George Mobus teaches computer science to undergraduate and graduate students at the Institute of Technology, Computing & Software Systems at the University of Washington, Tacoma.

His background is quite broad: He has a PhD in Computer Science, an MBA in Decision Science, and a baccalaureate in Zoology (with substantial coursework in math, chemistry, and oceanography) from UW Seattle. His academic focus has been Biology: Specifically, evolutionary, cognitive, neuro-psychology — how the brain works to produce the mind and how did it come about through evolution.

He blogs at Question Everything, where this piece was originally published.

Enjoy:

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Sapient Judgment Has Weaknesses

In my working papers on sapience I describe one of the components of sapience as judgment and provide a brief overview of what role it plays in wisdom. I briefly mentioned some weakness or limitations to ordinary human judgment in that work, but left it a little vague. In this paper I want to go into more detail about how judgment works in the making of decisions and especially what some of the remaining problems with it are with respect to the current state of sapience in Homo sapiens.

Sapient vs. Pre-sapient Judgment

Sapience involves the capacity to influence good decisions (and give good advice) by applying judgment to complex situations. Decision making processing is the main job of intelligence as indicated in the working papers. Decisions need to be made regarding what action or behavior to take given the situation in the immediate environment. While the actual decision processing looks more continuous in nature, this discretized version will hopefully help to illustrate what happens in the brain*. The central circle in the below diagram can be considered a decision node in a decision tree structure (actually more of a web structure than a tree). The job that the intelligence processor has is, given the situation in which the animal finds itself, the “state of the environment”, to make a decision on which of many actions to take.

Judgment

Figure 1. Sapient decision making depends on tacit memory models that influence intelligent decision making. See text for description.

Immediately surrounding the current decision point is additional information stored in working memory forming the context of the situation, how it came to be, factors that relate directly with the decision to be made. This context along with the current state that activated this particular decision point are fed into the intelligence processor’s causal model of the world. This model has been learned from past experience and represents the best estimate of what cause (from a selected action) and effect (on the future state of the environment as a result) to expect. The model actually contains the decision web along with several background influences such as affective valence marking that helps weight decisions when emotional considerations are operative (curved green arrow).

The learning component of intelligence is responsible for monitoring the actual outcomes of decisions vis-à-vis and building or refining the model over time. Then it uses the model to make selections for actions. The selections are always provisional or heuristic in nature. Intelligence processing is prone to several kinds of errors that might cause a misstep. Also, though not shown here, the creative function of the brain might intercede to suggest a different selection just in case it might lead to a better outcome and that could be the basis for modifying the model.

Some situations have strong survival aspects that are best handled by innate behaviors selected by the limbic system. For example, our innate reaction to a sudden loud noise (freezing, generally in a crouched position) is mediated by a limbic signal that overrides any learned behavior selection in favor of the innate reaction. It depends on the strength of the innate response selection criteria. Some forms of innate behavior can be subsequently overridden by learned behavior if the action selection of intelligence can overcome it**.

Finally we come to the role of judgment in affecting the decision processing of intelligence. In one way we might consider tacit knowledge as providing an extended context, in time and space, background that has been developed and stored in unconscious memory. This is a much larger and more generalized model of situations similar to the current situation plus a generalized history of outcomes learned from past experiences. This tacit memory model gets refined over time and multiple similar situations. It provides a richer set of influences on the intelligent decision making without explicitly entering into the consciousness. These are what we call judgments. Even more primitive mammals can make some small scale kinds of judgments as the cortical areas of the brain where these are made arose relatively early in mammalian evolution.

Pre-sapient mammals through primates, prior to the genus Homo, in general, have levels of judgment that increases with their position in the phylogenetic tree. If we think of more intelligent animals as higher on that tree, then we will find that their capacity to process judgments to augment intelligence is correspondingly greater as well.

