CULTURE

DEEP PRAGMATISM

Topic: 

  • CULTURE
https://vimeo.com/79567431

Imagine the following scenario: You have two different tribes, your collectivist tribe over here—where everything's in common, and your individualist tribe over there. Imagine these tribes not only have different ways of cooperating, but they rally around different gods, different leaders, different holy texts that tell them how they should live—that you're not allowed to sing on Wednesdays in this group, and in this group over here, women are allowed to be herders, but in this group over there, they're not; different ways of life; different ways of organizing society.

UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN

A Conversation with
[8.30.05]

 

Science, then, may never replace religion in the lives of most people and in any society that hopes to survive for very long. But neither can religion replace science if humankind hopes to unlock nature's material secrets. And parodies of science, like the so-called "theory" of intelligent design, only cripple science education.

SCOTT ATRAN is an anthropologist, Director of Research for ARTIS Research and Risk Modeling; Research Director in Anthropology at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, France. He is also Visiting Professor of Psychology and Public Policy at the University of Michigan and Rresidential Scholar in Sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York City.

Scott Atran's Edge Bio Page

 


UNINTELLIGENT DESIGN

[SCOTT ATRAN:] In recent days President Bush has echoed conservative religious calls to give belief in intelligent design equal time with evolutionary theory in public schools. If heeded, this would debase both religion and science by muddling and weakening their different missions.

Science is not particularly well-suited to deal with problems of human existence that have no enduring logical and or factual solution, such as avoiding death, preventing deception, anticipating catastrophes, overcoming loneliness, finding love or ensuring justice. Science cannot tell us what we ought to do or what should be, only what we can do and what is. Religion endures and thrives because it addresses people's deepest emotional yearnings and society's foundational moral needs. No society has ever endured more than a few generations without an unquestioningly true, but rationally inscrutable moral foundation.

In the competition for moral allegiance, secular ideologies are at a disadvantage. For if some better ideology is likely to be available down the line, then reasoning by backward induction, there is no more justified reason to accept the current ideology than convenience. And if people come to believe that all apparent commitment is self-interested convenience or worse, manipulation for the interest of others, then commitment withers and dies. Especially in times of vulnerability and stress, social deception and defection in pursuit of self- preservation is therefore more likely to occur, as the great Arab historian Ibn Khaldun noted centuries ago. Religion passionately rouses hearts and minds to break out of this viciously rational cycle of self-interest, and to adopt group interests that can benefit individuals in the long run. In the narrowest case, a couple bound in devotion more easily overcomes personal ups and downs. In the broadest case, mutual faith in an omniscient and omnipotent agent (the supreme deity of Abrahamic religions) mitigates cheating and the mentality of "every man for himself."

DEEP PRAGMATISM

A Conversation with
[8.30.13]

Imagine the following scenario: You have two different tribes, your collectivist tribe over here—where everything's in common, and your individualist tribe over there. Imagine these tribes not only have different ways of cooperating, but they rally around different gods, different leaders, different holy texts that tell them how they should live—that you're not allowed to sing on Wednesdays in this group, and in this group over here, women are allowed to be herders, but in this group over there, they're not; different ways of life; different ways of organizing society. Imagine these societies existing separately, separated by a forest that burns down. The rains come, and then suddenly you have a nice lovely pasture, and both tribes move in.

Now the question is: How are they going to do this? We have different tribes that are cooperative in different ways. Are they going to be individualistic? Are they going to be collectivists? Are they going to pray to this god? Are they going to pray to that god? Are they going to be allowed to have assault weapons or not allowed to have assault weapons? That's the fundamental problem of the modern world—that basic morality solves the tragedy of the commons, but it doesn't solve what I call the "tragedy of common sense morality." Each moral tribe has its own sense of what's right or wrong—a sense of how people ought to get along with each other and treat each other—but the common senses of the different tribes are different. That's the fundamental and moral problem.

