TagKarl Popper

Ignorance and the Trouble with Democracy

A few studies indicate that people do a poor job at evaluating both their own skills and the skills of others. A more recent study tries to apply the lessons of those studies to democracy:

Mato Nagel, a sociologist in Germany, recently implemented Dunning and Kruger’s theories by computer-simulating a democratic election. In his mathematical model of the election, he assumed that voters’ own leadership skills were distributed on a bell curve — some were really good leaders, some, really bad, but most were mediocre — and that each voter was incapable of recognizing the leadership skills of a political candidate as being better than his or her own. When such an election was simulated, candidates whose leadership skills were only slightly better than average always won.

Nagel concluded that democracies rarely or never elect the best leaders. Their advantage over dictatorships or other forms of government is merely that they “effectively prevent lower-than-average candidates from becoming leaders.”

Live Science: People Aren’t Smart Enough for Democracy to Flourish, Scientists Say

Nagel’s results are framed as bad news for democracy, but I don’t think these results are so bad. The writer seems assume that the function of democracy should be to determine the best leaders. But even if this were possible is that truly what democracy should do? Karl Popper said in a lecture in 1958:

The question is not ‘Who should rule? or ‘Who is to have power? but ‘How much power should be granted to the government?’ or perhaps more precisely, ‘How can we develop our political institutions in such a manner that even incompetent and dishonest rulers cannot do too much harm?’ In other words, the fundamental problem of political theory is the problem of checks and balances, of institutions by which political power, its arbitrariness and its abuse can be controlled and tamed. […]

For us there are only two types of government: those in which the governed can get rid of their rulers without bloodshed, and those in which the governed can, if at all, get rid of their rulers only by bloodshed. The first of these types of government we call democracy, the second tyranny or dictatorship.

(You can find a longer excerpt at OVO and the full lecture in the collection In Search of a Better World).

Based on this conception of democracy, we should be happy that Nagel’s study indicates that at least the least worthy of leaders will be elected out of office. In other words, people are smart enough for democracy. (Of course, it says nothing to the more central problem of democracies: corruption so deep that there is little point in voting because you’re not even choosing between the lesser of evils, but among puppets of the same evil. Modern democracy seems to have failed, badly, at minimizing the harm done by those in power, and, at least in my view, has slipped into the second type of government described by Popper.)

Making Mistakes is What Makes us Smart

Being Wrong

A long article by Kathryn Schulz, the author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (strangely, Schulz doesn’t mention Karl Popper in her book):

Sometimes we hate being wrong because of the consequences. Mistakes can cost us time and money, expose us to danger or inflict harm on others, and erode the trust extended to us by our community. Yet even when we are wrong about completely trivial matters — when we mispronounce a word, mistake our neighbor Emily for our co-worker Anne, make the dinner reservation for Tuesday instead of Thursday — we often respond with embarrassment, irritation, defensiveness, denial, and blame. Deep down, it is wrongness itself that we hate. […]

As ashamed as we may feel of our mistakes, they are not a byproduct of all that’s worst about being human. On the contrary: They’re a byproduct of all that’s best about us. We don’t get things wrong because we are uninformed and lazy and stupid and evil. We get things wrong because we get things right. The more scientists understand about cognitive functioning, the more it becomes clear that our capacity to err is utterly inextricable from what makes the human brain so swift, adaptable, and intelligent.

Boston Globe: The bright side of wrong

(via Social Physicist)

The Self as Metaprogrammer

Came across this via Kris Olsvik and Nerdshit, by Chris Arkenberg:?

The human brain is not a static computing device merely receiving and processing information acquired by its sensoria but, rather, it is a dynamic and plastic network of neural centers, each specialized to handle specific tasks, coordinated with each other through a continuously changing array of associative connections between hundreds of billions of neural cells. (Readers are encouraged to look through “The Self & It’s Brain” by Karl Popper & John Eccles for exhaustive studies of neuronal plasticity in associative networks and their implications for consciousness.) While the various regions of the brain are shared by all humans, and the functions of those regions are essentially the same in each of us, the connections between them and the intangible interface which integrates experience between our senses and our mind is absolutely unique to each individual. Genetic predisposition, early imprints, and life experiences each contribute to the ever-evolving construct of the individual. And behind it all in the secret center of our mind, resides the self, absolutely intangible but undeniably real, stringing together the momentary snapshots of the sensoria, creating our sense of time and guiding the processes of mind in accord with its will. But while many may never question the way their mind and brain color their world, others seek to elevate the self to the level of meta-programmer and actively break the bonds of belief to rewire the associative network of the brain and its mind. Many tools exist for such a task, including the archaic techniques of shamanism, the use of psychedelic compounds, and the canon of western esoterica commonly known as magick. By employing these and other methods it is possible to directly modify the physiology of the brain and reprogram the mind in accord with the ideals of the self. (Please note that this paper is not intended to present a reductionist or mechanistic view of consciousness. The visionary experiences of shamanism and the phenomenology of magick are far more profound and ineffable than if they were simply side effects of metabolism.)

continued here?

EDIT ? I just found this via the writings of LVX23, which leads me to perhaps conclude that THEY MAY BE THE SAME PEOPLE! Or not. I do not know, cuz the other articles on there have no orthodox name. And the reason I was jumping around his site is cuz I need to e-mail him, but I am without a contact method. Please shoot me a msg on how to contact you.

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