Brain sprain

by Judith Curry

There is an interesting new paper in press in Behavioral and Brain Science that is generating substantial discussion in the blogosphere, entitled “Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory.”  Perhaps this article can provide us with some insights on the climate debate.

Why do humans reason?  Arguments for an argumentative theory

Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber

Abstract: Reasoning is generally seen as a means to improve knowledge and make better decisions. However, much evidence shows that reasoning often leads to epistemic distortions and poor decisions. This suggests that the function of reasoning should be rethought. Our hypothesis is that the function of reasoning is argumentative. It is to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade. Reasoning so conceived is adaptive given the exceptional dependence of humans on communication and their vulnerability to misinformation. A wide range of evidence in the psychology of reasoning and decision making can be reinterpreted and better explained in the light of this hypothesis. Poor performance in standard reasoning tasks is explained by the lack of argumentative context. When the same problems are placed in a proper argumentative setting, people turn out to be skilled arguers. Skilled arguers, however, are not after the truth but after arguments supporting their views. This explains the notorious confirmation bias. This bias is apparent not only when people are actually arguing, but also when they are reasoning proactively from the perspective of having to defend their opinions. Reasoning so motivated can distort evaluations and attitudes and allow erroneous beliefs to persist. Proactively used reasoning also favors decisions that are easy to justify but not necessarily better. In all these instances traditionally described as failures or flaws, reasoning does exactly what can be expected of an argumentative device: Look for arguments that support a given conclusion, and, ceteris paribus, favor conclusions for which arguments can be found.

To be published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences.  Link to full article [here].

Chris Mooney has a user friendly summary from the author, some excerpts below:

Current philosophy and psychology are dominated by what can be called a classical, or ‘Cartesian’ view of reasoning. Put plainly, it’s the idea that the role of reasoning is to critically examine our beliefs so as to discard wrong-headed ones and thus create more reliable beliefs—knowledge. This knowledge is in turn supposed to help us make better decisions. This view is—we surmise—hard to reconcile with a wealth of evidence amassed by modern psychology. Tversky and Kahneman (and many others) have shown how fallible reasoning can be. Others have shown that sometimes reasoning too much can make us worse off: it can unduly increase self-confidence, allow us to maintain erroneous beliefs, creates distorted, polarized beliefs and enables us to violate our own moral intuitions by finding excuses for ourselves.

Our theory—the argumentative theory of reasoning—suggests that instead of having a purely individual function, reasoning has a social and, more specifically, argumentative function. 

However, for communication to be possible, listeners have to have ways to discriminate reliable, trustworthy information from potentially dangerous information—otherwise speakers would be wont to abuse them through lies and deception. One way listeners and speakers can improve the reliability of communication is through arguments. The speaker gives a reason to accept a given conclusion. The listener can then evaluate this reason to decide whether she should accept the conclusion. 

If reasoning evolved so we can argue with others, then we should be biased in our search for arguments. In a discussion, I have little use for arguments that support your point of view or that rebut mine. Accordingly, reasoning should display a confirmation bias: it should be more likely to find arguments that support our point of view or rebut those that we oppose. Interestingly, the confirmation bias needs not be a drag on a group’s ability to argue. To the extent that it is mostly the production, and not the evaluation of arguments that is biased—and that seems to be the case—then a group of people arguing should still be able to settle on the best answer, despite the confirmation bias

Mooney’s take on this:

But individuals–or, groups that are very like minded–may go off the rails when using reasoning. The confirmation bias, which makes us so good at seeing evidence to support our views, also leads us to ignore contrary evidence. Motivated reasoning, which lets us quickly pull together the arguments and views that support what we already believe, makes us impervious to changing our minds. And groups where everyone agrees are known to become more extreme in their views after “deliberating”–this is the problem with much of the blogosphere.

In looking for other perspectives on this, I encountered an interesting post on    From their post:

The paper defends reasoning as serving argumentation, in line with evolutionary theories of communication and signaling. In rich human communication there is little opportunity for “costly signaling”, that is, signals that are taken as honest because too expensive to fake. In other words, it’s easy to lie.

To defend ourselves against liars, we practice “epistemic vigilance“; we check the communications we receive for attributes such as a trustworthy or authoritative source; we also evaluate the coherence of the content. If the message contains symbols that matches our existing beliefs, and packages its conclusions as an inference from these beliefs, we are more likely to accept it, and thus our interlocutors have an interest in constructing good arguments. Epistemic vigilance and argumentative reasoning are thus involved in an arms race, which we should expect to result in good argumentative skills.

If reasoning is a skill evolved for social use, group settings should be particularly conducive to skilled arguing. Research findings in fact show that “truth wins”: once a group participant has a correct solution they will convince others. A group in a debate setting can do better than its best member.  

The argumentative theory, Mercier and Sperber argue, accounts nicely for motivated reasoning, on the model that “reasoning anticipates argument”. Such anticipation colors our evaluative attitudes, leading for instance to “polarization” whereby a counter-argument makes us even more strongly believe the original position, or “bolstering” whereby we defend a position more strongly after we have committed to it.

These attitudes are favorable to argumentative goals but actually detrimental to epistemic goals. This is particularly evident in decision-making. Reasoning appears to help people little when deciding; it directs people to the decisions that will be easily justified, not to the best decisions!

However, it isn’t all bad news. The important asymmetry is between production of arguments, and their evaluation. In groups with an interest in finding correct answers, “truth wins”.

Becoming individually stronger at sound reasoning is possible, Mercier and Sperber point out, but rare. The best achievements of reasoning, in science or morality, are collective.

JC comments:   I am trying to figure out what all this might mean in context of the IPCC consensus building process (hence the “brain sprain.”)  The money quote in all this to me is this one:

If we generalize to problems that do not  have a provable solution, we should expect, if not necessarily truth, at least good arguments to win. […] People are quite capable of reasoning in an unbiased manner at least when they are evaluating arguments rather than producing them and when they are after the truth rather than after winning a debate.

So it is easier to be unbiased when evaluating someone else’s argument than when making your own argument.   I’m not sure I buy this (for a recent example, read Greenfyre’s analysis of my Polyclimate post.)

The other important conclusion is that:

A group in a debate setting can do better than its best member.

This conclusion supports the concept of the consensus building process. I think Mooney gets it right with this statement:

And groups where everyone agrees are known to become more extreme in their views after “deliberating”–this is the problem with much of the blogosphere.

228 responses to “Brain sprain

  1. Thanks, Professor Curry, for looking at such diverse variables in the climate debate.

    It is no doubt that it is easier to be unbiased when evaluating someone else’s argument than when making your own argument.

    That is evidence of the ego cage that plagues mortal souls.

  2. If reasoning evolved so we can argue with others, then we should be biased in our search for arguments. In a discussion, I have little use for arguments that support your point of view or that rebut mine.

    Spoken like someone who’s never had their buttocks handed to them in an argument. Coming into a discussion without having accounted for contradictory evidence is going into a battle of wits unarmed.

    • Or someone who has, but doesn’t realize it. Those are the ones who never learn and adapt.

    • Agreed – completely. I was just about to post a very similar argument.

      In looking at student writing, it is very evident when they lack any real argument – because their writing suffers from a lack of focus and/or direction. What’s interesting is how many students are fantastic arguers, but think that they can’t write well academically. This happens because they are constantly being asked to write about issues on which they have no real opinions (often because the real goal of the instructor isn’t to have students formulate opinions, but to regurgitate what they’ve been told or to prove that they’ve read the material by echoing back what they’ve read).

      I highly recommend the book “Clueless in Academe” for a very useful discussion of that problem.

      Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind

      But even when students do ostensibly have an argument, often their writing suffers because they fail to understand and take into account the “naysayer.” They often say something like: “But if I tell the reader what a naysayer would argue, then I weaken my own argument.” Students fail to realize that if they don’t rebut obvious counterarguments, their own argumentation is weak.

      The thesis articulated in the segment you excerpted seems to suffer from a similar lack of sophistication. For students the problem is rooted in a lack of maturation: they have a developmentally-related difficulty in seeing issues from perspectives other than their own. What’s the excuse that would apply to the academics that have such an unsophisticated viewpoint of effective argumentation?

      • They often say something like: “But if I tell the reader what a naysayer would argue, then I weaken my own argument.” Students fail to realize that if they don’t rebut obvious counterarguments, their own argumentation is weak.

        It’s a perfect example of “the best defense is a good offense”. And when faced with a malicious adversary, it’s particularly gratifying to see the look on their face when you list, then demolish their arguments before they begin.

        What’s the excuse that would apply to the academics that have such an unsophisticated viewpoint of effective argumentation?

        Excellent question. I wish I had the answer to it.

        Thanks for the book suggestion…I’ll have to check it out.

      • Lack of empathy, if profound enough a mental dislocation (given the topic) could be called narcissism or psychopathy.

        Does American culture breed narcissists and psychopaths, incapable of appreciating the point of view of another, through the family, education systems, media, religion, sports and politics?


        Fortunately, the world wants what America has, so that particular liability wll not weaken America relative to others for very much longer.

        Other than being immune to being convinced we might be wrong, what’s the downside? (If that is a downside?)

        I mean, it doesn’t appear to harm anyone’s ability to comment on blogs. ;)

        There is no better good sharp shock to overcome lack of empathy in a writer than to be shown and appreciate that there is no way to win, to even know one is in the game, unless one can write persuasively on a subject from a point of view one fundamentally opposes.

        So I propose Dr. Curry sponsor an opposites thread, where every poster is invited to write with so much sincere conviction, logic, and feeling as well as one writes about positions they truly hold.. about the opposite climate position to their own. The thread would have a universal amnesty, of course, and no one would be held to anything they post to that topic.

        Any takers for that challenge?

        Judith, what about it, as anodyne to brain sprain?

      • Bart

        You air of superiority is rather stale. You wish to try to use the argument that you and those that support your views “care for humanity” while those who do not agree with your position do not or at least care less.

        A much more accurate assessment is that we all live in a world of limited resources and decisions continuously have to be made about the allocation of resources. The planet is governed by close to 200 independent nation states and not a one world government whose goal is the betterment of the life of the average human.

      • Rob Starkey

        Superiority? Me? In empathy?! Would that it were so!

        Can you think of a more narcissistic or psychopathic poster here than I?

        Not that I care, but I doubt it.

        Also, can you cite anyone other than Chief Hydrologist who has shown even the most half-hearted suggestion of support for any view I have posted here?

        Why do you seek to blacken others’ names by associating them with mine?

        I fear I lack the empathy to see your point there.

        Also, this ‘humanity’ myth you allude to, what’s my supposed stake in it?

        My comment was on ability to argue well, not on ability to care.

        So, however accurate your assessment of something may be, your ability to accurately assess what’s set in front of you appears broadside-of-the-barn-missingly inept.

        Your 200 independent nation states (most of them so small even aggregated and dysfunctional on any level as to be immaterial) argument is invalid.

      • lol….which nations are immaterial from your perspective?

      • Rob Starkey

        If the average American 5th grader can’t find them on a map, how important can they be, really?

        Perhaps that’s not the best standard, though I’m not entirely sure why.

        Try this:

        If they’ve never cracked the G20 or G22 or G33, the odds are slim that paying a great deal of attention to them ..

        Er, wait, why are we even caring about nations again?

        In Bartronomics any decent enough idea of nations will spread to other nations by the principles of “stealing the best ideas of others lest they get all the good stuff for themselves,” and “do what others do so people who want what others have don’t riot in my streets.”

        So, really, which nations aren’t dysfunctional or immaterial is immaterial to me.

      • Bart–where I believe that you analysis is flawed is that many of the countries that currently are not G20, G33, etc. do have high populations and are seeking to rapidally improve the quality of life for their citizens. To me, this seems completely logical. As a byproduct of their seeking to improve the lifestyle of their citizens these countries will undoubtedly raise their CO2 emissions. What this means is that global CO2 emissions will continue to rise for decades. It also means that adaptation is the key for humanity. It also means it would not make much sense in implementing non cost effective approaches in the USA for reducing our CO2 emissions.

      • Rob Starkey

        “..many of the countries that currently are not G20, G33, etc. do have high populations and are seeking to rapidally improve the quality of life for their citizens. To me, this seems completely logical. As a byproduct of their seeking to improve the lifestyle of their citizens these countries will undoubtedly raise their CO2 emissions. “

        You start out so nearly well, and then end on such a weak plaint.

        First, the nature of technology and policy adoption across nations means even small nations will rapidly fulminate larger ones: look at cell phone demographics, methods and plans and their spread from small Asian and African markets through the EU and Americas.

        So the whole G## thing is to me a tertiary consideration.

        However, as it matters to you, I’ll entertain the discussion.

        What is the rank of the total population of non-G20-G33 nations?

        China, India, the EU, the USA, Indonesia, Brazil, Russia, Japan and Mexico are all in the G20. The G33 covers a total population less than the three smallest G20 countries, and all told the 53 nations combined cover 80% of the global population.

        Perhaps you mean ‘development-oriented’ nations?

        China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Brazil, etc. are predicted to focus on energy per capita increase.

        There’s a good chance they may fall for the obvious energy density of the ‘easy’ fossil options as part of their development.

        Why the dyskeptical “undoubtedly” though?

        The best (by my own post hoc definition of ‘best’) turbocharged internal combustion production cars in the world today get 60 mpg; perhaps these vehicles only pertain to those advanced nations where most people drive under 20-mpg vehicles, and as there are more than 4:1 underdeveloped nations that may want the best turbocharged vehicles as long-term development goals we’re unlikely to see just making vehicles better is enough to meet both CO2E and development goals.

        But why assume everyone wants a car?

        Why not charge a fair market price for fossil and CO2E, and let people decide for themselves if they prefer a car over other alternatives?

        See, we’ve established that Economists can’t predict the future of markets, so the unskeptical “undoubtedly” comes from an irrationally optimistic assessment of one’s own abilities. (See Dunning-Kruger Effect)

      • “Does American culture breed narcissists and psychopaths, incapable of appreciating the point of view of another, through the family, education systems, media, religion, sports and politics?


        Fortunately, the world wants what America has, so that particular liability wll not weaken America relative to others for very much longer.”

        So “American culture breeds narcissists and psychopaths” which “weakens America with respect to other.” And it does so through the family, education, religion and sports?

        Bart R is mildly amusing when he just hopelessly mangles the language and argues that his progressive, self-contradictory tax scheme is really a free market exercise. But to regurgitate this type of progressive tripe…. How about saving that for the Huffington Post and Salon, huh?

        Did it ever occur to you that no one “has shown even the most half-hearted suggestion of support for any view [you] have posted here,” not because of lack of empathy, but because the vast majority of what you write simply makes no sense?

        Progressives, conservatives, libertarians, moderates, independents, warmists, lukewarmers, skeptics, deniers, believers…all types frequent this blog. If no one is agreeing with you, why not actually stop and think about some of the criticisms that have been written about what you write, rather than spouting this kind of bile, thinly disguised as humor?

      • GaryM

        Why not?

        Because. I. Lack. Empathy?

        Name the distinctive quality of American family life that imbues empathy?

        Baseball particularly build that quality? Football? Basketball? Hockey?

        American religious life? Puhleeze.

        The education we have?

        You seem to equate ‘bluntly true’ with ‘progressive’ for no reason I can fathom.

        Are you a secret progressive in your heart of hearts, Gary?

        Lacking empathy, I’d need you to spell that out for me.

        And really, what’s lost when empathy is jettisoned for those things we get in its place: competitiveness, fervour, the ability to fake sincerity, the efficiency of turning off and tuning out anything we don’t want to hear.

        So long as someone is able to argue well, even if they aren’t American, and we can afford to hire them to write our speeches, why should we care?

      • This is really for Bart R but no reply “button” after his last comment.

        Bart R | April 28, 2011 at 2:48 pm |

        Name the distinctive quality of American family life that imbues empathy?

        Your “Puhleeze” after religious life being misspelled indicates to me a lack of respect for the role played by religion and its work to make us better humans. Empathy by way of such teachings as “love thy neighbor as thyself”, or Esau’s question “Am I my brothers keeper?”, or “remove the log from your own eye” all point to an empathic or at least caring for others.

      • mkelly

        I respect the role. It’s powerful, influential and impacts many lives.

        It’s just the opposite of what you imply.

        While the scripture passages you cite are perhaps laudatory examples, could you illustrate how they are mainstream or mainstays, compared to, for example, the exhortations of those zealots who have center stage today and have held it in the public eye for generations?

        Name those who have had the grace to see the beam in their own eye and remove it in public, who love their neighbor, who are their brother’s keeper?

        Would it be the fellow who lit up some copies of some other religion’s scriptures lately, or the one whose family pickets funerals for soldiers? The ones who burn children’s books? The ones who burned others’ voting cards? The ones domestic or foreign who promote hatred and violence in the name of family or national values?