When we get to Homo we see a great expansion of judgment capacity commensurate with their increased intelligence (reflected in brain size and expansion of the prefrontal cortex). This expansion involves having greater capacity for much more complex tacit memory models and especially models of social systems, moral considerations, and systems perspective. Then when we get to Homo sapiens we see the development of a full-blown capacity for strategic thinking, which, added to the capacity for judgment is what gives us that which I have labeled as sapience. The expansion here is not just quantitative but qualitative as well. It was a leap in capacity, and an integration of the four components of sapience (see working papers) that produced our much more advanced ability to make judgments covering a far greater range of time and space. In that expanded range of time and space our tacit memories could incorporate far more situation experiences along with molding of the models according to many outcomes. In terms of the above figure, think of the extended tacit knowledge block as being many times larger and its contents many times more complex.

As I have written before regarding the special role of human consciousness and its relation to sapience (see Human Consciousness and Sapience) another aspect of mentation that makes humans much different from prior hominids is the aspect of reflective consciousness, or what I called second and a half-order consciousness. This is where we are not only aware of the world and ourselves, but aware of our awareness. This kind of consciousness results in a form of self-observation of our capacity to make judgments, or reflective judgment. We can ask ourselves, mentally, if our judgments were good, bad, or indifferent. We can think consciously about doing better in the future. But most people do not go quite that far (it is the realm of philosophy that few venture into). Instead they are content with the notion that judgments come from some unconscious part of their brain they call intuition.

Intuition

Most human beings do not really think about where their judgments come from. They just pop up and influence decisions in complex, usually social, contexts. Some people pay attention to these mysterious (gut) feelings and some even rely on them to make decisions because they have come to trust them.

The reference to ‘gut’ feelings as intuition refers to the limbic or affective influence on decision processing shown in the above figure. All of us have some kind of emotional marker on our past decisions (stored in the models) based on how good or bad the outcomes were. These emotional markers actually do activate the emotional state (not shown in the diagram) which sometimes does have an impact on our visceral state (our gut feeling).

For others, but I suspect in the minority, the intuitions influencing our decisions comes more from our tacit (learned) memory models than from our emotional responses. When they do, we have a special opportunity to reflect on our intuitive side. When we detect that our decision is being influenced by a tacit memory model, it is possible, in some circumstances, to reflect on where such influence is coming from and even examine the source consciously. Such reflection may help focus our intelligent learning on issues that are important to our tacit models such that these models are improved over time. One straightforward approach to this is that our conscious decision to explore ideas related to our judgments helps encode relevant information for subsequent further subconscious processing into tacit memory. Thus the philosophical musings of Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” It is people who do actively reflect on their own judgments that obtain some measure of wisdom in their lives. Alas, the rest do not.

But that isn’t the only problem with the sapience of or species. Sapient judgment evolved, after all, from more primitive kinds of judgment. And those were more strongly influenced by lower level (e.g. limbic) brain functions than we would like to admit. These low level influences are revealed, however, by the presence of many decision biases and prejudices that can be detected and even measured in some cases. The continued influence of these seriously impedes the ability for sapience to have a stronger role in guiding decision processing for most human beings. Let’s examine a few to show what I mean.

Biases and Prejudices

There has been an explosion of psychology research in the past few decades regarding innate human biases and the tendency of learned prejudices to strongly affect our decisions and behaviors. I will list a few of these here and attempt to explain how the get in the way of good judgment, and how the development of stronger sapience might do more to disenfranchise their influence. They are major blockages to the acquisition of wisdom and because they are so operative in the majority of humans, one of the main pieces of evidence I submit for why the sapience of Homo sapiens is not enough to be adaptive to the modern complex world we have created from our inventive cleverness.

Causal Modeling BiasOur brains are wired to find causal explanations for everything. Even when no actual causality may be operative. We are pattern seekers to the extent that we will even see patterns in completely random distributions of things in time and space.

This actually makes sense in a relatively stationary world where actual causal patterns could be relied upon to allow an animal to make predictions about what would happen (effect) given a particular kind of event (cause). In fact, our propensity to find causal relations is built right into the very neurons that make up our brains. Most of our learning comes from the fact that engrams (memory traces) are encoded based on cue stimulus, reinforcement (physiologically meaningful) subsequent stimuli, and good or bad outcomes (see my research paper: Learning and Representing Causal Inferences in Neural Networks). When reinforcement comes after a cue stimulus on a regular basis, the neural network (brain) will encode the cue as meaningfully causing the state that is relevant to the reinforcement. For example, when the sight of a particular fruit is followed by a savory taste/smell, and then followed much later by a satiation signal, that fruit is encoded as being food and something to be sought in the future. Eating it will make you less hungry.

