Why Political Science Needs to be Depoliticized…

This is a nifty story from cognitive science.  Basically, the problem is that we want our theories to be like our intuition, especially when the topic is something we have strong opinions about–like “consciousness” or “politics.”  So we wind up padding the theory with a lot of junk that is basically bunk that feels good but says nothing.

This is the money quote:

Here’s how we can construct theories that do a better job of explaining, even if they appeal less to our biases and intuitions. The brain is an information-processing machine. It takes in data, transforms it, and uses it to help guide behavior. When that machine ups and says, “Hey, I have a conscious experience of myself and the things around me,” that assertion is based on data computed in the brain. As scientists we can ask a series of basic questions. How did the machine arrive at that self-description? What’s the specific, adaptive use of that self-description? What networks in the brain compute that type of information? These are all scientifically approachable questions. And we are beginning to see specific, testable theories that can answer them. The theories that show the most promise are sometimes called metacognitive theories. They are theories of how the brain computes information about itself and its own processes.

And this is also how we should approach political science, if we are serious about the “science” part.  Forget about the stupid Democrats and Republicans or useless current events.  Think of politics as abstract machines and processes.  Think in terms of Party A and Party B and voters and information in form of probability distributions.  The minute you mention the word “Democrat” (or “Republican,”) in political science, you are a pundit and you cease to be a scientist.

No, this approach to politics will not give us how to make the world a better place, or why your party is better than the other party, or any other nonsense that people think politics ought to be about–and that is the point.  As per the article’s description of how a “scientific” model of consciousness would look, it will not “resonate with our common intuitions and baises.”  It certainly will be “surreal” and “cartoonish.”  But that is the point.  Science does not exist to be “emotionally satisfying.”  Theories exist to explain the universe.



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