        I get that many religious people raise money for good causes by appeals to people of good heart, and that much of that money goes indeed to help many in need. Which Girl Guide cookies also achieve, plus people get a cookie.

      • Bart,

        I have no idea of whether you lack empathy or not. I do detect an increasing bitterness in your comments, and suspect that it is related to your comment:

        “Also, can you cite anyone other than Chief Hydrologist who has shown even the most half-hearted suggestion of support for any view I have posted here?”

        If you want someone to support “any view” you post here, try:
        1) not writing comments that drip with condescension;
        2) using words as they are actually defined;
        3) actually considering the arguments against your “views” and improving/adapting them as necessary;
        4) not accusing everyone who points out how statist and confused your tax “views” are (or otherwise disagreeing with you) of being a communist.

        And Bart, calling me a progressive (or a communist or a martian) isn’t ironic, or funny or even insulting. There has to be a hint of truth for such comments to have any humor or weight.

      • GaryM

        “I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.”

        Bitter? Sir, I’m giddy with relief!

        However, as you bring it up:

        “1) not writing comments that drip with condescension;”

        Honi soit qui mal y pense.

        “2) using words as they are actually defined;”

        Yeah, how very Big Brother of you, Gary. I’ll use words to convey meaning, not constrain definition, if you don’t mind, or even if you do.

        “3) actually considering the arguments against your ‘views’ and improving/adapting them as necessary;”

        Gary, I have these tools called ‘Logic’ and ‘Reason’ which I invariably apply, and where they fail to convey to me the sense that others arguments have value, I resort to the other tools of ‘Asking’ and ‘Study’.

        Unsurprisingly, I find much of value in others arguments here; in a Darwinian sense, this blog is the one where by and large I find the most value to mine out from the posts and comments.

        That you don’t see it in my comments, possible you value different things than I do or in different measure; maybe it’s Logic or Reason you don’t much consider worthwhile, or perhaps an objective quest for truth or a skeptical habit of inquiry.

        No two people treasure exactly the same pursuits the same way. No surprise there.

        “4) not accusing everyone who points out how statist and confused your tax “views” are (or otherwise disagreeing with you) of being a communist.”

        Shoe fits.

        Dressing up communism in blue pinstripes and waving the Stars and Stripes above it doesn’t make it capitalism; use the power of the government to extract taxes and hand over that money to a market venture, and you have committed corporate communism.

        Calling it anything else is simply using words otherwise than they are defined.

        Calling someone statist who advocates reducing corporate taxes, reducing command and control regulation, reducing subsidy and removing the hand of government from the tiller that steers individual market choices is simply a lie.

        It’s the sort of lie a communist tells, Gary.

        No apology there.

      • OK, this will be my last comment here, but this is exactly the type of thing I was trying to explain to you.

        ““2) using words as they are actually defined;”

        Yeah, how very Big Brother of you, Gary. I’ll use words to convey meaning, not constrain definition, if you don’t mind, or even if you do.”

        Dripping with condescension and completely incoherent. Big Brother? Did you ever even read Nineteen Eighty Four? If you did, you didn’t understand it. One of Orwell’s greatest insights in the book was the practice of statists to redefine the language, “unconstrained by definition,” to hide their true intentions.

        On a previous thread I compared your writing style to Humpty Dumpty: “‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'” I thought at the time that calling you Orwellian would be a bit too harsh, so I looked instead to Lewis Carroll. But since you have now made explicit your refusal to use words as they are actually defined, shortly after your hate America first rant – well, if the Orwellian shoe fits….

        You understood neither my comment, nor Orwell’s point, and were arrogant in your ignorance of both. And you wonder why people don’t agree with your “views” more often. I give up. Again.

      • GaryM

        I’m touched by your obvious concern, and regret that I will continue to think unsanctioned thoughts, use words in unsanctioned ways, and rebel against the authority of the dictionary of Gary.

        Thanks for stopping by, and sharing your opinion of the world as it should be according to you.

      • I’m sorry to disappoint you, Bart, but I half-heartedly support some of the things you say too. Maybe even three-quarters. No, maybe not. Probably just two-thirds.

        And you do some across as so very, very, very bitter.

        Thanks :^)

      • Paul Baer

        I’ve considered these arguments against my views, and upon reflection am improving and adapting my views.

        a) Europeans get a part-hearted discount; I’ve been to Europe, so the odds are that my American (not to sound too condescending) views have spread there in the past and affected popular feeling. I’ve always found Europeans to be big-hearted that way, almost like people from the South or rural areas of America.

        b) Academics get a part-hearted discount, too, as let’s face it, academia will jump on any untested bandwagon. ;)

        c) Language discount. Some of my ideas sound better when translated into other languages, preferably by a translator who alters the meaning of what I say slightly.

        Paul.. are you by chance a European academic who speaks other languages than English? ;)

        Seriously, all I ask is people not immunize themselves from facts or other viewpoints, however novel. I don’t feel any particular need to convert folks to what I have to say, and most of what I say is shamelessly stolen from better minds than mine.

        How I come across as bitter is beyond me. I’m told tone is difficult to convey online. Maybe better when reading my comments to interpret somewhere between ‘pained’ and ‘bemused’.

      • I support this idea possibly seven-eighths-heartedly!

    • Yes, really a remarkable statement from someone who thinks she’s a scientist. Complete indifference to truth presented as a “fact of life.” Gah.

  3. About the final quote: I do not see the blogosphere as “groups of people that agree among themselves”, except in some immoderately moderated blogs such as, or blogs appealing to a narrow audience (such as, say, an evangelical blog). A plurality of views is more likely to be found in science-realted blogs, not only in climate blogs but also in other subjects, including many controversial ones (political or economic blogs, for instance). Moderate moderators are able to weed out trolls or people making aggressive ad hom comments, without endangering tolerance and pluralism, and we see that in many blogs, starting with this one, and including many others (CA comes to mind).

  4. It implies what we already know: humans often come up with an opinion, and then develop a plausible argument to justify the opinion.

    Try Habermas, for a more sophisticated analysis.

    What do you do, Judith, to compensate for your own ‘argumentative reason’? That is the question that is raised. In this post, you appropriate quotes from Chris Mooney… just for starters, as an example.

    If you can’t answer the question, you have learned nothing from your own post or understand what others already know.

    • What I do is try to keep an open mind, listen to people’s arguments (and not dismiss them based on what they said before, who they are friends with, or where they receive their money from.) And I often change my mind based upon new evidence and re-evaluation of evidence (the fact that I have changed my mind about certain things is what has the warmist tribe in a tizzy). I also run a blog where I frequently challenge people to examine their own biases and prejudices along with me, to remind us all that we need to do this. And I work very hard not to make overconfident statements about what we know.

      This is in contrast to you, which is evidenced by your statement about John Nicols on the previous thread:
      “Oh… and I wonder if it matters, even in just some small way, that he is associated with a think tank expressly funded to campaign against regulating emissions.”

      • curryja, April 26, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Reply

        What I do is try to keep an open mind, listen to people’s arguments (and not dismiss them based on what they said before, who they are friends with, or where they receive their money from.)

        curryja, November 3, 2010:

        Who are these priests of the IPCC? Some are mid to late career middle ranking scientists who have done ok in terms of the academic meritocracy. Others were still graduate students when they were appointed as lead authors for the IPCC. These scientists have used to IPCC to gain a seat at the “big tables” where they can play power politics with the collective expertise of the IPCC, to obtain personal publicity, and to advance their careers. This advancement of their careers is done with the complicity of the professional societies and the institutions that fund science. Eager for the publicity, high impact journals such as Nature, Science, and PNAS frequently publish sensational but dubious papers that support the climate alarm narrative.

        Especially in the renascent subfields such as ecology and public health, these publications and the media attention help steer money in the direction of these scientists, which buys them loyalty from their institutions, who appreciate the publicity and the dollars.

      • The context for that statement is trying to understand how scientists convinced themselves of the consensus. It is not a rejection of the consensus because of the motives of the scientists.

      • Here is what Martha said:

        > [H]umans often come up with an opinion, and then develop a plausible argument to justify the opinion.

        Here is what Judith says:

        > [I was] trying to understand how scientists convinced themselves of the consensus.

        Judith’s sentence is of the same form as Martha’s.

        I believe this was passencore’s point.

        In any case, Robert Brandom might be more accessible than Habermas:

        I believe that **Making It Explicit** is available for download.

      • Willard
        Do you believe there is a consensus regarding the science of climate change? As you understand the definition of the word– on what part of the science do you believe there is a consensus? On what policy(s) is there such a consensus?

      • No one person is perfect.

        When she says that she tries to keep an open mind, she means in general. To expect her to do this every second of every day is ridiculous. I am not weighing on whether her comment about the IPCC was in contradiction to her previous statement, but I do think that in view of the copious evidence given in this blog she does keep an open mind.

        This goes back to the original question of why we are rational. I think this is best answered by an evolutionary perspective. Most animals do not think, they go completely by instinct. This instinct has been refined over millions of years to usually be the best thing in the animals interests (here we will say the animal’s “interests” are to survive and reproduce). In order to survive, however, humans had to learn to use logic in order to make tools, fire and other useful things. However, when not creating being rational got in their way.

        Let me say that again: for most of a human’s life being rational gets in his/her way. We have probably all been there when we think “I am a smart human. I can figure this out,” and then we embaress ourselves. This is especially true about relationships or other social settings. The frustrating thing is that those who we like to think of as dumber seem to just naturally get it. Why does this happen? Because we our trying to use our couple decades worth of experiences to try to figure out a situation instead of using our million years of evoultionarilly fined tuned instincts.

        So when this happened to our ancestors, still millions of years ago, what was the evolutionary solution to be able to be rational and instinctual? It was to have the brain be rational when trying to figure out a engineering puzzle or something, and have it *think* it’s being rational when it should be being instinctual. Thus leading to things like rationalizations and confirmation biases.

        But wait, we’re just having an argument. Why is it important to be instinctual at this time?

        It may seem like an argument is a time to be rational, but it’s not. Because ultimately an argument is a social situation. The one who loses the argument loses status in people’s eyes, and the one who wins the argument gains it. And status leads to things like mating opportunities and having people who will stand by you when danger is around. And this is very important to your subconscious brain.

        So this I think is largely the answer. People have the capacity to be rational, however, when our subconscious thinks there’s something important on the line, it will attempt to make us instinctual and only believe we’re being rational.

        Now for a little disclaimer. Evolution is not a perfect process. It is not as though someone sat down and said, “rational when engineering, rationalizing when with people”. As a result we tend to mix up the two. We may have a tendancy to be too skeptical because of something our dad once told us when we were five or because we were stuck in traffic for an hour and just want to think of someone as wrong- whatever. The point is there are going to be exceptions to this rule, in fact a good scientist will *try* to be an exception and be rational even when it is not in their best “evolutionary” interest. However, I think it is a good go by for why we see the type of confirmation bias we do.

      • Adam,

        To do science, one goes on a process that can be described the same way. One formulates an hypothesis, then tries to test it in one way or another. This fits this description:

        > [H]umans often come up with an opinion, and then develop a plausible argument to justify the opinion.

        The fact that science works is that the justification process uses an apparatus to safeguard against prejudice.

        At least ideally. Not every minute, every hour, and every day. But in the long run.

        There is a whole field of research called belief formation:

        What Martha said seems quite trivial. And it is quite innocuous. But some have come to form some beliefs about Martha comments. Why is that?

        Just kidding.

      • Just so. I’ll try to go deeper into this later.

      • curryja April 26, 2011 at 7:09 pm

        It is not a rejection of the consensus because of the motives of the scientists.

        curryja, November 3, 2010:

        when the assessment of the science rests largely on expert judgment, the behavior and credibility of the experts becomes a very important issue.

      • Do you believe pasting quotes out of context is a productive means of convincing others of the merits of your position? Would you care to exchange ideas about the merits of your proposed policy suggestions for the US?

        I rather doubt it

      • The first question is – what IS your position?

      • Jim, Jim, Jim,

        What if passencore were a skeptic?

        Skeptics do not have to hold any position.

        They only need to spot inconsistencies.

        Et cetera.

      • Willard –
        It was a question – not a judgment. The answer would clarify the non-answers.

      • You realize, of course, that behavior and its affect on credibility is independent of motive. In other words, bad behavior can affect credibility even if the motive for it is “good”.

    • “humans often come up with an opinion, and then develop a plausible argument to justify the opinion.”

      What makes you think you’re immune to it?

    • What a target rich environment you present.

  5. I can’t agree with the broad sweep of the article’s claim: “Our hypothesis is that the function of reasoning is argumentative. It is to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade.” That is one form of reasoning, but whether it is the best form depends on the setting. And it would be a disaster to allow argument to become the underlying function of all reasoning.

    Dr. Curry’s comment shows the problem. “So it is easier to be unbiased when evaluating someone else’s argument than when making your own argument. I’m not sure I buy this….” And with good reason.

    The argumentative style of reasoning does not generally help one party to a debate to analyze the other party’s arguments or reasoning. Argumentative reasoning is most effective when you have a neutral judge or jury, to whom the two sides can then both make their respective arguments. This is the intended mechanism of the adversary judicial system. (Sometimes it even produces a just result.)

    The problem with the climate debate, and social and economic debates in general, is that argument has become the only form of reasoning people employ any more. And while the study essentially argues that we should just “lay back and enjoy it,” that is exactly the wrong answer.

    A trial system would devolve into chaos if everyone were an advocate. Argument is most effective in convincing an objective decision maker, which is why there are conflict of interest rules for judges and jurors. Argument is also somewhat effective at convincing an interested observer. But it is hopelessly ineffective at convincing a determined adversary.

    The first proper function of reasoning is to educative. Then and only then should reasoning be geared toward argumentation. The key is that properly used, the educative aspect of reasoning should never stop. That is where being open to the arguments of others comes in.

    In litigation, it is not uncommon to come across attorneys who are completely surprised by the arguments their opponents ultimately make. They put all their energy into finding arguments that support their client’s position, and only even consider counter arguments when they are made by the other side (which can by then be too late).

    It is a better practice, in law, in science, in any endeavor, to try to understand your opponent’s position before the debate is even started; to educate yourself, before and during the ensuing arguments. Reasoning this way not only creates the possibility of obviating the need for the debate, it also has the benefit of being able to anticipate the other side’s argument, and be better prepared to respond when the time comes.

    If you can’t fairly, objectively and fully, state the argument of your opponent, then you haven’t really considered it. In which case there is a good chance you are either wrong, or unprepared to adequately defend your own position.

    By focusing solely on argumentative reasoning, you sacrifice both education and argument.

    • Gary,

      My experience in litigation was very different. Good lawyers are much more than just advocates. You have to be able to discern when your opponents have legal or factual support. You have to be able to advise your client when settling is the best option.

      No matter how good we might be at coming up with an argument which distinguishes their precedents or minimizes the impact of their evidence, we have to be able to correctly assess how something will look to the jury or judge. The lawyer who fails at this will fail his clients badly.

      Smart lawyers will even get people in their office to assess evidence or case law from a fresh perspective. Realizing we can get too close to our clients or our cases, it never hurts to have a good lawyer look at something without precondition and give a fresh opinion.

      Scientists would be better at their jobs, if they had to argue in support of their opponents’ theories.

      • Scientists would be better at their jobs, if they had to argue in support of their opponents’ theories.

        Oddly enough this is what I was taught while in school, to try to break your own theory using whatever means available, especially opposing theories.

        The process works. If you fail to break your own theory, and your ‘peers’ fail to as well, then you have a sound theory or case.

        This is not being practiced today by AGW’ers as it seems they feel they have the right to have their own collective opinion(s) (consensus) that they can impress upon others through PR and Politics. They do not want to go to court as their ‘moral certainty’ will be shown to be a motive for profit and relevance.

      • stan,

        My congratulations if in your practice you have managed to avoid the scorched earth style litigators. I find them all too common.

        As far as “Good lawyers are much more than just advocates. You have to be able to discern when your opponents have legal or factual support. You have to be able to advise your client when settling is the best option.” I am not sure how this differs from what I wrote on the subject?

  6. Martha says: “humans often come up with an opinion, and then develop a plausible argument to justify the opinion.”
    Yes, this is often done by humans. But scientists should resist that tendency. They should critically look for possible shortcomings in their “opinions”, try to corroborate or falsify said opinions with experimental or observational data about observable implications of those opinions, should consider (and possibly try rationally to refute) any rational arguments against their opinions, and –last but not least– be prepared to change their opinions when logical and empirical reasons so advise.

