Saturday, March 29, 2008

How Google and God are similar

Interesting discussion between psychologist Paul Bloom and philosopher Joshua Knobe at Blogging Heads on morality and religion.

Preissler, M. A. & Bloom, P. (2008). Two-year-olds use artist intention to understand drawings

Egan L. C., Santos L.R., Bloom P. (2007). The Origins of Cognitive Dissonance: Evidence from Children and Monkeys

Kemler Nelson, D., Egan, L. C., Holt, M. (2004) When Children Ask, ‘‘What Is It?’’ What Do They Want to Know About Artifacts?

Cognitive dissonance observed in children and monkeys;
Having made a decision, say, for chicken or Greece, what people often do to alleviate this dissonance, is update their attitudes to match the choice they made – the beef would have been too rare, Spain would have been too hot. Remarkably, psychologists at Yale University have now shown that young children and monkeys engage in these sorts of thought processes too.

Forty 4-year-olds used a scale of smiley faces to indicate how much they liked a range of animal stickers. For each child, the researchers identified three stickers which that child liked equally – let’s call these A, B, C. Each child then faced two choices – first to choose which of A or B they would like to take home. Afterwards, they then had to choose between sticker C and whichever sticker (A or B) they hadn’t selected before.

In the latter case, if the children liked the stickers equally, then on average they should have opted for sticker C over either A or B 50 per cent of the time, but in fact sticker C was selected in 63 per cent of such choices. The reason, the researchers say, is because, to reduce cognitive dissonance, the children had downplayed the appeal of whichever sticker (A or B) they had chosen not to pick earlier, thus tipping the balance in favour of C.

Economists Dissect the ‘Yuck’ Factor

Arthur C. Brooks, a professor of government and business at Syracuse University who moderated the Washington panel, spoke of how he — like thousands of other Americans — carried $7,000 in hundred dollar bills to ease the adoption of an abandoned baby in China despite a visceral reaction against the idea of buying and selling children.

“It’s very hard to predict what’s repugnant and what’s not,” Mr. Roth said. Paul Bloom, a professor of psychology at Yale, agreed. He conducted a two-year study to try to get at why people consider athletes who take steroids to be cheating, but not those who take vitamins or use personal trainers. He and his team offered different possibilities: What if steroids were completely natural? Or were not at all harmful? Or were only effective if the athlete had to work harder than before?

The only change that caused the interviewed subjects to alter their objections to steroids was when they were told that everyone else thought it was all right. “People have moral intuitions,” Mr. Bloom said. When it comes to accepting or changing the status quo in these situations, he said, they tended to “defer to experts or the community.”

Often introducing money into the exchange — putting it into the marketplace — is what people find repugnant. Mr. Bloom asserted that money is a relatively new invention in human existence and therefore “unnatural.”

Economists are asking the wrong question, Mr. Bloom said at the panel. They assume that “everything is subject to market pricing unless proven otherwise.”

“The problem is not that economists are unreasonable people, it’s that they’re evil people,” he said. “They work in a different moral universe. The burden of proof is on someone who wants to include” a transaction in the marketplace. (Mr. Roth, who acknowledges that “economists see very few tradeoffs as completely taboo,” did not take the criticism personally.)

Is God an Accident?

How group cooperation varies between cultures

What Motivates Us: Sex

Dan Moller. (forthcoming). Love and Death. Journal of Philosophy.

The science of religion

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