Why Bias is Rational, with Kevin Dorst

In this week’s podcast, we speak with Kevin Dorst who explains why human bias is, in fact, rational.

S1 E16: Why Bias is Rational

“When evidence is ambiguous––when it is hard to know how to interpret it—it can lead rational people to predictably polarize.”

Turi talks with philosopher Kevin Dorst to understand why all our cognitive ‘flaws’ - from confirmation bias and motivated reasoning, through our selective exposure to media, even the prejudice we apply to our analysis of evidence that contradicts our beliefs - should actually be thought of rational behaviour.

Ever since the 1970s, when Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky began working on the cognitive / psychological bases of our logical errors, the idea that humans are profoundly irrational has grown in popularity.

We think to satisfy emotional needs (the need to feel safe, to belong, to feel better than others) as much as epistemic ones (finding out the truth).

So much is certainly true, but - as Kevin explains - it has profound political implications.

When we come to believe that humans are irrational, it is only and always those on the other side whom we accuse of the flaw; never ourselves. And accusing our political opponents of irrationality - accusing them of intellectual corruption and cognitive breakdown - is a step towards demonising them, and a massive accelerant of the polarisation we see across our political landscapes.

Kevin Dorst tells us that story is wrong. Politics and Culture are not maths. The evidence we have for thinking one way or another is always ambiguous. The ways we think about politics and culture are, Kevin tells us, fundamentally rational approaches to Ambiguous Evidence.

Join us to hear how, and why, and what that should mean for the way we engage with those on the other side of the political spectrum.

Listen to Kevin and Turi discuss:

  • Ideological Sorting
  • Attitude Polarization
  • Affective Polarization
  • Ambiguous Evidence
  • And the pernicious effects of de-rationalising humans

“Irrationalism turns polarization into demonization.”

Read the Full Transcript

Kevin Dorst

Dr. Kevin Dorst is Junior Research Fellow in philosophy at Magdalen College, Oxford, and Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department at the University of Pittsburgh. His works centres around a simple question: What should we think about how people think?

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This page was last edited on Friday, 30 Oct 2020 at 11:21 UTC