The new Edge symposium

“What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?”

There are 159 responses, starting with Daniel Kahneman and Richard Dawkins.  Kahneman starts off by sounding like Bryan Caplan:

Education is an important determinant of income — one of the most important — but it is less important than most people think. If everyone had the same education, the inequality of income would be reduced by less than 10%. When you focus on education you neglect the myriad other factors that determine income. The differences of income among people who have the same education are huge.

Income is an important determinant of people’s satisfaction with their lives, but it is far less important than most people think. If everyone [TC: in the US?] had the same income, the differences among people in life satisfaction would be reduced by less than 5%.

I’ll read the rest now…


Thanks for the link. From a quick look at the 159 responses, your readers may be interested in the last para. of Matt Ridley's response (his key concept is collective intelligence):
"That's why, as Friedrich Hayek observed, central planning never worked: the cleverest person is no match for the collective brain at working out how to distribute consumer goods. The idea of bottom-up collective intelligence, which Adam Smith understood and Charles Darwin echoed, and which Hayek expounded in his remarkable essay "The use of knowledge in society", is one idea I wish everybody had in their cognitive toolkit."

There is a marketing problem with the term "collective intelligence". At least in the Anglosphere, it reeks of "lowest common denominator". "Collective intelligence" is the reason democracy has failed in the U.S., the reason you can't go to a restaurant anymore without hearing crappy pop music, the reason that feminism has taken over to the point that 17 year old boys are being arrested and jailed for saying naughty things on the internet, the reason the United States budget will never ever, ever, ever, ever be balanced.

What you mean by "collective intelligence" isn't collective at all. There is no "collective brain". The word is "chaos", which is a higher order than order. But chaos doesn't sell to a voting block which is over the age of 50. Instead we will get more "order", more police state rules, more military intervention, more homework for our kids, more government cameras, more protectionism, more legal cases, more religious zealots, more prisons, more government workers, more doctors, more medicine, more nurses, more regulations, more public debate about what to do with old fucks between the ages of 80 and 85.

Economists often talk about the importance of *institutions* in economic development -- as if institutions could only be a plus and never a minus. The problem with America is too many *institutions*. We will die by the same sword we lived by.

Feminists don't like naughtiness?

re: Richard Dawkins:

What is gained if you were to convince everyone that ghosts, angels, heaven and hell do not exist? How would that help society?
Dawkins talks about the using methods devised by humans to avoid being tricked by humans. How can humans be both the authority and the wrong-influence at the same time?

the inherent flaw in human reasoning is that the reasoning is done by humans, and thus you'll never be able to convince everyone.

Thanks for the link, some good bedtime reading here.

Ya this is really good bed time reading. Some of the articles, though, remind me of the website I do it myself. The last time I got really stoned I wrote a 500 word essay on "deep time" too (though I didn't call it that), in connection to the need to colonize other planets haha.

Pretty thought provoking and nice and succinct.

“What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?”

The habit of asking "What's your evidence?"

That question can quickly short circuit ranters, or at least expose them. It also has the virtue of brevity.

That is good to use on your Doctor.

But what do you say when they respond "What is YOUR evidence?"

I say "I don't need evidence to ask a question." Then I duck.

I would like to see the evidence that " If everyone had the same income, the differences among people in life satisfaction would be reduced by less than 5%". An even better question would be " how do you measure that".

I have a friend who is a cognitive behavorial therapist who noted the same thing. We would all be much more sane if we weighed evidence on both sides of a thought.

And also the habit of asking "plus or minus what?". As in "the standard of living for the average working class family increased by only 15 percent from the 1780s to the 1850s." 15% plus or minus what?

Dawkins never comes across as "the most reasonable man in the world" to me. He seems just as willing to believe items that fit his world view as the average Christian fundamentalist.

What's your evidence for that?

In his answer he throws in some polls numbers which may or may not be accurate, but he takes them as gospel because they line up with his views.

He cites polls to show that what people think doesn't matter. Then he discusses controlled trials which are not really that useful to the matters of faith he cites. No biggie, but the luxury of controls is a pretty new thing to us. I constantly have to make decisions in life (got kids?) where I'd love to do a study but will never have that luxury. Things come too fast with too much noise and control is expensive. It's just not helpful to have a scientist (or an advisor for that matter) to suggest we have less noise in our lives. Everyone else dealing with all the noise is what allows them to sit quietly in their office.

