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Professional Scientists Are Compelled to See Purpose in Nature
Posted: 17 October 2012 09:45 AM   [ Ignore ]
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From this artitle entitled ‘Even Professional Scientists Are Compelled to See Purpose in Nature, Psychologists Find’

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121017102451.htm

I find this to be an interesting study - I find that discovering all the little ways in which we have unconscious bias to be neat.

I am a bit skeptical, but only insofar as judging whether this is a brain bias, or a linguistic bias, if it’s possible to separate the two.

From the story:

A team of researchers in Boston University’s Psychology Department has found that, despite years of scientific training, even professional chemists, geologists, and physicists from major universities such as Harvard, MIT, and Yale cannot escape a deep-seated belief that natural phenomena exist for a purpose.

To test the hypothesis that there is a natural preference for teleological explanations, the researchers asked a group of physical scientists from top-ranked American universities to judge explanations such as “Trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe” or “The Earth has an ozone layer in order to protect it from UV light” under speeded conditions so they had little time to reflect on their answers.

So, the question by me is: is this a result of a bias in how we think, or a result of bias in linguistic interpretation of the statements? Under time pressure, it may not occur to a reader that these statements imply an illogical causation.

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Posted: 17 October 2012 09:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Probably a bias in thinking: I’d hypothesize that the brain processes causal claims quicker when it ‘agent-izes’ them in this way. Also, let’s not forget that within a scientific context these statements would not be misunderstood.

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Posted: 17 October 2012 10:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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That’s a pretty misleading title. I’d say some right winger came up with that one.  There’s Purpose, as in meaning, emotional value, etc, and there’s purpose, as in some physical causation.  The second, which is what the statements in the survey embody are very different from Purpose which is implied in the title.  Had the questions been rephrased like “Trees value the existence of animals and therefore work very hard to provide oxygen to help them live” I’ll bet the results would be very different.

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Posted: 17 October 2012 10:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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CuthbertJ - 17 October 2012 10:19 AM

That’s a pretty misleading title. I’d say some right winger came up with that one.  There’s Purpose, as in meaning, emotional value, etc, and there’s purpose, as in some physical causation.  The second, which is what the statements in the survey embody are very different from Purpose which is implied in the title.  Had the questions been rephrased like “Trees value the existence of animals and therefore work very hard to provide oxygen to help them live” I’ll bet the results would be very different.

My thoughts exactly. On the other end of the statement spectrum is “Trees exhale oxygen which animals breathe”, which I think most people would consider to be analogous to “Trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe” but isn’t, quite. The distinction is semantic: the latter statement implies an agency that designed trees so that animals breathe their exhalation, whereas my former statement does not. But that’s an awfully specific and subtle semantic difference, and just because someone doesn’t catch it doesn’t mean that they think that agencies are involved in a backwards-illogical way.

[ Edited: 17 October 2012 10:48 AM by TromboneAndrew ]
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Posted: 17 October 2012 10:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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dougsmith - 17 October 2012 09:53 AM

Also, let’s not forget that within a scientific context these statements would not be misunderstood.

Really? Under time pressure?

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Posted: 17 October 2012 11:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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TromboneAndrew - 17 October 2012 10:49 AM
dougsmith - 17 October 2012 09:53 AM

Also, let’s not forget that within a scientific context these statements would not be misunderstood.

Really? Under time pressure?

I’m not sure I get your question. I don’t mean that they wouldn’t say what they are reported to have said. (Or agreed to). What I mean is that their peers would know what they mean, even if they said these sorts of things publicly.

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Posted: 17 October 2012 11:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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dougsmith - 17 October 2012 11:15 AM
TromboneAndrew - 17 October 2012 10:49 AM
dougsmith - 17 October 2012 09:53 AM

Also, let’s not forget that within a scientific context these statements would not be misunderstood.

Really? Under time pressure?

I’m not sure I get your question. I don’t mean that they wouldn’t say what they are reported to have said. (Or agreed to). What I mean is that their peers would know what they mean, even if they said these sorts of things publicly.

Ah, sorry. I guess I didn’t understand your statement, either. I thought that you meant that within scientific circles, someone saying ““Trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe” would be understood to imply an outside-agent cause immediately.

