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“In the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt”*…

 

russell

Bertrand Russell’s quip prefigured the scientific discovery of a cognitive bias—the Dunning–Kruger effect—that has been so resonant that it has penetrated popular culture.

 

Dismayed at the Nazification of Germany, the philosopher [Bertrand Russell] wrote “The Triumph of Stupidity,” attributing the rise of Adolf Hitler to the organized fervor of stupid and brutal people—two qualities, he noted, that “usually go together.” He went on to make one of his most famous observations, that the “fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”

Russell’s quip prefigured the scientific discovery of a cognitive bias—the Dunning–Kruger effect—that has been so resonant that it has penetrated popular culture, inspiring, for example, an opera song (from Harvard’s annual Ig Nobel Award Ceremony): “Some people’s own incompetence somehow gives them a stupid sense that anything they do is first rate. They think it’s great.” No surprise, then, that psychologist Joyce Ehrlinger prefaced a 2008 paper she wrote with David Dunning and Justin Kruger, among others, with Russell’s comment—the one he later made in his 1951 book, New Hopes for a Changing World: “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.” “By now,” Ehrlinger noted in that paper, “this phenomenon has been demonstrated even for everyday tasks, about which individuals have likely received substantial feedback regarding their level of knowledge and skill.” Humans have shown a tendency, in other words, to be a bit thick about even the most mundane things, like how well they drive…

But what exactly is stupidity? David Krakauer, the President of the Santa Fe Institute, told interviewer Steve Paulson, for Nautilus, stupidity is not simply the opposite of intelligence. “Stupidity is using a rule where adding more data doesn’t improve your chances of getting [a problem] right,” Krakauer said. “In fact, it makes it more likely you’ll get it wrong.” Intelligence, on the other hand, is using a rule that allows you to solve complex problems with simple, elegant solutions. “Stupidity is a very interesting class of phenomena in human history, and it has to do with rule systems that have made it harder for us to arrive at the truth,” he said. “It’s an interesting fact that, whilst there are numerous individuals who study intelligence—there are whole departments that are interested in it—if you were to ask yourself what’s the greatest problem facing the world today, I would say it would be stupidity. So we should have professors of stupidity—it would just be embarrassing to be called the stupid professor.”

Stupidity, and what to do about it: “The Case for Professors of Stupidity.”

* Bertrand Russell, “The Triumph of Stupidity” (1933)

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As we get smart, we might spare a thought for Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin; he died on this date in 1921.  A scientist and geographer, he combined biological and historical fact to arrive at his theory of Mutual Aid.  While an army officer in Siberia, he studied the native animals, made geographical surveys, and examined the effects of the Ice Age in Asia and Europe.  His investigation of the structural lines of mountain ranges revised the cartography of eastern Asia.

But Kropotkin is probably better remembered as a revolutionary.  He wrote a series of articles against social Darwinism and its tenet of the benefits of competition.  Kropotkin argued that sociability characterized animals; thus, he held, cooperation rather than struggle guided the evolution of man and human intelligence.  These beliefs led him to propose a decentralized, “communist” society– a form of anarcho-communism, his championing of which led to his 41 year exile from Russia.  He returned in 1917, but was disappointed in the Bolshevik form of state socialism (the centralization– and totalitarian quality– of which violently conflicted with his belief in decentralization, freedom, and voluntary cooperation).

220px-Peter_Kropotkin_circa_1900 source

 

Caveat Lector!…

 

 xkcd

E.g.,

A July 2011 hoax study correlated Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and Browser Usage, specifically asserting that Microsoft Internet Explorer users had a significantly lower I.Q. than other users. The study was reported by over 30 news outlets including NPR, Forbes, CBS News, San Francisco Chronicle, The Inquirer, and CNN. The perpetrator made little effort to conceal the deception by publishing it on a freshly created domain name with a parking lot as the corporate address, and was surprised that so many reputable outlets did no fact checking.  [source]

From Nature, help:  “Twenty Tips For Interpreting Scientific Claims.”

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As we marshall our grains of salt, we might spare a thought for Herbert Spencer; he died on this date in 1903. A prominent philosopher, biologist, anthropologist, sociologist, and prominent classical liberal political theorist of the Victorian era, Spencer was an early champion of evolutionary theory; it was he who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” (some scholars suggest, before Darwin published).  Spencer’s enthusiasm for evolution spread to what has become known as Social Darwinism, the belief that society is governed by the same principles of natural selection as species (though Spencer also stirred in a measure of Lamarckism).

Spencer’s work was widely-known and discussed; he was probably the first, and possibly the only, philosopher in history to sell over a million copies of his works during his own lifetime.  Indeed authors ranging from Eliot and Hardy, through Tolstoy and Shaw, to Lawrence and Borges have cited his influence.

 

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Written by LW

December 8, 2013 at 1:01 am

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