But the world that we live in is so complex and causal relations so nonstationary, or even nonexistent, between multiple stimuli, that this tendency to encode any seeming temporal correlation (where event A precedes event B, usually), even from the most rudimentary experience, gets in our way badly. We have a tendency to imbue causal relations where none necessarily exist.

Stronger sapience involves having a stronger capacity to think systemically. In doing so it is natural to ask whether some phenomenon contains non-linear, hidden, relations (e.g. circular causality) and to observe more carefully when it seems that one thing occurring is related to another thing occurring. Weak systems thinking stops at asserting that things are connected (i.e. in some kind of network of relations) whereas strong systems thinking seeks to verify those connections and grasps the nature of strong versus weak interactions. Thus greater sapience will not be stuck looking for the simplest causal explanation and accept the weakest evidence (correlation) to form a model.

Likelihood Estimation BiasWe do not do statistics very well. Our ability to estimate probabilities of events or outcomes is pretty poor. This is related to our tendency to believe in our causal explanations (see confidence bias below); we do not think in terms of correlations but in terms of cause and effect. As a result we tend to make many mistakes in estimating probabilities given preceding information. We tend to ignore or filter out information that might improve our abilities. Sometimes we are simply ignorant of what is truly relevant information in making a prediction or assessment. Without reflective judgment this blockage to wise decision making gets worse rather than better with age.

With reflective judgment (stronger sapience) we do not ignore evidence that suggests that our likelihood estimates may have been wrong in the current circumstances. One of the key aspects found to be present in the wise (in the research) is an ability to live in an uncertain world, with ambiguity. This comes from an ability to not be committed to whatever estimates we have made, and to be open to learning more through experience in the hope (but not guarantee) of improving over time.

Over Confidence BiasThe part of our mind that Freud called the ‘ego’ seems to place greater confidence in our estimates than is warranted by the actual case. The mere personal possession of an idea or assessment boosts the mind’s confidence that it is right or true. Again, without self-reflection and self-honesty this tendency will get in the way of having good models — that is models that more closely correspond with reality — from which to intuit. When we ‘firmly believe’ our own version of reality regardless of what the evidence suggests, we can make pretty foolish judgments.

Religious or ideological beliefs fall under this bias. Holding a specific doctrine as an article of faith (without actual evidence, or very weak evidence) is bolstered by our seeming inability to reflect on our own confidence without prodding. And sometimes with prodding to become defensive about holding those beliefs. With higher sapience I suspect that an individual is comfortable with the notion that whatever they believe at the present time, might be wrong. They are open to reviewing their reasons for holding said beliefs rather than being so certain that what they believe is the truth. And this openness comes naturally rather than being learned.

Inability to Imagine Counterfactuals BiasRelated to over confidence is another weakness of the brain’s ability to generate counterfactual models in the first place. Numerous studies have shown that we humans are loathe to even consider alternatives to what we already believe. In fact, in order to more diligently assess possible (likely) outcomes we have to consider alternative models of what may happen. This is a function of imagination (creativity) that seems very weak in the majority of humans. Yet without the ability to generate and analyze counterfactual models, we have no ability to learn from actual experience. This is most evident in many peoples’ inability to learn from mistakes. What they are good at is generating excuses or rationalizations that let them off the hook for responsibility for errors of judgment.

Higher sapience would allow a person to let the imagination go with respect to generating alternative scenarios and find counterfactual conditions for evaluation.

Imagined Agency BiasAnother bias that is related to our causal modeling bias is the way in which we tend to see some intentional act behind many events even when they are completely stochastic. Indeed the beginnings of self-awareness have left humans believing that there is some kind of autonomous agency involved with all events. We have ourselves as a model. To us, to our consciousness, it seems as if we have intentions that our bodies then carry out. We have, in our view, free will. We also observe other humans doing what they seem to want to do (sometimes regardless of our wishes). This leads us to suspect that there are other agents behind all phenomena. Before the age of science, the belief in spirits animating not just living things but the dynamics of the whole world was common. Today many of our kind still hold out that there is an unseen world and one or more invisible and super powerful agents manipulating the world for their own purposes.

