Cognitive psychology 1/5

So pervasive have the claims of cognitive psychology become, so often do I encounter the rhetoric in which the introductory anecdote takes the form of a cognitive psychology experiment, that I find it necessary to decide just what I think of it, and where I stand. I do so best by doing so publicly.

I respect cognitive psychology as the most rigorous, coherent, and fruitful paradigm in psychology. By itself the nosology of biases is one of the most useful achievements of intellect; in practice at least equal to the Greek achievement of logic. Of course, like logic, the doctrine of biases is subject to misuse—the more so because it is new and there is no current wisdom on its limitations. The spirit of catching out logical fallacies trivializes itself in the principle of the fallacy of fallacies—the error of assuming that because an argument is fallacious, its conclusion is wrong. Now, because biases are innate, but the recognition of biases is acquired, the application of the biases cannot be closed by a neat "bias of biases"; but some such wisdom is required to avoid the bookish error of rejecting conclusions not because they are wrong, but because they are biased—which is, in itself, no argument.

Too, we live in a world that, for reasons technological, social, legal, economic, and pragmatic, is a great open field for projects and projectors. If the world is to be saved, very likely someone somewhere is on the right track. Everything has someone working to reform it, review it, or replace it. The second great achievement of cognitive psychology is to let us live amid this redundancy without inhabiting Swift's Academy of Projectors—his satirical asylum of gibbering would-be worldchangers.

All projects, whatever their short-term obstacles, are ultimately opposed by human nature. Cognitive psychology's scheme of a human nature quantified by laboratory experiment, provides a basis for accommodation. But more importantly its exposition of human nature through distinct and discrete experiments enables a kind of catalog of projects, a way for us not part of them to keep them straight. A particular project can always be linked to a particular experiment as a way of working out its implications and possibilities.