JOSHUA D. GREENE is the John and Ruth Hazel Associate Professor of the Social Sciences and the director of the Moral Cognition Laboratory in the Department of Psychology, Harvard University. He studies the psychology and neuroscience of morality, focusing on the interplay between emotion and reasoning in moral decision-making. His broader interests cluster around the intersection of philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience. He is the author of Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and ThemJoshua D. Greene's Edge Bio Page

NAPOLEON CHAGNON: BLOOD IS THEIR ARGUMENT

An Edge Special Event
[6.6.13]

(L-R) Daniel C. Dennett, Napoleon Chagnon, David Haig, Steven Pinker, Richard Wrangham, John Brockman

"Napoleon Chagnon is a Living World Treasure. Arguably our greatest anthropologist ..." — Richard Dawkins, from the Introduction

Thanks to Steven Pinker for initiating and facilitating this Edge Special Event with Napoleon Chagnon, the last of the great ethnographers. 

THE REALITY CLUBLionel Tiger, Paul Seabright, Dominic Johnson, Azar Gat, Daniel Everett


INTRODUCTION
By Richard Dawkins

Chagnon's extraordinary body of work will long be mined, not just by anthropologists but by psychologists, humanists, litterateurs, scientists of all kinds: mined for . . .  who knows what insights into the deep roots of our humanity?

Napoleon Chagnon is a Living World Treasure. Arguably our greatest anthropologist, he is brave on two fronts. As a field worker in the Amazon forest he has lived, intimately and under conditions of great privation, with The Fierce People at considerable physical danger to himself. But the wooden clubs and poison-tipped arrows of the Yanomamö were matched by the verbal clubs and toxic barbs of his anthropologist colleagues in the journal pages and conference halls of the United States. And it is not hard to guess which armamentarium was the more disagreeable to him.

Chagnon committed the unforgivable sin, cardinal heresy in the eyes of a certain kind of social scientist: he took Darwin seriously. Along with a few friends and colleagues, Chagnon studied the up-to-date literature on natural selection theory, and with brilliant success he applied the ideas of Fisher, Hamilton, Trivers and other heirs of Darwin to a human tribe which probably ran as close to the cutting edge of natural selection as any in the world. It is sobering to reflect on how unconventional a step this was: science bursting into the quasi-literary world of the anthropology in which the young Chagnon was trained. Still today, in many American departments of social science, for a young researcher to announce a serious interest in Darwin's dangerous idea—even an inclination towards scientific thinking at all—can come close to career suicide.

In Chagnon's case the animosity spilled over from mere academic disagreement to personal slander, which was not merely untrue but diametrically opposite to the truth about this ethnographer and his decent and humane relationship with his subjects and friends. The episode serves as a dark lesson in what can happen when ideology is allowed to poison the well of academic study. While it is thankfully in the past, it blighted Chagnon's career, and I don't know whether the lesson for social science has been adequately learned.

Chagnon came along at just the right time for the Yanomamö and for scientific anthropology. Encroaching civilisation was about to close the last window on a tribal world that embodied vanishing clues to our own prehistory: a world of forest "gardens", of kin-groups fissioning into genetically salient sub-groups, of male combat over women and trans-generational revenge, complex alliances and enmities; webs of calculated obligation, debt, grudge and gratitude that might underlie much of our social psychology and even law, ethics and economics. Chagnon's extraordinary body of work will long be mined, not just by anthropologists but by psychologists, humanists, litterateurs, scientists of all kinds: mined for . . .  who knows what insights into the deep roots of our humanity?

In his unique role as salon-host and impresario for science, John Brockman has performed what will come to be seen as an enduring service, by bringing Napoleon Chagnon together with four of today's leading Third Culture intellectuals: Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker, Richard Wrangham and David Haig. Separately and in teams, these penetrating minds, combining deep scholarship with a rare ability to communicate and entertain, converse with Napoleon Chagnon and shed and reflect light on the life-work of a great anthropologist and a brave man.

                                                                                —Richard Dawkins

RICHARD DAWKINS, evolutionary biologist, is Emeritus Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, Oxford; Author, The Greatest Show on Earth; The Selfish Gene. He was recently ranked #1 in Prospect Magazine's poll of "World Thinkers 2013."


