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The ad hominem meme of a denier

Psychology Posted on Tue, October 14, 2014 16:38:22

The fact that humans are always free to deny any fact or collection of
facts, but not even one person is, ever, free to believe whatever they like.

This article is basically a reply to the blogger Mark Hoofnagle on
deniers that is at the end of the link above. It is an attempt to dismiss those
he disagrees with without giving whatever they say any proper consideration. He
seems to have it in for propagandists, as so many people do, but especially
those he calls deniers. But this concept is an excuse not to debate with those
he wants to dismiss.

We can say what we like but never quite believe as we like. Belief is
not a human action but rather it is an ephemeral state of mind. Belief is only of the live mind, so it is not
like knowledge in that respect. We may know something that we cannot immediately
recall but that we might recall in about an hour, or maybe even a day later,
but belief is what we think is the case just now, at the present moment, and it
involves a fresh take, or a fresh judgment, on the world. Thus all belief is a
slight test of what there is out there.

There is not ever any stable belief i.e. there is nothing even remotely
like Popper thought was faith. Popper was utterly deluded on that rather stupid
idea of mental stability. What allows people to reproduce contents similar to
their past beliefs in their current beliefs, now, is the common external world
itself moreso than the dendrites in our brains, though the latter have some
input too. The air we breathe in is similar in content to earlier air we used,
owing to what is external too, but there is more input of our assumptions into any
belief than there is in the air we breathe in.

However, no actual belief can last longer that a fresh in-take of air.
As we use air to refresh the blood so we, similarly, use belief, mainly in
current action, or activity, that needs
to be re-checked by our senses to check how we are managing with anything that
we attempt to do, but any ephemeral belief-take will also spill over into
theoretical abstract things too. Belief is to do with activity but many things
we believe, most of which we suppose is on the horizon whenever that is in
view, for example, might never be acted on by ourselves. However, any belief is
going to be mainly used up in doing whatever we do e.g. we need to refresh it,
by use of our senses, just to see whatever we are doing at any one time. Anyone
blind person will be clearly handicapped in that respect, in all they do, for
they will not be able to check whatever they want to do by the use of their

Some authors that Mark Hoofnagle is concerned with have written books
denying the link between HIV and AIDS but I have not read any such book.

Karl Popper was right to hold that mere belief was not really germane to
science, though he did, unwittingly, allow it in when he went on about honesty
in science, which he associated with rationality.

Popper might also have noticed that belief is an excellent heuristic.
Also, he might have noted that conjectures, also are not automatically right,
no more than are our automatic beliefs, which also have the logical status of
mere assumptions, so both equally risk error. However, the rule of assumptions
in logic is that any assumption will allow us to make a beginning. Mistakes in
the logic can only arise later. But the assumption might well be false, of
course. Logic is about validity rather than directly about the truth.

However, Popper was roughly right to try to keep belief largely out of
science; that science was to do with the objective account [that he called
world three, or W3, which is objective] rather than only of what we have in
mind [that he called world two, or W2, which is subjective]. Popper was right
to attempt to shun subjectivity. He was also right that belief in pseudoscience
is not germane to science either. Any conjecture will do to begin from. Science
is ideally open to one and all. It tends to ignore the Irishman who says: “If I
were you then I would not start from here!” We can start from almost
anywhere. It hardly matters where we are
coming from.

However, like DRS, I am very keen on belief. I think most people tend to
conflate beliefs and values. The English language conflates those two aspects
of the mind. In the philosophy of religion, the difference is made in a common
distinction between “believe in” [i.e. value] and “believe that” [i.e. think is
the case]. Beliefs are only just what seem to be the facts to the believer at
any one time.

It is our values that mainly motivate us. We act mainly on our values
but belief serves the passions but yet it is not quite the slave of them, as
Hume said, for our beliefs have no fear of our values and what we believe never
flatters us.

However, I think Hume was basically right.

Oddly, David Hume was the one author that Marx was not very hostile to,
and that is what led me to read Hume in 1968. I found him roughly right then,
as I still do now, but his terminology seemed exceedingly inept, especially as
Locke, Berkeley and Hume himself mainly had only a verbal difference in their
revision of what Thomas Hobbes said in his 1651 book. The terminology still
does look to be very inept. In particular, what Hume calls irrational looks
most rational to me, including all our automatic beliefs. The daft dogma that
rationality requires choice, that Hume seemed to have adopted, seems to
obfuscate reality for anyone at all who adopts it.

My prelude above is to the consideration of what Mark Hoofnagle says on
the quite false meme of denialism, false as it holds that humans can decide
whatever they believe when no animal, let alone no human, ever can. Belief is a
reality principle in animals, as it is practical feedback from the world as to
whether the animal is safe, or not, as well as being a practical need for
whatever the animal wants to do. Belief cannot flatter, nor can it be
controlled. Natural selection would have soon seen off whimsical choice in
belief. It would have crowded out the need we have to see what we are doing, as
well as if we are out of likely danger from predators at any one time. A
reality principle, such as belief, will be a prerequisite of any animal

But backward psychology seeks to serve what Francis Bacon called false
idols [i.e. pigheaded memes, like denialism, that seems to satisfy the holders
as an end rather than enlightening them about reality; they are basically
expletives that refer to nothing real: constituted blanks] rather than looking
at how humans actually are. Brain science is very similar.

Popper held that science was about testing. This looks, on the face of
it, the opposite of trust, but Mark Hoofnagle is moaning that those he calls
deniers lack trust. But what has trust got to do with it? We need to test
theories rather than to trust people in science. It does not really matter much
if ever we lack trust. We test ideas as if we do not trust them at all.

We are told that conspiracy theories are down to a lack of trust on the
part of the people who adopt them; that such people also suspect a plot on the
part of the authorities against the public.

That there may be such plots would not surprise me but I would not
normally expect them to be effective. I do not doubt that corruption is fairly
common, but presumably most organisations check for it. So most corruption
fails to have much special or particular impact, though it will be a factor in
the normal costs of firms, I suppose.

The idea that conspiracy theorists are paranoid looks not only false but
also quite inept. I have spoken to many such propagandists since 1968 and I
have never seen a sign that any of them were even slightly paranoid. That
latter is a very personal disposition but conspiracy propagandists seem to
adopt an external paradigm that is not at all related to the type of person they
happen to be but rather to the world as their theoretical account would have

Ideally, any such conspiracy theories would boost science but in fact it
seems that not many conspiracy theorists follow up the theory as much as one
might expect them to do. Nor do those people they talk to seem to study
science, or history, or whatever, as a result. In that, the conspiracy are
propagandists not like the normal religious or political propagandists, who
more often do seem follow up their ideas in reading books on the topics in
question a bit more, even if those people they speak to still do not usually

But paranoids do not think to ever be fair to their imagined enemies at
all but rather feel as sure and as fearful of them as a normal person would be
of an escaped tiger from the local zoo.

This analogy of conspiracy theorists to actual paranoids by Mark
Hoofnagle looks completely inept to me. He seems to want to abuse the
propagandists rather than to try to explain them with this analogy.

I ought to confess that I am a propagandist myself. I never did feel
they were abnormal, no more than those who like going fishing or who indulge in
any other intellectual interest or hobby; though I suppose that most
propagandists would feel what they do is way more important than just a hobby.
I became one in 1968 but I guess I did like them way before then. In 1962 I
discovered that I not only did not believe in the Catholic creed of my parents,
and the adults in general during my first ten years, but also that I never had
believed it. I was just confused on belief in my early years. To say I believed
in the Catholic creed seemed to be the correct answer when questioned but I
never checked my actual beliefs prior to giving that supposedly correct answer.
I have ever since tended to think since that most, if not all, of the nominally
religious no more believed it than I ever did.

However, I never did like the creed very much in my early years and most
of my peers, from 1962 onwards, seemed to value the creed more than I ever did.
But not one became a propagandist for it, as far as I know. I immediately
became a minor propagandist against it but I was keener on athletics than on
propaganda up till 1968. All athletics are enthusiasts, or fanatics. I
transferred my enthusiasm for exercise to reading in 1968.

Whenever Bertrand Russell runs down fanatics, as he repeatedly does in
many of his books, I always tend to think that the author himself was also
something of a fanatic. Surely they are only dangerous if they aim to do
dangerous things. Most athletes are harmless despite being quite fanatical, for
example. Most murderers do not seem to be fanatical but they do seem to be out
to be harmful anyway.

