Arnold Kling  

Ambiguity and Disagreement

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Caleb Crain writes,

It can be amusing to read a magazine whose principles you despise, but it is almost unbearable to watch such a television show. And so, in a culture of secondary orality, we may be less likely to spend time with ideas we disagree with.

Self-doubt, therefore, becomes less likely. In fact, doubt of any kind is rarer. It is easy to notice inconsistencies in two written accounts placed side by side. With text, it is even easy to keep track of differing levels of authority behind different pieces of information. The trust that a reader grants to the New York Times, for example, may vary sentence by sentence. A comparison of two video reports, on the other hand, is cumbersome. Forced to choose between conflicting stories on television, the viewer falls back on hunches, or on what he believed before he started watching. Like the peasants studied by Luria, he thinks in terms of situations and story lines rather than abstractions.

That's why I am not a big fan of the broadband Internet. Back when the information was mostly text, we may have been better off. In a Youtube world, people may find it hard to process information that challenges them. Of course, the guy who thinks we are headed toward islands of extremism is Cass Sunstein. The talk, which I have not heard, probably will be up at the link in a few days. On the other hand, you might be better off reading his book...

Meanwhile, reviewing Philip Tetlocks' work on expert judgment, Sebastian Benthall writes ($),

the most significant indicator is the "cognitive style" of the expert's thinking. Tetlock illustrates this psychological dimension with Isaiah Berlin's (1953) metaphor of foxes and hedgehogs. Hedgehogs know one thing well: they back their understanding of the world into a single unifying theory, confidently deriving conclusions from it deductively...Foxes, on the other hand, know many things. But this internal pluralism leads them to hold many contradictory ideas at once. They lack confidence, being proficient at undercutting their own opinions; they expect that they are missing the real complexity of the situation.

Doesn't the description of foxes remind you of Tyler Cowen?

The same issue of Critical Review also finds Bryan Caplan asking, "Have the experts been weighed, measured, and found wanting?" He says that Tetlock deliberately chose questions that favor hedgehogs. That is, instead of asking about certain truths, Tetlock asked about things that are difficult to verify or to forecast.

On Global Warming, I feel much more fox than hedgehog. The hedgehogs know one thing--human emissions of CO2. I worry that the real complexity of the situation is beyond our understanding. And, by the way, going back to Crain, I found it much easier to read The Inconvenient Truth as a book than to watch it as a movie.

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (4 to date)
BGC writes:

It seems like an acute observation - and an amplification of the same 'orality' phenomenon is (I believe) why real-time real-person lectures should still be a mainstay of teaching.

On the topic of whether this will lead to greater extremism - I very very much doubt it - just look at the long term trends...

As the media expands (ever more rapidly) are societies becoming more - or less - riven by civil conflict?

Ar the societies most riven by civil conflict those with the most broadband media, or the least?

Are the individual people who are most likely to engage in agression and violence those who most use the broadband media, or the least?

We need to recognize that the media is an autonomous realm - and specific content is much less important than the form and volume of the medium (as I think a certain Marshall McLuhan noticed fortysomething years ago).

8 writes:

This seems relevant:
Why is it that the audience for modern art is quite happy to take in the ideological message of modernism while strolling through an art gallery, but loath to hear the same message in the concert hall? It is rather like communism, which once was fashionable among Western intellectuals. They were happy to admire communism from a distance, but reluctant to live under communism.

When you view an abstract expressionist canvas, time is in your control. You may spend as much or as little time as you like, click your tongue, attempt to say something sensible and, if you are sufficiently pretentious, quote something from the Wikipedia write-up on the artist that you consulted before arriving at the gallery. When you listen to atonal music, for example Schoenberg, you are stuck in your seat for a quarter of an hour that feels like many hours in a dentist's chair. You cannot escape. You do not admire the abstraction from a distance. You are actually living inside it. You are in the position of the fashionably left-wing intellectual of the 1930s who made the mistake of actually moving to Moscow, rather than admiring it at a safe distance.


Ben Kalafut writes:

Were you to dive into the scientific literature, or even to spend a bit more time with physical scientists, you'd find that the "fox" descriptor fits a good deal better than that of "hedgehogs." The last century has seen much wrangling over matters ranging from the nature of a greenhouse forcing (a two-layer model just doesn't work) to whether or not CO2 can be a major greenhouse gas under atmospheric conditions (in 1900 the answer was a tentative "no" due to lack of pressure broadening) to the very difficult question of climate modeling. On a matter this complicated (I hesitate to use the term "complex" as that has some specific scientific meanings...) self-doubt and professional doubt abounds: the emergence of a convincing case is truly something remarkable.

Perhaps you feel that *essential* complexity is being missed due to a personal lack of understanding of the science or the scientific process? Since you're just discovering washed-up (and perhaps largely mal fide) arguments such as the "CO2 doesn't lead, it lags" bit, one must conclude you're only beginning to grasp what this "warming thing" is all about.

Tom writes:

"Since you're just discovering washed-up (and perhaps largely mal fide) arguments such as the "CO2 doesn't lead, it lags" bit, one must conclude you're only beginning to grasp what this "warming thing" is all about."

I don't see the 'lead / lag' argument mal fide or washed up. Seems this is like the 'consensus'. Lets call it case-closed before we can investigate it. Any questioning is greeted with a questioning of your motives. Very scientific.

There are plenty of physical scientist who do not share your views, or have varying degrees of your view. There may be warming, or not. It may be anthropological, or not. Most I seem to talk to seem to believe the warming is true, but it is all natural. The level of deceit in the AGW camp seems to confirm this for me, but I am open for more information when it is produced.

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