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Reason Seen More As a Weapon Than a Path To Truth

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the welcome-to-the-internet dept.

News 289

mdsolar writes with this excerpt from the NY Times: "For centuries thinkers have assumed that the uniquely human capacity for reasoning has existed to let people reach beyond mere perception and reflex in the search for truth. Rationality allowed a solitary thinker to blaze a path to philosophical, moral and scientific enlightenment. Now some researchers are suggesting that reason evolved for a completely different purpose: to win arguments. Rationality, by this yardstick (and irrationality too, but we'll get to that) is nothing more or less than a servant of the hard-wired compulsion to triumph in the debating arena."

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Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36448470)

It works for some chamber maid, why not you !!

Re:SEX AS A WEAPON !! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36448720)

The issue is how much to tip a chamber maid.... That's the real issue. Do you even tip at all?

Re:SEX AS A WEAPON !! (2, Funny)

gomiam (587421) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448878)

You tip her until she falls on her back. Isn't that part of the usual procedure?

Disclaimer: tipping her until she stumbles into a wall can be a substitute.

Disclaimer 2: no unwanted violence in this actions should be implied.


black soap (2201626) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449456)

I give tip, and then some.

All human male activity boils down to competitiveness for apparent sexual advantage. Even apparent as opposed to actual advantage.

Re:SEX AS A WEAPON !! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36448942)

You really do know how to strut that stuff / (strut that stuff)
You really do know how to act tough / (act tough)
Your body's just like a centerfold
A fantasy / (a fantasy) anyone would want to hold

Stop using sex as a weapon
Stop using sex as a weapon
You know you're already my obsession
Stop / (stop) using sex as a weapon
Love is more than a one way reflection
Stop / (stop) using sex as a weapon

With looks that kill and a mind that's twisted (twisted)
I don't know why I can't resist it (resist it)
I tell myself look the other way (other way)
When you want me to (when you want me to)
I - I always staaaaay

You play with desire like it was a toy / (toy)
How much affection can you destroooooi?
You wrap my heart around your little finger

Stop using sex as a weapon
Stop using sex (oooo)

Slashdot modding (0)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448484)

Interesting, insightful and informative moderation tags may help in avoiding the worst of the caveman-type reasoning battles on slashdot.

Re:Slashdot modding (1)

Defenestrar (1773808) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448610)

No they don't. Oh and if you don't agree with me I'll call Teddy R. back to quietly walk up behind you and hit you with something ;)




Of course I'm a fan of the somewhat less predictable "funny" tag for busting up a flame war and getting a discussion back on track

Re:Slashdot modding (3, Insightful)

MRe_nl (306212) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448866)

How unreasonable of you.

Back to the subject, from the article
"Groups are more likely than individuals to come up with better results, they say, because they will be exposed to the best arguments".
I don't think that it is a given at all.
In fact this common over-simplification is at the root of some of our basic problems. The composition of the group, the size, the amount and quality of the arguments discussed, to name but a few of the more obvious factors, are all to be considered in this equation.

Re:Slashdot modding (-1, Offtopic)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448956)

>>>I'm a fan of the somewhat less predictable "funny" tag for busting up a flame war

I think /. would be better with no point system at all. Same for web forums in general. I like the way BBS forums used to be, and still exist today on Usenet and Fidonet, where a post was simply a post with no additional tags or points attached to it.

Re:Slashdot modding (3, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449344)

Well, there we have it. The trolls don't like moderation, so we should get rid of it. Maybe eventually it will occur to you that the reason that you don't like moderation, and the reason you need to keep creating new accounts to get around the bad karma that you collect, is that you keep trolling.

Re:Slashdot modding (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36449608)

Zing! You're gonna make commodore64_love cry if you keep being so mean... :)

Re:Slashdot modding (1)

Threni (635302) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448672)

To be honest, this sort of discussion doesn't really sit very well on this site, but if it's instead of another 'article' about Bitcoin then I guess it won't hurt.

Re:Slashdot modding (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448990)

As a meta discussion it might. I tried to get a complement to the crowd in at the beginning, a common rhetorical tradition. Let's see where that goes.

Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason.

The internet (2)

CurryCamel (2265886) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448514)

So now that we have the internet and the evolutionary push for reasoning and rationality is gone - what do you think will happen?

Re:The internet (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36448532)


reason... (1)

johnsnails (1715452) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448528)

God made our mind for reason!

Reason is not a weapon? (1)

ThunderBird89 (1293256) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448554)

I dare you to tell Hiro that Reason [] is not a weapon... :)

Re:Reason is not a weapon? (1)

simoncpu was here (1601629) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448882)

No need for fiction. Just ask our friendly lawyers. :)

really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36448564)

And here I figured reasoning ability would give you a survival advantage. Otherwise some idiot "wins" an argument with faulty reasoning and kills the whole tribe. Then again that seems to be happening on a larger scale with our entire species so maybe the idiots killed off everyone else long ago for arguing too much.

Re:really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36448984)

you just made the perfect argument against "one big happy family" while tribalism at it's worst, is horrific. centralization at it's worst, is death to nearly everyone.

This seems to be a great over-simplification. (4, Insightful)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448594)

Certainly one of the evolutionary benefits of reasoning could be to win debates. On the other hand problem solving certainly plays part. I can picture a cave-man saying "remember when we hunted those mammoths near the cliffs and one fell down. It was an easy kill, and nobody got hurt. Lets drive the mammoths towards the cliff again"! As the article says, the "winning debate" comes to the fore more in larger groups - and people started off in small hunter-gatherer tribes. Also there are two types of debate - the academic debate where people knowledgable in the field evaluate arguments and the sort of debate that two politicians have on TV. In the first case reason is very important. In the second case dissembling - not answering questions - and implying things that they know are wrong are more important. A slick presentation of a lie would easily convince most of the viewing population over a rigorous, boring argument for the truth.