The combination of strategic and systems thinking in sapience, if strong enough, can lead to a better understanding of motivation of phenomena in the world and thus diminish the need to see agency behind dynamic phenomena. For example, I suspect Charles Darwin was a super sapient (not the only one, of course) who was able to grasp the essential nature of evolution. He saw the world through systemic eyes and had a sense of the hierarchical nature of control through competition and coordination. He could see that natural selection provided a strategic “plan” for the living world without the need for a designing and animating agent.

Illusion of Control BiasThe last bias I will discuss is related to the agency bias. It is an illusion that persists in the minds of most people that they (or someone) is in control of the situation. This is strongest in ourselves where our consciousness gives us the sense of free will and willing our selves to act in the world. But research has shown that our actions are often initiated from subconscious decisions and our conscious mind only becomes aware retrospectively, yet maintains the illusion of being the decider.

It is the models of the world that we have built up over time that are ‘in control’. We are our models. One can argue that it is a matter of semantics that if so, then we are still in control. But unfortunately the ‘I’ that seems to be in control, the model of the self, is the result of the interplay of inherited personality propensities and cleverness, and the social milieu that we grow up in. The ‘I’ is not some native spirit (the ghost in the machine) that pushes the buttons and pulls the levers. It is a subconscious model of the self resulting from many complex factors that develops in the course of a lifetime. It is true that this model is the strategic arbiter in our lives. It may be a good model, corresponding well with reality (knowing ones self) or it may be a faulty one in which we delude ourselves about ourselves.

Higher sapience would help here in the sense that it would provide an individual with a better capacity to build a more veridical model of the self as she ages and experiences life. That model, in turn, will have a better grasp of what needs to be decided for themselves and others. They would be better able to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity (as is reported in the literature on wisdom). They would be able to offer good advice without asserting that they were right or should control the situation and others.

Prejudice TemplatesHumans, like all social mammals (and birds) have a built in model of the world of conspecifics based on we (my tribe) and them (other tribes). This dichotomous mental model actually serves a purpose in strengthening the social bonds among the we and decreases the likelihood of fraternization (except to exchange genes) with the them. In a social animal, having a cooperating group that is competing with other groups for resources this has a strong selective advantage. And so we humans have inherited this template and it forms the basis of learning prejudices.

With all of the biases just mentioned (and more not mentioned), it is easy to acquire models of attributes of we and them that are not, in fact, reality. In a late Pleistocene world this probably was to our evolutionary advantage. But in the modern globalized world it leads to some pretty pathetic situations and a great deal of misery for too many people.

Given stronger sapience would reduce the effects of the aforementioned biases by constantly and consistently engaging in self-reflection it should also lead to a great reduction in the effects of prejudices. This can happen in two ways. The individual may simply never suffer from building a prejudicial model based on her socialization (learning prejudices from her society) and/or she may be successful at overcoming what prejudices she has by examining the basis of them and either quelling or unlearning them.

The Consequences of Weak Sapience

Here we sit today in a world that is overly complex and overly dynamic relative to the average person’s capacity to deal with information overload. As a result most people never develop much in the way of wisdom about that complex, dynamic world. One has to incorporate the information one receives into the structure of their tacit memory models in order to build veridical models of the world. But if one’s native processing capacity is limited then the information will truly overload the circuits and be lost. What aggravates this is the remaining built-in bias tendencies and the propensity to learn prejudices that further prevent any meaningful learning.

We have to muster all of our cleverness to try and understand our own failings in the present environment. This is not an indictment of humanity as if we did something wrong by being only weakly sapient on average. We are what we are. But fortunately we do have sufficient cleverness to be able to comprehend what we are and try to do something about it. We invented science through cleverness and minimal sapience. Science and math have helped us overcome many of the biases and prejudices that have been noted here. As individuals each of us still suffers to some degree the bane of these biases. We can’t change that. But collectively in an endeavor like science we can mitigate the effects of those biases and learn to understand better models of how the world works than would be possible through individual learning. So we have to call upon that capability here. We need to use science to better understand our failings in judgment and sapience in general. Then with the help of what science tells us, we might yet find a way to become collectively more sapient, even if individually still somewhat foolish.