Stupid grammar. hmmm

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Posted: 17 October 2012 11:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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TromboneAndrew - 17 October 2012 11:53 AM
dougsmith - 17 October 2012 11:15 AM
TromboneAndrew - 17 October 2012 10:49 AM
dougsmith - 17 October 2012 09:53 AM

Also, let’s not forget that within a scientific context these statements would not be misunderstood.

Really? Under time pressure?

I’m not sure I get your question. I don’t mean that they wouldn’t say what they are reported to have said. (Or agreed to). What I mean is that their peers would know what they mean, even if they said these sorts of things publicly.

Ah, sorry. I guess I didn’t understand your statement, either. I thought that you meant that within scientific circles, someone saying ““Trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe” would be understood to imply an outside-agent cause immediately.

Stupid grammar. hmmm

LOL

No worries!

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Posted: 17 October 2012 12:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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TromboneAndrew - 17 October 2012 11:53 AM

Ah, sorry. I guess I didn’t understand your statement, either. I thought that you meant that within scientific circles, someone saying ““Trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe” would be understood to imply an outside-agent cause immediately.

Well, what does it mean? Why use this language? I’m not at all clear about what it means, are they?

Stephen

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Posted: 17 October 2012 03:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I’m not sure why they placed a time element on the answers. Asking people to answer things quickly may be an attempt to get a more “honest” answer but it also does not give the individual time to think about what is really being asked. It certainly seems as though the person doing the study had a goal in mind and designed the study to get the results they wanted.

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Posted: 17 October 2012 04:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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StephenLawrence - 17 October 2012 12:25 PM
TromboneAndrew - 17 October 2012 11:53 AM

Ah, sorry. I guess I didn’t understand your statement, either. I thought that you meant that within scientific circles, someone saying ““Trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe” would be understood to imply an outside-agent cause immediately.

Well, what does it mean? Why use this language? I’m not at all clear about what it means, are they?

Stephen

The phrase “so that” is the problem. It implies that the trees, or some agent representing the trees, actively support animals by producing oxygen which they breath. As in, they chose to allow animals to breathe by self-designing themselves to exhale oxygen. It’s a grammatical structure that doesn’t make sense in context with what we know, but it takes a moment to think about it and figure out what the hell the sentence actually means.

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Posted: 17 October 2012 05:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I think that’s one of the dumbest article titles I’ve seen in a long time.  If one has been taught as a child that there’s a god who constructed the universe for a purpose, it may be difficult, even as one develops scientific reasoning to completely remove the concept from one’s mind.  However, I was lucky not to have that rot fed to me so I never looked for purposes —causes, yes, but purposes, no. 

Purpose seems to me to imput motivation to everything.  e.g., plants said to themselves, “hey, we need some vehicles to transport our seeds, so we’ll produce oxygen so organisms that can move around will develop.”  Just plain stupid. 

I haven’t read the article yet, but I may have additional comments.  snake

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Posted: 17 October 2012 10:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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When you have read ‘Thinking, fast and slow’ of Daniel Kahneman, then there is nothing unexpected in the article.

In the highly anticipated Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. Kahneman exposes the extraordinary capabilities—and also the faults and biases—of fast thinking, and reveals the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on our thoughts and behavior.

(From Amazon, italics by me).

Evolutionary seen, fast agent detectors were of the upmost importance. So the article more or less proves that even scientists belong to the human species…

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Posted: 17 October 2012 10:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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TromboneAndrew - 17 October 2012 04:23 PM

It’s a grammatical structure that doesn’t make sense in context with what we know, but it takes a moment to think about it and figure out what the hell the sentence actually means.

I haven’t figured out what it actually means.

Stephen

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Posted: 17 October 2012 10:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Yeah, I don’t recall the specifics, but as an undergraduate taking psychology as one of the required social sciences, we were asked to volunteer for some study that department was doing (to get some extra points in our class).  I signed up and went in.  They then told us what we had to do.  I said (one of my lifetime standard responses), “That’s really stupid.  Not interested,” and I left.  I didn’t need the extra points.  I’ve met some very bright psychologists, but I swear, I think many of them go into that field because they weren’t bright enough to make it in a physical or biological science.

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Posted: 18 October 2012 08:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Strangely interesting.
Do you think that the “Code in String theory” in my last thread could be seen as a search for purpose/meaning in nature?

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