Looking back over the trail of sour bubbles, obvious themes emerge: Society, Politics, Media, The Interweb. Important topics that affect and reflect us. Topics I find filled with dire signs and portents, chill winds carrying a hint of smoke that makes my neck hairs stand up straight.
For example, Vin Scully is retiring. If that’s not a sign of the coming apocalypse, I don’t know what one is. Adding insult, my Minnesota Twins are having a bad season of truly biblical proportions.
So a strange sour silly summer…
I’ve stressed repeatedly the importance of rational thought over emotional thought. And to be clear, by “rational thought” I do not mean strictly logical thought. It is rational to be compassionate. It it rational to be moral.
A nice way to put it: The heart pushes, but the head leads.
In an emotional world people resist that message, so I was pleased to see Molly Worthen’s New York Times article, Stop Saying ‘I Feel Like’ last spring (April 30). As her title suggests, she’s talking about people who base their opinions on what they “feel” or “believe” is true:
These people don’t think, believe or reckon. They “feel like.” Listen for this phrase and you’ll hear it everywhere, inside and outside politics. This reflex to hedge every statement as a feeling or a hunch is most common among millennials. But I hear it almost as often among Generation Xers and my own colleagues in academia. As in so many things, the young are early carriers of a broad cultural contagion.
She’s right, you do hear it everywhere. It excuses knowing the facts and acts as a shield for dissent — you really can’t argue about someone’s opinion. The problem, a key social bullet point for me, is that we increasingly live in a world that legitimizes opinion as fact.
The article really hit the nail for me; there are too many great points in it to go into here. (It would be worth a separate post, except Ms Worthen already wrote the perfect one; you should read it.)
This point is worth emphasizing for suggesting the historical arc:
For decades, Americans have been in the process of abandoning both the moral strictures of religion and the Enlightenment quest for universal truth in favor of obsessing over their own internal states and well-being. In 1974, the sociologist Richard Sennett worried that “the more a person concentrates on feeling genuinely, rather on the objective content of what is felt, the more subjectivity becomes an end in itself, the less expressive he can be.”
Yes, and that ties in with a growing locality to language. Grammar rules don’t matter so long as people “know what you mean.” But local usage tends to diverge, and soon people don’t know what you mean.
In a more recent article in Time (‘Says Who?’ Thinking Is Ruining America, August 19), Sarah Miller focuses on how that primacy of opinion and feeling allows people to dismiss factual statements with the classic, “Says who?”
[Says people who know what they’re talking about, that’s says who.]
Her article was prompted by Trump campaign staffer, Michael Cohen’s eponymous response to a (factual) statement by CNN’s Brianna Keilar that his candidate was down in the polls.
It’s hardly restricted to the right. They use it against (to name one) global warming, but liberals use it against vaccines.
The implication is that scientists, or doctors, or pollsters, or most especially the media, all lie. They can’t be trusted. And, sure enough, institutions aren’t perfect and do make mistakes. (But science and physical facts tend to be self-correcting. Reality eventually always trumps.)
But it’s terrifying that we allow these imperfections to give us the right to invent reality, and to ignore that these institutions do a lot of good things. “They can’t get it right,” Americans say to ourselves. “I will do it better.”
As if. One of the sad, but often hysterical, elements of reading blogs of physicists and, especially, mathematicians is the way some people without training think they’ve got it figured out better than people who’ve made a career of the study.
It’s the Dunning-Kruger effect in action!
Speaking of the Dunning-Kruger effect, an article in the Washington Post cracked me up and illustrates the effect beautifully (This attempt to walk 45 dogs at once was an adorable, spectacular failure, Karin Brulliard, July 27).
The associated video is amusing to watch, but consider the underlying logic. A guy with some experience walking dogs thought he could outdo a record set five years ago by Joseph Orsino Jr. of Pittsburgh, a professional dog trainer with years of experience:
Orsino said he knew from a young age that he had a way with dogs. In high school, he was a champion dogsled musher. During the Vietnam War, he was an army K-9 trainer. Today, Mr. O’s Dog Training promises to educate its pupils in one day, and it also offers a special class for dogs that have been assigned roles in weddings, like ring-bearer.
Okay, then. You can see why he might be able to pull off walking 35 dogs, especially ones he knew and worked with. (And even so, it was a challenge.)
And some guy is going to pull off walking 45 strange dogs who show up on the day. That’s not hubris; that’s sheer stupidity.
But it was kinda cute to watch. See the linked article for the video.
William Poundstone, writing in New York magazine’s Science of Us, invokes the Dunning-Kruger effect directly in The Internet Isn’t Making Us Dumber — It’s Making Us More ‘Meta-Ignorant’.
Poundstone moves from the D-K effect to the ‘Google effect’ — the documented phenomenon “describing the automatic forgetting of information that can be found online” which prompted an experiment by Linda Henkel of Fairfield University:
[Henkel] performed an experiment at Fairfield University’s Bellarmine Museum of Art. Undergraduates took a docent tour in which they were directed to view specific artworks. Some were instructed to photograph the art, and others were simply told to take note of it. The next day both groups were quizzed on their knowledge of the artworks. The visitors who snapped pictures were less able to identify works and to recall visual details.
The key point, other than how living through our cell phone cameras causes us to miss out on experiencing life, is that we’re increasingly adapting to the ability to find information online by not bothering with remembering it.
Large numbers of millennials have no knowledge of basic history and — this really struck me — most “can’t name the single word uttered by the raven in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem.”
Today’s mediascape does not provide much guidance. It encourages us to create personal, solipsistic filters over information, making it unprecedentedly easy to gorge on news of favorite celebrities, TV shows, teams, political ideologies, and tech toys. This leaves less time and attention for everything else. The great risk isn’t that the internet is making us less informed or even misinformed. It’s that it may be making us meta-ignorant — less cognizant of what we don’t know.
Which really amplifies the Dunning-Kruger effect!
Needless to say, this all gives me such a sour feeling in my heart.
Damn, people. Be better!