Who me? Bayesian deficient?

Discussion in 'Science & Society' started by Tortise, Feb 21, 2006.

  1. Tortise Registered Senior Member

    Why we may be inherently Bayesian deficient and how evolution may or may not have created an error in our way of thinking:

    It's been said that; "The essence of the Bayesian approach is to provide a mathematical rule explaining how you should change your existing beliefs in the light of new evidence". The bayesian approach is largely to consider all of the evidence as if you've seen it for the first time - disregarding any prejudices we may have had.

    Throughout our evolution our brains adapted to our environment, and arguably the most important thing in every human environment is other humans. Well, in this very complex environment, sometimes people throughout time have sought to discover other people's thoughts and feelings for political reasons such as alliances. The natural tendency, after discovering others thoughts and feelings (that don't agree with our own), is often to attempt to persuade others to our own way of thinking. We see this sometimes in our every day life - just turn on the news - it's so common to argue our own way of thinking in a persuasive manner, (and tune out others - i.e.talking over people and interrupting). The consequence is that we often fail to update our beliefs in the face of new information, and frequently find ourselves arguing things that we don't honestly believe ourselves.

    In order to maintain our own way of thinking, and to refrain from the significant social consequences of appearing wrong in public, we sometimes have developed a resistance to being swayed from our original thought process, and at the very least, often incorporating our own beliefs in what could be agreed upon in an argument -often improving our standing in a group. We see this even in our every day life all the time. We tune out the other person we are talking to and often just concentrate on converting them to our own views. If we hadn't developed this resistance to contrary views, we would have been too ineffectual at having people see things our way - "wining" arguments, and simply maintaining the same mind set. We could ill afford to be constantly changing our views in the human environment and we would be much less effective at converting others to our way of thinking.

    Might one possible example of this is be the refusal of some people to believe that global warming represents a very real threat to humanity in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary?
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  3. Light Registered Senior Member

    Interesting thoughts.

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    But no, the two primary reasons for maintaining our position on something is ego/arrogance and and unwillingness to admit that we are (or may be) wrong.

    Not too likely in that case. Very, very few deny global warming. Pretty much everyone is aware of it. The debate is if it's a result of human activity.
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  5. Kibbles Registered Senior Member

    Well, seems like a fairly decent theory for evolutionary/social reasons of why people resist to admit they are wrong and the source of that facet of Ego/Arrogance.

    The leap to the refusal of some people to believe that global warming represents a very real threat to humanity in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence is a bit far though. I think the economics of the issue and general apathy are a more likely cause for the resistance to believing against the global warming theory.
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  7. Light Registered Senior Member

    Yes, much of that is true. However, keep in mind that apathy doesn't equate to resistance in believing. Most do believe, but the ones that are apathetic simply don't care enough to be involved in the issue/debate.
  8. leopold Valued Senior Member

    Last edited: Feb 22, 2006
  9. Tortise Registered Senior Member

    I don't want to obfusgate my ideas by way of a poor example. Let's forget global warming. Light: Might both be true at the same time? You say:"ego/arrogance and and unwillingness to admit that we are (or may be) wrong." does this not agree with the theory? I can't see how they are in conflict. Two views of the same thing, or am I missing your point?
  10. River Ape Valued Senior Member

    In the first instance, it would be very easy to imagine that there was an evolutionary pressure towards elimination of the least intelligent of a species, and a corresponding evolutionary advantage for individuals of superior mental ability. No doubt there is something in such a notion, though intelligence may rank more lowly than other traits.

    The idea that evolution would favour certain kinds of intellectual bias over perfect rationality is an interesting one (which I have discussed in another forum). It is certainly true that people often simply feel comfortable with the way they have always assessed a situation, and are disinclined to change their minds. There may be an emotional effort involved in reassessment that is upsetting, and on balance people may increase their survival chances by avoiding unnecessary perturbation.

    However, I would suggest that there are other clear examples where an adherence to strict rationality does not pay.

    1. Most important of all, people are systematically biased towards optimism. Looking forward to a favourable outcome provides motivation in our endeavours, gives an extra impulse to strive, and is entirely beneficial to our emotional wellbeing. Having an entirely rational outlook on life would be discouraging. (In the long run, we are all dead and forgotten, and it’s all pointless.) The risk of optimism leading to behaviours like reckless gambling is a small one.

    But while optimism is almost entirely advantageous in the context of our personal lives and as social beings, the same does not apply when it comes to the appraisal of political and scientific issues. In politics, unrealistic optimism leads to utopianism and policies that ignore the realities of the ways in which humans behave. Or it leads to the dismissal of real dangers. Systematic optimism may certainly play a part in our outlook on global warming, unless we are entirely negligent of the wellbeing of future generations.

    2. Second, people would prefer the complexity of a situation to be within their intellectual remit. People prefer “the simple truth” – but the actuality is often not simple at all. It is probably advantageous to have a handle on a siutation through some facile explanation than to struggle with baggage that does not repay the cost of mental exertion.

    Closely allied to this, people would prefer to think that they have an answer rather than accept that the truth is unknown or unknowable. One downside of this can be seen in the application of “justice”. If there is only one “suspect”, he is likely to suffer every effort to have the crime pinned on him. The possibility (however real) of an unknown hand acting from unknown motive is one that police forces abhor, as nature abhors a vacuum.

    3. People absorb the values (and most often, even in these days, the religion) of their parents and the society about them. The social advantage, and hence the evolutionary value, of this is obvious and extremely great. Freethinkers may consider religious people to be living in fantasy land, but the unreasoning acceptance of pre-scientific ideas probably conveys benefit on the faithful.

    The issue of religion also very clearly relates to optimism discussed earlier. Living ones life in a spirit of thanksgiving and remembering in prayer those we hold dear (and not forgetting raising our voices in song amidst our neighbours) are all psychologically beneficial activities.
  11. Tortise Registered Senior Member

    I like what you wrote R.A.. I felt it contained much truth. I think the truth is that in social situations, often in evolutionary history, the believing the truth did not benefit us as much as believing something that was untrue. I'm just not sure that benefit has extended it's self into modern society to the same degree. In this age of science we may be handicapped by evolutionary curiosities. For example, I think if storms, fires, and floods were ravaging our world because of global warming, we might just keep doing what we have always done, and not do much about it. Make excuses why we shouldn't do anything, use uncertainty as an argument why not to do anything. This is hard for me to accept for one thing because I know how smart we are as a species. It's hard for me to reconcile how such an intelligent species such as we are can be so apparently dim witted about some things. There must be some evolutionary caused flaws in our thinking - otherwise how could you explain things like this?
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2006

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