    • yes, this seems to be the difference between martha and myself :)

      • IMO, it’s possible that you’re more susceptible than you realize to the kind of reasoning you attribute to Martha.

        But it’s hard to know for sure – because you sometimes fail to outline and argue against obvious counterarguments. If you haven’t done so, it is impossible to know if you bothered to look at counterarguments and take them into account when formulating your own arguments. The reader is left to wonder if the reason why you didn’t account for obvious counterarguments is because you’re limited by confirmation bias.

      • Every once in a while, Joshua posts a comment that actually addresses an issue, and takes a stance on the substance of the issue, rather than just sniping at other’s comments like a permanent grad student. This, sadly, was not one of those occasions.

      • Apparently, Gary, you have absolutely no concept of irony.

      • Irony is loads of fun. One example of irony could be pretending to complement someone on their reasonableness, to make the point of how unreasonable their comment is; sniping at that person in a comment for his propensity to snipe at others. That is, if one had a concept of what irony is. But since I don’t, that clearly couldn’t be what I did above.

      • “compliment” not complement. Heaven forfend I should ever complement Joshua.

      • ooh, sore loser!

      • Gary –
        We apparently have a sniping rat in the woodpile. Good thing it can’t shoot straight. :-)

    • “But scientists should resist that tendency.”

      Not always easy, or even do-able, when you consider that scientists, being human, may not even be aware they’re doing it.
      That’s why the scientific method is so important.

      • “Scientists should resist that tendency” – I’m not even sure that’s true, if the discipline they are working in is in general a robust adherent to the scientific method. The point of SM is to allow individual practitioners the bees in their bonnets (and the insights they might provoke), while ensuring that their bees do not enter the bonnets of their peers without good reason. That’s why all the talk of the “moral” aspect of scientific practice is such an irrelevance. SM evolved precisely to make such considerations nugatory. It’s punishment for error is disconfirmation, and it will, ultimately, inflict it on all who err, whatever their moral state. Warmists have managed to defer that punishment by perverting the scientific method, but they can’t do so for ever.

        That said, scientists who have high personal moral standards are less likely to attempt to pervert the scientific method, and therefore less likely to suffer the punishment of disconfirmation of erroneous theory. But saving yourself from error is no guarantee of novel insight, and without that there’s no point to science. And for novel insight you probably need a bee in your bonnet at some stage or another.

        So it’s a Catch 22 for the individual, but not for the scientific project. Scientific Method endows the entire scientific project with vital properties which in the long run exclude error, but it contains no mechanism for supplying insight. Only individuals can do that. The cruelty of science is that only a small proportion of all “insights” survive unrefuted -in the long run.

  7. Peter317,
    agreed. Difficult as hell. But unless you do it, or at least try hard to do it, you’re not a scientist. You may be a sophist, relying on argumentative brilliance to win your arguments, or a lawyer always ready to defend either side of a dispute, but not a scientist.

  8. Reasoning is my field. The theory they are refuting is wrong to begin with. The role of reasoning is not to question one’s own beliefs, or we would be paralyzed, as every belief can be questioned. Descartes pointed out this fallacy.

    Reasoning is for problem solving, understanding and explanation, all of which may involve argument. (In logic the basic unit is the argument, but that is a technical term.) People do all of these things reasonably well. All this fault finding is based on a faulty theory of reasoning, an abstract theory of objectivity that completely unreasonable. People have strong, stubborn beliefs for good reason.

    • What is the good reason that people have strong stubborn beliefs?

      • So they can maintain a course of action in the face of the inevitable skepticism from their peers. Self-doubt is a debilitating force. What these proponents of pure reason fail to grasp is that reasoning is done in the context of living. Excessive strength of belief is an illness (as with any excess), but strength of belief is a necessity of life.

      • It seems you might be simultaneously underestimating the extent to which self-doubt exists and motivates people all the time, and overestimating the destructiveness of self-doubt.

        Some degree of self-doubt drives everyone, and some amount of self-doubt is a good thing. IMO, problems with self-doubt occur when people try to ignore its existence or allow self-doubt to consume their reasoning processes.

      • No doubt you are correct, but you may have missed the point of my point. The author’s begin by claiming to refute the theory that self doubt is the purpose of reasoning. (“the idea that the role of reasoning is to critically examine our beliefs so as to discard wrong-headed ones”) Such a theory, if anyone actually ever held it, which I doubt, is wrong. They seem to be claiming a discovery by overthrowing a strawman, a common practice.

        The primary roles of reasoning are problem solving and communication, that is, thinking about the world and expressing one’s thoughts. Both do in fact involve argumentation, so their discovery is no doubt correct, as far as it goes. But the the irrational slant they then give it is not correct.

        This is the age old fallacy that beliefs cloud our judgement, as though there were some alternative mode of reasoning, one which does not involve beliefs. The myth of pure reason.

      • Well said, David, but as I have asked elsewhere, isn’t this really the point (or at least one important point) of the Scientific Method? That is, did not the SM develop precisely so that humans incapable of Pure Reason could cooperate in a way that overcame that impediment? Provided scientists adhere to the SM, questions of their belief, morality and other traits which are inescapable and often desirable sources of insight in the individual, do not, at least in the long term, frustrate the pursuit of useful knowledge by the community to which that individual belongs. Pure Reason in individuals may be a myth, but the Scientific Method seems to be a pretty good means of removing, over time, the “impurities” in collective reasoning.

        The beauty of the SM ought to be that it allows scientists to be as mad, bad or dangerous to know as they wish, provided they submit to the court of observation, experiment, and falsification of the Null Hypothesis. As we learn daily, that has not been the case with climate “science”.

      • As you say, the beauty of SM lies in the long run, which may be 100 years. In the short run this is a political action. Sorry, but all we have is the evidence as we see it.

      • Points taken – and I think that Tom makes good points in response. Sorry if I misconstrued your point.

        Relatedly, what I find fairly common in the debate about climate science are claims that the mixing of beliefs and reason is more characteristic of one side than the other. While I see the value in “skeptics/deniers” pointing out how beliefs may affect the reasoning of the “climate establishment,” unfortunately, many of those “skeptics/deniers” also remain blind to belief-based influences in their own reasoning processes. On general principle, that view contradicts the basic human nature of reasoning.

        Further, individually we can all try to control for the influence of beliefs (and also, importantly, the personal experiences that necessarily shape our beliefs), as Tom discusses; some do better than others – but I can’t agree with those who see some “vast asymmetry” in the overall balance. I don’t agree that categorically, the “climate establishment” is closed to examining how beliefs affect their reasoning, as their reliance on the scientific method is an imperfect, but still somewhat effective method of control. Ironically, however, I see widespread refusal among many who attack the “climate establishment” to acknowledge that they are not examples of pure reason. The first sign of such a mindset is when I see the flat out rejection that there is any legitimacy to theories that GW is probably A – as if anyone could say such a thing without being influenced by belief over reason.

      • You still miss my point. There is no such thing as mixing beliefs and reasoning. Reasoning operates on beliefs. Beliefs are all we have.

        But you are correct that both sides accuse the other of irrationality. It is the standard explanation for protracted disagreement. “They are nuts.”

      • Joshua –
        A few not-quite-random thoughts –

        The first sign of such a mindset is when I see the flat out rejection that there is any legitimacy to theories that GW is probably A

        Not sure where you’re seeing that. Not that it’s not out there, but I’ve seen very, very little of it on this forum. If you’ve seen it here, I’d like you to point it out to me.

        On the contrary, I think most sceptics DO believe that there’s “some” anthropogenic component. But the questions are not as you state. For example, I have little or no belief in the efficacy of the models. Useful they may be – in some ways. But for prediction of 100 year – or 1000 year – climate conditions? I think not. Why? Because I’ve designed, built and worked with both linear and non-linear models and the claims I hear wrt the wonderful results of the GCM’s have the smell of self-congratulatory confirmation bias, not to mention a few other less savory components.

        Is CO2 a component of the equation? Undoubtedly. But how large a factor? And why is the CO2 increase over the last decade NOT matched by a corresponding temp increase as the models and the theory predict? And where are the other terms of the equation? Where does the large list of other known influences on climate (PDO, for example) get lost? And a thousand other questions that for the last 30 years have been unanswered – or more likely, ignored or handwaved into non-existence.

        I see widespread refusal among many who attack the “climate establishment” to acknowledge that they are not examples of pure reason.

        Among many? Really? Or is it more like those you concentrate on because they’re the ones who fit your confirmation bias?

        Yes, there are those on both sides who would provide that kind of confirmation. So what? That does not negate the validity of the sceptics questions. Nor does it validate the lack of answers to those questions.

        Fact is that if you expect “pure reason” on either side of the dance floor you’re on the wrong planet, you must have missed the turnoff to Vulcan.

        I see the value in “skeptics/deniers” pointing out how beliefs may affect the reasoning of the “climate establishment,”

        Do you also see that for many on the pro-AGW side, there is no “reason” but only “faith”? The Church of AGW was defined years ago both by myself and others. And yes there are a few of those on the other side as well, but not nearly as many as you seem to believe. Why would you expect it to be otherwise?

        many of those “skeptics/deniers” also remain blind to belief-based influences in their own reasoning processes

        You make a lot of unwarranted assumptions about people you know only from Internet “conversations.” In my case, I know what my beliefs are – and I have no illusions that they are not a part of my reasoning process. For example, one of my beliefs is that it’s unconscionable to kill the innocent by removing those things that could save their lives – to wit, the removal of the DDT that could have prevented some significant percentage of the 781,000 malaria-related deaths in 2009.

        I can’t agree with those who see some “vast asymmetry” in the overall balance.

        Maybe that’s because 1) you haven’t been around the climate-related Internet sites long enough to qualify to make that judgment, 2) you’re making that judgment based on this forum and 3) you have your own belief-based reasoning biases.

        That you fail to see any “vast asymmetry” doesn’t mean it’s not there – only that you don’t see it. That’s a problem you should work on.

  9. I thought it was settled; we act as if we were rational beings.

    • Until the psychologists get in on the act.

    • Yes I thought that René Descartes had determined that cognition was at the centre of our very beings and that François-Marie Arouet had demonstrated for all time that much of that was nonsensical.

      ‘Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.’

      Kim – can you be serious for a moment? Probably not but we shall persevere. You recall that I am ancient and quite possibly reprehensible. Even so it pointedly is not the case that all of us ‘act as if we were rational beings’. That would be quite impossible for some of us. When the Bible says that in the end times young men shall see visions and old men shall dream dreams – suffice to say that my dreams tend to involve wine, leather, rock and roll and often quite scatological humour – and here I refer to the infamous pooning debacle.

      Nonetheless – it occurred to me quite some decades ago that changing the composition of the atmospheric was, ipso facto, possibly an imprudent use of human ingenuity and I have seen no reason to change my mind. This is despite my recent astonishing discovery of quantum mechanical Earth systems similitude. One is the ontological evolution of a probability density function in the Schrödinger wave equation. The other is predictable only as a probability density function of Earth systems – I am refusing any more to use the term climate as it has been so debased – inhabiting a finite phase space in the ontological evolution of planetary standing waves.

      Much better than the tomfoolery of reductionist and correlative alchemy that nearly everyone takes so seriously – the latter as a description of Earth systems has real meaning and substance. It is indeed a poem dedicated to the Dragon Kings of chaos for whom I am, modestly, the clown poet laureate.

      The benefits of rational linear thought are quite over-rated – only poetry as you should know dear Kim – can approach the ineffable.

      • We worms tolerate
        The Dragon Depredations,
        And then, by God, thrive.

      • Kim – you are adored

      • ‘Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.’


        I’ve always loved how Sagan discussed the relationship between science, religion, and a tolerance for ambiguity.

      • randomengineer

        So Descartes pops into the local pub and asks the barkeep for a pint. “We have no beer, sir… would you like a whiskey?”

        Descartes replies, “I think not” — and promptly disappears.

        (I’ll be here all week. Try the veal.)

    • One of the fundamental premises of Economics, that all actors behave as self-interested, rational beings.

      As we’ve been saved from seeing Youtube carry hydraulic pooning, there may be hope yet some of us behave some of the time rationally..

      However, Economics is more famous for its failures than its successes.

      • Bart – you are forgiven. But the idea of the economically rational actor has no basis in reality. The stock market has taught me something after all.

      • Bart –
        There’s a branch of sociology/psychology that says humans are not rational – ever. I’ve found it to have merit.

        No wonder Economics has its failures.

      • Just implying that kim hides ample light under her basketweaving.

        To mention a Greek parable.

      • So: are you not rational ever?

        Ironically, in the context of economics, I am usually on the side arguing that the assumption of perfect rationality is unrealistic. But clearly so is perfect irrationality!

      • The only perfection is love, sweet love
        It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.
        What the world needs now is love sweet love,
        no not just for some but for everyone.

        Sorry – where did that come from? :oops:

        Stocks are bought on the basis of the business model, the business type and the personnel and culture of the firm. It is good also to have a nice balance sheet because cash flow is like oxygen – you don’t last long without it. Stocks are traded on the basis of greed and fear.

      • I see great parallels between the theoretical basis of economics and much of the climate analysis. Economist learn’t a long time ago (well some did) that the models of the economy are just that, models. They are very nice for assessing theories within a fixed framework, especially once you have made sufficient simplifications and estimations, like rationality!

        And just like in climate research (model based) the problems manifest when people actually think they represent reality.

        Economists can’t even tell you what will happen in a small economy let alone the global economy. I wonder why I doubt climate models……….

      • Stocks are bought on the basis of the business model, the business type and the personnel and culture of the firm. It is good also to have a nice balance sheet because cash flow is like oxygen – you don’t last long without it.

        Not consistently anymore. Stocks are now often bought with a very specific focus on minute variables that can be leveraged into a minute outcomes that, on a massive scale, can be translated into enormous short-term gain. Business models, types of business, etc., might still be relevant to the small time investor – but none of that is particularly relevant on the larger scale.

      • I am usually on the side arguing that the assumption of perfect rationality is unrealistic. But clearly so is perfect irrationality!

        Indeed. That would seem to be a weakness of any attempt to analyze human response and then extrapolate out to a particular group or subject. People respond with a mixture of rational and irrational depending on the subject and even the situation. One individual may have his first impression colored by his biases but move beyond it on inspection where another may not be able to. Trying to make humans fit into a deterministic theory feels like a fools errand.

    • But it is much nobler to be serious about these matters, and use the art of the dialectic. The dialectician chooses a proper soul and plants and sows within it discourse accompanied by knowledge- discourse capable of helping itself as well as the man who planted it, which is not barren but produces a seed from which more discourse grows in the character of others. Such discourse makes the seed forever immortal and renders the man who has it happy as any human being can be.

  10. It would be a good thing.

  11. The best achievements of reasoning, in science or morality, are collective.

    Some of the greatest disasters in human history had a distinctly “collective” quality – the Soviet Union, China’s Cultural Revolution, Nazi Germany, and a few others spring to mind.

    Mercier and Sperber say:

    But individuals–or, groups that are very like minded–may go off the rails when using reasoning. The confirmation bias, which makes us so good at seeing evidence to support our views, also leads us to ignore contrary evidence.

    In short, a prescription for mob rule, lynch law, and the tribalism of which Judith so often speaks.

    Recognising the fundamental flaws underpinning our human nature (also known as humility) decreases the risk of such outcomes.

  12. The primary function of reasoning is not communication, just as the primary function of language is not communication. Communication plays a secondary role. We, as individuals, think and understand the world with our words and sentences (propositions). A proposition (hypothesis) does not need to conform to the “group” to be true — it needs to conform to reality. So yes, in as much that the IPCC defines truth as “consensus”, the above ideas do identify the mind set of many involved in climate science (and many other fields). When Kant created a false differentiation between the “noumenal” and the “phenomenel” he started something that we’ve had to wrestle with ever since.

    • The idea of consciousness influencing the way that reality is perceived (Kant’s noumenal and phenomenal) goes back to Plato and the Greek school of philosophical scepticism – but you also bring in Descartes and empiricism. This is bit of a philosophical muddle – so let’s deconstruct.

      ‘The primary function of reasoning is not communication, just as the primary function of language is not communication.’

      Very many species have rudimentary languages – warnings, food, flight – and these (certainly in humans) are not pre-programmed into DNA. They are learned. For humans language is one important learned vehicle of culture. It explains how early homo sapiens were able to move so successfully across the world. It codified invention and innovation but more importantly carried the world view of the tribe – the common dreaming in song, dance, story and painting forward.

      So one important role of language is as a carrier of culture – the essence of communication. The role of reasoning is to dis-empower fear. If we throw a virgin into the volcano – it won’t erupt and kill us. It gives us the power of causality and control over the future. Misguided and muddled as it often is. We can see this at work in the world in the Earth systems debate.