Paranoids do tend to think they are way more important to other people
than a normal person would do, especially to their imagined enemies, but they
do not, particularly, claim special knowledge any more than most people do. Mark
Hoofnagle seems to simply err there, in claiming that they do. We all do assume
we know some things that others do not, and much of what we say to others is
exactly to share some of this information with them, but Mark Hoofnagle
attempts to say this is a paranoiac trait, and to then smear the conspiracy
theorists/ propagandists with being paranoid.
David Shpairo is cited as holding similar ideas, but there is no safety
in numbers whenever one simply gets it wrong.

No one at all can willingly, or deliberately, overlook facts. No
paranoid, even remotely, attempts to do that, even though they feel, quite
strongly, that those individuals who they have supposed to be their enemies
truly are their enemies. Paranoids do not, usually, think that everyone is out
to get them. Nor do they often show disrespect for the authorities. If
anything, they are unusually trusting, the very opposite of what our blogger,
here, wants to say about the propagandists who are called deniers. Mark Hoofnagle writes as if he does not know
much about paranoids.

Some propagandists might lie about theoretical issues but, as it is so
clearly futile, my guess is that very few, if any, do, but, anyway, no one ever
believes their own lies. Self-delusion is as unrealistic as the pet meme of
denialism is, and for the same basic reason viz. we cannot choose whatever we
think is the case.

We do make assumptions to make out whatever there is out there in the
world but that is not quite the same as deliberately manipulating the opinion that
we happen to have of the world. Mark Hoofnagle gives an unrealistic spin to the
reality of how people are when he writes:

“Denialists exhibit suspicious thinking when they manipulate objective
reality to fit within their beliefs. It is true that all people are prone to
fit the world into their sense of reality, but the suspicious person distorts
reality and does so with an uncommon rigidity.”

No one has rigid beliefs. No one wilfully forms beliefs. Instead, the
actual beliefs that all people have change quite automatically as they look at
the world. Our five senses revises, and re-creates, our beliefs by the moment,
as about as often as we inhale and exhale air. We use our beliefs to do
whatever we decide to set out to do and we need to revise them to do almost
anything that we do, whilst we do it, be it to go for a walk or to make a cup
of tea or whatever.

Our belief-take is revised by the second and this is a sort of weak test
on any earlier belief. The animal belief system is a bit like Popper’s
philosophy of science, like making assumptions and then testing with a fresh panoramic
assumption-take after some activity; or conjectures and attempted refutations,
or trial and error.

What Mark Hoofnagle finds compelling in what David Shpairo says does not
look one whit realistic to me. But as I
have seen others, like Joseph Agassi, on self-deception, another myth, as both memes
say equally silly and unrealistic things, so both do seem to reflect some popular
theories about human irrationality [W3 memes] rather than the anything real
about the human mind [W2].

Mark Hoofnagle then says a few things in favour of tolerance that I can
agree with. He says the deniers are not liars in the way that they are often
said to be. They are not evil plotters; that they err rather than they
deliberately lie.

But then he says they are not worth arguing with! Why not? Because they
are trapped in their own denialism! How can that happen? We do not seem to be told. But we can guess
that he is not going to be adequate on most of this fallacy of his sheer ad
hominem fallacy dismissal of the supposed deniers. The whole idea seems to be
to attempt to dodge reasoning on Mark Hoofnagle’s part. Why does he prefer it
to just dealing with the so-called deniers openly in debate?

I think I have said enough above to expect the theory of deniers to be
false, if ever we were told. But most of the rest of what is written by Mark
Hoofnagle on probability seems to have little, if any, bearing on this topic of
supposed deniers.

Mark Hoofnagle repeats that deniers are of a certain personality type.
But the conspiracy theorists, who he says they are very similar to the deniers,
do not seem to be of any particular personality type. Nor do the religious and
political groups I have looked at since 1968, from within the organisations
that I joined and also from without with the many various rival groups to the
ones that I joined. The various propaganda organisations seem to attract all
sorts of persons; both within their branches [usually based on locality] and as
to biases between branches. Some members within a branch are more extraverted,
say, than others, and some branches are extraverted than others too, and in
personality types all paradigms seem to attract all the various psychological
types that we can find in the wider society.

I have also joined some non-ideological educational bodies, from about
1975 onwards, and they too seem to be no different from the ideological groups
just because there is no overall ideology. I have yet to meet a single person
in such groups that regard themselves, personally, as especially wrongly
treated by others or by society as a whole as Mark Hoofnagle imagines the
deniers do. They just never seem to talk about such things. With the
ideological groups, the ideology has always been held as being quite

Christian groups have been creationists, of course. Mark Hoofnagle says
those do have a different style, as he says do the Global Warming deniers. It
is ideology rather than personality that distorts their outlook with them, he
says. He seems to be, as Thomas Kuhn was, proud to find excuses not to argue
with people; thankfully Kuhn was often willing to break this bigoted principle.

I suppose this anti-debate meme, of which the meme of denial is one amongst
many excuses for, is the main reason why human progress is slowed down. I do
not like any protectionism in any case, but rather I prefer free trade but this
anti-debate outlook of Polanyi/Kuhn and it is about the acme of protectionism.
It holds progress back.

However, free speech should be free. We should not follow up
recommendations if ever we do not want to do so. We have no duty to look into
all issues that a propagandist feels to be important. The propagandist can be
content with those who do want to follow up whatever he recommends. If he does
his job well, there should be enough of them on any progressive issue.

Mark Hoofnagle feels it is wise not to argue with a propagandist, any of
which he seems to feel is going to be a crank-pot in any case. He says: “To
argue with a Dale would only make you look like the fool” where a Dale is just
some fanatical propagandist, or an enthusiast, as they might have said in the
eighteenth century. But if any such Dale makes us look silly then maybe that is
because he does know a bit more than we do on his pet topic.

As Popper said, we should learn from rather than to fear our errors. We
are all fools anyway. A fool, I presume, is someone who ought to know better
than he actually does. Well, we are all always like that anyway. We all remain
ignorant to some extent. We all should know at least a bit more than we do. What
merit is there in hiding that fact? Mark Hoofnagle does not show any merit in
his keenness to cover up the fact that he can often look silly. That is the
sort of thing that we all need to tolerate, in ourselves and in others too. But
this denier meme is intolerant rather than tolerant of others.

Remembering Tom Szasz

Psychology Posted on Thu, August 07, 2014 19:32:06

We’re probably in for a fresh spate of
critiques and reappraisals of the work of Thomas S. Szasz.

In 1961 Szasz published The Myth of Mental Illness (following an
article with the same title, two years earlier). His many subsequent books would preach the
same message, and most of these later volumes make much more entertaining
reading than The Myth of Mental Illness.

Szasz’s reputation as a writer
suffered on account of that early work.
Because of its title and its key role in psychiatric controversies, it
became the one work of Szasz to cite. People
curious about Szasz would usually seek out that particular book. It’s rather dull compared to such sparkling later
works as The Manufacture of Madness (1970),
The Therapeutic State (1975), or Liberation by Oppression (2002). His Karl
Kraus and the Soul Doctors
(1976, later reprinted as Anti-Freud) is also captivating, but in this case partly because of
the translated remarks of Kraus. Szasz’s
own witty, oracular debunking style evidently owed a lot to the author of The Last Days of Mankind, as well as to
Mark Twain, Ambrose Beirce, and H.L. Mencken.

Szasz argued that there is
literally no such thing as ‘mental illness’.
Mental illness is no more than a metaphor. If we speak of ‘a sick economy’, we know this
is a metaphor. We don’t try to pretend
that economics is a branch of medicine.
It’s just the same with human behavior, human feelings, and human
thoughts. These do not belong to the
domain of medicine. But in this case, we
may be tempted to think that there is a branch of medicine—psychiatry—which is
competent to deal with problems of behavior, feeling, and thinking. This Szasz denied outright. He did not rule out as meaningless or useless
everything that psychiatrists might do—he merely insisted that it was not
medicine. He undoubtedly did believe,
though, that psychiatry had done a lot more harm than good.

