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Cognitive Unconscious and Human RationalityReview - Cognitive Unconscious and Human Rationality
by Laura Macchi, Maria Bagassi and Riccardo Viale (Editors)
MIT Press, 2016
Review by Roy Sugarman, PhD
Sep 28th 2016 (Volume 20, Issue 39)

Various paradigms have sought, over the years, to explain how we think and make decisions, with high loading on the idea of rationality. However, researchers have also made reference to rational irrationality when informing perhaps on how we respond to pricing of wine in bottle stores, or when we lose a ticket and so on. If we divide the brain into non-conscious emotions, more conscious feelings or apperception of emotion, and finally the upper order functions of thinking, we can immediately appreciate we would need to understand the impact of the less rational, more emotional or non-conscious biases we might have. The underlying processes must be in part at least, non-conscious, or what psychologists would refer to as unconscious: I would rather use the former term as unconscious has other meanings for neurology.

Rationality is going to be a word which undergoes several examinations by different authors. Gigerenzer addresses the older concept of bounded rationality with a revision of the pure psychological approach to human rationality, namely ecological rationality, which means we are responsive to our environment, a kind of guesswork where there is no exact answer in response to challenge, several paths existing to a rational decision in the context in which it was made. Cognition however has to go past or further than the information given, making good errors, repeating what others have done, but with inexactitude, and so doing, being more creative than with only the data on the retina or page.  There is thus only one way to be rational and multiple ways to be irrational, and thus create anew.

Elqayam, in the following chapter, with reference to her extension of bounded rationality, namely using the terminology of grounded rationality, is addressing what we consider to be facts during our decision moments, thus referencing what epistemological events we hold to be true, and thus grounding our decisions in that view. She argues that the normative approach is inherently binary, right or wrong, so any approach that allows for a more creative approach, namely allowing for nuances, such as grounded rationality, provides a new paradigm.

If thinking has primarily an interpretive function as its foundation, then Bagassi and Macchi propose a conception of mind bounded by the qualitative constraint of relevance, both at the conscious and non-conscious levels. Interpretation is thus adaptive characteristic of our cognitive machinery, where special forms of non-conscious thought provide the solutions, so that this non-conscious machinery actually operates at quite a high level, a process called incubation. Taking all of these author's thoughts into account, thinking must therefore consider probabilities either grounded in response to ecological realities, implicit presuppositions or degrees of belief in a system that silently restructures input into the cognitive system.  This implies that we abandon the normative model of classic logic and rather contemplate a probabilistic approach, a Bayesian formulation which then takes into account the beliefs and knowledge of the individual, integrating a more psychological approach with reasoning research and thus a more subjective reality and estimation of probabilities and utility in judgement and decision making than previous normalistic approaches. The search for meaning, as in the interpretive function of thought, is said here to characterize every action of the human cognitive system. Even sensory material has to be perceived and then interpreted and organized and learned about, in terms of its meaning and interpretive value. We certainly know of filters that limit our epistemology, even in visual or perceived stimuli. One example of this is our capacity to see faces where there are none, namely interpreting the moon's surface or cloud shapes in anthropomorphic fashion. As will occur later on, metacognition is further evidence of the value of the internal system's capacity to process reality beyond our conscious limits, and influence outcomes.

The second section deals with such a paradigm shift, with Over's reasoning as noted above. Inferences are thus heavily reliant on underlying beliefs, and recursively in term change our beliefs in a dynamic reasoning process. Inferences from fixed assumptions would thus add little to our knowledge in fields such as those requiring creative or scientific thought.  On the other hand, arbitrary assumptions are no help either when it comes to rationality. Finally, absolute certainty is elusive as well, and so inferences rely on psychologically determined beliefs and people are left to judge the validity of the inferences they draw from their conclusions, based on uncertain beliefs, and be open to updating these when required. Little can be learned, in Over's view, influencing Alqayam's work as well, from fixed assumptions, and hence the subliminal noted above must allow for variance in the more cognitively aware reflecting pondering systems. Refuting or ignoring this lead to psychology in traditional, conditional approaches, being unable to integrate with studies on decitions making and belief systems.

