Is or Ought, true or good

Satoshi Kanazawa

I’ve recently discovered the blog of Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics (LSE), which happens to be one of my alma maters (I got my Masters there).

It is called The Scientific Fundamentalist, and for good reason. As he says here,

From my purist position, everything scientists say, qua scientists, can only be true or false or somewhere in between. No other criteria besides the truth should matter or be applied in evaluating scientific theories or conclusions. They cannot be “racist” or “sexist” or “reactionary” or “offensive” or any other adjective. Even if they are labeled as such, it doesn’t matter. Calling scientific theories “offensive” is like calling them “obese”; it just doesn’t make sense. Many of my own scientific theories and conclusions are deeply offensive to me, but I suspect they are at least partially true. Once scientists begin to worry about anything other than the truth and ask themselves “Might this conclusion or finding be potentially offensive to someone?”, then self-censorship sets in, and they become tempted to shade the truth. What if a scientific conclusion is both offensive and true? What is a scientist to do then? I believe that many scientific truths are highly offensive to most of us, but I also believe that scientists must pursue them at any cost.

Well, in this post, The Hannibal Blog would simply like to endorse and celebrate Kanazawa — both his approach and philosophy and his research and style.

Subscribe to his blog! It will do what I secretly hope The Hannibal Blog occasionally does for you:

  • intrigue you,
  • offend you,
  • delight you,
  • enrage you,
  • enthrall you.

How? Because it does not — as so much of the politically correct piffle out there does — try to achieve one half of the above effects without the other half. It has writerly courage. More specifics to come.

Bookmark and Share

45 thoughts on “Is or Ought, true or good

  1. Yes, it is a mark of courage to use the word fundamentalist in a blog name. Richard Dawkins is frequently accused of being a fundamentalist atheist and he always defends himself against that label. Mr. Kanazawa doesn’t seem to care…

    Just out of curiosity, Andrea, what did you do your Masters in?

  2. ah, synchronicity. indeed can not everything be communicated through a simple series of ones and zeros, including “offensive truths”?

    simple base two counting, scientific, exact and the basis for philosophies… yin and yang, true or false, dot or dash, raised or flat, is or ought, off or on.

    binary systems even determine the cadence, namely the weight of the syllables, short or long. “Sanskrit meter is quantitative, similar in general principles to classical Greek and Latin meter”.

    it is nonsense to apply feeling to empirical systems. this is the point?

  3. I’ve begun reading reading Kanazawa’s blog entries in Psychology Today and hope to finish in a day or so.

    I looked him up in Wiki and came across this from Kanazawa about 9/11:

    Imagine that, on September 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers came down, the President of the United States was not George W. Bush, but Ann Coulter. What would have happened then? On September 12, President Coulter would have ordered the US military forces to drop 35 nuclear bombs throughout the Middle East, killing all of our actual and potential enemy combatants, and their wives and children. On September 13, the war would have been over and won, without a single American life lost. Yes, we need a woman in the White House, but not the one who’s running (Hillary Clinton).

    Since Kanazawa would appear not to have been joking when he said this, you needn’t be a genius to see how puerile and unintelligent it is.

    That said, I’ll now resume continue reading Kanazawa’s blog entries……………

    • I looked up the original 9/11 post on his blog. I found it very odd. He says that Americans have overcome their ‘evolutionary tendency’ for ‘hatred’ more successfully than their ‘enemies’, which consist of everyone from Chechen rebels to Palestinian suicide bombers to the Taliban. First of all, it is astoundingly ignorant of him to lump these diverse groups with such different agendas into one common ‘enemy’. Secondly, he never offers any explanation for why these ‘enemies’ have not managed to overcome their evolutionary tendencies.

      And I didn’t understand how Ann Coulter fitted into all this. Is he saying that she should be President because her capacity for hatred matches Al Qaeda’s? Is he really advocating nuclear attacks as a solution to, well, everything?I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read that ‘the distinction between combatants and civilians does not make sense in World War III’.