      ‘A proposition (hypothesis) does not need to conform to the “group” to be true — it needs to conform to reality.’

      This is naive empiricism. Let’s say we do an experiment. Measure the speed of light from various objects and find that, astonishingly, it is relatively constant. It is a measurement searching for an explanation from which we could deduce, if we were clever enough, various things. The equivalency of mass and energy and of space and time chief amongst them and which have since been the subject of spectacular and awful confirmation.

      It is little different in form from the idea of the canoes that enabled early humans to explore our world. Einstein likewise allows us to explore space and time – but it simply throws up more questions. The theory of relativity is not an objective outside reality nor does it describe reality more than usefully. It is a cultural and technological construct composed of language – including math as a language.

      ‘So yes, in as much that the IPCC defines truth as “consensus”, the above ideas do identify the mind set of many involved in climate science (and many other fields).’

      Really truly – the human condition applies to us as well. We simplify and we rationalise and imagine that the world conforms to our views. We define truth as we see it and by definition the others are in error. Thus is created the tribalism of the climate wars, football teams, religions, etc. Reality is always so much more complex and so little understood. We are really much better off just singing, dancing and drinking – and take the rest with a great deal of salt.

      • Plato’s position was that knowledge was intrinsic, while Kant divorced knowledge from reality by stating the inability to have knowledge of a “thing it itself”. The last 300 years of Western thought can be seen as a battle fought between two (erroneous) philosophical schools– British Empiricism vs. German Idealism. German idealism has taken many forms through the years: racialism, classism, or “post-normalism”. In each instance, truth is reduced to whatever 51% of the people believe.

      • As a deflationist – I disagree with the necessity of truth. To make a statement that the canoe floats is true is mere semantics. If it doesn’t float it isn’t a canoe but something else. It doesn’t add anything to the statement to say that it is true – thus it is only a semantic, an abstract observation. It is we who give ‘truth’ a metaphysical or cultural meaning that is born of our belief systems. In reality truth is perhaps existential – always tantalisingly at the edge of our reach but never attained.

      • I’m sorry, did you say something? I saw black squiggles on my monitor, but nothing really appears to have been added to the discussion.

      • Yes Jim – I was playing nice. Here – I will nicely refer you to Stanford –

        The Platonic concept was embodied in the theory of forms which is structurally similar to Kant’s schema.

        The existential comment was an allusion to the idea of a being in essence and a being that precedes essence. Truth was likened to a being that precedes essence – something that is always becoming or being invented like a person rather than a being in essence like a chair. It was a subtle conceit I admit.

        Your understanding and expression is so pedestrian, ponderous and preposterously stunted that I was simply playfully suggesting other ideas. If you have to respond with insult – then it is not my problem.

      • I suppose it’s accurate to call that the “Platonic concept,” inasmuch as it is a tenant of a school of thought known as “Platonism.” But it’s not fair to suggest that Plato actually believed such nonsense.

        It really drives me nuts the way modern readers (meaning, in this context, those born after the advent of the printing press) misread Plato.

      • ‘The word metaphysics derives from the fact that Aristotle’s musings about divine reality came after (“meta”) his lecture notes on his treatise on nature (“physics”). The term is in fact applied to Aristotle’s own teacher, and Plato’s “metaphysics” is understood as Socrates’ division of reality into the warring and irreconcilable domains of the material and the spiritual.’

        Having been born post Gutenberg – I’ll leave you to your nuts.

      • It doesn’t seem that what you cite supports the “theory of the forms” to which I was referring–that is, the theory that everything we observe in the physical realm is merely a shadow of the real things, which all exist in some spiritual realm–so perhaps I was mistaken to leap to the conclusion that you ascribe to Plato that belief. On the other hand, it is quite clear from the fact that Plato put those words in the mouth of his character, Socrates, that he was interested in the difference between the idea of a thing and its objective reality.

      • ‘The Allegory of the Cave – also known as the Analogy of the Cave, Plato’s Cave, or the Parable of the Cave – is an allegory used by the Greek philosopher Plato in his work The Republic to illustrate “our nature in its education and want of education” ‘

        ‘In the dialogue, Socrates describes a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and begin to ascribe forms to these shadows. According to Socrates, the shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality. He then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall do not make up reality at all, as he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners.’

        ‘Plato’s theory of Forms or theory of Ideas asserts that non-material abstract (but substantial) forms (or ideas), and not the material world of change known to us through sensation, possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality.’

        Kant on the other hand defines the ‘noumenon (from Gr. νοούμενoν, present participle of νοέω “I think, I mean”; plural: νοούμενα – noumena) is a posited object or event that is known (if at all) without the use of the senses. Classically, the noumenal realm is the higher reality known to the philosophical mind. However, the term is better known from the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, where noumena are regarded as unknowable to humans. The term is generally used in contrast with, or in relation to “phenomenon”, which in philosophy refers to anything that appears, or objects of the senses.’

        We progressed from a state of innocence in which our abstract symbologies were the highest reality to a state of doubt about the reality of any of our thinking. I doubt, however, that Kant has prevailed in the popular imagination.

        But it says nothing about scientific thought – which is a process of thesis, analysis and synthesis. All three of these must be understood to be essential to the scientific method. Thesis poses a problem in a way that can be analysed by reference to the senses and data that could thereby be obtained. This emerged as a solution to the problem of mind and matter. Synthesis emerged as a means of addressing higher order problems. The data for instance showing the invariance of the seed of light and the astonishing synthesis suggesting the equivalence of space, time, mass and energy. The double slit experiment and observation of electron orbits leading to the quantum mechanical synthesis. A falling apple suggesting the grand synthesis of the Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.

        This scientific reasoning combines the phenomena and the noumena in attempt to resolve the age old dilemma. The synthesis – the scientific narrative – must be more or less consistent with the sense data but there is a lot of room in that for subjectivity in areas as complex as Earth systems. Climate models are themselves a synthesis of that sort – although I think that the underlying physics of the models themselves poses problems that have not been resolved.

      • From Plato, to Kant, to climate models. Sigh.

        By the way, deflationism IS a theory of truth.

      • Don’t forget the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics and calculus. Damn I’m good.

        To say that deflationism is true is an oxymoron.

      • > To say that deflationism is true is an oxymoron.

        Beware: “deflationism” is not a proposition.

        But it is true (and perhaps oxymoronic) that the concept of proposition is burdensome for deflationists:

      • Oh Willard – it is said of Springfield’s Chief Hydrological and Hydraulical Engineer that he spent 4 years in clown college. (‘I’ll thank you not to refer to Princeton like that.’)

        But given my obvious edumucation and sophisticability – I have linked to Stanford earlier. ‘Yet it has been recently argued that even if deflationists can give a consistent theory of truth, they cannot provide an adequate theory.’

        I have found this useful however. We can talk about noumena and phenomena and see how the scientific method was developed as a way of bridging the gap.

      • Chief,

        Sorry to have missed your caveat. My remark was made tongue-in-cheek. I like what you’re saying and I have my minimalist moments regarding truth.

        I would still forewarn to use the Ancients as whipping boys. Lots and lots of papers written on Plato and Kant each year and I find it unadvisable to refer to explain them away with slogans.
        They will outlive us all.

      • No problemo – Willard.

        I took it how it was intended – and play is the creative leaven of reason. Deflationism is my reminder not to take any of it too seriously.

      • One CAN have the knowledge of the “thing in itself”. We have it all the time actually, but thoughts (movements of mind) cover it.

        The knowledge of the thing-in-itself is fundamentally different than other forms of knowledge. It is the only direct knowledge, without thoughts (mind is absolutely silent).

        I think these other kinds of knowledge are not knowledge at all. They are just models of the real knowledge (thing-in-itself).

      • Chief –
        If we throw a virgin into the volcano – it won’t erupt and kill us.

        What a waste of a perfectly good virgin. :-)

      • The waste of a useful commodity that is not being utilized to its fullest extent, is just adding more inefficiency to a derailed value system.
        Every one knows that the addition of several nasty mother in laws, and weird old uncles calms a volcano much more effectively, at least it seems like it by the next weekend.

        I have a problem with argument over discussion, by discussion of the symptoms of a supposed problem in detail, the definition of what is not working right, leads to how it can be modified to work better.

        It is not how to answer the question, it is all about what are the right questions to ask, to get to the bottom of the real problem, before real solutions can be sought, if needed.

      • Well that’s settled then – we sacrifice Bart and Kim to the Dragon Kings to avoid climate catastrophe. It’s a very ‘Lord of the Flies’ group dynamic – but hell why not.

      • Well, that was refreshing.

        I’m back.

        Anyone want a skydragonkingskin belt? Won’t hold up your trousers, but pretty to look at.

        Didn’t see kim, though.

      • kim is giving way to birthing
        Dancing under another volcano
        Science is corrupt

      • Kim’s gestating a new universe in a sweet little brain.
        I just love the way the world turns into poetry again.

        Bart went and slayed the wrong dragon – again.
        He thinks he is bold and brave – at cruel play
        pulling the wings from a gentle sky dragon.

        A little boy with his pants around his knees,
        his gaze in the clouds, his mind on wine trifle
        and his dingle dongling in the winds of chaos.

        The Dragon Kings live in coral castles guarded
        by crab generals and shrimp soldiers – their
        realm is water, storm, tornado and tsunamai.

      • Chief

        Remember our chat about moderation-dodging.

        I hope you don’t mind a suggestion or two.

        You can’t go implying that one commentator is about to give birth to.. well, you can’t go implying things of a certain nature without sounding like Martha to our esteemed Moderator. Do you really want to put our Mod through all that?

        Remember, if it’s below the waist, it’s below the belt. Which is not always bad, but now is always Marthaism.

        Better to say something nice-sounding and unrelated that still leaves no doubt what you mean.

        Like that you’ll be passing around cigars when Athena springs full grown blahblahbla, or something, only with a delightful Australian expression about joeys or koalas thrown in so we know it’s really you.

        See, it’ll make you seem cleverer (redundant, I know), and save our host some work.

        Don’t you want our host to spend her time doing things less tedious than moderation?

      • ‘In Greek mythology Athena or Athene ( /əˈθiːnə/ or /əˈθiːniː/; Attic: Ἀθηνᾶ, Athēnā or Ἀθηναία, Athēnaia; Epic: Ἀθηναίη, Athēnaiē; Ionic: Ἀθήνη, Athēnē; Doric: Ἀθάνα, Athana), also referred to as Pallas Athena/Athene ( /ˈpæləs/; Παλλὰς Ἀθηνᾶ; Παλλὰς Ἀθήνη), is the goddess of wisdom, civilization, warfare, strength, strategy, female arts, crafts, justice and skill.’

        She springs full grown and armoured from the head of Zeus. So there is indeed a classical allusion and I suspect you’re just miffed about the more earthy alliteration in the 3rd stanza. I admit that owes more to Gargantua and Pantagruel than the Greek classics. A scatological humour such as was raised to high art in the person of Rebelais and practised to great renown by our friend Le Pétomane.

        I was pleased as a dunny rat with a gold tooth at the overall effect.

      • Chief

        Vast improvement. Gold star.

    • It is plainly correct that a proposition does not need to conform to the group to be true. It is however plainly false that the IPCC defines truth as “consensus”. One can argue that they are individually and collectively overconfident in the propositions they believe, but they all perfectly well understand the fallibility of science and reason and that the “consensus” could be wrong.

      • Paul –
        they all perfectly well understand the fallibility of science and reason and that the “consensus” could be wrong.

        Some may believe that but many don’t. I’ve argued that the “consensus” is and has been often wrong – and gotten an amazing variety of arguments that all devolve to the consensus has to be right because it’s the consensus. And historically, that’s nonsense.

        Note – I told Steve Mosher that I’d recently taken Science History and Philosophy courses. What I failed to tell him is that it wasn’t my first romp through that playground. And the idea of consensus in any branch of science makes me gag every time – the smell is simply overpowering. I believe it’s that combination of “brimstone” and “old outhouse”?

        I’m happy that you don’t seem to have that problem. :-)

  13. Does no one here accept evolution as the cause of primate brain development? Reasoning at its core is arguing with oneself over making a decision. The purpose of reasoning is not to serve communication or signaling or argument although these may be ancillary benefits. The purpose of reasoning is survival. Reasoning serves good decision-making. Better reasoning serves better decisions. Better reasoning and decision-making serve survival of the genes that promote the ability to reason. It’s a virtuous cycle (at least from the standpoint of the gene).

    • Yup. Occam’s razor. Reasoning is another evolutionary trick to make us more adaptable. Seems to work, too.

    • Well no. Certain animals have technologies for staying warm or getting food – but it is difficult to distinguish sometimes between learned and instinctive behaviour. With humans it is suggested that the brain size increased by three in the 2 million years since human like creatures evolved in Africa. The pre humans had stone tools and walked upright. Did they have reason? Perhaps it was of a kind with the technologies of certain animals – including the great apes.

      This must have been of some survival benefit but it was certainly touch and go. Mitochondrial Eve lived about 150Kyr ago in Africa – the matrilineal common ancestor to us all.

      Language as such is theorised to have simply occurred as an emergent property of the larger brain in Homo sapiens around 200,000 years ago. By about 60,000 years ago language, tool making and culture were getting into full swing. Language was and is the tool that enabled technologies and culture to expand at an exponential rate and this is something intrinsic to the brains of humans – and not subject to the whims of species evolution.

      • Chief Hydrologist –
        “and not subject to the whims of species evolution”

        So you think that humans’ brain enlargement, language ability, tool-making and reason didn’t evolve; they were just put in there precipitously by a party unknown (god?) and just started working so we could suddenly develop culture, etc.?

      • That is what I said – but it is of course just a theory. It is implied by the notion of language as an emergent property of mind. The brain got enough neurons to make enough connections that language and thus recognisable human cultures emerged as a happy side product recently in the history of the planet. The species hasn’t evolved much in 200,000 years – but culture and technologies have accumulated hyper-exponentially.

        Brain size increased in pre-humans by a factor of 3 providing the basis for the emergence Homo sapiens – by definition (sapient – having great wisdom and discernment) it is language that defines humans and this is not subject to physical evolution.

        The brain evolved to the stage where complex language and thus culture and intricate tool making was possible – and the rest is human history.

      • So pre-humans evolved 3x bigger brains, THEN language and reason appeared, and we then call them human; bigger brains and language and reason didn’t co-evolve gradually from more primitive to more complex forms? Language and reason just developed because there was now the fertile field of a larger, more complex brain with more neurons? What caused the small brains to become larger and more complex with language processing areas before there was any language?

      • ‘The fine-tuned sequencing of full-blown spoken language has been claimed by Philip Lieberman to be a late, H. sapiens sapiens development.’

        Language is learned and is synonymous with all true human communities. It is a human artefact, a technology, that has developed over 100,000 years and enabled us to build cities and fly to the moon. Regardless of the evolutionary origins of the Broca or Weirnecke centres of the brain – in gutteral grunts or whistles – language as we know it is a human construct that allows us to make powerful and subtle symbolic connections. It is something that we make and make again and is a critical tool of reason – but I argue that language by it’s nature is a cultural artefact where communication is the primary rationale.

        The ability to manipulate complex symbologies is a function of brain size as determined by evolution – what we have done with it since is uniquely human.

      • Chief,
        You speak in tautologies. The issue isn’t whether complex language and reasoning ability are characteristics which make us human; of course they are.

        The question is how these abilities and the brain architecture that facilitates them came about. They did not appear as the result of some single mutation (or external insertion of knowledge or ability) that distinguishes us from other animals, nor simple brain size. There is no single characteristic that defines humans.

        Brain size is a necessary but not sufficient requirement to be human, to reason, and to have advanced communication and culture. The complex neural centers and connections required for language, communication, reason, and culture co-evolved INCREMENTALLY to serve survival. We stand on the shoulders of giants (the survivors) culturally and genetically.

        The authors’ idea that the “purpose” of reason is to aid communication, not decision-making, is too simplistic – as is, perhaps, my contention that reason developed to serve decision-making. These abilities are all related, entangled, and necessary to be human and to have culture, which also serves survival. It’s an overlapping Gordian knot, not a linear equation.

      • Joseph was a deaf boy not diagnosed and taught sign language until he was 11.

        ‘Joseph saw, distinguished, categorized, used; he had
        no problems with perceptual categorization or generalization, but he could not, it seemed, go much beyond this, hold abstract ideas in mind, reflect, play, plan. He seemed completely literal – unable to juggle images or hypotheses or possibilities, unable to enter an imaginative or figurative realm…. He seemed, like an animal or an infant, to be stuck in the present, to be confined to literal and immediate perception….

