Human thinking is individual improvisation enmeshed in a sociocultural matrix.
Michael Tomasello (1950-)
- Desan, Philippe, Montaigne. Une biographie politique. Paris: Odile Jacob, 2014
- “Montaigne, Michel de (1533-1592)”, https://mediatheque.sainthilairederiez.fr/node/597440?&from=/node/597440
- “Pierre Eyquem de Montaigne”, in Wikipedia, https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Eyquem_de_Montaigne
Giving grounds, however, justifying the evidence, comes to an end; - but the end is not certain propositions' striking us immediately as true, i.e. it is not a kind of seeing on our part; it is our acting, which lies at the bottom of the language-game.
Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)
Ad 1) Cognitive
representations are things like categories, schemas and models. They have three
features. They are iconic or imagistic. So, as I interpret this, they
refer or point to what they are about. As Tomasello says, What else could they
be? In addition, such representations are schematic. They are
generalizations or abstractions of the reality as the thinker sees it. The
latter makes that the representations are the thinker’s interpretations; they are
not reality as such. Moreover, the cognitive representations are situational:
They “have as their most basic content situations, specifically, situations
that are relevant to the individual’s goals and values.” (27)
Ad 2) Thinking is not only a matter of having cognitive representations, but it involves also making inferences from these representations to what does not exist, does not yet exist or what does exist but is or can not be perceived by the thinker at the moment s/he is thinking about it. These inferences can be causal and intentional and have a logical structure (understanding of cause-effect relations; understanding of logical implications, negation, and the like). They can also be productive in the sense that the thinker can generate off-line situations in her mind and infer or imagine nonactual situations. (28-30)
Ad 3) The ability to self-monitor is more than just taking decisions and anticipating the consequences of these decisions, but it is the ability to decide what one needs to take a decision and whether the information one has is sufficient. It’s a kind of ‘executive’ oversight of the decision process (3).
what Tomasello discusses in these pages (27-31) refers to the thinking of the
great apes. It’s an introduction to the way how great ape thinking developed
into human thinking. I must say that in my summary of these pages I haven’t
followed Tomasello exactly but I have already anticipated the human thinking
and given some of its characteristics. What especially was added to the human
thinking was recursive thinking in any shape: thinking about oneself; thinking
about one’s own thinking; thinking of the thinking of others and that these
others think about you, etc. Also thinking intentionally has further developed.
Moreover, human thinking is perspectival: The ability to see others and the
world in general through the eyes of another person or from an objective point
To my mind the summary of thinking that I have described above gives a good insight into the basics of the way humans think. Here I want to stress yet especially two important aspects of this human thinking: Its schematical aspect (humans think in schemas or broad categories that structure their worlds) and the typical human recursive aspect of thinking that humans think about thinking. Isn’t this what philosophers do?
- “Thought”, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thought
- Tomasello, Michael, A natural history of human thinking. Cambridge, Mass. Etc.: Harvard University Press, 2014.
More than ten years ago I wrote a blog about how people judge the side-effects of what someone has done. The essence was that the blame put on someone for causing negative side-effects is by far bigger than the credit s/he receives for positive side-effects, even if they balance. (see for the details my blog Praising the one who deserves it) Although it is not exactly the same, I had to think of it when I heard about the present discussion on the side-effects of the AstraZeneca anti-Covid vaccine. In fact, considering negative effects more important than positive effects is a general human phenomenon. This phenomenon is called the negativity bias. It is “the notion that, even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful/traumatic events) have a greater effect on one’s psychological state and processes than neutral or positive things.” (Wikipedia) This is not only so when negative and positive effects balance, but negative effects can by far dominate the positive effects even in case they are much smaller and very little in comparison to the latter. There is a tendency not only to register negative stimuli more readily but also to dwell on these events. (Cherry) The effect is the stronger if what you can lose is bigger, also in case what you can gain is very big. (Kahneman)
- Cherry, Kendra, “What Is the Negativity Bias?”, https://www.verywellmind.com/negative-bias-4589618
- Kahneman, Daniel, Thinking, Fast and Slow. Penguin Books, London, 2012; pp. 278-303.
- “Negativity bias”, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negativity_bias
The position which is in process of becoming superseded wastes its polemical energies on fighting already outmoded features in the opposed view, and tends to see what is retained in the emerging position as only a deformed shadow of its own self.
Georg Henrik von Wright (1916-2003)
- Henk bij de Weg, “The commonsense conception and its relation to philosophy”, Philosophical Explorations, 2001/1, pp. 17-30.
