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Monday
Apr202015

"Cognitive dualism" research program: a fragment ...

From something that collaborators and I are working on . . . .

We propose a multi-stage research program to investigate "cognitive dualism." This dynamic is marked by simultaneous states of apparent belief and disbelief of empirically derived facts. Conspicuous examples include scientists or doctors who reject evolution yet use evolutionary science in their research or professional decision-making, and farmers who dismiss evidence of climate change while using it to guide their commercial activities. Dominant psychological accounts attribute cognitive dualism to one or another reasoning deficit such as dissonance avoidance. Our project, in contrast, builds on work that links cognitive dualism to rational information processing. People use their reason for a plurality of ends enabled by distinct clusters of intentional states (emotions, desires, moral appraisals, and the like). The opposing beliefs characteristic of cognitive dualism, we surmise, exist only within these clusters; where the ends that they enable—such as belonging to a cultural community and occupying a professional role—are practically compatible, the characterization of the beliefs as “contradictory” reflects a psychologically arbitrary criterion of identity. The proposed program will test this hypothesis in relation to rival accounts of cognitive dualism and identify prescriptions for communicating science geared to accommodating rather than antagonizing this dynamic.

 

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Reader Comments (11)

Navel-gazing alert!

I was thinking the other day about the argument that people engage in the kind of dualism you describe because of a need to stay protected within the good graces of their own ideological/cultural community.

That always seemed rather insufficient to me because, I think, it doesn't account for a reflexive need to self-protect one's own identity - rather independently of considering the potential of rejection from one's "group." I don't want to think I'm a hypocrite, so I hold hypocritical beliefs (that I'm identified with) in isolation from each other without examining their contradiction.

The thought occurred to me the other day that there is a 3rd aspect of this dynamic. I engage in dualistic beliefs because I want to protect other members of my community. Of course, I'm not really protecting them by virtue of engaging in biased reasoning myself, but my instinct is that somehow I can protect them by biasing my own reasoning as if it would prevent them from being in error or vulnerable to (justifiable) attack.

April 20, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

I posted this before, re the Pakistani Doctor, etc. Just something to think about. A quote from the Ministry of Truth.

"The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them... To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth."

-George Orwell
1984

April 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterFrankL

@FrankL

I think it's unclear who is living in 1984: the Pakistani Dr or those who insist -- in the name of education no less! -- that he profess a "belief" that not only is uncorrelated w/ comprehension of anything related to science but in fact has no meaning aside from what is signifies about one's allegiance to a cultural group for whom the position is a badge of membership

April 21, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

I'm curious -- do you know who the subjects are going to be for this research program? I'm skeptical that the cognition of the Pakistani Dr. and Kentucky Farmer is the same as that of the high-OCSI-scoring-climate-skeptic, so I'd hesitate to use the latter as subjects. Is there a large group of people who hold these seemingly contradictory beliefs that I'm not thinking of? (I'd guess we all do, but I'm not sure as to what...)

April 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMW

Dan -

==> "I think it's unclear who is living in 1984: the Pakistani Dr or those who insist -- in the name of education no less! -- that he profess a "belief" that not only is uncorrelated w/ comprehension of anything related to science but in fact has no meaning aside from what is signifies about one's allegiance to a cultural group for whom the position is a badge of membership"

I tried reading that a couple of times and I'm still having trouble parsing it. Could you rephrase?

April 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua:

I don't think anything the Pakistani Dr does in ordering his mental life restricts anyone's freedom or even defies reasoned decisionmaking.

I think those who recognize that what he is doing has no impact on his practice of medicine but who nonetheless still object to his being the sort of person that he is enabled to be by "not believing" in evolution "at home" are displaying an interest in getting into people's heads -- their understandings of how to live worthwhile lives, & their use of their reason to do so -- that is in deep deep tension with liberal values.

April 21, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Mw:

How would you id/recruit subjects?

April 21, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

DK -

I'm not sure! I don't think I have a sufficiently sound understanding of the hypothesis to think of target groups and questions...

Certainly you could actually pursue religious oncologists and southern farmers at their various conventions, etc., if you want to start with people you know might fit the bill. Or you could think of other professions where this clash seems likely. (Climate change seems more likely to be fruitful...find land speculators, or people buying climate insurance, etc.)

But what exactly are the boundaries of cognitive dualism? What about the people we generally think of as hypocrites? If I'm opposed to private gun ownership and proclaim that a gun in the house is more likely to hurt its owner than help her, and yet I own a gun because I'm pretty sure I'm safer with it, is that dualism? Or if I say I think abortion is murder but have an abortion because I'm not ready for a child, is that dualism?

