Social Psychologists’ Attack on Intuition and Expertise


…Iain McGilchrist points out that psychologists love to find ways of tricking and defeating our intuitions in an effort to prove them unreliable. Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow comes under criticism for doing this. Thinking fast for Kahneman, a social psychologist, denotes intuition, and the slow part, rational analysis. Because intuitive insight is so fast it can seem that it involves prejudice; some kind of illegitimate hack, but this is not the case. Schizophrenics can lose their theory of mind (ability to estimate the emotions and thoughts of others) and must instead attempt a conscious analysis, with typically poor results. This “thinking slow” does not work well at all and is distinctly inferior to intuition. One personal example is the ability to tell whether an actor is really playing the violin or not. It is possible tell with near certainty within two seconds. A negative judgment, in particular, is basically infallible. …Someone with the ability cannot explain how he does what he does. In fact, this is the case with all expertise. A doctor who is an expert diagnostician is relying on years of experience, similar cases, and things that make this case distinctive. This cannot be summed up in words. An expert radiologist relies primarily on a Gestalt impression of the x-ray and the non-verbal right hemisphere deals with Gestalts. One very expert doctor, who McGilchrist describes, would make his hospital rounds daily, apparently socializing, chatting with his patients. What he was actually doing was looking for any tell-tale changes in the faces of his patients as to whether they were improving or getting worse. Using this method, he could identify problems two to three days before the more junior doctors helping him. He would not be able to verbalize this skill either. A sensitive philosopher knows that “if God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him.” This is intuitively obvious as a matter of basic philosophical insight…

McGilchrist quotes approvingly Why Do Humans Reason?[1] by Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber. The authors point out that reasoning is seen as improving knowledge and making better decisions, but that actually, its main function is argumentative. Arguments are necessary when people are unwilling to take what is said on trust…

[1] The link will take you to a Google search page where the PDF can be downloaded.

This is an excerpt that does not start at the beginning. Please click link for the full article. Comments can be left here at the Orthosphere.

Social Psychologists’ Attack on Intuition and Expertise

18 thoughts on “Social Psychologists’ Attack on Intuition and Expertise

  1. As to why Daniel Kahneman of all people, not to mention the leading lights and gatekeepers of Social Science (it is to laugh) want us to distrust our intuitions… Well that is left as an exercise for the Very Bad Reader. You might call him Hannibal Lector.

    My stock example of the inversion of base-level reality human intuition is the song ‘You Have to be Carefully Taught’ from South Pacific. Yes, indeed you do. [Edited – Sorry, Richard Cocks is my real name.]

    • Thanks for reading, Zaphod. I guess it’s a version of ‘don’t trust your lying eyes, because, hey man, you are sometimes mistaken.’ By removing intuition and the mistakes, you can be nothing BUT mistaken.

  2. To paraphrase GK Chesterton and hoping the field is merely insane, “The madman is the man who has abandoned his intuition and replaced it with social psychology.” 🙂

  3. This was an interesting article.

    To paraphrase Euclid, “there is no royal road to expertise”. In order to judge whether someone is actually an expert, it requires at least some degree of knowledge and understanding and that takes time to acquire. Otherwise, you need a trustworthy person or group of people who themselves have knowledge and understanding. But likewise, it takes time to know that someone is trustworthy.

    And this means that it may be quite difficult to determine if a purported expert really is an expert. And even then, different experts will differ in their particular strengths and weaknesses as well as in their expertise as a whole. And all of these things will often not be obvious to the novice.

    There may also be areas where there are very few true experts. Or domains that are just difficult and there is a low level of success across the board, even though some people may be substantially better than others. For all these reasons, it makes sense that people will be skeptical of the reliability of intuition and expertise, even though such skepticism is misplaced

    • Yes. Nassim Taleb has a list of things you can be expert in and things you cannot. Psychology? No experts. Sheep assessment? Experts.

      • Is much of what is regarded as expertise somewhat dependent on it’s object being quantitative, as opposed to qualitative?

      • Yes. I think that is a key part of it. Another factor is that for Taleb, the cultural, social, and economic realms are “Extremistan” – where massive changes can happen in a single stroke, e.g., The French Revolution, a Black Swan event that can’t be anticipated, whereas losing or gaining weight is “Mediocristan.” You can only gain or lose a few pounds at a time with slow cumulative results. There are no social, cultural, or economic experts. If we ask, for instance, why the Silicon Valley Bank failed you get as many answers as there are pundits.

