Woe v Rage

There’s no such thing as objectivity

The Supreme Court has recently delivered a rash of decisions with major repercussions that echo around these United States. From abortion to gun control, those on the Supreme Court are required to make decisions about constitutional rights.  This would be a difficult task for an advanced AI robot let alone a human being.

Human beings can’t be objective, unless they are playing a simplified constructed game, like Monopoly where there are very defined rules about what can and can’t be done. Even then, there’s room for subjectivity to influence decision-making. So, trying to work out what a group of men, some of whom have been dead for more than 200 years,  would think today is about impossible. I suspect that many times judges are subconsciously if not consciously looking for how the constitution might reinforce their views rather than suspending their judgement and asking what those Founding Fathers really meant, or would do today. That is how humans, at this moment in time, “think”. And if I needed more confirmation of this notion, I recently read from a reliable source that Supreme Court justices often barter amongst each other for their “votes” on different issues. Of course, they’re human beings.

The divisiveness in the USA will only get worse, with potential calamitous implications, if this situation continues. The issue here is that the brain really needs an upgrade to deal with the complexity of modern life. The brain’s main focus is survival, and for that it needs energy. So, energy conservation is critical and that doesn’t help the brain think critically. Critical thinking takes a lot of energy.

As  Grant Renier and I wrote in our recent book  Intuitive Rationality: A New Behavioral Direction of AI…

“…consciousness is selective. It looks to create a coherent summary of reality, a summary that is heavily influenced by past experience and a host of other factors and organized subconsciously.”

Our feelings, opinions and images just appear like magic within us and stroll through the open gate of inattention onto the welcoming fields of acceptance.

As a result of the brain’s energy-saving function, it instantly looks at the world in a binary fashion. It’s either a or b. This leads to an absurd simplicity and instant divisiveness. When any group rallies behind its banner, it instantly distinguishes itself from everyone else, creating more divisiveness. We have one main connecting trait; we are all human. When things are done because of our mutual humanity they resonate. When we separate ourselves, it becomes divisive. That doesn’t sound logical until you realize the fundamental functioning of the binary brain.

This tendency is troubling enough without it being fueled by a divisive media, social media and even some marketing, designed to manipulate as many of us, who are incredibly vulnerable. In the attention economy, where it has been estimated that many of us are exposed to at least 5000 commercials a day, it’s easy to become cynical, if not angry and dismissive, about almost everything you disagree with. The confirmation bias reigns supreme.

In a different era , like 1776, before all these developments led to the bombardment of the mind, it would probably be a lot easier to seriously believe that some people could be completely objective. But in today’s world, that is increasingly unlikely, as in impossible.

It obviously would be helpful if we could return to civility, but that is unlikely to happen in the complex world where peddling divisiveness is what gets “more eyeballs”, and where the most popular narrative is a helpless woeful victim against an angry predator.

Another contributing factor is that reasoning and logic are being challenged, typically by those driven by confirmation bias. While logic and reasoning are very important tools, they are not infallible. In our complex world and even in most scientific studies, the amount of information is necessarily limited. You never have all the information you need, and you can only guess at what the most important variables are. Thus, any argument is potentially fallible, opening the unthinking gate again to confirmation bias, and whatever you want to believe. As British statistician George Box once said about scientific theories,

 “All models are wrong, some are useful.”

That’s a very useful quote we all need to keep in mind.

The secret to wisdom is recognizing what you don’t know. It is understanding how the mind really works and how to escape the tyranny of those editors and lenses that we have often unconsciously acquired and drive our views about others and ourselves. Then being vulnerable and humble enough to accept one’s limitations which would lead to the respect of others and the possibility of more civil and product discourse.

Unfortunately, politics and pretty much every other human endeavor, doesn’t work like that.  So, we are left with decision-making based on confirmation bias and emotion, rather than rational and civil discourse and a mind open enough to put aside political blinkers.

Going forward it looks like the discussion, as well as society, will continue to be centered on woe and rage.

Howard Rankin Ph.D.


Nobody Expects Cambridge University to be Hypocritical and Politically Correct

It was announced today that Cambridge University had revoked the offer of a visiting fellowship of Canadian psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson, an outspoken critic of political correctness. Peterson was to spend two months at Cambridge working with their faculty of Divinity this fall.

As quoted on the BBC website

A university spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that Jordan Peterson requested a visiting fellowship, and an initial offer has been rescinded after a further review.

“[Cambridge] is an inclusive environment and we expect all our staff and visitors to uphold our principles. There is no place here for anyone who cannot.”

Clearly, Cambridge is not an inclusive environment and their definition isn’t inclusive at all, rather focused on silencing different sides of an argument.

It is a sad state of affairs when one of the supposedly leading academic institutions in the world is both logically and morally bankrupt.  Until you realize that education is big business and no business wants to damage their bottom line by associating themselves with someone who has the courage to voice rational argument but might be controversial.

Even if Dr. Peterson’s views contradicted the ideas of the entire Cambridge faculty, wouldn’t the wise move be to interact with him and to fully understand his logic and motivations?

As Sun-Tsu said:

 “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

The BBC also reported that..

In a statement to the Guardian, the university’s students’ union said: “We are relieved to hear that Jordan Peterson’s request for a visiting fellowship to Cambridge’s faculty of divinity has been rescinded following further review.”

Of course! Even the students of the best academic institutions apparently have no tolerance for views other than their own on the grounds of inclusivity.

