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« "...but that just doesn't happen!..." Or: "Who is the 'Pakistani Dr' now?"--a fragment on the professional judgment of law professors | Main | What “bodycams” can and can’t be expected to do. . . plus coolest study of the year »

More on Hameed's "Pakistani Dr" -- "explaining contradictory beliefs" begs the question

Just because I haven't been writing about him all the time in this forum doesn't mean I've stopped thinking about Hameed's "Pakinstani Dr," the paradigm case of "dualism" or "knowing disbelief" or whathaveyou.  On the contrary, longish periods of inactivity in this blog can be explained by the days at a time I spend  in bed (except for a 12-mile run @ about 10:30 or 11:00 pm), unable to overcome the sense of anomie I experience as a result of not having a satisfactory account (just a decent provisional one, of course) of what is going on in his head .... But today I'm up -- in part b/c Ann Richards was biting my nose (she should learn to feed herself; is that too much to ask?) --& engaged in a bit of email correspondence in which I described the state of my thinking about the "knowing disbelief/dualism" issue this way to a colleague: 

I'm pretty obsessed right now w/ trying to comprehend/identify/test the mechanisms that can generate in people's minds coexisting states of belief & nonbelief in evolution or climate change. The paradigm case would be Hameed's Pakistani Dr., who "disbelieves in" evolution "at home" but "believes in" it "at work."

All the explanations that people are inclined to give-- ones involving  "compartmentalization & dissonance avoidance," insincerity,  "misconstrual," "divided selves" etc-- assume that what's in need of explanation is the holding of contradictory beliefs.  I think that's a mistake -- or at least begs the question.

The question is how to individuate  the "factual proposition" (or for simplicity, just "fact") that is the object of the subject's "belief" or knowledge.  

The standard explanations of the Pakistani Dr  all assume that the "fact" is defined exclusively w/ reference to some state of affairs external to or independent of the subject, that is, the individual who "knows" it.  The referent for "human evolution" is "the natural history of human beings as described by evolutionary science."  So if someone "believes" & "disbelieves" in human evolution, they are manifesting opposed or contradictory intentional states toward the fact of human evolution.

My hunch is that the "fact" that is object of knowledge or belief must in addition be defined in relation to the contribution that knowing or believing it makes to some end or goal of the subject.

Individuals have many goals. More than one can be bundled with a fact defined w/ reference to some external state of affairs.

E.g., the Pakistani Dr, an oncologist, can "know" or "believe in" evolution in order to determine the risk his patient will develop breast cancer; he can also "know" or "believe in" it in order to participate in the sense of identity he experiences as a member of a profession that generates knowledge beneficial to humanity ("stem cell research-- brilliant!")

It turns out that the Pakinstani Dr also "disbelieves in" human evolution,  knows it to be false, in order to be a member of a community that subscribes to an alternative account of the natural history of human beings.  

So is there a "contradiction" in his "beliefs"?

Well, luckily for him, the Pakistani Dr's goal or end of being a member of that community is not incompatible with the goal of doing oncology or being a member of the medical profession (things could surely be otherwise--are, sadly, becoming otherwise in Europe, Hameed shows in his most recent paper).  Thus, for the Pakistani Dr there is no contradiction between his "belief in" & "disbelief in" in evolution when the objects of those mental states are defined jointly by reference to "the natural history of human beings as described by evolutionary science" and by the goals that are promoted by believing/disbeliving in that.  

He keeps trying to tell us this: "yes, yes," they both relate to "Darwin's theory," he notes with exasperation, but the "evolution" he "accepts" and the "evolution" he "rejects" are "entirely different things!"  We keep staring back uncomprehendingly...

I think it is important to get straight about this pragmatic-dualist account of the Pakistani Dr's beliefs -- about how it differs from all the ones that assume "contradiction" & try to explain it; about whether it is right; about what to think of the role it plays and can play in socieites that are trying to negotiate "Popper's Revenge..."

Likely someone somewhere has worked all this out already! I keep asking people for directions; they do helpfully point me down one path or another -- & I'm grateful. But no doubt as a result of my own imperfect navigation skills, I still feel very much lost ...

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Reader Comments (7)

Do you expect (hope?) there's a way to tease out the different meanings of "evolution" (or whichever topic) with a n=large survey instrument? Or is this something you'd leave to a structured interview sort of approach? Or perhaps interviews turn up the key ideas that would enable you to create an effective survey question?

It seems like Hameed could easily enough ask his subjects to define "biological evolution with respect to medicine" and "Darwin's theory of evolution", or something along those lines, and end up with an enlightening Venn diagram.