PART ONE: NAPOLEON CHAGNON & STEVEN PINKER (WITH DANIEL C. DENNETT & DAVID HAIG)

I first walked into the Yanomamö village thinking I was going to do the perfunctory one-year field research or maybe less, go back to my university, write my doctoral dissertation, publish a book maybe, after two or three years of thinking about it, then return to the tribe ten years later and do the expected thing about,  "Woe is me, what has the world and technology done to my people?" But the minute I walked into my first Yanomamö village I realized that I was witnessing a really precious thing, and I knew I would have to come back again and again. And I did.


[1:00:58]

DISCUSSION: CHAGNON, PINKER, DENNETT, HAIG

The Yanomamö are very valuable now as a commodity. They are the largest most interesting and romanticized tribe in the entire Amazon basin, maybe in the world. They live in an area that is threatened by ecological destruction, so there are people who are interested in saving the rain forest, and people who are interested in saving the natives. And these groups collaborate with each other. Everybody wants the Yanomamö in their portfolio. 


[30:43]

PART TWO: NAPOLEON CHAGNON & RICHARD WRANGHAM (WITH DANIEL C. DENNETT & DAVID HAIG)

What I've discovered is that life was very much filled with terror of your neighbors, constantly in a position—sort of like Hobbes’ argument—foul weather is not a shower or two but a tendency thereto for months on end. So you always have your eye open to the frontier and try to make sure that the guys out there are on the other side of the moat.


[33:52]

Continue to Part Two


DISCUSSION: CHAGNON, WRANGHAM, DENNETT, HAIG

Big villages lord over small villages. So if you're seeking an ally who will protect you from the buggers up the hill who are bigger than you, you're at a disadvantage because in order to get allies, you've got to give women to them. It’s an economics game where the smaller village has to pay up front for the privileges of the alliance, and the bigger village tends to default on many of its agreements. So big villages tend to exploit small villages. It's always a good idea to live in a big village; however, it's like living in a powder keg.


[20:47]

Continue to Part Two Discussion


NAPOLEON CHAGNON is a renowned anthropologist who is most widely recognized for his study of the Yanomamö tribes in the Amazon. He is a professor of anthropology at the University of Missouri; Author, Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes—the Yanomamö and the Anthropologists.

STEVEN PINKER, psychologist, is Johnstone Family Professor, Department of Psychology; Harvard University; Author, The Better Angles of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined; The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.

RICHARD WRANGHAM is Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology, Curator of Primate Behavioral Biology at Harvard University; Author, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human; (coauthor) Demonic Males: Apes, and the Origins Of Human Violence.

DANIEL C. DENNETT is Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, & Co-Director, Center for Cognitive Studies, Tufts University; Author, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking; Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life.

DAVID HAIG, evolutionary geneticist/theorist, is Associate Professor of Biology in Harvard's Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, with an interest in conflicts and conflict resolution within the genome, and genomic imprinting and relations between parents and offspring; Author, Genomic Imprinting and Kinship.


UNDERSTANDING IS A POOR SUBSTITUTE FOR CONVEXITY (ANTIFRAGILITY)

[12.12.12]

 

The point we will be making here is that logically, neither trial and error nor "chance" and serendipity can be behind the gains in technology and empirical science attributed to them. By definition chance cannot lead to long term gains (it would no longer be chance); trial and error cannot be unconditionally effective: errors cause planes to crash, buildings to collapse, and knowledge to regress.

NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB, essayist and former mathematical trader, is Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at NYU’s Polytechnic Institute. He is the author the international bestseller The Black Swan and the recently published Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. (US: Random HouseUK: Penguin Press)

Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Edge Bio

How To Win At Forecasting

[12.6.12]

 

The question becomes, is it possible to set up a system for learning from history that's not simply programmed to avoid the most recent mistake in a very simple, mechanistic fashion? Is it possible to set up a system for learning from history that actually learns in our sophisticated way that manages to bring down both false positive and false negatives to some degree? That's a big question mark.

