HONR278X     Clear Thinking in an Uncertain World: Human Reasoning and Its Foundations
Semester:Fall 2013
Instructor: Eric Pacuit
Room:CCC 1115
Meeting Times:2:00 PM - 3:15 PM

Reasoning is a transition in thought, were some beliefs (or thoughts) provide grounds or reasons for coming to another.   What makes certain transitions of thought "rational" or reasonable while others are considered irrational or erratic? This question has been a major focus of investigation in many different research areas, such as philosophy, logic, psychology cognitive science and artificial intelligence.  In this course, we will discuss important philosophical puzzles that have driven much of the foundational research on human reasoning. (See example 1 below) A second component of this course is to examine key experiments that have demonstrated the supposed limitations   of our ability to reason "correctly.” (See example 2 below)

The class-meetings will be spent discussing readings from the different disciplines mentioned above, although no prior knowledge of any of these fields is presupposed.    Students will also be encouraged to test their ideas and intuitions by developing experiments or computer simulations.   The goal is to develop a broad understanding of the principles that guide human reasoning.  

Example 1: The Lottery Paradox: Imagine a fair lottery with a million tickets in it.   For each ticket, it is so unlikely to win that it you are justified in believing that it will lose.   From this you can infer that each ticket will lose.     Yet, since the lottery is fair, you also know that there must be some ticket that will win.   This line of thought seems perfectly reasonable; however, it leads to beliefs that are logically inconsistent. 

Example 2: The Conjunction  Fallacy: This experiment is from  Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.  Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.   Which is more probable? 

   1.  Linda is a bank teller.

  2.  Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

In numerous experiments, it has been demonstrated that people tend to choose option 2.   Does this show that something is wrong with our best theory of reasoning under uncertainty (probability theory)?