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How to develop a logical reasoner

24 November, 2015 - 15:18
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The human mind (and animal minds, though the process is different) comes to conclusions by weighing evidence. This process could be done unconsciously or consciously; for instance people might make if - then statements to think about material. Part of that might be considering evidence from examples that easily come to mind (this is called the 'availability' heuristic), or examples that are harder or take longer to come to mind.

People often have a tendency to rely on the first piece of information gathered, this heuristic is called 'anchoring and adjustment' - During decision making, anchoring occurs when individuals use an initial piece of information to make subsequent judgments. People might adjust away from the anchor to get their final answer, which would be the logical thing to do; however studies show people tend rely on the first piece of information - whether it is right or not (instead of using it as evidence and explain away from it when the information is false)

So it depends on the circumstance if people try or don't try to explain (adjust) away from an incorrect piece of evidence. They might try to justify the first piece of information offered (the anchor) even though it wouldn't be the logical thing to do.

So this relates to thinking logically - when weighing evidence, people need to consider if they are being falsely influenced by information and are biasing different pieces of information in their mind. They might be biasing the first piece of information offered 'the anchor' and be relying too heavily on that instead of looking more objectively at all of the evidence.

So how exactly does the human mind weigh different pieces of information or construct an argument based off of evidence? It uses mental models to 'model' an argument, I would say. So there are different ways material or evidence can be considered by your mind, and these mental models weigh this evidence differently each time. Depending on the set of material or evidence, your mind might consider it differently (a 'mental model').

How could someone learn to reason more logically? I just explained two heuristics and how they effect thinking - by the speed and order of information made available to your mind. People bias the information they are given or don't consider it logically in many cases, but all that could be done about that to become a more logical thinker would be to be aware of your personal biases and be more reflective.

Hypothetical reasoning

What is hypothetical reasoning? It is creating imaginary worlds to test out our thinking. Here Stanovich  1 explains this type of reasoning in terms of carrying out goals, though I would say this type of thinking is critical for more complex thought as well:

  • When we reason hypothetically, we create temporary models of the world and test out actions (or alternative causes) in that simulated world. In order to reason hypothetically we must, however, have one critical cognitive capability—the ability to distinguish our representations of the real world from representations of imaginary situations. For example, in considering an alternative goal state different from the one we currently have, we must be able to represent our current goal and the alternative goal and to keep straight which is which. Likewise, we need to be able to differentiate the representation of an action about to be taken from representations of potential alternative actions we are considering. But the latter must not infect the former while the mental simulation is being carried out.

If you think about it, humans must have a large imaginary world in their minds where they think and test out what they are thinking. This probably applies to everything - if you are trying to figure out which team is going to win a soccer match you might simulate the game in your head. If you are thinking about anything, you simulate the emotions, actions, behaviors, mathematical equations, or whatever it is - and this helps you think about it.

Heuristic vs. Rule-based processing

Heuristic processing is low-level, more unconscious and doesn't require as much thought as systematic processing.  2 Systematic processing requires active, careful scrutiny of relevant information and is more cognitively taxing.

Heuristic processing makes use of low-level decision rules such as 'analysts are always right' or 'statistics don't lie'. However, even though that type of processing makes use of rules, it is a lower-level processing than when rules are used by the systematic type of processing - which is more cognitive and leads to attitude change that is more enduring (because it is more conscious).

These different ways of processing are related to conscious and unconscious processing, or what is called in psychology a 'dual process theory' which provides an account of how a phenomenon can occur in two different ways, or as a result of two different processes. Often, the two processes consist of an implicit (automatic), unconscious process and an explicit (controlled), conscious process.

So rule-based processing usually refers to higher-level logic and casual inference. It follows rules, instead of merely conforming to them like how weight conforms to the law of gravity. So the unconscious could be considered to be doing its own thing, however the conscious mind actively thinks and therefore 'consciously' follows rules or thinks more about rules, more so than simply using a rule as a guideline. An example would be the rule-based decision rule example I used before to explain heuristic processing. If the rule or thought is 'analysts are always right' then your mind might unconsciously follow that when listening to an analyst and then you would believe that he or she is right. However if the process is more conscious then you might think 'well maybe this person is wrong'. The rule wouldn't be as unconscious.

Anyone could really define 'heuristic processing' as being conscious or unconscious, controlled or automatic actually. Different people have termed the processes of the conscious mind and the processes of the unconscious mind differently - these are called 'dual process' theories. Here Moshman 3 lists all the combinations of the different types of processing as possibilities:

  • Central to S+W’s analysis is a distinction between automatic heuristic processing (characteristic of what they call System 1) and explicit rule-based processing (characteristic of what they call System 2). I believe this dichotomy confounds two orthogonal distinctions. Specifically, the distinction between automatic and explicit processing is conceptually orthogonal to the distinction between heuristic and rule-based processing. Crossing automatic versus explicit with heuristic versus rule- based suggests four possible types of processing: (a) automatic heuristic processing (System 1), (b) automatic rule-based processing (not represented in the Stanovich/West analysis), (c) explicit heuristic processing (also not represented), and (d) explicit rule-based processing (System 2).