There are thus time constraints when it comes to everyday reasoning settings: the search for truth is played off against the need to get things done, achieve goals and so forth. The same reasoning applied to conscious reasoning applies to non-conscious, so epistemological concerns and practical goal achievements are, in Oaksford terms, a necessary evil in non-conscious inference. So reasoning to gain knowledge and reasoning to get what we want may result in expediency. So do we believe human beings are rational, or subject to rational irrationality in Ariely terms? Normative assumptions are artificial even if they allow for study of rational outcomes, but do not predict creativity or the heuristic biases noted by psychology, being binary in nature. Reducing uncertainly and maximizing outcomes would make sense in normative terms, but these processes are differentially weighted in terms of Bayesian inference.

Rethinking any paradigm that has so much history results in some chaos as concepts inform on the need for new methodologies, as perhaps the experiments of Bagassi and Macchi have shown or at least, demanded. Baratgin and Politzer begin to address these issues. Reasoning, in the new paradigm cannot be seen as a pure form, but is influenced by the psychological issues noted above: motivation and objectives as noted in the previous paragraphs are cogent sources of disruption, as are preferences and other subjective cognitions, influencing judgement and decisions. This does not mean they are incoherent as they are always based in states of knowledge, as influenced for instance by culture or environment. Bayesian subjective theory thus applies as noted before, when normative approaches are abandoned, and perhaps as noted in the introduction, de Finettian theory as well.  As in the chapter before, Bayesian theory is used to investigate the psychology of reasoning: elementary levels of knowledge have to be distinguished from the more meta-cognitive levels, and his studies do support what he refers to as the de Finetti, trivalent logic as dealing effectively with the first level, and coherence for the second level, deductive references have relevance for uncertainty.

Ball and Stupple focus on belief as bias, with dual-process theories no longer a sustainable epistemology in the new paradigm.  If conflict arises between the output of intuitive heuristics and logical intuitions, the cognitive system then has adapted to engage in the reflective reasoning processes required when uncertainty arises.  They show that dual process theories of belief-bias effects no longer appear to be sustainable, as sequential-process to explain the increased processing times and decreased confidence ratings associated with belief-logic conflict problems versus no conflict problems, the parallel-process view with conceptual difficulties in relation to cognitive efficiency and psychological plausibility. On the other hand, the logical-intuition model of belief bias is supported by data the authors had recently reviewed.  It can account for multiple findings across a variety of measures, and enables the production of testable predictions.

The new probabilistic and deductive paradigms are however under scrutiny, in the work of Sloman and Barbey.  Some direction or logical driver is required in the processes under scrutiny, allowing for probability. Cause and outcome of events are linked, this we understand and believe in, but if we are ignorant of the cause, we cannot easily predict such outcomes, hence the requirement for probability in such contexts.  As they note, all of their conclusions are defeasible, as none of the evidence they present is overly compelling, but they are clearly excited about the sensibility of the portrait of human cognitive endeavour such conclusions paint. Intuition is thus premised on three assumptions: people believing that the world is both determined and law governed, and that free will exists.

So epistemic context in reasoning is the next environment for discussion, by those who have gone deeper into the facets of epistemology and context, including Mercier, Bonnier and Trouche-Raymond. They believe the core feature of thought to be the argumentative-persuasive goal, rejecting the validity-logical approach: they believe this argumentative discussion, allowing as it does for failures of reasoning, offers a more genuine understanding of the process. Given this approach is founded in the interactional nature of argumentative function of reasoning, interactional rationality has been further developed in deontic reasoning.