- “Goodhart’s Law, in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goodhart%27s_law
- Pascale Willemsen, “The Relevance of Alternate Possibilities for Moral Responsibility for Actions and Omissions”, in Tania Lombrozo, Joshua Knobe and Shaun Nichols (eds.), Oxford Studies in Experimental Philosophy. Volume Three. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020; pp. 232-274.
- Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.mb.txt.
- Tuomas W. Manninen, “Diminished Responsibility”, in Arp, Robert; Steven Barbone; Michael Bruce (eds.), Bad arguments. 100 of the most important fallacies in Western philosophy. Oxford, etc.: Wiley Blackwell, 2019; pp. 145-148.
Davidson, Donald, “Agency”, in Essays on actions and events, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980; pp. 43-61.
When browsing the internet, I stumbled on a Covid paradox. Some examples:
1) “The World Health Organization’s Europe director Hans Kluge said Thursday
the continent is in the midst of what he calls the COVID-19 ‘pandemic paradox,’
in which vaccine programs offer remarkable hope, while emerging variants
present greater uncertainty and risk. … ‘This paradox, where communities sense
an end is in sight with the vaccine, but at the same time are called to adhere
to restrictive measures in the face of a new threat, is causing tension, angst,
fatigue and confusion…,’ Kluge said.” (see note 1).
2) Another article, titled “The COVID Paradox” (see note 2), says that nobody should overstate the “pain and loss of this era in human history. … When organisational life is normal, patterns often continue because they existed before. When crisis happens, however, what was once intractable becomes open. Cultural norms can be analysed and adjusted. Leaders who did not have time or appetite for change demand new ways of thinking and working.” In other words, the pandemic doesn’t bring only misery, but, paradoxically, it creates also chances for new developments.
3) In another article titled “The Covid Paradox” (see note 3), the tenor is the same, although the accent is somewhat different: “While in the short run, one would arguably return to pre-Covid behavior patterns quite quickly, we are likely to see more fundamental changes play out in the long run. The long-term impact of Covid is likely to be far more significant than its immediate effect in the next year or two. Reactive change tends to feel significant, but is not necessarily durable, but the Covid experience will produce organic shifts in mindsets that will make themselves manifest over a much longer period of time. Covid will be transformative, but not in the way that it was imagined a few months ago.”
Actually, we have different paradoxes here.
The COVID-19 pandemic paradox in 1) says that the assumed solution of the
pandemic doesn’t bring a solution. This sounds paradoxical, indeed, but I think
that we cannot speak of a paradox here. The present vaccines help to stop only one
strain of the coronavirus, but not possible new strains, so they solve only a
part of the problem, and there is nothing paradoxical in this. We simply need
better solutions, like improved vaccines, and then as yet the restrictions can
Cases 2 and 3 have more the air of being paradoxes, and in a sense they are. On the other hand, they simply describe normal facts of life. The difference is that the scale of the pandemic is much larger. When the road to the left is blocked, we choose the road to the right. When in a supermarket the shelf with rice is empty, we buy millet or potatoes. Your attention is drawn to new options and maybe it leads to new behaviour. Nobody calls this paradoxical.
there is at least one a paradox that is relevant in this pandemic: the Sorites
paradox. Sooner or later the number of coronavirus infections will go down, be
it because the restrictions will be effective, or, what is more likely, be it
because vaccinations will end the pandemic, or be it because the pandemic will
end in a natural way. Then the question is: When can we say that the pandemic
has ended? How many patients make the difference between a pandemic and a “normal”
situation in which some people are ill and most are not, and in which the chance
that the coronavirus will spread again has been minimalized? The Sorites
paradox is about an analogous question: How many grains of sand make a heap?
Or, formulated in a way that is more relevant to the present pandemic: How many
grains must we remove from a heap of sand till it is no longer a heap? Remove
one grain and you’ll still call it a heap. Take away another grain, and it is
still a heap. But what, if you have removed, one by one, thousand grains? Or a
million? Do we then still have a heap? At some point, the heap will not be a
heap any longer, but how many grains must be removed until we have reached that
point? Until now, nobody has given a convincing answer to this question. Actually
such an answer doesn’t exist. It is a matter of subjective decision and
In case of the present pandemic, we basically have the same question as in the Sorites paradox. When the number of Covid-19 patients goes down, finally we’ll not have a pandemic any longer, but when we’ll have reached that point? This question is important in order to determine when the restrictions can be lifted and to what extent, but in fact nobody knows the answer. Each country has its own ideas about it. It is just a matter of policy (making choices) and politics (the execution of choices); a matter of intelligent guesswork and of establishing safe standards. It’s better to stay on the safe side and to maintain the restrictions that must contain the pandemic too long than too short. But being overcautious in view of the pandemic can be dangerous in other respects, like for the mental health of the population and for its economic health (which in the end also affects the mental and physical health of a population). It will be a wise person who knows what to do.
