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The Golem

14 Post author: Kaj_Sotala 07 March 2009 06:32PM

Anthony Ravenscroft writing on why it is important, in a relationship, to honestly communicate your grievances to the other person:

If you don't present your gripes to the responsible party, you cannot humanly bury those complaints - it's just not possible to "forget" about something that has hurt or stung you. Actually, you are probably "testing" these complaints against your experience of the person, trying to figure out what they would say, how they would react. You create a simulacrum in order to argue this all out in your head, and thus to avoid unpleasantness. Certain conclusions are made, which you file away. When another problem comes up, you then test this against your estimates of the person, which have been expanded by your previous guesswork.

Eventually, you will have created this huge guesswork of assumptions, which are so far removed from the actual person that they likely have no bearing on the reality. I call this "a golem made of boxes", a warehouse-sized beast that has nothing to do with the simple small human being from which it is supposedly modeled.

When I have had such a golem used against me, I was told by my lover that she had kept a rather ugly situation from me "because I know how you'd react." I described to her exactly what the situation was, as I'd pieced it together very accurately (you can do this with the actions of humans, not the humans themselves). She was stunned. When I described for her how the root assumptions she had made were very largely off the mark, she actually became very angry with me, defending the golem as though it represented the truth, and therefore I must be lying! In the end, she could have better determined my reaction from writing down the possibilities on slips of paper and choosing one out of a hat. ...

The golem is handy, but almost entirely dishonest. It begins from faulty (incomplete, biased) data, and runs rapidly downhill from there.

The map and the territory. How have you had the golem used against you? When have you, yourselves, made the mistake of resorting to a golem and had it blow in your face?

Comments (4)

Comment deleted 08 March 2009 04:49:52AM *  [-]
Comment author: thomblake 10 March 2009 02:20:11PM 1 point [-]

Let's not forget, Honesty is a virtue; it is already constituted by the right balance between truth-telling and everything else.

Comment author: ciphergoth 08 March 2009 11:02:28AM 2 points [-]

I had a partner once who described a habit of having imaginary arguments with people, finding herself angry with them for the things she had imagined them saying, and having to catch herself and remember that they didn't really say those things. It made me think that there must be many less self-aware than her who don't catch themselves in that situation.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 March 2009 10:45:27AM 2 points [-]

We have grievances against all sorts of people though, not just those we're in relationships with. You probably won't get the chance to give david letterman a piece of your mind, the golem is the best you can do.

Actually I find myself running into the opposite problem, where the golem is so accurate there's little point in actually talking to people. I feel like I can go for weeks without having a conversation where somebody says something unexpected.

The first person I noticed this with was my psychiatrist. Why pay to talk to someone when I can talk to their golem for free and get the same quality analysis?

Does anybody else have that dull feeling, when you have an argument, like you're just waiting for the other person to walk out where they're exposed, and then you write them up for it and say "have a nice day"? Where it feels like you're sitting in a speed trap eating donuts rather than solving a murder?

Comment author: thomblake 08 March 2009 01:29:43AM 2 points [-]

It seems like this 'golem' is just a type of model. All models leave out some of what they're modeling; this is a feature. If you wanted the map to be exactly identical to the territory, you could just look at the territory.

People frequently argue in favor of the models they use. If she believes she has an accurate model of you, she could be justified in believing you're wrong in your assessment of your own character. Of course, claiming that you're actually lying might take this too far.

I don't regard this sort of 'golem' to be necessarily a mistake. We internally model those that we're interacting with in order to predict their behavior. Those who study human cognition using robots (like Scaz) call this having a 'theory of mind', and sometimes regard it as a prerequisite for successful social interaction.