Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Coffey Critiques Kant #1

I have been reading Peter Coffey's 2-volume Epistemology; Or the Theory of Knowledge (#1, #2), first published in 1917. Coffey was an Irish Roman Catholic priest and Neoscholastic philosopher. He often critiques Immanuel Kant's ideas in these volumes. I tip my hat to George H. Smith for recommending this work (link).

In his Critique of Pure Reason Kant famously posited space and time as "pure intuitions" and "forms of sensibility that are a priori necessary conditions for any possible experience" that the mind imposes upon experience. In Volume 2, Chapter XXI Coffey calls Kant's doctrine confused and ambiguous.

When Kant tried removing from 'the representation of a body' all that belongs to conception and all that belongs to to sensation, he says "there remains something of that empirical intuition, viz. extension and form" that belong to the perceived body. Coffey writes: "Yet in the very next sentence he says that it belongs to 'pure intuition, which a priori . . . exists in the mind as a mere form of sensibility'. But he does not say whether it belongs to this 'pure intuition' as its form, i.e. as a general mode or power of perceiving, or rather as identical with the the actual pure a priori intuition itself ; because he confounds the 'form' of pure intuition with the actual intuition of empty space."

"Now if Kant meant by 'forms of intuition,' consistently and exclusively, mental capacities or powers of apprehending what we become aware of as being endowed with this, that, or the other quality, then of course it is true that the mind has such 'forms,' and has them a priori: in other words, it is true that the mind, in order to become aware of anything as e.g. hard, or cold, or white, or bitter, or loud, or sweet-smelling, or extended, or moving, etc., must have, as a prerequisite condition for such actual perceptions, the corresponding mental capacities or powers of perception. But in that case we should say that there are not merely two a priori forms of sense perception, but as many as there are distinct perceptible sense qualities in physical nature; and the two forms whereby we apprehend the qualities, space and time, we should not call space and time, but forms of our perception of space and time. Kant, however, contends that all the other sense qualities, except space and time, belong to the mental material of perception, viz. to sensations while sense and time alone are mental forms of perception" (p. 188-9).          

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Rationality & the Reflective Mind #6

More from Keith Stanovich's Rationality & the Reflective Mind follows.

Stanovich links different kinds of mental pathology with Type 1 (the autonomous mind) and Type 2 processing.

“Cognitive neuroscientists have uncovered cases of mental pathology that are characterized by inadequate behavioral regulation from the emotion subsystems in the autonomous mind-- for example [ ] patients with damage in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. These individuals have severe difficulties in real-life decision-making but do not display the impairments in sustained attention and executive control that are characteristic of individuals with damage in dorsolateral frontal regions.”

Behavioral regulation can go wrong in two ways. First, signals shaping behavior from the autonomous mind are too pervasive and are not overridden by Type 2 processing. Second, automatic regulation of goals by the autonomous mind is lacking, and Type 2 processing is faced with too many possibilities. The latter is called the Dr. Spock problem (p. 116-7).

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Rationality & the Reflective Mind #5

More from Keith Stanovich's Rationality & the Reflective Mind follows.

Some people have argued that the research in the heuristics and biases tradition -- began by Kahneman and Tversky in the late 1970s -- has not shown human irrationality at all. They argue that the assumption of maximal human rationality is the proper default position, and have been dubbed the Panglossians. (Panglossian means naively optimistic and is based on the character Pangloss in Voltaire's Candide.) This position posits no difference between descriptive and normative models of performance "because human performance is normative." How do they explain the many observed errors of human thought? They argue that the normative model applied is not appropriate because the subject's interpretation of the task is different from what the researcher's is. They also argue that the modal response in the task makes sense from an evolutionary perspective (p. 8-9).

The Panglossians that Stanovich names are philosophers Nicholas Rescher and L. J. Cohen. Rescher argued that "to construe the data of these interesting experimental studies [of probabilistic reasoning] to mean that people are systematically programmed to fallacious processes of questionable. .... While all (normal) people are to be credited with the capacity to reason, they frequently do not exercise it well." Cohen attributes errors to "adventitious causes" and finds little interest in them. In his view human performance arises from an intrinsic human competence that is impeccably rational, but deviations may occur due to inattention, memory lapses, etc.

Johnson-Laird and Byrne articulate a view of rational thought that parses Cohen's distinction between  competence and performance. Stanovich says their view highlights the importance of the reflective mind. They hold that people are programmed to accept inferences as valid provided they have no mental model of the premises that contradict the inference. However, the search for contradictory models is "not governed by any systematic or comprehensive principles" (p. 165-6).