* The issue of continuous vs. discrete has always been a problem. Computer scientists (my day job) insist that everything is discrete at some level of analysis. Biologists, on the other hand, insist that physiology and brain functions are continuous. Having played in both arenas I am of the opinion that they are both right to some degree. While to our perceptions brain functions might appear continuous and flowing from one state to another, if we look closely enough and with a fine enough temporal resolution I believe we will see that there are not an infinite number of transition states as would be required by continuum theory. Rather there are discrete, finite transition states between any two metastable states. The latter are the ones that maintain long enough for perceptual observation.

** One aspect of sapience is the capacity for the prefrontal cortex to dampen the signals from the fear and negative emotion response areas of the limbic system.

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Question Everything: When what is happening in your world doesn’t make sense, when it doesn’t conform to your beliefs about how things should work, it’s time to ask hard questions.

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Category: Psychology, Science

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

24 Responses to “What Are the Limits of Sapient Judgment?”

  1. dead hobo says:

    As an educator and professional in computer science, I can understand why Mr Mobus would want to write programs that mimic intelligence. In order to mimic intelligence, you need to understand it. Programs can be smart and will undoubtedly get smarter over time. Using mass produced and mass distributed technology, one person or a small team can have a profound effect on the rest of us. The piece above applies best to these thinkers.

    To the rest, I think the best model to apply is much simpler and explains things best. “Don’t give a monkey a loaded gun” explains a lot of the world today. No matter how smart the monkey is, it won’t understand the ramifications of it’s new ability nor will be able to control it with any intelligence. While the ape would probably prefer to throw it’s own crap, the loaded gun makes it look cool to other apes and the consequences of the loud noise usually aren’t associated with the gun or the antics that preceded it’s use. The rest of the monkeys remain at risk as a result. Monkeys and loaded guns explains most people very well.

  2. ronald says:

    OMG.

    Wheres is working memory how does it work? Ever thought about BAC (back propagating calcium)? Whoops now working memory is the same as discrete memory just behaves like a continuum.

    Unconscious memory? Whoa what’s that? Ever heared about the myelin sheat, what does a speed differential actually provide?

    I stopped reading after that.

    Oh btw, where is cell fatigue? Which effect has it on attention and decision making?

    If CS does Neurology:

    http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/semiconductors/devices/blue-brain-project-leader-angry-about-cat-brain
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/08/ray_kurzweil_does_not_understa.php

  3. JustinTheSkeptic says:

    If the pre-fontal cortex dampens negative emotions will it not do the same of positive emotions, and or any emotions? Is that not what Spock was all about? I find that applying such a logical sequence to the markets envolves too many heuristic endeavours which then tend to overpower the circuitry and makes sound decision making impossible. This is why the best traders don’t think they react much like a baseball player reacts when hitting a baseball.

  4. Transor Z says:

    A very thoughtful and interesting piece.

    Although we often deride it, “groupthink” has a lot to do with intelligent behaviors. In fact, humans, as social creatures, necessarily subordinate individual thought processes to received opinions and trainings that pass down to us from the social hierarchy and perceived consensus reality “status quo.” We obey “time-honored traditions” and abide by “conventional wisdom” every day without analyzing or monitoring ultimate consequences.

    Obeying these rules is intelligent behavior in that the positive outcome of compliance experienced at the individual level is often acceptance and status within society. But before denigrating this as a “lower” or “mindless” kind of pseudo-intelligence, consider that in many cases the macro societal benefits of abiding by social norms and consensus reality are real: e.g., keeping teenage pregnancy low, enhancing overall family integrity by making incest taboo, etc. etc.

    Just saying that sometimes the “hive mind” that we all occasionally channel is pretty damned smart, even if we as individuals aren’t always smart enough or enlightened enough to monitor the macro consequences.

  5. d4winds says:

    ill-performed gloss of erudition to complete BS; you’ve really lowered your standards, BR.

  6. “You are too Stupid for your own F****ng Good. And, because We see that, You should let Us tell You what to do..”

