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« We are *all* Pakistani Drs/Kentucky Farmers, Part 2: Kant's perspective(s) | Main | Science of Science Communication 2.0, Session 11.2: Wilner questions "consensus messaging" pedagogy for climate-science education along with her own previous views on teaching students to "believe in," not just comprehend, evolution... »

We are *all* Pakistani Drs/Kentucky Farmers, Part 1: Manny's perspective(s)

Quite reasonably, Adam Laats at "I love you but you are going to Hell" asked me if I could come up with additional, less exotic examples of people using cognitive dualism than the Pakistani Dr & the Kentucky Farmer. Here's a start...

Krista's boyfriend, MannySo I was talking with Krista, the high school senior and aspiring veterinarian featured in Hermann's "cognitive apartheid" study, about how puzzling it is to me & everyone else I know that she could get a perfect score on her evolutionary-science exam and still not believe in human evolution. She told me I should go ask her boyfriend Manny for help because he was "really good at explaining stuff."

It turned out that Manny, like Krista, had “aced” the AP physics course at their high school.  

I thus asked Manny how he reconciled what he had learned about the “Big Bang” with his religious conviction that God created the universe and everything in it. 

He replied, “What the hell are you talking about, dude? I’m an atheist!”

“Oh, sorry,” I said, “I just assumed that if you were Krista’s boyfriend, you must be religious too. . . .”

“Well, that was a pretty stupid assumption,” he replied. “Sure, we have different opinions about religion but it’s not like people around here cut each other's heads off over disagreements like that,” he said, fiddling with his iPhone as he spoke.

“Not only do I believe everything I learned in the AP Physics course,”  Manny continued with a demonic grin, “but I also believe that the course explains everything in the universe, including this conversation.”

“Seriously?,” I asked.

“Yes, seriously,” he replied. “In fact, one of the questions on the AP Physics exam was, ‘We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future—true or false?’ Pretty obvious the answer’s ‘true,’ don’t you agree?," he asked.

“Yes, I guess so,” I said.

“Of course you agree—you have no choice in the matter!,” he stated with a smirk.

“So I guess you are going to be a scientist when you grow up then?...,” I asked.

“Nope. A moral philosopher,” Manny answered.

A moral philosopher– how can that be?!,” I asked. “If human behavior, along with everything else, can be linked to the impact of natural laws acting on successive states of the universe all the way back to the Big Bang, isn’t it silly to sit around philosophizing about how we ought to live? What ‘choice in the matter’ do we have?”

“That’s the sort of argument that seems really really clever when you are in junior high,” he replied. “Obviously people make reasoned decisions about how to live all the time.”

“But aren’t you contradicting yourself?,” I asked.  “You said you believe ‘we may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future’—and yet you also are now saying that humans reasonably form their own life plans . . . .”

“Yes, I’m saying both of those things, but if you think that’s a ‘contradiction,’ you really are dense,” Manny said. “What I believe about the impact of natural laws on human beings and everything else in the universe, on the one hand, and what I believe about the power of free and reasoning human beings to decide how to live, on the other, are entirely different things.

“I don’t get it,” I said.

“What sort of sorry ass excuse for an education did you receive?,” Manny asked. “Didn’t you ever read Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals? Or how about either of his first two "Critiques"-- of Pure Reason & of Practical Reason?”

“Ummm … Sure, but remind me– it’s been a while — what did he say that’s relevant here?,” I asked.

Manny sighed. “Kant posits that that human rationality involves a fundamentally dualistic self-perspective: as a member of the ‘sensible world,’ we perceive our actions, like everything else, to be caused by external forces of nature; but as a member of the ‘intelligible world,’ we perceive our actions as the product of our autonomous or self-determining wills.”

“Oh, right,” I said.

“You sound like you don’t get it,” Manny sneered. “But if you want ’empirical proof,’ just look at how every scientist lives her life. Yes, she believes that ‘the present state of the universe is the effect of its past and the cause of its future’—at work, where that belief enables her to contribute to the advancement of scientific knowledge. Nor does she bother concocting some metaphysical 'humans are exempted' proviso as she's doing so, because obviously that doesn't work.” 

“But at home,” Manny continued, “that same scientist disbelieves human actions are caused by deterministic natural laws." "The belief that that human beings have the capacity to choose how to live is woven into the mosaic of desires, emotions, and moral evaluations that enables her to be a parent who takes pride in the accomplishments of her children; or to be a citizen who decides she should do something to fight the threat that global warming poses to her community or to humanity or whatever."

“Don’t you see,” Manny resumed after a pause, “we are all Pakistani Drs!  Actually, I know you don’t see that; perhaps that is something you’d like to study sometime. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m supposed to meet Krista so we can watch the latest episode of Mythbusters.”

Boy, those teenagers--such "know-it-alls"!

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Reader Comments (4)

In re: the grand quest to refine the definition:

Reading Thaler's latest NYT column, I'm wondering if (non-behavioral) economists also qualify as Pakistani doctors:

At work, they firmly expect people to behave one way ("econs"), while at home, they expect people to behave another way (the emotional, lazy, heuristic-driven wrecks they know and love and are). This isn't perfectly contradictory, of course (average group behavior might be different from individual behavior). Then again, neither are the other examples.

What do you think, good example or not so good example?

May 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMW


It's a good example, but perhaps the author exaggerates how economists actually see it for rhetorical effect.

