27 Comments
May 21Liked by Andrew Perlot

“Such societies consider admitting cognitive errors a sign of strength and leadership” —> this, I think, is the crucial starting point. If you asked me today, I’d say most cognitive biases are self-protection mechanisms, and our core values have for a long time made it so you had to act like a stubborn blowhard in order to survive in your group. This is still the case in most workplaces. Anyway, great article thank you

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author

Thanks! Glad you liked it. Yes, self protection mechanism is a part of it. Once we've let something into our identity, criticizing it is a criticism of ourself. It hurts: https://andrewperlot.substack.com/i/144078290/your-labels-made-you-stupid

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"The only way to escape is self-work.", I agree with you on this.

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Can we create this? Yes, consciously.

We teach: good stewardship, mindfulness, healthy boundary setting. critical thinking, kindness, compassion, secularism, the importance of sustainable populations, the interconnectedness of all life, contemplative practices, transcendence of personal patterns/cultural patterns/gender patterns/generational patterns, humane practices, humane living, wellness, nutrition, self-care.

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I believe with great conviction that our education systems should have a required, ongoing subject (alongside math and language and all the others) just for learning how to effectively think. Topics would include understanding the biases, logical fallacies, frameworks of thought, modes of thinking such as rhizomatically, dialectically, nomadically, and on and on. One only need browse Twitter/X for 2 minutes and it becomes painfully clear how poorly society has been trained in this manner. BTW, plugging all these terms and more into ChatGPT and copy/pasting the results into a Google Doc produces a very powerful manual for learning how to better think in this crazy, changing world. We're doomed if we don't get better at this.

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Apr 11Liked by Andrew Perlot

A lot of excellent ideas here! It seems like it shouldn’t be too hard to add this kind of critical reasoning practice into our education system. I believe there’s already a move to apply critical thinking skills to what students find on the Internet.

I like video games and I’ve also written a satire on conspiracy theories (Ship of Fools, which I’ll start seriaizing here next month). So I had to check out that critical thinking video game. Commissioned by IARPA! “Deep-state psy-op!” will be the response of many on both left and right.

If these solutions need to be implemented at scale by institutions, but those institutions have lost public trust, how can they be moved forward? (I guess I’m just echoing what others are saying here.)

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It's a problem. I suspect these interventions may be trialed at private schools or at home and gain some legitimacy before being adopted by the wider education system.

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This reference described the state of o our collective dreadful sanity

http://beezone.com/whats-new

Two essays which describe the individual and collective state of the people altogether.

http://beezone.com/2main_shelf/frustrationuniversdisease.html

http://beezone.com/2main_shelf/stresschemistry.html

The cure!

http://www.nottwoispeace/excerpt-everybody-all-at-once

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I'm going to make an argument that Star Trek isn't about a Utopia. It was about the human condition in a post-scarcity world. In Kirk's time, they had money in the form of credits, but Star Fleet didn't use money. In Picard's time, it was all about reputation and a search for truth. But even in the Federation Utopia, there was trouble, and it was in the upper tiers of the leadership. It got so bad that the colonies didn't want to be part of the utopia and wanted independence.

But take a pampered Federation crew and strand them in the wilderness, and that utopian facade crumbles, and the real people start to show through.

Wisdom comes with age, and in the modern world, some people never grow up. Enlightenment comes with understanding, and most citizens want to be left alone with their small group of friends and family. We will never make a person in a small American town understand what a citizen in the furthest village in China thinks. But what that American understands, if he's not an NPC, is that the Chinese citizen isn't his enemy. At present, our enemy is the socialist group that has infiltrated our government.

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It's not as important to have better humans as it is to have better systems. Good systems (like school, family, etc) lead to good humans. The corruption of our systems leads to more people choosing to be corrupt than normally would under a trustworthy system.

As Naval Ravikant says: "The test of any good system is to turn it over to your enemies. If they can't break it then it is a good system."

Our systems are fully corrupted and that is the root problem. In most psychological tests, over 95% of humans want to do good.

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author

I'm with you that it's more important to have better systems. When I first read this, I kept pushing back wondering, "ok but are we just supposed to hope that everyone starts behaving better because they learned to in school?" But I can also see the value of needing more critical thinking humans to be able to create these better systems. So maybe we need the good systems that create the good people that create the good systems?

