Slothful Induction: an insight from Orwell

Continuing with the theme of Spain and Spanish history, this also appeared in the Financial Times recently:

George Orwell, who fought in Catalonia on the Republican side during the Spanish civil war, well understood this. “All nationalists,” he observed, “have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency.”

Because he can’t see the resemblances (involuntary blindness), or because he doesn’t want to see the resemblances (wilful blindness)?

Posted in Informal fallacies in reasoning, Slothful induction | Leave a comment

‘No true Scotsman …’ prize: No true Catalonian?

From a letter in the Financial Times, the details of which I forgot to record (will look them up soon):

Spain will never be a true democracy unless it can free itself of its shackles from the past — demilitarise its police, create an independent judiciary, and most of all truly come to love and respect the Catalans. Two stark facts symbolise this conflict. Catalonia’s Lluís Companys remains the only democratically elected president to be executed in 20th-century Europe, and yet the person who signed his death warrant, Francisco Franco, is buried in a huge marble mausoleum near Madrid.

There’s one for the pol-sci scholars: it’s not enough to have rule of law, representative democracy through elections, and freedom of speech. ‘True democracy’ requires ‘freeing oneself from the shackles of the past (whatever that means – I suspect in Spain there are 45 million definitions) and coming to love and respect just one of many ethnic minorities.

Having seen this informal fallacy occur over and over again in the last few years, I’m amazed at its tenacity. ‘True X’ is used over and over again, the fact that it is a fallacy which renders an argument valueless never seeming to occur to either user or audience. I don’t know if the reason for its persistence is anthropological or neurological. But for whatever reason, it’s as robust as the virus for cold sores.

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I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man… Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!

It appears that President Trump has created a new variation of the old Good Cop / Bad Cop routine, in which the Bad Cop, while rolling up his sleeves, tells the Good Cop to leave the interrogation room.

There’s probably a good reason why it hasn’t been tried before.

It’s like watching 2002 all over again.

Posted in Decision-making, Epistemic Rationality, Flotsam and Jetsam, Goal Rationality, Instrumental Rationality | Leave a comment

Hillary Clinton’s Logic Bubble

I’ve previously introduced readers to the idea of a logic bubble. This is a concept introduced by the magnificent and prolific Edward de Bono in his book Edward de Bono’s Thinking Course. The Logic-Bubble is a way of thinking about a person’s mind-set – the set of assumptions and logical reasoning which allow them to interpret the world around them and make decisions about acting in that world (page 83):

A logic bubble is that bubble of perception within which a person is acting. The bubble includes perception of circumstance, structure, context and relationships.

The similarity of the Logic-Bubble to a person’s mind-set can be seen from this quotation from page 10 of Heuer’s book, discussing the mind-set:

Patterns of expectations tell analysts, subconsciously, what to look for, what is important, and how to interpret what is seen. These patterns form a mind-set that predisposes analysts to think in certain ways. A mind-set is akin to a screen or lens though which one perceives the world.

They are universal and so we don’t often notice them and their influence on people’s ideas, thinking and behaviour. It’s only when something goes strongly awry with a person’s thought that we tend to notice the existence of the logic bubble that made such a mistake occur, and can begin to examine what is wrong with it.

One notable and important example of a logic bubble causing its owner to think and say something ridiculous is, I think, this example from Hillary Clinton’s recently published discussion of how she lost the 2016 US presidential election:

Attempting to define reality is a core feature of authoritarianism. This is what the Soviets did when they erased political dissidents from historical photos. This is what happens in George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, when a torturer holds up four fingers and delivers electric shocks until his prisoner sees five fingers as ordered. The goal is to make you question logic and reason and to sow mistrust toward exactly the people we need to rely on: our leaders, the press, experts who seek to guide public policy based on evidence, ourselves.

Now there are three errors that I can immediately spot in this passage:  Continue reading

Posted in Mind-sets and Logic-Bubbles, The Mind & Society | Leave a comment

Noticing what’s not there: the quiet

Notice how quiet it has gotten since the North Korean foreign minister came out yesterday, in New York, and stated that, in the eyes of North Korea, Trump’s tweet that Little Rocket Man and his foreign minister won’t be around much longer was a declaration of war?

Suddenly, things have become gravely serious.

Maybe even the Loudmouth in Chief realises what is at stake, and that the North Koreans aren’t kidding.

Even Scott Adams, who is usually quick off the mark with a video discussing such events, hasn’t said anything.

The North Koreans have just drawn a line in the sand, that Loudmouth wasn’t expecting. I’m not expecting the Americans to back down, but I suspect that from now, they will be more sober in their communications.

Posted in Flotsam and Jetsam, Strat. Assumptions v. Tac. Indicators | Leave a comment

Slothful induction and islamic terrorism: belling the cat

Colttaine says it forcibly and well.

Posted in Cult-Marx Inversion, Democracy and freedom of mind, Narrative and Taboo, The Suicide of the West | Leave a comment

‘No true Scotsman …’: time for a change of name?

Perhaps we should change the name of the ‘No true Scotsman …’ fallacy to ‘No true American …‘ ?

Don’t be jealous of my ideas now, you haters!

Posted in 'No True Scotsman' Award | Leave a comment

Confirmation bias: reporting the story, or the story as one sees it?

In a letter to the Financial Times of July 6, Martin Staniforth engages in critical thinking and asks the right questions:

Sir, Peter Geiger (Letters, July 3) castigates public servants for relying on expert advice. However he seems only too happy to rely on the expertise of the fire officer he consulted. Could that be because the fire officer’s advice accorded with his prejudices – or what he calls common sense? And would he have been so content if the advice had been different from what he so clearly expected?


