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Friday, April 28, 2023

And, more on "The Battle For Your Brain"

WHYY, The Pulse. Interview with the author.

 "WHYY: The Pulse. Nita Narahany, The Battle for Your Brain" 
Excellent. Read her book. Earlier KHIT reviews here, and here.
Interesting note of tangential relevance. I was recently apprised that UNLV has now fully digitized and published online their inventory of "retrospective theses and dissertations." My complete 1998 grad thesis is there:
283 pages of irascible ass-whup debunking the asserted policy efficacy and ethical propriety of privacy-invading mass drug testing. My old work-in-progress online draft is still here. See in particular chapters 4 and 5, on the topic of constitutional privacy rights.

Nita's work examines a whole new level of concern: total neural surveillance. No need to pee in a specimen vial or provide a snip of hair. We’ll just “non-invasively” detect traces of your illicit metabolite activity (and your bad attitudes more broadly) via your neurons.
I could have likely written another 50-60 pages on that thesis rant, had I the time. But, I graduated six weeks before my elder daughter died from cancer in L.A. I'm not sure how I got through that period. I was so fried. My final cut was just a huge Microsoft Word document on a 3.5 inch disk (which I failed to archive as a PDF file). I have a long since I lost it, so this is nice to see online.

Enjoy the WHYY interview. Dr. Farahany is doing important work.


Harvard Med School interview on YouTube:

…It's a very natural evolution of technology, which is, people are very accustomed to sensors and their smart watches, and in their rings that track their heartbeats and footsteps and breaths and body temperatures.
And so the idea that brain sensors can now detect and decode our brain activity is a natural progression of where technology and the quantified self movement is. But it was only when I started to hear from technologists themselves about moving from.
You know what had been a category of technology that had really been niche products, with very limited applications
to embedding brain sensors into our everyday devices, like earbuds and headphones and watches and wearable tattoos, and how that not only will decode and give us access to our brain activity, but enable us to have a new way of interfacing with technology that I really understood
how urgent the conversation was that this was about to be a transformational technology. and, unlike AI, where everybody is talking about it. Nobody seems to be talking about this transformational technology that's happening. So
that made like it made it incredibly urgent for me to. Then, finally, with all these ideas percolating for a very long time to write this book, and to define this category of cognitive liberty and lawn in our lives…
I gotta say, feeling pretty puny relative to these three accomplished people.


Tech and democracy are not friends right now. We need to change that — fast.

As I’ve discussed previously in this series, social media has already knocked a pillar out from under our democratic institutions by making it exceptionally easy for people with extreme views to connect and coordinate. The designers of the Constitution thought geographic dispersal would put a brake on the potential power of dangerous factions. But people no longer need to go through political representatives to get their views into the public sphere.

Our democracy is reeling from this impact. We are only just beginning the work of renovating our representative institutions to find mechanisms (ranked choice voting, for instance) that can replace geographic dispersal as a brake on faction.

Now, here comes generative artificial intelligence, a tool that will help bad actors further accelerate the spread of misinformation...

The esteemed Danielle Allen.
apropos of my episodic "Science of Deliberation" riffs. To that end, Dr. Narahany:
The chilling effects of government surveillance have been extensively documented. Dr. Elizabeth Stoycheff, a professor of communications at Wayne State University, studies the ways that mass surveillance affects people’s behavior. In one study, Stoycheff created a baseline psychological profile of research participants based on their surveyed ideological beliefs, personality traits, and online activity. Then she subtly reminded a random subset of those participants that they were subjects of mass government surveillance. Afterward, all the participants were shown a made-up newspaper headline which stated that the United States had undertaken airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and were asked their opinion about it, including how they thought other Americans would feel and whether they would be willing to voice their own opinions in public. The participants who had been primed to think about mass government surveillance were significantly more reluctant to share their nonconforming views, even when their personality profiles predicted otherwise. This underscores the significant impact of self-censorship in response to surveillance and reinforces decades of research on the “spiral of silence” that was first identified in 1974 by the German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann—the phenomenon in which the perception that one’s opinion is unpopular makes one reluctant to express it.

What most dismayed Stoycheff was people’s cavalier dismissal of surveillance. “So many people I’ve talked with say they don’t care about online surveillance because they don’t break any laws and don’t have anything to hide. I find these rationales deeply troubling,” she mused. “It concerns me that surveillance seems to be enabling a culture of self-censorship because it further disenfranchises minority groups. It is difficult to protect and extend the rights of these vulnerable populations when their voices aren’t part of the discussion. Democracy thrives on a diversity of ideas and self-censorship starves it. Shifting this discussion so Americans understand that civil liberties are as fundamental to the country’s long-term well-being as thwarting very rare terrorist attacks is a necessary move.”

Freedom of thought is at the heart of those civil liberties; without it, the diversity of ideas necessary for human flourishing is silenced. Just as surveillance chills people from sharing their nonconforming views, thought surveillance will inevitably lead people to attempt thought modification—trying to silence their inner voices, risking a dangerous spiral that ends with the suppression of even their innermost views. Making it of paramount importance that we prohibit governments’ surveillance of thought.

