Sunday, 12 June 2011

Checking In

I haven't completely forgotten about this blog, just so any readers know, and I should be giving it a redesign at some point in the near future.

While I'm here, some (very) quick thoughts on a BBS paper that hit headlines a few weeks back - Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber's "Why do humans reason?" The vague premise of the article is that humans developed the ability to reason primarily as a method of devising and evaluating arguments in social settings.

To Mercier and Sperber, reasoning is both a primarily social phenomenon, and also a uniquely human one; they even explicitly state that "there is no evidence that [reasoning] occurs in nonhuman animals or preverbal children". This possibly counter-intuitive claim is because they make a distinction between reasoning and inferences, the latter of which are unconscious processes. They do clarify that what they're calling "reasoning" is also referred to as system 2 reasoning in dual process theories (with "inferences" being system 1 reasoning), which is language I'm considerably more comfortable with. But anyways.

There's definitely merit to their proposal (as suggested by the large proportion of respondents who are supportive of the paper, which is - as far as I know - a rarity for BBS articles), but I suspect that Mercier and Sperber are a little too quick to dismiss the alternative (or, perhaps, complimentary) hypothesis that (system 2) reasoning evolved in order to facilitate long-term planning.

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