      Well, I’ve been offended and enraged so far. Still waiting to be delighted, enthralled and intrigued. I’m afraid that this post of his, at least, counts as politically incorrect piffle, which is really as bad as PC piffle.

    • First, let me thank you for the link. I was erroneously thinking it was a post made soon after 9/11/2001.

      Now, for what I think he was saying about Coulter…

      His position was that Coulter was/is capable of cold, determined, ruthless action because she was/is capable of hating our enemies equally as well as they can/do hate us… maybe more so. Because of that, her decisive action (dropping those nukes in the Middle East) could have won the War on Terror.

      I disagree with him on a couple of levels. He thinks that the hatred is why a war is fought (and can be won). I don’t. I think that hatred is how you get soldiers to fight, to make them willing to throw off the bonds of civilization and kill other human beings. Wars are fought for material reasons and for the power those material things provide. Even the so called religious wars (such as the Crusades) were fought to acquire power, wealth, and territory.

      There is something he says with which I wholeheartedly agree…

      [E]thnocentrism (or “racism”) is an innate human tendency. We are designed by evolution to love members of our group and hate members of other groups, in order to motivate and facilitate intergroup conflict.

      …though I disagree with his reason for ethnocentrism’s existence. I think it is simply a basic function/part of the survival instinct. Social evolution has made it into a tool to motivate and facilitate conflict.

      I would love to get into my own reasons for why we may lose this struggle but that is not what this particular blog post of Andreas’ is about. Perhaps elsewhere or at another time.

    • I hadn’t seen those posts of his. Thank you.

      So now that we are outraged and offended, we are ready….

      Let me choose some posts of his in a separate post.

    • It will be an interesting discussion. One of the big problems today is separating the man from the message. We might not agree with a person’s ideology but they may actually have valuable things to say about other things–a scientist with disagreeable political views is a good example. If Issac Newton had been a neo-Nazi it wouldn’t have changed the work he did in mathematics and physics. But today I’m sure it would. People would be dissing the concept of inertia because Newton came up with it and they didn’t like his ideology. At the same time, there seems to be a tendency to believe things said by people we like. That’s why people listen to movie stars’ opinions even if they are clueless. Maybe that’s the point Kanazawa is trying to make.

    • If Newton had been proto-Al-Qaeda, it wouldn’t have altered his math and physics either, but the apple would have been a date falling off a palm tree.

  4. From his blog (and something I thought you should have mentioned):

    Even though some of my colleagues disagree with me, I maintain an extremely purist stance on science. I believe that the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is the only legitimate goal in science (by which I mean basic science, as opposed to applied science like medicine and engineering), and the truth is its only arbiter.

    I wondered about that distinction between basic and applied science until I decided that maybe he didn’t see applied science as “pure” science. Rather, he saw it as an inventor of machines might view mechanics.

    I think it says something about the man. Not a bad thing, mind you, but something. And I find myself in agreement with him.

  5. In further reading of Mr. Kanazawa’s blog posts, I came across this:

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-scientific-fundamentalist/200909/who-took-the-picture-joe-wilson-and-how

    Since I am fascinated by politics at times (other times a bit disgusted), I found his take on the photo interesting. I also read the follow-up. Strangely, I had already postulated a possible answer to his question that did not match the alleged real one but I believe would have been a ration and logical explanation.

  6. Kanazawa is straining so hard to be scientific, Susan, it’s just not natural.

    Perhaps it is natural to say that more hatred would bring wars to an end more quickly, but he’s not very scientific about it.

    Anyway, I’m all for repressing basic urges. Nothing like a bit of neurosis to distract from war.

    Here’s to all those brave men and women sacrificing their barely begun lives on our say-so. We do not deserve them.

    • Yes, you put it well. He is straining to be scientific.

      Perhaps his theory would stand up in a world without weapons of mass destruction. As it happens, the existence of nuclear bombs et al compels us to weigh the merits of long drawn out struggles against short but hugely destructive wars.