Government surveillance of brain activity will inevitably push us toward greater conformity. With greater conformity comes a passive acceptance of authority and authoritarianism, either out of fear or in hopes of appearing cooperative, even when that conflicts with one’s own moral compass. Children are particularly susceptible to pressure to conform and so are even likelier to try to redirect divergent thinking for fear of being ostracized. Many of the worst atrocities are “crimes of obedience”: acts carried out in response to orders from authority that violate legal and social norms.

To know the difference between right and wrong, and to decide for ourselves what that is, we must have the freedom to think critically about the world around us. Freedom of thought guarantees us a private space to think and self-reflect, where we are free from fear of reprisal. This gives us the wherewithal to reject orders that we know are wrong.

This freedom is critical for all of us, not just great thinkers. John Stuart Mill made this point eloquently in On Liberty, arguing that “it is as much, and even more indispensable to enable average human beings to attain the mental stature which they are capable of.” When we have the freedom to think, we can decide for ourselves whether we want to be angry about a setback or an insult from another; we can investigate our feelings and align our instincts with our self-identity. But we can do so only in a mental space that is free from government surveillance.

Farahany, Nita. The Battle for Your Brain (pp. 75-77). St. Martin's Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Judicial interference with mifepristone

The AAAS speaks out.
I am an AAAS member (as should you be). They just published this OpEd.
In the days since Texas federal judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk invalidated the approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of mifepristone, a medication used to terminate pregnancy, a shock wave of concern has swept through many people, organizations, and companies that work closely with the agency. The strong opposition reflects the high stakes not only for pregnant persons and for the FDA, but also for the scientific process of drug development and public access to safe and effective medications. Twists and turns in the case are already happening. A federal appeals court stayed the full suspension of mifepristone, but permitted multiple restrictions on its availability. Then the Supreme Court, which recently overturned the constitutional right to abortion, kept the status quo in place for a few days while considering the government’s appeal. The results of the legal battle will be enormously consequential for reproductive health care—and far beyond, for innovation, science, and health.

The FDA plays such an important role in the health of Americans that it is easy to take its functions for granted. More than 15,000 agency employees regulate an estimated $2.7 trillion in consumer goods, including all medical products. Over more than a century, the FDA has developed extensive processes that govern the collection and review of preclinical and clinical data on biologics and drugs with defined scientific and legal-regulatory standards, earning high levels of trust from the public in the process.

The agency’s review of mifepristone in 2000 was thorough and fair. The drug’s manufacturer submitted a large dataset for the agency’s experts to review. An external advisory panel supported its approval. After a 6-month review, FDA’s scientific staff concluded that mifepristone is safe and effective. Over the past two decades, the medication’s safety record has grown stronger, with major medical professional associations in full support of access. Over time, the FDA, after thorough safety reviews, loosened restrictions on distribution.

The FDA’s expertise and diligence, however, barely seemed to matter to Kacsmaryk in his unprecedented decision last week. The judge’s use of extreme rhetoric, reliance on noncredible sources, and tendentious reasoning may have raised the hopes of the plaintiffs, who have a strong ideological opposition to abortion, but the decision also shredded any pretense of judicial objectivity and lowered the bar for efforts to overturn well-considered and justified determinations by the FDA...

...The FDA is a unique institution, bringing together intellectual resources from inside and outside government to make decisions on thousands of products each year. Once courts dismiss core scientific judgments by the agency, there is no reason to believe they will limit themselves to this one medication. There is already political pressure against vaccines, antidepressants and other psychotropic medication, and certain cell-derived therapies. If judges begin to dictate the terms of medication access, then others will seek to use ideology and influence to advance their agendas.

Respect for the integrity of the FDA underlies decades of progress in using science to save lives. Cracks in this foundation are as dangerous as they are unwarranted.
A woman's reproductive decisions are rightfully no one else's business. And, the improper ideological extrajudicial motives of this fundamentalist "Christian" judge, Matthew Kacsmaryk, could not be more clear.
CNN—The federal district judge who first suspended the US Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the so-called abortion pill mifepristone failed to disclose during his Senate confirmation process two interviews on Christian talk radio where he discussed social issues such as contraception and gay rights.

In undisclosed radio interviews, Matthew Kacsmaryk referred to being gay as “a lifestyle” and expressed concerns that new norms for “people who experience same-sex attraction” would lead to clashes with religious institutions, calling it the latest in a change in sexual norms that began with “no-fault divorce” and “permissive policies on contraception.”

Kacsmaryk, a Trump-appointed federal district judge, made the unreported comments in two appearances in 2014 on Chosen Generation, a radio show that offers “a biblical constitutional worldview.” At the time, Kacsmaryk was deputy general counsel at First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit religious liberty advocacy group known before 2016 as the Liberty Institute, and was brought on to the radio show to discuss “the homosexual agenda” to silence churches and religious liberty, according to the show’s host…
The broader Money Shot on this case:

"Once courts dismiss core scientific judgments by the agency, there is no reason to believe they will limit themselves to this one medication. There is already political pressure against vaccines, antidepressants and other psychotropic medication, and certain cell-derived therapies. If judges begin to dictate the terms of medication access, then others will seek to use ideology and influence to advance their agendas."

