Jan 21Liked by Arnold Kling

Three baseball umpire/philosophers describe how they call balls and strikes:

The naïve realist: "I call 'em like they are."

The logical positivist: "I call 'em like I see 'em."

The solipsist: "Until I call 'em, they ain't."

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Jan 21·edited Jan 22Liked by Arnold Kling

For what it's worth (maybe not much), academic philosophers mean something different by 'naive realism'. For them, it's the thesis that, in perception, we are directly aware of what we perceive (a tree or a table or whatever). (It contrasts with the thesis that we are only indirectly aware of the tree, in virtue of being directly aware of a "sense datum" of the tree.) The view you're interested is closer to what they call 'dogmatism.'

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Cognitive humility about complex social phenomena should increase one's confidence in public policies in the following directions:

• Reliance on voluntary institutions; for example, markets, associations, charity.

• Reliance on institutions that enable *exit,* as a counterweight to *voice.*

• Reliance on institutions in which citizens have skin in the game.

• Decentralization of government (principle of subsidiarity).

• Experimentation with prediction markets for public policy issues.

• Experimentation with quadratic voting about unbundled policy issues.

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Jan 21Liked by Arnold Kling

Politicians may not always in fact be naive realists, though they act as if they were. The public expects that any candidate will "have a plan" to address even the most intractable problems, and won't vote for anyone who doesn't. So the politician may cynically offer a "plan" which he does not expect will solve the problem but which has other benefits such as rewarding predatory interest groups in exchange for their support.

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Arnold, don't you have views that you consider objectively correct.

For instance, you've written a lot about The Null Hypothesis. Certainly you believe it pretty strongly. If the Null Hypothesis is true, certainly lots of educational policy is, well, insane!

And this isn't even a heat of the moment thing. I thought a lot of COVID policy was insane, but I could at least understand how many people would be unable to process that quickly, or be swept up in a moral panic, or default to trusting people unequipped to advocate smart COVID policy during a crisis because they couldn't evaluate themselves. One could hope that eventually they would come around with more experience.

By contrast, the Null Hypothesis has been with us a long long time. It seems like we keep making the same errors over and over.

So if you meet someone that advocates policies that, on strong evidence, you think are insane, why shouldn't you believe you have asymmetric insight?

On education policy related to the Null Hypothesis I usually assume that:

1) In some cases there is cynical self interest (teachers unions). More broadly, politicians like to tell pleasant lies.

2) In other cases its the fundamental building block of a worldview (egalitarianism, anyone can be anything).

3) Obviously, there is a racial lens. Most people never heard of The Bell Curve or would hit a crime stop wall in their mind if they did.

But none of those are truth based reasons that would lead to better outcomes. Even if I can come up with the reasons above or others, certainly I'm claiming asymmetric insight on the matter of truth.

I keep coming back to the idea that asymmetric insight is only bad if *you're actually wrong.*. If you're right, letting in "maybe these wrong believes are true or at least partially true" actually refutes or dilutes the actual truth.

There is some value in being humble about your perceived truth and subjecting it to impersonal and rational RIGOR, and being willing to admit when you lack data for high certainty pronouncements. But one can take that too far into the realm of being uncertain when you should be more certain.

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Jan 21Liked by Arnold Kling

So what would be a better expression? - For either naïve realism or "dogmatism" (in the same meaning as you used naïve realism - see comment by Brad Skow) . Merriam Webster on dogmatism was not helpful, but somehow fun: sectarianism, parochialism, bigotry, intolerance, illiberality, illiberalism, narrow-mindedness, conservatism (!), small-mindedness, partisanship, insularity, illiberalness, reactionaryism, intolerantness, opinionatedness, provincialism, insularism.

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Zohar Atkins recent essay goes well with this and talks about some of the same things... https://whatiscalledthinking.substack.com/p/theory-shouldnt-be-one-size-fits

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The statement: "could our understanding be mistaken because the problem is beyond our ability to comprehend?" depends upon what you mean by comprehend. Your naive realism assumes we have an intuition for the subject, but with mathematics we could understand the subject without intuition.

In the "real" sciences (AKA - STEM fields) we do have a scientific method of determining whether you have or are close to the "real truth". With quantum mechanics and other real science theories (as opposed to the "critical" or "intelligent design" theories popular today) I can model and calculate all sorts of things and make prediction that I then find in the observable/measurable universe. As more than one physicists had said: "anyone who claims to have an intuitive feel for modern physics either is lying or doesn't understand the subject".

Imagine predicting the existence of the Higgs particle then spending decades and billions of dollar to just prove it does exist with 5 sigma chance of being correct. Not the silly 2 sigma of the social science.

If you assume mathematics is part of comprehension, some people can comprehend much more than others (definitely not equatable), even if it doesn't impact their intuition that much for really complex problems.

Makes me think of being a young scientist with a company analyzing field data where I developed my own model and an outside consultant adapted a model from similar but different area which had an implicit internal assumption of a zero source term. At a big meeting with all technical people, I filled 3 black boards with partial differential equations proving the consultant wrong, but he won the day by telling them what they wanted to hear and that cost the company a 17 million dollars. My math said that one little variable changed the result by a factor of 2 and that would kill the project and save the money.

It is hard to know when you are being fed nonsense and we get a lot of that today when you look into issues. For example, the government is now saying that gas stoves create health issues, but when you look at the scientific paper you find a meta study that summed up published papers with weak positive results (high probability of being false results) while knowing that experiments that produced null results are not published and not part of the analysis. Science sounding math can also be pure nonsense.

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I'm sympathetic to all this and I adore Jeffrey Friedman, who I studied under for a bit, but I think the knowledge problem/naive realism does for the right what checking your privilege does for the left. It's something to acknowledge before going on to do what you wanted to do anyway.

Pick a policy you believe improves on the status quo. It's better than nothing.

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I agree with this, but is seems too binary. Does not, should not the "naïve" part be on a spectrum, issue dependent, and directional when the policy response is itself on a spectrum. On fiscal policy I am very certain that the structural deficit should be low, less certain about the combination of tax increases and expenditure reductions to achieve it, and totally ignorant of the specifics of which expenditures to cut by how much and exactly how to raise revenue without taxing investment. On most other issues how to deal with climate change while a tax on net emissions of CO2 is off the table I am less certain.

But on none of these issues do I think that people who disagree with me (virtually everybody) are evil or stupid. They are just operating with a different model of the world and or overlooking important exogenous variables. But I know my model is not perfect and I can be overlooking important exogenous variables, too.

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