On Illustrating The Subconscious
Swallow the saliva in your mouth right now. No problem. Now take an empty glass, spit into it, and then drink it down. Yikes! That’s awful! But why? As Dennett notes, “it seems to have to do with our perception that once something is outside of our bodies it is no longer quite part of us anymore – it become alien and suspicious – it has renounced its citizenship and becomes something to be rejected”. In a sense, we know that our differential responses to swallowing and drinking from the glass are irrational, but that does nothing to eliminate the discrepancy in our reaction. Knowing it deeply and cognitively is not enough to trump the TASS response to the saliva in the glass. That response is autonomous and is immune to entreaties from our conscious selves to cease. It is another part of our brain that ignores us.
(Stanovitch, Robot’s Rebellion, page 42)
On Faulty Evolutionary Design
As modern human beings, we find that many of our motivations have become detached from their ancestral environment context, so that now fulfilling our goals no longer serves genetic interests. Ironically, what from an evolutionary design point of view could be considered design defects actually make possible the robot’s rebellion – the full valuing of people by making their goals, rather than the genes’ goals, preeminent. That is, inefficient design (from an evolutionary point of view) in effect creates the possibility of a divergence between organism-level goals and gene-level goals.
(Stanovitch, Robot’s Rebellion, page 82)
On The Sure Thing Principle
Tversky and Shafir created a scenario where subjects were asked to imagine that they were students at the end of a term, were tired and run down, and were awaiting the grade in a course which they might fail and thus be forced to retake. Subjects were also told to imagine that they had just been given the opportunity to purchase an extremely attractive vacation package to Hawaii at a very low price. More than half the subjects who had been informed that they had passed the exam chose to buy the vacation package and an even larger proportion of the group who had been told that they had failed the exam also chose to buy the vacation package. However, only one third of the group who did not know whether they passed or failed the exam chose to purchase the vacation. The implication of this pattern of responses is that at least some subjects were saying “I’ll go on the vacation if I pass and I’ll go on the vacation if I fail, but I won’t go on the vacation if I don’t know whether I passed or failed.”
(Stanovitch, Robot’s Rebellion, page 96)
On The Troubling Deceit Of Memes
The memes that currently reside in our cognitive structures are singularly unenthusiastic about sharing precious brain-space with others that might want to take up residence and potentially displace them. Some of this simply reflects the logic of environments with finite carrying capacity – but we would be silly not to at least worry about some other not mutually exclusive implications that seem troublesome. That this is indeed the cognitive environment that most of us experience internally – that most of us share the trait of hostility to new memes – does prompt some troubling thoughts. Perhaps the unsupportable memes have allied together to create in us a cognitive environment antithetical to the idea that our beliefs and desires need evaluation. Or, another way to put it is: If most of our beliefs are serving us well as vehicles and are able to pass selective tests of their efficacy, why shouldn’t they have created a cognitive bias to submit themselves to those very tests – tests that their competitors would surely fail. Instead, the memosphere of most of us is vaguely discouraging of still real-world tests of our beliefs. This prompts the worrisome question: What have these memes got to hide?
(Stanovitch, Robot’s Rebellion, page 195)
On The Progress Of Culture
A college sophomore with introductory statistics under his or her belt could, if time-transported to the Europe of a couple of centuries ago, become rich “beyond the dreams of avarice” by frequenting the gaming tables or by becoming involved in insurance or lotteries (see Gigerenzer, Swijtink, Porter, Daston, Beatty, and Kruger 1989).
(Stanovitch, Robot’s Rebellion, page 170)
On Modern Advertising
Take the new Times Square… the point here is the way everything in that place is aimed. Everything is firing message modules, straight for your gonads, your taste buds, your vanities, your fears…. Some of the most talented people on the planet have devoted their lives to create this psychic sauna, just for you…. Today, your brain is, as a matter of brute fact, full of stuff that was designed to affect you.
-Thomas de Zengotita (2002)
(Stanovitch, Robot’s Rebellion, page 170)
On Neurathian Self-Modification
Note, however, the devilish recursiveness in the whole idea of meme evaluation. Scientific and rational thinking are themselves memeplexes – co-adapted sets of interlocking memes. I shall talk about this dilemma of recursiveness, which I call the co-adapted meme paradox, in a section below. I will argue that we can evaluate memes, albeit not in an absolute sense that guarantees success. Instead, we must engage in a process which displays the same sort of provisionality as science itself – what might be called a Neurathian project of skeptical bootstrapping. Philosopher Otto Neurath (1932-33; see Quine 1960) employed the metaphor of a boat which had some rotten planks. The best way to repair the planks would be to bring the boat ashore, stand on firm ground, and replace the planks. But what if the boat could not be brought ashore? Actually, the boat could still be repaired, but at some risk. We could repair the planks at sea by standing on some of the planks while repairing others. The project could work – we could repair the boat without being on the firm foundation of ground. The project is not guaranteed, however, because we might choose to stand on a rotten plank.
Just as computer scientists have proven that there is no conceptual problem with the idea of self-modifying computer software, rationality is mindware with the capability of modifying itself. Circularity is escaped because we are in a Neurathian enterprise highly similar to the logic of modern science, which is nonfoundationalist but progresses nonetheless
(Stanovitch, Robot’s Rebellion, page 180,181)