I submit that we can count on that. e.g., "Don't say 'Gaybies'," anyone?

(WaPo)—As a lawyer for a conservative legal group, Matthew Kacsmaryk in early 2017 submitted an article to a Texas law review criticizing Obama-era protections for transgender people and those seeking abortions.

The Obama administration, the draft article argued, had discounted religious physicians who “cannot use their scalpels to make female what God created male” and “cannot use their pens to prescribe or dispense abortifacient drugs designed to kill unborn children.”

But a few months after the piece arrived, an editor at the law journal who had been working with Kacsmaryk received an unusual email: Citing “reasons I may discuss at a later date,” Kacsmaryk, who had originally been listed as the article’s sole author, said he would be removing his name and replacing it with those of two colleagues at his legal group, First Liberty Institute, according to emails and early drafts obtained by The Washington Post.

What Kacsmaryk did not say in the email was that he had already been interviewed for a judgeship by his state’s two senators and was awaiting an interview at the White House.

As part of that process, he was required to list all of his published work on a questionnaire submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee, including “books, articles, reports, letters to the editor, editorial pieces, or other published material you have written or edited.”

The article, titled “The Jurisprudence of the Body,” was published in September 2017 by the Texas Review of Law and Politics, a right-leaning journal that Kacsmaryk had led as a law student at the University of Texas. But Kacsmaryk’s role in the article was not disclosed, nor did he list the article on the paperwork he submitted to the Senate in advance of confirmation hearings in which Kacsmaryk’s past statements on LGBT issues became a point of contention…


"We just saw a fetal heartbeat bill signed in the dead of night recently in Florida. In my home state of South Carolina, there was a very small group of state legislators that filed a bill that would execute women who have abortions and gave more rights to rapists than women who've been raped."—Rep Nancy Mace, R-SC
Coming soon…

In this regard, read up on Justice Alito’s dissent in the current Kacsmaryk case.
"...I would deny the stay applications. Contrary to the impression that may be held by many, that disposition would not express any view on the merits of the question whether the FDA acted lawfully in any of its actions regarding mifepristone. Rather, it would simply refuse to take a step that has not been shown as necessary to avoid the threat of any real harm during the presumably short period at issue."
"No threat of any real harm?"  Unless you're a woman in need of this Rx, which has been demonstrably, safe, effective, and legally available since 2000.
More on the Shadow Docket here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

IVG: Don't say Gaybies

in vitro gametogenesis in the time of DeSantis et al
From my latest New Yorker.

In 2016, two Japanese reproductive biologists, Katsuhiko Hayashi and Mitinori Saitou, made an announcement in the journal Nature that read like a science-fiction novel. The researchers had taken skin cells from the tip of a mouse’s tail, reprogrammed them into stem cells, and then turned those stem cells into egg cells. The eggs, once fertilized, were transferred to the uteruses of female mice, who gave birth to ten pups; some of the pups went on to have babies of their own. Gametes are the cells, such as eggs and sperm, that are essential for sexual reproduction. With their experiment, Hayashi and Saitou provided the first proof that what’s known as in-vitro gametogenesis, or I.V.G.—the production of gametes outside the body, beginning with nonreproductive cells—was possible in mammals. The mice that had descended from the lab-made egg cells were described as “grossly normal.”

…This March, Hayashi, who is not currently trying to make a human egg, had another announcement: his lab had repeated the I.V.G. process in mice, but this time it had produced fertilized embryos whose egg cells had been developed using stem cells from male mice—“mice with two dads,” as the headline in Nature put it. Futurists have speculated about broader possibilities, such as an embryo formed with the DNA of four people instead of two, or even a so-called “unibaby,” the result of a person reproducing with herself…

In late January, I visited the headquarters of Conception, in Berkeley. The company was founded in 2018, and has since raised almost forty million dollars in venture capital in pursuit of in-vitro gametogenesis. The staff was temporarily based in a single-story co-working space near Aquatic Park, and things had gotten crowded. Conception’s C.E.O., a thirty-one-year-old entrepreneur named Matt Krisiloff, was working from an armchair wedged between two desks. Krisiloff first tweeted about his interest in I.V.G. in 2017. At the time, he was the director of a nonprofit wing of Y Combinator, the startup incubator, established to fund technological research “for the benefit of the world,” as the company put it. Sam Altman, who was then running Y Combinator, told me that he and Krisiloff were both interested in what he called “hard-tech companies that invest a long time in developing a difficult technology first and then don’t bring a first product to market for many, many years.” Krisiloff had helped out in the early months of OpenAI, which went on to invent ChatGPT, dall-e, and the transcription service Whisper, an experience he has cited as formative in learning how to set up a research-oriented company with an ambitious end goal.