  7. The question: “What makes a good scientific theory?” is very Socratic, as is “What makes a good news story?” Surely more than just accuracy.

  8. The answer as to why “we” (the Coalition of the Willing) hate “them” (I leave it to your imagination who “them” are) less than “they” hate “us”, can best be found if any of “us” put ourselves in the place of any one of “them” who have personally suffered from any action from “us”.

    If the answer still isn’t clear, remember, that far, far more of “them” have suffered personally from the actions of “us”, than “we” have suffered from the actions of “them”.

    Because this is an emotional topic, I’ll go back for an example to the far-off early 1950s, and to the then British colony of Kenya, where native nationalists, (known by the blood-curdling name of “Mau Mau”) who wanted freedom from British rule, rose up and killed 32 British settlers. In response, the British colonial power, no doubt thinking this just wasn’t cricket, killed, over the next several years, between 11,000 and 20,000 native Kenyans.

    If we use our imaginations, we will recognise similar actions which have been, and maybe still are, being perpetrated by another, if not “colonial”, then certainly a world-dominant western power, against other second and third-world peoples.

    • @ phil,

      to whom are you responding? try as i might i can not find a good definition of The Coalition of the Willing. can you provide a useful link?

      your post is clear, why skirt the point that it is the U.S. (we are them) that is creating these atrocities? we are not the only country to behave this way. you are stating a fact. the U.S. has the ability to do it on a larger scale, and perhaps even hide it’s tracks better?

      how about the sub-sahara issue of AIDS, the U.S. (Bill Gates excluded), “is committing a genocide of indifference”.

    • @dafna

      “……..i can not find a good definition of The Coalition of the Willing. can you provide a useful link……….?”

      The Coalition of the Willing were the 49 countries who supported the invasion of Iraq.

      “………why skirt the point that it is the U.S. (we are them) that is creating these atrocities………….?”

      I don’t want to be accused of America-bashing.

      “……….how about the sub-sahara issue of AIDS, the U.S. (Bill Gates excluded), ‘is committing a genocide of indifference’………..”.

      That would be another debate entirely, I think.

    • i think that statistics do not lie. there is no debate.

      the lack of prevention and treatment of AIDS in Sub-Sahara has been a sin of omission.

      @ douglas,

      thanks for the link about GB efforts, but that does not take away from the FACT that the issue of AIDS had been ignored in Sub-Sahara for too long by “world-dominant” powers.

      http://www.avert.org/hiv-aids-africa.htm

      death toll in Sub-Saharan thus far 20 million and climbing. “An estimated 22.4 million people are living with HIV in the region – around two thirds of the global total”.

      a much quieter genocide than WW 11

    • @ Douglas

      “……Then perhaps you shouldn’t engage in it……”.

      Your remark shows graphically how one has to walk on eggshells when referring to America, however indirectly.

    • An interesting explanation. Perhaps all of us in the third world still subconsciously bear a grudge against our ex-colonisers. Most of the time, though, we’re too busy earning a living to channel that hatred into violent action against the ‘West’.

      Also, if Dr. Kanazawa is right, then scientifically speaking maybe ‘they’ (second and third world people) should be allowed to perpetrate all kinds of horrors against the first world until their hatred dissipates and they start feeling guilty about it too. Then no one would want to go to war anymore and world peace would be achieved.

  9. An astronomer, a physicist and a mathematician are on a train in Scotland. The astronomer looks out of the window, sees a black sheep standing in a field, and remarks, “How odd. Scottish sheep are black.” “No, no, no!” says the physicist. “Only some Scottish sheep are black.” The mathematician rolls his eyes at his companions’ muddled thinking and says, “In Scotland, there is at least one sheep, at least one side of which looks black.” – wiki humor

    cheers to science and cheers to intelligent design!

    • In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

      – Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi

  10. (I could not directly reply)

    @Dafna

    thanks for the link about GB efforts, but that does not take away from the FACT that the issue of AIDS had been ignored in Sub-Sahara for too long by “world-dominant” powers.