Rhetoric vrs Reason (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448728)

This is kind a classic distinction, rhetoric is the art of persuasion by charm and other means while reason is supposed to have truth standards. But it becomes a little circular when one needs reason to figure out how many repetitions of a phrase in a speech will win over the crowd.

Re:This seems to be a great over-simplification. (5, Insightful)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449114)

Also there are two types of debate - the academic debate where people knowledgable in the field evaluate arguments and the sort of debate that two politicians have on TV.

Philosophy and rhetoric, as the Greeks would have argued. There's rational discourse appealing to facts and sound logic, and irrational discourse appealing to emotions and logic, sound and otherwise. An amazing example of this is the recent John Stewart appearance on the O'Reilly Factor (really, it happened and the universe did not explode). O'Reilly blusters, argues, pontificates loudly, professes outrage, sets up straw men; Stewart calmly cites precedents and takes apart O'Reily's arguments piece by piece. It's hard to really say who won, they're playing such different games. Rhetorically O'Reilly is sort of like a Canadian brutally clubbing a helpless baby harp seal, but logically Stewart is like King Arthur, taking apart the Black Knight piece by piece.

As for these social scientists, I don't know if I buy their explanation for why rationality evolved but I would agree with these guys about one thing: humans aren't evolved to assess problems rationally. The stuff they teach us in school about the Scientific Method, how we gather evidence, formulate hypotheses and then test them... it's bullshit. The process works; it's amazingly powerful. But in practice that's the opposite of how humans typically arrive at the answer. Humans start with an answer they've arrived at through some quasi-rational means and then collect facts and generate rational arguments to support the answer they've already decided on. Even scientists, most of them, don't really think according to the scientific method, most of the time. I mean, these social scientists, did they actually conduct any science; did they actually test an hypothesis? From the Times article doesn't sound like these "scientists" made any testable predictions or gathered any data, they just started with a thesis ("human rationality evolved to win arguments") and then marshalled evidence and arguments in favor of it. They're debating, not discovering. If that's not an argument against rationality, I don't know what is.

Re:This seems to be a great over-simplification. (1)

staticneuron (975073) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449374)

Exactly. I am reading this article and thinking this doesn't explain deductive reasoning, which in fact, a person can do that on their own and not need to debate or talk to another person about. Reasoning has existed to let people reach beyond mere perception and reflex in the search for truth. It is reasoning that allows us to recognize and deduce correctly at times patterns in all sorts of creatures, objects and phenomena. I am not sure why they are trying to pigeonhole reasoning as a product of human interaction when chances are it started from our need to hunt and protect ourselves.

Obligatory.. (3)

Camelot (17116) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448596)

Rationality ... is nothing more or less than a servant

No, it isn't.

Re:Obligatory.. (1)

EdgeCreeper (1618161) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448690)

Yes it is!

Re:Obligatory.. (1)

Velex (120469) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448776)

No, it isn't!

Re:Obligatory.. (3, Funny)

nitehawk214 (222219) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448824)

Oh look, this isn't an argument.

Re:Obligatory.. (4, Funny)

turing_m (1030530) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448976)

Yes it is.

Re:Obligatory.. (1)

Pope (17780) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449460)

Stupid git.

Re:Obligatory.. (1)

RevWaldo (1186281) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449612)

I'm sorry, but I'm not allowed to argue anymore. If you want me to go on arguing, you'll have to pay for another five minutes.


So now they attack reason... (0)

EasyTarget (43516) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448646)

It figures; the media wonks want to attack the practice of 'reason' since it interferes with their manipulations.

Well; they can shove their tiny little minds and mouths up their copious arseholes...Reason is a tool that us clever people use to counter Idiots; especially the vocal paid-for astroturfing idiots who pop up everywhere doing what they are paid to do; destroy debate critical of their paymasters.

So; having given this article some reasoned consideration; I say 'screw all you media types; just because you are mentally incapable of using reason to make good decisions you will not stop me doing so. And the most satisfying reasoned action we will take is to tell you to fuck off... repeatedly."

Re:So now they attack reason... (4, Insightful)

VendingMenace (613279) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448778)

So now "The Journal of Behavioral and Brain Sciences" qualifies as "the media"?

I think the rant that you just went through is a good demonstration that you may not have the reasoning skills that you think you do. Perhaps, instead of an uniformed knee-jerk reaction, you could actually think about what is being said and (more to the point for your argument) who is saying it.

It seems to me that the article is reporting on a series of papers from cognitive and social scientists who are asking some questions concerning the evolution of consciousness and rationality. Interesting questions, at that.

Moreover, either you didn't actually read the article, OR you have terrible reading comprehension. One of the points in the article is that reasoning evolved as a way to "help us convince others and to be careful when others try to convince us." Thus, they are saying that reasoning is a useful tool.

In short, the article states that reasoning is a good tool and is important. However, they are wondering why it came into existence. An interesting question. I would suggest you read and reason through the article next time, rather than post something that demonstrates that you have done neither.

Re:So now they attack reason... (1)

EasyTarget (43516) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449120)

I did understand the article and the fact that it is a social science analysis.. That was not what I was commenting on (oh shock-horror, I was attacking the messenger; not the message).

This is being promoted by those who are good at 'one sided argument' to say that reason is somehow invalid as a form of argument. This is due to them lacking intelligence (reason) and only having weasel cunning and control of the media to fall back on.

ie: the article might well be right; but it will be used by the media muppets to argue that we have to take them seriously; no matter how unreasoned their stance is.