Szasz himself had a private
practice as a psychotherapist, as well as being a professor of psychiatry. He defended being a professor of psychiatry
by pointing out that few would object if an atheist were a professor of
religion. He talked about his own practice
of psychotherapy rarely and vaguely: he characterized it as having
conversations with people in order to help them with their problems in
living. As for helping them by giving
them drugs, Szasz held that this should be permitted as long as it was entirely
voluntary, but he himself was not a big enthusiast for the practice (and, for
all I know, believed it was always wrong).
He would say, for instance, that you don’t call in a TV repairman when
you’re disgusted with the quality of the programs. This is an entirely typical Szasz bon mot.
On the one hand, it strikingly clarifies one facet of the issue. On the other hand, there is a lingering
doubt, is there not? For after all, if
the entire scriptwriting and production process occurred inside the TV set, it
wouldn’t be so obviously silly to get
the repairman to fix up the script for It’s
Always Sunny

Szasz—an MD who knew quite a bit
about medicine and the history of medicine—didn’t dispute that the realm of
behavior often interacts with the domain of medicine. By drinking too heavily, a person may give
himself cirrhosis of the liver, which is a medical problem. By bungee jumping a person may give himself a
broken neck. What makes him take to drink
or go in for bungee jumping is not, in Szasz’s view, a matter in which medical
doctors have any special competence. What
are commonly regarded as ‘mental illnesses’ are simply ‘problems in living’.

His books are eloquent in
exposing and criticizing the absurdities which result when any and all human
behavior is viewed in terms of health and disease. Even before such diseases as sex addiction,
shopping addiction, and internet addiction had been invented, Szasz had
accounted for them, and had pointed out the affinity of such afflictions with drapetomania
(the disease diagnosed in some black slaves by a nineteenth-century doctor, the
symptom of this malady being the slaves’ desire to run away from their owners)
and the mental diseases identified by Soviet psychiatrists in people who
criticized the socialist regime.

first became aware of someone called ‘Szasz’ when I read R.D. Laing in the
1960s; at that time Laing was all the rage in England. At first the ‘anti-psychiatrists’ eagerly
quoted their predecessor Szasz, but it soon became apparent that Szasz had
nothing but contempt for the anti-psychiatrists. He didn’t like them because they were
socialists and because he believed that they sought to glorify the mental
states of designated mental patients. Szasz
had no patience with those who imputed to mental patients wondrous insights
denied to the rest of us. He tended to
think of mental patients as, for the most part, a rather pathetic bunch who
were often complicit in their own oppression.

Jonathan Engel (in his American Therapy, 2008) gets the
chronology wrong and thinks that Szasz was a follower of the
anti-psychiatrists. I have occasionally
encountered people who suppose that since Szasz was a ‘radical’ in the 1960s
and later says things that sound ‘conservative’, he must have undergone a
political conversion. But the truth is that
Szasz’s fundamental outlook was pretty much fixed by the 1940s and never
changed. He was always a classical
liberal, an anti-communist, and a ‘cultural conservative’ in lifestyle matters,
though of course favoring the repeal of all prohibitions on drugs and
victimless crimes. The biggest change he
did undergo was from being a psychoanalyst (some said the crown prince of
psychoanalysis) to being a hostile critic of psychoanalysis.

volume Szasz Under Fire: The Psychiatric
Abolitionist Faces His Critics
(edited by Jeffrey Schaler, 2004), which
includes a brief autobiography, also contains an exchange of letters between
Szasz and Karl Popper (this is given by Szasz in his reply to the article by
Ray Percival). Here, Popper says he
thinks that Szasz is ninety-five percent right about the nonexistence of mental
illnesses. What Popper meant was that
while he agreed with Szasz that the extension of the medical metaphor to every
type of human ethical or lifestyle decision is preposterous, we can still reasonably
conjecture that there are some few cases where a typical brain malfunction is
the cause of some typical cluster of emotional and behavioral problems (even
though we can’t yet identify the brain malfunction in question).

that Szasz would have disputed the truism that Alzheimer’s and syphilis can
cause mental deterioration, and that there are sure to be many other as yet
undiscovered diseases of the nervous system that have mental and behavioral
symptoms. But he took the position that
we can’t describe these as diseases until we have ascertained their physical

In a typically Szaszian crisp
summary (and possibly oversimplification), he asserted that we’re not entitled to
talk about a disease until a pathologist can identify its presence in a
corpse. A corpse can have cancer,
bunions, or atherosclerosis. A corpse can’t
have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or paranoia, let alone shopping addiction
or obsessive-compulsive disorder. No
pathologist can detect the presence of these supposed illnesses by examining a
cadaver. To Szasz, this meant that they
could not be called literal diseases, even though he allowed that at some
future date we might find that they corresponded, more or less, with some
presently unknown literal diseases.

Szasz observed that once a
genuine physical disease is identified, it tends to be taken away from psychiatry
and given to general medicine, as occurred with syphilis of the brain and with
strokes, and more recently with Alzheimer’s.
Once these are classified as literal diseases with known physical
causes, psychiatry can claim no special expertise in these areas. Szasz also pointed out the influence of
ethical and religious fashion on psychiatric diagnoses: when Szasz started
writing, nearly all psychiatrists held that homosexuality was a disease (this
was the official position of the American Psychiatric Association until 1973
and the World Health Organization until 1990).
Now most of them don’t. The
switch is not in the least due to any new medical evidence, but purely to a
re-adjustment of mores and ethical attitudes.

Although on occasion Szasz fully
acknowledged that some human problems would eventually be attributed to
presently undiscovered brain diseases, the general sweep of his rhetoric tends
to give the opposite impression: “. . . we will discover the chemical cause of
schizophrenia when we discover the chemical cause of Christianity and Communism. No sooner and no later” (The Untamed Tongue, pp. 215–16).

agree with Szasz in opposing involuntary commitment of the mentally ill and I
admire his exposure of much psychiatric silliness. But the route to those conclusions is not as
simple as he believed. Szasz holds that
there can be no literal disease of the mind, only a literal disease of the body
or a metaphorical disease of the mind.
This is strictly correct, but it does not have the sweeping implications
he supposes. Szasz attacks people who
employ the term ‘mental illness’, but his attacks fail if people are using the
term to mean ‘a brain disease with mental symptoms’.

Various drugs can cause you to have
hallucinations and infection by rabies will make you terrified of water. So we know that purely bodily changes can change
your conscious states and your deliberate behavior in predictable ways, and we
can’t rule out the possibility that some such bodily changes may happen without
the intervention of drugs or of rabid beasts.

would say that until we have identified the physical cause (the lesion), we
can’t assert the existence of an illness.
But, as far as I can see, nothing prevents us from conjecturing that
certain symptoms are accounted for by an illness whose existence we can’t yet observe
directly. I know a lot less than Szasz did
about the history of medicine, but I would even surmise that there have been
such cases—consumption, epilepsy, and asthma spring to mind. But even if I’m wrong in thinking that there
have been actual cases, it still wouldn’t follow that such conjectures are inadmissible. And if we can do this with physical symptoms,
we can do it with mental symptoms: I can see nothing wrong in principle with
hypothesizing that a certain cluster of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors is
accounted for by a brain malfunction.
It’s literally, pedantically wrong to call this a ‘mental disease’ just
as it’s literally, pedantically wrong to say that the sun rises, but such
casual expressions are inevitably rife throughout language.

commitment and other pretexts for imprisonment and torture are very common in
our culture, and so is the endless re-iteration of the claim that victims of
state coercion are ‘ill’. Yet these two
facts are not as tightly connected as Szasz supposed. I can easily imagine a change in semantic
fashion, so that state paternalists would say: ‘Granted, these people are not
ill, but they are still a threat to themselves and others and therefore need
treatment whether they consent or not’.
And I can also easily imagine some people coming around to the view:
‘These people are indeed ill, but even sick people shouldn’t be forcibly
incarcerated or given drugs or electric shocks against their wishes’.

wrote about forty books, even one (Faith
in Freedom
, 2004) devoted to a critique of the views of libertarians on
mental illness. The one I found most
disappointing is The Meaning of Mind
(1996). As you read most of Szasz’s
work, you become conscious of an odd lacuna: he repeatedly draws a bright line
between consciousness and physiology, as though these are independent
realms. This is the more remarkable
because he is an atheist with no theological commitments. So, you wonder what he thinks about the
relation of mind and brain. With The Meaning of Mind, we find out that he
has no coherent view of the relation between mind and brain and (while the book
does have a sprinkling of his usual piercing insights) his uninformed comments
on those who have carefully elaborated various theories often miss the point
and are at times painful to peruse.

protracted illness, and a few days after a severe spinal injury due to a fall, Tom
Szasz exercised his right to suicide. I
never met him but had various phone and email exchanges with him over a number
of years. If I had met him in the flesh,
I might have mentioned some of my criticisms of his views, though his always thick
Hungarian accent might have been a conversational impediment, and I have heard
from a reliable source that in his last years he became testier and testier,
disposed to see any disagreement as betrayal.

