Monday, August 24, 2009

"Fascists everywhere will love this article, anyone in favour of democracy will shake their head and sigh."

So says a commenter in response to this Guardian article: "In control? Think again. Our ideas of brain and human nature are myths:"

The notion of individual autonomy underpins our society, yet new research suggests this guiding principle is an illusion.

It was browsing in a bookshop that got me started. I was confronted by a bank of bestsellers on the brain: how it works and how we think. There were the books which have attracted huge attention, such as Nudge and Blink, but there were others popularising the new insights of a range of academic disciplines – social sciences such as evolutionary psychology as well as neuroscience – which are radically challenging the most fundamental assumptions on which human beings operate.


The author of the article seems to imply that all self-autonomy is a myth--that we are social creatures who conform to group norms. Could it be that it is just the fad now to conduct research that shows people are "collectivists" to justify the government telling us what to do more?

Perhaps some people are just lemmings but take a look at studies like the Ashe experiment that showed some people could not be persuaded to conform like others to endorsing incorrect information no matter what (about 25% of them never gave an incorrect response). How do we figure out how to teach people to be more accurate in spite of so many lemmings endorsing incorrect information? Because these types of non-conformists are the people we need to keep freedom flowing.

38 Comments:

Blogger TMink said...

People who believe in autonomy and personal responsibility make sheeple nervous and lonely.

Interestingly enough, they make politicians angry.

Trey

9:54 AM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger Cham said...

Nonconformist are often shunned by society not celebrated.

There was a study recently that said that the majority of employees would lie or do something illicit to protect their jobs. This flies in the face of those Christian values that people say are the cornerstone of our nation. Most people will do what it takes, spout off words and take the actions that make their lives the easiest. At the same time they will attend the worship service of their choice and pat themselves on the back for being so righteous.

During the first 2 years of the Iraq war I held steadfastly to the notion there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, I kick myself for not keep track of the all of times I was told I was Anti-American and should leave the country. I should have kept a log. Next time, watch out. I'll use a data management system and name names at the end.

The concept of nonconformists is grand, until they start espousing ideas that the majority doesn't like. Look at what happens to whistleblowers? They often get shafted.

10:11 AM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger Steve J. said...

Could it be that it is just the fad now to conduct research that shows people are "collectivists" to justify the government telling us what to do more?

Nope. This line of research goes back to the work of Kahneman and Tversky in the 1970s.

10:32 AM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger Ern said...

How do we figure out how to teach people to be more accurate in spite of so many lemmings endorsing incorrect information?

Can we teach people to do this? It just might be that it, or at least the potential for it, is genetic, and that many people lack it. I'm not saying that that's the case, just that it's possible.

10:33 AM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Helen, et al.
RE: Heh

The 'lemmings' are the proverbial 'useful fools'.

I've been a rogue all my life.

When it wasn't cool to be brainy and spend time in the high school library pouring over encyclopedias, there was I.

When it wasn't cool to go to Viet Nam, I enlisted in the Army.

When it wasn't cool to be a christian, I became one.

When it isn't cool to be conservative, there am I.

I say to this bozo....

...come over here and I'll teach you some harsh lessons on 'personal autonomy'.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[The foolish are always with US.]

10:50 AM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO:
RE: How?

How do we figure out how to teach people to be more accurate in spite of so many lemmings endorsing incorrect information? -- Dr. Helen

Can we teach people to do this? -- Ern

It ain't going to happen while the NEA has a hammer-lock on the vaunted American public education system. And is teaching young adults WHAT to think instead of HOW to think.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[Education is supposed to replace an empty mind with an open one. Not so with the NEA.]

10:54 AM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger BobH said...

Cripes, there are whole books written on this subject. Here are a few thoughts:

1. People routinely overestimate their degree of control over a situation.

2. Apply enough pressure, torture etc. and you can get anybody to break. Among POWs, breaking isn't the issue, it's how well you recover after the torture ends.

3. We're a social species. Nobody likes to be marginalized from the group, especially if there is nowhere to go and/or there are real costs/risks/dangers with going it alone. In other words, non-conformists are non-conformists because they CAN be.

4. There are basically two components to social dominance (1) making other people do what you want and (2) preventing other people from making you do what they want.

So, Helen, what shade of gray, between the black and white extremes, are you implying that we are or should be?

11:10 AM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger David said...

The linked article is pretty primitive. Determinism vs free will is scarcely a new debate spawned by new research: it is centuries old, as anyone who has ever studied philosophy ought to know.