These examples differ from yours in a number of ways -- in the first, private behavior contradicts the evidence; the second is obnoxiously loaded and doesn't explicitly rely on scientific understanding; in neither would the actor be happy to tell her friends about her behavior. But they share a major similarity: different "beliefs" for purposes of signaling and behavior, without the person necessarily experiencing cognitive dissonance. (I could see that last part going either way.) If you want to lump in all people who carry beliefs that could be understood as contradictory -- one for signaling, one for practice -- but don't experience them as such, you'll have a much larger sample. (Sorry if you've addressed this already in another thread -- I imagine you have, but I'm not completely caught up.)

Also, I suppose you could try to put regular people in the shoes of a professional, by giving them practical task of sorts: they're in charge of purchasing land for their employer's vineyard, which will be turned over in the year 2150. Do they choose Napa or British Columbia? But I'm pessimistic that will get results.

Again, I might have better ideas if I had a better sense of when you think cognitive dualism is a likely explanation! Thanks.

April 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMW

i think this research topic is fascinating :-)

Some of the ideas that MW proposed are worth contemplating. The examples provided are slightly different from the situations we were considering in that we specifically are referring to holding seemingly conflicting beliefs about empirically-derived facts.The examples listed seem more like moral dilemmas--at least the one where the person is anti-abortion but finds herself in a situation where she feels she needs one. Is this truly holding conflicting beliefs? Or is it holding one belief but "choosing the lesser of two evils"? And, with regard to the gun situation, is that just a trust issue? You know that you are a capable of being safe with a gun, but other people are not?

However, I can see how these situations could seem related, and it is worth putting more thought into how broad "cognitive dualism" is.

April 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAsheley Landrum

@Asheley & @Mw:

I agree largely w/ Asheley. But I think even if one excludes the "moral lapse" or inconsistency cases, there will still be an issue about how to distinguish "hypocrisy" from "cognitive dualism": maybe Kentucky Farmer is just a hypocritte, etc.

But I think the account that the Pakistani Dr gives of himself can't be viewed as "hypocrisy." He doesn't hide anything; he doesn't see any inconsistency. In his self-understanding, the "beliefs" are different b/c they are intentional states it makes no sense to distinguish from the activities he does with them.

We need a criterion that identifies actors like that. It's not clear to me that self-consciousness of it, or at least the level of the Pakistani Dr's ability to articulate this view, is a realistic criterion for identifying such actors.

As for where to recruit, that's less difficult in my view.

I'd love an answer to today's question(s).

April 22, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"I don't think anything the Pakistani Dr does in ordering his mental life restricts anyone's freedom or even defies reasoned decisionmaking...I think those who recognize that what he is doing has no impact on his practice of medicine but who nonetheless still object to his being the sort of person that he is enabled to be by "not believing" in evolution "at home" are displaying an interest in getting into people's heads -- their understandings of how to live worthwhile lives, & their use of their reason to do so -- that is in deep deep tension with liberal values."

I have to disagree with some of that. Yes, the Pakistani Dr. is not restricting anyone's freedom, but the quote from Orwell is not making any such recommendation either. It's describing in emotionally negative terms the nature of doublethink aka cognitive dualism aka intellectual dishonesty aka hypocrisy aka something we all do, have to do, to varying degrees. To paraphrase Hamlet: "And thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of cognitive monism and enterprises of great pith and moment with this regard become action-disabled". I mean, personally, I reject that, I'm dedicated to the idea that the crippling aspect of the truth is not in the truth, its in our heads. A very scary thing to me is someone who is powerful, power-hungry, and engages in cognitive dualism the way a shark hunts, without an ounce of introspection. If the Pakistani doctor sees the conflict and chooses to live with it, then fine, but to celebrate it, no.

Orwell's point was that cognitive dualism in the general populace and their leaders is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for tyranny. That is in deep deep tension with liberal values. Cognitive monism is the enemy of all the crap we are trying to weed out of the discussions of evolution and climate science, etc. Cognitive dualism is its friend.

Those who object to the Pakistani doctor's attitude are no more trying to get into his head than anyone who is trying to teach evolution and climate science is trying to get into somebody's head. What we are talking about is a value judgement on cognitive dualism. I'm perfectly happy to remove all value judgement, remove all implicit value judgements in the emotionalism of the language in order to analyze and understand the phenomenon. I'm fine with being pragmatic about dealing with it, realizing that the goal is not to declare total war on hypocrisy, condemning all who exhibit it, but to understand it, in ourselves and others, and try to form a better society by minimizing it. But to say that cognitive dualism is part and parcel of reasoned decisionmaking and that people who have a problem with it are "displaying an interest in getting into people's heads" as if that were a bad, illiberal thing, I choke on that.

April 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterFrankL

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