Ambiguity and Disagreement
By Arnold Kling
It can be amusing to read a magazine whose principles you despise, but it is almost unbearable to watch such a television show. And so, in a culture of secondary orality, we may be less likely to spend time with ideas we disagree with.
Self-doubt, therefore, becomes less likely. In fact, doubt of any kind is rarer. It is easy to notice inconsistencies in two written accounts placed side by side. With text, it is even easy to keep track of differing levels of authority behind different pieces of information. The trust that a reader grants to the New York Times, for example, may vary sentence by sentence. A comparison of two video reports, on the other hand, is cumbersome. Forced to choose between conflicting stories on television, the viewer falls back on hunches, or on what he believed before he started watching. Like the peasants studied by Luria, he thinks in terms of situations and story lines rather than abstractions.
That’s why I am not a big fan of the broadband Internet. Back when the information was mostly text, we may have been better off. In a Youtube world, people may find it hard to process information that challenges them. Of course, the guy who thinks we are headed toward islands of extremism is Cass Sunstein. The talk, which I have not heard, probably will be up at the link in a few days. On the other hand, you might be better off reading his book…
Meanwhile, reviewing Philip Tetlocks’ work on expert judgment, Sebastian Benthall writes ($),
the most significant indicator is the “cognitive style” of the expert’s thinking. Tetlock illustrates this psychological dimension with Isaiah Berlin’s (1953) metaphor of foxes and hedgehogs. Hedgehogs know one thing well: they back their understanding of the world into a single unifying theory, confidently deriving conclusions from it deductively…Foxes, on the other hand, know many things. But this internal pluralism leads them to hold many contradictory ideas at once. They lack confidence, being proficient at undercutting their own opinions; they expect that they are missing the real complexity of the situation.
Doesn’t the description of foxes remind you of Tyler Cowen?
The same issue of Critical Review also finds Bryan Caplan asking, “Have the experts been weighed, measured, and found wanting?” He says that Tetlock deliberately chose questions that favor hedgehogs. That is, instead of asking about certain truths, Tetlock asked about things that are difficult to verify or to forecast.
On Global Warming, I feel much more fox than hedgehog. The hedgehogs know one thing–human emissions of CO2. I worry that the real complexity of the situation is beyond our understanding. And, by the way, going back to Crain, I found it much easier to read The Inconvenient Truth as a book than to watch it as a movie.