Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Are Intellectuals More Arrogant Than Non-Intellectuals?

According to Arnold Kling:

Cognitive psychologist Daniel Kahneman's new book, Thinking Fast and Slow, is a capstone to a distinguished career spent documenting the systematic flaws in human reasoning. He finds it useful to describe us as having two systems for thinking.

System One, as he calls it, is quick, intuitive, and decisive. It may be described as often wrong but never in doubt. System One is always active and plays a role in every decision that we make because it operates rapidly and unconsciously.

System Two is deliberative and logical. In principle, System Two can detect and correct the errors of System One. However, System Two has limited capacity, and often we do not invoke it before arriving at a conclusion. Even worse, we may deploy System Two to rationalize the conclusions of System One, rather than to question those conclusions and suggest appropriate changes.

Intellectuals are supposed to use System Two. Now let's look at who's arrogant:

Suppose you were to ask yourself how well you understand the world around you. How accurate is your map of reality?

If you interrogate System Two, it might reply, “There are many phenomena about which I know little. In the grand scheme of things, I am just blindly groping through a world that is far too complex for me to possibly understand.”

However, if you were to interrogate System One, it might reply, “My map is terrific. Why, I am very nearly omniscient!”

System One is the more arrogant system here.

On the other hand, intellectuals don't always use System Two. I first noticed this in the course of SDI debates, in which scientists criticizing SDI would almost always say “I say this as a human being, not as a scientist.” I suspect that intellectuals make the least sense when they try using System One and fail.

In other words, I don't think intellectuals should stop trying to be smart. When they stop trying to be smart, they managed to sound even sillier than when they were using System Two.


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