The two types not represented probably weren't because they don't make complete sense - rule-based processing is more conscious and controlled, so saying it is automatic would be putting it in the unconscious category - which is possible, however that is not how it is defined. Explicit heuristic processing doesn't necessarily make much sense either because heuristic processing is defined as being automatic and not cognitively taxing, however explicit or controlled processes are cognitively taxing because they are more deliberate and conscious.

Conscious vs. unconscious intuitions

In the 'authors response' section of a Stanovich and West article (the same article as the previous quote (the Moshman commentary in that article) 4 the authors discuss the difference between intuitive feelings and ideas and conscious analytic analysis of people. In the article 'System 1' is more unconscious, forms intuitions, and the conscious mind then acquires these intuitions. They give the example of a statistics instructor who, though initially draws conclusions about students and infers probability about their personalities ('for whom the basic probability axioms are not transparent'), he or she eventually becomes no longer able to emphasize with them. Basically the unconscious, intuitive mind helps form our conscious understanding of people and of the probability judgments we make:

  • We agree with Kahneman that some people may make more nuanced System 1 judgments than others, and that individual differences in this capability are of some importance. This is related to Teigen’s point that when System 2 analytic abilities fail, well-framed intuitions may come to our assistance in narrowing the normative/descriptive gap, and the better those intuitions are the narrower the gap. But, following Reber (1992a; 1992b; 1993), we would conjecture that the variance in these System 1 abilities might well be considerably lower than the more recently evolved structures of System 2. Note, however, that this variability could become larger through the mechanism discussed above – instantiating of automatic System 1 algorithms through practice strategically initiated by System 2. Thus, some of the “well framed intuitions” referred to by Teigen may well be acquired intuitions – having their origins in capacity- intensive serial processing, yet now having the encapsulated, automatic characteristics of modular processes. Some statistics instructors, for example, become unable to empathize with their students for whom the basic probability axioms are not transparent. The instructor can no longer remember when these axioms were not primary intuitions.

It is obvious that the unconscious mind helps forms our conscious understanding. People have two ways of thinking about the world, one is unconscious and one is conscious. These two systems must interact all of the time and influence each other in different ways.

Ways of thinking

The algorithmic level of analysis of mind is the level that just analyzes the details of what is occurring - it doesn't reflect and ask 'why' questions. There are different types of thinking dispositions, or ways people think - these ways of analyzing how someone thinks can help determine if a person is thinking rationally or irrationally. Here is Stanovich + Stanovich (2010):

  • The difference between the algorithmic mind and the reflective mind is captured in another well- established distinction in the measurement of individual differences—the distinction between cognitive ability and thinking dispositions. The former are, as just mentioned, measures of the efficiency of the algorithmic mind. The latter travel under a variety of names in psychology—thinking dispositions or cognitive styles being the two most popular. Many thinking dispositions concern beliefs, belief structure and, importantly, attitudes toward forming and changing beliefs. Other thinking dispositions that have been identified concern a person’s goals and goal hierarchy. Examples of some thinking dispositions that have been investigated by psychologists are: actively open-minded thinking, need for cognition (the tendency to think a lot), consideration of future consequences, need for closure, superstitious thinking, and dogmatism (Cacioppo, Petty, + Feinstein 1996; Kruglanski + Webster, 1996; Norris + Ennis, 1989; Schommer- Aikins, 2004; Stanovich, 1999, 2009; Sternberg, 2003; Sternberg + Grigorenko, 1997; Strathman, Gleicher, Boninger, + Scott Edwards, 1994).
  • The literature on these types of thinking dispositions is vast and our purpose is not to review that literature here. It is only necessary to note that the types of cognitive propensities that these thinking disposition measures reflect are the tendency to collect information before making up one’s mind, to seek various points of view before coming to a conclusion, to think extensively about a problem before responding, to calibrate the degree of strength of one’s opinion to the degree of evidence available, to think about future consequences before taking action, to explicitly weigh pluses and minuses of situations before making a decision, and to seek nuance and avoid absolutism. In short, individual differences in thinking dispositions include assessing variation in people’s goal management, epistemic values, and epistemic self-regulation—differences in the operation of reflective mind. They are all psychological characteristics that underpin rational thought and action.

So there are bunch of subjective things a human's mind does that determine how it thinks. I mean in any single situation how could someone think about their entire 'goal hierarchy' or their 'belief structure'? Does that matter if the person is open-minded? How much do you need to think about the future consequences of your actions or weigh the pluses and minuses of a situation? All of these processes are very subjective and hard to measure on standard IQ tests; however they are all 'psychological characteristics that underpin rational thought and action'.