The "policy" implication drawn from people's supposed tendency to make bad choices--that they should be nudged in the "right" direction by "policymakers"--ignores the fact that the policymakers are themselves human and subject to all the same psychological forces as everyone else.

Even the "computer" comparisons are misleading:

"We talk of "hardwiring" (computers have generated many misleading metaphors for the brain) but in fact, the brain can be changed."

Computers can be changed, too, most obviously by changing the software, but field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), which can be changed at the *hardware* level, have been around for a couple of decades or so.

12:02 PM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger DADvocate said...

Psychology seems to have an odd paradox of primarily studying/treating individuals but promoting group think. Of course, solid "facts" are few.

Personally, I've never enjoyed being part of a group other than a sports team. I prefer to go my own way although I enjoy socializing, just not being a "member."

Cham - how un-American of you!!!
:-)

12:35 PM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger don said...

bobh
Interesting points. 'Group think' is fascinating subject as it is so close to our own blind spots. Can you think of some good books on this subject?

Like comments above by chuckle, cham... we including myself can easily be prideful of being nonconformist when perhaps we are simply playing to another different 'group.'... like this one or another.

Needleman in his book 'why can't we be good' points to another study from the late 40's or 50's where someone is told to give increasingly painful electrical shocks to a subject when he is told that his answers are incorrect. Shockingly, most go along even when it is most apparent the subject is in abject pain & terror. These people conjure up internal rationalizations shockingly easily. The authors point being that we must engage within ourselves a third person ability to view objectively our own emotions as observations before we have any hope of making truly conscionable, independent good decisions and actions.

1:18 PM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger Doom said...

Silly! Academics are never agenda driven. Why, next you will tell me that the very clouds above my head are being studied for political reasons.

(uhrm, /snark)

1:34 PM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger TMink said...

The tea party reminds me of the Vietnam war protests. Back then, it was a time where a large part of America was angry with the political decisions being made and they showed their displeasure. They were dismissed with various insults by an administration that could not or would not hear, much less address their concerns.

For the record, I think we as a country botched Vietnam and could have taken care of the situation and our soldiers much better, but Americans as a whole no longer supported the war by the late 60s.

The situation today is quite similar. The people in Congress and the White House either do not get what the majority of Americans are saying or they do not care. And the protesters are insulted and marginalized by the press who are loyal to the White House, just like in the 60s and early 70s. Well, the press is particularly loyal to the President now, but the situations are very similar.

That the protesters come from a different side of the political spectrum is immaterial. There are lessons here from history, who will listen and learn from them I wonder.

Trey

2:43 PM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger dr.alistair said...

protesters are always counted in thousands, not the millions necessary to be politically relevant.

what the millman experiment showed was how we give absolute authority to a man in a lab coat.

the perception of authority is how tyrants of any stripe win.

there may be some architecture in the brain that makes people do certain things when they see someone wearing a lab coat.

3:24 PM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger Stephan said...

Schools are conformist making machines. Even the rebels have strict wardrobe and behavior standards.

Why is it the only question we get as homeschoolers is "What about their socialization?"

That question is more loaded then they realize. Germany has the oldest public school system and look what they did. They were easy to control.

3:49 PM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger TMink said...

Stephan, I was one of those people asking what about the socialization a while back. Then I talked to someone who could hear my question without being offended and who steered me to some great articles.

I had to go through a fair amount of grief to get to the helpful answer though! For me, the answer, which makes tons of sense, is that homeschoold kids are socialized by their parents rather than other unsocialized peers.

I like that idea. I like it a lot.

Trey

3:56 PM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger dr.alistair said...

that`s why, in canada, we have this rather odd thing called the catholic school board, and people line up to send thier kids there, not for the religion...but for the simple fact that they get better funded programs and facilities than the regular school.

and the indoctrination comes as a matter of course.

canadians sleep deeply.

i had to explain to some friends that the movie district nine was more about apartied than about space aliens.

i got blank looks even when i pointed out that the movie was filmed in a real shanty town on the outskirts of johannesburg, where blacks had been living in abject poverty for decades waiting for the anc, nelson madela`s crew, to give them all a new house.

4:22 PM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger r said...

First the egotists said that all was nature and they could achieve total control thru eugenics. That didn't work.

So they switched and said that all was nurture and they could achieve total control thru instruction. That didn't work, either.

Now, with advances in genetics being reported regularly, they are switching back to the nature side and saying they can achieve total control thru genetic modification,

So is the obsession in their genes or isn't it?

5:05 PM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger dr.alistair said...

we are all involved in genetic modification by choosing the best mate we can.

5:08 PM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger ed waldo said...