        There are similar cases like this that indicate that any intrinsic aptitude for language has to be developed by exposure during early childhood, and Joseph really didn’t have the opportunity to observe syntax in operation. Whatever instincts there might be for it are clearly something that kids pick up. They pick up the syntax of their own culture and surroundings by
        having a lot of examples.

        This premodern mind probably had some things like Freud’s sense of “trial action.” But without structuring plus the offline quality improvement that you need to make it work, you can’t create novel sentences of any length or complexity and you likely cannot think such thoughts either. You might dread, for example, another repetition of something unpleasant, but you couldn’t worry about novel threats without structure and imagination and some quality control. Joseph is a candidate for what our ancestors – even the ones that look like us – might have been like until 70,000 to 50,000 years ago when n real creativity finally appeared on the scene.’

        ‘So, how could this happen? What stepped up? Well, a lot of things that happened in evolution are on the basis of what you might call “borrow first and buy later.” That is to say: Behavior invents some new moves. If the move is particularly useful, the biological variations that make it more efficient will reproduce better. Natural selection thus reinforces what was basically a behavioral invention. Certainly there are parts of the brain that have a lot of movement planning and there are areas of the brain that we think of as language areas – there’s a fair amount of overlap. One can imagine protolanguage going to language via some sort of borrowing like this. Nested movements like throwing are things that have to be planned in
        great detail.’

        Apart from the snark about tautology – your reasoning and syntax is much improved David44. Now I can only suggest you adopt a nom de plume such as Firebrand666 – or something to your liking – rather the more bland appellation.

        Complex language and reason emerged as a cultural artefact in the great human leap forward – Homo sapiens sapiens -commencing some 100,000 years BP. The European and North American commentators cite commonly 90,000 or even 70,000 to 40,000 years BP as the date of this leap forward. But we have clear evidence for burial ceremonies in central Australia towards the earlier end of that range. As Australia has been an island since the break up of Gondwanaland some 50 million years ago – to me this implies an earlier date for development of the complex technologies that allowed people to colonise the Pacific. Was language made possible by the brain developments from 400,00 to 200,000 BP that distinguished Homo sapiens – people who looked like modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens)? Quite possibly.

        I hold to my view that language is not evolutionary in origin but is primarily a product of human creativity. And as Joseph clearly shows – without a social context language is impossible and therefore the primary role of language is communication.

      • The fact that your Joseph didn’t develop language does not show that human language is not a result of evolution. The fact that postnatal environmental interaction is required for an individual to develop his innate language capability does not show that human language is not a result of evolution. If the neural architecture required for language processing were not present in the brains of Homo sapiens, none of us would develop language regardless of how much environmental interaction we have as individuals. That neural architecture and thus the capability for language evolved. It evolved from simple to complex in direct concert with the advancement of language from simple to complex.

        As I suspect you are aware, higher animals are born equipped through evolution with the circuitry to recognize others as same or alien. However, if the young animal isn’t intimately exposed to it’s own species, within a (species-specific) time window it may recognize members of whatever species it is exposed to as self. Thus, for example, Lorenz’ famous experiments with imprinting of geese on people. Although the recognition process can be perverted in an individual by environmental manipulation, the brain must still be equipped with the (evolved) ability to distinguish and bond.

        If your theory is that the specific brain architecture necessary for language was already there because it had evolved for some other reason and just happened to be a nice fit for language, with no further physical evolution, that just might constitute a miracle. I’ll stick with ChE and Occam’s Razor.

        666? No, I don’t believe in the devil either. My comment about tautologies wasn’t intended to be snark, just a observation. Sorry to give offense.

      • ‘The big brains, while they might be necessary, are
        not sufficient to get modern behaviors. There’s likely
        something else we have to deal with here.’

        I give you a great current reference from the Future Foundation called ‘Evolution of the Human Brain’. You respond with a more or less self satisfied and opinionated air and no knowledge other than a reference to a 40 year old paperback about instinctive behaviour in animals – much as I enjoyed reading Konrad Lorenz all those years ago. You show no evidence of considering what I linked to but obviously could not do justice to in a few paragraphs. There is no possibility of a meaningful dialogue emerging in such circumstances.

        I suspect from the naive God trap laid that you are one of these tedious and unimaginative people who opine that evolution does need God – and are inclined to tell everyone about it at any juncture. It is my experience that such people have little inclination to test their opinions and simply wish to feel superior for the sake of it. Just an observation – and if you want subtle condescension rather than blunt words – I am afraid you have the wrong Chief.

      • Oh no, someone said the “g” word…

    • Survival may be the purpose of reasoning, but it’s the purpose of belief as well. Belief is the complete unquestioning acceptance of things we’re told (or sometimes tell ourselves) as being the truth.
      In primitive man, belief was essential, as anyone who didn’t believe that, for example, tigers and polar bears aren’t as cuddly as they look, was likely to find themselves at the shallow end of the gene pool. During the Middle Ages, once our belief system had been hijacked by the Church, unquestioning belief also helped people to get through life without being burnt at the stake.
      So it’s hardly surprising that modern man has a well-developed belief system – that’s the way we evolved (some strong irony there)
      And as the neurological process of realising a belief involves the brain’s reward system, which feeds us doses of some pretty powerful ‘feel-good’ chemicals (virtually identical in effect to a cocaine hit, for example) it’s hardly surprising that irrationality goes hand-in-hand with belief.

      • randomengineer

        During the Middle Ages, once our belief system had been hijacked by the Church, unquestioning belief also helped people to get through life without being burnt at the stake.

        Belief then wasn’t necessarily more prevalent then today, but letting others see any lack thereof was more dangerous. The Medieval world to me has more to do with BF Skinneresque behaviour mods due to necessity rather than a demonstration of deep faith.

        In fact the enlightenment/renaissance tends to support such an interpretation; if faith is unquestioned there’s no enlightenment. It took a long time mostly due to inertia.

      • Except for tire-slashings, business boycotts, vandalism and other acts by the true-believers. Very real in some communities.

    • Well, I don’t accept that as proved, but I do consider it a reasonable working hypothesis. But I don’t think it proves what you think it proves. After all, consider the behavior of honey bees–to sting is to commit suicide. Accepting the form of your argument, this would refute the theory of evolution. But it turns out there’s a reconciliation. With the correct set of decisions, this suicidal behavior actually helps propagade the bee’s genes.

      The same might well be true of reasoning. It’s not crucial that reasoning lead individuals to make the most effective decisions for their own survival–what’s important is that they help make effective decisions for the survival of other individuals with closely shared genes.

      After reflecting at length on the virtually suicidal overconfidence of young people, especially men, I’ve concluded it’s likely a related phenomenon. Young men are largely expendable, from an evolutionary standpoint. Which means the down side for accepting as true something that really doesn’t predict the future very well is relatively low, compared to the up side should one of them happen to discover a new theory that does accurately predict the future. So it’s actually useful to us as a species for young men to adopt and devote themselves, even at the risk of their lives, to wild new theories that their elders consider dangerous or silly.

  14. Dr Curry –
    The other important conclusion is that:
    A group in a debate setting can do better than its best member.

    Somehow that and the references to Plato brought this to mind –

    The investigation of truth is in one way hard and in another way easy. An indication of this is found in the fact that no one is able to find the truth entirely, while on the other hand no one fails entirely, but everyone says something true about the nature of things, and by the union of all a considerable amount is amassed.
    — Aristotle, “Metaphysics” Book II
    (Greek inscription on the National Academy of Sciences building on Constitution Avenue, Washington, DC. )

    • Mooney’s suggestion:

      “The best achievements of reasoning, in science or morality, are collective”

      might be true of science but I seriously wonder when it comes to morality and by extension politics. The Soviet enterprise from 1917 until its collapse, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, National Socialism, and Fascism were all highly collective endeavours.

      Then again, even in science, collective endeavours have many a flaw (or are Judith’s complaints about tribalism a figment of her imagination?).

      Ultimately, all human endeavours be they individual or collective are inherently flawed and need to be judged by their internal coherence and consistency with external evidence. Invariably, those who do the judging bring their own limitations to the process.

      So Plato seems to sum it up pretty well. A goodly dose of humility never goes astray.

      • Mooney is having to ignore a lot of history on this one.
        Einstein, Galileo, Newton, come to mind, but apparently not to Mooney’s

      • Perhaps he does not consider the greatest developments in scientific theory to be the result of reasoning. Genius is still a solitary game. Or perhaps he is playing the game that every genius is just a collector of other thoughts. Nothing new, etc. But then Mooney is no genius.

      • Even when you have a lot of different people all making contributions (QM, for example), it’s not collaborative in the way they’re thinking. It’s more of a group dynamic of oneupmanship. QM didn’t emerge one day after holding hands and singing “kum-bay-ya”, it emerged over the course of decades of argument and individual contribution.

        Open source software works the same way, despite the image to the contrary. It’s a collaboration of individuals, not a joint effort. That’s why there are often so many loose ends.

    • On the other hand. “Common sense is the best distributed thing in the world, for everyone thinks he is so well-endowed with it that even those who are hardest to satisfy in all other matters are not in the habit of desiring more of it than they already have.” René Descartes

      We probably have this mistaken veneration of truth as a concept. The problem is separating the wheat from the chaff if 99.9% of everything that is spoken is BS. Truth is in fact an abstract and has nothing to add to reality as such. The real yardstick is technological utility. Hey – I hope it works – he says while strapped to the top of a 1000 tonne Roman candle.

      • Quoting experts is a great way to abdicate your own reasoning ability.

      • Quoting experts is a shorthand way to remember wisdom. But if it’s all you’ve got, then you have nothing.

        OTOH, one quote can always be contradicted by another. :-)

      • My expert can beat up your expert.

        That’s how it works in court, anyway.

  15. Judith

    Is it possible to have the just the lnked-title of all your previous bloggs in one page?

    I find it hard to find your previous bogs.

    For this purpose, if you want free labor, I am available.

    • I need to sort through the categories and do a road map, not time until june. if you or someone would like to do this, would certainly be helpful.

  16. The test of all knowledge is experiment.

    Experiment is the sole judge of scientific truth.

    Richard P. Feynman

    • Girma, 4/27/11, 1:41 am, Brain sprain

      Feynman struck a sour note with this one, and I am not the first to observe so. The following would not be objectionable:

      The test of all objective knowledge is fact. Fact is the sole validation of scientific predictions.

      We might predict a certain carbon age for an artifact found in a certain archeological layer. We dig it out, and test it. Or, maybe one day, we test it in situ. What we get is an observation, not an experiment, and when we measure the observation and the measurement to a standard, we get a fact.

      Science does not deal with truth. That’s for logic and math.

      By specifying truth, Feynman seems to have been of the school that the real world has laws awaiting discovery. A solid argument exists for the alternative proposition that laws are man’s constructs intended to represent the real world, built on his imperfect and incomplete observations, and on his puny models. We’ve scarcely begun on the journey of science.

  17. The other important conclusion is that:

    A group in a debate setting can do better than its best member.

    This conclusion supports the concept of the consensus building process. I think Mooney gets it right with this statement:


    This is the exact opposite of my experience in business… The more people in the room, politics come into play, and dumb decisions get made, because of the dynamics between personalities.

    think IBM, and persona;l computers..

    or my personal experience, (we’d just launched pre-paid mobile phones with Vodafone) we then came back from a meeting with Cellnet (now O2) where at the consensus with this company and at meetings (drivne by their own marketing pre-conceptions) was there is no market for pre-paid mobile phones…

    Look up the classice defintions and explanation of ‘groupthinking’ wiki’s not a bad source on this one.

    • I hear the IQ of a committee is the IQ of the lowest member divided by the number of members.

    • Nice :) As soon as I read ‘people in room, politics’ GroupThink came to mind. This is the difference between reasoning from experience, and reasoning without. The abstract seems quite real when one does not have reality to test against. It truly makes sense that “A group in a debate setting can do better than its best member.”, however experience shows time and time again that this is far from the truth. GroupThink allows an entire group to suffer from the same false paradigm.

      GroupThink (consensus) is a great way to take on responsibilities without anyone having accountability. The premise need not be one that all recognize, just one that the committee sees. Culpability is spread out well beyond the confines of the ‘committee’ and a blame game ends up being the reason for another consensus just to move on when errors are discovered.

      Reason has a few definitions that all come into play and to just recognize the ‘argument’ flavor is a means to render the process moot. Reason requires a Premise or is the search for one. Reason is a Cause.

      Folks, this ‘debate’ is NEVER going to end. AGW is a Religion, the Believers understand the End of the Earth is a ‘moral certainty’ and heretics, being inherently immoral, must be coerced into proper behaviors for the good of mankind. They will never see the attempted falsification of AGW as a function of reason, but rather as an immoral act by immoral people.

    • Yes. Another interesting contradiction – we do see groups of people develop ideas and concepts that no single member could have developed on their own. Yet we also have it that groups of people have been known to incredibly stupid things. What is a mob but a group of people? And what is the IQ of a mob?

  18. I once brought a conversation among theoretical physicists to a
    standstill when I said that I had read an article about “Cold Fusion” that made some sense to me. To measure the properties of a group of people, say something outragious and observe the reaction.

  19. “Perhaps this article can provide us with some insights on the climate debate.” (JC)

    Indeed. But I do not think that it adds much except background and a ‘reminder’ that people are not always honest about everything. Next to climate, and religion, and politics of course, and the value of a dollar, and several million other things, people themselves and the way they behave and think, is very complicated. Indeed “indeed”, it adds much to explain the question of why we are where we are today.

  20. Ah, I geddit Doc. Us global warming skeptics are not thinking rationally, we’re just rationalizing being “deniers”. As subtexts go, not that subtle …


  21. A lot of these psychological findings seem to be a back door way to protect the AGW consensus, by arguing that skeptics are irrational. But then skeptics make the same argument about warmers. I am reminded of the USA founding fathers, who were appalled by the rise of the two party system. The fact is that reasonable people can look at the same evidence and come to opposite conclusions.

  22. “for communication to be possible, listeners have to have ways to discriminate reliable, trustworthy information from potentially dangerous information—otherwise speakers would be wont to abuse them through lies and deception”

    Facts on a concrete level are usually easiest to check, but there are some types which are difficult. Increasing levels of abstraction increase the ability to mislead / misinform. Having said that, selection of concrete level facts is commonly used to mislead as well.

    Nobody has the time and resources to check all the facts they encounter daily to form their opinions and make their decisions. From a fundamental perspective, if the concern is that you will be harmed by acting (or not acting) based on dangerous information, then the obvious inoculation is to view the situation in your narrow, unenlightened self interest and seek facts which may have been omitted which would change how you view it. Why would you pay more than private sale price on a used car private sale, even if it’s a “sexy” car? Does it matter that the person needs X amount (no dickering) to go to college? What does “It’s a great car” really mean? What’s wrong with it that they aren’t telling you? Beliefs, values, levels of abstraction, and omissions are used every day to get people to act contrary to their unenlightened interests.

    I think the authors come at this from the wrong end. Additionally, so much has already been written on how people form or adopt opinions, beliefs, make decisions, are persuaded, etc, that the authors seem to be nibbling at the margins. In many situations, arguments are an exercise in self deception, since the individual doesn’t have all the facts as well as the expertise to evaluate them and the logical structure of the situation. I deceive myself all the time – I just try to be aware of what is in my unenlightened self interest so I have a cross check.

    • Harold, I can’t agree with your statement that “In many situations, arguments are an exercise in self deception, since the individual doesn’t have all the facts…” One’s information is typically incomplete, so by your theory most reasoning is self deception. Ignorance is not deception. Try another word.

      It is very difficult to talk about reasoning because we don’t understand it.

    • The key, I believe, is to understand that the goal of reasoning is to make effective decisions, not to make rational ones. Because, as you point out, people almost never have access to all of the relevant information, rational conclusions conclusions can almost never be made, and rational analysis is very rarely of much use to us.

      Of course I’m using “rational” fairly strictly here. In this context, it’s not too hard to appreciate another understanding of the term, in which a probabilistic decision is a “rational” one. But using the term this way opens to the door to including decisions based on, for example, stereotyping and profiling among “rational” decisions. I don’t say that’s unreasonable, but I don’t think that’s what we normally understand the term to mean.

      Anyway, even David Hume had to admit that induction was a powerful tool in the real world, even though it didn’t make any rational sense.

  23. I have sprained my brain trying to justifying this being relevant to this post…

    A few posts ago JC mentioned a paper in press relating AMO to Northern Hemisphere temperatures, and said she REALLY wanted to read it. Their regression shown here is a fit which seems too good to be true.

    But I’ll keep an open mind.