December 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterScott Johnson


My own goal is to formulate a reasonable set of candidate explanations & then design a study that would generate evidence on the basis of which we could adjust our sense of the relative probability of those explaations. Then do that again etc. using insights from the earlier study to refine the focus, improve the design etc. Then do it again. Etc.

I think even my goal requires close contact w/ the sorts of methods that Hameed uses -- to make judgments about plausiable candidates & to get sensible insight into likely designs. Also for convergent validity: the reason to have confidence in the sorts of results I think studies like ours produce is that they model things that people can see in the world through the sort of vivid materials that someone like Hameed or an ethnographer collects; and what they see warrants more confidence if we can demonstrate that experimental models designed to test the interpretations generated the predicted results.

But the goal is not to figure out what the subjects mean by "evolution." It is to figure out the cognitive dynamics involved in believing & not believing one & the same thing.

Hameed's interviews do allow the sort of thing you are describing. I think the indeed admit of more than one interpretation.

But it is clear that the sorts of mixed or compound or dualistic intentional states that his subjects have toward evolution varies across societies & also to lesser extent withinn them. -- the subjects aren't simply confused. I'm sure they have a better conception of how the modern synthesis works than the average person who "believes" in evolution w/o qualification, or "disbelieves" w/o, in the US, e.g. These are drs & medical students!

Hameed should himself speak to this -- all 14 billion readers of this blog should write to him or his collaborator Everhart & implore one or the other or both do a guest post!

But from E&H:

[P]articipants assigned a plurality of meanings to the theory ... that depended on interactions between a participant’s perception of religion, science, medicine, and a host of ... other cultural influences.

...[E]ven those who rejected evolution ... thought that the theory of evolution was relevant to medicine. When the theory is presented as having a potentially instrumental use, individuals who consider evolution to have very different meanings may agree on its utility.

[M]ost participants took the meaning of the theory of evolution to be fluid. This fluidity of meaning allowed the participants to evaluate their concept of evolution in relation to the contexts provided by the interviewer (for example, religion, practical applications, etc.). This is not to say that the participants in this study did not properly understand the meaning of evolution, but rather that evolution is a theory that has outgrown a univocal epistemological meaning. It is not the case that our participants displayed ‘hybrid epistemologies’ (Kitcher 2008), but rather that the theory of evolution may possess meanings outside of the realm of epistemology ....

[T]he results of this study demonstrate ways in which people have different ideas of what it means to accept or reject the theory: the perception of evolution is bound up in the shifting meanings assigned to the theory by interactions between that participant’s perspectives on religion, science, medicine, and a host of other cultural influences....

From Hameed's paper on European Islamic creationism:

In order to address Islamic creationism in Europe, we have to start by asking what does “evolution” or “Darwin” mean for various Muslim minorities in Europe? What is it that is being rejected? As laid out above, for a number of Muslims, “evolution” or “Darwin” may simply stand for secularism, which they may perceive as an attack on their Islamic identity.

So my sense is that if you drew diagrams of the content of the "evoltuion" the subjects accept & the content of the one they reject, you'd have two coterminus diagrams w/ essentially the things that shoudl be in it if we are trying to confirm that they are talking about the modern synthesis.

The more interesting diagrams would be of the roles & identities the subjects occupy & the contrasting uses they make of the evolution the "believe in" & the one they "don't believe in...."

December 29, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Quick background: I am an Army Lieutenant Colonel that has spent significant time in the middle east, including Afghanistan and Pakistan. My regular specialty is a patent attorney. So I am one of your regular readers as you have an interesting take on trying to explain, and deal with, culture and technology.

The issue you are trying to work with today caused me to chuckle enough I figured I would try to help a little.

It is hard in the first world, living in a true republic, to understand what it is to live under a dictatorship or a religious oligarchy (which is what Pakistan really is). But let me give you some "facts" that any Pakistani would understand, but never tell a westerner:
You may need to flee for your life at any time, for reasons that seem innocuous today. (The Taliban one day outlawed, and started executing, barbers. For the crime of shaving beards. Think about one day being a regular member of your community, proudly operating a shop that people pay you to cut hair, and then running for your life because now you are a religious criminal.)
People die every day in Pakistan for failure to express fervent belief in Islam.
The ISI will read foreign publications and report (and punish) people for expressing less than total faith in Islam.

So, I would recommend that you think about the likelihood that the Pakistani doctor is lying to you. And that his life is on the line to make the lie convincing. I will leave it to you as to whether he is lying about evolution or Islam, but you should consider that living in a dictatorship forces people to lie. I was shocked when I first traveled the middle east at how many people have multiple passports. Not because they are criminals, but because it enhances survival.

Further, realize that people lie in the west, though generally for different reasons. I happen to think that a lot of the "climate scientists" are lying also. Not that there are not problems, but I am not sure the truth is currently fashionable.

