Book review: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt.
This book carefully describes the evolutionary origins of human moralizing, explains why tribal attitudes toward morality have both good and bad effects, and how people who want to avoid moral hostility can do so.
Parts of the book are arranged to describe the author’s transition from having standard delusions about morality being the result of the narratives we use to justify them and about why other people had alien-sounding ideologies. His description about how his study of psychology led him to overcome his delusions makes it hard for those who agree with him to feel very superior to those who disagree.
He hints at personal benefits from abandoning partisanship (“It felt good to be released from partisan anger.”), so he doesn’t rely on altruistic motives for people to accept his political advice.
One part of the book that surprised me was the comparison between human morality and human taste buds. Some ideologies are influenced a good deal by all 6 types of human moral intuitions. But the ideology that pervades most of academia only respect 3 types (care, liberty, and fairness). That creates a difficult communication gap between them and cultures that employ others such as sanctity in their moral system, much like people who only experience sweet and salty foods would have trouble imagining a desire for sourness in some foods.
He sometimes gives the impression of being more of a moral relativist than I’d like, but a careful reading of the book shows that there are a fair number of contexts in which he believes some moral tastes produce better results than others.
His advice could be interpreted as encouraging us to to replace our existing notions of “the enemy” with Manichaeans. Would his advice polarize societies into Manichaeans and non-Manichaeans? Maybe, but at least the non-Manichaeans would have a decent understanding of why Manichaeans disagreed with them.
The book also includes arguments that group selection played an important role in human evolution, and that an increase in cooperation (group-mindedness, somewhat like the cooperation among bees) had to evolve before language could become valuable enough to evolve. This is an interesting but speculative alternative to the common belief that language was the key development that differentiated humans from other apes.
I’ve made several changes over the past few months that have improved my sleep.
A cool environment is important to my sleep, and Chili Pad has proven to be a better way to cool myself on warm nights than attempts at air conditioning. I have it pump water at 72 or 73 degrees through small tubes sitting between me and the mattress. I was careful to buy enough tubes to put the pump in the next room where its noise and light aren’t noticeable. One drawback is that the straps that should hold it in place no the mattress weren’t quite the right length, and broke immediately – that creates a minor problem where it slides around a bit.
The second change was to use only lighting with no blue light an hour before going to bed. I had tried this more than a year ago by placing a red filter in front of my computer monitor and turning off most of the regular lighting. That produced little change even though it cut out 90 to 95% of the blue light. Last week I bought a red light to replace the remaining regular lighting, and now I see a moderate improvement in how quickly I can fall asleep.
I’ve started occasionally using a sleep mask so that I can sleep a bit later than sunrise instead of letting the sun completely control when I wake up. But I don’t like the way it feels, so I won’t use it often.
I’ve also started using a Zeo, and intend to measure the effects of caffeine on my sleep. But I don’t like wearing the headband, so I won’t use the Zeo for long periods of time.
Book review: The Intelligence Paradox: Why the Intelligent Choice Isn’t Always the Smart One, by Satoshi Kanazawa.
This book is entertaining and occasionally thought-provoking, but not very well thought out.
The main idea is that intelligence (what IQ tests measure) is an adaptation for evolutionarily novel situations, and shouldn’t be positively correlated with cognitive abilities that are specialized for evolutionarily familiar problems. He defines “smart” so that it’s very different from intelligence. His notion of smart includes a good deal of common sense that is unconnected with IQ.
He only provides one example of an evolutionarily familiar skill which I assumed would be correlated with IQ but which isn’t: finding your way in situations such as woods where there’s some risk of getting lost.
He does make and test many odd predictions about high IQ people being more likely to engage in evolutionarily novel behavior, such as high IQ people going to bed later than low IQ people. But I’m a bit concerned at the large number of factors he controls for before showing associations (e.g. 19 factors for alcohol use). How hard would it be to try many combinations and only report results when he got conclusions that fit his prediction? On the other hand, he can’t be trying too hard to reject all evidence that conflicts with his predictions, since he occasionally reports evidence that conflicts with his predictions (e.g. tobacco use).
He reports that fertility is heritable, and finds that puzzling. He gives a kin selection based argument saying that someone with many siblings ought to put more effort into the siblings reproductive success and less into personally reproducing. But I see no puzzle – I expect people to have varying intuitions about whether the current abundance of food will last, and pursue different strategies, some of which will be better if food remains abundant, and others better if overpopulation produces a famine.
He’s eager to sound controversial, and his chapter titles will certainly offend some people. Sometimes those are backed up by genuinely unpopular claims, sometimes the substance is less interesting. E.g. the chapter title “Why Homosexuals Are More Intelligent than Heterosexuals” says there’s probably no connection between intelligence and homosexual desires, but there’s a connection between intelligence and how willing people are to act on those desires (yawn).
Here is some evidence against his main hypothesis.