  24. Like David44, (and Karl Popper,) I consider that the purpose of reasoning is not to serve communication or signaling or argument but to solve real problems and make better decisions. Popper argues that the development of language beyond the self expressive and signalling functions it shares with the animal world allows us tentative knowledge of our physical world , including historical events.Only with the descriptive function of human language can the regulative idea of truth emerge, that is , of a description or hypothesis that fits the facts. And only with the development of an exosomatic descriptive language can problems and standards of rational criticism evolve. Smoke and mirrors rhetoric is doing something else.

  25. Team work? The collective efforts of The Hockey Team as observed through the Climategate emails suggests a downside to team work.

  26. “So it is easier to be unbiased when evaluating someone else’s argument than when making your own argument. I’m not sure I buy this (for a recent example, read Greenfyre’s analysis of my Polyclimate post.”

    I don’t think this example contradicts the hypothesis, because Greenfyre’s analysis is in the context of the position to which they’ve already committed themselves. I believe there is room for a distinction between “evaluating someone else’s argument” and “evaluating an argument about an issue upon which one hasn’t already drawn a conclusion,” since there is room for one to criticize an argument without threat to the conclusion. But this mode of thought appears to be a learned behavior; a lot of people do not appear to think that way.

    • So spare me implying that the piece is in error somehow and go ahead and show where I am wrong, citing specifics and substantiating it. Critique by innuendo is just a balloon with nothing in it.

      • Greenfyre,

        Out from your lair, I see. Nice tepid little comment you’ve left us, guy. You’re quite the “Eddie Haskell” gentleman, aren’t you greenfyre, when you furtively step outside the protective womb of that control-freak, loser blog of yours. And let me guess. A quick, wimpy, drive-by comment on Dr. Curry’s blog entitles you to some real hot-dog street-cred with that remarkably small but merry crew that hangs out at your blog. Right greenfyre? But enough of the pleasantries.

        You know, ol’ pal, your Apr 26 post, “Robert Muller is a well bad tosser”, has attracted some curious comments:

        – An individual named Dr. Austin [a Princeton professor, apparently, and a blackguard denier) is denounced by a commentator and you, greenfyre, chime in to advertise a future post, that you’re still horsing around with, that will eviscerate the heretic.

        -Apr 28, 9:08 am: Susan Anderson comments, “…I believe Bob Austin has been persuaded to think straight. Perhaps he’s backslid again (if so I’d like to know)…” (Wonder just what persuaded Bob?)

        -Apr 28, 3:41 pm: Martha responds to Susan and inquires, “Please tell me what new news you have about Robert Anderson.”

        -Apr 28, 4:15 pm: Susan then responds to Martha, “…Please let me know if anything he [Robert Anderson] has done recently is on the fake skeptic side…I cannot share more on a public forum.” (Pretty ominous sounding, that last! Ooowee! Ooowee!)

        So it appears to me that bad-boy Bob has signed the pledge, but Susan suspects his sincerity and is keeping tabs on ol’ Bob. And, boy-oh-boy, if Susan catches backslide-Bob sneaking a swig from the bottle marked “Demon-Denier” then, as I read Susan’s comment, some sort of consequences are to follow–consequences unsuited to disclosure in a public forum. Poor Bob.

        So, greenfyre, could you devote some of that famous investigative journalism of yours and some of your celebrated genius for “purty pictures” and work up a post that will clue the rest of us in on what’s going on with the above comments. Opposition research, maybe? Dirty tricks–a possibility? Maybe someone has something on someone–who knows? Maybe it’s all a big nothing-burger. I’m sure it’s the last, but I can dream can’t I?

        A bit OT, I know, greenfyre. But we so seldom get you on neutral terrain, ol’ buddy.

      • You are free to publish facts documenting any errors I may have made anywhere, anytime, you don’t need my presence. Notwithstanding that fact, all the smug crowd ever does is vacuous ad hominem screeds like your comment. Stating the obvious, a tedious and pointless waste of everyone’s time.

        re: Austin. If you can point to anything Austin has ever said that could, even under dim lights and at a distance, be mistaken for an actual fact, that would be most interesting.

        As it is he has signed a letter that confirms your bias, and apparently for the self-styled “scientific skeptics”, an unsubstantiated opinion framed as an appeal to authority fallacy is far more substantive than actual facts and evidence.

        So how about you actually say something and spare us the uninformed self-congratulatory JAQing off?

      • Whoa, Greenfyre, Martha and Susan Anderson conspiring together in the cafeteria to TP someone. What, is Louise on the outs today?

      • Hey greenfyre!

        I mean like you seem all riled up. Like I musta touched a nerve or something! Hey, throttle back, guy. I was just havin’ some fun and screwing with yah a little. You know, just joshing around with my ol’ buddy, greenfyre. That’s all, ol’ man.

        Though I’m still curious about the real skinny on the Susan Anderson/Martha/Bob business. So what’s the real deal, greenfyre. You can tell me, ol’ pal.

      • You may have the gender at least partially wrong. Flak jacket ON.
        Seems the “group” you mention is awash in fear of illumination. Too vitriolic and nasty to be caused by a quest for truth. IMO.

      • Greenfyre, when you proceed from a false assumption everything you say tends to be false. How are things over at the Museum of Consensus? Get the grant yet?

      • The usual brainless ad hominems, here’s a quote you folks should memorize:

        “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”
        Abraham Lincoln

      • Hey greenfyre!

        If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, could we get a “purty picture” with that comment? Thanks.

      • So why are you speaking out? Your blog speaks volumes, not. Everything you say assumes dangerous AGW, so everything you say is false. It is very economical in it’s way.

      • Hi greenfyre,
        I hope you don’t mind if I jump in here. I think you did make a number of incorrect statements in your article about Dr. Curry’s Polyclimate post:

        1. “Judith Curry’s latest post Polyclimate is actually about an interesting and important topic (i.e. clear, effective communication of climate change science) …but that is apparently not the real purpose of her post”

        You make this statement early on in your article. The statement is wrong because you never really provide a credible alternative hypothesis as to why she made this post.

        2. “The topic in question is the clear, effective communication of climate change science, and … Dr Curry’s attempt to further undermine it.”

        By talking about communication and trying to get people to discuss it she is lending her support to the topic (i.e. clear, effective communication in climate science). She is not undermining it.

        3. “Dr Curry is actually quite a clever misinformer”

        This statement is not supported in your article. In her posts Dr. Curry is presenting her viewpoint in a straightforward manner. For the most part your article only offers alternative viewpoints to Dr. Curry’s.

        4. “(Calling the greenhouse gas effect the Tyndall gas effect) is a clever attempt to suggest that the physics and chemistry of CO2 has not been investigated since 1859.”

        Your conclusion about what Dr. Curry is attempting with this statement is not self-evident from the statement itself and the support you offer in your article for this conclusion is non-existent.

        5. “…in acknowledging some truth to her point you are necessarily conceding problems with the science itself as well.”

        This statement is wrong. The point you’re referring to is: “Neither the scientists nor the state of the science gets any blame in these analyses (for the failure of policies to address the global warming problem).” What if I explicitly say that I agree with her that some scientists are to blame but that I vehemently oppose her contention that there is anything wrong with the science? Do you not agree that I am acknowledging some truth to her point but I am absolutely not conceding problems with the science itself?

        Last but not least, I would like to comment on this statement you make about Dr. Curry’s blog:

        “Now Dr Curry, IF you think there is any research that substantially undermines the facts of anthropogenic climate change in any significant way, why don’t you tell us all which papers those would be and exactly how they undermine the science? You have been blogging for over a year and yet the only thing that actually matters has yet to appear on your blog, or anywhere else for that matter, so how about it?”

        I’m not claiming that this is a wrong statement but I do think it “misses the boat” about her blog. One of Dr. Curry’s main blog points is not that the science is wrong, but that some scientists are too confident in the conclusions they draw from the science. She says it quite plainly in the Polyclimate post:
        ” … the incontrovertability of (the greenhouse gas effect) has somehow been translated into high confidence knowledge of what is going on with the climate system …”

      • Moreover, or to return the Green favor, if there are any “facts of anthropogenic climate change” I would like to see them. Speculation is not facts. This whole mess is virtually devoid of facts. That is precisely the problem. I would love to hear Greenfyre’s so-called facts. We are not even sure it warmed and we are pretty sure it is not warming now. Those are facts.

      • “The scope and scale of climate science”
        Physics trumps right-wing ideology

        Here is a list of the 3023 most frequently cited authors of climate research with links to their work (10s of thousands of studies)
        Pls tell us which of those studies are wrong, how they are wrong, and how that makes all of the other 10s of thousands wrong too.

      • Pls tell us which of those studies are wrong, how they are wrong, and how that makes all of the other 10s of thousands wrong too.

        All of the GCM simulations are experiimnets on the program generating them,not on the idealized Navier stokes fluid ie experiments do not get to vote.

      • There are the satellites that show that the biggest factor by an order of magnitude was cloud changes – All four of the programs. I note, however, that Hansen rejects all of the satellite data – including but not explicitly the anomalies – because of backscattering. Someone should tell him, however, that no one measures anything from L1.

        There was the recent Climate Summary from the Royal Society talking about chaos causing ‘internal climate variability.’ There is of course Tsonis and colleagues on that very issue.

        There is a whole theme emerging on no warming for a decade or three – as in this one from those recalcitrants at the NAS –

        This one is titled – Irreducible imprecision in atmospheric and oceanic simulations.

        ‘Sensitive dependence and structural instability are humbling twin properties for chaotic dynamical systems, indicating limits about which kinds of questions are theoretically answerable.’

        Tim Palmer – head of the European climate computing centre – is of the opinion that these types of computer model estimates are not theoretically justifiable at all. The best we can hope for are estimates as probability density functions.

        ‘Prediction of weather and climate are necessarily uncertain: our observations of weather and climate are uncertain, the models into which we assimilate this data and predict the future are uncertain, and external effects such as volcanoes and anthropogenic greenhouse emissions are also uncertain. Fundamentally, therefore, therefore we should think of weather and climate predictions in terms of equations whose basic prognostic variables are probability densities ρ(X,t) where X denotes some climatic variable and t denoted time. In this way, ρ(X,t)dV represents the probability that, at time t, the true value of X lies in some small volume dV of state space.’ (Predicting Weather and Climate – Palmer and Hagedorn eds – 2006).

        Professor Ole Humlum has some sage advise on scientific matters at

        Someone must be wrong.

        What I suggest is that you have a look at the Hartwell post and get back to me.

      • I doubt that any of these studies is wrong. They just do not add up to what you think they do. It is you, not the studies, that is wrong. I read the same studies and come to an opposite conclusion. Therein lies the conflict. I see clearly that there is a great mass of speculation and wonder. It is obvious.

      • It doesn’t matter if there are a million papers that support your position if there’s just one that proves that position wrong.

        You mistake numbers for rightness. Unscientific.

      • John Carpenter


        If you studied the table you would undoubtedly find authors there who I am sure you would find their studies wrong. Hint: A lot of them have a non green color next to their name. Does this answer your own question? It also appears the vast majority have not “taken a side” wrt to signing an “activist” statement for or against AGM… what does that say?

        You just throw a big list of authors who show up on a GS search using the term ‘climate’ at David Wojick (#1870 on the list) in response to his query of wanting to see “facts of anthropogenic climate change”. You then infer the list should contains nothing but facts about climate change from your statement; “Pls tell us which of those studies are wrong, how they are wrong, and how that makes all of the other 10s of thousands wrong too.”

        Do you think before you write?

      • John Carpenter


        …”for or against ‘AGM’…” should read.. ‘AGW’

      • @ “She says it quite plainly …”

        Yes she says it, and as I noted ““ … has somehow been translated into high confidence knowledge …” Somehow? Apparently Dr Curry is unaware that there has been some research on CO2 and climate since 1859 (time to renew that subscription to Nature I guess). Many tens of thousands of studies spanning many decades across multiple disciplines actually. Here are some sources to help her catch up on what’s been happening in the field:”

        And I provide the list of sources … you should try looking at them.

        As for the rest, Dr Curry keeps trying to “blame” the scientists & the science, and rather than make a case for it just keeps complaining that no one else does.

        As for the disingenuous “What about ClimateGate?” Yeah, what about it? it was an insignificant nothing that paid shills used to whip a gullible mob into a frenzy over. Even now some twits are still pushing it.

        So yeah, what about it?

        And if your point is that Dr Curry is never going to caught saying anything that she can be held to and you have to read her in context to get what she is really saying … yes, that was my point too; I did use the adjective “clever.”

      • greenfyre, you are not even wrong about being wrong.
        You are not even in the game.
        Go back to your safe echo chamber.
        Or not.
        No one really cares.

      • greenfyre,
        Regarding the importance of your extensive list of references, I’m sure you’re aware that vast amounts of research will not automatically translate into definitive answers to complex scientific questions. Climate science in particular is hampered by its inability to actually conduct good atmospheric experiments. It is therefore extremely difficult to prove or disprove climate-based scientific hypotheses. Most of climate science research involves gathering and organizing data and then trying to draw conclusions from it. Hypotheses based on this approach are supported only by circumstantial evidence. Without the ability to conduct experiments on the atmosphere, no direct supportive evidence exists. This is one reason why many people (including both AGW supporters and skeptics) feel that proponents of a particular climate theory are way too confident in their assertions.

        Since you mention Climategate, I think the e-mails do show that some of the scientists involved deserve to have a finger pointed at them. What about Dr. Phil Jones? When asked by Warwick Hughes for the climate data being used to reconstruct temperature timelines, Dr. Jones replied:
        “Even if WMO agrees, I will still not pass on the data. We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?”
        Does this sound like science at its finest to you? Can you imagine a mathematician saying: “Why should I make my proof available to everyone? They are just going to try and poke holes in it. Oh, and please note that as a direct consequence of my proof we only have 30 years to convert all of our power systems over to cold fusion or life on Earth as we know it will come to an end.”

        As for your comment about Dr. Curry being “caught saying anything that she can be held to”, I’m not exactly sure what you mean. From what I can tell she is stating here viewpoint in a clear, unambiguous way and I take what she says at face value. And I also think she is clever, in an intelligent kind of way.

  27. It is also my experience that groups outperform their best member in finding the truth, and this fact is very gratifying to observe in our jury system. I’ve had two cases that were important enough to justify mock juries, and in both cases I was stunned at how well the mock juries did at sorting through extremely difficult questions. I work in a field of the law in which complex technical issues are often at stake. We often whine about how judges lack a technical education, and so are often unable to detect technical BS from paid experts. But juries, who generally have even less education, show a stunning ability to piece together complex information and work out the truth. I repeatedly saw jurors put forward incorrect facts or invalid inferences from correct facts, only to hear another juror contradict them, and then watch the rest of the group respond, and, most often, correctly identify which speaker was correct. In several cases that I observed, the group exhibited a functional understanding of a complex technical issue that I don’t think a single member of the group could have communicated.

    Of course, much of the power of the system stems from the fact jurist rarely have a stonger personal stake in the outcome than their interst in seeing justice served (which, in most cases, they understand to mean seeing the law upheld). Virtually every group included at least one individual who had some other sort of personal investment, usually in the form of an irrational bias, e.g. “the corporations are screwing us all.” But such biases are generally not well received by the bulk of jurists, and biased jurists tend to become shy about even advancing arguments rooted in those biases once they realize that fact.

    In short, the cynical attitude you often hear, expressed in aphorisms like “Juries are made up of people too dumb to find an excuse to get out of jury duty,” is, in my experience, off the mark. I believe it’s just one example of the Wisdom of Crowds.

    • What distinguishes a crowd that is wise from a mob that is stupid?

      • Whether the mob agrees with our view or an opposing one.

      • “The Wisdom of Crowds” has been used to specifically refer to the ability of a group of individuals to act as a distributed decisionmaking network that is capable of solving problems that are too difficult for any member of the group to solving individually. So, in this context, the distinguishing feature has to do with the ability to collect large amounts of data and/or solve computationally intense problems. Almost by definition, this means that an individivual (such as myself) is unable to evaluate whether the solution is “wise” in a substantive sense–the concept is pretty closely linked to the idea that the group can find counter-intuitive solutions.

        Consider a concrete example. The free market is the most common case in point. I think it was Vernon Smith who proposed creating a market system to calculate the most efficient way to packing experiments that required zero-G into a space vessel. The three scarce resources were volume, mass, and energy. So they generated “chits” that could be exchanged for those resources and distributed them to the university people designing the experiments. Originally, it was assumed that mass would be the most valuable. But once people started having a motivation to improve their experimental setup to save resource (since they could exchange their excess of one type for more of the others), it turned out energy was the most scarce. Of course, that wasn’t the real success of the experiment–it was the fact that we got a lot more experiments crammed into one space station than we otherwise could have.