    ~~

  7. There’s really not much to argue with here, but neither is there much that is original. Philosophers have been arguing perception v reality and emotion v reason since the dawn of civilization. The bottom line it seems is that we can’t help but project our own biases on all that we perceive. We might, by steadfast devotion to objective reasoning, be able to understand our biases and discount our perceptions accordingly. But most of us exist in swirling fog of rationalizations directed at justifying perceptions and desires gleaned from our innate biases.

    It’s as if we are fish in an ocean and can’t truly gain an understanding of our circumstances because we can’t ever seem to remind ourselves that “this is water”.

  8. Mike C says:

    Although we often deride it, “groupthink” has a lot to do with intelligent behaviors. In fact, humans, as social creatures, necessarily subordinate individual thought processes to received opinions and trainings that pass down to us from the social hierarchy and perceived consensus reality “status quo.” We obey “time-honored traditions” and abide by “conventional wisdom” every day without analyzing or monitoring ultimate consequences.

    Obeying these rules is intelligent behavior in that the positive outcome of compliance experienced at the individual level is often acceptance and status within society.

    Well…none of this certainly applies to being a successful investor/trader. In that realm, “groupthink” is likely to lead to massive losses like buying tech/Internet in 99-00 and homes in 2005. What was the “conventional wisdom” on buying gold in 2000-2001?

    I think one could argue that being an extremely successful investor requires being able to shut down your emotions, think unconventionally, and be immune to “groupthink”. No wonder so few have built fortunes from investing/trading. Probably only a small minority of humans are capable of this.

  9. Transor Z says:

    @Mike C:

    No doubt. Something about the post not really mentioning that side of “intelligence” prompted me to throw it out there. I find myself getting smug about being able to “see through the bullshit” but society doesn’t work too well if you don’t buy into the bullshit, at least a little bit. ;-)

  10. Casual Onlooker says:

    It’s an interesting article. I wonder how many people got through the whole thing.

    One thing to consider is whether increased “sapience” provides an advantage in an evolutionary context, or whether it is simply a different path. Just as gorillas and chimpanzees split off from a common lineage, could it be that we as humans are likely to do similar. Sometimes I just have to stop and wonder at the disparity between people that are facts and evidence driven, verses people that are driven by belief and group mentality. Are there in some ways fundamental differences, and even differing advantages to the different approaches. Are there advantages for following the group think model? Then again perhaps I’m just looking for patterns where there are none.

    Thanks BR for a thoughtful article.

  11. TizzyD says:

    Good (ie:Sapient) Judgement comes from Experience.

    Experience comes from Bad Judgement…….

  12. Arequipa01 says:

    The goal implicit in this work is to create a robotic Simon Legré- one without the burden of a conscience (wink).

    My recommendation would be to look at mentation modality called “abductive reasoning”.

    The most important vector is time.

  13. Anonymous Jones says:

    It’s amazing how predictable some of those who comment here are. Post anything about cognitive bias or question any part of their ability to dominate and control the world, and they will utterly shut down and dismiss you out of hand. The level of insecurity is so great. Get over it. You cannot control the world. You don’t know what you think you know. No one is trying to fool you or tell you what to do. They are only describing your limitations. You have them. Really. You do. So tiresome…

  14. Jack says:

    Methinks my chain has been mightily jerked

  15. only from “Anonymous Jones” could We get the castigation of the assembled: “The level of insecurity is so great.” Truly, in its own limited sense, it’s, quite, Priceless..

    But, I’ll go, if, only, for my own Sense, with ‘the two Birds with one Stone’-approach..

    answering, coincidently, this ponderance: “I wonder how many people got through the whole thing.”, posited above.

    with: “…Here we sit today in a world that is overly complex and overly dynamic relative to the average person’s capacity to deal with information overload. As a result most people never develop much in the way of wisdom about that complex, dynamic world. One has to incorporate the information one receives into the structure of their tacit memory models in order to build veridical models of the world. But if one’s native processing capacity is limited then the information will truly overload the circuits and be lost. What aggravates this is the remaining built-in bias tendencies and the propensity to learn prejudices that further prevent any meaningful learning.