Szász Tamász István (the surname comes
first in Hungarian). Born Budapest, 15th
April 1920. Died Manlius, New York, 8th
September 2012.

A Defence of Political Correctness

Psychology Posted on Wed, May 21, 2014 19:46:50

Libertarians seem to hate Political Correctness (PC). A lot of
them see it as a statist ideology that needs to be fought.
Certainly, PC has become a political tool for censorship. There are
now laws in place that punish people for speaking out politically
incorrect thought and for discriminating against the wrong people.
This is without any doubt a very bad development and indeed needs to
be fought.

However, does this mean that everything about PC is bad? Does it
mean that a Libertarian has to be anti PC? First of all one has to
say that the term is not very clear. Different people mean different
things by it. It can range from ‘taking care of your choice of words’
to being synonymous to an egalitarian political agenda. The latter
can certainly not be defended by Libertarians. However, I think there
is an important idea in PC that I find attractive and that is
compatible with Libertarianism. That is not to say that Libertarians
have to be PC, but they certainly can be. Here is what I like about

I would like to live in a society that is polite and peaceful. In
principal we can of course think of a libertarian society in which
people hate each other, but nevertheless leave each other alone.
However, if people really hate each other, the peace within that
society would certainly be fragile. Besides, I personally simply do
not find such a society attractive. I would much rather live in a
society in which tolerance and mutual respect is the norm.

How are we going to get there? In social situations, humans, like
many other mammals are normally playing tit for tat strategies. That
means that you always tend to reap what you sow. If you are nice to
people, people will be nice to you. If you are hostile, you will get
hostility back. Of course, I am not naïve enough to believe that
this works with every single human being. There are certainly truly
bad people, social predators that will hurt you no matter what you
do. Those people need to be avoided under any circumstance and if
possible, removed from society. But there are not many of these
people and there usually is a brought coalition across cultures and
races against them. They should not concern us too much here, as they
are not a vital part of society. The vast majority of people,
everywhere in the world is basically decent. They don’t want to hurt
you, even if they would get away with and profit from it. Ok, maybe
if you make the incentive high enough, that changes. I would not
necessarily trust every stranger with a suitcase full of my money,
but for all practical circumstances this seems to be a good

However, if it is a good assumption, then how come people often
end up in conflict with each other? One of the biggest sources of
conflict is of course the fact that we live in a scarce world. One
way of dealing with that situation is to start fighting over who is
going to be allowed to use these resources. However, as David
Friedman writes in his book ‘The Machinery of Freedom” this is such
a primitive solution that it is only being done by small children and
great nations. A much Better way of dealing with it is of course
capitalism. The division of labour and accumulation of capital has
reduced the scarcity of all essential resources to a degree that no
one needs to fight for it anymore. Or at least no one would need to
fight for it anymore, if only politics was staying out of it.

Another big source of conflict seems to be intolerance. There are
two countries in Europe that have developed real freedom in the past.
One is Switzerland, the other is England. Both of course in very
different ways. However, what I find interesting about it is that
both countries have developed similar ideas about politeness. From a
German point of view, the English rules of politeness are probably
the most confusing thing to deal with, when coming to this country.
German politeness is fundamentally different from the English one. Of
course, different parts of Germany have different mentalities. The
Rhineland around Cologne is much closer to the english mentality then
say the one from Bavaria or Berlin. But none is really close to the

Before I came to this country I of course did some research on it.
I asked people who had spend some time here, how they liked it. I got
confusing answers. Half of them really loved it and could imagine
living here. The other half however was the exact opposite. They
really hated it and told me I could not trust the English. The
picture that they draw was the picture of a country of liars and
crooks. Very confusing. How could these two extremes be explained?
When I came her to study a Masters degree, I got an idea where these
differences in opinion came from. One half understood english
politeness the other one did not.

Germans have a very direct mentality. Honesty rules. The concept
of telling white lies only exists in extremes. If you ask a German
for his opinion, he will most likely tell you exactly what he thinks.
And if you don’t ask him, chances are he will tell you anyway. In his
criticism, he will most likely start by telling you what he does not
like. I guess the idea is to prove that one is honest and
trustworthy. “Look, I am not some slimy salesman trying to sell you
a used car. You can trust me and to proof that to you, I am going to
tell you the full nasty truth, because you deserve the truth”.

The English on the other hand seem to perceive direct criticism as
a personal attack. Of course, the direct criticism of the Germans is
an attempt to change things. Honesty might sound good at first, but
what this is really all about is to put pressure on people to conform
to a certain standard. Individualism and non-perfectionism is not
welcome. The only way to escape this constant stream of brutal
criticism is to do as everyone else does and to not make mistakes. A
very humourless exercise.

Having been a free country, England on the other hand has
developed a real sense of privacy. This might sound a bit ironic,
giving that this country is by far the worst surveillance state in
history. But on a personal level, people do respect privacy. That is
why direct criticism is considered so rude. It is simply none of my
business to criticise you, unless you explicitly ask me for it.
Interestingly, although Switzerland is a lot closer to Germany, both
geographically and culturally, it has developed independently a
similar idea of politeness. In Switzerland privacy matters and German
directness is unwelcome.

What does this all have to do with PC? It shows that tolerance is
essential for a free society. In order to reduce conflict and make a
peaceful society possible, people in England are willing to
constantly outright lie to each other, whenever the truth becomes a
bit inconvenient. They are not just willing to do this, but they are
put under big pressure to do so. People who do not comply with these
politeness rules are facing social sanctions. I have experienced this
myself, by loosing some customers for being too direct with them. In
my German mentality I thought, when someone hires me to fix the sound
on a film, it would be best to start analysing what is wrong with the
sound so that it can be fixed efficiently. Why waste time pointing
out things that are already good. But starting out with negative
criticism before saying anything nice was perceived as a slap in the
face and they never came back. This, in my view is a good example of
where politeness goes to far. It is just time and resource consuming.
But that is the way it always is with social norms. They are usually
simplistic and unable to differentiate between different situations.

Today we live in a very unequal world, with huge differences
between poor and rich countries. These differences set in motion big
streams of people of different cultures and races moving from
unproductive to productive areas. That means inhomogeneous,
multicultural societies will be the norm. In my view this is a very
welcomed development. But even if you look at this with a bit of
worry, it is clear that only states are powerful enough to reduce
these streams in any meaningful way. Supporting these states is
nothing Libertarians should have an interest in doing. We will need
to find a peaceful solution to potential problems. The only way to
make this work is by practicing some tolerance. You leave me alone
and I leave you alone. We both don’t antagonize each other.

PC in my view can be seen as an extension of politeness from
protecting the privacy of individuals to protecting the dignity of
cultures or races. If we make it acceptable for people to spread
hostility towards other people for being different we will saw more
hostility. Once started, these hostilities can escalate more and more
and turn into and outright war. Some might say we already are in the
mids of such a war. I would disagree, but even if this was true the
answer would be tolerance. Everything else would escalate this war
and that is certainly in no ones interest.

I see two big problems with PC as it is today. The most obvious
one is that PC is more and more enforced by the state. If the state
was to enforce politeness it would turn into a nightmare. Sometimes
negative criticism is necessary. Only individuals can decide where
the line between being honest and being polite is. The same is true
for PC. Sometimes differences between groups matter and need to be
addressed. When an employer does not have the right to pay his female
employee less for the real risk of her becoming pregnant, then PC has
gone too far. Only state laws can enforce this nonsense.

The second problem of modern PC is that it is unequally applied.
Only certain groups are shielded from criticism while it is open
season on others. A PC like that will lead to power imbalances and a
force for bad. So in a way, we are not PC enough.