    • “It is also my experience that groups outperform their best member in finding the truth”

      I don’t know about this particular context, but from a problem solving / innovation view, one top notch person can come up with better results than a group of mediocre people. This was intentionally exploited in software development some years ago, with the added benefit that the exponential increase in communication load with group size drops out of the picture with 1 or 2 really good people on the key parts.

      • No doubt true, and I’ve seen the same effect in litigation, as well. As a general rule, its best to staff a complex case with the smallest number of people feasible, and have each of those persons working as close to full time on the case as feasible, because you end up spending a geometrically increasing fraction of your time in coordination and planning meetings as the number of people on the case increases.

        There are clearly a number of necessary conditions for the Wisdom of Crowds to operate. Some, obviously, relate to the rules that govern the members of the group. For example, the rules of the free market work quite well, but those of centralized planning do not. (Despite the name, centralized economies are still group decisionmaking processes–they just distribute the decisionmaking differently, and less broadly.)

        But the nature of the problem to be solved is also important. Certain kinds of problems lend themselves to distributed decisionmaking, while others do not. I can’t offer a proof, but I do not believe that any committee could produce art of the quality of Rembrandt or Michelangelo.

  28. There is a difference between subjective and objective arguments. A scientist should be focused on the latter.

    A scientist advising policy makers should explain where uncertainties and bias fit in policy recommendations by describing what is objective (known) and what is subjective (conjecture).

  29. John Kannarr

    The purpose of reason, first and foremost, is to correctly identify reality, and then to enable us determine how best to achieve our values. It should go without saying that those values need to be consistent with reality, but unfortunately, when we get to political beliefs, many are not consistent with reality.

    When we are using our reason to identify the facts of reality, we must be most demanding, keeping in mind Feynman’s observation that we are easily fooled, even by ourselves. That was why he highlighted the importance of carefully identifying every known fact that could impinge on a conclusion, and not ignoring those that seem inconvenient to some particular conclusion that we might be attached to. That is why discussing our ideas with others can help us by bringing to light errors in thinking and identification.

    There are a whole lot of objective issues to determine in climate science (in terms of identifying the facts of reality). Is the Earth warming? If so, is that warming a natural process, is it monotonic or merely a current cyclical upswing, or is it wholly or in part caused by Man’s activities? If it is warming, whether by Man’s “contribution” or not, is it harmful or beneficial to Man in general, or to some men? When we are arguing about these sorts of facts, that is precisely the problem, to correctly identify what are the facts. Our reasoning has to be checked to make sure we are making proper conclusions based on what we have observed. Our arguments have to be geared to identifying errors and fallacies that may be misleading us. Every observation and every conclusion needs to be subjected to independent review to identify invalid conclusions. We should each be glad of the other person who helps us realize when we have made an error, if our goal is to identify reality.

    Then there are a whole lot of issues that have to do with one’s values, one’s premises about Man’s life. What should we do in response to whatever we determine to be the facts? Is it possible for Man to change what is occurring without causing greater harm to some or all men, say by violating their individual rights? But when we come to the question of harm and what we should be doing, then any further argument depends on our individual values, which certainly appear to differ from person to person and political group to political group. There is no way to convince someone else to accept your “solutions” unless you first agree on fundamental values. Reasoning under such conditions becomes arguments of trying to persuade the other person that your values and premises are better than his, a much more difficult problem than identifying facts of reality.

    I might be convinced by the facts that there is AGW occurring (though certainly not by arguments from authority, ad hominems, etc., the traditional clubs used by many AGW proponents). But that would still not convince me that my fundamental values of freedom, leaving every person free to follow the judgment of his own mind, should be overridden merely because someone else claims to know better than I what is good for my life. If AGW is occurring, then I would still conclude that it would be better to deal with that using my independent judgment (and for all other men to do likewise) than to subordinate my right to act in ways that I think are the better response, whether adaptation to warming, or some other voluntary solution of free men.

    My fundamental values being individual rights and freedom to exercise the independent judgment of my mind, I would resist someone who claims the right to violate those rights just because they disagree. Unfortunately, the AGW propoents generally act as though they are right about AGW and therefore there are no alternative actions except to follow their dictates. Their claims about how they are sure (and they have a “consensus” of authorities who we must not doubt) appear to be merely an attempt to overwhelm any altrernative decisions and values, namely the right of individual judgment and independent action, as in the free market.

    • “The purpose of reason, first and foremost, is to correctly identify reality”

      I think it would be more accurate, or at least more precise, to say that reason helps us rule out things that not real. Because reason only provides contingent knowledge (i.e., if x, then y), and because of the problem of induction, it doesn’t ever really tell us when something is real. Reason only lets us sort propositions into two categories: “Wrong”; and “Not yet shown to be wrong.” Of course, at some point, we do move things from the second category into a third, “Probably Correct.” But when we do so, we’re using one of our other human faculties.

      • As a practical matter, the vast majority of propositions we believe (about the world in general, not about “there is no beer in my refrigerator”), we accept because everyone else we know or respect believes them. Those propositions that actually get queried to determine if they are probably correct (and then perhaps accepted as probably correct – call these “facts”) are a relatively small number, I would say.

      • Just so. And I believe one of the issues lurking behind the article that spawned this thread is the fact that there is very little functional difference between “knowledge” and “correct opinion” (to use the Platonic formulation). From an evolutionary perspective, it seems that having individuals adopt propositions essentially at random, and then having those ideas die out or propagate among the population as a function of how successfully those ideas assist their followers in achieving their goals, is a superior strategy to accepting only that which can be logically demonstrated.

        As I’ve said elsewhere, in the real world, rational analysis is rarely of much use to us. We tend to lose sight of that fact because in the cases where it is useful, it produces such demonstrably spectacular results.

    • What ever happened to “one person’s rights end where another’s begin”? If someone else’s pollution were hurting you, wouldn’t you want to have the right to prevent them from hurting you?

      It seems pretty clear to me that IF you believed that your C02 emissions were causing harm to others THEN you would have to admit they have the right to make you stop.

      • There is a very large difference between “were hurting you” a definite and “IF you believed” not close to definite.

        And the quip goes “The right to swing your arm stops at the end of my nose.” A supreme court justice said it I think.

  30. Judith

    As offered, I have prepared Climate Etc’s top blogs list.

    I have tested the page here:

    I have emailed you the file ClimateEtcTopBlogsList.html.

    • Very nice! Thank you.

      Is it possible to add the tags? just to help categorize a little.

      Lots of comments too, ranking the comments might be something to consider as well.. in the future.. if possible… Some sites have a like or dislike button. The problem with like/dislike is that reflects more on the audience opinions and the dissenting opinions get more polarized. has 1-5 plus you can rank it as either informative or funny. That is probably better but even that is not ideal since it becomes more of a popularity measure. Maybe there is another way? Currently, I just do a search on whether Dr Curry has replied to a comment or not to sort through the comments.

  31. Re: Brain sprain, 4/26/11

    I offer two perspectives on why humans reason, one is the organization of the brain, shared with the animals, and the other is natural language, critical for social animals.

    Our brains contain models of the real world. They are structured like scientific models, each encompassing cause and effect, and respecting that causation is temporal. And like scientific models, the form of cause and effect is the logical sentence of the hypothesis: C -> E. Utilization of these models depends on modus ponens and modus tollens.

    These models develop in humans over their life span up to the age of senility or curmudgeonness. The process is that of generalization. New experiences (evidence) is accumulated in or rejected from the mental models by reasoning. This explains why maturity is correlated with conservatism, and, conversely, liberalism with immaturity. As time goes on, the relative value of experience to mental models declines hyperbolically.

    The other element is that logic is, either by some miracle or evolutionary necessity, built-in to natural language. Each human is born with the ability to communicate with the linguistic forms of if – then, the conjunction “and”, and the disjunction “or”. I’ve heard that the private language of twins and pidgin tongues share these constructs. The use of these forms requires an instinct for modus tollendo ponens.

    Our success as a social animal derives from our ability to communicate, to share our mental models, and to act collectively on some shared version of those models. That is why we reason.

    As a tangential point, I extrapolate from Gödel to the human brain. According to Gödel, a mathematical system cannot be proved both consistent and complete from within the system. Establishing those attributes together requires a metamathematics. This would seem to fit the human brain. If a single human tries to understand fully the workings of his own brain he suffers, what else but “Brain sprain”. It’s mathematically impossible. Hence, if want to understand what’s going on up there, we need to develop a collective or shared model for the brain.

    Climate is a whole lot easier. In fact, the enduring collective model is a logical catastrophes.

    • Re: Brain sprain, 4/26/11, 12:49 pm


      Language also encompasses negation, and the universal (for all) and existential (for some) quantifiers. These open the door to volumes of logical theorems.

    • This is vaguely correct as a primitive picture, but it gives far too much weight to mathematical logic. Is there a point?

      • David Wojick, 4/28/11, 8:41 pm, Brain sprain,

        The point is to answer the question Judith Curry posed from the title, Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory, way up at the top of the page.

        In trying to figure out what you mean by “vaguely correct”, I started with the meaning of vague, which is unclear, inexplicit, indistinct or indefinite. You seem to have understood that the ability to reason is distinctly primitive, as innate as our individual ability to think. And you seem to have grasped the explicit observation that mathematics is nothing but gymnastics played on logic and argumentation (see again the original topic). Could it be that what you hadn’t recognized was that the scientific method, the weighty subject of other threads here, begins with natural language, including its embedded logic and its derivative mathematics?

      • I certainly understand that humans have always been able to reason. That is what I meant by vaguely correct. Beyond that what you say makes no sense to me. Sorry. If you think math is nothing but gymnastics then I think you are a fool.

      • David Wojick, 4/29/11, 9:29 pm, Brain sprain,

        You paraphrase me to agree, then you refuse to say it is correct! Instead, you qualify it meaninglessly to say that it is “vaguely correct”. Would I be correct in assuming you turned mealy-mouthed because you hadn’t thought of it first, because it was all new to you?

        I tried to parse your “vaguely correct”, and that made “no sense to [you]”. Yet you claim to have a PhD in “Mathematical Logic and Conceptual Analysis”, and having conducted research in “Chaos management and complex reasoning.” Some specialist!

        What I have contributed can be reached by deduction, starting with science as it is practiced in both academia and industry, recognizing their distinct differences, and working back from scientific laws to the origins of science in axioms (including especially cause and effect), facts, and natural language, with all its implications for other languages, logic, and mathematics.

        You may think me a fool, but neither what you call me nor what you think is important. You claim to have specialized in mathematical logic, but have not grasped that mathematics is nothing but an open network of definitions, axioms, and theorems, linked by logic and argument, all created out of the language inherent in our species. Mathematics is full of human creativity, but nonetheless has and requires no connection with reality. It has utility where it fits. It now enjoys thoughtless, computer-generated proofs of theorems. It’s gymnastics all right, just on an incredible apparatus.

        You needed direction to see that my post was specific to the topic of the thread. Now I deduce from your remaining failings that neither do you grasp mental models.

      • Jeff, chaos management is my work on the dynamics of issues, especially how what I call “issue storms” consume cognitive resources in organizations. See #2-4 here:

        Most of my work in the last 10 years has been on issue storms in science. This is a central issue in R&D funding, where fads are a problem. AGW is an example, one I have studied closely, where an hypothesis temporarily consumes most of a community, largely for political reasons.

        My working definition of science is “the explanation and mathematical description of nature based on observation.” Science is based on discovery, not axioms. I like to think that modern science began (about 400 years ago) with the discovery of simplicity. That is, they discovered that simple phenomena sometimes exhibited universal laws. Natural laws are not axioms, they are the very opposite.

        Math is essential for science and it too is based on discovery. The axiomatic treatment is rather new and rather hit and miss. But in any case math is just as real as science. It would still be true even if no human ever existed. Pi is not a human invention nor a linguistic convention.

      • David Wojick, 5/1/11, 6:34 am, Brain sprain,

        I disagree with your model of the real world, and hence of science and mathematics, in most fundamental ways. My disagreement starts with the first two steps in my schema.

        Step 1: Science is a branch of knowledge. Not all knowledge is science, though all science is knowledge. Art, music, history, theology all contain knowledge that is not science.

        Step 2: Science is the objective branch of knowledge. Objectivity is the process, or the result of the process, of separating observations from the processes of human perception.

        So I disagree with you that science is “the explanation and mathematical description of nature based on observation”. To explain means to make plain, manifest, or intelligible. Webster’s, Unabridged, 2d. And plain, manifest, and intelligible are all relative to the eye, the ear, or the mind, in short the brain, and explicitly subjective. Id. You don’t fair any better with describe, which means to represent, where represent is to bring to the mind, directly or indirectly. These are all subjective concepts, and outside science. The results of explaining and describing are arguably neither measurable nor repeatable, nor are they essential. A scientist or a team of scientists can create a model with predictive power without bothering to explain or describe it to anyone. That occurred early in every great achievement in science.

        In addition, science is not restricted to nature, as you suggest. It applies equally to the manmade world.

        I disagree with you and the Feynmans of the world that laws exist in nature, just waiting for science to discover. You might agree that science deals with models of the real world, but the parameters of models don’t exist in the real world. Scientific models are not artifacts. The real world has no coordinate systems, no numbers, no units, no infinity, no infinitesimal, no logic, no clocks, etc., etc. These are all manmade constructs in which man, not nature, frames the laws of science. Discovery certainly is important in science, but it’s just way over-rated.

        You deny that axioms do not exist in science. Here’s my set:

        0. Rational Domain. The domain of discourse lies in rational thought.

        I. Curiosity. Man must answer all question; he craves reasons & knowledge of the future and the unobservable, & control of his destiny: thus the Mission for Science.

        II. Real World. There exists an all encompassing Real World beyond knowledge.

        III. Cause & Effect.  For all Effects observed in the Real World, there exists a discoverable Cause in the Real World.

        IV. Measurability. For all objective observations, there exists an unambiguous standard.

        V. Uncertainty. For all measurements, there exists an error.

        VI. Master Clock. There exists a master clock — universal, uniform, & unidirectional.

        VII. Least Work. Systems that adapt evolve to spend the least energy.

        VIII. Logic Rules & Axioms. Science is based on logical discourse, using a set of rules & axioms. The set is not unique.

        I would like to know if you think any of these can be established by a scientific model based on facts, i.e., observations reduced to measurements by comparison with standards. If you can, I would happily simplify my set.

        Science also has a large number of principles which are not discoverable. The simplest is Uniformitarianism, both global and universal, but so, too, are the Laws of Conservation, the principle of symmetry, and the Laws of Thermodynamics.

        I opened your link and came a cropper with your topic #1 in which you are trying to decide whether mathematics is a part of science. It is. We agree that it plays an essential role in science, but that role is parallel to the roles of natural language, other languages, and logic. In my schema, however, mathematics, like logic and the related things, is not science. It cannot be observed, nor, hence, measured. Mathematics, I conclude, is not discoverable.

      • John Q. Lurker

        I disagree with you and the Feynmans of the world that laws exist in nature, just waiting for science to discover. You might agree that science deals with models of the real world, but the parameters of models don’t exist in the real world. Scientific models are not artifacts. The real world has no coordinate systems, no numbers, no units, no infinity, no infinitesimal, no logic, no clocks, etc., etc. These are all manmade constructs in which man, not nature, frames the laws of science.

        For some reason, the message in which you made those remarks has no “Reply” link, so I’ve chosen another.

        It’s true that the laws themselves do not exist in Nature, but that’s only because the laws are descriptions of what exists in Nature. What exists in Nature is there waiting for science to discover – and describe. To say that laws do not exist in Nature is like saying that apples don’t grow on apple trees because Nature lacks the concepts apple, grow, and tree.

      • John,
        Jeff’s post has no reply because it is level 6. But your analysis is correct.

      • John Q. Lurker

        David Wojick

        Thanks. Of course, it is possible that laws are “out there.” I mean, idealism might be true. It’s just that there is no need of assuming it.

      • John Q. Lurker, 5/1/11, 2:00 pm, Brain sprain

        You haven’t grasped the significance of scientific models. They may serve to describe or explain what exists in Nature, but those are subjective properties and not part of science. Science is all about models of the real world, including both the natural world and manmade objects. At their core, these models express a Cause & Effect relationship, based on facts and predictive of fresh facts. You say What exists in Nature is there waiting for science to discover – and describe. This is a colloquial version of an axiom of science. A better statement is that what exists in the real world (not just nature) is there awaiting observation, measurement, comparison to standards, and modeling, with an objective of predicting.

        Your analogy is pointless, notwithstanding endorsement by David Wojick (5/1/11, 2:00 pm). It is as pointless as Wojick’s unparsable vaguely correct (see my post, 4/28/11, 8:41 pm). Science certainly involves taxonomies, covering objects and processes. And taxonomies are wholly manmade. It is language, a dictionary function. It is lexicography. Knowing what the meaning of is is, and observing that nature doesn’t use is, is pointless. Your analogy is empty, a tautology, and silly.