Re:So now they attack reason... (2)

Seumas (6865) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449134)

However, the extrapolation one can and likely will make to serve their greater purpose is that we created guns as a way to help us defend ourselves as well as attack others. A weapon that serves a purpose, but has to be controlled, limited, regulated. Like rational thinking. Rational thinking is the enemy of government, religion, media, and advertising. We already see society treating people who appreciate rationality and critical thinking, to a degree, the way society treats "gun nuts". A certain discomfort, uneasiness, and disdain.

Re:So now they attack reason... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36448808)

Way to prove their point.

Re:So now they attack reason... (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448880)

Well; they can shove their tiny little minds and mouths up their copious arseholes...

See? Just like the article was talking about!

Re:So now they attack reason... (2)

Seumas (6865) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449072)

This is all leading to the eventual inclusion of "rationality" as a diagnosable disorder in the DSM. We'll have to diagnose it and treat it with drugs, because being rational and thinking critically and having the capacity to think and see the world in abstracts rather than a narrow and often blissfully naive limited scope that makes the success of your local professional sports team the most pressing concern in your life makes you generally less happy than someone who just worries about sticking their dick in something occasionally and having a six pack while watching Dane Cooke give you the superfinger.

Re:So now they attack reason... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36449362)

Actually it makes total sense. Ever talked with a religious fanatic that defies all logic and reason? The ultimate failure in belief is to fall back to God, Bible, Quran, etc and say, "its all written there in the words of God!" That ultimately ends up being the "reason" for these types to cling on to their belief, grounded solidly on the footing of "reason"

This is stupid and I can prove it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36448668)

In my introduction to logic class, I remember that one of the first things the professor said was that the course should be retitled 'How to lose friends and win arguments.'

People who can't resist argument are prey (1)

mykos (1627575) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448678)

I expected a link to The Onion. Truth is stranger than fic^H^H^H satire.

You know, I wonder if this is also driving internet trolling, since trolls can vacate a logical "win" at will. Trolls can additionally create false arenas in which people can rack up meaningless "wins".

Perhaps trolling is just the system balancing itself. There is an overabundance of people who cannot resist the urge to correct another person, which creates a natural predator-prey relationship for trolls.

Re:People who can't resist argument are prey (1)

rufty_tufty (888596) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448964)

Really? Why is this so strange? This reasoning is an idea I've been playing with for a while that man's large brain evolved not to use tools, but to attract the opposite sex. Larger brains meant you could please the opposite sex better in bed and flirting as part of courtship and seduction were all things that were encouraged by a group of beach/river apes that liked to live in caves where tight communities would have been inevitable. Prowess at sex would surely be a great evolutionary driver once you have basic survival down pat. Looking at how a gorilla or other ape society works yes there are alpha males but the females all show attraction to the other males who have time for them, a brain that means that there are other ways to have conflict and triumph over other is kind of seen in those ape societies.

Athough that does mean that humans are only the geeks of the animal kingdom by chance; which i think is a shame really, I kind of liked that idea i got from here: []
That it is being geeks that makes us human.

This is unfortunate (4, Insightful)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448684)

Researchers are blinded by their above average intelligence into thinking that other people respond to "reason".

Arguments are won by the person(s) with the loudest voices, and failing that - the biggest sticks. This is called "politics", but it also travels under other guises like "religion", "nationalism", "sports fanaticism", etc. If you want evidence you merely have to look at human history, or even current events in Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, etc. A lot of "reasoning" is going on there.

If you want a good insight into how the human brain works and responds to arguments, I suggest reading the first few chapters of Mein Kampf. No, not all the stupid babble about the superior German race and the Jew Hate, but the first few chapters take a powerful, honest and insightful exploration as to what we humans really are and how we "reason".

Re:This is unfortunate (4, Insightful)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448864)

Researchers are blinded by their above average intelligence into thinking that other people respond to "reason".

Methinks thou hast missed the point.

The article is going against the idea that "human reason" is an imperfect realisation of pure logic, but that human reason is flawed by nature. When people are conned into buying things they don't need, it's not lack of reason, it's use of reason.

I once heard Richard Dawkins decrying alternative medicine. Most alternative medicine is out-and-out quackery, and I would be happy to see an end to it. But Dawkins claimed that people were turning to it do to a lack of critical reasoning (and he incidentally blamed this on organised religion). However, most supporters of alternative therapies do indeed follow a path of reasoning. This path of reasoning includes some valid data (including failure rates of surgical and pharmacological medicine), some invalid data (unreviewed, unproven figures for the success rates of alternative therapies) and a big dose of conspiracy theory ("big pharma is trying to ban the use of splogweed in the treatment of ungweldbiterbal cancer because they can't profit from it" etc), and they reach a conclusion that follows from the premises.

People do respond to reason, but as the article points out, not in an entirely expected way....

Re:This is unfortunate (1)

Seumas (6865) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449218)

That's a poor assertion, though. When people are conned into buying things they don't need, it's their lack of reason. It's like saying that if you outsmart me, it's the use of intelligence that is to blame rather than my lack of intelligence. Reason is application of a process of logic. Reason isn't to blame for one's poor "process of logic" any more than "math" is to blame for someone's sucking at math.

Re:This is unfortunate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36449678)

People do respond to reason, but as the article points out, not in an entirely expected way....

Not if you define reason as logic applied to true premises. The example you put forth have people applying logic to questionable premises, which I wouldn't call using reason any more than Erasmus Montanus calling his mother a stone because she reside on the earth (like a stone does) is reason.

This is a matter of misapplication of the term "reason", nothing else.

Re:This is unfortunate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36448912)

Eh? If anything, I'd say that YOU are the one blinded by your (imagined) above-average intelligence. You've got your preconceived notions, and you exhibit a reflexive reaction because someone said something that threatens those notions. And you get modded up for it to boot, the first comment to reach +3 and even +4 on this story.

