dont-listen-argumentOur brain evolved to win arguments, not to find the truth. In Why Do Humans Reason? Arguments for an Argumentative Theory,
Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber defend the argumentative theory of reasoning. They argue that human logic reasoning evolved to win arguments, not to discover the truth.

People Argue Just to Win, Scholars Assert.

Hugo Mercier is among the researchers now asserting that reason evolved to win arguments, not seek truth. […]

Rationality, by this yardstick (and irrationality too, but we’ll get to that) is nothing more or less than a servant of the hard-wired compulsion to triumph in the debating arena. According to this view, bias, lack of logic and other supposed flaws that pollute the stream of reason are instead social adaptations that enable one group to persuade (and defeat) another. Certitude works, however sharply it may depart from the truth. […]

“Reasoning doesn’t have this function of helping us to get better beliefs and make better decisions,” said Hugo Mercier, who is a co-author of the journal article, with Dan Sperber. “It was a purely social phenomenon. It evolved to help us convince others and to be careful when others try to convince us.” Truth and accuracy were beside the point.

Indeed, Mr. Sperber, a member of the Jean-Nicod research institute in Paris, first developed a version of the theory in 2000 to explain why evolution did not make the manifold flaws in reasoning go the way of the prehensile tail and the four-legged stride. Looking at a large body of psychological research, Mr. Sperber wanted to figure out why people persisted in picking out evidence that supported their views and ignored the rest — what is known as confirmation bias — leading them to hold on to a belief doggedly in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence.    Reason Seen More as Weapon Than Path to Truth | NY Times

Relevance for real world issues

argue2Human-Stupidity shares the frustrations of many activists, that logical reasoning and unassailable scientific proof are not enough to convert the believers in issues like men’s rights, race and iq, *evolution, political correctness, and drug war

We are awe-struck how manipulative language successfully distorts words like *consent, *child, *rape, distorts facts about prostitution. Feminists and religious zealots thus managed to take over the United Nations and enforce world wide law changes based on voodoo theories  and forged science, like sex trafficking and one in four myths. Harvard President Larry Summers was persecuted for questioning some feminist victimization theories. Human-Stupidity posits that women have evolved especially acute language manipulation skills to make up for their physical and economic disadvantages in the EEA. As a result, peer reviewed sound scientific studies get condemned by both the US senate and the US congress by unanimous vote (Rind Study).

Nobel prize winner James Watson had his reputation ruined for well-meaningly stating scientific truths, the same truth that earned renowned scientist J. Philippe Rushton constant persecution. *Discrimination is the explanation for every gender and race difference. We are awe struck how people in high academic positions can get away with drivel like race does not exist.

Don’t miss Robert Kurzban‘s book on the evolution of hypocrisy and meddling in other people’s sex life. Which explains, partially, why lying about a blow job (Bill Clinton) seems to be a worse transgression then starting a trillion dollar war based on lies about weapons of mass destruction (Bush)..

 

Original scholarly article

Mercier, Hugo and Sperber, Dan, Why Do Humans Reason? Arguments for an Argumentative Theory (June 26, 2010). Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol. 34, No. 2, pp. 57-74, 2011. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1698090 

Excerpts from Why Do Humans Reason? Arguments for an Argumentative Theory


4.1.3. Belief perseverance. Motivated reasoning can also
be used to hang on to beliefs even when they have been
proved to be ill-founded. This phenomenon, known as
belief perseverance, is “one of social psychology’s most
reliable phenomena” (Guenther & Alicke 2008, p. 706;
for an early demonstration, see Ross et al. 1975). The
involvement of motivated reasoning in this effect can be
demonstrated by providing participants with evidence
both for and against a favored belief. If belief perseverance
were a simple result of some degree of psychological
inertia, then the first evidence presented should be the
most influential, whether it supports or disconfirms the
favored belief. On the other hand, if evidence can be
used selectively, then only evidence supporting the
favored belief should be retained, regardless of the order
of presentation. G

 

argument

4.1.4. Violation of moral norms. The results reviewed so
far have shown that motivated reasoning can lead to
poor epistemic outcomes. We will now see that our
ability to “find or make a reason for everything one has a
mind to do” (Franklin 1799) can also allow us to violate
our moral intuitions and behave unfairly. In a recent
experiment, Valdesolo and DeSteno (2008) have demonstrated
the role reasoning can play in maintaining moral
hypocrisy (when we judge someone else’s action by
using tougher moral criteria than we use to judge our
own actions)

 

All of these experiments demonstrate cognitively
unsound uses of reasoning. There are two ways to explain
these findings. One could argue that these are instances
of a mechanism designed for individual cognition, and in
particular for decision making, that sometimes gets
misused. According to the argumentative theory, however,
the function of reasoning is primarily social: In particular,
it allows people to anticipate the need to justify their
decisions to others. This predicts that the use of reasoning
in decision making should increase the more likely one is
to have to justify oneself. This prediction has been borne
out by experiments showing that people will rely more on
reasons when they know that their decisions will later be
made public (Thompson & Norton 2008) or when they
are giving advice (in which case one has to be able to
justify oneself [see Kray & Gonzalez 1999]). By contrast,
when they are choosing for others rather than for themselves,
they are less prone to these effects because there
is then less need for a utilitarian, justifiable decision (Hamilton
& Thompson 2007). Finally, it should be stressed that
the picture of reasoning painted in these studies may be
overly bleak: Demonstrations that reasoning leads to
errors are much more publishable than reports of its successes
(Christensen-Szalanski & Beach 1984). Indeed, in
most cases, reasoning is likely to drive us towards good
decisions. This, we would suggest, is mostly because
better decisions tend to be easier to justify.

 

 

We have pointed out that, in group settings, reasoning
biases can become a positive force and
contribute to a kind of division of cognitive labor. Still,
to excel in such groups, it may be necessary to anticipate
how one’s own arguments might be evaluated by others
and to adjust these arguments accordingly. Showing
one’s ability to anticipate objections may be a valuable
culturally acquired skill, as in medieval disputationes (see
Novaes 2005). By anticipating objections, one may even
be able to recognize flaws in one’s own hypotheses and
go on to revise them. We have suggested that this
depends on a painstakingly acquired ability to exert
some limited control over one’s own biases. Even among
scientists, this ability may be uncommon, but those who
have it may have a great influence on the development
of scientific ideas. It would be a mistake, however, to
treat their highly visible, almost freakish, contributions
as paradigmatic examples of human reasoning. In most
discussions, rather than looking for flaws in our own
arguments, it is easier to let the other person find them and
only then adjust our arguments, if necessary.

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