Monthly Archives: May 2015

Moral virtues and intellectual vices: cognitive process tuning

Good parenting rewards positive behaviour, and ignores  the negative.  We wish to encourage our child’s moral virtues that we think of a character and tendency to ‘behave well.  We learn moral virtues through habit and practice rather than through reasoning and instruction.

Education is about learning to think.  To identify and the intellectual vices that arise from the design of the cognitive biases that our brain has in its ‘wetware.  These designs were well fitted to the hunter-gatherer with the complex range of skills that human societies developed, as our ancestors climbed to the top of the food chain, following their Cognitive Revolution of some 70,000 years ago.

The Agricultural Revolution of some 10,000 years as agriculture led to the emergence of surplus values and cities (civilization) .  Skill started to become more specialised compared to the multi-talented hunter-gatherers: growing seeds and fighting for control of the surplus.

A key aspect of the Cognitive Revolution was the development of ‘fictive language’.  Words that do not describe the natural world, nor social relations, but abstract concepts that only exist in the collective subjective.  Three of these, and their manifestation, have driven human history:  Money, Empire, and G-d.

The remarkable fact is that we can learn about, and overcome our cognitive biases.  But this is not an easy task for those who lack intellectual virtue.  We are born with intellectual vice; our brain is designed to fail the fallacy of ‘post hoc, ergo propter hoc’: ‘after this, therefore because of it’.

It is like the optical illusion: I sill see it, even when I know it is an illusion.

Aristotle described the moral virtues, and Socrates was the first to start the process of identifying our intellectual vices.  We can only start from doubt; hope our hypotheses are ‘good enough, and know that nothing can ever be truly known.  And from this strange base an impressive body of Western thought leading to our domination over matter, to the scientific sun.

But too many of us do not understand how our brains tricking us into bad decisions; and make us hate our brothers and sisters, because of difference.  How hard to love humanity close-up, compared from the benign self-feeling of loving the idea of humanity, said Dostoyevski.  But that is only one side of the story; for many in this world tread a path of love and selfless giving.

I want to walk that path; I know you do too.

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