Author Archives: J. Quinton

Is Logic Alone Enough To Become Rational?

Binary true/false Aristotelian logic is not sufficient to guarantee rationality.

Let’s say you go to the doctor due to an annoying mole on your nose. The doctor takes one look at it and says “That’s a cancerous mole. You should get surgery”. What do you do? Is this true or false? What binary major premise-minor premise-conclusion style argument would you formulate from this in order to support your decision?

Let’s say a friend of yours spent $5,000 on a 2 week cruise. Two days before your friend is set to go, he reads two separate stories of cruise liners sinking, and decides to cancel his entire trip. What major-premise-minor-premise-conclusion argument could you use to persuade your friend to keep his cruise? Or would you formulate a syllogism to support his decision?

Let’s say you meed Ned at a party. Ned is 25, majored in Computer Science, and lives in California. Which statement about Ned is more likely? A) Ned is a software engineer B) Ned is a software engineer who works in Silicon Valley

What all of these examples have in common is that they’re dealing with incomplete information. That’s the world we live in; every one of our decisions deals with varying levels of uncertainty. We don’t live in a world of Aristotelian logic. Any system that claims rationality has to deal — rationally — with uncertainty.

In the doctor example, it’s somewhat common knowledge that the doctor might be wrong. We have a handy meme for dealing with this uncertainty: Getting a second opinion. Formally, though, trusting a doctor in this situation is called a base rate fallacy. That is, cancer is so uncommon, and making a judgement on so little information… this is less than the likelihood that the mole is just a mole: A false positive. A much better rule of thumb would be to compare the likelihood of false positives and the likelihood of true positives while keeping in mind how (un)common cancer (or whatever the claim) is. Or for multiple competing claims, comparing the likelihood of true positives for each claim, while keeping in mind how (un)common the claim is.

What about Ned? It seems pretty intuitive that Ned is software engineer who works in Silicon Valley. But this is wrong, no matter how intuitive it seems. Because the population of software engineers who work throughout the entire state of California is larger than the population of software engineers who work in Silicon Valley, so (A) is more likely. This brings up another, related point. Our *feeling* of something being correct is also subject to uncertainty itself… though it doesn’t *feel* that way: There are other illusions besides optical illusions.

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Posted by on September 11, 2019 in Bayes


Study finds a link between infectious diseases and racism in the United States

New research published in the scientific journal Social Psychological and Personality Science provides evidence that the prevalence of infectious diseases plays an important role in racial prejudices across the United States.

Read more at PsyPost.

Also, check out one of my related posts: A Link Between Pathogen Avoidance And Religion?

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Posted by on September 10, 2019 in cognitive science


The Higher Power of Religiosity Over Personality on Political Ideology


Two streams of research, culture war and system justification, have proposed that religious orientations and personality, respectively, play critical roles in political orientations. There has been only limited work integrating these two streams. This integration is now of increased importance given the introduction of behavior-genetic frameworks into our understanding of why people differ politically. Extant research has largely considered the influence of personality as heritable and religiosity as social, but this view needs reconsideration as religiosity is also genetically influenced. Here we integrate these domains and conduct multivariate analyses on twin samples in the U.S. and Australia to identify the relative importance of genetic, environmental, and cultural influences. First, we find that religiosity’s role on political attitudes is more heritable than social. Second, religiosity accounts for more genetic influence on political attitudes than personality. When including religiosity, personality’s influence is greatly reduced. Our results suggest religion scholars and political psychologists are partially correct in their assessment of the “culture wars”—religiosity and ideology are closely linked, but their connection is grounded in genetic predispositions.

The Higher Power of Religiosity Over Personality on Political Ideology

Also read my related post: Genetic Religion

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Posted by on August 29, 2019 in cognitive science, religion


False Memories for Fake News During Ireland’s Abortion Referendum


The current study examined false memories in the week preceding the 2018 Irish abortion referendum. Participants (N = 3,140) viewed six news stories concerning campaign events—two fabricated and four authentic. Almost half of the sample reported a false memory for at least one fabricated event, with more than one third of participants reporting a specific memory of the event. “Yes” voters (those in favor of legalizing abortion) were more likely than “no” voters to “remember” a fabricated scandal regarding the campaign to vote “no,” and “no” voters were more likely than “yes” voters to “remember” a fabricated scandal regarding the campaign to vote “yes.” This difference was particularly strong for voters of low cognitive ability. A subsequent warning about possible misinformation slightly reduced rates of false memories but did not eliminate these effects. This study suggests that voters in a real-world political campaign are most susceptible to forming false memories for fake news that aligns with their beliefs, in particular if they have low cognitive ability.

