Cognitive Biases, the Psychology of Reasoning & Logical Languages

source: Philosophical Overdose    2013年1月29日
Catarina Duthil Novaes (ILLC/Amsterdam) gives at talk at MCMP titled "Cognitive motivations for treating formalisms as calculi". In The Logical Syntax of Language, Carnap famously recommended that logical languages be treated as mere calculi, and that their symbols be viewed as meaningless; reasoning with the system is to be guided solely on the basis of its rules of transformation. Carnap˙s main motivation for this recommendation seems to be related to a concern with precision and exactness. In my talk, I argue that Carnap was right in insisting on the benefits of treating logical formalisms as calculi, but he was wrong in thinking that enhanced precision is the main advantage of this approach. Instead, I argue that a deeper impact of treating formalisms as calculi is of a cognitive nature: by adopting this stance, the reasoner is able to counter some of her "default" reasoning tendencies, which (although advantageous in most practical situations) may hinder the discovery of novel facts in scientific contexts. One of these cognitive tendencies is the constant search for confirmation for the beliefs one already holds, as extensively documented and studied in the psychology of reasoning literature, and often referred to as confirmation bias/belief bias. Treating formalisms as meaningless and relying on their well-defined rules of formation and transformation allows the reasoner to counter her own belief bias for two main reasons: it 'switches off' semantic activation, which is thought to be a largely automatic cognitive process, and it externalizes reasoning processes; they now take place largely through the manipulation of the notation. I argue moreover that the manipulation of the notation engages predominantly sensorimotor processes rather than being carried out internally: the agent is literally 'thinking on the paper'. The analysis relies heavily on empirical data from psychology and cognitive sciences, and is largely inspired by recent literature on extended cognition (in particular Clark, Menary and Sutton). If I am right, formal languages treated as calculi and viewed as external cognitive artifacts offer a crucial cognitive boost to human agents, in particular in that they seem to produce a beneficial de-biasing effect.
Credit to LMU Munich.