Beyond Preconceived Ideas

The link above can also be found on  Dickiebo, to whom thanks for putting me on to it.    It’s a brief talk on the way of the world in terms of health and income distribution that would surprise some.  He starts by showing his students know less than chimpanzees. The chimps have the advantage of no knowledge, which is better than the preconceived wrong.  The stats are produced in a very mobile way, similar to some simulations we do to show processes  in science – a long way from a few graphs.

Blog technology is good but very limiting in terms of tending to produce argument between competing preconceived positions rather than shifting our factual basis.  This is just more fodder for the politicians who manipulate this competition to their own advantage.

Our views are often conditioned by our social psychology and the culture we soak up.  There’s a simple discussion fo this on climate change at

In university teaching it’s pretty common to present a load of data and facts to the kids and ask them what it really means.  The aren’t good at this as a rule – but what must be really clear now after a century of failure to achieve this is that we are dismal at teaching it.

One of the problems is that we can present pretty convincing arguments for almost anything.  OJ didn’t do it and even Santa Claus exists (the argument here is similar to the ontological proof of god).  Politicians start off encouraging us with promises and finally cause us (as with ZPFNulabour) to know we’ve been conned and all they really do is read from the Party hymn sheets.  Then we let the next lot do this to us.  I’m sure now ConDem are tossers – though still cling to the belief it’s better than the one party state.  We aren’t helped by literature and film being so poor.  I used to use a short called ‘Crackerjack’ which has a young US sailor talking all the propaganda of his great country whilst we really learn in disgusting pictures of the ‘low-down’ (at one point he drops his coin in the peep show box into the last inhabitant’s ejections).  My students soon got the idea and went off road campus reading health and safety scripts whilst filming colleagues falling down unmarked holes and such.  When asked to do the same job on standard textbooks some came up with real ‘Crackerjacks’.  These days, I’d be expected to teach the textbooks as though they are true.

Blogs can give us our own versions of Bremner, Bird and Fortune, but I’m not seeing much sign we can do much to replace the ‘education’ that leaves so many incapable of beating the chimpanzee guess rate on the world’s social issues.

Radical argument such as ‘education being the problem creating an uneducated public’ or ‘the legal system having a vested interest in keeping crime and unfairness going’ rarely seem debated.  It  strikes me Sarah’s Law is interesting in the sense that we don’t wonder why recidivist crooks and paedophiles have any right to confidentiality, or view such matters as such a law likely to help – for the crook-molester will only move on making someone else the victim.

About ten years ago, I had a class of cops talking about ‘problem based policing’ – they all knew the phrase.  Along the lines of the questions asked by the prof above, I asked them to detail the problems in a series of exercises.  They all failed, with the exception of a female chief inspector and a lad just through his probation from Avon and Somerset. These guys could do the task in minutes – the others just got worse and worse.  All were good learners in finance where they could be taught rules and techniques.

What we have trouble with is using argument to shake down to the evidence, rather than use it to disguise a ‘solution’ as reasonable.


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