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Thornton Hall

The Revolution Will Be Kuhnian.

Taking People As They Come

If someone says, "What should I wear today?" what counts as a good answer? 

Is it just a matter of opinion? Do you like blue or red? Fashion forward or conservative classic?

One thing that isn't a matter of opinion... the weather. Mid-February in Maine means that the answer to the question "What should I wear today?" is limited to the set of clothes which are warm.  It is not an answer to say, "You should wear linen slacks and change the weather to 70 degrees and sunny."

It seems obvious. The weather is not a variable under our control. It must be taken as a given.

In the world of democratic politics, however, this turns out to be harder than it looks when what's given is the human brain. We know in the abstract that the brain only changes thanks to evolution, a process which takes so long we can't perceive it happening. 

But we deny this all the time when faced with political questions in the form:

How should we solve problem x? 

Over and over again people respond:

By changing the way the human brain works.

But they don't say it that way. They say:

"People just need to make better choices." 

"We need to enforce the gun laws we have." 

"People need to pay more attention to the world." 

 "People need to think these things through."

Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker examines three books about Why Facts Don't Change Our Beliefs . The role of reason is not what people like to think. 

Individuals don't use their reasoning ability to shape their beliefs.

We are designed by evolution:

  • To seek out evidence that confirms our prejudice. 
  • To use reason to knock down the other guy's argument, but not our own.
  • To live in "knowledge communities" where we delegate our thinking to other people on almost every subject except the very specific tasks and subject areas that we personally use to earn a living. 
  • To not really care if the "experts" in our knowledge community really know what they are talking about except in the rare cases where being correct impacts our survival.

What do non-college whites resent about elites?

What's the difference between college graduates and non-college graduates?