So, I think your articles would be enhanced by addressing the concept of lying. Yes, it adds complexity. But it also untangles the Gordian knot.

December 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHeath Wells

But the goal is not to figure out what the subjects mean by "evolution." It is to figure out the cognitive dynamics involved in believing & not believing one & the same thing.

So my sense is that if you drew diagrams of the content of the "evoltuion" the subjects accept & the content of the one they reject, you'd have two coterminus diagrams w/ essentially the things that shoudl be in it if we are trying to confirm that they are talking about the modern synthesis.

The more interesting diagrams would be of the roles & identities the subjects occupy & the contrasting uses they make of the evolution the "believe in" & the one they "don't believe in...."

Interesting- that's not my first guess. I would expect importantly divergent descriptions from the doctors- even if they're partly post-hoc rationalizations produced by a situation where they're basically asked to explain why they accept one and not the other. In the same way, I would expect your favorite Floridians to actually have different conceptions of "normal" and local climate change/sea level rise and the culturally-tangled and national climate change issue.

I mean, isn't this what you're saying when you say there may really be no contradiction in these doctors beliefs? If cultural context can control the giving of one's belief, why wouldn't it also affect the content of the concept being believed/disbelieved?

December 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterScott Johnson


Points well taken.

The paper I was citing actually was one in whicih the subjects were Pakinstan Drs in the US!

But Hameed has interviewed ones in Pakistan, and also medical students there -- he could say, but my impression is that they were pretty remote from areas in which Taliban insurgents were active.

Indeed, Hameed has conducted his interviews in many Islamic societiies, and also with Islamic Drs and medical students studying in western societies.

I'm sure he is conscious of the dynamics that might lead the interviewees not to level with him, but one thing to note is that in most of the Islamic societies in which he conducts his research, evolution is not a big issue of contention, even in education. Yes, religious people generally "don't believe in it" -- yet evolutionary science appears in school texts, is a subject of instruction in higher education etc (there are in fact interesting differences across socieities, of course).

HIs most recent paper describes the weird dynamics that have generated conflict in Europe over the attraction of "Islamic creationism" -- which actually dosn't have any connection to the cultures or practices of the societies from which European muslims have immigrated. Hameed describes the propogators of it as conflict entrepreneurs who are using tactics featured by US creationists -- including the "rope a dope" strategy of provoking culturally chauvenistic denunciation, which in fact invests it with a symbolic meaning that enables Islamic Creationism (which is apparently viewed as pretty goofy even by many of those who espouse it) to get adherents.... Sectarian violence is pretty much extinct in liberal democratoc socieites -- yet dodos are thriving. Go figure.

As you note, we take for granted freedom from sectarian violence. We don't consider how unusual that condition is--not just in the world today but historically. The quieting of sectarian violence is the single greatest benefit that liberal democratic, market socieities have conferred on their members.

We don't chop the heads off of those who have religious values different from ours; we buy cool shit from them & sell them stuff in return!

I hope people in Afghanistan and Pakistan and other socieities seized with sectarian violence get that that same benefit some day.

But if they have something to teach us in the meantime about how to free ourselves of lingering conflicts that, even if they don't put our lives in danger (usually) do unacceptably interfere with our getting the full benefit of the knowledge and tolerance that are the hallmarks of our way of life, then I'll take it!

That we get the benefits of learning surprising things from scholars as skillful and curious as Hameed is part of the same package of benefits that you are describing.

And *many many thanks* for defending it for us!

December 30, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan


Hameed really has to a guest post and address these issues! for sure I'll understate the complexity and diversity & just get things wrong on some details.

I'm positive he would say that there is variance-- across societies & even w/i them.

But the Pakistani Dr doesn't seem either confused or argitated. I don't think he sees any need to rationalize.

Mainly he just views the perplexed interviewer as obtuse.

Of course, the interviewer isn't genuinely perplexed -- or at least not particularly surprised at this point.

But he gets why *we* would be & so he models our incomprehension in engaging the Pakinstani Dr., who it turns out, then, thinks you & I are being obtuse.

In my own case, I'm very willing to treat that as a plausible hypothesis.

And as for Fla -- no, not really. I see lots of Pakinstani Drs down there & lots of people who are definitely *not* obtuse.

December 30, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

I wonder whether the doctor could have meant more literally that he saw the two evolutions as different; something along the lines that the evolution-at-work is a scientific theory that produces successful results when applied to particular instances of medical research; the rejected-evolution is a social philosophy that has (in his view) ruinous implications when applied to how humans should live and interact with one another.

(I am an evolutionist, FYI, though in my case it is probably closer to being an identity marker than a useable scientific understanding.)

April 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSH

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