Krisiloff has close-cropped hair and a gap-toothed smile, and on the day of my visit he was dressed in jeans, a black crew-neck sweatshirt, and sneakers made by the Swiss brand On. He does not have a degree in the hard sciences—as an undergraduate, he majored in Law, Letters, and Society at the University of Chicago—and was still in his twenties when he and two scientists founded Conception, which was initially known as Ovid Research. Krisiloff’s interest in I.V.G. was partly personal: he is gay, and liked the thought of one day being able to have biological children with a male partner. (Krisiloff once dated Altman; he is now in a relationship with Lucas Harrington, the co-founder of Mammoth Biosciences, which is focussed on the gene-editing technology crispr.)…

While visiting Hayashi’s lab in Japan in 2018, Krisiloff met Pablo Hurtado González, a Spanish biochemist who was a visiting scholar there. Over dinner at a ramen restaurant in Fukuoka one evening, the mission of Conception began to take shape. Hurtado González, who is thirty-two, is also gay, and has a Ph.D. in reproductive health and a particular interest in male-male reproduction. (The bio on his Instagram profile reads “Trying to make genetic gaybies at Conception Bioscience.”) After placing an ad in Nature, Krisiloff and Hurtado González hired their third co-founder, Seres, who was born in Romania and raised in Hungary. She had worked as an embryologist at a fertility clinic in England before completing her Ph.D. at Cambridge University under Melina Schuh, a German cell biologist who is an expert in meiosis, the type of cell division unique to reproductive cells, which leads to the production of eggs and sperm. “Coming from I.V.F., in-vitro gametogenesis was the single most important solution to not having enough eggs,” Seres told me. Seres, who is thirty-six, has a daughter conceived without assisted reproductive technology, but her experience working at fertility clinics had made the issue personal to her: she had seen many patients with infertility issues for which no clear cause could be found…

The timing gives one pause, given the increasingly vitriolic (up to eliminationist) anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric these days.
Close on the heels of that article, my latest Science Magazine hit my mailbox. "Special Issue."

Not one word regarding IVG.

From the final article above (Assisted Reproductive Technologies):
Assisted reproductive technology (ART) refers to processing gametes in vitro and usually involves in vitro fertilization. Originally developed for the treatment of infertility, culture of human embryos in vitro also provides an opportunity to screen embryos for inherited genetic disorders of the nuclear and mitochondrial genomes. Progress in identifying causative genetic variants has massively increased the scope of preimplantation genetic testing in preventing genetic disorders. However, because ART procedures are not without risk of adverse maternal and child outcomes, careful consideration of the balance of risks and benefits is warranted. Further research on early human development will help to minimize risks while maximizing the benefits of ART...

ART has enabled millions of people across the globe to have children and to avoid transmission of genetic disorders. The potential for preventing diseases is greatly enhanced by recent progress in identifying causative variants of thousands of monogenic diseases (11). In relation to difficulty in interpreting trophectoderm-based aneuploidy screening for maternal-origin trisomy, the validated technique of polar body testing (22–25) avoids confounding effects of mitotic errors by directly analyzing the products of female meiosis. The benefit of an unambiguous diagnosis for at-risk women should not be underestimated when considering appropriate metrics of success. In cases where all eggs are aneuploid, a clear diagnosis would help women to avoid undergoing multiple futile and costly ART treatment cycles.

The use of ART procedures to reduce transmission of pathogenic variants in the mitochondrial genome offers hope to families affected by otherwise incurable disease. PGT has been used successfully to reduce the risk of mtDNA disease by identifying embryos with low variant loads (39). In cases where all embryos carry high levels of a pathogenic variant, recently developed MRT procedures can be used to reduce transmission (32). However, MRT may not be effective in all cases owing to the potential for resurgence of the maternal mitochondrial genome (32). Further research is required to understand the underlying causes and develop mitigation strategies. In the meantime, it will be important to counsel prospective patients that MRT cannot guarantee disease prevention. Moreover, given the invasive nature of MRT treatments, it will be important to define criteria for the use of MRT in the treatment of infertility. The rapidly advancing fields of single-cell transcriptomic and proteomic analysis provide an opportunity for improved diagnostics to underpin targeted clinical application of MRT for the treatment of infertility.

Finally, research on the earliest stages of human development will help to maximize the considerable benefits of ART while minimizing the risks. Exciting developments in stem cell–derived embryo models offer a powerful tool for investigating human embryogenesis, pregnancy loss, and early developmental anomalies (40). However, these models do not recapitulate the very earliest stages of human development. Progress on this front necessitates creation of human embryos specifically for research. Thanks to the brave and pioneering work of Anne McLaren and Mary Warnock (41), the legal and regulatory framework in the UK demonstrates that this type of research can be conducted within a robust regulatory environment. However, the creation of embryos for research is permitted in surprisingly few countries. In addition, many major research funding bodies have a blanket ban on funding research involving human embryos. Given progress toward validation of low-cost ART approaches to increase global access (42), it is estimated that ART-conceived children will account for 3.5% of the global population by the end of the century (1). With this in mind, it is perhaps time to reframe the ethical debate in terms of safeguarding the health of future generations.
Regarding the books cited in the prior post.
Well into each book, Alternating between them chapter by chapter, back & forth. Extremely enjoyable and informative. My outset "metaphor / analogy" concerns are allayed. These are two substantive books.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

"Mental Immunity?"

