Science for the half-wits

A bit from Jean Yves-Girard‘s latest rant, The phantom of transparency:

Still under the heading « science for the half-wits », let us mention non monotonic « logics ». They belong in our discussion because of the fantasy of completeness, i.e., of the answer to all questions. Here, the slogan is what is not provable is false : one thus seeks a completion by adding unprovable statements. Every person with a minimum of logical culture knows that this completion (that would yield transparency) is fundamentally impossible, because of the undecidability of the halting problem, in other terms, of incompleteness, which has been rightly named : it denotes, not a want with respect to a preexisiting totality, but the fundamentally incomplete nature of the cognitive process.

Inner speech in the news thanks to Kylie

The best coverage of the story comes from The Sun [link now defunct]:

THE majority of people simply have a brain inside their bonce.


The Aussie pop Princess manages to keep a whole committee inside her 39-year-old cranium.

She has so many conversations with said committee that she sometimes thinks she’s been speaking to friends and family.

A Kylie committee spokesperson (Kylie) said: “It’s not about having two different personalities – it’s about having a whole committee in your head.

“It’s about having this discussion with the committee about something really important, and assuming it took place for real.

“Like, recently, I was telling my friend William Baker about my next tour and what we’re going to be doing on it, and he was looking at me, like, ‘What tour, when?’

Quite a lot of research has been done on the properties of inner speech. Some from a rapid search:

  • Oppenheim and Dell (2008) [Inner speech slips exhibit lexical bias, but not the phonemic similarity effect. Cognition, 106, 528-537] asked participants to remember and recite tongue twisters. They found lexical bias (making word over nonword errors) in both overt and inner speech; a phonemic similarity effect (misproducing words with similar phonemes) in overt speech; but no phonemic similarity effect in inner speech. The latter effect was detected by allowing participants to report when they had mispronounced a word, indicating that their inner speech has successfully reproduced it.
  • People with autism spectrum conditions use inner speech to the same extent as neurotypicals (Williams, Happé & Jarrold, 2008 [Intact inner speech use in autism spectrum disorder: evidence from a short-term memory task, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 49 (1), 51–58]).
  • In tests of multitasking it has been found that doing two tasks, A and B, in an order something like ABABAB… results in slower reaction times and more errors than if you do something like AAA…BBB…. Disrupting inner speech increases the switch cost for the former pattern (Emerson & Miyake, 2003 [The role of inner speech in task switching: A dual-task investigation, Journal of Memory and Language, 48, 148-168]).
  • McGuire, Silbersweig, Murray, David, Frackowiak and Frith (1996) [Functional anatomy of inner speech and auditory verbal imagery, Psychological Medicine 26, 29-38.] examined neural correlates of inner speech and imagining someone else speaking. Inner speech was associated with increased neural activity in the left inferior frontal gyrus; imagining speech showed activity in the same area, the left premotor area, and left temporal cortex.

What I really want is a collection of self-reports of people’s inner speech and results from batteries of cognitive tests. No doubt out there somewhere. Has to be as entertaining to read as hippies’ descriptions of their experiences with hallucinogenics.

The role of intelligence in the UK’s arms trade

Interesting article by Robert Dover (2007) on how SIS and co help out the British arms trade. There are some nice little insights from (anonymous) interviews, for instance:

The success of an Ambassador’s period of tenure is partly judged upon whether they have assisted in securing a significant quantity of export trade, including arms sales, for UK companies (interview 24IS).

The author’s conclusions:

This research has shown intelligence to be used in support of British-based private commercial businesses, and occasionally in providing intelligence on the negotiating positions of rival manufacturers. This in itself raises some important questions about the role of the state in the private sphere, and particularly with reference to using sensitive assets that imply that this industry has a core governmental function. The elite interviews conducted with government officials revealed an interesting trend of eliding the interests of the state with the commercial success of a set of industrial manufacturers. That the elision of interests has been allowed to develop is no surprise; what is more surprising is that there is little critical engagement among officials, politicians and the intelligence agencies on the issue of their very commercial role, or of how this work fits into ‘New’ Labour’s foreign policy with its ‘ethical dimension’

Dover, R. (2007). For queen and company: The role of intelligence in the UK’s arms trade. Political Studies, 55(4):683-708.

A beautiful bastard

“Psychology – like Psyche – is a beautiful bastard. It promises much to young students who specialize in it. Yet at its heart it has been eternally homeless. It has tried to locate its parents in physiology, physics, or even in art – to be rebuffed by all these alleged parents as either not solid enough – or not sufficiently beautiful. So it continues to wander in the World – between societies – looking for its place. At times it finds a temporary place where there is some ideological order for its products – like tests or ways to re-direct blame for various actions between groups in a society. Yet such applied success – selling one’s actions while hiding one’s soul – does not lead to the latter’s discovery of its own identity, unsuccessfully sought after in Pavlov’s dogs, Skinner’s rats, or (currently) in fMRI pictures.”

—Jaan Valsiner and Alberto Rosa, from Chapter 1 of The Cambridge Handbook of Sociocultural Psychology

On methodology

“I did not make a deliberate decision to adopt a particular methodology: I had the good fortune to work alongside gifted colleagues from backgrounds in different disciplines, and their various techniques seemed to be producing results. With hindsight, I should describe how one learns from both experiments and intelligent software in terms of the distinction that philosophers draw between the correspondence and the coherence theories of truth. An assertion is true according to the first theory if it corresponds to some state of affairs in the world; true according to the second if it coheres with a set of assertions constituting a general body of knowledge. Experiments provide information about correspondence with the facts, but they exert a dangerous pull in the direction of empirical pedantry, where the only things that count are facts, no matter how limited their purview. Computer programs provide information about the coherence of a set of assumptions, but they exert a dangerous pull in the direction of systematic delusion, where all that counts is internal consistency, no matter how remote from reality. Give up one approach and you turn into a Gradgrind, the teacher in Dicken’s novel Hard Times, whose only concern is with the facts; give up the other and you become an architect for the Flat Earth Society. Those, at least, are the dangers.”

From the prologue to Mental Models by Philip Johnson-Laird

John Fox on SEM

From an Appendix to An R and S-PLUS Companion to Applied Regression:

“A cynical view of SEMs is that their popularity in the social sciences reflects the legitimacy that the models appear to lend to causal interpretation of observational data, when in fact such interpretation is no less problematic than for other kinds of regression models applied to observational data. A more charitable interpretation is that SEMs are close to the kind of informal thinking about causal relationships that is common in social-science theorizing, and that, therefore, these models facilitate translating such theories into data analysis.”