Part 5—Potent heuristic holds: A growing consensus has been reinforced in today's Washington Post.
The growing consensus concerns Bally's 1967 pinball machine, RockMakers, which has sometimes been described as "Wittgenstein's pinball machine."
The iconography of the machine portrayed a group of primitive humanoids whose lives were wholly devoted to the making of rocks. The later Wittgenstein began his puzzling magnum opus, Philosophical Investigations, with an otherwise puzzling passage which is now widely believed to have served as a prediction that Bally would produce some such machine:
WITTGENSTEIN (1953): Let us imagine a language for which the description given by Augustine is right. The language is meant to serve for communication between a builder A and an assistant B. A is building with building-stones: there are blocks, pillars, slabs and beams. B has to pass the stones, and that in the order in which A needs them. For this purpose they use a language consisting of the words "block", "pillar","slab", "beam". A calls them out;—B brings the stone which he has learnt to bring at such-and-such a call.——Conceive this as a complete primitive language.Conceive this as a complete primitive language? Or should we conceive it as a harbinger of an instructive pinball machine?
"It's fairly clear what Wittgenstein was imaginably predicting," one unnamed international expert has recently thoughtfully said. According to a growing consensus to which the international expert referred, Bally produced its RockMakers machine in an attempt to advance the ideas which comprise the "Harari heuristic," a powerful portrait of "human" nature which has emerged from Professor Harari's 2011 best-seller, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.
The heuristic is now widely seen as an attack on the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who is widely said to have said that humans are "the rational animal." Aristotle also claimed that all matter was made of five elements, including "the heavenly aether."
The latter claim has been widely disputed in high school chemistry classes. But so what? Aristotle's reputation just keeps rolling along!
According to the growing consensus, the Harari heuristic upends the paradigmatic view according to which we humans keep viewing and describing ourselves as fundamentally "rational."
Instead, Professor Harari has said, our species came to dominated the globe due to chance mutations which gave us two new abilities: the ability to "gossip," and the ability to invent and affirm sweeping, absurd group "fictions." Harari's attack on the primacy of rationality has been powerfully reinforced in this morning's Post.
The report in question was written by science reporter Carolyn Y. Johnson. In hard copy, it appears beneath an innocuous headline—an innocuous headline which disguises its true intention and import, according to several observers:
Study: Children can be swayed by robot peer pressureChildren can be swayed by robots? Hold on there! Not so fast!
On its face, Johnson's report concerns a study which holds that children will follow the advice of robots even when the robots are giving absurdly bad advice. The headline, and the accompanying photo, give the impression that Johnson is challenging the rational skills of the young.
Soon, though, the clever reporter switches her field of view. She does so with this naked rejection of everything the masterful Aristotle has ever been said to have said:
JOHNSON (8/17/18): “Children are known to suspend disbelief,” said Anna-Lisa Vollmer, a researcher at Bielefeld University in Germany, who led the study. “Rather than seeing a robot as a machine consisting of electronics and plastic, they see a social character. This might explain why they succumb to peer pressure by the robots.”In that clever transition passage, Johnson switches her attention from the young and toward their equally pitiful elders. "To get such controversial material published, you pretty much have to play it that way," one leading scholar in the field of journalistic switchery said.
But that doesn't mean adults aren't susceptible to robot groupthink. Joanna Bryson, a computer scientist at the University of Bath, said she'd like to see the experiment repeated with a set of taller, more adultlike robots to assess whether adults were still able to withstand the social pressure from robots that looked more like peers. She also argued that while adults may not be tricked by the explicit answers of a robot, they might be more influenced by the robots' actions.
“Implicitly, if the robots all started going toward the exit in the theater, a bunch of humans would follow them without thinking about it,” Bryson said.
We adults are susceptible to robot groupthink too? Having skillfully floated that supposition, Johnson moves in for a deeply embarrassing kill. Prepare to wake from our tribal dream, to see idols turn to clay:
JOHNSON (continuing directly): Wagner's previous research suggests that's true—even if the robots are demonstrably incompetent. In an experiment testing robots in emergency evacuation scenarios, people were guided to a room by a robot that half the time bungled its navigation, getting lost on the way there. As the people completed a survey in the room, smoke filled the hallway outside and a smoke detector went off. The study subjects left the room and had to decide whether to follow the exit sign back the way they entered the building—or follow the robot.Even if it spun in circles! How dumb do those kids look now?
The researchers were surprised to find that the people universally followed the robot, even if it had initially brought them to the wrong room and spun in circles.
In follow-up experiments, researchers went so far as to tell the participants that the robot was broken or program it to behave in ways that appeared to be clearly malfunctioning. Most participants still followed it in an emergency. In one trial, they even had the broken robot suggest that people evacuate by entering a dark room blocked by a piece of furniture, with no visible sign of an exit. Most stuck with the robot instead of following the exit signs to leave the way they entered.
