THUNK – 113. Memetics & Punching Nazis

In the constant struggle between memes, the punching of Nazis barely scratches the surface of the conflict.

CW: Physical assault

-Links for the Curious-

Spencer punched while explaining his Pepe the Frog pin –

Dawkins on Memes –

CGP Grey on Complementary Outrage –

PBS Idea Channel on Pepe the Frog –

Dan Dennett on Dangerous Memes –

“On Liberty,” by John Stuart Mill, an important building block of our current understanding of free speech & harm –

The SEP’s fantastic summary of the nuances of freedom of speech –

THUNK – 111. Populism

Donald Trump’s election is another victory for a worldwide trend of populism…what is it & why is it happening?

QUICK NOTE: I really gloss over the identity component of populist rhetoric here – the “purity” of the groups in question (be they red-blooded ‘Muricans or blonde blue-eyed “Aryans”) is a critical component of a lot of this rhetoric. I didn’t want to invoke tribal sensitivity to accusations of racism – race frequently serves this role, but it’s a broader effect than that.

*Links for the Curious*

Foreign Affairs, “The Power of Populism,” a collection of neat articles highlighting some of the potential causes of the global populist trend –

The Economist Explains: What is Populism? –

“Right-wing vs. progressive populism: How to win in these populist Trump times” by Jonathan Matthew Smucker –

THUNK – 110. Physicalism & Decoding Minds

Even if the mind *is* totally entailed by the physics of the brain, we’ve got a long way to go to understand it.

-Links for the Curious-

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Physicalism –

Could a Neuroscientist Understand a Microprocessor? –

Google’s image recognition neural network –

THUNK – 109. Psychology, Transparency, & Journalism

Some say that transparency is the ideological future of journalism, but our brains might not be up to the task.

-Links for the Curious-

Should Journalism Be Objective? Serial: Part 2 | Idea Channel | PBS Digital Studios:

Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidence. By Jonas T. Kaplan, Sarah I. Gimbel & Sam Harris, Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 39589 (2016):

Priming us and them: Automatic assimilation and contrast in group attitudes. By Ledgerwood, Alison; Chaiken, Shelly
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 93(6), Dec 2007, 940-956:

Transparency is the New Objectivity, by David Weinberger (via Joho):

The View from Nowhere Q&A, by Jay Rosen (via PressThink):

Nature’s peer-review policy:

The Blur Between Analysis and Opinion, by Clark Hoyt (via The New York Times):

Wikipedia’s “Neutral Point of View” Editing Standard:


THUNK – 108. Statistical vs. Clinical Significance

Scientists excel at finding patterns, but statistical significance isn’t always enough to create policy.

-Links for the Curious-

A great summary from UWS about the difference between statistical & clinical significance –

Mental rotations, a group test of three-dimensional spatial visualization.
Vandenberg, Steven G.; Kuse, Allan R.
Perceptual and Motor Skills, Vol 47(2), Oct 1978, 599-604.

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2009 Dec;97(6):1097-114. doi: 10.1037/a0016786.
The implications of Big Five standing for the distribution of trait manifestation in behavior: fifteen experience-sampling studies and a meta-analysis.
Fleeson W1, Gallagher P.

THUNK – 107. Graham’s Number & Number Sense

Graham’s number is…really really big. But our brains start throwing errors at much smaller quantities.

-Links for the Curious-

Numberphile’s fantastic video of Ron Graham explaining Graham’s number –

“Two Systems of Non-Symbolic Numerical Cognition” by D. Hyde, a review of research on the two psychological systems for cognitive representation of number –

A summary of some landmark studies regarding the cognitive representation of number –

A great Wikipedia summary of some of the creatures which have demonstrated some capacity for number sense –

A study showing the gradual “linearization” of the approximate number system’s logarithmic error allowance during childhood –

An analysis of possible evolutionary reasons the approximate number system is mapped logarithmically –

The 2014 paper which improved on Graham’s upper limit to his Ramsey theorem question –

THUNK – 106. The Toulmin Method of Argumentation

Think you may get into some arguments during the holidays? Steven Toulmin & Reddit can help.

-Links for the Curious-

“The Uses of Argument” by Steven Toulmin –

A summary of the Toulmin method as rendered by Colorado State University –

Winning Arguments: Interaction Dynamics and Persuasion
Strategies in Good-faith Online Discussions

THUNK – 105. Why Elections Suck

There are a lot of people unhappy with the most recent presidential election in the US, & they have good reason – it needs fixing.

-Links for the Curious-

FairVote, an organization advocating for more representative & fair electoral systems –

A simple online tool to determine who your elected representatives are. (Protip: phonecalls are harder to ignore.) –

A paper by the EAC detailing the historical basis of the electoral college & some of its flaws –

C.G.P. Grey’s fantastic series “Politics in the Animal Kingdom” –

THUNK Episode 95 – Duverger’s Law & Ingroup Bias –

THUNK Episode 104 – Ethics Overview & Moral Voting –

THUNK – 104. Ethics Overview & Moral Voting

Some believe that voting a certain way this election is right/wrong. Let’s look at some ethics & see why.

