Battlepanda: Humans suck


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Humans suck

Amanda had this insightful nugget in response to my post on global-warming denialists that really puts the finger on the conspiracy theory phenomenon:
In my opinion, conspiracy theories proliferate because of the tendency of humans to anthropomorphize pretty much everything, including systems. In fact, it rapidly becomes difficult to describe a system without invoking human-like intentionality as a shorthand for process of a system—the most immediate example is how evolutionary processes are described as “selection”. Feminists invoke the same kind of anthropormophizing metaphor when describing the patriarchy.
Interesting point. Good examples. Conspiracy theories also draw people in because they contain all the answers. Humans are built to seek patterns and derive explanations from raw facts. This makes theories that claim to put all the puzzle pieces together very attractive.

Talking about humans and our cognitive flaws, I cannot recommend this audio presentation by Daniel Gilbert on how people (mis)estimate probabilities highly enough. One of my favorite hobbyhorse of all time is that people would make better decisions in general and as voters in particular if they learn something about statistics in the context of decision-making and are confronted with their cognitive biases. This presentation does about as good a job of conveying that in the space of an hour and has an irresistable title to boot: "How to Do Precisely the Right Thing at All Possible Times." I think that Knzn might be especially interested in the audio -- there is a rich nexus between statistics, psychology and economics that is inadequately explored.