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Two recent pieces on the nature of science

My attention span for subjects in cognitive psychology has traditionally been limited by impatience over heuristics. It's an arena where humans can't help being subjective, and it's easy to get tangled up in this subjectivity to a point where one becomes blind to alternative ideas and evidence and ways of thinking. Kahneman is continuing to do a sensitive job of covering important gaps in how humans think about, interpret, and respond to the world around us. I have a feeling that I will wind up pulling out some excerpts to savor further.

In the meantime, here are two things that popped up yesterday, both touching on how scientific thinking can be transformed over time. They highlighted one of the most important things that Kahneman has done, from a philosophical standpoing: when Kahneman has encountered resistance to his ideas and evidence, he has made a concerted effort to work with those who have an opposing viewpoint to figure out how to reconcile different perspectives.

In contrast, for years now I have been observing some Huge Arguments in sociobiology that have largely just exasperated me, over the evolution of eusociality. At one point, a couple of years into graduate school, a group of us got together as a small class to work through the relevant ideas and math for the sake of understanding group selection. It wasn't easy, but with the help of a couple key people, we reached a point where we all felt like we had a good sense of the mechanics, even if we hadn't reached the stage where we had ideas on how to structure and test hypotheses on the subject. That was sufficient for me; my main interests lie elsewhere.

But the evolution of eusociality is obviously a Big Question for sociobiologists, so of course some prominent figures in the field have had longstanding interest in being involved in answering the question. When Wilson and Nowak's paper appeared in the journal Nature in 2010, it created quite a stir, but as this blog post so aptly puts it, "Reading the protracted back and forth between the challengers and defenders of kin selection is like watching a tennis match in which the ball abruptly changes shape, size, colour, and direction every time it crosses over the net."

In this case, there may be hope in the long term, but the tennis match has left its mark on interpersonal relations in the field of sociobiology, which I think is something of a shame.

Yesterday I also encountered a piece about an emeritus faculty member from Berkeley, Marian Diamond, who is the subject of a new documentary because of her influential career spent studying the human brain. The brief video snippet in the article also provides commentary about how Diamond faced resistance to the ideas she was interested in pursuing. But it sounds like a worthwhile documentary project in that she was eventually able to convince people that longstanding notions about how the brain works were wrong. I also like her perspective on five things that promote brain health (diet, exercise, challenge, newness, love). To some extent, this all actually wraps back around to Kahneman, who in the most recent chapter of Thinking, Fast and Slow has pointed out that humans do a much better job of generalizing from anecdata than we do of applying general statistical information to specific cases. It will be easier to follow Diamond's story than it would be to follow a history of neuroscience.


( 11 remarks — Remark )
Mar. 1st, 2016 06:20 pm (UTC)
Here's a good transcribed speech by Diamond. I'd still like to know more about what she's studied in terms of diet.

Mar. 1st, 2016 11:23 pm (UTC)
So much to say about this entry, so little time. Maybe over the weekend... :/
Mar. 1st, 2016 11:54 pm (UTC)
Just don't quote Kuhn at me. Levins and Lewontin are acceptable, however. ;^)
Mar. 2nd, 2016 11:21 pm (UTC)
Now what do you have against that nice Mr. Kuhn? :)
Mar. 3rd, 2016 12:00 am (UTC)
I think he's made valid points, just that they don't necessarily bear rehashing.
Mar. 2nd, 2016 12:55 am (UTC)
I think I need to read Thinking, Fast and Slow.
Mar. 2nd, 2016 03:10 am (UTC)
Yeah, me too.
Mar. 2nd, 2016 03:11 am (UTC)
I'd never heard 'anecdata' before. It's a great term.
Mar. 7th, 2016 08:40 pm (UTC)
This would make an interesting Zine. You could sell them on ebay. Do you know any illustrators?
Mar. 7th, 2016 08:40 pm (UTC)
(something my mom would probably say, huh)
Mar. 7th, 2016 09:02 pm (UTC)
Haha, do I know any illustrators. ;-)

I like this Zine notion, tremendously. I'm a big fan of zines!
( 11 remarks — Remark )

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