I saw an interesting quote tonight on bigthink.com:
Answer this simple question: A bat and ball cost a dollar and ten cents. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? Most people quickly answer “ten cents,” but the correct answer is “five cents.”
These kinds of small mistakes are due to shortcuts our brains take, preferring lazy, intuitive responses to laborious, arithmetic ones. Surprisingly, intelligent people seem to make these mistakes more easily, according to a new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Researchers reached that conclusion by observing a positive correlation between performance on standardized intelligence tests, like the SAT, and rates of incorrect answers given to questions like the bat-and-ball one above.
What’s the Big Idea?
While it makes intuitive sense that receiving a better education would remedy this kind of error, psychological studies have found that “more than fifty per cent of students at Harvard, Princeton, and M.I.T. gave the incorrect answer to the bat-and-ball question.”
Such questions test our awareness of bias, which is easy to spot in others but more difficult to see in ourselves because the error is unconscious.
“In fact, introspection can actually compound the error, blinding us to those primal processes responsible for many of our everyday failings. … The more we attempt to know ourselves, the less we actually understand.”
What may also be factors are the keenness of smart people to show speed in problem solving, and their habit of trusting their impressions: after all, their intelligence will have long been vouched for in their educational career. Being right is desired above all else, and being wrong assiduously guarded against.
But as regarding the blindside nature of spotting bias in others, one thing I’ve come to understand is that the first aspect of the religious minded which critics attack and which their ensuing argument depends upon, is the idea of divinity. Some forms of religious thinking are easy to mock – take the unstable American narcissist Glenn Beck: he is to spirituality what Josef Mengeles was to scientific research (the white lab coat was convincing until he acted out his thoughts). Anyone can see how such people devalue their brands and attract disrepute, fanatically stating a belief while oblivious to its spirit, which long ago parted company with them.
To critics of religion, divinity is an absurd concept in a thinking society. Ridicule has been used to great effect in totalitarian states, and is the perfect first stage in defamation precisely because it cannot be defended against, and attempting to do so inextricably tangles the opponent in an absurdity: thus God is referred to as the sky fairy or the invisible sky papa, and then for good measure compared to the invisible spaghetti monster.
Once the doors are slammed and locked and this train has been set in motion, the next stop announces that prayer is an insult to intelligence. Slightly further down the line we hear it is to be banned, and before long the grim silhouette of a final destination hoves into view, whose archway spells out in black welded iron that religion is for the stupid, the ignorant, and the insane, and perhaps the wicked as well (Dawkins).
Among the darkened compartments whispers repeat Sam Harris’s claim that the religious might need to be killed for the greater good, and panic begins to spread.
In fact a whole underground map attractively filled with hundreds of ingenious insults and put-downs spaced along brightly coloured lines of logic labelled progressive, cynical, amusing, mocking, quickly unfolds from this one single premise – one which is thoroughly faulty, and even counter-productive for science.
If we ask how has science come about, the answer must be either that it grew slowly from very early experimentation, or arose at some distinct (if arbitrarily measured) point at which the intellect felt able to tackle matters formerly left to faith. Science evolved within a mind undergoing a mental evolution. If we ask how did the idea of divinity come about – we can be sure it arose in the same way albeit much further back in our history – at least as far as 200,000 years. This gives it a far more fundamental status within the mind, though not necessarily an inferior one – unless eating, sleeping and reproduction are considered outmoded on the same grounds. As we know, all human societies in all ages have without exception devised their own concept of divinity, meaning that there must be a solid reason for it, but nobody has yet explained what this reason should be.
Mental evolution was at one stage incredibly slow: the Sumerian traders’ pictographs for livestock and grain were not followed by images representing their number until a further 9,000 years had elapsed, and all this development was the end of the parabola nearer to us. Imagine the static nature of our early ancestors’ life – hardly discernable from the animal model which shows virtually no change over time – for perhaps millions of years.
This ever-faster tokenising of concepts is a marked feature of mental evolution and has corresponding centres in the brain, and parallels in the world it created: far-fetched devices, after a laborious introduction, become accepted, then mass produced, then reduced in size and subsumed as part of larger and more ambitious projects. Understanding each stage necessitates rapid absorption of all those before it; what is a massive challenge for one generation is a mere trifle for the next, and what parent has not floundered when trying to navigate at the required speed the abbreviated, implied, knowingly sardonic outlook of their quick-thinking teenagers?
“Dad, your painting is bound to look almost the same as yesterday. If I keep seeing it I won’t notice when it’s finished. So for your sake, I’m not going to look at it.
Explain again how wearing my hair up will affect my education? And my socks are matched, Dad – I’m going by thickness. YOLO.”
Since the future must be of much more interest to us than the past, all this evidence of mental growth prompts a more important question: will science ever be supplanted by some superior faculty, however far in the futrure, of which we now know nothing? Knowing so little about the brain, and witnessing its amazing performances in certain individuals classed as lightning calculators, child prodigies, creative geniuses and so on, we must state honestly that we cannot know, indicating it as a definite possibility.
But considering the same question of divinity, a future concept of it superior in nature to any present one is only possible if the mind of man also expands, because divinity by necessity already represents the highest and most perceptive intelligence imaginable. If an expansion of such a concept becomes acceptable one day, it must indicate that the nature of reality warrants it. The divinity suited to a multi-dimensional 14 billion year Universe with 7 x 10 to the power 23 suns in which 95% is hidden from man’s view can never be the same as one conceived for a Universe consisting of a single planet.