I'd say that's pretty interesting (and telling) itself.

Re:This is unfortunate (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448992)

I'd say that's pretty interesting (and telling) itself.

Yes, if anything it proves my point. Powerful arguments have absolutely no basis in "reason". If we say that history was written by people who make powerful arguments, and reason has nothing to do with powerful arguments, then there is no evolutionary selection for "reason" at all, which flies into the face if this research.

As for my intelligence, well I took a supervised Mensa test and scored 160, I have a doctorate and a few other degrees, and am highly skilled in several fields. Not quite the Sheldon Cooper but getting there. Of course none of this can be proven over the internet, but it's not like I give a shit anyway. I could just be trolling for fun.

Re:This is unfortunate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36449040)

Mod parent up +5 Funny - I know it's a troll but it's a good one.

Re:This is unfortunate (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449042)

Researchers are blinded by their above average intelligence into thinking that other people respond to "reason".

If you fully believed that, you wouldn't have gone through the effort of making a rational argument for in your posting.

Re:This is unfortunate (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449372)

Oh I gave up on the internet for intellectual stimulation a long time ago. Now I just do it for myself - I guess it could be considered a kind of journalling so that I can keep a grip on my own sanity. There are many other smart people out there, but they are usually drowned out by the rest of the bell curve. I figure I've made my contribution to science and humanity in my published work, the rest is trolling for my own personal fun.

Re:This is unfortunate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36449058)

Unfortunate? I think you mean "ironic."

I don't know if you noticed, but your post is a perfect instance of what the researchers are positing. As is mine.

Re:This is unfortunate (1)

scamper_22 (1073470) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449568)

Researchers are blinded by their above average intelligence into thinking they respond to reason.

Researchers and academics are just as much victims of our need to win arguments and ideology instead of using reason to seek truth as anyone else.

Of course you need to trump up one profession as being the true truth seekers who have reason while most people are dimwitted fools is the ultimate non-truth seeking argument.

To quote Marcel Pagnol... (3, Interesting)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448700)

"Such is the weakness of our reason; most often it serves only to justify our own beliefs." [from La Gloire de mon Père, my translation]

Having read that from Pagnol (and it's now my favourite quote), I'm not surprised that it was a French team who came up with this theory -- Pagnol was one of the most important figures in French literature of his era.

Pagnol's original context is no less relevant today than it was at the time: he was referring to how the local teacher and the local priest where he grew up were both very well educated, very intelligent people, yet their conclusions were almost diametrically opposed. I think the parallel to modern life is clear....


Re:To quote Marcel Pagnol... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36449140)

Another aspect is of the relationship between reason and value. I think David Hume said something to the effect of reason often does not subordinate our passions, but serves as a slave to our passions. Later Wittgenstein would posit that there cannot be any value in the world, because if there were, that would be a fact about the world, and that fact, in turn, would have no value (paraphrase possibly very close to a direct quote).

Re:To quote Friedrich Nietzsche (1)

NikolaiKutuzov (1226122) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449428)

As a German, I must insist that Pagnol must have read Nietzsche to have this idea :)

Since I'm at work, I dont have the appropriate quote, but Nietzsche extensively examined how reason is searving the desires (and the "will to power" in particular, of course).

Then, I am pretty sure it will be possible to find some prearistotelian thinker who came up with the same idea. Its not really a surprise.

Duh. (1)

inasity_rules (1110095) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448710)

Well, actually, this is kind of obvious. When you realise that all our petty little philosophical differences arise from the fact that we start with different assumptions which we have little or no proof for, you generally come to the conclusion that "reason" is just a tool for us to beat each other over the head with and ignore the fundamental issues in favour of a feeling of elitist superiority.

But to realise this and agree to disagree is contrary to our evolutionary programming... So, let the games begin:

[troll] (Not 'fundamentalist')Religion is equally valid with atheism/naturalism because the only difference it has with (strong)atheism/naturalism lies in its fundamental assumptions. Both rely on unproven or unprovable assumptions. [/troll] :D

Re:Duh. (4, Interesting)

Archtech (159117) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449044)

Precisely. But the fact that the ability to reason *evolved* as a way of winning arguments does not mean we cannot use it for more socially useful purposes today. Actually, I would interpret the evolutionary mechanism as being a lot broader than just winning arguments (although technically that is a sufficient description). For instance, winning an argument over whether X will mate with Y rather than Z. Winning an argument over who should be the leader. Or just winning the ongoing popularity contest to be seen as an interesting, attractive person for whom others would like to do favours.

Alexander Pope summed it up accurately, concisely and poetically in his "Essay on Man", nearly 300 years ago (the 'card' being the compass that shows direction at sea):

"On life’s vast ocean diversely we sail,
Reason the card, but passion is the gale".

We can use logic to reach reliable conclusions only when we agree on the premises and the conditions of argument. In everyday life - which includes business - different people argue from different premises, seeking to persuade other people of the validity of their own conclusions instead of listening to the other people's arguments, which may be just as important if not more so. That's largely because life in our society rewards the selfish individualist far, far more than the unselfish team player. (Although selfish individualists often successfully disguise themselves as unselfish team players).

That's why geeks, nerds, and suchlike types (a) tend to invent useful stuff and get practical things done reliably; (b) are despised and abused by non-geeks. The geek prefers to use language and logic to accomplish concrete tasks, in cooperation with others of like mind (even if only through the media of books, the Internet, etc.) Whereas non-geeks can only use language in the way they instinctively do: to try and get their own way. They are astonished that geeks are so unselfish, but don't (on the whole) admire them for that.

