We’re all stupid
I like to think that I’m a pretty smart guy, but when I read the works of people like Eliezer Yudkowsky, I feel mentally disabled.
Humans are so poorly equipped for objective rational thought. There are several classes of hardwired thinking errors we upright-monkey-people make consistently, and are largely blind to. Everyone should read this paper (Cognitive Biases Potentially Affecting Judgment of Global Risks), slowly, carefully, and honestly. We are all guilty of making these mistakes in the course of our own rationalizations. Only systematic training and awareness allows one to avoid these mental pitfalls. Read this paper and examine your own rationalizations for these biases and blind spots. It is a difficult and humbling task to do this mental spring-cleaning. What convictions do you hold under the pretense of your own flawed rationalizations?
This is why the public discourse on controversial topics like global warming and the war on terror is such a clown show. Everyone is heavily biased and yet feels they have the full weight of logic, reason, and evidence on their side. We heavily over-value our opinions disproportionately to our knowledge. As a liberal leaning person, I will automatically tend to be swayed by arguments in favor of my liberal bias. Without concious effort, I will tend to seek arguments that confirm my beliefs, without seeking for evidence and arguments against. It’s a human flaw, and there’s no shame in it, so long as you acknowledge and deal with it. Or as my father more eloquently puts it, “It’s no shame to have lice, but it’s a damned shame to keep them.”.
I’m currently reading Al Gore’s new book The Assault on Reason, which so far, is excellent — well researched, articulated, and reasoned. There’s been a lot of speculation as to whether Gore will attempt another run for the throne. I think this book is proof he will not, as there are several passages discussing the evolutionary biology of the brain. Admitting a heretical belief in evolution is pretty much an immediate disqualification for American politics.
Fun Fact: The results of 2007 Gallup poll of % of Americans who would vote for a: Catholic (95%), Black (94%), Jew (92%), Woman (88%), Homosexual (55%), Atheist (45%). (source article)
And consider this doozy:
In 1987, Republican presidential candidate George H. W. Bush was asked by Robert Sherman, a reporter for the American Atheist news journal, if he recognized the “equal citizenship and patriotism” of atheists in America. Bush responded: “No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. (source article)
Clearly, committing to paper a belief in evolution is an effective form of political suicide. He can’t possibly contemplate running for president now.