The Search For Truth?

Posted by Beetle B. on Sun 23 October 2016

There has existed for a long time a dilemma: Is it better to be just and honest in a world that will never recognize you as such, vs being fundamentally dishonest, but with everyone believing you are a model citizen?

Does reason exist to help you find the truth, so we can behave correctly, as Plato, Socrates and Kohlberg believed? Or does it exist to help serve strategic goals (guarding reputation, convincing others to support us in disputes, etc)? Such people are called Glauconian.

Tetlock’s Study

Tetlock did a study where people were given scenarios and asked to make decisions. A typical scenario would be a legal case where the subject has to determine guilt or innocence.

  • Some subjects were told that they had to justify their decision to others (Group A).
  • Others were told they would not have to justify their decision (Group B).

Outcome: Group B were lazy in coming up with a decision, and relied more on gut. Group A’s outcome was more complicated.

Exploratory Thought: Even handed consideration of alternative points of view.

Confirmatory Thought: A one sided attempt to rationalize a particular point of view.

Tetlock found that exploratory thought occurred only when the following held:

  • People were told before they made the decision that they would need to justify it to others.
  • They do not know the audience’s view.
  • They believed the audience is well informed and interested in accuracy.

If not all of these conditions held, they were more interested in appearing right than being right.

Personal anecdote: I’ve often noted that people fear (often unconsciously) ignorance in themselves, and they fear it will be revealed. So they seek any explanation that “makes sense”. That feeling of fear is then gone, and they usually do not scrutinize that explanation. Their goal had not been to determine the truth, but instead had been not to feel ignorant.

Personal anecdote: In my experience, becoming comfortable with uncertainty is critical in not falling into mental traps. Being OK with “I don’t know” answers is a must. Unfortunately, society tends to abhor such answers (think “fence-sitting”), and even in environments of exploration (debugging, exploring phenomena) in the corporate world, my observation has been that uncertainty is seen as weak, and a byproduct I’ve noticed is that people become really good at coming up with wrong answers to allay those who cannot accept uncertainty (aka the art of BS).

In the above 3 bullets, the audience can be themselves!

Conscious reasoning is mostly about persuasion and not discovery. Reason is used usually to convince someone (be it others or themselves) than it is to discover the truth.

tags : trm, morality, Haidt