Hmmm... cue the Cognitive Antivaxxers in 3, 2, 1?
Is the marketing metaphor broadly apt, or potentially problematic? (Let a thousand Marxist Woke Lib Re-Education Camps proliferate.) Are there identifiable material neural cognitive "pathogens" equivalent to bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa, worms, and prions? Will we find them in "the Electrome amid "the battle for your brain?"

More stuff to study.

Looking fairly promising early on.
Oh, so, it's merely an "analogy? OK.
Andy Norman gets big props for this:
That was imparted to me in grad school a quarter century ago. This is the first time since then I've encountered someone else succinctly making the same point. Major brownie points, Sir. Very cool. 
apropos: "What image does the word philosopher conjure? Maybe Socrates, bearded and barefoot, counseling Plato on the agora; Rousseau on one of his solitary walks around the outskirts of Paris; Sartre sucking pensively on his pipe at the Café de Flore. What it may not call to mind is a woman.."
BTW: I would also commend backing up a bit to Adrian Bardon's deft "The Truth About Denial."

All of this stuff goes to my ongoing Jones regarding so-called "Deliberation Science."
A SMH headline this morning.
Okeee dokeee, then.
Moving along. Dr. Norman:

I taught undergrad "Critical Thinking" and then graduate "Argument Analysis" as an Adjunct for a number of years (evening school part-time faculty; day gig risk analyst in a bank at the time). I loved it (notwithstanding the crap compensation), but, I never really dug the conventional phrase "critical thinking." Whole 'nuther digression, that...
But, first, Dr. Norman:
The Twentieth Century’s Critical Thinking Crusade

A third initiative centers on the concept of critical thinking. A hundred years ago, the philosopher John Dewey introduced the phrase to name a quasi-scientific frame of mind. His insight was sound: responsible thinkers test ideas and try not to rely on the ones that don’t survive scrutiny. As we now like to put it: we can teach people how to “think critically,” and thereby reduce their susceptibility to bad ideas.

This approach, too, has fallen short of expectations. Despite being the focal point of higher education for one hundred years, our species remains distressingly prone to irrational thinking. There’s some evidence that higher education imparts a limited immunity to some forms of ideological contagion, but on all accounts, the effect is weaker than hoped. One study found that “many colleges fail to improve critical thinking skills.” Another found that, while a large majority of professors claim to impart critical thinking skills, relatively few can say what they mean by critical thinking or explain how their teaching imparts it. In 2016, 43 percent of American college graduates voted for the disastrously unqualified and unprincipled Donald Trump. This massive failure of America’s critical thinking factory should be a wake-up call for us all.

I no longer find the concept of critical thinking particularly useful. It’s mostly a vague, feel-good term that means “the way we educated people like to think.” It’s really a conceptual black box, one that hides important differences. It’s not a solution, but a placeholder for one. Yes, the term critical hints at the need to reduce our susceptibility to bad ideas, but the concept of critical thinking does little more than gesture clumsily at the traits that make that possible.

Immunity to bad ideas depends on far more than the critical thinking skills we like to talk about in higher education. Indeed, our focus on skills has led us to overlook the better part of the mind’s defenses. (It’s more important to shape the deep sensibilities that marshal these skills for one or another purpose, and mold the resulting habits of mind.) Meanwhile, we need to acknowledge this truth: the critical thinking paradigm has not served us particularly well.

Reason, science, and critical thinking: these concepts give shape to some of our best efforts to prevent outbreaks of bad ideas. Each effort is well intentioned and worthy of admiration. None, though, can claim true success. Now we can see why: each approach has limitations rooted in its defining concept. The conceptual toolbox we’ve inherited isn’t channeling our efforts in the right way. As a result, we’re not doing enough—or enough of the right things—to promote responsible cognition. In this sense, philosophy’s reason project—and its science and critical thinking–based variants—are failing us.

Norman, Andy. Mental Immunity (pp. 28-29). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 
Resonates with me. My initial faculty experience was also that too many of my students assumed that the "Critical" part meant that they'd get to endlessly criticize each other, and vent off their pet peeves via classroom verbal free-for-alls. Moreover, I'd look out over my classes and think "man, most of you people need to re-take high school English." And that was no mere irascible elitist conceit; the university publicly admitted during my tenure (1999-2004) that more than half of incoming freshman had to be remanded to remedial English.

Some things that bedevil our thinking, particularly as it goes to persuasion and influence:

There is no first-person singular present-tense active voice usage of the word "wrong." No one ever says "I AM wrong."
[props to Kathryn Schulz]  Our aggregate default is that we're right about everything. To the extent that we continue to survive, that's an understandable assumption—as it pertains to minor, inconsequential issues, anyway, and it inexorably tilts us toward "confirmation bias."
Our education system mostly tells us there's one "right answer" to every question—lurking amid a boatload of "wrong ones."
And, those who quickly alight on the "right answer" get reinforced and nurtured as they move through the system.
Being wrong is not a synonym for being "stupid" or ignorant. 