A voluntary PC that restrains unnecessary, open criticism of
groups via social pressure is a good thing in my view. I don’t think
that this idea should be part of Libertarianism itself, but
personally I find it very hard to imagine a free society without
these forms of social rules. There is a reason, why similar ideas
have emerged in both England and Switzerland. And I expect them to
see in future free societies.

Kahneman 2

Psychology Posted on Tue, March 18, 2014 11:14:30

Who truly thought
up the idea of the econs?

On Start the Week at 9am on radio 4 UK Monday, 17 March 2014, Daniel
Kahneman of Princeton University was the main guest. He says that he wants to
say there are no econs. The econs are an imaginary species that never existed.
Kahneman says they were thought up by the economists but real people are more
like the other animals in being not rational, like the econs are supposed to be,
but he says they are quite reasonable.

Humans as they are, says Kahneman,
are in two minds of what he calls system one and system two viz. of fast
thinking and slow thinking. Most human thought and ideas are of system one, or
of fast thinking. It is almost, indeed Kahneman says, repeatedly, that it is,
automatic. System two, by contrast, requires quite a lot of effort all too
often and thus tends to be dodged by most people. But system one requires no
effort, it is effortless and many of its ideas are retained by the slower more
deliberate thinking of system two.

Kahneman feels that fast thinking
leads to error. He finds lots of conformation bias. One lot of errors he names
as anchoring. Court judges roll a dice and if it scores low then they tend to
give out low sentences but if it scores high then they tend to think in terms
of high sentences in the court cases they precede over. It is not only judges
and lawyers who are thus influenced by random numbers that might be suggested
by a roll of the dice, or some other source of suggestion, but we all are, says
Kahneman. But we tend to see errors made by others way clearer than we do when
we make them ourselves.

Any risk introduces a bias of two
kinds. We greatly fear a loss and much more than we desire its equivalent in
gains. Kahneman feels this is irrational as in money terms as he feels they will be exactly the same. He tends to
feel that arithmetic is neutral.

Though he admits that he errs by fast
thinking, like he says we all do, he is basically an unreflective man who seems
to be in a permanent state of hubris. Looking at the human race in general,
Kahneman says it is luck that seems to play a big part in their success.

At this point, the chairman, Tom
Sutcliffe, said that the golf player, Gary Player, said that the more he
practised the more luck he had.

Kahneman continues that when we are
faced with dilemmas of loss on both sides, we tend to gamble almost recklessly
though fear of loss on either side. But the discussion then tends to drift
towards Henry Marsh, a neurosurgeon that says that doctors should first do no
harm but that high emotion can cloud our judgement so whether to operate on the
brain is never that simple. Lisa Appignanesi holds that the French might well
be right to hold that a crime of passion is beyond the free will of the
criminal, thus he might not be responsible for even murder. She notes that it
usually referred to males, as females were considered irrational or at least
next to it anyway.

Michael Ignatieff was also there and
they all seemed to agree that it was usually honour rather than passion that
was at the fore in what has been called crimes of passion. In any case, I would
say that we are as responsible for what we do in a fit of passion as we are
under what David Hume would call cooler emotions. All our emotions are quite
rational. A man in hot temper that might mean to give his wife a beating but he
might well very soon, even instantly, cool down if she draws a gun on him. He
might even lie that he was not about to hit her in that case.

Many of Kahneman’s sympathisers call
fast thinking intuition. I think he is right to say it is just fast thinking
but not distinct from slower thinking as he also says with the use of language
though both are usually tacit. Slowness
may well aid us to correct errors but so may later fast thinking. It seems to
be clearly wrong of Kahneman to think it is radically distinct. Most insights
will be tacit and very rapid indeed. But any assumption risks error. There is
no epistemological royal road that allows some privileged assumptions, such as
those of arithmetic, that do not risk error. So we always need to rethink. Error
is likely so we need to check for it. Kahneman writes and talks as if he is
unaware of his own folly. And it seems to be superabundant. Even when he admits
to error in his own fast thinking, he seems to only do so as otherwise he might
be openly claiming the superhuman status he seems to feel is truly his due. But
buffoon status seems to be his actual due but he has been lucky. By playing to
the gallery he has been given the Noble Prize.

Kahneman has said that if ever we
think that we have reasons for our beliefs then that is often a mistake but
that looks like yet another error of his, as we always believe what seems true
to us at any one time and there is usually an abundance of known reasons as to
why we think this, or that, is the case. None of them are likely to be errors as
to why we believe even if the belief itself is a delusion. If a bush looks like
a man from a distance, as one does in a garden that I pass most weeks, then I
can see why I first thought it was a man, even though I now know it is a
man-seeming bush only. If we think we know why we believe that will usually be
right, thought sometimes we might not know why we feel a meme is..

Most people seem to doubt almost any
belief that another challenges, even if only for a moment. We certainly forget
most things. Most people will have forgotten most they believed the day before.
When we recall things it is usually owing to some reminder in the present moment.

Kahneman feels our errors are not
random but systematic, without us realising the fact. Well, it is quite true
that we cannot err if we do realise it is an error, as Plato made clear over
2500 years ago. If an assumption seems to be the case, we will most likely make
it again so our errors will recur till we realise that the assumption that we
make is false.

As a Chess player in the 1960s, I
often did, by fast thinking, see an error then look at many other moves then
come back to use the error that I only again realised as such after I had
pressed down the key on the clock after
making the erroneous move. I might agree that slower thinking might well have
checked that folly of forgetfulness. But Kahneman seems to think both that slow
thinking is different in a radical way and that it gets more insights and both
those ideas of his seem to be false. A slow insight seems to be out of the

Kahneman might now be wedded to his
bogus idea that we have two radical ways of thinking, as he worked it out with
his friend, Amos Tversky, who is now dead. I do not think there is a case for
saying that slow thinking is more logical though I do think that logic is maybe
to do with the external account, or logos, rather than of thought, it is a way
of testing, as is also observation, rather than being psychology or the way we
think. However, the mind does relate quite well to logic in that the mind does
make assumptions. Any one of them can be false or true. Whatever it is what
Kahneman calls system one or system two, fast or slow, it will be equally
logical as logic is not about what is true or false but rather about only valid
inference. What Kahneman calls conformational bias errors seem to be logical
enough but errors only as they based on false assumptions. We need observation
to check for the truth or falseness of what we assume. Systematic error may be
owing to valid logic but false assumptions.

We are told by Kahneman fans that
slow thinking is the great problem solver, that it is the star, as the recent Horizon team said. But nearly all
insight seems to be very rapid. Most people might agree with me that insight is
the acme of thought. If so, then why consider slow thinking as the star?

We are also told that we are not
aware of tacit decisions that we make rapidly but that seems alien to my own experience.

A pet idea of the psychologists here is that
we are not aware of tacit thought but I expect there is hardly anyone who is
unaware in that way. But a lot of fast thought will be spent so quickly that we
will soon forget it. Most of what we think, as well as most of what we believe,
is hardly worth talking about, still less to remember. Belief and thought are
usually very fickle. No live mind can discipline itself with ease to be loyal
to any explicit theory. Most of the assumptions we make will hardly be confined
to a single paradigm, however we are committed to it. We can embrace creeds at
will but never believe them at will. To think is usually to rethink. So we rarely
believe in any of our theories, certainly not any religion or in any political
creed. To be committed is to do with our values rather than with what we think
is the case.

The laziness and reluctance to ponder
over things that is part of Kahneman’s case I have often experienced when I
disliked the topic, but not often whenever I liked the topic. I never
experienced that reluctance when I used to play Chess, for example.

The fans of Kahneman hate money and
they most likely hate the market too. They prefer their college sinecures. They
repeat, over and again, that money in particular gets us to err but they seem
to overlook that the waste of money does provide an incentive to get us to
think twice if we later feel we have erred. They say we spend impulsively but
do we not later realise the errors owing to not having enough money? Or is it
worth it for us, thus not a waste of money,
after all?

They tell us that we are over
influenced by what other people think, but then we need to think for ourselves
just to get an idea of what others think. But the psychologists never seem to
think that their criteria is more likely to be dysfunctional than is any of the
many biases they might discover in humans. They repeatedly go on about
redesigning the economic system, as if it was on par with re-decorating out a
single house.