Brava, Doc!

Nothing refutes modern brain research like citing an experiment from the 1950s.

Which size crackerjack box did you get your degree from? The small one or the bigger one that you can only buy at the movies?

If you ARE going to make a scientific argument, then by all means make one. If you want to look like an ideologue and an idiot, by all means make all your arguments in this vein.

BTW, it's impossible to build a computer smaller than a room. See the 1950s ENIAC experiment.

5:34 PM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Tmink, et al.
RE: The Viet Nam Analogy

The tea party reminds me of the Vietnam war protests. Back then, it was a time where a large part of America was angry with the political decisions being made and they showed their displeasure. They were dismissed with various insults by an administration that could not or would not hear, much less address their concerns. -- TMink

An interesting parallel, that.

Big differences are:

[1] This fight is on our Home turf.
[2] If it comes to a REAL fight....

....it won't be merely trying to shut down Washington DC by burning cars in the street, a la the May Day Riots of 1971. The bolsheviks in power won't stand for even that. From there, things are likely to get rather 'messy'.

Key indicators to watch for:

[1] A 'Reichstag Fire' event.
[2] Legislation to ban personal ownership of firearms.

If you see those take place....

Gird up your loins.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference - they deserve a place of honor with all that's good. -- George Washington]

6:19 PM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger dr.alistair said...

hmm chuck, sounds a bit like canada.....

6:30 PM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger TMink said...

Check out ed waldo's blog.

Trey

10:16 PM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger jim said...

Yikes ... someone who calls the Milgram experiments "the Millman experiments" & also calls themselves a doctor. Someone who thinks that activities like being a conservative or a Christian are edgy nonconformism. Someone prognosticating "a Reichstag fire event" that will surely lead to the NWO Black Helicopter Squads taking away everyone's guns (PROTIP: it's not 1997 anymore). Someone saying "protesters are always counted in thousands, not the millions necessary to be politically relevant" - uh, does the phrase "No Blood For Oil" ring a bell? That protest involved millions - & the more recent protests against "Operation: Enduring Halliburton Dividends" numbered in the tens of millions internationally.

Can you kids maybe go play outside more?

Nonconformism per se has zero moral or ethical bias, either positive or negative. In liberal Weimar Germany, the NSDAP was about as nonconformist as you could get - likewise the Bolsheviks in Imperial Russia, or their Nihilist predecessors, or Mao's rebellion against the Kuomintang in 1949. Torture, rape & murder are all explicitly nonconformist.

Unless you are in mid-puberty, you have no excuse for romanticizing nonconformism ... not with all the ugliness in modern history that is the sole product of its less-than-decent adherents.

11:06 PM, August 24, 2009  
Blogger Donna B. said...

Individualism isn't nonconformism, unless you were one of the '60s protesters.

Read "From Dawn to Decadence" by Jacques Barzun for a 500 year look at how the western world has swung from favoring individualism to collectivism and back again many times.

4:44 AM, August 25, 2009  
Blogger fred said...

It was not "uncool" to go to Nam--many went. Many died. Those opposed were uncool. They prevailed.
Many uncool became Christians; so too many Christians became uncool and chucked their beliefs...we all like to think we are different than the herd. Lenny Bruce noted this on clothing fashions. Said it was silly to change to this or that because it was the latest fashion. But a bit later on, well, not to stick out, he would go along with the change. (He spoofed the non-conformists who were fakes, finally).

7:30 AM, August 25, 2009  
Blogger dr.alistair said...

yikes jim, i live in a place where someone took all the guns away already......

9:47 AM, August 25, 2009  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO: jim
RE: [OT] The 'Black Helicopters'

NWO Black Helicopter -- jim

Tell me jim. How much time have you done in the Army working with air assault operations?

Anything like my 27 years?

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[God is alive....and airborne-ranger qualified. And so am I.]

11:07 AM, August 25, 2009  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO: dr.alistair
RE: Oh! Canada!

hmm chuck, sounds a bit like canada..... -- dr.alistair

Heh....

Last night at a public forum discussion on the proposed health care bill, a local oncologist held up Canada's program as a 'fine example' of what he wanted to have implemented with US.

I called him out, pointing out last weeks report that Vancouver, BC, Canada, was going to have cut thousands of surgeries from their activities to treat the sick because the state-run budget couldn't afford it.

I wish I had the time, at that point, to ask the 'good doctor' how he would decide who got treatment and who didn't.

The doctor was somewhat non-plussed that someone would have the temerity to challenge his professional knowledge.