Neither is "ignorant" a synonym for "stupid." But it's mostly epithetically spun that way

Humans "reason" to WIN the argument.

 Should truth happen along the way, so much the better. (See "Why Do Humans Reason?" by Sperber & Mercier) Evolutionary adaptive utility, "The Pen is Mightier Than The Sword."

He/She with the best story WINS!

Trial Lawyering 101. Prior to writing and movable type, stories were the whole ballgame. Hence, our evolved affinity.

Once you decide that X is right or wrong / good or bad, you cannot unring that bell.

A staple look-before-you-leap admonishment of mine back when I was teaching "Critical Thinking."

If, when it's all said and done, your logic is impeccable, and your facts and evidence are bulletproof, yet you remain unpersuasive, what have you really accomplished?''

Another classroom staple of mine. That one was "exceeding my brief" as it were, but my Sups never noticed or cared. Anyway, my overall teach-to-the-text priority focus as a piddly Adjunct necessarily had to be "OK, here's how this stuff works. Take it or leave it."

Once you finish her book you will have a firm grip on just why. I love it when I learn stuff.
WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT the individual genetic and developmental differences that impact the sensory portions of our nervous systems, it’s remarkable that we can agree on a shared reality at all.  Linden, David. Unique (p. 253). Basic Books. Kindle Edition
 Stay tuned. More to come...

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Nobody's born a bigot.

Our grandson Calvin this week, hangin' with his pre-school classmate Santana after school.

Saturday, April 8, 2023

The Patio Doors of Perception

(w/apologies to Aldous Huxley) OK, I continue to read a ton of books, as I've done for decades. These days, while my interests remain eclectic, I am particularly keen on anything that helps factually and logically clarify my thinking and postings on so-called “deliberation science” on this blog. 

I get most of my book recommendations from Science Magazine, followed by The Atlantic, The New Yorker, NY Times Review of Books, Scientific American, various random online resources (e.g., The Neurologica Blog, Science-Based Medicine, WIRED)—and, increasingly, pitches coming in from Amazon's "We thought you'd like this" emails (apropos of the above title). Amazon’s AI “algorithms” think they know me. Well enough to be profitable for them in the aggregate, I suppose. But…
Charitably, permit the author:
…[This] book is resolutely a work in philosophy of science—specifically philosophy of psychology. Perceptual psychology, centrally the psychophysics of vision, has become a mature science in the last fifty years. It gives philosophy an opportunity to understand important features of psychological capacities at a level of depth, rigor, and empirical groundedness that has never before been attainable. Philosophy should leap at the opportunity to make use of such a powerful and rapidly advancing science, as a basis for philosophical understanding. Some philosophy of perception makes no use at all of perceptual psychology. Much philosophy of perception makes at best decorative use. I think that it is no longer intellectually responsible to philosophize about perception without knowing and seriously engaging with that science. I believe that the practice of centering philosophical reflection about perception on phenomenology, or on analysis of ordinary talk about perception, without closely connecting the reflection with what is known from science (a centering that is a residue of the early empiricist model of perception), and the practice of allowing epistemology to guide reflection on what perception must be like, will all soon become museum pieces of past, misdirected philosophy.

Most of [this] book’s claims are, of course, supported only empirically, by interpreting the empirical results of the science. Some of the claims are, however, supported apriori. One should not confuse apriority with innateness, certainty, obviousness, infallibility, dogmatism, unrevisability, or immunity from revision based on empirical considerations. To be apriori supported, or apriori warranted, is to have support or warrant that does not depend for its force on perception or on sensing. Most apriori warranted judgments in this book are warranted by reflection that yields understanding of key concepts or principles used or presupposed in the science. All the relevant apriori judgments are synthetic, certainly in the sense of being non-vacuous and the sense of not being truths of logic. I think that the judgments are also synthetic in the sense of not being the products of analysis of conceptual complexes into concepts contained in the complexes. I think that most concepts that are central to our discussion are not complexes. They are simple. They are, however, necessarily and apriori embedded in networks with other concepts. Reasoning through such networks sometimes yields synthetic apriori understanding of foundations of mind.

Apriori supported judgments can be further supported empirically, by the science. But insofar as they are apriori warranted, they have sufficient warrant to support belief; and the warrant derives from reasoning or understanding, independently of support from perception, perceptual experience, or sensory registration. An example of an apriori warranted judgment, I think, is that perceptual states can be accurate or inaccurate. Another example is that perceptual states have a representational function—to accurately pick out and characterize particulars via causal relations to them: perceptual states fail in some way (representationally) if they are not accurate. I doubt that one can know apriori that any individual has perceptual capacities. Our empirical knowledge that we do have such capacities is, however, firm. It is more certain than some things that we know apriori about perception. As noted, being apriori does not imply some super-strong type of support. Apriori warrant for belief in simple arithmetical truths is super-strong. But much apriori support is not stronger, often less strong, than strong empirical support.

