (I was actually one of their respondents for 3 years around 2008). But certainly, the polling catastrophe of the 2016 election should have many reconsidering their polling methods, metrics, and weighting.

    You keep charging me with positions I don’t have, in order to negatively exaggerate positions I do have. My point has been that the kind of behavioral survey the authors of the article in question use as raw material relies on the reports of the respondents in such a way that counter-narratives by those not surveyed actually present additional response strong enough to raise skepticism concerning the conclusions the authors of the article claimed to have reached, and further raises questions concerning the motivation for the research. This to the extent that a reasonable, intelligent person can come away from the article unconvinced, and may wish to consult already existing studies on the historical background to the issues at hand.

    That’s my point; and insisting on the professional expertise behind such research (which has not been questioned) does not vitiate it.

    (And neither does any confusion concerning the use of the word ‘anecdotal,’ which I’ve agreed to back off from.)

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  24. Steve Pinker seems to regard anyone as a ‘blank slate’ ideologist if they do not share his commitment to the extreme form of genetic determinism that holds that there might even be a genetic predisposition to prefer a certain colour and style of sports jacket.

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  25. Robin,
    I know very little about Tononi’s IIT, but if it’s as you say, or concerns the naturalistic form of panpsychism, then it works like this:

    We begin by defining the “consciousness” term in a very non standard way, or such that all things have a fundamental element of it. Then with matter itself defined to have this consciousness element, we put together all sorts of technical sounding statements and conclude it by saying, “There you have it, human consciousness.” This will be naturalic in the sense that it doesn’t depend upon anything other than standard causality. The problem is that people tend to forget that if consciousness is originally defined such that a proton has it, then they aren’t talking about what we mean by consciousness anyway. So in the end these arguments become fraud. (It really would be nice if there were an accepted epistemological principle from which to fight such definitional exploitations!)

    Even though Tononi signed on to this Hoel paper, I was interpreting it to be an example of the supernatural form of panpsychism. Why? Because Hoel is theorizing a new cause/effect system that emerges at a macroscopic level, and so explains consciousness and all sorts of things. Causal alteration seems to be a very effective definition for magic. I probably only got the impression that this particular example of magic involved panpsychism given that a known panpsychist put his name on it as well.

    Similarly I have a problem with physicists interpreting Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle such that an ontological void in causality occurs. That bit of metaphysical speculation has physicists supporting the existence of magic. Of course they may be right, but I’ll go with Einstein and say that in the end God doesn’t play this sort of game.

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  26. Eric,

    I think your educated guess about Tononi was not far off the mark.

    I think the trouble with Hoel is that he is over claiming. It is quite mathematically sound to say that there can be a system where micro states can’t be predicted from previous micro states, but macro states can be predicted from previous macro states. Even if that is not how nature works it is still not magic.

    But it does not imply that there is information in the macro state that is not in the macro state. I don’t comment on whether or not that can be the case in nature, but I would bet a goodly amount that it can’t be the case for a mathematical model.

    As for the dice thing I go with Bohr “don’t tell God what to do”.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. I mean “But it does not imply that there is information in the macro state that is not in the micro state.”

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  28. Saphsin: “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. “

    A slight alteration of this statement, applied to kids (and everyone else): “It is an asset for kids to be capable of obedience, and of demonstrating good manners and good behavior.”
    These are traits of behavior; they don’t define what one is. They are things that would be taught in any good acting class, along with speaking intelligibly. Especially with children, it’s important to distinguish between how one presents oneself (i.e., appropriate to the situation) and how one really is, and that the two are not necessarily incompatible. The point was made very well in Shaw’s “Pygmalion” and preserved in “My Fair Lady,” although the latter misses the urgency of not limiting oneself to one particulare slot in society by external features.

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  29. saphsin,
    you seem to be holding the position that relating, reading, and reconstructing narratives is somehow opposed to ’empirical analysis.’ That’s simply not the case. ‘A person engaging in heavy TV viewing likely develops authoritarian attitudes and prefers voting for Trump’ is a simple narrative reconstruction from respondents’ answers to questions which function effectively as fragments of the narrative the respondents would give of their lives. That this reconstruction is developed following established criteria and checked against prior studies does not alter this fact – the narrative reconstruction is part of the analysis.

    Frankly, I find the notion that personal narratives stand somehow opposed to empirical analysis of behavior and belief somewhat bizarre. If a person reports, ‘I value obedience over self-reliance’ (a trigger on the authoritarian personality scale), how is this not drawn from, and reflective of, the person’s life story? That story is the empirical reality of the person as he or she perceives it. That the sentence is measurable along an established scale of interpretation doesn’t make it any more empirical.

    What is it we’re trying to understand, if it’s not people and how they perceive their lives and what motivates them to respond to that perception with certain behaviors. That’s the empirical reality, the numbers are merely useful tools for understanding this.

    There are a lot of problems with television and with inordinate television viewing, and some of the research remarked in the article can be useful in understanding these. But the article itself, and the study it reports (as a narrative, a story of the behaviors and beliefs of the researchers) are far too incomplete and lightweight to justify the conclusions the authors make.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. A review of Robert Sapolsky’s new magnum opus, which will surely shed his own light on some of these psychology issues: https://theamericanscholar.org/its-complicated/#

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