Re:Duh. (1)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449246)

Religion is equally valid with atheism/naturalism because the only difference it has with (strong)atheism/naturalism lies in its fundamental assumptions. Both rely on unproven or unprovable assumptions.

How is that a troll? I think any reasonable person can agree that gnostic atheism is indefensible.

Re:Duh. (1)

inasity_rules (1110095) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449342)

You're right, actually. Clearly I'm not very good at trolling.... Thus ends my brief sojourn into the art. Probably better this way anyhow.

I have to go along with this theory (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448736)

There is nothing divine about humanity. We came from animals and maintain our animal nature in everything we do. There is no reason it should exclude "reasoning." And we have known for quite some time that belief trumps fact. []

It shows in nearly everything we do. In fact, "reasoning" has been used to support disinformation, misinformation, lies and misunderstanding for as far back as humans go. Religion and religious organizations are a wonderful example of this. Even the practice of saying "bless you" after a sneeze evolved from the reasoning that sneezes are the body's rejection of bad spirits and to say "bless you" would invoke a barrier that prevents those bad spirits from re-entering the body.

We like to think in terms of ideals even now. The people who want to reject the idea are clinging to their ideals without acknowledging our truest natures.

I had not considered this idea before I read the article. But it really does fit with everything else I know of human nature and behavior -- certainly fits better than the idea that we are of divine origin and everything we do is because we are "special and unique" in some way. Everything we learn about ourselves eventually proves we are not quite so unique or special... we are just dominant, adaptable and successful.

Re:I have to go along with this theory (1)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449338)

We came from animals and maintain our animal nature in everything we do. There is no reason it should exclude "reasoning." And we have known for quite some time that belief trumps fact. []

But animals don't have beliefs in the first place. Behavior that we recognize as primitive can be still specific to humans, just developed early enough in human history.

Re:I have to go along with this theory (1)

Pope (17780) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449544)

That's why I say "gesundheit" after sneezes, since it generally translates as "to your health," and is non-religious :)

Not actual reason (1)

proverbialcow (177020) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448746)

From TFA:

“Reasoning doesn’t have this function of helping us to get better beliefs and make better decisions,” said Hugo Mercier, who is a co-author of the journal article, with Dan Sperber. “It was a purely social phenomenon. It evolved to help us convince others and to be careful when others try to convince us.” Truth and accuracy were beside the point.

As such, this model also allows for emotional reasoning ('truthiness') and the acceptance of logical fallacy.

Re:Not actual reason (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36449060)

you win, sir

Re:Not actual reason (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449152)

The trick to winning the argument is to get the person to think along the same lines you do... We really cannot break our emotional and logical thinking up into distinct areas. Some people tend to be more logical, others will be more emotional. But there will be elements of both in it. But if you need to win an argument if you can effect their emotional side you gain and advantage, as agreeing with you will feel good. If you effect their logical side, you may still win but they are not feeling good about it, and will still argue and fight until they feel good.

I was recently watching a documentary about the Carter vs. Reagan election. Even with the 20/20 hindsight of everything that went on and its action. My Logical side sees that Carter had a more logical direction, but Reagan painted a picture that made us feel better. And I bet if it happened again even with the 20/20 hindsight I think Reagan would sill win.

recursive instincts (3, Insightful)

Danny Rathjens (8471) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448806)

I used to think I was clever for being aware of how often an argument can be seen as instinctive urges of people to position themselves higher in the primate dominance hierarchy. e.g. I am better than you; the software I use is better than what you use; ad hominem attacks; speaking louder and longer.
Then I noticed that by pointing out these dominance hierarchy games that I was really just playing the same instinctual game to show that I am more clever than those people "just" following their instincts. This paper seems to back up my theory that I'm just as much a slave to those instincts as the "me > *" flamebait types. :)

Re:recursive instincts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36449006)

Of course such an approach is useless. This is because the hierarchy serves a definite purpose and all people are included; whether we like it or not, the people with the strongest wills are most qualified to lead, while the people with the weakest wills are best led. Instead of merely pointing out that you see the underlying game being played, you should use that knowledge to enhance your performance. This will put you in the superior position your insight has earned you. By trying to abstain from playing, you are only relegating yourself to a lower score.

Re:recursive instincts (1)

Seumas (6865) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449256)

Then, the way to one-up people who are interested in logic, reasoning, and facts is to discount logic, facts, and reason.

Involuntary Lie (1)

danhaas (891773) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448816)

A biased opinion is just a more convincing way of lying, because the liar actually believes he is right. In that context, lying has a evolutionary advantage because it allows one to siphon resources from others to benefit the spreading of one's own genes.
Sound Reason still is an evolutionary advantage, because stuff actually work when you use it, and I prefer to see that faulty reasoning as closer to lying than a "evolutionally useful reasoning".

Re:Involuntary Lie (1)

Grygus (1143095) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449090)

Reason's advantage is that it holds up over time. A lie is only effective as long as the truth is hidden or ignored. Biased opinions are not facts and therefore cannot be lies, though the claim of the opinion could itself be a lie. Faulty reasoning, if done in good faith, isn't a lie either - as long as the mind is open enough to recognize the flaws in its argument once pointed out, faulty reasoning is a legitimate step on the search for truth.

Foolish conclusion (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36448830)

If you believe that reason can be used to triumph in discussions, try reasoning with an idiot.

Is the paper as bad as the summary? (1)

NSash (711724) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448858)

"Reasoning doesnâ(TM)t have this function of helping us to get better beliefs and make better decisions," said Hugo Mercier, who is a co-author of the journal article, with Dan Sperber. "It was a purely social phenomenon. It evolved to help us convince others and to be careful when others try to convince us." Truth and accuracy were beside the point.