      • Psychology is an interesting example.

        Modern psychology inherited the mind/body dualism of Descartes and adopted the concept of “internal mental states and processes.” Once we start thinking of inner and outer as two distinctive, parallel realms, we are tempted to think that the kinds of understanding we have about the outer (physical) world should apply similarly to our inner lives. There must be inner states and processes about which we can have knowledge (or fail to have knowledge), and this knowledge must be based on some sort of data, and so on.

        The scientific method of observation and experiment works very well for the “outer,” material world precisely because it allows observation, controlled manipulation, modelling in space and time, and public verification and the rest of it. “Mind” does not; it is a reified abstraction and has no material, and, therefore, no objective properties. Beginning in the second half of the 19th century, psychologists tried to cash in on the growing prestige of Science by propounding theories of the “mind” superficially similar to those of the physical sciences.

        People do and feel certain things, knowing, learning, discovering, imagining, pretending, hoping, wanting, feeling depressed, feeling a pain, resolving, doing voluntarily, doing deliberately, perceiving, remembering and so on. Because these activities have some similarities, we bundle these very different activities together and label them “mental.” Then we postulate that they are all the product of a single faculty (which we cannot begin to imagine) and round it off by treating “Mind” (with a capital M) as a substance or entity, in Aristotle’s sense of substance (what exists without either being predicated of or existing in anything else)

  4. Thomas Reid had a curious theory of non-inferential knowledge.

    A man’s wisdom is known to us only by the signs of it in his conduct; his eloquence by the signs of it in his speech. In the same manner we judge of his virtue, of his fortitude, and of all his talents and qualities of mind. Yet it is to be observed, that we judge of men’s talents with as little doubt or hesitation as we judge of the immediate objects of sense… We perceive one man to be open, another cunning; one to be ignorant, another very knowing; one to be slow of understanding, another quick. Every man forms such judgments of those he converses with; the common affairs of life depend upon such judgments. We can as little avoid them as we can avoid seeing what is before our eyes. From this it appears, that it is no less part of the human constitution, to judge of men’s characters, and of their intellectual powers, from the signs of them in their actions and discourse, than to judge of corporeal objects by our senses.” (EIP VI)

    Had he not accepted the prevailing distinction of the inner/outer world, Reid could have greatly simplified this. I would say that we do not see “signs” of wisdom, eloquence and virtue; rather, we see wisdom, eloquence and virtue in action.

    • “Signs” of eloquence in particular seems like an unnecessary step.

      I don’t think I mind an inner/outer distinction in general but not along the lines of res cogitans and res extensa. We can, for instance, experiment with different plans of action in our heads without having to actually act them all out.

      Do you know who Reid’s favorite philosophers were? I’m just wondering about his influences.

      • Reid was in the British Empiricist tradition (Locke, Berkeley) and also Francis Hutchison. As a leading figure in the Scottish Enlightenment, he crossed swords with Hume.

      • Reid seems remarkably dissimilar to the other empiricists and pretty much the antithesis of Locke whose metaphysics I can’t stand.

      • Reid took on board Berkeley’s criticism of Locke’s epistemology (that Locke duplicated the world, the outer world and its image or reflection in consciousness) whilst rejecting his solution.

        His appeal to common sense principles is empirical: they possess “the consent of ages and nations, of the learned and unlearned, [which] ought to have great authority with regard to first principles, where every man is a competent judge.”

        This led him to analyse the structure of language, in which these principles are embedded. He would have agreed with Wittgenstein that “It is what human beings say that is true and false; and they agree in the language they use. That is not agreement in opinions but in form of life. If language is to be a means of communication there must be agreement not only in definitions but also (queer as this may sound) in judgments.” (PI 241-242). So reid calls attention to the fact that all languages” have a passive and active voice. All languages distinguish between qualities of things and the things themselves (EIP 6.4, 466).

      • Yes. No to duplication. I like empiricism as in “knowledge comes from experience” so long as “experience” includes ordinary experience, religious experience, and experience of reading novels, watching movies and plays.

      • Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense – A splendid title!


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