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Rationality & the Reflective Mind #4

Each of us has most likely experienced our minds drifting away from what we most want to think about or do at a given time. It even happens while reading. This phenomena is briefly addressed in Rationality & the Reflective Mind.

Stanovich cites a journal article, not by him, about mind wandering. It describes mind wandering as sharing "certain similarities with standard views of controlled processing, however, there is an important difference. Controlled processing is generally associated with the intentional pursuit of a goal. Mind wandering, however, often occurs without intention....mind wandering involves executive control yet seems to lack deliberate intent."

Stanovich responds: "I would argue that what [the authors] are struggling to portray here are two different kinds of Type 2 processing. One is an attempt to exhaustively model an imaginary world that would facilitate the primary task. The other is a less computationally expensive type of cognition that proceeds successively through the most convenient and salient associate of a single (often incomplete) focal model."

It seems to me that "an imaginary world" here means to consider a hypothesis, an alternative scenario, a counterfactual, or something similar, connected with pursuit of the intended goal. The second sentence in more commonplace words seems to say "our mind drifts to something not as demanding or more fun."  

Friday, August 19, 2016

Rationality & the Reflective Mind #3

More from Keith Stanovich's Rationality & the Reflective Mind follows.

"One interesting implication that follows from the distinction between the algorithmic mind and the reflective mind is that measures of so-called "executive functioning" in the neuropsychological literature actually measure nothing of the sort. The term executive implies that these tasks assess the most strategic (often deemed the "highest") level of cognitive functioning--the reflective level. However, a consideration of the tasks most commonly used in the neuropsychological literature to assess executive functioning . . . reveals that almost without exception they are optimal performance tasks and that most of them rather severely constrain reflective level functioning" (p. 56).

Other than a couple of examples he gives, I am unfamiliar with the neuropsychological literature he refers to. So I trust that he says.

As said in my previous post, Stanovich says that IQ tests rely mainly on the algorithmic mind whereas critical thinking tests rely mainly on the reflective mind. Reflecting on my own life, my taking tests in college and actuarial exams seemed to rely mainly on my algorithmic mind, whereas my later work often called for my reflective mind. Of course, it took a lot of study and often reflection to make the the test/exam material algorithmic. The work often included goals, and/or how to achieve them, that were not well-defined, more so with time. It called for ranking the importance of multiple goals and choosing the best, or at least sufficient, way to achieve them. Doing the work therefore called upon the reflective mind. Similarly, executive level functioning in business -- but not merely there -- often calls upon the reflective mind. Moreover, the higher the executive level, the more that is the case, generally speaking. It isn't always the case, since biases can creeps in, e.g. favoritism in promotions. More responsibility and personal autonomy generally increases with promotions.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Rationality & the Reflective Mind #2

More from Keith Stanovich's Rationality & the Reflective Mind follows.

The difference between the reflective mind and algorithmic mind is captured by the distinction between intelligence tests and critical thinking tests. Psychometricians have long distinguished between typical and optimal performance situations.

Typical ones are unconstrained in that no overt instruction to maximize performance are given, and task interpretation is determined to some extent by the participant. Goals are somewhat open. The measures are of the reflective mind -- in part goal priority and epistemic regulation.

Optimal ones have the task interpretation determined externally -- not by the participant -- and the participant is instructed to maximize performance and how to do so.

All test measures of intelligence or cognitive ability are of optimal performance, whereas measures of critical or rational thinking are of typical performance.  Intelligence (IQ) tests are more constrained at the reflective level and critical thinking tests are less constrained at the reflective level. Critical thinking tests create ambiguity about what feature of the problem to rely upon -- ambiguity that is resolved differently by individuals with different epistemic dispositions. On an IQ test there would be little or no ambiguity. "Such tests attempt to constrain reflective-level functioning to isolate processing abilities at the algorithmic level of analysis. It is the efficiency of computational abilities under optimal (not typical) conditions that is the focus of IQ tests" (41).

"Many different studies . . . have indicated that measures of intelligence display only moderate to weak correlations (usually less than 0.30) with some thinking dispositions (e.g., actively open-minded thinking, need for cognition) and near zero correlations with others (e.g., conscientiousness, curiosity, diligence)" (38).

Stanovich has another book, What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought, about this topic. I have not read it, but when I peeked at the book on Amazon there seemed to be very little about critical thinking.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Rationality & the Reflective Mind #1

Rationality & the Reflective Mind is the title of a book by Keith Stanovich. I began reading it about three weeks ago. He mentioned Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow so often that I decided to read Kahneman's book first.

