Superb and overdue essay on race and human thought

From the blog, Gates of Vienna…

This is the latest in a series of guest-essays by El Inglés on controversial topics. In this installment he considers the politically charged issue of race, examining it in the context of heuristics.

We should all be grateful to him for coining an excellent new acronym, DIPC: Deeply Internalized Political Correctness.

Racists ’R’ Us
by El Inglés

Introduction

Given that the cry of “racist” is the most frequently-encountered obstacle to those who would oppose the Islamization of their countries, the spurious nature of this allegation must be laid bare. There is no one way of doing this but, prompted by the Baron’s recent forays in this area, I would like to offer my own two cents on the subject.

Heuristic Reasoning

In considering racism, let us first consider something else. A heuristic, insofar as I understand the general meaning of the term, is a cognitive device by means of which rules of thumb are applied to complex problems in which restrictions on information, time, or analytical capacity preclude the use of pure deductive reasoning or drastically reduce its utility. This definition might suggest that a heuristic is an esoteric and complex beast in its own right, but nothing could be further from the truth. On the contrary, human reasoning is fundamentally heuristic in nature, and non-heuristic reasoning is relatively uncommon, difficult, and unintuitive.

Why this should be the case becomes clear when one considers the nature of the problems facing human beings (or indeed any other cognitively advanced creatures) trying to survive and thrive in their natural environments. I mentioned above the three fundamental restrictions of information, time, and analytical capacity. Let us consider these restrictions in the context of a game that many of us will be familiar with. Chess is probably the archetypal, best-known game of analytical reasoning. Though other games such as Go and Shogi exceed it in complexity, they cannot approach it in popularity, so let us examine it here.

Chess is a game in which the rules are simple, and the moves available to each player easily determined in any given situation on the basis of those rules. However, the game is one of mind-boggling complexity due to the effectively infinite combinations of move sequences and therefore games. It is also played, at least under match conditions, with time restrictions which allow a certain total time for each player to make a certain number of moves within. We can therefore classify chess as a game in which all information is available (the rules are known), time is limited (the available time is much less than a player would use to formulate what they considered the optimal moves given the luxury of no time restrictions), and the analytical capacity of any normal human is woefully inadequate to the task of seeing more than the murkiest glance of what lies a few moves ahead (as anyone who has ever played will know).

It is humbling to note that even in a game as open to deductive reason as chess, heuristics have a hugely important role in playing it. To be sure, the better one is, the further one’s ‘sight’ into the future of the game can be extended, on the basis of one’s own goals and the goals of one’s opponent. The better the player, the less heuristic his play. However, a vast number of heuristics are very well-known by all serious chess players, and will be applied by players far better than rank beginners.

Build a strong interlocking pawn structure to dominate the centre of the board. Exchange a bishop (heuristically assigned 3 points in value) for a knight (also assigned 3 points) or vice versa, but neither for a rook (5 points), and certainly not for a queen (9 points). Knights are stronger in the early stages of the game, bishops stronger in the end game. Keep your king behind a shield of other pieces if possible, and so on and so forth.

In contrast, adding two three-digit numbers together is a task to which heuristics are not usefully applied, because the answer can so easily be obtained through deductive reasoning. This problem has no restrictions on information (given the well-understood rules of arithmetic), or time (under normal circumstances), and the analytical capacity required to solve it is possessed by all psychologically normal human beings (assuming they paid even a modicum of attention at school).

It will be clear upon a moment’s reflection that the subset of all analytical problems amenable to algorithmic solution in this manner is rather small in comparison to the full set. Indeed, human reasoning processes are overwhelmingly heuristic in nature due to the omnipresence of the above three restrictions, which sometimes force us to make decisions on issues of real importance with meagre information, on time-scales of no more than a second, and with analytical capacities simply not up to the task. Stuck in the middle of nowhere in the rain, I am offered a lift by a stranger. Do I accept? I will be more likely to if the stranger is a woman, because my heuristic reasoning processes tell me that women are less dangerous than men. I cannot deduce that any specific woman will not be dangerous, but applying fairly simple heuristics will allow me, on the whole, to make sensible decisions in this type of situation.

If it sounds like I am stereotyping women as being not physically dangerous, that is because stereotype is simply an unfairly derogatory word used to describe heuristic processes applied to subjects deemed politically sensitive. Virtually all human reasoning is heuristic and cannot be otherwise. This is not only true because of the significant limitations on deductive processes as applied to most problems. It is also true because these heuristic processes have, through the action of natural selection upon their results, been incorporated as the main building block of our reasoning processes, whether we like it or not. To be sure they are not, and could not be, perfect, but evolutionary principles and ongoing research by psychologists both suggest that they are an exceptionally powerful decision-making tool.

Anyone who doubts this conclusion can try going through life flipping a coin each time he needs to make a decision and see how he likes the results. Heuristics work well enough, and better than anything else available with respect to 99% of what human beings face.

For the rest, and I strongly recommend reading the rest of this way overdue essay and discussion please visit The Gates of Vienna

About Eeyore

Canadian artist and counter-jihad and freedom of speech activist as well as devout Schrödinger's catholic

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