- Montaigne’s Essays quoted from https://oll.libertyfund.org/title/hazlett-essays-of-montaigne-vol-4#lf0963-04_head_006
- Pierre Bayle: See blog last week.
1) Bayle says, for instance: Assume your
faith is a minority faith in the country where you live and you are persecuted
by the defenders of the main religion (as was the case in the early days of
Christianity in the Roman Empire, for example). Or you are sent as a missionary
to China, but the Emperor of China chases you away by force. What would you say
then? Indeed, your view would be that the rulers have no right to do so and you’ll
detest what they do. But what right then do you have to persecute and kill
others who don’t accept your faith, when you are the ruler of a country? It’s
hypocrite to think that you are allowed to persecute non-believers in case you
have the power to do so. You are not allowed to do to others what you don’t
want that they do to you.
2) Persecuting those who don’t have your faith is not only hypocrite, often it is also senseless. Assume now that you are persecuted for having a minority religion. For example, you are a Huguenot in France at the end of the 17th century. You are not allowed to have public and many non-public functions any longer. Your possessions are robbed by the state. Many people with your religion are tortured because of their faith and you fear to be tortured, too. You can even be killed because of your faith. What will you do? It’s not unlikely that you’ll think: Let me pretend that I have given up my faith and let me feign that I have accepted the official religion. And so you do and from then on you go to the state church or temple and you do the prescribed rituals. But in your heart you still belief what you always believed. Your conversion is mere appearance. The tries to convert you by force have been senseless.
3) It is also possible, however, that the violent tries to convert non-believers fail and just make that they are strengthened in their belief. Doesn’t the Gospel say already that your faith will be badly received by the world? That’s what you are experiencing now, and you think that your salvation is in the hereafter, not in this world. If non-believers react in such a way, tries to convert them with violence are simply counterproductive.
These are the main reasons why Bayle pleads
for a complete tolerance of all religious views and for freedom of conscience.
He wants a tolerance of different and dissenting religious views, anyhow. Actually,
there is only one standard for what you believe: your conscience. For what else
should decide which religion, view or opinion is true? Who will say which
conviction is best? It is absurd to say that there is a criterion to decide
this. If you think that such a criterion exists, what actually happens is that
the strongest wins and that the arguments of the strongest are seen as best.
Then being true and being the strongest are different words for the same. Or,
as Bayle also says: We give a beautiful name to what is ours but hold in
contempt what belongs to others.
Bayle aimed against religious intolerance, but his arguments are valid against all kinds of intolerance. It makes Bayle one of the founders of the modern idea of tolerance, together with Spinoza and Locke. Although now Bayle is less known than them, his view has certainly been as influential.
Pierre Bayle, Toleranz. Ein philosophischer Kommentar. Herausgegeben von Eva Buddeberg und Rainer Forst. Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 2016.
There are several English editions of Bayle’s Tolerance. Just google.
Now that Trump has left the White House, an era of fake news has ended. Do you believe it? I don’t. Fake news is of all times. Millenarian movements are a case in point.
- Karl R. Popper, Objective Knowledge. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979; p. 164.
- My blog “Why it is good to make a bad plan”, dated 13 July 2015.
Barton, David N.; Jamin Halberstadt, “A social Bouba/Kiki effect: A bias for people whose names match their faces”, in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, vol. 25 (2018), pp. 1013–1020. Also on website https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13423-017-1304-x
sources and literature
- “Bouba/kiki effect”, in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bouba/kiki_effect
- Peiffer-Smadja, Nathan; Laurent Cohen, “The cerebral bases of the bouba-kiki effect”, on https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053811918321141
- Ramachandran, V.S,; E.M. Hubbard, “Synaesthesia – a window into perception, thought and language.” Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2001/8: 3-34.
- “What is the Kiki-Bouba test?”, on https://brainstuff.org/blog/what-is-the-kiki-bouba-test
- Shukla, Aditya, “The Kiki Bouba effect – research overview & explanation”, on https://cognitiontoday.com/the-kiki-bouba-effect-research-overview-explanation/#The_Kiki-Bouba_effect