What Is Reflective Reasoning?

Last week I was talking about intuition. I think of intuition as — among other things — unconscious and automatic reasoning. The opposite of that would be conscious and deliberative reasoning. We might call that reflective reasoning.† In this post I want to talk about reflective reasoning. How does it work? And why does it work? And — spoiler alert — why does it sometimes not work?

1.  An Example

Do some math for me, will you? Multiply 13 x 16. And try doing it in your head. Don’t use scrap paper or a calculator or anything like that.

Take all the time you need. I’ll be here.

Got it? Check your work with Google.

Question: what were you doing when you reasoned your way to the answer?

You were — among other things — reasoning reflectively. That is, you thought about some stuff — like ’16’ and ’13’ — but you also had some thoughts about thoughts about stuff — like “How might I multiply ’16’ by ’13’?”. These thoughts were both deliberate and conscious.

And that is a classic case of reflective reasoning: consciously and deliberately thinking about thought(s).

2.  Reflective Reasoning Works

We can do great stuff with reflective reasoning. Thanks to reflective reasoning, we can retrace our mental steps, spot errors, and fix those errors. We can even construct a narrative of each step in this process.

And these tasks are pretty important — and not just for doing spontaneous multiplication tasks. These tasks help us plan for the future, learn from our past, and explain our reasoning (to ourselves and to others). So if reflective reasoning is responsible for carrying out these tasks, then it is a good thing …when it works, that is.

What about when it doesn’t work? Continue reading What Is Reflective Reasoning?

Experimental Philosophy 2.0: The Neuroscience of Philosophy

If our judgments are dependent on the brain, then maybe we can understand our judgments by studying our brains. Further, maybe we can understand our philosophical judgments by studying our brains. What do you think? Can neuroscience help us understand philosophy? Here are some studies which suggest that it can.

1.  Two Opposing Neural Networks/Judgments

Consider two different networks in the brain: the Default Mode Network (DMN) and the Task Positive Network (TPN). These networks are mutually inhibitory. When one network’s activity increases, the other network’s activity decreases. It’s a bit like a seesaw (Jack et al 2013).

Continue reading Experimental Philosophy 2.0: The Neuroscience of Philosophy

The Bias Fallacy

“They’re biased, so they’re wrong!” That’s a fallacy. Call it the bias fallacy. Here’s why it’s a fallacy: being biased doesn’t entail that everything one does is wrong. So when someone jumps from the observation that someone is biased to the conclusion that they’re wrong, they have committed a fallacy. It’s that simple.

In this post, I’ll give some examples of the fallacy, explain the fallacy, and then suggest how we should respond to the bias fallacy.

1. Examples of The Bias Fallacy

You’ve probably seen instances of the bias fallacy all over the internet.

In my experience, the fallacy is a rhetorical device. The purpose of the bias fallacy is to dismiss some person or their claims.

Like many rhetorical devices, this one is logically fallacious. So it’s ineffective. At least, it should be ineffective. That is, we should not be persuaded by it.

So if you’ve seen the bias fallacy online, then go ahead and set the record straight:

'They're biased, so they're wrong.' Not so fast! We can be biased without being wrong. #TheBiasFallacyClick To Tweet

And if you really want to have some fun, go ahead and join the discussion on Reddit. Continue reading The Bias Fallacy

Research Questions & Mental Shortcuts: A Warning

Daniel Kahneman talks extensively about how we make reasoning errors because we tend to use mental shortcuts. One mental shortcut is ‘substitution‘. Substitution is what we do when we (often unconsciously) answer an easier question than the one being asked. I find that I sometimes do this in my own research. For instance, when I set out to answer the question, “How can X be rational?” I sometimes end up answering easier questions like, “How does X work?”. In an effort to avoid such mistakes, I will (1) explain the question substitution error, (2) give an example of how we can distinguish between questions, (3) give a personal example of the substitution error, and (4) say what we can do about it.

1.  Substitution

In case you’re not familiar with Kahnemen’s notion of ‘substitution’, here is some clarification. In short, substitution is this: responding to a difficult question by (often unintentionally) answering a different, easier question. People use this mental shortcut all the time. Here are some everyday instances:

Difficult QuestionEasier Question
How satisfied are you with your life?What is my mood right now?
Should I believe what my parents believe?Can I believe what my parents believe?
What are the merits/demerits of that woman who is running for president?What do I remember people in my community saying about that woman?

For further discussion of mental shortcuts and substitution, see Part 1 of Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow (2012).

Now, how does this mental shortcut apply to research?  Continue reading Research Questions & Mental Shortcuts: A Warning

Implicit Bias & Philosophy

This week, I’m talking about implicit bias over at The Brains Blog. I’m including my portion of the discussion below.

1.  The Implicit Association Test (IAT)

The implicit association test (IAT) is one way to measure implicitly biased behavior. In the IAT, “participants […] are asked to rapidly categorize two [kinds of stimuli] (black vs. white [faces]) [into one of] two attributes (‘good’ vs. ‘bad’). Differences in response latency (and sometimes differences in error-rates) are then treated as a measure of the association between the target [stimuli] and the target attribute” (Huebner 2016). Likewise, changes in response latencies and error-rates resulting from experimental interventions are treated as experimentally manipulated changes in associations.

2.  The Effect Of Philosophy

As philosophers, we are in the business of arguments and their propositions, not associations. So we might wonder whether we can use arguments to intervene on our implicitly biased behavior. And it turns out that we can — even if the findings are not always significant and the effect sizes are often small. Some think that this effect of arguments on IAT performance falsifies the idea that implicitly biased behavior is realized by associations (Mandelbaum 2015). The idea is that propositions are fundamentally different than associations. So associations cannot be modified by propositions. So if an arguments’ propositions can change participants’ implicitly biased behavior — as measured by the IAT — then implicit biases might “not [be] predicated on [associations] but [rather] unconscious propositionally structured beliefs” (Mandelbaum 2015, bracketed text and italics added). But there is some reason to think that such falsification relies on oversimplification. After all, there are many processes involved in our behavior — implicitly biased or otherwise. So there are many processes that need to be accounted for when trying to measure the effect of an intervention on our implicitly biased behavior — e.g., participants’ concern about discrimination, their motivation to respond without prejudice (Plant & Devine, 1998), and their personal awareness of bias. So what happens when we control for these variables? In many cases, we find that argument-like interventions on implicitly biased behavior are actually explained by changes in participants’ concern(s), motivation(s), and/or awareness, but not changes in associations (Devine, Forscher, Austin, and Cox 2013; Conrey, Sherman, Gawronski, Hugenberg, and Groom 2005). Continue reading Implicit Bias & Philosophy