Our firm empirical knowledge that individuals have perceptual states does not require a detailed, reflective, philosophical understanding of what perception is. Knowing that individuals have perceptual states requires only a minimal understanding. One must be able to distinguish perception, at least by some cases, from just any sensing. And one must be able to recognize various examples of perception. Detailed philosophical understanding requires reflection, articulation, and elaboration of a minimal understanding of the concept perception and of relations between perception and other matters—semantical, functional, biological, causal, and so on. Elaboration is mainly empirical, but partly apriori. Given an elaborated understanding of what perception is, it is possible to draw, apriori, some further conclusions about the form, semantics, and functions of perceptual states. Such conclusions are abstract and limited. They are important in being basic to understanding.

Again, most of the book’s claims are empirical. For example, the accounts of how perceptual and perceptual-motor systems work in Parts III and IV, and the accounts of what these systems are in Part IV, are warranted partly by appeal to explanations in the science. Those accounts and those explanations are certainly empirically, not apriori, warranted.

I became interested in perception partly because it promises insight into basic types of representation of the world, and partly because it is a key factor that must be understood if one is to understand empirical knowledge. This book shows some fruits of the first motivation. In investigating the structure and semantics of perceptual representation, one investigates primitive and basic types of reference and attribution. My interest in the role of perception in empirical knowledge remains. But I take understanding perception to owe almost nothing to epistemology, whereas understanding epistemology absolutely requires understanding perception. Epistemology investigates epistemic norms for capacities that can contribute to obtaining knowledge. One cannot understand the norms without understanding the capacities. One understands perceptual capacities by reflecting on empirical science and its basic commitments, not by reflecting on epistemology. Understanding perception is the task of this book. Epistemic use of an understanding of perception is posterior. For epistemic work in this direction, see my ‘Perceptual Entitlement’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 67 (2003), 503–548; and ‘Entitlement: The Basis for Empirical Warrant’, in P. Graham and N. Pedersen eds., Epistemic Entitlement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020).

I have some slight hope, even in this specialized world, that this book will interest not only philosophers, but at least some scientists in perceptual psychology and other areas of psychology. The best science is informed by a breadth and depth of perspective that is philosophical. This point is particularly relevant to perceptual psychology. A central, often stated, aim of the science is to understand conditions in which accurate perception occurs, and conditions under which illusions occur. (See Chapter 1, note 25.) Accuracy is a semantical concept.

So the science is committed at its very core to there being a semantics for perception—a systematic account of relations between perceptual representation and its subject matters. The account must explain what it is for perception to be accurate or inaccurate. Of course, the science is mainly concerned with causal patterns and mechanisms. Much of it, indeed probably most of it to date, focuses on pre-representational, pre-perceptual states that register the proximal stimulus. But the point of this scientific work is partly to build toward understanding perception of the physical environment. Part of understanding perception scientifically is to understand not only the causal patterns that lead to accurate and inaccurate perception, but also to understand the form and content of perceptual states, and what it is for them to be accurate or inaccurate.

Yet the science has paid no serious attention to these issues—specifically to semantics. It has not developed a vocabulary or set of principles that enable it to discuss accuracy and inaccuracy of perception with the precision and clarity of its accounts of causal, formational aspects of psychological states and processes. It provides no answers to questions like ‘What is it for a perceptual state to be accurate or inaccurate?’, ‘What sorts of representational competencies are involved in forming a state that is accurate or inaccurate?’; ‘In what ways can a perception be partly accurate and partly inaccurate?’; ‘What is the representational form or structure of perceptual states?’. Such questions are addressed in Parts I and II of the book.

Scientific understanding of perception is incomplete if it does not incorporate a systematic semantical understanding of perceptual states into its understanding of principles according to which perceptual states are causally generated. Semantical understanding is understanding of the representational contents, their forms, and their accuracy conditions—the conditions for representational success. Perceptual psychology would benefit from mastering the vocabulary necessary to think systematically about the semantics of perception.

Philosophy is the source of modern work in semantics—first the semantics of mathematics and logic, later the semantics of natural language. The basic semantical concepts, in something like their modern form, come from Gottlob Frege, about 130 years ago. In the last section of Chapter 1, I explain some of Frege’s basic concepts. I think that these concepts, with some modification, are valuable in understanding perception, even though they were first developed for understanding much higher-level representation—representation in mathematics.

I think that parts of the science need not only a deeper grip on semantics, but a much more rigorous terminology. Uses of terms like ‘representation’, ‘knowledge’, ‘cognition’, ‘recognition’, ‘judgment’, ‘belief’, ‘concept’, ‘prediction’, ‘intention’, ‘voluntary’ are far from reflective, much less standardized, in the science. Assimilating the whys and wherefores of terminology, is often the beginning of better, more fruitful empirical inquiry. Centrally, in Chapter 19, the section Uses and Misuses of the Term ‘Cognition’, but also throughout the book, there is a concerted effort to emphasize sharper uses of key mentalistic terms so as to respect basic differences in representational level. Such differences correspond to important differences in representational kinds—that is, representational capacities.

