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The Righteous Mind – The Intuitive Dog and Its Rational Tail

This is Part 3 of my journey through The Righteous MindHere is Part 2.

The social intuitionist model offers an explanation of why moral and political arguments are so frustrating: because moral reasons are the tail wagged by the intuitive dog.  A dog’s tail wags to communicate.  You can’t make a dog happy by forcibly wagging its tail.  And you can’t change people’s minds by utterly refuting their arguments.  If you want to change people’s minds, you’ve got to talk to their elephants.

– Jonathan Haidt

And as reasoning is not the source, whence either disputant derives his tenets; it is in vain to expect, that any logic, which speaks not to the affections, will ever engage him to embrace sounder principles.

– David Hume

The Righteous Mind - By Jon Haidt

At this point in the book Jon describes the distinction of “seeing-that” versus “reasoning-why”.  The thinking here is that our reactions to religious and political statements come from a low-level rapid and unconscious pattern matching engine in our minds.  Research by Howard Margolis (building on previous work by Peter Wason) ultimately led both to the conclusion that judgment and justification are separate processes.

Margolis sees these as two different cognitive processes.  The “seeing-that” process is a form of pattern matching that all animals do and is a highly evolved and deeply ingrained part of all animal brains after hundreds of millions of years.  The “reasoning-why” process is brand spanking new in evolutionary terms and is only available to beings that have evolved language and have a need to justify their actions to other highly evolved beings. And of course we anthropomorphize lower animals, objects, and concepts when, out of frustration or a sense of comedy, we try to reason with something like our car or our dog.  The point is that the reasoning process is not automatic, it is a slower, conscious process that is bolted on top of our ancient, powerful, and efficient pattern-matching process. Read the rest of this entry

Our Amazing Perception

I am currently watching a wonderful lecture series from The Teaching Company called “Understanding the Secrets of Human Perception”.  In lecture 18 “Illusions and Magic” Professor Vishton walks through a number of interesting perceptual illusions.

The first is the Café Wall Illusion:

All of the horizontal lines in this image are perfectly straight, but we infer a tilted edge because our brains decide that this is the best explanation for the distributions of brightness in the image.

The next perceptual oddity is motion-induced blindness.  Stare at the green dot in the center of the video and watch the green dots disappear:

The yellow dots are always displayed above the grid and are therefore projecting on your retina for the entire length of the video.  However, deep in your visual perception system the motion signals override the yellow dots.  Motion can often blind us to very large and salient things in the world around us, something which magicians often use to their advantage.

Read the rest of this entry

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