That is a fairly damning quote on its own, but I will assume that Dr. Mercier is being misrepresented by omission of context.

It is not the case that all strategies have the same value. If reason were no more accurate than random choices, then there would be no evolutionary value whatsoever to evaluating the suggestions of others on the basis of reason.

The "purpose" of claws (if we are ascribing intentionality to natural selection, which is a mistake) may be to help climbing or to grip onto prey, not to be strong and sharp, but if they weren't strong and sharp they wouldn't be able to do that.

Yep. (-1, Offtopic)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448868)

Reasoning is used by males the same way tails are used by peacocks. It seems obvious (but then most discoveries are - like F=ma).

Evolution (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448902)

Are we talking here about the evolution of a meme instead of the mankind? The word evolution seem to be used in both contexts in the article, but complex enough language, and probably reasoning as a social weapon came a bit later than the point were we became homo sapiens.

For some things the reasoning hypotesis is not needed, figuring out a pattern could be more expensive or slower than deciding if something fits on it or that could be something random that should be ignored, so could had been an human (or less intelligent species) evoluitionary advantage to keep considering a pattern as valid even if exceptions exist.

Would be ironical than Hanlon's razor could be a way to disprove this.

Nietzsche (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36448938)

Nietzsche on back on forth argumentative debates: "As a dialectician, he holds a merciless tool in his hand; he can become a tyrant by means of it; he compromises those he conquers. The dialectician leaves it to his opponent to prove that he is not an idiot: he enrages and neutralizes his opponent at the same time. The dialectician renders the intellect of his opponent powerless."

"One chooses logical argument only when one has no other means. One knows that one arouses mistrust with it, that it is not very persuasive. Nothing is easier to nullify than a logical argument: the tedium of long speeches proves this."

Funny factoid: right = reason... in French (2)

obarthelemy (160321) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448944)

"you're right" = "tu as raison". "This is not right" = "c'est pas juste". I don't know if it's a leftover from the Lumieres, but where English uses terms of right and wrong, French uses reason and justice. Back when I was in the US, I was indeed surprised by how objective reality (or the quest the establish it) seemed to very often take a back seat to feelings and moral / religious aspects.

Turns out both are just "my way" vs "your way" then ?

Reasoning is inherently biased thinking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36448946)

I agree. Reasoning isn't awareness. It's thinking to the point of getting to some desired conclusion. Most all reasoning is biased from the outset. Even my reasoning about this was for the sake of getting this biased point across.

Stupid, unoriginal nonsense. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36448966)

This is just adds a 'scientific' coloration to sophistry, which is 2400 years old now.

Chimp wants bananas. Bananas are in a high place. Chimp realizes he can climb on the a crate to get bananas. It's that simple, folks. The fact that crates are useful for getting high objects is true independent of the chimp: he REALIZES a TRUTH about the world.

Arts Section (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449136)

The article appears in the Arts Section, not the Science Section. Time for another submission to Social Text? []

Not quite. (1)

bioster (2042418) | more than 3 years ago | (#36448974)

Reason was originally for figuring out how to make sharp sticks and poke them into animals. After that stopped being such a problem, it was for poking sharp sticks into your neighbors. Put simply, better ideas meant better technology, which meant you could out-compete everything else.

Ideas are the root thing that reason enables, not debate. Debate might help the process along, but at the end of the day debate isn't about reason, debate is about making your group cohesively strive towards a single set of goals. Winning debates isn't just about reason, it's about charisma... the ability to persuade people to your side of the issue.

Just because we often use reasoning when we debate doesn't mean that reason is only for debate. That's simplistic. It's for all forms of conflict.

Re:Not quite. (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449654)

Reason was originally for figuring out how to make sharp sticks and poke them into animals. After that stopped being such a problem, it was for poking sharp sticks into your neighbors.

Or for deluding oneself into thinking that one's neighbors are equivalent to animals, removing the guilt from the act of poking them with sharp sticks.

Junk science as usual (1)

hat_eater (1376623) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449024)

Neither reason nor the brain evolved "to let people reach beyond mere perception and reflex in the search for truth" quoting TFA.

Re:Junk science as usual (1)

hat_eater (1376623) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449138)

Argh. ...But this doesn't preclude using them for that.
That's more like what I wanted to say.

Reason is not human specific (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36449052)

Squirrels have exhibited the ability to reason their way through puzzles requiring a variety mental processes. Territorial mammals can be seen using reason in finding paths of travel when changes in the environment require new routes. These animals don't have debate teams. Somewhere in the world there is probably a person figuring that if they lengthen their grip on a stick there will be more force delivered to some researcher's head. Reason you way through that.

Hence the development of sophistry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36449086)

"Sophism in the modern definition is a specious argument used for deceiving someone. In Ancient Greece, sophists were a category of teachers who specialized in using the tools of philosophy and rhetoric for the purpose of teaching aretê — excellence, or virtue — predominantly to young statesmen and nobility. The practice of charging money for education (and providing wisdom only to those who can pay) led to the condemnations made by Plato (through Socrates in his dialogues). Plato regarded their profession itself as being 'specious' or 'deceptive', hence the modern meaning of the term." ...
"Sophists (had) one important thing in common: whatever else they did or did not claim to know, they characteristically had a great understanding of what words would entertain or impress or persuade an audience." (wiki)

Contemporary examples abound...

Circular, broken argument (4, Insightful)

wytcld (179112) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449098)

If the purpose of reason is to win arguments, what faculty is in charge of deciding the winner? We can't reason who the winner is, because reason in this account is about arguing for one side, not weighing the arguments fairly and evenly.