I do not think that the Noble Prize
committee were right to award the Noble Prize to Daniel Kahneman but I do agree
with them that they are right not to have a Noble Prize for backward
psychology, or so-called brain science, as, like astrology,, psychology is a
pseudo-science. It has no hope of
telling the public anything substantial beyond mere common sense.

It is not clear that the rational
assumption, said by the likes of Kahneman to be a vital part of economics has
any effect on the main body of economic theory at all. As Gary Becker might
ask, can its replacement ever affect the downward sloping demand curve? I tend
to think not.

However, what is clearer is that David Hume and Adam
Smith never held the same selfishness assumption that Thomas Hobbes made but
rather they both agreed with Joseph Butler that Hobbes erred on selfishness. Like
Kahneman, Butler held that humans were more like the other animals, that
language was useful but over rated by the likes of Descartes and Hobbes. In
this, Butler began the line of thought that led to the theories of Charles
Darwin. Later economists like P.H.
Wicksteed tended to also agree that Butler was right. So econs look as if they
were mainly thought up by Kahneman himself, at least as he thinks of them. In
common with all his other ideas, they do not seem to be as important as
Kahneman thinks they are.


Psychology Posted on Sun, March 16, 2014 20:35:15

we truly in two minds?

With the aid of Daniel Kahneman, Horizon, the chief science TV programme
on the UK media, a team of psychologists and programme makers set out to tell members
of the public how they really make their personal decisions, or they did 24
February 2014 on BBC2 at 9pm. The title was “How You Really Make Decisions”.

We are told in the programme that we all make
thousands of decisions every day, big ones or small ones, but they all involve
a clash between logic and intuition. This clash, or conflict, involves, or
affects, every aspect of our lives, we are told by this team. It affects our
decisions as to what we eat as well as what we believe, but they say it chiefly
affects how we spend our money.

The team go on to say that it turns out that our
intuition dominates the normal wakeful mind but they say that most people do
not seem to realise that. The Horizon
team say that intuition is like a stranger, or alien, that takes over our mind.
They say that we identify with deliberation, or slow thinking, but that alien
fast thinking, so fast, that we often do not even notice it, makes most of the

But who does not notice tacit thought? Who
identifies with only slow deliberation? This might be the case with the team,
though I doubt it, but it is not likely that many will agree or feel that fast
thought is alien. The team seem to want to replace the old idea of the
Unconscious mind that works against us as an alien with mere tacit thought as
alien. At least tacit thought exists. But it is hardly alien in any way

As the team report a few times in the programme,
people do not like deliberation, so why suppose they identify with that rather
than their normal tacit selves. Why assume that, beyond the extra cost of slow
careful thinking, there is any strangeness or alien element at all in fast
thinking? Journalists or academics may feel more at home with language but does
the average person? Whilst it seems silly to say that slow thinking is alien,
it seems yet sillier to say that fast thinking is strange.

The team says that we all see rapid tacit thought as
though it was the thought of a stranger, as if it was another alien mind. I
would not say they get it exactly wrong there, as deliberation is hardly alien
to normal thought. What the team says looks like sheer hyperbole but, if
anything, most of us are more at home when we are not deliberating. We seem to
naturally to think tacitly. With deliberation we are often not relaxed. If we
are tense then we usually do not feel at home and we are sometimes tense when
we deliberate. But all that is contrary to what the team says.

Kahneman himself does not often use the word
intuition in the programme, though he does endorse it by use a few times. His
main distinction is between what he calls fast thinking and slow thinking
instead. By fast thinking he seems to refer to what I would call tacit
thinking. As it happens, Thomas Hobbes calls intuition fast thinking in Leviathan (1651). Hobbes does not see it
as one whit illogical, nor does Kahneman in the programme, but he may well do
in his books, but, unlike Hobbes, Kahneman does think it is radically different
but it is the members of the team that say it is like a stranger. Anyway,
intuition can only result in an assumption and, as the law of logic is that we
can assume whatever we like, there is not much scope for irrationality from
mere intuition. But Kahneman seems to erroneously think there is.

The team say that we like to think we are rational,
but that, also, is a delusion. Current common sense rather likes the idea that
we are irrational at times, that maybe we are usually so. Most people seem to
feel that love is irrational and they seem be feel at home with the idea that they
are often irrational. People that I meet tell me that they can relax with that

We think mainly with intuition, the team says, but
they feel that clearly contrasts with logic. We are especially prone to error
whenever we go near money. This seems to be their main thesis, that money
distorts our thinking. The team say they get this thesis from Kahneman, a top
psychologist for forty years; who gets his insights from puzzles.

Kahneman feels that New York cab drivers are rather
thoughtless, as they seem to him to show no foresight. They take things on a
daily basis and clock off when they earn what they consider to be a full day’s
pay but Kahneman notes that when it is raining there is usually more need for
cabs, so they go home early as they earn enough sooner on wet days, whilst in
the fine days they need to work way longer to get the same day’s pay. Kahneman
feels they could work all day whilst it is raining and he supposes that they
could then even take the whole day off on the fine days. They might then enjoy
the sun as well as working less hours overall.
Instead, they only seem to think of a day at a time, so they often need
to work all day on the fine days but only for a while on the wet days. Kahneman
feels they ought to think in terms of the whole year instead of one day at a
time. Many might agree with him , if he ever put that case to the cab drivers,
but it is not as solid as Kahneman thinks, for it is possible that they may
have personal preferences for their current habit in some cases, if not in most
cases. Note too that this does not relate well to Kahneman’s main thesis of
fast and slow thinking, unless he feels they are doing only fast thinking on
all this, which seems most unlikely.

The Horizon team
ask some New York people what the occupation is of a man who is meek, mild and
tidy: is he likely to be a farmer or a librarian? Most answer that he is likely to be a
librarian, but the team say that he is more likely to be a farmer, as there are
about twenty times more famers in the USA than librarians. So they say that the
New Yorkers tend to err.

They do not notice that this is ignorance of the
numbers in the USA, plus the bias towards the town life they are used to,
rather than it is to do with fast or slow thinking. Indeed, why is the USA as a whole even germane?
The team did not state they meant the whole of USA rather than what might be
the case in New York. Why should the people they asked take the whole of USA as
a base?

But the team, and Kahneman too, are like this
throughout the whole programme. They feel they are clearly finding faults when
the faults might just as well be in themselves. There are not more farmers in
New York, so the whole thing is not so solid as the team seem to think it is.

Anyway, more thinking or slower thinking would not
have told the people questioned that there was more than twenty times in
farming than work in libraries in the USA as a whole had they not known that to
begin with. They need information for
that rather than mere deliberation. But the team do not seem to notice that.

This lack of information, or ignorance, relates
neither to logic nor to intuition. And intuition is not one whit alien to
logic. But the team tells us that it shows a lack of slow thinking but rather
the using intuition or fast thinking instead. It is the team that seem to err there,
and in more ways than one.

Kahneman then appears to say that those errors made
by the public are not arbitrary or random but that they reflect bias. They
reflect fast thinking. They reflect cognitive bias. They recur again and again,
say the team.

We are then told of an experiment that shows that
many people do not see things that the team, and a jury in a certain tail of a
policeman called Conley, feel that anyone was bound to do, namely to see a fight that might be happening if we run by.
We are told of a policeman, Conley, who was chasing a criminal but he bypassed
a group of other policemen who beating up a person. When asked later in court,
Conley said he did not see this fight but the jury thought he was a liar who
had lied to cover up for the policemen involved. Conley said he was, maybe, too
keen to catch the man he was running after at the time to notice.

One of the Horizon
team, Chris Chabris, thought the jury was maybe unfair to call Conley a liar.
Chabris did an experiment and found that fifty per cent of runners involved,
ordinary joggers, just failed to notice the mock fight that he set up on the
side of the route he set for them to run along as they ran past. So Conley
might well have been honest rather than the liar that the jury held him to be.

This hardly seems odd to me. Many people are not
very observant when focused on doing something else, like chasing a criminal, and
Chabris did well to go against the main idea that Conley must clearly be lying
here. But, once again, the example does not relate to fast thinking; let alone
show us that fast thinking is of a different kind to slower thinking, as
Kahneman and the team hold as their main thesis.

