Steven Pinker – How Logic Are You?

Are humans as logic as we’d like to think? Steven Pinker takes you to the exam on reasoning. Did you fail or pass?


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  1. Steven Pinker fails to consider the following:
    1. Humans can learn from experience. As someone who's already seen this exam with letters and numbers, I knew how to correctly answer it this time. Therefore, experience has a substantial effect on performance.
    2. Humans generally do not have considerable experience with manipulating abstractions like letters and numbers (at least in this way). On the other hand, they frequently interact with laws regulating drinking. Therefore, people will generally have more experience thinking about laws regulating drinking than abstractions.
    3. Since people are generally more experienced thinking about drinking, they will have an easier time logically entertaining questions about drinking. Conversely, since people are less experienced thinking about abstractions, they will have a harder time logically entertaining questions about abstractions.
    4. Related to point 3, as someone who does not drink and has never gone to a bar, both questions were equally hard for me (Though I answered them both correctly this time). This makes sense because I have the same amount of experience thinking about laws regulating drinking as I do thinking about abstractions (in this way).
    5. Disregarding my own anecdote, since the two questions are conceptually identical, being shown the solution to the 1st question will prime people, improving their chances of getting the 2nd question right. Depending on how the scientific study was done, the results could be erroneous.

    That humans learn from experience is a trivial claim, and it is perhaps for that reason Steven Pinker avoided saying it. Discussing the cognitive impact of a social contract is obviously much sexier, and it makes him and his community seem much more impressive. However, his conclusion (about the social contract) blatantly overreaches and I do not believe it can withstand harsh scientific scrutiny. Then again, it's not like anyone is actually paying attention to the research anyways.

  2. Humans have a "cheater detection" module in our brains. People (except that first woman!) who get the problem in terms of people drinking in a bar, just look for cheaters and solve the problem easily. People encountering the problem in terms of letters and numbers don't have their cheater detection module activated and therefore often cannot see the correct answer.

  3. wait wait wait. this is some ol BS he says you have to turn over the seven, making a case that if you turn it over and there's a D on it, then it falsifies the rule, but earlier, he states that if you turn 3 over and it doesn't have the D on it, then it doesn't falsify the rule because the rule has does not say anything about the second side of a 3 card. so wouldn't the same logic apply to the 7 card as well? As in, it doesn't matter what the 7 card has on the other side, because the rule says nothing about the second side of the 7 card.

    Similarly, if the 7 card has to NOT have a D on the other side, in order for the rule to work, that, i think implies that it matters in fact what the second side is in relation to the first side, meaning that if you had a 7 on the first side, and you flipped it and it had a D on the other side, this means that the rule is false, because then that card in itself would not be "if D then 3". I agree.

    But it doesn't make sense that the same logical rule wouldn't apply to the 3 card as well. If you flipped the card with the 3, and it would not have a D in it, then it should falsify the rule too, because, it doesn't follow the statement "If D then 3", in the same way that a card with a 7 on it AND a D would falsify the rule "if D than 3". Also, that doesn't make any sense within the context of the F card either, because if it had a 3 on the other side, it wouldn't be any different. Am I wrong here?

  4. His answer to the beer problem is wrong… or at least the problem is poorly worded.

    'If a patron is drinking beer, he must be over 21'
    'A patron is drinking beer. How old is he?'
    If the patron is drinking beer, he must be over 21. We do not need to check his age.

    A semantic error, but that does kind of matter in this kind of question.

  5. Maybe deductive reasoning tests should be fresh and not reused riddles/tests. Oh gawd the slackness is just mind blowing. How the fuck can you test someone when everyone knows the the answers to the tests you're going to use? Intelligence is being able to interpret and solve a problem. Wisdom is knowing the answer to the problem.

    Congratulations on testing Wisdom.

  6. If D always has a 3 on the other side as a rule, then zero cards need to be flipped to be sure of the proposition: D always has a 3 on the other side.

    Can someone explain why I'm looking at it this way? Is that the difference between induction and deduction?

  7. What this proves is that the "failure in logic" in most instances stems from a misunderstanding of the premise.  Most of the observers took the "if D then 3" statement to be reciprocal, therefore they rightly deemed that you needed to turn over the 3 card to check for that reciprocity.  This is more about properly ascertaining the requested proposition than it is about deductive reasoning.

  8. answer set for first question is wrong. "If a card has a D on one side it has a 3 on the other side." The F could have a 3 on the other side, the 3 a W and the 7 a D. All of which would prove the question not true. Taking my last example for instance. If a card has a 7 on one side and a D on the other then the statement is not true. so the only way to confirm is to check them all. Nothing says all "D" are front facing and if it did the core statment would automatically be untrue do to the front facing 3.

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