March 24 – June 1, 2018
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania
Daniel J. Singer is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. His research intersects epistemology, ethics, and social philosophy, and is primarily motivated by two questions: (1) how and why epistemic norms apply to us, and (2) how epistemic norms for groups differ from norms for individuals. He investigates both questions using traditional philosophical methods, but as director of the Computational Social Philosophy Lab, Daniel also uses agent-based computer simulations to investigate those questions as well as questions more squarely in political philosophy, social epistemology, and philosophy of science. The lab's most recent research using agent-based computer simulations examines norms of group deliberation and how group polarization can be produced, maintained, and destroyed by rational mechanisms.
Rational Polarization and the Importance of Forgetting in Groups
Tuesday, May 29, 2018, 4:00-5:00 p.m., Wilder Hall, Room 115
It is common, especially among psychologists, to see polarization as the product of human irrationality when it occurs in response to shared evidence and arguments. In contrast, I'll show that the persistent disagreement that grounds political and social polarization can be produced by rational agents. I'll use agent-based computer models of group deliberation to show that groups of agents using a rational coherence-based strategy for managing their limited cognitive resources tend to polarize, even when they are sharing their evidence and arguments. I'll then show that how and what we forget has a profound effect on whether groups can achieve optimal epistemic outcomes, and in some cases, the effect outweighs how group members share their information. This result undermines the popular idea that we should be focusing how members of groups contribute (by encouraging folks to speak up when they have something to add, for example) and instead suggests that we should focus more attention on helping people regulate their own memory and internal information processing.
Sapientia Lecture Series:
Polarization, Forgetting, and a Computational Approach to Social Epistemology
Friday, May 4, 2018, 3:30 p.m., 103 Thornton Hall
Standard epistemological methodology uses models of agents, reasoning, evidence, arguments, belief, and knowledge but usually in an implicit way. In this talk, Daniel Singer argues by example that much is to be gained by making those models explicit and using formal techniques to analyze them. It is common, especially among psychologists, to see polarization as the product of human irrationality. Using an agent-based model, Daniel argues that the persistent disagreement seen in political and social polarization can be produced by rational agents, when those agents have limited cognitive resources. The main argument for this comes from computer simulations of the model, which show that groups of agents using a rational coherence-based strategy for managing their limited cognitive resources tend to polarize. Daniel then introduces an extension of the model to argue that individual memory limitations are often more important than they are typically assumed to be in social epistemology. How much we can remember and how we forget have large effects on whether groups we're in achieve optimal epistemic outcomes. Forgetting, Daniel concludes, should be a topic of central epistemic importance in social epistemology. But more generally, these two cases show that being explicit about our modeling assumptions and analyzing those models formally can help us better understand the implications of our theories and starting assumptions in epistemology.
Free and open to all. Reception follows.
The Sapientia Lecture Series is funded by The Mark J. Byrne 1985 Fund in Philosophy.