Fast thinking is then called system one whilst slow
thinking is called system two, but why?
I suppose it is to suggest a big difference. But this programme looks
loose, as did the book that Kahneman
published last year, when I looked at it. I mean to complete the review I began
on that later. It is not as bad as it might be, but it is still clearly a very
poor book.

Kahneman looks like a weak thinker to me. But he
plays to a popular gallery about human rationality, or rather human
irrationality. We might see this gallery as the Romantic paradigm that replaced
the Enlightenment after 1789. This paradigm shift was more to do with mere
fashion than being owing to a case of true intellectual progress, as Thomas
Kuhn might say. As Popper admitted in his 1970s Schilpp reply to Kuhn, there
are fashion changes, even in science, but it is far from being a good thing. Popper thought that it could even be the death
of science if ever what Kuhn calls normal science actually becomes what Kuhn
calls it. It was this sort of paradigm
shift of fashion change rather than intellectual progress that brought about any
success. The supposed of Keynes in
economics in the 1930s was similar.

We make many decisions that we do not even realise
that we make, the team continue to say. System one, or fast thinking, takes most decisions such that we may only
notice two out of every ten decisions that we make. Our slow thinking is
logical and rational. It is the mind we think of as ourselves, we are told, but
most thought is automatic, or almost automatic, it is fast whilst slow thinking
requires some work and so it is reluctant; or rather it is we who are often too
lazy to undertake that work; we cannot be bothered, so we settle instead for
the prima facie thought that the mind
finds at once, the team tell us.

Here the team seem to be in two minds themselves for
they say we are at home in deliberation and yet it is hard work. And they say
do we truly not even notice our many tacit decisions? But is that the
case? It seems not to me. We seem to be
fully aware of our many decisions.

I think
belief is automatic but not that our habitual, or usual fast thought, is but
Kahneman and the team seem to be right for once on saying that deliberate
thinking often involves work and the economists might tell them that work,
unless it is a greatly motivated labour of love, is highly likely to involve
some disutility. We feel a need to
economise on what Kahneman calls slow thought, or system two. It may well be a
false economy sometimes, of course.

Nor do I think that most people like language as
much as the college trained team or Kahneman does. The team say that we
identify ourselves as deliberators, that we think of ourselves as language
users. But most people will, I expect, see what they calls fast thought, or
what I call tacit thought, to be more like themselves at ease, or to be more
natural or care free rather than that they identify with relatively unpleasant
deliberation, that many people often do like to dodge, as the team say, unless
it is on something that they normally like. Yet the team also say that is where
the heart is with most people. This common academic over-rating of language and
deliberation calls to mind some academic sociology that might get Kahneman and
the team to rethink, as it suggests that the less educated masses might be more
at home with tacit thinking, or that
even some quite well educated people might be too.

Basil Bernstein in the 1960s noticed that there were
two types of language codes, that he called the
elaborated code and the restricted code. The restricted code tended to forever
underestimate how much needed to be made explicit if one wanted to be
understood, especially with strangers. Bernstein denied that he was making anti-working
class points but he was clearly on about the majority of the UK 1960s
population who would then be called lower or working class, however much his
fellow sociologists were muddled on that meme.

Some noticed that
even those called middle class also were often tongue-tied or seemed to hope
that they did not need to be more elaborate, or explicit, to be fully
understood, like the proles, or the proletariat, for the well-educated too
rather hoped that those they were talking to could rather successfully just
guess their meaning. On this paradigm, most people tend to identify with tacit thought rather
than with deliberate explicit thought as the Horizon team and Kahneman tends to assume.

The restricted code
is, maybe, suitable for close friends, or insiders who share assumptions and
understanding on the topic, but with strangers or in the academic essays in the
colleges the more elaborated code that made things more explicit was clearly
needed. This was nearer the normal habit of the middle class, but far from
being universal even with them. This need to be more thorough is taxing for
most people, maybe even for most of those called the middle class too. It sometimes
involves quite a bit of disutility. We are more likely to feel at home in the
restricted code or even when we are completely tacit or silent.

But though
deliberation requires more effort, it is hardly completely distinct from normal
thought, even if it is more of a cost to indulge in or often
even something of a pain in the neck at times that we would sooner refrain from
exercising than to indulge in.

The plain fact seems to be that Kahneman and the
team are not good at either fast or slow thinking but they seem exceeding at
home in clear hubris when they say we are at home in mainly unwelcome deliberate or slow thought, as they are when
they imagine they are truly finding faults in the irrational general public.
They seem to err when they say tacit thought is like a stranger or that we do
not even notice most of the tacit decisions that we make.

We are told by the team that slow thinking is the
star but that it invents unrelated reasons to justify whatever we do, leaving
the real system one, or fast thought, or what I call tacit motives to be
completely forgotten. So we all make up a false self by rationalisation, we are
told. This is a fond dogma that most people today may well agree with the team
on, but it hardly seems to be true as far as I can see. It is a dogma of the
cheap wisdom often called vulgar “cynical”
but has little to do with the Cynic philosophers of old.

So the team say that our real intuitive self is
denied or overlooked! System two, or slow reasoning, invents false reasons for
what the impulsive system decides. Kahneman says that decisions are made
without our knowledge but later rationalised but this looks like mistaking what
many might call “cynical” ideas with wisdom. The team tell us that we are not aware
of our impulsive motives very often, if ever at all. But the reality seems
rather to be that we do not bother to make up bogus motives but it is true that
we may not always tell others why we do
as we do. Sometimes we might even tell others false stores about our motives,
if there is a reason to do so. There is no reason to tell ourselves lies or rationalisations
about our own motives. With telling others it would be lying , of course. But
the team want to say that we lie to ourselves. That is not likely but it is a fond
dogma with the Romantic gallery that the Horizon
team are playing to.

We are then shown by the team two cases of wine
selling. A small number is shown to people on bits of paper then they are asked
how much they think a bottle of wine is worth. They all reply with answers that
fit a small price range near the mentioned small number in dollars. Then a
larger number is suggested to other people by similar bits of paper and when
they are asked what they thought a similar bottle of wine was worth they came
up with a higher price range, again near to the suggested higher number. The idea was that the suggested number had
more impact than had the bottle of wine itself. Would any number do? The team
tended to suggest that it might.

The idea seems to be that the two groups of people
asked were led on by the suggestions rather than guessing a natural price for
the wine, but the team tend to overlook that there is no natural price for any
wine that the people being tested had foolishly ignored. Both prices will have
been too steep for those who do not think much of drinking wine, like me, but
both price ranges might have been well worth it for actual wine lovers. Prices
are not so much a measure of objective value but rather money is just a means
of exchange at any particular time.

Whether a price is too high is a personal feeling
depending on how much money one has and how much the good on sale, here the
wine, relates to other things we might want to buy instead, but all that seems
to be as lost on Kahneman and the team, as were the number of farmers in the
USA were lost on the ignorant New Yorkers who thought a shy man was more likely
to be a librarian than a farmer if ever they met him in New York. Like the New
Yorkers, they take their first assumptions almost uncritically; fast thinking
maybe. But the team feel greatly superior to the New Yorkers. Kahneman, in
particular, ironically smiles at the camera like some gormless fool as he
reflects how very foolish the taxi drivers are.

One of the team says we remain loyal to earlier
decisions rather than bothering to think afresh about the current one, as it
saves thought in deliberate system two. We are told that psychologists have now
found a hundred and fifty cognitive biases that usually lead to human error.
Indeed, they call them errors in themselves. The team say that people pay too
much attention to what they want now rather than to what they might want later
on but they ought to realise that current and future desires are equal. But are
they really equal? The team seem to make false assumptions in thinking. They seem
to have more to learn from economics than to teach the economists. In treating
arithmetic as if it lacks any bias, as if it must apply to all things neutrally,
seems to be the team’s own pet error. We might call it an arithmetic bias.

Anyway, any assumption at all will risk error, and
will introduce bias by any content. The
team do not seem to realise that fact. They tend to assume that some
assumptions might be risk free, especially those with arithmetic. They might
learn from economics where marginal theory holds that extra units usually
deliver decreasing diminishing returns in utility with uniform units.