It's another example of model-based truths. The reason that economists invented homo economicus is that it's a lot easier to model, and works in many cases. No economist believes people actually operate like that, just as no physicist believes Newton's law of gravity is literally true. But by building simplified toy models of economic behaviour, you can analyse and predict a lot of effects without making everything so mind-bogglingly complicated as to be incomprehensible, overwhelming the reader with detail.

When things are seen not to fit, the economist knows to pick a more detailed model. In the examples the article cites, the issue is usually that there are other costs and benefits that were not included in the model. For example, students value exam results not only for their contribution to passing the exam, but also for the bragging rights they grant. Being able to casually tell your mother you scored 96 on your last test is worth a considerable amount to a student under pressure to perform. The problem isn't that the students are being irrational - it's that the economist is being irrational in thinking that their simple 'exam-passing' model fully captured all the economic factors and motivations in play.

Economists do quite often mention the shortcomings of their models (the article itself is a case in point), so I think they're probably more conscious than most of the distinction.

May 9, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV


I think Thaler is just saying that classical micro-economists are full of shit. Their "models" don't model anything in the real world; they aren't "believing" in somethking "at work" that they don't believe "at home" but rather are just playing a game that invovles bull shitting & story telling. He's mad b/c he he thinks they won't cry uncle when he has them dead to rights; mad too that people keep paying attention to them -- instead of paying even more to him. That's his schtick. There's something to it, but after 20 yrs it's really old.

Why exactly are you having trouble w/ the definition? Do you get Kant's dualism? His point that we adopt altenrative perspectives relating to the the operation of natural laws on human beings depending on *what* we are doing w/ our reason-- acquiring scientific knowledge vs. living a meaningful life? If so, then 'cognitive dualism' is just a proposed psychological operationalization of that -- in Krista, in the Pakistani Dr, in the Kentucky Farmer, and in you.

Is it possible that what's catching you up isn't the lack of a "definition" but a selectivity in perception that makes "contradiction" appear only in the way cognitive dualism manifests itself in the dual perspectives of those who have used their reasoning to find a meaning in life very different from the one you have used yours to find?

I do indeed feel that is the best explanation for my own perplexity.

May 9, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@ NiV & DK re: Thaler's Economists:

Thanks. Perhaps I've spent too much time with former high school debaters who first liked Ayn Rand and then liked J.S. Mill (you know the type), but I was under the impression there were true believer economists out there. That might be completely wrong -- they all might be people who reasonably acknowledge the limits of their models (per NiV) or game players who don't even think they're discerning truth (per DK's gloss on RT). In which case: not so good example.

@ DK re: Defining Dualism

I'm having trouble with the definition because I don't yet fully buy that Kant's dualism is really the same thing that the Pakistani Dr., Krista, and/or the Kentucky Farmer (PDKKF) are experiencing, unless it's something that applies to a much larger group of people -- essentially anyone who holds two viewpoints that are technically contradictory but don't come into practical conflict. (This is what I find interesting about the hypocrites I mentioned in an earlier comment -- not that PDKKF might "really" be hypocrites or anything like that, but rather that honest hypocrites --those who don't recognize their own hypocrisy -- might be employing a rather common psychological process.)

Of course I recognize that my difficulty might stem from not identifying with the meaning PDKKF find in life, but please give me the benefit of the doubt that I'm honestly trying to understand cognitive dualism and not trying to find a reason to disparage PDKKF. I have generally positive feelings toward PDKKF and think they should be free to exist as they are! I'm happy to have people of all creeds in society, and I'm even happier when they're doing productive things. Thanks for taking care of the people/animals/crops, PDKKF. (I would, admittedly, have less positive feelings if, say, Krista voted for a bill that would prohibit the teaching of evolution.) And if the only point of this discussion is that we shouldn't try to destroy PDKKF's current perspective, because it benefits PDKKF in multiple ways and doesn't detract from society, that's fine. But I'm trying to understand "what's going on in their heads," as you are.

In that case, I do think there are some differences between Kant's dualist and PDKKF. The one that stands out most is that the noumenal perspective is both innate and necessary to function in the world, in addition to imbuing life with meaning. Sure, it gives life meaning for me to feel pride and shame and such in myself and others, but it's also an extremely helpful heuristic for navigating social interaction and self-motivation. In fact, in terms of learning "how the world works," thinking of people as autonomous minds is a far more useful model than thinking of them as deterministic systems. And this perspective been developed through so many millennia of evolution that we cannot cognitively escape hardly constitutes using "reasoning" to find meaning. So I'm not sure it makes sense to separate out the practical/natural and meaningful-life-living elements of the autonomous mind model -- they seem to me to be part of the same cognitive phenomenon. This seems pretty different from PDKKF's dualism on all fronts, no? (Perhaps I'm disagreeing with or talking past Kant here...please let me know if I am. It wouldn't be the first time I've gotten Kant wrong, I'm sure.)

I'm also having trouble with the definition because I don't yet have an example where I experience dualism the way these people experience it -- in particular, the feature that when someone points out the contradiction, I'm not bothered. I'm not Manny -- when the conflict between free will and determinism comes up, I'm troubled and moved to come up with a compatibilism that satisfies me. So I'm hoping that by bringing up more examples and seeing whether they fall into or out of the box, I'll be able to recognize this phenomenon as something more familiar. So please...the more examples, the better! Particularly if I identify with them! (I think the person who believes he's going to heaven but tries very hard to avoid death is another one, but again, not one I identify with.)

I think I had more to say, but this is more than enough for now.... Thanks for reading!

May 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMW

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