        You argue because Nature lacks the concepts apple, grow, and tree. The Real World is devoid of concepts, period. That’s why it is has no laws. Naming a couple of primitives, two objects and one process, illustrates only that you and David Wojick have overlooked the essence of science: postulating a Cause & Effect and predicting with it. If you particularly like botany, pick one of the biological processes involved in plant evolution, reproduction, disease, or rot. Analyze it just as it fits the proffered definition of science.

      • John Q. Lurker

        Jeff Glassman
        You argue because Naturelacks the concepts apple, grow, and tree. The Real World is devoid of concepts, period. That’s why it is has no laws.

        I know perfectly well that Nature is devoid of concepts, period. That was my point. You’re right that it has no laws, but it does not have any idea of ours, as you point out while you fail to grasp the implications. It has no meters, but you speak of measuring it, and surely you’d say that the distance between two things was so and so many meters.

        You say What exists in Nature is there waiting for science to discover – and describe. This is a colloquial version of an axiom of science.

        What’s that supposed to mean, that a scientific law is an axiom, and I’m only stating this “colloquially”? A scientific law is not an axiom. It’s an observed regularity. Newton, I believe, did not call his laws of motion “laws.” He called them “precepts”(?) or “axioms”(?). I mention this in case you’d point out that Newton’s Laws were not observed regularities when he proposed them. Indeed, that’s true, and (I believe) he did not call them laws.

      • John Q. Lurker, 5/3/11, 11:14 am, Brain sprain

        Here’s what you said:

        >>>>To say that “A” is like saying that “B because C”

        where A = “laws to not exist in Nature”, B = “apples don’t grow on apple trees” and C = “Nature lacks the concepts apple, grow, and tree.”

        First, “A” is not of the form of A0 because of A1.

        Second, “B” is a nonsense statement. “A” contains no nonsense statements.

        Third, “C” is a tautology. You admit that Nature lacks “concepts, period”, so why bother to specify the three concepts you mentioned at all? Why did you introduce “concepts”? Concepts weren’t in “A”. You wrote, this “is like saying” that, when this and that shared nothing in common.

        Of this:

        >>You say What exists in Nature is there waiting for science to discover – and describe. This is a colloquial version of an axiom of science.

        explained in my very next sentence, you ignored to say this:

        >>What’s that supposed to mean, that a scientific law is an axiom, and I’m only stating this “colloquially”?

        Nowhere did I say that “a scientific law is an axiom”. I was explaining that your whole sentence, “What exists … describe.” is my Axiom I, Real World, above, with certain, colloquial exceptions. Read them together, and see if you don’t agree.

        A scientist might have said, or yet say, to another scientist that Newton’s Laws were a scientific discovery that describes gravity, and the second scientist would have understood without taking the first scientist literally, excusing his expression as colloquial. Newton’s Laws were an invention, concocted in Isaac Newton’s mind. Nothing of the sort existed in nature for the claim of discovery. “To be or not to be, that is the question” was not a discovery either. And when the first scientist said that Newton’s Laws describe gravity he meant that the Laws clarified gravity in his mind. He didn’t mean that young Mr. Lurker got the picture of any of it. The first scientist was speaking subjectively, and (therefore) not scientifically.

        There are parts to science that comprise discovery, as in most of archaeology, or in the discovery of the solar cycles. But artifacts and patterns are not scientific models. They embody no Cause & Effect. What we observe of the Real World includes patterns awaiting discovery, and modeling by man to attribute a Cause to the Effect and to construct his Laws.

        Science tolerates no ambiguities, so the language of science must be as precise as humanly possible.

      • Jeff, you seem to be missing the essential fact that language is about the world. The sounds and symbols we use are human inventions, but what the words mean is not. In logic this is captured by the distinction between sentences and the propositions they express, which are independent of the language used to express them. It is propositions that are true or false.

        Thus for example while a law of nature may be written in a specific human language, the proposition is true because the law exists in nature. And in the case of taxonomies, to the extent that they make scientific claims, these claims are either true or false. Robins are birds. Whales are not fish. Neither of these facts of nature are language dependent. What is language dependent is just what propositions the sounds and symbols express.

        As for concepts, a concept is what one has to know (or believe) in order to use a term (a word or other referring expression) correctly. Thus a concept is a body of knowledge (or belief). The words we use have the meanings they do because we are trying to say what is true about the world. That is the link.

      • David Wojick, 5/3/11, 6:56 pm, Brain sprain, wrote

        Jeff, you seem to be missing the essential fact that language is about the world.

        Quite to the contrary, and responding expressly to David Wojick, I said first that the scientific method, the weighty subject of other threads here, begins with natural language, including its embedded logic and its derivative mathematics (4/28/11, 8:41 pm) and second, again responding to David, I said science deals with models of the real world (5/1/11, 11:57 pm).

        Wojick: The sounds and symbols we use are human inventions, but what the words mean is not.

        So, dictionaries write themselves? God hands us the meaning of English words? On tablets? We can discover the meaning of words by what, staring at the Sun, contemplating beauty?

        Wojick: In logic [what words mean] is captured by the distinction between sentences and the propositions they express, which are independent of the language used to express them. It is propositions that are true or false.

        Kalish & Montague, Logic: Techniques of Formal Reasoning, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1964, use the phrase declarative sentences, little different than a synonym for propositions, but likely elected because of the errors and criticisms that accrued to the notion of propositions. For example,

        A number of philosophers and linguists claim that all definitions of a proposition are too vague to be useful. For them, it is just a misleading concept that should be removed from philosophy and semantics. W.V. Quine [Philosophy of Logic, Prentice-Hall NJ USA: 1970, pp 1-14] maintained that the indeterminacy of translation prevented any meaningful discussion of propositions, and that they should be discarded in favor of sentences. Wikipedia, Propositions.

        So Kalish & Montague declare, We shall be concerned exclusively with declarative sentences, that is, sentences which are capable of truth or falsehood (p. 5) and All declarative sentences of English are sentences. (p. 6).

        Prof. Shunichi Toida agrees, saying, Sentences considered in propositional logic are not arbitrary sentences but are the ones that are either true or false, but not both. This kind of sentences are called propositions. [¶] If a proposition is true, then we say it has a truth value of “true“; if a proposition is false, its truth value is “false“.

        Contrary to Wojick’s claim, propositions ARE sentences, not the core idea or intent of sentences.

        To the contrary, however, and perhaps supporting Wojick’s world view, following are some pertinent examples from a hybrid, two-tier set definitions appearing in an online glossary for Southeast Missouri State University course PL 120, Symbolic Logic I:

        Evidence: Evidence is that which tends to prove or disprove the truth of a statement. [A definition perhaps fitting the law, but neither logic nor science, and unreferenced elsewhere in the glossary.]

        False, Falsehood: A proposition is false if and only if it does not correspond with the world. Falsehood is a characteristic of a statement or proposition. [See True, Truth, below.]

        Logical truth: A statement that can be known on the basis of logical theory alone, without investigating the physical world. [Impliedly equating “can be known” to “truth”, the scheme creates a two-tiered system for both truth and symbolic logic, one deduced from logic alone and unreferenced elsewhere, and the other from the physical world, but with neither objectivity nor the principles of science.]

        Proof: A proof is a finite series of formulas, beginning with the premises of an argument and ending with the conclusion, in which each line following the premises is justified according to accepted rules of inference and equivalence. A proof is a formal demonstration that the conclusion of the argument follows from the premises. Any argument for which a proof can be constructed is valid. [This definition for proof of an argument comports with symbolic logic, but leaves sentences and theorems without a method for derivation or proof. Furthermore, it is inconsistent with the definition of Evidence, above.]

        True, Truth: Truth is a characteristic of a statement or proposition. A proposition is true if and only if it corresponds with the world. [Lacking a definition of corresponds, the scheme leaves the meaning of truth open and disconnected from the real world. Evidence, too, is left fallow.]

        The author is J. Hamner Hill, PhD, Professor of Philosophy, Professor of Environmental Science, and Chairman, Department of Political Science, Philosophy and Religion, Southeast Missouri State University. Religion, philosophy, polisci, plus environmentalism: a quadfecta of subjectivism.

        Perhaps cross-pollination with religion led Dr. Hill to refashion logic to encompass his Department’s Ultimate Truths. In addition to being trained in faith, his specialty in environmental science may have led him to adopt AGW as a belief system, an article of faith with all its unscientific machinations. He may be intentionally modifying logic, a foundation of science, to open science to non-science elements like those entertained on Climate Etc., e.g.: DS (Dempster-Shafer’s subjective model for evidence and prediction), subjective probability, chaos, and Taleb’s best-sellers about unpredictability based on impossible probability distributions.

        Truth and proofs are the foundation of the language in which scientific models must be expressed, but science deals with neither truth nor proof, as has been noted often enough. In logic, and hence mathematics, truth is a value assigned ARBITRARILY to elements of a sentence (p. 73), which then propagates to sentences by truth value rules (pp. 73-4) and to arguments by inference rules (pp. 120-121). A sentence which is true under every possible assignment is a tautology (p. 73), and an argument whose conclusion is true for every assignment in which its premises are true is valid (p. 76). Kalish & Montague. The authors then show how the development of logic flows smoothly into mathematics with their treatment of ordered fields (p. 279) and the theory of real numbers (p. 301).

        Logic is purely about deduction and validity, processes embedded in the natural language of humans, but otherwise disconnected from any reality. It is quite properly called a calculus. Premises in logical arguments are merely provisionally true, that is, true just for the sake of argument.

        Wojick: Robins are birds. Whales are not fish. Neither of these facts of nature are language dependent. His facts are true enough for a layman, or stated within a certain frame of reference. But Real World evidence cannot even contribute to their truth, much less prove them. Instead, the statements require a sufficient set of attributes for the species and the classes, and nothing more. For that, an unabridged, or least a reliable dictionary of biology, is sufficient. No amount of observations of birds or mammals or fishes, or any of their species can establish the truth of Wojick’s two examples. His statements consist solely of English words, whose meaning is known only approximately in a book of the language, called a dictionary, assembled into declaratory sentences, and whose meaning linguistics and logic estimate.

        Wojick’s nouns are man’s generalizations from observing the Real World, and are exclusive to his language. He says, The words we use have the meanings they do because we are trying to say what is true about the world. That’s a noble thought to marginalize the liars, believers, and students.

        Meaning is known from linguistics, the science of language, including phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and historical linguistics. It provides this definition of meaning:

        Definition: Meaning is a notion in semantics classically defined as having two components:

        • Reference, anything in the referential realm denoted by a word or expression, and

        • Sense, the system of paradigmatic and syntagmatic relationships between a lexical unit and other lexical units in a language.

        where, most importantly,

        Definition: The referential realm is anything, real or imagined, that a person may talk about.

        and the two relationships are both cultural effects, paradigmatic referring to choices among alternatives, and syntagmatic referring to arrangements of the lexical units. Chandler, D., Semiotics for Beginners, Paradigms and Syntagms.

        Thus the meaning of language originates in the brain. Words are imperfect descriptors of thoughts. They communicate objectively to the extent people can collectively free them from the individual minds, and agree on their factual connection to the real world. This creation of purely objective knowledge is science.

  32. My take away in the context of IPCC consensus is that even though you can win a debate, that doesn’t mean you are correct. Perhaps this is intuitive. Maybe that is what Martha is trying to get at, however she seems (wrongly) to dismiss it as unoriginal. She seems to miss that you are asking for discussion and presenting information. Even if we already know this, it’s a good reminder. Bias is certainly a problem for any endeavour and can affect an outcome.

    When I (a non-climate scientist) think of what could have went wrong at the IPCC, I look where common systems mistakes are often made. I’ve modified just a few questions that I have taken from my own field (systems analysis) – more are listed and explained in Raj Jain’s book “The ‘Art’ of Computer Systems Performance Analysis” check list for common mistakes in performance evaluation:

    – Is the system correctly defined and the goals clearly stated?
    – Are the goals stated in an unbiased manner?
    – Is the problem clearly understood before analyzing it?
    – Are the evaluation techniques appropriate?
    – Is the experimental design inefficient in terms of time and result (the further out the predictions the more likely there will be mistakes)?
    – Is the analysis statistically correct?
    – Is there improper treatment of outliers?
    – Does it assume no change in the future?
    – Does it ignore variability?
    – Is it too complex?
    – Is the there improper presentation of results?
    – Does it ignore social aspects?
    – Does it omit assumptions and limitations?

  33. This is tangentially related, but relevant to the bigger issues. Richard Fernandez has an article on the birther mess where he make some observations about what people will accept as proof. I immediately thought of the climate issue reading this:

    Will this end the controversy over Obama’s birthplace? Probably not. The birth certificate debate is going to become like a wrangle over the authenticity of a religious relic or an eternal mystery object, like the Grassy Knoll or Area 51. Most documents are accepted based on trust, not their physical characteristics. We are offered a dollar and take it unless some previous predisposition makes us examine in with special light, do serial number checks or look for security threads. For the most part trust suffices.

    And like the birth certificate, climate science doubt, climategate in particular, festers because the issue wasn’t nipped in the bud when the opportunity was there. The trust is gone, and that toothpaste doesn’t go back into the tube that easily. This is the price of circling the wagons instead of coming squeaky clean immediately.

    • There is a parallel in UFO’s. I was watching a documentary from Rosswell with an ex US Marine major saying the universe is so big and so old that probability suggests that we should have been visited by dozens of different aliens and time travellers – and well – there are 100,000’s of reports of dozens of different types of aliens from all over the world.

      I was just thinking this guy might be on to something when he called the reporter back and whispered, ‘you’all know that they kidnapped Elvis.’

      Like aliens – I don’t take climate science all that seriously. All of it is approximate – which means that most of it is approximately wrong. There is a pragmatic reality. I can look at a patch of ocean and say – ah it is likely to rain here, here and here and there might be a drought over there. I have been a sceptic for decades. ‘Naw mate – it’s just chaotic bifurcation of dynamically complex spatio-temporal Earth systems.’

      As some of you know – my native prudence suggests limiting the great atmospheric experiment for which we have not the wit to know the outcome. On the other hand, the planet is likely cooling for the next decade or 3 at least. Oh what a quandary we reap when first we practice to deliberate.

      • Chief,
        My pet name for UFO believers is ‘UFOols’, and the promoters of UFO belief are ‘UFOologists’.
        For years have noticed the similarity in argument and tactics of the AGW believer community.

  34. But we knew that. Influence through persuasion is a form of power.

    “For instance, Mr. James Mill takes the principle that all men desire Power; his son, John Stuart Mill, assumes that all men desire Wealth mainly or solely.” Cited in

    “Many men desire power, wishing to have good report, though they are unworthy of it; yea, even the most infamous desire this.” Alfred’s Boethius: Modern English Translation.

    More recently: “…the race of men – who, above all else, desire power.” (The Lord Of The Rings, The Fellowship Of The Ring, Prologue, Galadriel). Tolkien considered The Lord Of The Rings to be a “True Myth”.

  35. Here is a great read that looks at the theory of Wrongness, which I think is perfect companionship reading to this article:

    Being Wrong: Adventures at the Margin of Error
    by Karen Schulz

    The author suggests there is something special and quite human about being wrong – rather than being right. She describes in painful detail the moment when you thought you were right, to the moment you are wrong, and then are catapulted in the new stage of being right again – the wrongness being in the past tense now. She describes the conflicts that arise out of how we intake data and information to base our decisions, how cultural biases enter into the equation, and how the larger the issue, the more intractable folks get in their certainty.

    She asks us to embrace the idea of being wrong, and proposes being wrong is what in fact helps us to learn and develop. As long as we learn from it…..

  36. Everyone should pay at least one visit to Greenfyre, or as I call it the Museum of Consensus, perhaps starting here:

    I stopped in after Martha posted her psycho-sexual Spice Girls diatribatic attack on Curry. I was immediately and repeatedly informed that skeptics are “delusional ignoramuses” whose writings are “drivel.” I myself was labeled “scientifically illiterate” (Ph.D. notwithstanding) by Martha herself. It is definitely worth the price of admission, if not more.

  37. John Q. Lurker

    Even if it is true that reasoning “often leads to epistemic distortions and poor decisions,” this only means that it’s like other human activities in often not working very well; but even to say that it may “often” be true is to distort, because reasoning most often works very well. Even near-morons use it to good effect in their everyday activities.

    I don’t think anyone has ever claimed that all the reasoning that everyone does works well. That’s why we have philosophers. That’s why we study logical fallacies. That’s why we advocate the principle of charitable reading, or the idea that one should answer the strongest argument for the opponent’s position.