[Link] The New Humanism

post by curiousepic · 2011-03-09T14:19:13.477Z · score: 2 (7 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 14 comments

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/08/opinion/08brooks.html

Thoughts?

14 comments

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comment by Costanza · 2011-03-09T16:36:00.046Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Many of our public policies are proposed by experts who are comfortable only with correlations that can be measured, appropriated and quantified, and ignore everything else.

I would love to live in this alternate reality where "our public policies" are driven by dispassionate experts who actually pay attention to real-world data.

comment by DavidAgain · 2011-03-09T19:00:04.934Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it's quite a complex issue. Obviously politics has a raw emotional component to it, and other non-rational components too, come to that. But overly fixating on things that we can easily target, test and report on has its risks. You can end up privileging the results of a certain measure or test simply because you can get lots of data on that.

This then produces problems such as action aimed at the artificial target (waiting lists, SAT scores) rather than the underlying issue. The solution to this could well be better, more nuanced targets, of course. You could avoid artificial incentives by just not telling people what the metric is, but you'd get a lot of accusations of unfairness and it would be open to changing the method in light of what actually occured to bend the results. It would fail in the face of the drive for transparency too, at least in the UK.

Maybe policies end up looking over-quantified and over-rationalised to some and arbitary and irrational to others are policies where the 'making sure there's an evidence base' work is done in by people who know what conclusion they want or even simply AFTER the 'making the policy' work. If this happens, then it requires a lot of intellectual honesty (and acumen) to do anything else than create a cargo cult of real evidence. Real evidence comes in many flavours, but if you want to make something look like evidence, spreadsheets and statistics help a lot.

comment by XFrequentist · 2011-03-09T16:27:38.817Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting. This bit in particular seemed relevant (and might add to the LessWrong lexicon):

When we raise our kids, we focus on the traits measured by grades and SAT scores. [...] Yet while we are trapped within this amputated view of human nature, a richer and deeper view [...] is being brought to us by researchers across an array of diverse fields: neuroscience, psychology, sociology, behavioral economics and so on. [...] [T]he unconscious parts of the mind are most of the mind, where many of the most impressive feats of thinking take place. Second, emotion is not opposed to reason; our emotions assign value to things and are the basis of reason. Finally [...] [w]e are social animals, deeply interpenetrated with one another, who emerge out of relationships. [...]

When you synthesize this research, you get different perspectives on everything [...] You pay less attention to how people analyze the world but more to how they perceive and organize it in their minds. [...] You get a different view of, say, human capital. [...] [T]his research illuminates a range of deeper talents, which span reason and emotion [...]:

Attunement: the ability to enter other minds and learn what they have to offer.

Equipoise: the ability to serenely monitor the movements of one’s own mind and correct for biases and shortcomings.

Metis: the ability to see patterns in the world and derive a gist from complex situations.

Sympathy: the ability to fall into a rhythm with those around you and thrive in groups.

Limerence: This isn’t a talent as much as a motivation. The conscious mind hungers for money and success, but the unconscious mind hungers for those moments of transcendence [...]

comment by Emile · 2011-03-10T11:13:20.626Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Meh, I'm inclined to be somewhat cautious about those: they look too susceptible to the Barnum Effect, subjective validation etc. I mean, see this:

Svenson (1981) surveyed 161 students in Sweden and the United States, asking them to compare their driving safety and skill to the other people in the experiment. For driving skill, 93% of the US sample and 69% of the Swedish sample put themselves in the top 50% (above the median). For safety, 88% of the US group and 77% of the Swedish sample put themselves in the top 50%

I'd expect those numbers to be even worse for something as subjective as "the ability to see patterns in the world and derive a gist from complex situations" or "the ability to serenely monitor the movements of one’s own mind and correct for biases and shortcomings".

I fully agree that IQ and GPA and the like probably don't tell the whole story, but as far as I know the things he lists are harder to reliably measure.

comment by XFrequentist · 2011-03-10T15:48:15.035Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

LessWrong is pretty good at beating fuzzy concepts into usable form, and these terms seem (to me) to describe attributes of repeated interest to this crowd.

They are indeed a long way from being usable metrics for any kind of ranking, but the mere fact that the terms are in use is neat.

comment by Dreaded_Anomaly · 2011-03-10T00:10:12.539Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that he makes some good points, but I'm not fond of the way he makes them. Interspersing the colloquial concepts of rationality and reason with the actual concepts makes the intention of the article unclear. In an editorial intended for broad, public consumption, clarity should be paramount, lest people walk away with misinterpretations.

comment by timtyler · 2011-03-09T20:54:12.315Z · score: 2 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you should have summarised or explained.

comment by Perplexed · 2011-03-09T17:16:00.310Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Brooks: This growing, dispersed body of research reminds us of a few key insights. ... emotion is not opposed to reason; our emotions assign value to things and are the basis of reason.

David Hume probably would have mixed feelings about this. One the one hand, he probably applauds the idea that the emotions direct reason. On the other hand, he might cringe at the idea that this discovery was the result of modern research.

comment by XFrequentist · 2011-03-09T20:37:27.927Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Non-facetious question: why should anyone care how David Hume would feel about anything?

comment by Skatche · 2011-03-09T21:57:56.892Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Facetious answer: Because as this article argues, what David Hume feels is just as important as what he thinks.

But seriously, I think the point is more that these things have been known (to some at least) for centuries, and David Hume is presented as one writer who articulated them. It's still nice to have these things experimentally concerned, although I'll be damned if the author of the article cited any sources, unfortunately.

comment by Nornagest · 2011-03-09T18:58:37.630Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Isn't "discovered" often just shorthand for "described in a rigorous way" in a scientific context? It seems fair to say that descriptions of the interaction between emotions and conscious reasoning have only started approaching rigor fairly recently, although non-rigorous descriptions are of course much older.

comment by rysade · 2011-03-15T07:54:20.117Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A TED talk by David Brooks was promoted on Facebook not long ago:

http://www.ted.com/talks/david_brooks_the_social_animal.html

comment by BobTheBob · 2011-03-13T17:26:19.139Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seems to me Brooks's thoughts are marred by a basic conflation of two points:

1) We should aim to be guided by emotion and not just reason in our dealings with others and our formulation of policy.

2) To predict how people are likely to behave, we need to avail ourselves of realistic psychological theories, and not model ourselves simply as rational agents.

The second proposition is true, the first at best only partially so. The partial truth of the first lies in the value of emotion/non-rational abilities in one-on-one and small scale human interactions - hence the social abilities referred to at the bottom of his piece. Insofar as it begins with a (quite improbable and completely undefended) comparison of large scale U.S. policy failures, however, this presumably is not to his basic point.

comment by Vlodermolt · 2011-03-10T01:22:38.185Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So humans are complex creatures that exhibit a simplified view of other humans? Isn't there some kind of psychological explanation for that?