Stanovich presents another dual process account of reasoning that differs from Kahneman's. Stanovich learned much from Kahneman, but has ventured beyond. He presents a tripartite theory and uses the labels Type 1 Process and Type 2 Process instead of Kahneman's labels System 1 and System 2. Type 1 is the autonomous mind. Type 2 consists of the algorithmic mind and the reflective mind.

"In my view, the defining feature of Type 1 processing is its autonomy--the execution of Type 1 processes is mandatory when their triggering stimuli are encountered, and they do not depend on input from high-level control systems" (19).  Execution is rapid and does not put a heavy load on central processing capacity. The processes tend to operate in parallel without interfering with one another or Type 2 processing.

Type 2 processing is non-autonomous. It is relatively slow and computationally expensive. Type 2 is largely serial, often language-based, and may override Type 1 processing. It prevails when decisions and judgments are called for.

He doesn't use the terms volitional and non-volitional, but these are synonyms of non-autonomous and autonomous, respectively.

The difference between the algorithmic mind and reflective mind is captured in the distinction between cognitive ability and thinking dispositions, or cognitive styles. Many thinking dispositions concern beliefs, belief structure, and attitudes toward changing beliefs. Others concern goals and goal hierarchy. Particular dispositions investigated by psychologists are: active open-minded thinking, the tendency of thinking, considering future consequences, and more. They include the following tendencies:
- to collect information before deciding
- to seek various points of view before deciding
- to calibrate strength of opinion
- to explicitly weigh pluses and minuses
- to seek nuance and avoid absolutism.

Individual differences in thinking dispositions assess goal management, epistemic values and self-regulation.

This book is a more challenging read than Kahneman's book so far. The topic of my next post --- intelligence tests and critical thinking tests -- will likely seem easier to a reader.

I give a hat tip to David Potts for mentioning this book.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Thinking, Fast and Slow #2

I finished reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. I had planned to post some key points the System 2 way, but System 2 got lazy and decided that Wikipedia's summary suffices.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Thinking, Fast and Slow #1

I'm almost done reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Soon I will post some key points the book makes. Meanwhile the following is an entertaining question he posed.

Consider two car owners who seek to reduce their costs:

Adam switches from a gas guzzler of 12 mpg to a slightly less voracious guzzler that runs at 14 mpg.

The environmentally virtuous Beth switches from a 30 mpg car to one that runs at 40 mpg.

Suppose both drivers travel equal distances over a year. Who will save more gas by switching?

I will give the answer as a comment in a couple days.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Obama, friend of Islam

Barack Obama again shows himself to be a friend of Islam. BO authorized paying $1.7 billion to Iran, state sponsor of terrorism, as part of an alleged landmark nuclear agreement reached with Iran. The Obama administration secretly organized an airlift of $400 million worth of cash to Iran that coincided with the agreement in January. The remaining $1.3 billion has since been paid.

With the Obama administration caught red-handed only days ago, BO dismissed the significance of the payment method, saying it’s gaining attention “maybe because it feels like some spy novel or some crime novel.”

Duh! When BO announced the agreement with Iran in January, he didn't say one word about the $1.7 billion. So much for transparency! A White House webpage says, "My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government," with BO's name below. How's that for transparency, honesty, and integrity?

Obama won't even use the term "radical Islam" to tie terrorism with Islam. According to him (and Hillary Clinton) Islam is "just a religion" and terrorists aren't "true devotees of Islam." Wrong. Islam is a religion and a political ideology rolled into one, and that ideology advocates imposing a caliphate and sharia law on all people, whether they want it or not, with as much violence as the advocates feel necessary.

The links below are Wall Street Journal articles and an op-ed about the incident and BO's defense. A subscription is needed to read the whole article online at, but they might be found elsewhere and many libraries get the print edition.

U.S. Sent Cash to Iran as Americans Were Freed

Obama Defends Cash Payment to Iran

Obama’s Cash for Iran’s Hostages

Monday, August 1, 2016

Khizr Khan

The left-wing mainstream media loudly cheered the speech of Khizr Khan at the Democratic National Convention. When I saw the video, I was disgusted. Hillary Clinton was far more deserving of his tirade than Donald Trump. She voted for the second Iraq War, not Trump. What has she sacrificed besides other people and their money in her quest for political power, money for speeches, and donations to the Clinton Foundation? Here is the best article I have seen about Khizr Khan's appearance at the DNC.