At any rate, experts in journalistic code switching largely agree about Johnson's intention in conveying these awkward facts. According to these authority figures, Johnson's examples are actually meant to describe the way the modern liberal swallows the guff of propagandistic hosts on such corporate "cable news" channels as MSNBC and CNN.
("Did you watch the start of Rachel's program last night?" one weary scholar asked us this morning. "Did you catch the mugging and clowning about the haircuts last week?")
At any rate:
Through the use of Harari's heuristic, a growing number of scholars are asking American citizens to rethink the basic nature of our floundering nation's failing public discourse. But due to the angry reactions of gossip- and fiction-driven subscribers, they must perform their analyses samizdat-style, as Johnson has done today.
Meanwhile, how sub-rational are liberal and progressive elites at this point in time? "Force yourself to watch the professors!" one weary dissenter cried.
Reporting from deep inside a dank, moldy cave where she hides from true believers, this former professor called attention to this front-page news report from Tuesday's New York Times.
"Ignore the apparent ludicrous conduct of Professor Ronell," this scholar advised, her body language suggesting early-onset catatonia. "Focus instead on the behavior of the progressive professors who rushed to say that the rules don't count when it comes to one of Our Own."
Our correspondent compared this conduct to that which occurred in the recent flap about Sarah Jeong's three million tweets, which liberals instantly learned to describe as "satirical," "humorous," "parodic" and "plainly The Other Guy's fault."
Our correspondent stressed the fact that she wasn't criticizing Jeong herself, who was very young at the time and seemed to have been suffering from the stress which can be created by modern pseudo-progressive dogmatics. Instead, she pointed to the instant reactions of other liberals and progressives, in which the liberal/progressive tribe invented an instant group narrative according to which unfortunate conduct can only be attributed to Them, never to Us.
That was the Harari heuristic in action, this former professor alleged. The modern liberal is expert at pinning yellow stars on the blouses of Others while reflexively conferring glory on Us.
As a general matter, how well do modern progressive professors function? This correspondent suggested that we consider the recent case which produced this pair of headlines at New York magazine's Daily Intelligencer blog:
A Study Says That 24 Million Americans Have Alt-Right Beliefs. What Does that Number Mean?The piece appeared last Friday afternoon. One week later, that headline remains, this scholar said, even though it was blatantly wrong even when it was posted, thanks to a correction by the author of the study.
A new study suggests that 12 percent of white Americans pass a test for adherence to white identity politics. That’s a lot of people.
We asked this scholar to flesh out her claims about the bungled study in question, and about the bungled way it was reported, first at Vox, then at New York magazine.
The matter involves a comedy of errors so lengthy that we've decided largely to skip it. It also involves a portrait of a deep desire within our endlessly war-like species—the endless desire to loathe The Others, to pin yellow stars on their shirts.
Professor Hawley, who's very young, made a large computational error in the course of producing his study. (Oof. Click here, see Editor's Note.) That said, before Hawley made his very large error, he'd designed a study which goes to the heart of the endless desire to stereotype and to loathe.
After Hawley's study appeared, a reporter at Vox made a large conceptual error in the course of reporting its findings. A reporter at New York noted Vox's conceptual error, but so what? He went ahead with Hawley's and Vox's bungled numbers, which remain uncorrected, for all to see, at New York's site today.
This is the way progressive professors and journalists play the game, our international expert said. All praise to the people at Bally, she said. They understood that we need a new way to understand who and what we rock-makers actually are.
Again, the basic chronology:
Hawley's study was crap from Day One. But thanks to an embarrassing mathematical error, he produced a thoroughly bogus number: 12 percent of non-Hispanic whites would soon be joining the Klan.
At Vox, they proceeded to make a second, conceptual error. This let them invent another bogus number: 24 million people ought to wear yellow stars!
That triply-bogus number survives today at New York. It's the product of two different mistakes, applied to a study which was conceptual crap from the start.
That bogus number—24 million people!—had been corrected at Vox before it ever appeared at New York. (Vox bumped it down to a still-bogus 11 million.) That said, no one actually cares about matters like this. For that reason, that triply-bogus number remains on-line at New York.
No one cares about matters like this! As the Harari heuristic helps us see, it's group "fictions" all the way down, thanks to some ancient chance mutations which didn't make us smarter or wiser.
Thanks to our species' investment in fictions, we liberals cling to our guns and our religion—our deeply held religious beliefs concerning Them, never Us.
Final point: Would Americans adults really defer to a malfunctioning robot?
We'll answer your question with one of our own: Did you catch Rachel last night?
Tomorrow: Rachel's "open"