Random stuff


Sorry for the recent slow-down folks. My Federalist essay put the race/politics bug in me, and I was working on another (longer) piece on the same topic. I also had an unexpected job change, and some other personal stuff going on. But I hope to now restart my blistering 1.5 times / week posting rate.

You can consider this a mid-week reading list:

  1. This post by the inimitable Dan Kahan came out two months ago. I keep meaning to respond to it but haven’t had the time. So for now just reflect on his description of domain-specific vs. domain-independent reasoning ability:

    [Proponents of the domain independent conception of cognition assume] that that reasoning proficiencies–the capacity to recognize covariance, give proper effect to base rates, distinguish systematic relationships from chance co-occurrences, & perform like mental operations essential to making valid inferences–are more or less discrete, stand-alone “modules” within a person’s cognitive repertoire.

    If the modules are there, and are properly calibrated, a person will reliably summon them for any particular task that she happens to be doing that depends on that sort of mental operation…

    Another conception sees cognitive proficiency as intrinsically domain specific. On this view it’s not accurate to envision reasoning abilities of the sort I described as existing independently of the activities that people use them for (cf. Heatherington 2011).Accordingly, a person who performs miserably in a context-free assessment of, say, the kind of logical-reasoning proficiency measured by an abstract version of a the Wason Selection Task– one involving cards with vowels and numbers on either side — might in fact always (or nearly always!) perform that sort of mental operation correctly in all the real-world contexts that she is used to encountering that require it. In fact, people do very well at the Wason Selection Task when it is styled as something more familiar–like detecting a norm violator (Gigenrenzer & Hug 1992).

    I’m personally a DS kind of guy. To put it in the context of this blog: Since much cognitive ability is DS, I don’t think it’s possible to derive someone’s general reasoning ability from their beliefs about evolution. But you all know that already.

  2. On a related note, check out the ‘Math Myth’ via Freddie DeBoer’s Twitter feed. Loved this section:
    The second argument is the one I always hear around the mathematics department: mathematics helps you to think clearly. I have a very low opinion of this self-serving nonsense. In sports there is the concept of the specificity of skills: if you want to improve your racquetball game, don’t practice squash! I believe the same holds true for
    intellectual skills. In any case, the case for transference of mathematical skills is unsettled. Moreover, mathematics is of little use in most problems of ordinary life. For example, mathematics could be of help in computing the costs of having children; but is useless in computing the benefits!

One more thing. The editors at the Federalist again graciously agreed to publish my upcoming race and politics essay. I’ll link to it when it comes out, so look out for it.

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