    We have to muster all of our cleverness to try and understand our own failings in the present environment. This is not an indictment of humanity as if we did something wrong by being only weakly sapient on average. We are what we are. But fortunately we do have sufficient cleverness to be able to comprehend what we are and try to do something about it. We invented science through cleverness and minimal sapience. Science and math have helped us overcome many of the biases and prejudices that have been noted here. As individuals each of us still suffers to some degree the bane of these biases. We can’t change that. But collectively in an endeavor like science we can mitigate the effects of those biases and learn to understand better models of how the world works than would be possible through individual learning….”

    “…world that is overly complex”
    “…relative to the average person’s capacity”
    “…most people never develop”
    “…one’s native processing capacity is limited”
    “…information will truly overload the circuits”
    “What aggravates this is the remaining built-in bias tendencies and the propensity to learn prejudices that further prevent any meaningful learning.” (You, you defective Souls)

    and, another repeat (so you can ‘get it’)
    “…We have to muster all of our cleverness to try and understand our own failings in the present environment.”
    “…We invented science through cleverness and minimal sapience. Science and math have helped us overcome many of the biases and prejudices that have been noted here.”
    “…As individuals each of us still suffers”
    “…But collectively in an endeavor like science we can mitigate the effects”
    “…learn to understand better models of how the world works than would be possible through individual learning….”
    ~~
    maybe, that will help illuminate..

  16. Casual Onlooker says:

    @Mark E Hoffer stated…

    “maybe, that will help illuminate..”

    No, not really. Your point is?

  17. CO,

    why I summed the piece, thusly:

    September 3rd, 2010 at 12:39 pm
    “You are too Stupid for your own F****ng Good. And, because We see that, You should let Us tell You what to do..”
    ~~
    also, you may care to understand what Huxley was getting on about, re: “Scientific Dictatorship”

  18. 777george says:

    Ex-Neuroscience guy, molecular biologst, and bio-informatition that I am (pant pant) I am rather amazed a CS Prof is able to singlehandedly!….formulate the process of “Sapience”. I got to continuum, finite etc and realized CS people think they encompass vast spaces in deeply important topics-BECAUSE THEY FEED IN ALL THE VARIABLES TO THEIR PET PROGRAMS!

    A bad sour stomach may actually lead a nation close to war-nearly an infinite number of potential variables can exist at any given moment. As a simple minded protein guy, I was overwhelmed by the complexity of my topic and we could never, till this day understand something “as simple” as a complete set of heuristics to explain protein/protein interactions, purely biohemical events.

    A cheesy little graphic mapping out thought processes is more than laughable. It reminds me of my Univ of Chicago relative who patiently explained to me that Econometrics was certainly able to forecast the future of any economy years into the future. Hey, he was overpaid for years!!!

    And if any remember, AI loomed large on the horizon ca. 1978-1985, acording to the CS bigheads. Well, yeah, right. Vaporware is still a salable product here in the US.

  19. Andy T says:

    I’m going to try and drop the word “heuristic” into my every day speech more often. It’ll make me sound smarter than I actually am….

  20. jbmoore61 says:

    He’s trying to understand the mechanics of intelligence, but humans can be motivated by emotions that short circuit their decision processes. Fear, greed, and lust come to mind. Collective human behavior can resemble forms of insanity seen in individual humans. He’s also missing the effect of social peer pressure and collective bias (those who saw the housing bubble and warned of it were dismissed by their peers despite the evidence) which is also a common problem in science whereby the majority do not believe the evidence presented by a peer that is the more accurate model of reality.

    The Buddha was one of the first psychologists and one of the first people to teach a framework of self-introspection or awareness. In Zen Buddhism and most other spiritual pursuits, one is seeking to overcome one’s biases and judgments to attain a state of pure nonegoic awareness. Such a state, called enlightenment, is a for now rare, but emergent property of the human brain. We know this form of intelligence or awareness can be attained spontaneously (Jesus Christ) or learned through a process (the Buddha, Zen Buddhist Masters) of individual self examination. Even Buddhists recognize this fact that two paths exist. The scientific method is a framework for discovering truth but it is not applied to religions and religious beliefs even though the core of any religion is about truth as Douglas Adams remarked. Zen Buddhism seeks a framework to attaining enlightenment within Buddhist philosophy and through meditation. Some orders of Christian monks have similar practices.