Put it the other way around: This whole argument is presupposing that people can come to reasoned conclusions and by that change their course. But then it is saying the purpose of reason isn't to allow us to come to reasoned conclusions, but rather to undermine the capability of others to come to reasoned conclusions, by allowing us to construct unbalanced and perhaps unfair arguments to virtually force them to come to some conclusion that we, by whatever means, have come to favor.

This is an argument for being a sociopathic predator, a parasite on reasoning society, and the riches which reason has enabled us to amass. It's sanctioning this predator's attitude by saying "Evolution wants us to be this way." It's making the standard form of argument in "evolutionary psychology," in which "evolution" plays the role formerly played by "God" in constructing an argument along the lines of, "Your maker says: behave thus." They're both arguments against using our own reason. That is to say, they are both perversions of reason, turned against reason itself.

The Problem with Evolution and Rationality (1, Interesting)

geoffrobinson (109879) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449104)

If you assume that there is no teleology, no higher design, in evolutionary processes, you are left with a blind process building up the human mind. Furthermore, you have to reduce everything to physics and chemistry. Why do you believe anything is true? The atoms are bouncing around in your head a certain way. Why does evolution proceed the way it does? It is neutral about truth so the only answer that can be given is to pass on genes.

If believing a lie and being convinced of it will give you an advantage, evolution will favor that outcome.

That is no basis for trusting your own rationality.

"If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true ... and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms." - J.B.S. Haldane

Another NYT advertisment (1)

arisvega (1414195) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449106)

I am not even going to click on the TFA's link.

Was it a scientific article behind subscription I would consider it, yet I would still complain about it not being on an open-access journal.

I have read enough 'scientific breakthroughs' from clueless journalists to be sufficiently annoyed. Seriously, Slashdot, stop supporting this paywall already.

Re:Another NYT advertisment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36449670)

yeah, because it's really hard to delete the "&gwh=" field from the URL bar to get around the paywall. Real hard. Like, there's two clicks and the "delete" key. And then you need to press "enter"!

Yawn! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36449168)

In response to this slashdot post and NY Times article (which I have not yet read):


So called claims of "truth" with a word or name for something, is easily to be understood as nonsense without a given context referenced to "it", and ultimately, unequivocal truth claims with an additional claim of certainty is an illusion, and is a rather vague but yet meaningful concept that is ultimately based on whimsical social relations that again is solely based on lone human beings having to repeat what they already thought or read because human beings cannot actually decide specificall what to think upfront, as if thinking as such was a matter of planning ahead or for preparing oneself to think. And worse, in any case, any actualizations will thus does not have any direct relation to any other actualizations, actualizations as a matter of intellectuality which ultimately are reflexive and rather whimsical and incidental.

For further reading, please look up: the problem of representation, problems about the modern and postmodern. I would also reccomend reading about etymology and about dead metaphors. Did you know that the word "alone' supposedly is a contraction of "all + one"?

Major difficulties in portraying "truth" as particulary meaningful are probably:
Avoiding a bias
Avoiding generalizations
Avoiding simplifications
Avoiding the undermining of common sense by using a fancy pants word (english has a lot of them I understand).
Avoiding an authoritarian bias
Avoiding conflicting knowledge
Doubious historical accounts, that compounds the problems with the difficulties above as time go by.

As a short summary, "truth" claims and facts, are fiction.

Recommended youtube video: Introduction to theory of litterature, Prof. Paul Fry, Yale University.

That's new (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36449200)

Reason exists to make the weaker argument the stronger? That's a new idea. *cough* Plato *cough*

Evolution = sex (1)

crndg (1322641) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449206)

Really what they are saying is that the ability to convince someone else of something leads to the convincer having more sex, and therefore his (or her) genes being propagated. Is that so hard for /.ers to believe?

Where it breaks down is if we try to interpret this to mean that people arguing from scientific evidence have no greater claim to the truth than people arguing from their own gut feeling. This theory doesn't state anything about truth being subjective; just that the human brain may have evolved in such a way that we are predisposed to believe stuff based on the argument rather than the evidence.

Article is as deceptive as it describes (1)

michaelmalak (91262) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449258)

No surprise from the paper that brought us Judith Miller's Iraq reporting [] , but in this article the New York Times utilizes the same irrationality and deception that the article claims to be describing as controversial.

The article claims to draw a distinction between rationality (or reasoning) and irrationality in the first paragraph and then proceeds to conflate the two, calling argumentation "reason":

What is revolutionary about argumentative theory is that it presumes that since reason has a different purpose — to win over an opposing group — flawed reasoning is an adaptation in itself, useful for bolstering debating skills.

The above paragraph would make more sense if you replaced the word "reason" with "argumentation" and be even more clear if "flawed reasoning" were replaced with "flawed reasoning and deception".

It reinforces the common meme of "reason is bad". An example of that meme is the recent popularity of a word that irritates me just as much as "cloud" and "mashup" do: "narrative". Whenever someone lays out a series of arguments, the media, politicians and spokepeople have recently especially within the past year referred to that as a "narrative". A narrative is what you find in a novel. It's not a series of arguments laid out in the open to be picked apart and contested by the opposition. By using the word "narrative", it denigrates the role of reason and debate (and becomes itself a tool of irrationality and deception to avoid and implicitly win a debate).

The article's bid to further destroy math education at the end of the article demonsrates the New York Times' continued commitment to destroy independent thought:

...children may have an easier time learning abstract topics in mathematics or physics if they are put into a group and allowed to reason through a problem together.