Kahneman tells us about the Halo Effect, where we
favour our friends, but the psychologists long to say that we do this
unconsciously when it is plain to most people do so quite consciously. But
maybe the team mean we do not just favour our friends but think they tend to
lack faults, or we do not quite see their faults. If so, then that would seem
to be a common crass dogma of current common sense rather than any factual
finding of psychology, but it is the
sort of dogma against the human race that we might expect the psychologists to
adopt like they adopt the dogma of the Unconscious mind. They want to make a
science out of their college study departments but do they have anything to say
of import to anyone from their psychological study or from so-called brain
science? It would seem not. They seem to have made exactly no progress since
the day of William James in the late nineteenth century, and it seems
reasonable to think that will be still the case in 500 years’ time too. No
science of psychology was ever needed. Common sense is enough for interpersonal

Kahneman seems to be hinting at the old dogma of the
Unconscious mind with his notion of fast thinking, a false idol but one that
psychologists and brain scientists remain very fond of. It seems psychology never was, nor ever will
be, a progressive science as it cannot truly do better than mere common sense
but rather it seems to be merely a Politically Correct [PC] ideology and in PC
alone it transcends common sense. In its futile attempt to make a case against
the human race it tends to, forever, remain quite barren.

The reports in books on brain science read today
almost exactly as they read in the 1960s, only the older reader now finds them
harder to credit. Their repeated song of much expected progress on top of
having already made more progress than ever before in the last fifteen years, a
claim made on the UK radio once again this week, looks as poor as the Green’s perennial
cry of wolf. This is especially the case when one recalls that an identical
claim for brain science was made, also by psychologists on the radio, as well
as in books, in 1968.

We are told by the team that impulsive spending is a
bias, as is not seeing things from the other person’s point of view, and indeed
that we are so riddled with bias that it is a wonder whether we can ever make a
rational decision at all! But any assumption will be biased ipso facto. Any content at all will be biased. So all
this is a typical series of brutum fulmen
from the psychologists. As any assumption will be biased, so to think at all is
to risk error, but it is also the sole means to any truth.

What about trained experts? Do they also err left,
right and centre? Yes, say the team.
Donald R. Kretz, a man in charge of the experts who keep a look out for
terrorists in USA, carries out an experiment on his team of experts on
terrorist threats to the public. He
seemed about as un-self-critical as Kahneman is and he seems about as proud of
his own mediocre ideas as is Kahneman too.
He was very concerned about conformation bias, but he does not seem to
be aware of Karl Popper’s idea of the duty, that we all have, to try to refute
our own pet ideas, that might be the remedy to that common academic hubris
problem that he clearly has about as much as this Horizon team has but Kretz
does try an Agatha Christie type plot with many red herrings in a type of
experiment on a group of anti-terrorist experts but he has a group of twelve
mixed with some lay members too.

Could he trap them with his red herrings? That this
plot was just a story-like plot, and that it was also aimed to trap the twelve
seemed almost to be lost on Kretz, despite him being the author of the plot. He
seemed to think that his own trap was a test at how backward the experts were
on real cases, that the experts falling into this trap was on par with them
getting the wrong result in an actual real case of terrorism. As it happened they
all did fall for his red herrings apart from one, who was not one of the experts.
So eleven get it wrong but the one who got the right answer was not an expert.
He did see the author’s plot as well as the author did.

Kretz fools the experts to go for the known
terrorist group within the plot, the Network of Dread whereas, in his
plot, it is the previously
non-terrorists, the cyber-hacking group,
the Masters of Chaos, who were held by the author to be an emerging new terrorist threat but the team missed
this, owing to conformation bias. Kretz feels his plot-experiment is
informative. This looks like clear
hubris, like the ideas of Kahneman, that arithmetic is unbiased, such that the
amount of money now and the same amount in the future must be of equal value.

But the Horizon
team return to their pet idea that it is exactly with money where humans get
most confused. Money changes the way humans react to the world, they say. We
hate to lose out; we hate the risk of loss too.
We prefer to be safe. There is a bias of loss aversion.

We are told that economics assume that humans are
rational. But how could that assumption affect supply and demand analysis?
Would it affect the downward slopping demand curve that Gary Becker assumes, if
it were to be dropped for the supposed truth that the team have that humans are
irrational? It seems not, but the playing to the gallery of popular
anti-economics of the psychologists continues nevertheless. It won Kahneman the Noble Prize for Economics
after all. We are told by the team that he helped to create a new branch of
economics called Behavioural Economics.

We do not look at what arithmetic tells us for we
usually hate to lose more than we love to gain, they tell us. Kahneman keeps to
his dogma that arithmetic is somehow neutral, or unbiased, here. But if humans
prefer not to lose rather than to gain, as he says, it is hardly germane that
both are the same in mere arithmetic. But this is ignored, or not even
realised. So Kahneman feels it is a
clear error to overlook it or not to realise the equal arithmetic, as it will
therefore be the same in utility too, but that might not be the case, as it is
not in equal utility with the case of diminishing returns. But that possibility
seems lost on Kahneman.

If the disutility from loses is truly greater than
the utility from gains, if this is how we are and how we are bound to be, as
the team says, then it would merely be
silly to equate the two, owing to equal arithmetic, as Kahneman and the Horizon team dogmatically, or
thoughtlessly, say. They seem to suffer from a bias that arithmetic must be
neutral psychologically to the extent that they cannot even notice it when they
tend to refute themselves. This Popper might call reinforced dogmatism.

We are told that it was excessive optimism that
caused the 2008 financial crisis. One psychologist, Professor Heish Shefrin,
says he feels sure that it was only the assumption of human rationality that
led to that financial trouble. The effect that money has on how people think
was at fault. Conformation bias played a great role in that crisis. If the
thinking of the bankers was not distorted by money then the trouble in 2008
could have been avoided, he says, and the Horizon team agree. They feel that a better financial system
might have been designed if only we had earlier realised that people are not
rational. Here they tend to overlook that the idea that man is rational has
been held as being a very naïve idea at least since the Romantic paradigm took
over from the Enlightenment one after 1789. Most people feel they have known
that we are often irrational long since. It looks mistaken to me but it is the
top idea.

The team feel they can find out quite a bit from
evolution. We are introduced to the study of monkeys, where we might find clues
to the evolutionary origins of human error and conformation bias. We might see
where we got it from. We are taken to the island off Puerto Rico, called Cayo
Santiago, with an academic researcher, Laurie Santos. The monkeys on this
island are shown to favour friendly traders even though it costs a bit more but
the team think this is irrational rather than that the extra friendliness is
worth it to the monkeys. Ironically, the team seem to be fast to rest on this
idea that the monkeys should not be biased towards the friendly traders, but
there is no clear reason why not. The
team seem to be critical about their pet ideas.

Kahneman is nowhere near as bright as he thinks he
is, indeed he seems to be rather dim, but he is not as dim as most on this particular
Horizon team, for most of the
psychologist experts consulted during the programme, as well as the one who
wrote the main script, hardly seem to think at all. They are Romantic champions
of irrationality as against the naïve paradigm of the Enlightenment that held
that man was rational. Romantics usually hold, as a dogma, that the normal
person cannot stand too much reality, or truth, as T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) did,
but the plain fact seems to be the very opposite, that most people do not like
stupid people, like the members of this particular Horizon team seem to be, as do so many others in the colleges seem
to be too. The people that man the colleges tend to suggest that the
pre-college examinations they passed to get into college were an inverse natural
selection that selected out, or favoured, the thoughtless instead of the
brighter people as is supposed by common sense.

Many people often boast openly that they “do not
suffer fools gladly”. They are thereby a bit illiberal there, but that is way
more like the normal person is, than that it is impersonal reality itself that
normal people cannot put up with. Note that it is not the reality of many unknown people out there are fools that the
average person finds it hard to tolerate but rather the particular minority of
others who they frequently meet, or they
know, who they certainly think are fools.
The Horizon programme did
repeatedly unwittingly suggest that the team were made up of fools.

Anyway, the truth seems to be that it is sheer
hyperbole to say that we are in two minds with fast and slow thought. As Hobbes
said in his 1651 book, intuition is normal thought speeded up rather than
abnormal or distinctly different alien thought of some distinct sort. It is
merely faster, that is all. But, as any Chess player knows, the more time we
have to think, the less likely we are to err. That is why we play Chess by the
clock. Almost anyone will play way better if allowed to take as much time as
they need over making a move in Chess. But we do not thereby use a different
sort of thought when we think things over slowly.