It’s a sad day for Cambridge, the academic world and mankind. I wonder what my favorite Cambridge alums, Stephen Hawking and Eric Idle, John Cleese and Graham Chapman of Monty Python would say about it?

Perhaps the latter would shout, ‘Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!’ but unfortunately it seems to have arrived.

BBC 10,000 Steps Headline Is Misleading, Disappointing and Potentially Dangerous


In a January 31st BBC health story, Dr. Mark Mosley wrote, “Forget about 10,000 steps.” It’s unclear who actually said that. Was it Professor Rob Copeland from Sheffield Hallam University whom Mosley visited while Copeland conducted a “study” on four people? In any event, the gist of the story was that doing more vigorous activity for 10 minutes, three times a day was a better way to improve fitness than doing 10000 steps.

Culture and society are sinking into a binary brain morass. Everywhere you look, there is a dangerous and idiotic trend of seeing everything as an either/or proposition even where common sense let alone logic dictates otherwise. This is especially true of the media, who need to sensationalize everything to attract more eyeballs, and more sales. It’s one of the reasons I typically turn to the BBC for my news. As one who grew up in England I might be biased, but I am usually more trusting of the BBC than any other news source.

This story is a microcosm of the downgrading of critical thinking and serious analysis that is crippling society. Someone suggests, that doing more vigorous activity is better for your health. Duh! That’s a real surprise. It might have an advantage over 10000 steps for developing cardiovascular fitness BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN THAT TRYING TO ACHIEVE 10000 STEPS IN A DAY SHOULD BE SCRAPPED. There are still advantages to reaching that level of activity, especially as so many people lead very sedentary lifestyles. However, here we have a headline that tells people to “forget” about doing a healthy activity, which surely has no ill-effects. Now, there will be many who will see this story, or even just the headline, and believe that the 10000 steps idea has been discredited and is no longer a useful goal. I mean who has got time for some critical thinking? And the advice came from…well, it’s unclear but Dr. Mosely seemed to support the idea.

Perhaps the defense to this is something like, “I couldn’t get that complexity into a few hundred words.” I say it’s better to try than give some misleading and potentially dangerous advice. As a writer, I could easily see how you could construct a more helpful and TRUTHFUL story. The headline could read, “How Helpful is the 10000 Steps Goal?” Such a story would allow some discussion of the value of including more vigorous activity in the 10000 steps, and the advantages and limitations of the advice.

For me, wisdom is about escaping the restrictions of binary brain thinking and recognizing the full context as well as acknowledging what you don’t know. For example, how many people, like me, consciously or otherwise, use their 10000 step goal to actually get some vigorous activity into their day? Even if 3  ten minute bursts of vigorous activity are better than 10000 steps a day for building cardiovascular fitness it doesn’t mean that 10000 steps should be “forgotten.”

As you can tell, I was disappointed by the headline and the story. Does BBC now stand for Binary Brain Cognition?

The Neuro Eclipse: Why are they getting more common?

Horrific acts of terror. People yelling hateful slogans against hate. Slavery on the rise in supposedly sophisticated countries. “Leaders” around the world involved in almost psychopathic acts and threats. Surely, Man was meant to get more sophisticated over time and not head the wrong way down the evolutionary trail. Mankind has turned into Man-not-so-kind. What the heck has happened?


If Man has reverted to his primitive fight/flight instincts, it’s because they exist and are primal. Survival is the brain’s first priority, and, as a result, we have an effective system designed to ring the alarm bells when something is threatening (emotions) and dictate our thoughts and behavior so we can respond to the threats.

The feature that supposedly separates the men (and women) from the other animals on the planet is that Man has developed the ability to “think.” Theoretically, Man has the ability to consciously evaluate threats and emotions and plan accordingly. Man has the ability to consider and control feelings rather than simply be driven by them. Much of this activity is derived in, or runs through, the frontal lobes.

Interestingly, the frontal lobes are the last major part of the brain to develop, suggesting that a level of maturity is necessary for them to develop a thought-driven, emotion-controlling influence. It is estimated that the frontal lobes aren’t fully developed until the mid twenties. However, perhaps it isn’t age that is important in their formation, perhaps it’s experience?

The frontal areas of the brain are in many ways about self-control: the ability to resist the pull of the emotional limbic system. And it’s reasonable to assume that experiences that develop self-discipline and control are key to effective higher consciousness and frontal lobe activity not the mere passage of time. Without the development of self-discipline, those frontal areas of the brain will be weaker and incapable of resisting the primal influence of the limbic system.

So perhaps the rise of the neuro-eclipse has to do with a culture that has become more permissive, more entitled, and more narcissistic.

“I mean how dare you teach my child self-discipline!!! Let him be himself!!”

If you take that approach, your child may well be himself but that is likely to be a self that is out of control, driven by emotion and at risk for constant neuro-eclipses.

Walt Mischel’s research from the 1970s showed that children who showed self-discipline subsequently did much better in life than those who didn’t. You don’t have to be a neuroscientist to figure out why. Adrian Raine’s neurocriminology research shows that many offenders have impaired frontal lobe function leading to out of control, impulsive behaviors with little thought of consequences, or much else.

It’s not just that stressful emotions can overwhelm thought processes. Our thought processes are largely driven by emotions, so you need the ability to manage those feelings if you are going to act appropriately and even give yourself a chance at productive thinking. Otherwise you might find yourself marching in places like Charlottesville, or driving vans into pedestrians in Europe. Or simply failing at being a responsible human being.