    On the physiological level, the spiritual centers of the brain reside in the right hemisphere. People and things are perceived as discrete forms of energy vibrating at particular frequencies rather than as discrete forms of matter which jives with Einstein’s assertion that matter is a condensed form of energy. Therefore, physiologically, enlightenment must be a partnership or joining of the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Most people’s cognitions are dominated by the left hemisphere where the “I”, the individual resides. Some artists like van Gogh, who was quite religious as well, are dominated by the right hemisphere. One is looking at two different “computers” in the brain at work. One dominating the other until some trigger happens that causes them to work in parallel synchrony.

    I hope that Dr. Mobus succeeds, but he may be looking at the problem the wrong way.

  21. jrob says:

    Very interesting food for thought. My main question to BR is, why did you post it? (No implied judgement, just interested in what about it interests you.)

    A couple of my own thoughts:
    On the model – As a computer science guy with a casual interest in neuroscience, his model looks similar to what I have imagined. The details are where it gets interesting, both the accuracy of

  22. jrob says:

    Very interesting food for thought. I have bookmarked the link for more in-depth reading. My main question to BR is, why did you post it? What about it interests you or would interest your readers?

    A few of my own thoughts:

    How can we maximize our individual sapience? 
    To start an answer to that question, I think finding good sources of information is key, including the web, books, people. Identify who you trust for what. This blog is on my very short list. What is on your short list (BR and others)? Another way is to allocate time/memory/processing power strategically to the important things. Does anyone do this intentionally? If so, how?

    The upside of groupthink: 
    There is a limit to memory and processing power in the brain (as I experience often), and a limit on experience. The only way to improve upon these limitations is to incorporate the beliefs of others into your own model. You decide who to trust for certain things, or consult multiple sources and try to determine a likely answer.

    The downside of groupthink:
    The problem is not that we do this, but that we do not do it well. (Which reminds me of Twain’s view on lying.) Some of us are too lazy/busy/incapable to experience some things for ourselves or think hard enough to understand, although this is just a necessity sometimes. Or when we decide whom to trust, we either make a poor choice (*ahem* Fox news) because we are busy/lazy/incapable/deceived, or fail to reflect on that decision afterward based on new information. The overall result is that a poor model of reality is developed, which then is self-reinforcing through more poor groupthink, which then results in poor choices with poor outcomes.

    The solution for (poor) groupthink:
    I think groupthink is here to stay. How can we deal with it as a society? A reliable solution cannot involve everyone understanding the finer points of finance etc., or even making decisions based on solid reasoning. Is it enough to have a solid sapient minority. If so, how can that be achieved? Can/should the rest of society be protected from making poor decisions? Can the MSM/banks/politicians be tamed from propagating false beliefs, or are there too many entrenched truth obscurers for this to be possible?

    On the model:
    As a computer science guy with a casual interest in neuroscience, I can say that his model looks similar to what I have imagined. The details are where it gets interesting – how reality is modeled, conflicting indicators are resolved, emotions are incorporated. Looking forward to reading more of Dr. Mobus’ work in-depth.

    On the supremacy of sapience through self-reflection:
    I would say I am unusually sapient (self-reflective I mean) and unintuitive. The benefits he mentions are true, but I wonder how often this comes at a cost? I usually make very good decisions  and incorporate a lot of information, but I am often slow, and have difficulty when there is no “right” decision. My wife is very emotional and highly intuitive, but also fairly sapient. She operates much faster than I do, generally makes very good decisions, and is much more social than I am, but loses a little bit of the advantages of self-reflection. I think there is a tradeoff in most cases, but that doesn’t stop me from hoping our kid gets the best of both of us!

  23. carping demon says:

    It was the chart, wasn’t it, BR?

  24. ToNYC says:

    Try Alva Noe, “Out of our Heads” and cut to the chase.
    Consciousness exists as a Dance with our Environment..context is intrinsic to our content. WYSIWYF. What You See Is What You Feel. Living in pirate space demands grog-goggles to fog the vision so completely that it passes for life in trade for the vast majority of your time.
    When you stop to figure it all out; it’s ankle grabbing time and so late to the trade, but so on time for the train to the office.