The Intuitionists and the Rationalists

11 Nov


So my original analogy for how the mind works was the metaphor of the thief and the wizard. Your brain has two general thinking styles: Intuition, represented as a thief (i.e. System 1), and rationality, represented as a wizard (i.e. System 2). The qualities of the two types of thinking (hopefully) being intuitively grasped by the qualities you associate with thieves and wizards. Thieves are fast, wizards are slow. Each thinking style has its strengths and weaknesses, just like thieves and wizards; you wouldn’t use a thief to cast Meteo on Golbez or use a wizard to steal into the vault needing two keys in the Ratway. However, the only wrench in this analogy is that the thief leads the party, not the wizard.

Reading more about how the brain works, and how we think, I think this analogy can be further improved upon. Instead of there just being one thief and one wizard representing how our brains think, it looks like it would be more accurate to describe our brains are more of a Thieves’ Guild and a Mages’ Guild. But even then, I don’t think this properly represents the analogy I’m going for.

It seems even more likely that our brains are more like Congress, with some congresspeople acting on behalf of the Thieves or Mages Guilds. So I think a better analogy would be to describe our brains as a Congress with a two party system: Those who represent the Intuitionists and those who represent the Rationalists. The Intuitionists have the majority of seats in Congress, so Congress as a whole is going to lean Intuitionist, and there is very little bipartisanship in this Congress. And if there is, it’s overwhelmingly only when the Intuitionists deem it necessary.

As a matter of fact, even among Intuitionists there is not as much intra-party communication as you would think. Moreover, there is a sort of speaker of the house, or press secretary that explains the decisions of Congress to the outside world. This press secretary is only given information that it needs to know about how Congress made its decision, not all of the information that Congress used to make its decision. The general public wouldn’t want to know that, to get Congress to arrive at some decision, Intuitionist Jones made an under the table — possibly illegal — deal with Intuitionist Smith and Rationalist Jacobs.

There are a few experiments that show that when communication is physically severed between the two halves of the brain, each side of the brain gets different information. Yet, the part of the brain that does the speaking might not be the part of the brain that has the information. So you end up with rationalizations like split brain patients grabbing a shovel with their left hand (since their left eye was shown snow) while their right eye sees a chicken. When asked to explain why they grabbed the shovel, they — well, the side of their brain that only sees the chicken — make up an explanation, like the shovel is used to scoop up chicken poop! That press secretary, pretty quick on his feet.

But this doesn’t just happen with split brain patients. It seems to happen a lot more than we think, in our normal, everyday brains.

So for example, there was one experiment where people were asked to pick their favorite pair of jeans out of four (unbeknownst to them) identical pairs of jeans. A good portion of the people picked the jeans on the right, since they looked at the jeans from left to right. But they were unaware that that was their decision algorithm, and they rationalized their decision by saying they liked the fabric or the length or some other non-discriminating fact about the jeans. Liking the fabric of one pair of jeans more than the others was demonstrably false since the jeans were identical, yet that was the reason they gave. There’s still no persistent across the isle partisanship in your fully functioning brain, so the press secretary has to still come up with a good, socially acceptable story about Congress’ decision for the general public’s consumption.

This is one reason why it is inefficient to flat out ask someone something controversial. People make decisions based on information they don’t even know they’re using, and from there the entire existence of bias (the flip side of that is if you get someone to admit to some group identity or position publicly, they”ll be biased to act more in line with that group identity or proposition in the future without even realizing it). They’re not going to give you their “real” answer, they’re going to give you the socially acceptable answer since that is the entire job of the press secretary, and any psychological study that simply asks people questions has a fatal flaw.

Furthermore, it doesn’t even make sense to think that there is a singular “real” answer, since there are multiple congresspeople voting for a decision based on representing their constituents, and different congresspeople get more say depending on the social situation that the person finds themselves in at the moment.

The worst part about all of this? There is an introspection illusion bias that makes us think that we’re good at introspection, or knowing our “true” internal state of mind or the “real” reason we made a decision. People are biased to think that they aren’t biased, even after they’ve been told about bias they still perform in a biased way. As though they were never told about bias in the first place. The only cure for bias is adhering to the laws of thought.

The link to religion? Well, if we have a two-party Congress that makes up our brain and how we come to decisions, then it makes no sense to think there is a singular persistent “I” that constitutes the soul. The concept of a soul is woefully inadequate in describing the human condition, not only for the cognitive science reasons above, but for laws of physics reasons as well. The soul is, at best, a metaphor.

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