The lack of good math education is why the populace is so gullible, and this would only make it worse. John Taylor Gatto holds up the ideal form of education as one-on-one tutoring, pointing to the U.S. founding fathers as examples of having received this type of education. That's great if you can afford it; otherwise, compromises have to be taken. The best compromise is limiting the amount of time spent in one-on-one tutoring to make it affordable, even the U.S. founding fathers spent only 2-3 years in tutoring. The compromise conventional education has taken, in contrast, is the didactic classroom with a teacher facing a group of students. While this may work for a history class or even basic grammar (if it's drawn out long enough to allow everyone to learn in sync), it cannot develop the reason or teach math because quick confirmation of correctness and quick correction of mistakes -- i.e. one-on-one coaching -- is necessary. Compounding this problem, of course, is that most teachers are bad at math. Compounding that problem is that math is a subject that builds on itself, so any one bad teacher in the chain dooms the student to a lifetime of math and logic illiteracy. Compounding that is the generational decay of logic and reasoning skills as the problems perpetuate themselves.

Now on top of all of that, the scientist quoted (unquestionably) by the New York Times wants to take math education even further away from the ideal coaching scenario by forcing students to stop working and thinking independently. Of course argumentation skills are refined by testing them with a group, but developing reason and logic is inherently a solitary activity. It would be like throwing a group of students on Mt. Everest without each one first individually practicing the use of camming devices.

The New York Time has deceptively advanced the meme that all "reason" is mere deception and has even thrown out a bone to ensure that schools churn out gullible New York Times readers for the long term.

Conclusion (1)

Grindalf (1089511) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449306)

My conclusion is that Some researchers lost arguments a great deal during their work an thought there was a process ongoing rather than a reflection of their own stupidity ... Does that mean I win? :0)

subjectivist nonsense (1)

sanermind (512885) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449354)

Success in propagating a meme isn't necessarily related to it's truth-value, merely to it's value in engendering behavior in others. But the mechanisms of intelligence are involved even there. Appeals to emotion or other assorted well documented fallacies have been well described (by reason). The problem, perhaps, is in some philosophical jig where the word 'reason' (traditionally the most gloried phenomenon of human thought) somehow takes on multiple meanings. ...So what is reason? Is it logic? The claims (referred to in) this article, would seem to negate a pure aristotelian glory of A implies not B and the like. Thus it would seem to cheapen the idea of those who bother to think logically. It leans towards suggesting that 'reason' is merely a sociological, nay, anthropological phenomenon. A matter of primates beating their chests, albeit with their brains instead of hairy arms. And this is utter nonsense. First of all, it denies the fact that fallacy is -necessary- in order to convince another thinking being of a false truth, and then turns around to imply that reason has no truth outside of a group phenomenon. Obviously, pre-and-up-to-humans evolved language to share ideas. (It's audible telepathy, afterall!) And that was adaptive ..why? Because a meme, a social construct, a compellingly successful narrative could coordinate collective group behavior in an adaptive manner? Of course. But however does any argument manage to do such a thing? By presenting a compelling explanation to other individuals that they fail to refute the truth of. It all comes down to the personal analysis of truth of the part of the recipient of an argument, though. To be crass, we all have personal bullshit detectors. ;) And some worse than others, of course. But to decry the the fact that false but compelling arguments can be accepted too-readily negelects the very fact that they succeed BECAUSE THEY ARE COMPELLING. That they make a logical and self-consistent sense to the recipient. To the recipients own personal sentience, thought, and reason (however mistaken). Many people may be ill-educated, worse; evilly-educated into a false set of hot-button moral certitudes (due to the social-darwinisticly-adaptive usefulness of such levers, perhaps, so as to facilitate obedience to certain top-down social hierarchy command structures)... But it's still the reasoning of their own minds that reaches either accepts or rejects any such rhetorical exercise. Reason is beautiful. Were it not for man's ability to reason, we'd still be living in caves, at best! Nowadays we use ion-beam lithography to carve out features thousands of times smaller than a single hair on our bodies. Nowadays we know the chemical composition of the outer atmostphere of stars billions of light years away. And how? From reasoning.

Survival value (1)

SemperUbi (673908) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449402)

Winning arguments used to help you get laid. Of course that was before women learned how to roll their eyes.

Uniquely Human? (1)

DaMattster (977781) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449492)

Reasoning is not a uniquely human trait and to believe so is arrogance. If you study the behavior of animals, they too use reasoning to solve problems and maneuver through their world. Since I have two cats, I'll use them as an example. One is a young, just slightly out of kittenhood and the other is twelve years old. The young one dominates at the food bowl so the older one simply takes her paw to scoop some of the food out of the bowl and onto the floor so that she can eat. If that is not a good example of reasoning, I do not know what is. The "dumb aminal" belief is very much an anachronism today.

Look at /. and you'll see how many arguments go (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449508)

Look at many thread here and you'll see how many arguments go and how little reason has to do with anything once the trolls get going. Jack London put this style quite well in "The Sea Wolf":

For the most part, the remaining four hunters leaned on the table or lay in their bunks and left the discussion to the two antagonists. But they were supremely interested, for every little while they ardently took sides, and sometimes all were talking at once, till their voices surged back and forth in waves of sound like mimic thunder- rolls in the confined space. Childish and immaterial as the topic was, the quality of their reasoning was still more childish and immaterial. In truth, there was very little reasoning or none at all. Their method was one of assertion, assumption, and denunciation. They proved that a seal pup could swim or not swim at birth by stating the proposition very bellicosely and then following it up with an attack on the opposing man's judgment, common sense, nationality, or past history. Rebuttal was precisely similar. I have related this in order to show the mental caliber of the men with whom I was thrown in contact. Intellectually they were children, inhabiting the physical forms of men.

That's not to knock the research without reading it. Perhaps it's about arguments that actually matter instead of the many storms in a teacup we have here?

Atheism... (1)

Kamiza Ikioi (893310) | more than 3 years ago | (#36449582)

... FTW!

"Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear." Thomas Jefferson (Letter to Peter Carr, Aug. 10, 1787)

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