To add sauce to his goose, he claimed that Medicare paid for everything. At which point I pointed out that he treated my mother-in-law for cancer and that he prescribed a medication that Medicare REFUSED to pay—$600 for 21 days—for.

These people are abject liars. And I'm beginning to get a teensy bit 'cranky' about them.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[The Truth will out....]

P.S. Yes. Canada has seized the firearms from its citizens. And THEN, didn't they implement their 'wonderful' healthcare program over the objections of the majority of the citizens?

Funny how fascism creeps into a democracy. Isn't it.....

11:14 AM, August 25, 2009  
Blogger Adrian said...

David's absolutely right. The problem isn't that this study is wrong or with the study at all. The problem is with our interpretation of it. How do you think collectivism happens at all if people don't have collectivist tendencies?

Helen, you are giving away the argument to virtually every fallacious manner of reasoning here! You are confusing physical reality with moral and political truth by requiring that "we must all want to be free" for freedom to be the legitimate end of government. You are confusing empowering the populace with the means of creating and managing the government (i.e. democracy) with actual political freedom (in other words, confusing power with freedom). But, most of all, I think as Dave is alluding to, you are taking a philosophical question and trying to turn it into a scientific one (with a bunch of question begging assumptions already built into it).

This study could just as well imply that we must, then, actively enforce political freedom to counter people's natural tendencies to illegitimately undermine that. We do it with all sorts of other criminal tendencies. I see no reason why my neighbor's preference to passive-aggressively oppress me through the local government over being free of such oppression from me and his other neighbors is any different than his preference to personally come over to my house and just directly steal my belongings or have my daughter raped. How is him being able to get the police to come take my children and indoctrinate them into his belief system if he feels I am not doing a good enough job with them any different than kidnapping? He didn't rape my daughter. He just actively participated in an ongoing effort to create a massive bureaucracy of people, institutions, policies, regulations and laws that are "stacked against" my way of life completely independently of any basic notion of justice we can all agree with that often leads to a disapproval of the manner in which I raise my kids so that I, then, am forced to hand them over to a state that will in turn put them into a situation amongst criminals that can get away with raping my daughter. (These are fairly well documented facts abotu CPS and foster care, btw.) "We aren't the ones that raped your daughter. We're the one's that made the rape longer, on-going, more horrible, and more socially acceptable!" How elaborate or indirect it is has no bearing on the moral evaluation of it. It is still wrong.

Unfortunately, the rest of society doesn't agree with me on this one -- no one accurately identifies passive-aggression as aggression. In fact, we laud it in the celebration of such people as Ghandi and Martin Luther King as well as all variety of modern Judeo-Christian norms such as "turning the other cheek". That may well be, indeed probably is, because of innate psychological tendencies in humans. Studies such as this will always beg the question when used as some sort of moral argument, as if to say "So, see?? All this freedom bullshit is just unhealthy and wrong." It is a pretty common fallacious mode of reasoning, actually.

1:46 PM, August 25, 2009  
Blogger Helen said...

Adrian,

Good points, thanks.

3:10 PM, August 25, 2009  
Blogger dr.alistair said...

chuck, practitioners (the government recognised ones at least) love universal health care because it means a guaranteed client base and steady government cheques. obama must have doctors eating out of his hand.

what our health care system means is a free check-up now and then, but if you have something seriously wrong, you`d better mortgage the house.

governments behave like all corporations. they take money in, but don`t pay it out. that`s why thier agents have guns.

if people aren`t happy with thier health coverage now, just wait until all the seniors start go get really sick. something that the trillions of real debt the government has been accumilating won`t be able to manage....

and adrian, jeez...come up to canada and witness a land full of passive agressive types taking moral high grounds to get in your way as to try to actually get things done.

a recent trend here is for people to drive at just under the speed limit, locally and on the major highways. i thought initially it was my imagination, but it has got to the point where people i mentioned this to months ago are saying they are getting stuck behind people too.

it think what is happening is that people were sold a bill of goods in the sixties and toed the line expecting heaven on earth.....these people are now retiring and still have to work or borrow to survive.

people are snappy and working harder for less all the time.

3:15 PM, August 25, 2009  
Blogger susanna in alabama said...

This is the question I have not seen scientists explain: If it is true that man's behavior and understanding of the world is wholly a product of external forces, then how do we know that their conclusions are more valid than anyone else's? By their theory, they themselves were shaped by external forces to behave and interprete behavior in precisely the manner they do. They had no other choice. Therefore, their theories are not uniquely derived conclusions or discoveries, but rather inevitable products of their conditioning. Their "reasoning" is not reasoning at all. If ever a modicum of independent, unique thinking is surmised, it empties their theory of all its validity (because they posit it as an absolute).