Posted in Critical Thinking, Mind-sets and Logic-Bubbles, Motivated Reasoning, Problems with perception intuition and judgement | Leave a comment

Sundry observations

Among my reading and film watching, I occasionally come across something which confirms that I’m on the right track with my course – which tells me that what I am planning to tell students is on the right track, and that, while I may not have had any profound insights, I haven’t said anything wrong, let alone outrageously wrong.

This film of Daniel Dennett speaking about how the brain works reassures me that I am sending the right message about our cognitive architecture.

Similarly, this excerpt from the Ed Hess article in the Harvard Business Review, ‘In the AI Age, “Being Smart” Will Mean Something Completely Different’ reassured me that I have the right prescriptions for helping people to improve their thinking:

We will spend more time training to be open-minded and learning to update our beliefs in response to new data. We will practice adjusting after our mistakes, and we will invest more in these skills traditionally associated with emotional intelligence. The new smart will be about trying to overcome the two big inhibitors of critical thinking and team collaboration: our ego and our fears. Doing so will make it easier to perceive reality as it is, rather than as we wish it to be. In short, we will embrace humility. That is how we humans will add value in a world of smart technology.

Well I bloody hope so! It will do wonders for demand for my course and hopefully the books that I plan to write.

But I would go further, and say that this is precisely the way that humans can add value in any world, regardless of the level of AI. We needn’t wait for superintelligence to arrive – we can add value in this way now, and far into the future.

And this quotation, from neuropsychologist Michael Bishop, in Jordan Rosenfeld’s article, ‘I kicked my smartphone addiction by retraining my brain to enjoy being bored’:

The more a behavior is practiced, the stronger neurological connections grow.

They do indeed. As Heuer tells us, on page 21 of his magnum opus:

Retrievability is influenced by the number of locations in which information is stored and the number and strength of pathways from this information to other concepts that might be activated by incoming information. The more frequently a path is followed, the stronger that path becomes and the more readily available the information located along that path.

So: I’m on the right track.

Posted in Cognitive systems architecture, Thinking Course | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Epistemic rationality: the role of data in logistical planning and coordination

Epistemic rationality is the key to economic efficiency, as two pieces from the Financial Times make clear.

First, a letter from Richard Christian, August 23 this year:

Sir, Martin Sandbu is right when he says that crises are caused by the market’s failure to price assets correctly, but wrong when he suggests that this could be corrected with more honesty, and that Hayek had not perceived the problem (“From Lenin to Lehman – the big lies”, August 16).

Markets are good at some things and bad at others. They have an inherent weakness as information devices in that actors responding to current commodity prices are disposed by standard game theory not to communicate information about their production plans. Competing actors are structurally incapable of co-ordinating for future production. Crises of production, and mispriced assets, are the consequence – a problem recognised by Hayek, who had hoped that some harmonisation might be achieved through the information provided by interest rates.

The problem is at the basis of Marx’s analysis of crises. As Mr Sandbu says, the “socialist calculation debate” of the 20th century has mostly, and regrettably, been forgotten. But he himself forgets that Hayek’s principal opponent, Otto Neurath, rejected both central planning and markets in favour of “decentralised planning”, which as socialisation commissioner of the Bavarian Raeterrepublik in 1919, he sadly had too little time to test.

Another dumb idea coming out of interwar Bavaria. Thank heavens no-one tried this one out and it has sunk deep into the academic libraries where only academics like Dr Christian can find it.

I have many problems with this letter:

  • however disposed actors responding to current commodity prices might be not to communicate information about their production plans, the largest ones have to do so, and they have to do it completely publicly and in a timely fashion, through the continuous disclosure requirements of the securities markets on which they are listed;
  • the structural mechanism which allows competing actors to co-ordinate future production is the price mechanism – it doesn’t work perfectly, but it works very well;
  • the combination of a functioning price mechanism and a class of vigorous entrepreneurs works to minimise crises of production and the mispricing of interest rates – they do this very well, and better when there is lots of information and no central bank to aggravate and prolong asset mispricings and resource misallocations through its printing of fiat currency via credit extension;
  • Dr Christian should forget Neurath and take up with Mises.

The only part on which I agree with him is that the socialist calculation debate has been forgotten. But given that he doesn’t seem aware of Mises at all, Dr Christian is missing the best and most valuable parts of the debate.

Secondly, an article by Robin Wigglesworth, Cargo shop giant Maersk Tankers invests in quant hedge fund:

Maersk Tankers has invested in CargoMetrics, a quantitative hedge fund backed by the likes of Paul Tudor Jones and Google’s Eric Schmidt, in order to utilise its shopping data and analytical models to improve the deployment of its fleet of vessels.

The Copenhagen-based tanker company, which is part of Danish shipping group AP Moller-Maersk, has taken an undisclosed but “significant” stake in the Boston-based hedge fund set up by a former US Coast Guard officer and in return will gain exclusive access to its data and algorithms.

The tanker market is fickle, with rental rates fluctuating every day and varying across different regions in the world.  In just a week, the daily rate for a medium-range tanker in the Atlantic can roughly double or halve.

I wonder how Otto Neurath’s ‘decentralised planning’ would have coped with such frequent changes.

Maersk hopes that CargoMetrics will help it better predict demand and improve the deployment of its 160-strong fleet to take advantage of price trends.

“It’s a very volatile industry,” said Soren Christian Meyer, head of strategy at Maersk Tankers.

“It’s important to have tankers at the right place at the right time. It’s an industry that has been based on gut feeling on where and when to move capacity, but we want to challenge that industry paradigm. Our investment in CargoMetrics will speed up our digitalisation.”

CargoMetrics is a computer-powered hedge fund that crunches global shipping, satellite, and even weather data to track and trade international commodity flows.

Information! The life-blood of the economy, and of epistemic rationality.

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