This is a long, complex book. Understanding anything well requires effort and patience. Genuine philosophical and scientific understanding cannot be grabbed off the shelf. The time and effort required to understand this book will be considerable. One cannot get there in a few sittings. The key point is to read and reread carefully and slowly, noting and reflecting on nuances and qualifications, mastering terminology, reading in context, connecting different contexts together, reading the footnotes, going back to earlier passages—all the while, reflecting. Few readers outside philosophy ever read this way. Most philosophers have, I think, lost the art. Iris Murdoch, in harmony with the marvelous quote that heads Chapter 1, wrote: ‘In philosophy, the race is to the slow’. Too many race at high speeds. The psychological and sociological pressures to form opinions and publish them quickly, and often, are very strong. Academic pressures and computer fluency have yielded much more writing, with no more time to master the increasingly complex topics written about. Careless reading, misdirected criticism, uninformed opinions, simplistic proposals abound. Perhaps it was always so. However, as knowledge grows—and grows more complex—lack of patience in pursuing understanding is an increasingly debilitating vice. Given that philosophical understanding of this book’s topics has become harder—because more is known and what is known is more complex—patience is more required than ever…

Burge, Tyler (2022-05-12T23:58:59.000). Perception: First Form of Mind  OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.
OK, then. "Understanding anything well requires effort and patience. Genuine philosophical and scientific understanding cannot be grabbed off the shelf." No pick with that.
I typically first surf through some Amazon reviews (always on the lookout for sensible naysayers to help mitigate false positives, especially pricey ones). This rant was a doozy.
The death knell of armchair philosophy
Reviewed in the United States on December 13, 2022 Akiko Yano
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A watershed moment in the history of philosophy. Here is one of the field's most pedantic authors, a Phil Review regular no less, a man who often cannot resist piling four adjectives on top of a single noun, basically vindicating Fodor's prophecy, from the 1960s onward, that philosophy - especially epistemology - would necessarily turn into psychology, due to the advent of the cognitive revolution, and Chomsky's work in particular. Even that old grey-beard Frege - who was massively influential precisely in separating epistemology from psychology - is brought down to earth and reinterpreted as elucidating perceptual psychology, where unconscious computational 'referential applications' (Bedeutungen) and 'characterizing attributives' (Sinne) abound. Burge's simply Herculean knowledge of the scientific literature is so overwhelming that any philosopher trying to hold on to epistemic-norm talk divorced from information processing - or 'what perception-must-be-like' independent of empirical research - is bound to feel very cowed indeed. And although Burge does not seem to realize his differences with Fodor are largely terminological - in particular, it was Fodor in 1983 who argued against MARR no less that the perceptual system has to be able to recognize poodle-shape attributives (a subject Burge lingers on here) and that such shape-based attributives ('concepts' of the perceptual module) must be systematically distinguished from concepts which figure in propositional knowledge, a point Burge likes to make ad nauseam - Burge's views here are unique enough to merit seminars devoted to Perception alone. The reason why this won't happen anytime soon is, budding philosophers would then have to ask, for whom do these bells toll? But of course, these bells toll for thee, O norm-loving philosophers.
Stay tuned. Just getting underway. Havin' some WTAF? Moments with this stuff at first blush...

"Most of [this] book’s claims are, of course, supported only empirically, by interpreting the empirical results of the science. Some of the claims are, however, supported apriori. One should not confuse apriority with innateness, certainty, obviousness, infallibility, dogmatism, unrevisability, or immunity from revision based on empirical considerations. To be apriori supported, or apriori warranted, is to have support or warrant that does not depend for its force on perception or on sensing. Most apriori warranted judgments in this book are warranted by reflection that yields understanding of key concepts or principles used or presupposed in the science..."
"apriori?" Really just IMO a hifalutin' synonym for "assuming to be" (though some might more narrowly construe it to infer "deductive"). Beyond that nitpick, my reading comprehension skills are fairly sharp and I can sling $50 words with the best of them, but the above call-out (not to mention the entire foregoing longer excerpt) leaves me shaking my aching head. As my early 90s industrial engineering boss would say “if I have to read something more than once, I don’t like it.“
“What does a priori mean? A priori is a term applied to knowledge considered to be true without being based on previous experience or observation. In this sense, a priori describes knowledge that requires no evidence. A priori comes from Latin and literally translates as “from the previous” or “from the one before.” 
i.e., “Assuming.”

This book runs to nearly 900 pages. To Amazon's credit, the downloadable Kindle sample notes "6 hours, 34 minutes remaining" at the outset (ending in the 5th of its 20 chapters). Kindle edition price is $38.00. I will likely read more of this comp download, though I'm dubious at this point that I'd get my 38 bucks worth out of the entire volume in light of the "scholarly" obtuseness evident thus far. And, Amazon reviewer "Akiko Yano" (a nom de guerre?) ain't helping much.

Got onto the new Alan Lightman book via Science Magazine. I bought "The Liars of Nature..." to compare to my prior engagement with "If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal."

Alan Lightman is kickin’ my butt. His PBS stuff is riveting. Well worth your time.