-Links for the Curious-

First thing’s first, a shout-out to my friend Kevin Greenlee (who’s got legit degrees in philosophy & doctrinal theology). His fascinating article on Christian morality in this election is what kicked this whole thing off –

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s brilliant summary of deontology –

On consequentialism –

On virtue ethics –

A summary of Bentham’s utilitarianism –

A summary of Kant’s CI from MIT –

GEM Anscombe’s “Modern Moral Philosophy,” which kicked off the modern revival of virtue ethics –

THUNK – 103. On Rand-Bashing

Ayn Rand & her “selfish” ideology of objectivism produce both fervor & ridicule…but why?

-Links for the Curious-

A searchable online repository of Rand’s writings (including all quotes cited here) –

Branden’s retrospective personal statement regarding the character of Rand, her philosophy, & her “collective” –

The Partially Examined Life does a *very* charitable reading & conservative rebuttal of many of Rand’s philosophical works –

The evolutionary origin of human hyper-cooperation (an observation of the role of altruism in evolutionary biology that prima facie refutes many of Rand’s claims) –

THUNK – 102. Dimensional Analysis

Dimensional analysis is awesome, but human brains are depressingly easy to distract with number-crunching.

-Links for the Curious-

Randall Monroe’s “what if?” blog –

A simplified version of Maxwell’s dimensional analysis of the speed of light –

A history of units & dimensional analysis –

Sources of Mathematical Thinking, Dehaene et. al. 1999 –

Summary of the paper from MIT news –

THUNK – 99. Braitenberg’s “Vehicles” & the Chinese Room

Braitenberg’s “Vehicles,” Searle’s Chinese room, & Cole’s “Virtual Minds” – some thoughts on thinking machines.

-Links for the Curious-

Some selections from Valentino Braitenberg’s “Vehicles” –

Alan Turing’s fantastic 1950 paper “Computing Machinery & Intelligence” –

John Searle’s paper, cited over 5000 times, about the Chinese Room argument –

David Cole’s “Artificial Intelligence & Personal Identity,” where he posits the mechanism of virtual minds –

A quick note: the response that I end up advocating in the end here is spiritually similar to a sort of philosophical “Pragmatism.” If you’d like to read some more about it, check out its entry in the SEP here:

The SEP article on “functionalism,” one of the philosophies of mind characterized here –

THUNK – 98. Mixed Reality & “Game” Design

Maybe VR isn’t a specific thing, but part of a continuum of physical/virtual experience called “mixed reality.” Regardless of how you think about it, the virtual already plays a significant role in your life, & game designers (as terrible a name as that is) are the ones building your future.

-Links for the Curious-

Paul Milgrim & Fumio Kishino’s foundational 1994 paper on mixed reality –

An article detailing Tencent’s new credit rating app & its truly frightening potential –

Jesse Schell’s 2010 DICE talk, detailing his unique vision of the future as built by game designers –

YouTube channel “Extra Credits,” a great resource for beginning to learn about some of the aspects of game design that are being used to build our virtual future –

THUNK – 97. Autonomous Vehicle Ethics…?

There’s a lot of talk about the ethics of autonomous vehicles…but maybe it’s not as big a deal as people are making it.

-Links for the Curious-

Patrick Lin’s “The Ethical Dilemma of Self-Driving Cars –

“Why Self-Driving Cars Must be Programmed to Kill” –

“How to Help Self-Driving Cars Make Ethical Decisions” –

A chapter from a book on autonomous vehicles written by Lin, detailing many of his arguments for ethical AV design –

“Reciprocal Collision Avoidance for Multiple Car-like Robots”, a paper detailing many of the challenges of creating networked automated vehicles (let alone independent ones) –

“Driver Killed While Using Tesla’s ‘Autopilot’ Feature” –

Some details about the Apple petition to ban the use of toxic chemicals in some of their manufacturing facilities –

THUNK – 96. The Replication Crisis & Belief Perseverence

The sciences are dealing with a crisis of replication…and that’s a *good* thing. How might we learn from them?

-Links for the Curious-

“Psychology is in Crisis Over Whether It’s in Crisis” –

“1500 scientists lift the lid on reproducibility” –

Self-enhancement & belief perseverance –

Abstract & concrete data in the perseverance of social theories: When weak data lead to unshakeable beliefs –

Perseverance in self-perception and social perception: biased attributional processes in the debriefing paradigm –

THUNK – 86. Cognitive Biases & the Socratic Method –

THUNK – 72. Logic –

THUNK – 73. Rigor –

THUNK – 74. What Reason is For –

THUNK – 95. Duverger’s Law & Ingroup Bias

This election is divisive, both in & between parties. Unfortunately, our brains don’t work too well in groups.

*Links for the Curious*

Evidence of an increasing division between political parties in the US –

Tajfel et al’s 1971 paper demonstrating that even totally arbitrary grouping does weird stuff to human brains –

A study about how ingroup/outgroup bias can color what characteristics people are quick to assign to their ingroup/outgroup –

Evidence that we show greater affinity for ingroup members who promote the group’s distinctiveness over those who try to be more evenhanded –

A study showing that simply framing a political argument as coming from the ingroup increases its acceptance dramatically –

Groups also make us prone to riskier behavior, arriving at more extreme conclusions together than we would on our own –