Reason, Rationalization and why scientific reasoning is unnatural

Posted by mouthyb | Posted in | Posted on 2:16 PM


My previous degree exposed me to any amount of rhetoric, more for me than others because I enjoy logic and the process of persuasion. If you study persuasion, logic and philosophy, something becomes apparent fairly quickly; the more people you want to persuade, the less rigid and deductive your logic will tend to need to be.

This obviously is something partially rooted in this period in time, though ancient Roman and Greek rhetorists complained about the ignorant masses 2,400 years ago, in the case of Aristotle. Some of this process is the fault of the systematic devaluation of intellect or intellectual efforts, some of this is the distribution of intelligence (my favorite definition for IQ is the ability to notice alternatives to decision processes), some of this is the pace of communication (setting up deductive reasoning takes time and access to knowledge) and some of this is the way our brains are set up, for general competence in day to day reasoning, constructed top-down, not necessarily for specific competencies. Experiments on types of scientific reasoning support the top-down hypothesis for learning, noting that the way scientific learning is taught, given an inductive (observations to hypothesis) framework, is not representative of the process of learning, which the previous study labels as hypethetico-deductive (testing of already suspected hypothesis), noting that the way science is learned forces students to become aware of their deductive leaps, which in turn helps them make better deductions.

I should go ahead and note that I enjoy inductive reasoning, since it does deal with pockets of unconscious beliefs in myself and the people around me.

For this reason, the process of reasoning, defined as the process of coming to a more accurate conclusion, is considerably muddied by our biases. Our biases represent structures available to us, which we do not need to make for ourselves, which we can apply to the world. We generally don't even think about them.

A friend sent me this study a few days ago, which asserts that inductive leaps are subconscious, for the most part: they are what we call intuition. When we go on to test that intuition, the typical next move, we tend to move right into the hypethetico-deductive process. Much of persuasion, in the classical sense, comes from manipulating intuition or patterns of reflexive belief in others, for those able to notice it.

Much of our self-dialogue is rationalization, the process of backwards justifying or justifying with carefully limited processes for reasoning, our actions. And in that case, we're justifying our inductive leaps.

All of this adds up to a single, no doubt unsurprising, conclusion: the kind of reasoning which creates new scientific hypothesis or theories is one which our brains are broadly not predisposed to favor, but do in some segments of the population. The desire to be a researcher and the talent to do so in the stringent sense which the scientific method requires is not broad-spread (though our current feelings about science and intelligence are definitely factors in the relative rarity of expression here in the US). The meticulous, detailed, inch by inch process of retraining the brain to intuitively favor math and science in the majority of decision-making processes is extraordinarily difficult. It takes a lifetime and the willingness to risk the ego being wrong, wrong, wrong to get much of anywhere in science.

Our narratives about science and math talent, for the most part, highlight the savant, the person who just "knows" correctly. I'll rephrase that as the person who intuits correctly. While for some that process is easier than others, I think it's worth highlighting the effort it takes to train those intuitive processes.

And to point out, once more, that we are considerably more plastic than the Romantic view of personality allows.

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