If divinity represents the intelligence – even a hypothetical one – able to peer furthest and most accurately into the nature of reality, then we intuitively match intelligence to the complexity of the world. We see complexity not with our senses, but with intelligence. To the animal, both the examples of art shown above are equivalent, in that neither is worthy of attention. Whether you believe in a God or in natural selection, you already know Nature is not in the habit of bestowing redundant senses, and this is true whether according to your temperament you believe the existence of eyes predicted a knowledge of light, or their development followed naturally from light’s existence by a need to survive, or they enabled a concept of light to be registered in the mind. Likewise ears and sound waves transmitted through air, the nose and fragrance-carrying molecules, the taste buds and fruit, or a love for blues and the Texan twangmeister Stevie Ray Vaughan.
If intelligence and its continual conceptual tokenising, is as areal as any other sense – as the intellectuals would be the first to claim – it must have its root in the nature of the world itself, and be a measure of how much we can understand about it. This must be true whether (in accordance with your outlook) intelligence predicted an unravelling of laws, or followed on from experience as a survival tool, or ensured that laws yet unknown would appear to the mind as acceptable mental constructs.
So regardless of philosophy, all must agree if the Universe were a chaos, intelligence would be of no use in unravelling it, and even by Darwinian logic, would have had no survival value: better to just stay out of harm’s way for as long as possible. Instead, our habit of matching intelligence to understanding (a trait continually emphasised by the intelligent) indicates the Universe does have a law-bound aspect yielding only to intelligence – whether in our present intellectual form or a superior one – and which, based on our eagerness to apply it, is believed to extend infinitely in all directions. Not only that, these laws must apply to the mind, since, however arrived at, mind itself is indisputably a product of whatever laws rule this Universe. There is no root of chaos, nor can there ever be, for an intelligent mind.
It is for this reason that science can never afford to discount the idea of divinity, because only something akin to it can expand science indefinitely to allow its continued success in the distant future. Once we understand every last aspect of the Universe, we would have no need of divinity, but seeing as we’re still wrestling with the extra runway at Heathrow, let’s wait until we get there first. Presuming a superiority to divinity smacks of a cosmic-sized egotism, something always discouraged by scriptures perhaps because in this Universe, there will always be surprises for the intellect. Junk DNA, anyone?
Divinity requires an admission of relative superiority, but that naturally follows, and such an attitude – so thoroughly criticised by atheists – exists in many secular forms: why do we praise the highest minds and most successful thinkers, and are prepared to pay colossal sums to possess even a few pages of Einstein’s notes, unless we worship – by virtue of that same material acknowledgement – the value of their work, stemming from the high status of their minds, and therefore their nearer approach to divinity than our own?
Since secular people are free to worship daily in this way, why do they frown on the worship of others if it involves the contemplation of a divine mind, and even take steps to stamp out their freedom to practice it? My advice to Councellor Bone would be, leave meetings five minutes early, or arrive five minutes late. And I say this not to support religious dogma, or any other kind of dogma, but because this kind of mental exercise – worship if you will – seems to me an act of imagination far more future proof than its secular counterpart, and (since it has been found that meditation thickens the cerebral cortex, strengthens the amygdala, and generates a flood of healthy neurotransmitters) a concept essential to the future of science itself.
Some notes on the Cambrian explosion and the work of the above named Dr James Valentine, clearly as intelligent and as devoted a follower of Darwin as any man ever born:
Valentine and his colleagues found “it has not proven possible to trace transitions” between the phyla, and the evidence points to a Cambrian explosion “even more abrupt and extensive than previously envisioned”. The authors concluded “the metazoan explosion is real; it is too big to be masked by flaws in the fossil record”.
Some scientists suggested that fossil ancestors for the animal phyla are missing because animals before the Cambrian lacked hard parts, and never fossilized; the Cambrian explosion therefore represents the sudden appearance of shells and skeletons in animals evolving long before. The fossil evidence does not support this view as Stephen Jay Gould and Simon Conway Morris pointed out: the majority of Cambrian explosion fossils are soft-bodied anyway, and the fossil evidence points to the appearance of many new body plans in the Cambrian, not just the acquisition of hardparts by existing phyla.
According to Valentine, the Cambrian explosion “involved far more major animal groups than just the durably skeletonized living phyla… [it was] new kinds of organisms, and not old lineages newly donning skeleton-armor, that appeared”.
What significance does the Cambrian explosion have for evaluating Darwin’s theory that all animals are modified descendants of a common ancestor? Darwin himself considered it a serious problem. Although Darwin’s theory predicts that animal evolution should proceed from the “bottom up,” with the largest differences emerging last, Valentine and his colleagues wrote that the pattern of the Cambrian explosion “creates the impression that metazoan evolution has by and large proceeded from the ‘top down’ “.
The Cambrian explosion is for some biologists paradoxical from the perspective of Darwin’s theory. For other biologists, it constitutes evidence against Darwin’s idea that all animals evolved from a single common ancestor. Yet Richard Dawkins continues to defend Darwin’s theory as a Zombie Science – a theory already dead and rotting but which refuses to lie down and be buried – by a faux-scholar mix of arrogance and ignorance claiming, paradoxically, the only ones to not subscribe to it are “the stupid, the ignorant, and the insane, and perhaps the wicked as well”. This group would presumably include the distinguished Dr James Valentine.
(Information from The Scientific Controversy Over the Cambrian Explosion, Centre for Science & Culture/Discovery Inst., Washington)