There was a talk he gave in Montreal on the CBC website. Change a few words and terms and his arguments and line of thought sounded like a Baptist preacher. Same with the audience response.

“What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?”

The concept that correlation is not causation and out of that we do not know as many subjects as we think we do.

Is it just me or does it feel like some of these folk are trying really hard to sound smart. By and large the economists seemed to answer the question fairly directly with sensible answers. Several who said we need to learn to think about probability/variance were good too. Controlled experiments? Yes. There are legit contenders.

Yet, I feel like many of these people were not saying what really is the most important thing we should have in our toolkit. Usually their answer related to their field of study. What are the chances that the most important thing we all need to know comes from YOUR field?

But the reason I chose my field is because it's the most important thing.

I chose my field because it was undervalued. Then I learned about the efficient market theory.

The concept that you are in control of your own thoughts, and it is your thoughts that generate the vast majority of your emotions, and it is your emotions that generate the vast majority of satisfaction in your life.

Have a good life, and you're welcome.

Not an expert, but I believe emotions are mainly physiological reactions that our conscious minds react to, and not something we can readily control- though we can control our reactions to them.

I believe that theory stemmed from William James, who later in his life, backed off from it.

"Ether was both required by 19th century theories and undetectable by 19th century apparatus, so it accumulated a raft of negative characteristics: it was odorless, colorless, inert, and so on."

A bit like today's 'dark matter'.

What a theoretical physicist calls ‘dark matter’is what an experimental scientist would call "error".

My favorite principle is that of LeChatlier: "A system under stress reacts to relieve the stress." Initially applied to explain how changes in temperature or pressure affect chemical equilibrium, I find it works remarkably well for understanding human behavior.

It is remarkable how few answers are concise even though the basic idea in most cases can be stated briefly. Do these smart people not realize they have a much better chance of being heard if they write something short and clear?

Apparently not. I think the experts want to appear smart when compared to other smart people and extra points are given for esoterica.

Even the question “What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?” is a bit of a load. Maybe "What idea could improve thinking?"

I sort of felt like the kid watching the Emperor try out his new clothes while reading many of them.

When the discussion on improvement sets in, we try to give the other, what we consider better. It is finally relative, a play of the mind. The highest evolution of mankind could be achieved by transcending the mind, is my personal opinion.

I think that when people criticize education as being not that determinant for income, they ignore what people are being educated in. Since education in non-marketable non-occupational skills (i.e. Liberal Arts, Womens Studies, etc.) is such a huge segment (perhaps the majority of) post-secondary education, I think that it lowers the average for someone who studies something that provides an occupation (Engineering, Medicine, etc.).

Then, if you further correct for things like community colleges and low prestige universities for soft majors like "business" or "psychology", you will see education makes a huge difference. Having a business degree from Harvard most certainly increases your income, having it from Farmland Community College not so much.

Basically, we need to distinguish from real university education, and the "education" everyone receives as part of the state-subsidized education machine.

My nomination would be for being cognizant of non-equilibrium situations. The equilibrium solution is often what is most discussed but too many systems in reality are in a non-equilibrium state. Economists very often fall for this fallacy.

"Income is an important determinant of people’s satisfaction with their lives, but it is far less important than most people think. If everyone [TC: in the US?] had the same income, the differences among people in life satisfaction would be reduced by less than 5%."

I agree with this in general but the fact that he is proposing it as anything other than his opinion supported by common sense makes me want to slap him.

EDGE is clearly one of the most preposterous web sites extant. It's a PR machine for ringmaster John Brockman and his geek show. Featuring any type of trendy, multi-disciplinary crap you can think of, along with bonus pictures of Brockman in his Fedora kissing ass and his wife's pressed flower xeroxes. Hoo boy! There is truly a sucker born every minute! String Theory meets Happiness Theory meets random bullshit about Artificial Intelligence all purveyed by bearded no-ones from the TED scene. The Singularity meets the Multiverse meets who knows what other non-science. It is really too painful to watch. Please don't advertise it. Please?

MAS- Le Chatelier's principle also explains why things are almost never as good or as bad as they seem (nothing goes to +/- infinity), and also essentially explains driven reversion to the mean (success breeds it's own competition). It's right up there. Thanks for mentioning it.

I think that it lowers the average for someone who studies something that provides an occupation,Several who said we need to learn to think about probability/variance were good too.

This shows which they last very much lengthier and thus saving you income which could otherwise are actually utilized to purchase new ones.sdsf

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