Research on Cognitive and Ethical Illusions

I wrote up some thoughts about cognitive and ethical illusions — ways our evolved perceptual and mental processes fail us. I wrote, in part:

[T]he spirit of recent ethical philosophy… seems to want to defer all of the ethical action until all of the loose ends have been tied up in ethical theory.

Which is a shame, because it seems to me that this would be an especially fruitful time to develop a practical discipline of ethics. While some of the great human weaknesses and temptations have been known and discussed for ages, we have never had such precise investigation of ethical blind spots and illusions as we have today.

The science of manipulating people by identifying and then exploiting these conceptual flaws (which crop up not only in optical and ethical illusions, but in all sorts of assessments of what is really going on around us and what is in our best interests) has been running far ahead of any efforts to teach people any sort of self-defense. I don’t see why we shouldn’t start trying to catch up.

Since then I’ve learned more about people who are doing work in this area. Here, for instance, is a TED talk from behavioral economist Dan Ariely:

I also recommend Robin Hanson’s Overcoming Bias blog.

News from Pottstown, Pennsylvania, from the Reading Eagle:

Eighty-Nine Women Refuse to Pay School Tax

That 89 women in this borough refused to pay their tax was brought out in the report of ex-Tax Collector Mahlon M. Binder in his requests for exonerations at the meeting of the Board of Education. The consensus of opinion of the members was that as the women have been given the right to vote, they assumed the responsibilities of citizenship and it would be unwise to exonerate them. Every effort should be made to collect the taxes.