Move Along, Please

I’m very busy with work today, so for the nonce I’m afraid I must redirect you elsewhere. You’re in luck, though: here’s a fascinating post on human nature by the always-interesting hbd*chick.

Also: don’t miss this tart post from Thomas Sowell. (Nothing we haven’t heard before, but very nicely said.)


  1. bill says

    By now, at 73, there is nothing new in psych tests. They all tell me what I already know. It was an interesting point on the unreliability of the brain. Taken too far and it is used as an excuse for nihilism WRT morals.

    Posted May 20, 2015 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Hi Bill,

    Well, we atheist/materialist sorts do have some doubts about objective moral facts. I’ve spilled a lot of ink on this topic in years gone by (see, for example, here, and here, and here, and here; I have quite a few other old posts on the topic, too. I should probably gather them up under a “Morality” category.) The whole topic seems to me to have a lot in common with the debate on free will.

    But I’m no nihilist, mainly because I can’t see any point in being one.

    Posted May 20, 2015 at 3:12 pm | Permalink
  3. hbd*chick makes some interesting observations/conjectures. But I disagree with her characterization of the brain as “trickster”. If anything, the brain is a magnificent interpolator and “smoother-outer” of discrete input.

    Everything in our universe is discrete, including spacetime itself (at the Planck scale). But we humans intuit reality as a continuous stream of sense-detected information. Without our brains’ smoothing algorithms, we wouldn’t be able to make sense of anything.

    Posted May 20, 2015 at 3:49 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    All she means, as I read her, is that our subjective experience of the world is at a much greater epistemological distance from the underlying reality than we are generally aware of, and that the brain is doing some very fancy tricks — tricks that can mislead us in important ways — to achieve the smoothness and “filling in” that we take for granted.

    There’s an excellent account of all this in Daniel Dennett’s (rather overambitiously titled) book Consciousness Explained.

    Posted May 20, 2015 at 4:26 pm | Permalink
  5. Malcolm,

    I understand what you mean. Nevertheless, I think it is misleading to suggest that the brain is “tricking” us. It implies that our “subjective” reality is significantly different from “objective” reality, whatever that is.

    Who can actually know the difference between subjective and objective reality (besides God and Big Al, of course)?

    Posted May 20, 2015 at 4:54 pm | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    Henry, you asked:

    Who can actually know the difference between subjective and objective reality (besides God and Big Al, of course)?

    Well, here’s a good (macro-scale) example:

    In Consciousness Explained, Daniel Dennett described an experiment designed to highlight exactly the epistemological “trickery” hbd*chick describes.

    The subject (it was Dennett, in this case), sits in front of a computer screen. To hold his head immobile, he clenches his teeth on a “bite bar”.

    The computer’s screen is completely filled with text, which the subject begins to read. As his eyes dart (“saccade”) around the screen, he perceives nothing out of the ordinary.

    People looking on, however, see something very different: the screen is a kaleidoscope of constantly moving and shifting text!

    How is this done? A laser eye-sensor detects exactly where on the screen the subject is looking from instant to instant, and holds that tiny region of the text constant, while continuously scrambling everything else. But because the sensor tracks the subject’s eye very quickly, and because the subject’s perception is very briefly blacked out by the ‘saccade masking” that hbd*chick refers to in her post, all the subject ever sees, no matter where he looks, is a steady, completely unchanging page of text. (In fact, what’s happening is that the computer does a ballistic analysis of the subject’s eye trajectory, and can predict where the focus will be at the end of each saccade, when the eye “switches on” again. So it knows in advance what part of the screen it mustn’t change.)

    So: in this ingenious demonstration, the “objective” “real world” is clearly visible to everyone else in the room but the subject — whose brain is playing some very clever tricks.

    Posted May 20, 2015 at 5:37 pm | Permalink
  7. If everyone else in the room is seeing the so-called “objective real world”, how is the brain’s so-called “trickery” a problem?

    Posted May 20, 2015 at 5:56 pm | Permalink
  8. Whitewall says

    Thomas Sowell did a fine job of summarizing the redistributionist “mind” of Barack Obama. What a waste of space in a college classroom he must have been. He was given a credential upon graduation but there is no evidence of intelligence with that piece of paper. He only repeats what has been tried by totalitarian politicians for generations all the way back to the French Revolution.

    Posted May 21, 2015 at 6:58 am | Permalink
  9. JK says

    If everyone else in the room is seeing the so-called “objective real world”, how is the brain’s so-called “trickery” a problem?

    Whitewall, Henry alludes to your answer but I’d go much further – ask “anybody” in Washington DC (buy a bunch of bottled water before you leave on the trip Henry … be cheaper if you’re not gonna be flying into National)

    ask anybody in Washington DC if they see a problem, how much you’ll have to divvy up and how long before “the solution” takes to kick in.

    And, Remember the Maine!

    Posted May 21, 2015 at 9:24 am | Permalink
  10. JK says

    And, since you’ll be asking;

    Posted May 21, 2015 at 9:31 am | Permalink
  11. Malcolm says


    The brain’s “trickery” isn’t necessarily a problem at all. But it’s good to understand its innate shortcuts and biases, because when we rely on them in novel circumstances they weren’t designed for, they can mislead us in dangerous ways.

    Experiments like this are like software testing: you throw unusual input data and ‘edge cases’ at the system to see what it can’t handle correctly.

    Posted May 21, 2015 at 10:08 am | Permalink
  12. Whitewall says

    JK, the best thing about the Spanish American War is, we won.

    Posted May 21, 2015 at 12:35 pm | Permalink
  13. JK says

    And secondly, paid for.

    (That is … it was. Cuba may ask for reparations now that …

    Posted May 21, 2015 at 1:08 pm | Permalink
  14. Whitewall says

    Re Cuba, after the Castro boys are dead and screwed into the ground, I wouldn’t mind visiting Cuba…after some more 4 and 5 star hotels open. I had a couple of school friends that came here in 1959 and 1960. Both went on to become business owners. Cuban expats made for some of the finest Americans I ever knew.

    Posted May 21, 2015 at 1:23 pm | Permalink
  15. “…, because when we rely on them in novel circumstances they weren’t designed for, they can mislead us in dangerous ways.”

    I don’t think it is prudent to use our brains in “novel circumstances”. We should just stick to using them for “thinking”.

    Moreover, I don’t believe our brains were “designed”. I’m a Darwin fan.

    Posted May 21, 2015 at 5:18 pm | Permalink
  16. Malcolm says

    I’m a Darwinian too, Henry. When it comes to my use of the word “design”, I must refer you to some of my older posts — for example here, here, here, and here.

    And of course much, if not most, of our modern environment is novel, in an evolutionary sense, and so is full of pitfalls for our fancy ape brains.

    Posted May 21, 2015 at 8:38 pm | Permalink
  17. OK, Malcolm. I know you are not the sort of person who would have any doubts about evolution. I was just trying to terminate (jokingly) a discussion that was beginning to evolve way beyond the minor point I had tried to make in the first place.

    If you disagree strongly with my quibble about hbd*chick’s use of the word “trickster”, I will grant that my quibble may be without merit. I can live with that.


    Posted May 22, 2015 at 1:40 am | Permalink
  18. Malcolm says

    Sorry, Henry. I’m awfully literal-minded sometimes.

    Posted May 22, 2015 at 11:10 am | Permalink
  19. Me too, Malcolm.

    Posted May 22, 2015 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

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