114. Critical Thinking: Limits To Intelligence Testing And If (A) then (C)

08 important lessons from this lecture:

00:01:48 It’s important that you don’t waste your thinking on useless information; yet much, if not most, of the information you receive is useless. This stresses the importance of replication and prospective rather than retrospective observation.

00:02:38 The scientific method as we know it has only existed for around 400 years, so it’s not very compatible with the way most people view the world.

Many states pass laws requiring organizations which deal with drug and alcohol abuse and other self-help associations may only use techniques which are “evidence-based.”

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For a really great book on how to evaluate support group and parenting methods, as well as the problems associated with determining whether a technique is “evidence-based,” read the book Redirect: Changing The Stories We Live By by Timothy D. Wilson.]

00:05:36 Intelligence testing is a long-standing tradition. There are basically two kinds of intelligence that intelligence tests attempt to measure:

  1. Crystalized intelligence is knowledge about factual information about the world. This information is accumulated through learning and experience.
  2. Fluid intelligence is your ability to deal with new information and problems, such as an understanding of logic and tricky thinking.

Yet, intelligence doesn’t predict smartness, and intelligence tests turn out to be poor predictors of whether or not you will be sensible and/or gullible. Stupidity is a derogative term, but let’s face it: stupidity is stupidity.

This is because psychological tests either measure:

  1. Capacity – what can you do under ideal conditions, or
  2. Aptitude –  how intelligent you are

Just because you have a high capacity doesn’t mean you’re going to use it intelligently and apply it rationally, and so a distinction must be made between rationality and intelligence.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall in his lecture Critical Thinking: Keys To Critical Thinking & Thinking About Dubious Claims, Mr. Hyman explores reasons why very intelligent people are prone to making very stupid mistakes.]

Most people have sufficient intelligence to be able to survive, so long as they don’t have a disposition. Most of what we call rationality is more of what we call a cognitive disposition – a desire really look at a problem, figure things out and get to the truth, or the right answer.

This is one of the reasons, and ironies of, why I helped found The Skeptic’s Toolbox. Some of the people who attend these conferences have no desire to think or reason rationally, and would rather view our information through a confirmation bias – accepting information that confirms their prior beliefs, while ignoring information that challenges or disproves their prior beliefs. When your mind is consumed with a confirmation bias, you’re not applying your mind in a rational way.

00:11:44 Recall from my lecture Critical Thinking: Perceptual & Cognitive Biases that one of the reasons critical thinkers go astray are because of cognitive miserliness, a mindware gap, and corrupted mindware.

Jack is looking at Anne, but Anne is looking at George. Jack is married, but George is not.

Is a married person looking at an unmarried person?
A) Yes
B) No
C) Cannot be determined

Answer: A) Yes
Explanation: Most people pick C) Cannot be determined; it is the first default answer that immediately comes to our mind – your automatic system. (Sometimes you can trust your automatic system; this is what expertise is all about.) But this problem is more difficult to answer because it violates the principle of the Cognitive Miser (photo above).

Plausible attribution involves not solving the real problem, rather you are solving a simpler problem that can be solved without too much thinking. In the above question, we do not have any information about whether or not Anne is married or unmarried; therefore our mind takes the easier route and says C) Cannot be determined, and consider the answer solved.

HOWEVER. To correctly answering this question requires disjunctive thinking:

  • Assuming Anne were married, then a married person (Anne) would be looking at an unmarried person (George); so the correct answer would be A) Yes.
  • Assuming Anne were unmarried, then you would have a married person (Jack) looking an an unmarried person (Anne); so the correct answer would again be A) Yes.

It should also be noted in the above question that the 3-choice answer arrangement primes the problem-solver to choose C) Cannot be determined, and saves you the cognitive resources of the problem-solver having to figuring the answer out.

00:21:00 The mindware gap problem is that you simply lack the necessary information required to accurately answer the question. We work around the mindware gap problem by factoring in probabilities. Exponential growth is another way of thinking in which the human mind hasn’t been trained to think.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: In the documentary Transcendent Man: When Humans Merge With Technology & Transcend Biology, Ray Kurzweil argues that singularity (the point where technological change will be so rapid and its impact so profound that every aspect of human life will be irreversably transformed and there won’t be a clear distinction between humans and machines) will happen within our own lifetimes.

Mr. Kurzweil also points out that people routinely underestimate what is achievable over long periods of time because they leave out the radical implications of exponential growth.  He notes that the law of accelerating returns argues that the nature of technological progress is exponential.

If I count linearly (1, 2, 3, 4…), if I take 30 steps, I get to 30. If I count exponentially (2, 4, 8,16…), 30 steps later I’m at 1.07 billion. In terms of technology, this means that “I can’t just take (technological) projections for just 2, 3, 4, or 6 years, but 10, 20, 50 years from now and invent with the technologies of the future. I can’t build those devices yet, but I can describe them and write about them.”]

Contaminated mindware is having information which turns out to be wrong, thus making our calculations erroneous. Garbage in, garbage out. This underlines the importance of ensuring that we only fill our minds with accurate information.

00:34:30 Ray Hyman’s recommended readings on hypothetical thinking:

If (antecedent) then (consequence)

00:36:40 In the above venn diagram:

  • Affirming the (consequence) is an invalid argument
  • Affirming the (antecedent) is a valid argument. Also called Modus Ponens.
  • Denying the (antecedent) is an invalid argument.
  • Denying the (consequence) is a valid argument. Also called Modus Tollens

00:41:30 Karl Popper came up with the notion of falsifiability: the theory that any scientific theory has to be falsifiable. He postulated that dedutive logic is the only true kind of logic. Scientists recognize that everything is probabilistic, and everything involves some extent of inductive reasoning.

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