Read more at Psychological Science

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Posted by on August 22, 2019 in cognitive science


Rhesus macaques use probabilities to predict future events


Humans can use an intuitive sense of statistics to make predictions about uncertain future events, a cognitive skill that underpins logical and mathematical reasoning. Recent research shows that some of these abilities for statistical inferences can emerge in preverbal infants and non-human primates such as apes and capuchins. An important question is therefore whether animals share the full complement of intuitive reasoning abilities demonstrated by humans, as well as what evolutionary contexts promote the emergence of such skills. Here, we examined whether free-ranging rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) can use probability information to infer the most likely outcome of a random lottery, in the first test of whether primates can make such inferences in the absence of direct prior experience. We developed a novel expectancy-violation looking time task, adapted from prior studies of infants, in order to assess the monkeys’ expectations. In Study 1, we confirmed that monkeys (n looked similarly at different sampled items if they had no prior knowledge about the population they were drawn from. In Study 2, monkeys (n saw a dynamic ‘lottery’ machine containing a mix of two types of fruit outcomes, and then saw either the more common fruit (expected trial) or the relatively rare fruit (unexpected trial) fall from the machine. We found that monkeys looked longer when they witnessed the unexpected outcome. In Study 3, we confirmed that this effect depended on the causal relationship between the sample and the population, not visual mismatch: monkeys looked equally at both outcomes if the experimenter pulled the sampled item from her pocket. These results reveal that rhesus monkeys spontaneously use information about probability to reason about likely outcomes, and show how comparative studies of nonhumans can disentangle the evolutionary history of logical reasoning capacities.

Read more at ScienceDirect

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Posted by on August 21, 2019 in Bayes, cognitive science


Do Modern Historians Agree Jesus Existed?

Yes, most modern historians agree Jesus the Nazarene existed. And this consensus should be good enough for a layman, if you don’t feel like diving deeper.

However, if you either have academic training or are an academic, you would know that not all facets of academia share the same standards of rigor. If you fall in this area (or are just curious), just having a consensus isn’t good enough; e.g., consensus in biology about the theory of evolution isn’t enough to show that the theory of evolution is correct.

So what are some good rules of thumb when encountering an academic field you’re not familiar with?

First of all, academia is driven by research. If a field is new and has a lot of promising research for neophyte academics to dive into, then this is a good sign. Bright minds will use their talents to push the edge of what’s known. This will obviously bias more hands-on, empirical (e.g., STEM) research than older or more humanities focused fields.

On the opposite side of things, if a field is old and/or has no low hanging fruit, then bright newly minted PhDs will be forced to show their intellect and value to the field in other ways. This will usually involve lots of convoluted theories that are attempts to prove things that have already been demonstrated in the field or are in reality impossible to prove.

Another thing to look at in a field is how readily weaponizable or ideologically blinkered a field can be. A good example is a lot of sociology or evolutionary psychology. These fields and the knowledge therein can be weaponized easily; they can be used to give scientific justification for what might be essentially racist or sexist ends. A field can also be blinkered if it deals with a sacred premise or sacred aspect of a (sub)culture that field belongs to.

With these two very general rules of thumb in mind, I find that research into Jesus the Nazarene is subpar. There’s not a lot of low-hanging fruit in “Jesus Research” and the field is definitely blinkered; most researchers are either believing Christians (so Jesus not existing literally refutes their religion and cannot even be countenanced) or grew up in the West where the character of Jesus is still a secular figure of morality. Essentially a sacred secular symbol, his birthday is a secular holiday after all.

All that being said, a consensus among Western historians that Jesus the Nazarene existed doesn’t fill me with the same level of confidence that a consensus in astrophysics does about whether the big bang happened. And the consensus among historians isn’t as complete as the consensus among astrophysicists or biologists in their respective fields.

For other rules of thumb, check out my post what makes something a good explanation.

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Posted by on August 15, 2019 in Quora answers, religion


The Groupish Gene: Hive Psychology and the Origins of Morality and Religion

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Posted by on August 13, 2019 in cognitive science, morality, religion

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