Una serie de acotaciones al margen a medida que voy leyendo algunos libros... A series of annotations whilst reading interesting books... A collection of notes on books about science, SciFi, history, others topics... Una colección de notas sobre libros de ciencia, ciencia-ficción, historia, otros...

28 October 2012

Bottom up versus Top Down Logic

Listening to the SGU # 373 I reached the part of the Science of Fiction. This episode was live at DragonCon 2012. And here the 3 Science of Fiction news Items:

  1. Scientists have discovered Western Scrub Jays performing a funeral-like behavior when they discover one of their members has died;
  2. A recent study finds that adults are more likely to accept a supernatural explanation than children;
  3. Researchers find that the shape of the glass affects how drunk alcohol-drinkers become

And Stephen Novella was able to wipe out his fellow skeptics but a little bit more than half the audience got it right. Listening to the podcast very late I was able to guess correctly, or at least got one right! Your guess?

Fiction is number #3, and all the panellists got it wrong, maybe because they are American so the 3rd did a lot of sense. And ALL chosen number #2 as Fiction. And I was sure that this one was Science all the time. So first some more research on the News Item and then why I think it is correct.

The SGU website points to the UPI website for the News Item:

“The findings show supernatural explanations for topics of core concern to humans are pervasive across cultures," Legare said in a statement. "If anything, in both industrialized and developing countries, supernatural explanations are frequently endorsed more often among adults than younger children.”, UPI

So I did some more research and tried to find the source, and the University of Texas, where Legare is from, has a much deeper article on the topic:

“Reliance on supernatural explanations for major life events, such as death and illness, often increases rather than declines with age, according to a new psychology study from The University of Texas at Austin” (Texas)

““As children assimilate cultural concepts into their intuitive belief systems — from God to atoms to evolution — they engage in coexistence thinking,” said Cristine Legare, assistant professor of psychology and lead author of the study. “When they merge supernatural and scientific explanations, they integrate them in a variety of predictable and universal ways.”” (Texas)

““The findings show supernatural explanations for topics of core concern to humans are pervasive across cultures,” Legare said. “If anything, in both industrialized and developing countries, supernatural explanations are frequently endorsed more often among adults than younger children.”” (Texas)

““The standard assumption that scientific and religious explanations compete should be re-evaluated in light of substantial psychological evidence,” Legare said. “The data, which spans diverse cultural contexts across the lifespan, shows supernatural reasoning is not necessarily replaced with scientific explanations following gains in knowledge, education or technology.”” (Texas)

I was able to find where the article is published but you have to be part of the club to have access to it. So I couldn’t read the source.

But Why I think it is correct?

This is the usual statistic of one and not very scientific, but if happen that you have kids or you are around kids and observe them you will find that kids have a very straightforward logic that they apply to every day things and to think about the Universe (Why? Why? Why?).

I will go with examples that you cannot generalize but if you have been carefully listening to your kids and observe others you will see this pattern:

  • kids have to figure out cause and effect quickly. This matters: If I do A, the effect B will cause pain; basic survival;
  • kids figure out first physical things, or cause and effects that have no intentions: if the glass drops from the table, it will crash; if something is hot, I get burnt (figuring out what it is hot or not is more complex, but also they are very good at that from 4 and up);
  • also they can realize of intentions very quickly, but the intentions are again straightforward connections: if I cry I get food (or water, or a candy); if I cry all the time, I piss off the adults around me; if I kick the dog it will bite me (or bark at me and it is frightening – also figuring out attitudes frightening/friendly is very complex but they do right away)

With this logic machinery they start asking other questions:

  • Why are so many different animals around us?
  • Why do we die?
  • Why is there Winter/Summer?
  • Why do we stop growing?

For a particular example one kid asked me the last question, and carefully thinking on that I realized I didn’t have a good answer except: “This is the way it is” (remember this answer). In fact, I was thinking it was a very good question and I was trying to remember if there is some animal or plant that does not stop growing. And there are some, and there some ways that they never stop growing but… Other kid answered right away (5 years old): “Because if you do not stop growing you cannot get into a car, or a house”

The answer is great and of course wrong, but it shows this straightforward logic machinery in action. All living things grow, but somewhat they stop, and every creature has to be able to fit somewhere. This is what I call bottom up logic. Also the logic has its own beauty, because it can be tested, it does not assume a theological argument, and with some research you can come with some more rational answer like: “It is a capacity problem, based on available resources that are finite”. Technically are creatures that do not stop growing but they die, or they slow down their growth exponentially.

But this is a perfect logic machinery to keep intact. I think that it is screwed up for many reasons:

  • It is that way because I say so; the authoritarian argument;
  • Because I say so; again authoritarian;
  • Because God wanted it to be like that; a theological argument;
  • etc;

In any case all these logics are top down: you start with some non observable statement (“God”…) and then you follow from there. Anything that you elaborate from there will be by definition obtuse. And kids they have to learn this second logic machinery (more by memory rather than by reasoning) because peer pressure, social pressure, or I do not want my parents be mad at me (or something else I have no idea).

I still believe that both machineries keep working together. In a way you will use the 1st machine to figure out things that can kill you immediately: you can believe some witch pass to you HIV; but you know that jumping from a 10th floor is suicide, even if the same witch (or wizard, or priest or anyone) assures you a spell casted on you will save you. If you believe in the safe-landing-with-no-parachute spell, you have been totally brainwashed and of course your 1st machine has been disabled…

You rely more on the 2nd machine for things that the cause is not obvious or immediate (not using condoms will increase your chances of getting something nasty as HIV, but of course you do not believe that), or this argument (a.k.a. “belief”) is not something you care a lot about it (Hell for example).


For More Info:

  • Jessica Sinn, College of Liberal Arts, 512-471-2404;
  • Cristine Legare, assistant professor, Department of Psychology, 512-468-8238, legare@psy.utexas.edu

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