    Yes, that is correct. It has also been ignored by their own governments, as well. It is not that we, the “world-dominant” powers, have ignored the ills of the world but that we cannot save everyone from everything. We failed to act in Rwanda, we failed to act decades ago in Ethiopia, we failed to act in so many crises that were unknown to us until they went from localized disasters to overwhelming crises. But we try. We, many of those powers you speak of, act when it becomes a known crisis to our citizenry. One could say, the world media failed to inform early enough to avert many of these crises. And then we could make it all “their” fault. Or we could blame those “world-dominant” powers who failed to act at all in any significant way. But we don’t. We single out the Big Dog and blame it… even though it has acted and has been acting for some time.

    No nation, not even the US, rules this world and cannot be blamed for every crisis that develops due to the lack of initiative on the part of the nations in crisis.

    • thanks for the reply douglas,

      we live in this country (the U.S.) so we inherit its sins (for better or worse) and we feel pride in its success.

      i have a different opinion than you. (perhaps not too different) each country should assist according to its means. it is also my opinion that the failure to act is NOT historically based on lack of information.

      how can people without access to food, water and prophylactics be complicit in the AIDS pandemic?

      i believe the words “fault and blame” are yours. i would say every country that has the ability to respond and make a difference must do so, otherwise they have failed in their responsibility to their fellow human beings.

      the hannibal blog is more about “the mechanisms behind” the way things are. perhaps a better discussion would be “why was Operation Moses” a success. perhaps what i mean to say is the only mechanism that i’m capable of imagining behind “inaction” is self-interest.

    • @Dafna
      we live in this country (the U.S.) so we inherit its sins (for better or worse) and we feel pride in its success.

      That’s a good way to put it. Just as no person is perfect, neither is any nation. As I explained, we in the US respond well when we are informed of a crisis. We tend to “rise to the occasion”, if you will. We cannot do so without knowledge.

      how can people without access to food, water and prophylactics be complicit in the AIDS pandemic?

      We did not create the AIDS crisis in Africa. We had no way of doing that. Remember, AIDS did not originate in the US or any developed nation. In fact, it likely originated in SubSaharan Africa (unless you believe the man-made conspiracy theories). But the countries’ own governments did create their own crises. They ignored the problems, they are part of the reason that their people are without access to the things you mention. It is bit too simplistic to think that external powers are trying to keep these nations impoverished. Their own cultural practices and taboos are part of their problem, their own educational systems fail them (just as ours sometimes fails us), their own inefficient and corrupt distribution systems create their problems.

      We exchanged some emails regarding altruism. I believe the best kind is based in a kind of “reasoned self-interest” (if you will forgive the Randian reference). It is best, in my opinion, because it is based on logic and rational understanding of the problem. Blindly throwing money at a problem only leads to waste and corruption.

  11. @Phil
    Your remark shows graphically how one has to walk on eggshells when referring to America, however indirectly.

    It shows how sensitive you are are to criticism once you have criticized. Ironic, wouldn’t you say?

    My remark meant nothing more than what it was. If you wish to “bash” anything or anyone, you should be sure you have your facts right first. It reduces the chance someone can refute your comments. We are no more “creating atrocities” than the governments of the countries in which the atrocities occur are doing. Something I pointed out in my response to Dafna.

    The US makes mistakes, all countries do. It deserves some criticism for its mistakes but it no more deserves “bashing” than you do.

    Someone might consider China’s Great Leap Forward (estimates of the dead range from 30 million to 70 million). Some might also consider their takeover of Tibet. Some might also consider the Russian treatment of former “states” of its old empire and its threats of gas cutoffs for Europe. One might ask what these countries have done in the last 20 or so years about the AIDS crisis in SubSaharan Africa. One might look at Haiti and see how much France has done for the problems there yet the US is blamed in spite of its attempts to stabilize the country and is the primary source of relief post earthquake.

    One might consider that the US is not the UN nor is it the world government.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s