Nobody has really systematically addressed that question until IARPA, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency, sponsored this particular project, which is very, very ambitious in scale. It's an attempt to address the question of whether you can push political forecasting closer to what philosophers might call an optimal forecasting frontier. That an optimal forecasting frontier is a frontier along which you just can't get any better.

PHILIP E. TETLOCK is Annenberg University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania (School of Arts and Sciences and Wharton School). He is author of Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? Philip Tetlock's Edge Bio Page 


[46.50 minutes]

INTRODUCTION
by Daniel Kahneman

Philip Tetlock’s 2005 book Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? demonstrated that accurate long-term political forecasting is, to a good approximation, impossible. The work was a landmark in social science, and its importance was quickly recognized and rewarded in two academic disciplines—political science and psychology. Perhaps more significantly, the work was recognized in the intelligence community, which accepted the challenge of investing significant resources in a search for improved accuracy. The work is ongoing, important discoveries are being made, and Tetlock gives us a chance to peek at what is happening.

Tetlock’s current message is far more positive than his earlier dismantling of long-term political forecasting. He focuses on the near term, where accurate prediction is possible to some degree, and he takes on the task of making political predictions as accurate as they can be. He has successes to report. As he points out in his comments, these  successes will be destabilizing to many institutions, in ways both multiple and profound. With some confidence, we can predict that another landmark of applied social science will soon be reached.

Daniel Kahneman, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics, 2002, is the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Princeton University and author of Thinking Fast and Slow.


HOW TO WIN AT FORECASTING
A Conversation with Philip Tetlock 

There's a question that I've been asking myself for nearly three decades now and trying to get a research handle on, and that is why is the quality of public debate so low and why is it that the quality often seems to deteriorate the more important the stakes get?

About 30 years ago I started my work on expert political judgment. It was the height of the Cold War. There was a ferocious debate about how to deal with the Soviet Union. There was a liberal view; there was a conservative view. Each position led to certain predictions about how the Soviets would be likely to react to various policy initiatives.

HOW TO WIN AT FORECASTING

Topic: 

  • CULTURE
http://vimeo.com/81889281

The question becomes, is it possible to set up a system for learning from history that's not simply programmed to avoid the most recent mistake in a very simple, mechanistic fashion? Is it possible to set up a system for learning from history that actually learns in our sophisticated way that manages to bring down both false positive and false negatives to some degree? That's a big question mark.

WE CAN'T DO EVIDENCE-BASED POLICY WITHOUT EVIDENCE

[11.7.12]

Make it easy, make it personal, make it salient. It's not rocket science, it's somewhere between common sense and psychology 101, and that goes a long way. 

RICHARD H. THALER is the father of behavioral economics the study of how thinking and emotions affect individual economic decisions and the behavior of markets. Thaler is Director of the Center for Decision Research at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. He is coauthor (with Cass Sunstein) of Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.

Richard H Thaler's Edge Bio Page


[57 minutes]


WE CAN'T DO EVIDENCE-BASED POLICY WITHOUT EVIDENCE 

The idea I'm most excited about, and have been for the last few years, is an idea that doesn't sound exciting. It sounds boring, geeky, unimportant, technical, and I think it's the opposite of all of those things. It involves big data, it involves personal data, and I think it has the opportunity to change the way people shop, to create entire new industries, and to change the way the government regulates business. Here's the idea in a nutshell: let me give you two examples of, first of all, a way the government can generate jobs and businesses simply by releasing data.

THE WORLD THROUGH INSTITUTIONAL LENSES

Topic: 

  • CULTURE
http://vimeo.com/80815974

"The issue is that when you look at the world from these sorts of institutional lenses, identifying problems becomes relatively easy. Solving them becomes very hard. It's no mystery how you get economic growth. You need to provide opportunities and incentives. But how do you make that political equilibrium? How do you make it so that everybody in society actually agrees and abides by a system that provides those incentives and opportunities even if it's not in their short-term interests?

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