This concept of the implacability of group norms is likewise flawed, and certainly no "new idea". The science of statistics is based on aggregates, but among the first lessons you learn in intro to statistics is that you cannot extrapolate to the individual from the group. Your history and demographics may be predictive, but not destiny. And this woman's column is not heady, it's brainless.

The most interesting aspect of it is that little Dalai Lama/Buddhism ending. How bizarre is that?

2:22 AM, August 26, 2009  
Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO: All, especially 'jim'
RE: Prognostications

Someone prognosticating "a Reichstag fire event".... -- jim

No sooner 'prognosticated' than 'done'....

Anyone catch THIS REPORT!

Admittedly, this is hardly on a par to call for Congress to ban personal ownership of 'hammers', let alone firearms.

But as I commented earlier in this thread, watch out for this sort of activity on the part of the 'progressives'.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[Hey! It worked for Hitler.....]

10:17 AM, August 26, 2009  
Blogger Eric said...

Ideally, I think that being a non-conformist should be a natural process, not one influenced by others.

Rebellion can be an insidious form of conformity.

In my youth, I struggled to be a non-conformist, but I found that the more I struggled, the more I became a prisoner of those I considered conformists. It's bit of a paradox. (In a related manner, leaders tend to be followers of group tyranny, and followers tend to be leaders of group tyranny, and those who would avoid this mess tend to be unsuccessful.)

Sorry to go in circles, but paradoxes are tough to figure out.

12:37 PM, August 26, 2009  
Blogger dr.alistair said...

suzanna, the job of figuring out the meaning of our existance is not that of science. science merely measures effects.

the job of trying to find meaning in all of this is for philosophers.

scisntists can be a bit arrogant though, and start to believe that they can "prove" everything.

science dreams of building more and more precise measuring devices, and even states clearly that they don`t know the answers yet, but hold onto the theories and shout down challengers, by saying things like "shut up, you aren`t a scientist" and ask for more funding to build more devices and run more tests.

i particularly like the particle accelerator game, in which a small group of very smart people encode thier language so that only a very small group of people understand what the hell they are on about. these people then go and talk to some very rich and influential people about giving them money.

lots of money.

the smart people then build some tunnels under france and switzerland to fire unbelieveably small things at other things of similar size, and then take notes.

the rich and influential people get thier picture taken with the smart people (in lab coats, so there`s no mistaking who`s who) and nervously ask how the tests went and where the money went...so they can sell the whole thing back to the people who gave them the influence and power and money in the first place.

and so on.

and before anyone talks about the benefits of research scince and cures for things and so on, just look around for a minute and see the growing lack of cure for basic ilnesses and injuries.

sure we have faster computers and sleeker cars and shinier malls to spend our money in....but i don`t see cures for the things that are going to kill large percentages of our population.

3:35 PM, August 27, 2009  
Blogger Adrian said...

Frankly, I think meaning (by which, I assume you mean purpose or significance or "the point of it") is better left to religion or to the individual. Philosophy is just for making (literal) sense of it all. Philosophy is "love of wisdom" not "personal fulfillment".

3:50 PM, August 27, 2009  
Blogger dr.alistair said...

adrian, your distinctions have some validity...though leaving things to the individual or to religion is impossible, as philosophers are people and some are religious.

but certianly personal fulfillment is not the job of religion either. the universal church is after one`s soul, after all. the flesh be damned...though they do sell a good game.

splitting meaning and literal sense is a difficult task though.

my personal search for meaning is about what to do.

we are born, stave off boredom in one way or another, and then we eventually die.(unless you are ray kurzwiel, in which case you are going to be uploaded into the internet....which is sort of like a digital rapture.)

i find that most people are desperate for structure in thier lives. once they find that, they doze off.

and if philosophers could even make (literal) sense of it all i would be extremely grateful.

but we have fun surmising about all of this wonder around us, if we can get our fingers off the keyboard for a moment.

4:39 PM, August 27, 2009  
Blogger Sissy Willis said...

Fascinating and timely topic.

Schopenhauer's informational and reputational "cascades" of sheeplike belief formation among our fellow human beings come to mind: "There are very few who can think, but every man wants to have an opinion." I blogged about it here:

http://sisu.typepad.com/sisu/2007/10/there-are-very-.html

Another important angle: "The importance of being noticed" -- to dissent is to be relegated to the fringes of polite society:

http://sisu.typepad.com/sisu/2006/04/in_order_for_sc.html

7:27 AM, August 29, 2009  

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