Hilton argues that in addition to the rule-content argument, rule-use needs to be considered in determining the meaning of deontic conditionals: the interests at stake. Bonnefon and Billaut attend to language use and comprehension in the same way to address individual foibles in reasoning, addressing other personality traits that may affect outcomes of reasoning. Individual reasoning style and individual linguistic style are thus linked, and influence the way premises and conclusions (causes and outcomes above), are endorsed according to individual proclivities.  Different people after all reason differently, reacting in novel ways to the same premises being understood in the same way, to produce dissident conclusions via idiosyncratic pathways of logic.

If dualistic visions of thought and logical-deductive paradigms are in themselves set aside, then implicit thought has a positive role in reasoning and human creativity, rather than just in automatic behaviour or as an inadvertent source of errors. Betsch, Ritter, Lang and Lindow assert that intuition is capable of rapidly processing multiples of information traces in a form of parallel process of integration of information, irrespective of volume of cognitive capacity. Sun further investigates the implicit process, postulating the interaction with more explicit cognitive processing, and in a variety of environments. Implicit may be faster than explicit processes, but when explicit arises from the more clandestine, it may be very much slower. In terms of decision research, weighted integration processes are fundamental cognitive operations that apply to a variety of cognitive domains. Integration thus takes place behind the scenes, while the conscious mind works on those issues that do require control such as searching for salient information in the environment, in themselves flagged by emotional valence.

Thompson, Therriault and Newman show that deeper forces run within the implicit environment, referring to metacognition as exercising control over implicit reasoning processing, acting as a kind of shutoff valve that limits explicit analytical thinking if monitored cues imply it should. Meta-reasoning processes thus become the focus of research, as resources are allocated or terminated, strategies chosen, and through these processes we determine the level of confidence we hold in our conclusions. These operate in the background as I noted above, exercising implicit control over the explicit reasoning processes. As a consequence of this background information, answers or decisions may be confidently held when they should, instead, have been reconsidered. We do however live in the world of our unquestioned perceptions of some fondly held truth. Gilhooly holds that the field has made progress in addressing these issues, and the existence of such incubation in the background has led to benefits in creative thinking as evidenced by empirical studies, not just unreliable introspective accounts. He is holding out for computer simulations to come.

In terms of the incubation phase further, if we hold that intuition is not enough, and requires accountability to some reasoning system, then creativity as a non-conscious form of activity, it can be considered a form of implicit associative process. The question then arises, is this implicit activity merely a form of explicit reasoning of which we are not consciously aware? Viale takes a more neurocognitive view of the underlying procedures of creativity as a right hemisphere activity, of the multimodality of aesthetic experience.  As the mind wanders, the default mode network is enhanced, a form akin to the incubation mechanisms mentioned in this paragraph. Semantic network activation during incubation or daydreaming spreads in reference to the target problem, and he applies this to figurative art. The artist sets out, by manipulating colour and form, to create a similar impact on the viewer as they would have experienced by seeing the person in reality: as Picasso noted when one of his portrait sitters refuted the idea that the picture resembled her at first viewing, he responded "Ah, but it will…"

 

Marconi closes off the thinking, a psycho-rhetorical perspective on thought and human rationality. He rejects the idea that there can be any comprehensive theory of problem solving when only the outcome is examined, without a view of the many ways this can be achieved with the implicit operations incubating in the background.

So the normative view is dying out in the face of real world problems, which theories the book now addresses. How we conceive the premises but come to multiple conclusions remains elusive, except to acknowledge the black box of the non-conscious world is having an effect, in response to perceptions and emotions and other aspects of human psychology, as opposed to perhaps machine language in computer science sense.

The book is fascinating work for cognitive psychologists, and of use if one realises that the science is still in pivot form, in its infancy while still advanced. This book is perfectly selected and arranged, with kudos for the editors, a select and close group it seems in Europe.

Much to be done, but this book should grace the shelves of any and every cognitive psychologist and clinical psychologist, with interested neuropsychologists perhaps likely to find it a great junction between psychology and neurology, more however skewed to psychology despite the best efforts of Viale.

 

© 2016 Roy Sugarman

 

Roy Sugarman PhD, Director: Applied Neuroscience, Performance Innovation Team, Team EXOS USA


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