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 –

THUNK – 94. #parsimonygate & Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor is an important philosophical tool, & it played a central role in the #parsimonygate kerfuffle on Twitter. Learn exactly how it works!

-Links for the Curious-

The Cladistics editorial that kicked this whole thing off –

A fantastic article on Wired about #parsimonygate –

An interesting blog post on the issue –

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on ontological parsimony –

My sister’s *fantastic* hand-written notes –

THUNK – 93. Mathematics: Discovered or Invented?

Is mathematics discovered or invented? Is it the language which encodes the cosmos, or an imaginary human tool? Does mathematics, in its pure abstraction, tap the inherent nature of the universe…or is it just our imagination? In the longest THUNK video yet, we dive into the metaphysics of mathematics, & the seemingly unanswerable questions therein.

-Links for the Curious-

“Contact ET Using Math? Not So Fast.” A lecture at SETI by mathematician & philosopher Keith Devlin –

“The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences,” by Eugene Wigner –

“Is Math a Feature of the Universe or a Feature of Human Creation?” by PBS Idea Channel –

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on:
Mathematical Platonism –
Mathematical Nominalism –
Logicism –
Fictionalism –
Abstract Objects –
General Mathematics –

Hilarious SMBC comic on “pure math” –