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100% we can. The way is through:

1) trustworthy and transparent systems that get results

2) repairing trust between people

3) A culture change to one of criticism, results, and collaboration.

4) using collective intelligence to come up with solutions, to run systems, and to govern. This type of system: https://joshketry.substack.com/p/how-to-fix-corrupt-government-in

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We do need better systems. But it sounds to me like you answered the question "how do we reach utopia," by saying "by having already reached utopia."

Systems are built and maintained by people.

If a school is to educate children to minimize minimize the impact of their cognitive biases, for instance, that's probably going to start with someone having a conviction about them being educated in this way running for a school board seat. Or having an entrepreneur-educator start up a new private school and instituting it there. Or some other human taking action. Everything starts with a wise human, or better yet, a support network of wise humans.

I agree that our current system (in the US) is imperfect, but it was revolutionary when created and has lead to the best outcomes of any sprawling, high population, highly demographically and culturally varied country has ever achieved.

How did that happen? Our founding fathers, while certainly flawed, were keen students of philosophy and psychology. That made an impact on the document they crafted.

Better systems are needed, but so are better humans to start and maintain those systems until a virtuous feedback loop kicks in.

Also, somewhat related: https://andrewperlot.substack.com/p/why-were-marooned-in-the-present

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I am all for this! We need more philosophers who can guide us through the digital realm, what to ignore and what to pay attention these days is an invaluable skill.

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Universal education, with time spent on real science, which everyone is perfectly capable of understanding, you just have to have sciences classes taught by scientists, rather than football coaches, critical thinking, real coverage of historical systems, and unbiased comparative religion studies. Nothing is so unsettling as having a high performing student in a psychology class tell you the Buddhism is a made up religion. I mean, where do you start?

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Aren’t all religions made up? They have been humankind’s way of trying to understand what was not yet understood. Instead of simply saying, “I do not yet know,” they created their own cosmologies. Then, they subscribed to it.

There was no method involved in any of it. Belief based on belief. No evidence required. If you desire science to be taught by scientists, then religions should be also-scientists teaching scientific method.

No more superstition. No more myth. No more deity belief. Humane science taught by humane scientists, with an emphasis on quantum science. Everything is connected. Let’s reconcile this once and for all.

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you start by teaching kids to write better. You start by making it enjoyable. Free-spirited. Where voice and respect means something. So does listening. To what your own brain is noticing. What that experience made you feel. And, over time, the next generation learns how to articulate what they think and feel and observe and want in ways that are well-received.

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I have been making the argument that utopianism requires, at some point, figuring out how to help people be better. I think your summary of the problem is good, but I would suggest that it's worth thinking about it as a collective action problem, not an individual problem.

See, for example, David Roberts argument here: https://www.volts.wtf/p/why-i-am-a-progressive

---------quote---------

But the crucial point is that we can be better or worse decision-makers, closer or farther away from the ideal described above, and we have a pretty good idea what it takes to help people get closer. (More on that below.)

One thing that doesn’t seem to help is a well-developed set of ethical principles. A 2014 research paper surveyed the empirical evidence collected by studies of various moral behaviors and found “no statistically detectable difference between the behavior of ethicists and non-ethicists.”

In any real-world situation, good decision-making is enabled less by abstract principles than by temperament and discernment, i.e., self-possession and wisdom. The person who takes in the most information, can see the situation through the appropriate lens, and can act on priorities amidst pressure and uncertainty will likely make the best decision.

Whether we’re seeking better real-world outcomes (as I am) or seeking better answers to longstanding moral questions (as the Trolley Problem is), the right strategy is the same: get help. Try to make society fertile for the development of better moral agents. They will have better answers than we do.

-----------end quote---------

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The desire for self-improvement is key.

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Funny that you mention that study, because it comes up alot in what I'll call the "philosophy revival movement."

One of the criticisms you see from ancient Stoics is that so-called philosophers were engaging in intellectual debates and theorizing without using philosophy as a personal practice to make themselves better. Epictetus and Seneca both get into this topic. They both thought these guys were cosplaying philosophy without doing what philosophy is about — self therapy for self improvement.

But guess what? The guys like Seneca and Epictetus lost. The cosplayers won. My impression of modern academic philosophy is that you have a of people who specialize in the intellectual pursuit of philosophy with little to no practical application. It's pretty ivory tower. As strange as it sounds, it's entirely possible to be a specialist in ethics who isn't ethical. No one should be surprised by the outcomes of this study.

