Cognition vs. Ideals

The Smarter you Are, The Stupider  You Are.”  Interesting article in NPR about how being smart with numbers means you might be dumber with your convictions. I guess I understand why there is a sensationalistic headline.  It grabs ones attention…I sure clicked on it.  But misleading and  attention grabbing headlines are all too common now. Ah well!   At any rate, the article discusses a curious Yale study on cognition and bias and also sites Mother Jones piece on it. The upshot of the article being:

“Put another way, the brainier you are, the better you can twist facts to your own pre-existing convictions. And that’s what you will tend to do.”

This reminds me of a conversation I’ve had many times over regarding intelligence versus cleverness.  One can be clever in the sense of utilizing facts and having a superficial understanding of knowledge (and sometimes a great breadth of knowledge as well) and still be unintelligent.  Having a greater perceptive ability or understanding is paramount otherwise you may build ingenious methods for deluding yourself.  There is a certain artistry and even genius that can be displayed thusly, however if it is short-sighted  and lacking a bigger picture than it is little more than circus tricks.

The article states, “According to the study’s authors, the outcome supports the Identity Protective Cognition Thesis, according to which cultural conflict disables the relevant cognitive faculties.”  This might explain the reason that cognitive factors are interrupted by cultural goals, however it does not explain why this would happen even more in those that have stronger cognitive understanding.  Perhaps a hypothesis might be that the smarter one is, the more stubborn they are in regards to their world views?  The article goes onto conclude that, “We should aim to train our children not to be good calculators, but to be good thinkers. Education should aim for good judgment. And while there are rules for weighing the implications of empirical data, there are no hard-and-fast rules for being a good judge.”

I agree with the latter statement up to a point.   Sure we should train kids to be good thinkers and have good judgement, however I do think there are some hard and fast rules for being a good judge.  One of them is internal consistency..or intellectual honesty.  In order to be good thinkers and good scientists we must avoid confirmation bias.  We must understand our shortcomings and take preventative measures against them.  This means recognizing where our blind spots might be.  It may be uncomfortable to admit things that go against our preconceived notions or even contradict our ideals, however in being honest with ourselves and others we form a solid rock of credibility.  This kind of  scrutiny for fidelity or “fairness” might seem to be an ethical issue, and it is.  It is more than that also though.  It is an important cornerstone of science and progress.   It is important that our children learn how to think and how to defend their ideals in an intellectually honest way, rather than by taking shortcuts or falling prey to biases.  If we can successfully integrate this lesson into our educational models then perhaps we wouldn’t  so many problems like this. 


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