It just seems so *reasonable* to say "there might be some evidence, just let the process play out," whether the claim is "there was massive voter fraud" or "UFOs are alien visitors." But in many cases (like these) it's not reasonable at all.
Background knowledge matters. Truth claims don't float out in a vacuum, each to be judged independently. We know something about elections and the strategies of certain actors; we know about technology, perception, and motivated reasoning. That knowledge should inform our priors.
People valorize a certain puzzle-solving kind of intelligence. And solving puzzles is important. But the ultimate goal isn't to be clever, it's to be correct. For that, knowing what information to pay attention to and what ideas to take seriously is more relevant.
So what we call "intelligence" ends up having weak, if any, correlation with having good judgment about difficult issues. As @ezraklein said in our podcast discussion, no one knows more about the melting point of steel beams than 9/11 truthers.…
Or as @tribelaw once said after a group of Harvard Law students published an ugly parody of the work of a feminist professor who had recently been stabbed to death, he worried that his teaching amounted to just "sharpening their knives."
A lot goes into this. Cognitive biases, values, an ability to weigh evidence in a larger context. But the well-known upshot is that wisdom is more elusive than intelligence. We should work harder at it.
And yes, it's an equally important skill to *not* dismiss dramatic claims that push against conventional ideas when they have a chance of being true!

The point is not "dismiss every wild idea," it's "not every idea is worth taking seriously."

Wisdom is hard.

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More from @seanmcarroll

11 Nov
Hugh Everett's birthday! Pioneer of the Many-Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics. Let us celebrate by thinking about ontological extravagance. I will do so by way of analogy, because I have found that everyone loves analogies and nobody ever willfully misconstrues them.
We look at the night sky and see photons arriving to us, emitted by distant stars. Let's contrast two different theories about how stars emit photons.
One theory says, we know how stars shine, and our equations predict that they emit photons roughly uniformly in all directions. Call this the "Many-Photons Interpretation" (MPI).
Read 10 tweets
10 Nov
Most entertaining part of current mess are the folks saying *they’re* not crazy stolen-election conspiracy theorists, but shouldn’t we investigate the crazy claims seriously, because questions have been raised, right?

(Not entertaining at all, actually.)
Hopefully it will count against the credibility of such folks going forward. The naughty pleasure of being an edgy contrarian can be much more gratifying than common sense and clear-eyed evaluation of the evidence.
An infinite number of things could be true. Good judgment entails knowing which are worth taking seriously.
Read 4 tweets
9 Nov
Mindscape Episode 122 | David Eagleman on Tapping Into the Livewired Brain. #MindscapePodcast…
David is a prolific author, inventor, and TV presenter, as well as neuroscientist. His new book is Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain.…
Read 4 tweets
3 Nov
My rough election-watching algorithm tomorrow:

* If either PA or FL are called for Biden, he'll win.

* If both PA and FL are called for Trump, he'll win.

* If they're both delayed, but Texas is called for Biden, he'll win.

Otherwise we're in for a long night/week/month.
These are far from certainties (T could win both PA and FL but Biden somehow wins both Georgia and North Carolina, for example), but I think a decent calibration of expectations.
Also, scrap the Electoral College, it's absurd.
Read 4 tweets
2 Nov
Mindscape 121 | Cornel West @CornelWest on What Democracy Is and Should Be. #MindscapePodcast…
Cornel West is of course the author of Race Matters among many other books, one of which is Democracy Matters. There he discusses the role of the Socratic, prophetic, and tragicomic traditions.…
Read 4 tweets
6 Oct
Roger Penrose won the Nobel Prize for showing that black holes are an almost-unavoidable prediction of classical general relativity. Let's take a peek into what that entailed. 1/n
Einstein wrote down the equation for the dynamics of spacetime in 1915. It was complicated, and he was skeptical that it could be solved exactly. For his own investigation of e.g. the orbit of Mercury, he used approximation methods like any good physicist. 2/
But just a month later Karl Schwarzschild, taking time off between battles in the German army, found an exact solution under the assumption of perfect spherical symmetry. Tragically, Schwarzshild died of pemphigus a year later. 3/
Read 19 tweets

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