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Thanks. I'm happy to stipulate, for the sake of argument, that there are practices when would improve ethical decision making -- and that those practices are valued and should be studied and respected!

I still think David Roberts broad point is correct that there's a lot more room for improvement in creating a society which puts a higher percentage of people in situations where they're well situated to make good decisions.

At the very least I'd encourage you to read the whole article, not just my teaser.

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Consciously creating situations for persons to succeed?

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Apr 10·edited Apr 10Author

I'm all for it. I simply don't see this as an either/or choice. We need people to pursue self improvement and for society to support everyone in being better. There's a virtuous self-reinforcing cycle there, and it needs to begin somewhere.

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No, not an either/or choice, but it's worth keeping both in mind.

As a side note, I suspect that, if you look at what works for individuals you will find that the largest gains come from practices that are, on some level, inherently difficult (You talked about the stoics, I also find myself thinking about this conversation about Buddhism -- https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/8/23/16179044/buddhism-meditation-mindfulness-robert-wright-interview ), in part because it takes a certain personality to embrace and find value in difficult practice.

Part of the challenge of trying to approach the collective action problem is figuring out what gives you a good result while excluding the fewest number of people; having a sufficiently low threshold of entry that it can be widely shared.

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I appreciated the work that went into this. Reading your piece was valuable to me.

But I wonder about the direction of your suggestions, pointing inward, requiring of the populace to fix themselves. I like to think of it another way: What if we simply ... encouraged and helped others?

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author

I'm all for it! Many philosophies incorporate helping humanity. I lean Stoic, myself, which is based around virtue ethics. One of the four cardinal virtues is justice, and you can't be just while ignoring your fellow man. If you can help them, you should.

But part of philosophy is striving to be better. If you decide that helping your fellow humans is good, but cognitive bias causes your "help," to be harmful, what have you accomplished? We'll never achieve any sort perfection in this realm, but everyone is capable of getting better.

I don't make any claims to wisdom, but I'm pretty sure I'm less foolish than I used to be. I hope that translates into me being more effectively able to help others, hopefully without accidentally hurting them.

This is only tangentially related, but a reasonable analogy is the introduction of Australia's Cane Toads: https://andrewperlot.substack.com/p/why-no-one-expects-killer-toads

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That is very cool. I think I look at it in a different way, simply a shift from looking inward to outward.

It is surprising to me, and it really shouldn't have been, that the Web has made us more introspective. When I first began with the Web in 1995, I fully expected it to be a collection of communities of knowledge and interest. But then the Web was monetized. And we are seeing a fragmentation of communication that is quite astonishing, almost as if we have gone back to a 1200 baud connection.

Now I would argue that we think we are looking outward because each day we are barraged by information, good, bad, false, bizarre, brutal, annoying, dangerous, boring every day. It piles up. And in so much of the interaction with that information we relate it to ourselves. Are we that happy? That smart? That, well, I don't know, goddamned fucking rich! ... (You see where I am going.)

So we look inward and we begin to compare, to think the worst and then we buy into this: "What is your worst case scenario?" Or, as you put it, "cognitive bias causes your 'help' to be harmful..." I say, "Huh?"

A story: In the fall of 2006, I built an interactive website for kids to come write. Post, comment, upload images or audio or both. We built forums. They built this cool application to cooperatively build worlds with characters and subthemes. They holed up in their rooms and created music, sound, one kid got so wound up he turned the Legend of Sleepy Hollow into a musical. He wrote the words and the music, recorded himself seeing it so the leads could understand what the keys, modulation and rhythm were. The kids were inventive, cooperative but most of all ... respectful.

We had no rules. In all my time on that site and at any given time we'd have about 4,000 5,000 active users, I unpublished maybe a dozen comments but talked to the user who invariably wasn't aware, appreciated knowing, rephrased and re-published. Cool.

Sometimes I think that we've forgotten how to trust. We think the worst. If we build a space for people to share someone will come along and wreck it. But with kids, that didn't happen. In 75,000 posts and comments a year. A handful of times. Can we not expect better of adults? Would a civil, respectful place where people could trust enough to take creative risk, would such a place that relied on our good nature, not our bad, thrive? Succeed? Enrich?

That is a utopia. Where we practice empathy. And humor. And creativity.

And that would be a practice, a behavior. A simple shift to the good. To the best case scenario.

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