Trondheim talks

Posted on January 23, 2008

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Gave the two talks in Trondheim. Here are some observations along with links to the PowerPoint files containing the slides.

The first talk, Superstition as science, I gave last night. There was a group of about twenty people, most of whom were students of the philosophy department here. Unfortunately, the talk went a bit over time. I had too many slides and too much to say. I think most of the people were fairly tired by the end of it. The problem was that I drew on a lot of interdisciplinary research so I had to introduce a lot of ideas. Still, I was happy with the discussion. It focussed on the link between superstition and heuristics, which is funny given that it was today’s talk that was supposed to be about heuristics. I was surprised that there were very few very general questions about superstition – the kind that I have come to expect when dealing with what I had thought would be a more mixed audience. Instead, the questions were nearly all quite focussed upon the approach I was taking. Which, of course, is more interesting for me to talk about.

The second talk, Bounded rationality, biases and superstitions, took place just a couple of hours ago. The group here was very small, only six people. This was not surprising as this talk was aimed at the members of the philosophy department rather than the broader university community. I was glad to see that I did not seem to tire anyone out this time. What was interesting for me was that the questions this time mostly avoided the issue of heuristics itself and tended to focus on the link I suggest between Hume’s naturalism and bounded rationality. I think that this was because of the focus of research that the people here have upon more traditional approaches to philosophy. It may not have helped that I tend to have a somewhat cavalier attitude to the exact positions held by historical figures, being more interested in the use their ideas may be put to in the context of the problems I am dealing with than with historical accuracy. I also had a very valuable exchange with Jonathan Knowles, who organised my visit here, concerning how my work relates to his rejection of epistemic norms – an issue I have been wondering about for a while. In the end we came to the conclusion that we essentially agree.

I think that coming here has helped me a lot in terms of forcing me to clarify some of the ideas that I want to put into the second half of my book. Certainly, I think I now have a much better grasp of what superstitions are. The next point I think I have to think about is the conditions which lead to the development of superempirical explanations and the exact effect that using such explanations has. Also, I think it would be useful for me to go back and look at the empirical work on superstitions and try to put it into the context of heuristics and biases with the aim of pointing towards possible heuristics that may underlie various kinds of superstitions.

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