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Vladimir_Nesov comments on Never Leave Your Room - Less Wrong

66 Post author: Yvain 18 March 2009 12:30AM

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Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 18 March 2009 01:04:55AM 12 points [-]

Why do you expect the decision made in a default state to be more accurate than if it's modified by an unknown factor? If you don't expect to be primed in any particular direction, you may as well be swayed towards the right choice. Priming occurs even when you think of something yourself, so the advice could as well be extended to suggesting not to think about anything, especially about things relevant to the decision at hand, since those things are likely to influence the decision most. When any shadow can influence the outcome, your decision is probably no good to start with, and adding some unexpected noise won't hurt that much.

Comment author: Yvain 18 March 2009 01:16:59AM 12 points [-]

I'm interpreting priming as like random noise, since we don't know which direction it will move my estimate. Assuming my rational decision process is better than picking a result at random, adding random noise to it will on average lower its effectiveness.

See also: footnote 3. Since the people not primed by being in a school came to a different result, and since it seems they must have thought about schools at least once when deciding about a school funding initiative, it seems likely that there's something about an external stimulus that's different from an internal one.

Comment author: AnnaSalamon 18 March 2009 03:29:30AM *  15 points [-]

I'm interpreting priming as like random noise, since we don't know which direction it will move my estimate. Assuming my rational decision process is better than picking a result at random, adding random noise to it will on average lower its effectiveness.

If the decision's important enough to be worth some trouble, you could think about it in many different contexts, or perhaps with an intentionally varied set of primed stimuli, and seek a sort of sum over your impressions. This seems plausibly more reliable than either "avoid all outside influences" (and hope your uninfluenced decisions are best) or "expose yourself to particular random priming" (and hope that a randomly influenced decision is best or harmless). This is probably a stronger or more complex effect than "priming", but I know I often see usefully different things about an idea when I travel, or when I show it to someone else and suddenly imagine how it might look to them.

Comment author: Johnicholas 18 March 2009 11:35:00AM 4 points [-]

The average your guesses method, combined with this post on priming, suggests (as AnnaSolomon says), an "average your primed decisions" procedure.

Rather than "avoiding" your influences, seek out priming conditions, and write down your tentative decision in each case. Then average your decisions.

Comment author: JGWeissman 12 April 2009 05:51:14PM *  1 point [-]

It seems like an absurd strategy to me, to deliberately add random noise to your decision making process, and then try to filter that noise with an average. Maybe if the random priming approximates gathering evidence closely enough to compensate for the incompletely filtered noise, it could work. But if priming just causes you to irrationally add more weight to evidence you already considered, it is not helpful.

On the other hand, if random priming leads you to have an insight that you could analyze, that could help. Even then, you should wonder why your other strategies to achieve insights are Worse Than Random.

Comment author: bentarm 18 March 2009 11:59:46AM 3 points [-]

This seems plausibly more reliable than either "avoid all outside influences" (and >hope your uninfluenced decisions are best) or "expose yourself to particular >random priming" (and hope that a randomly influenced decision is best or >harmless).

Given that we don't seem to have much idea what input is likely to prime us to think about what (if I see the letters 'ABC', do I think about US broadcasters, childhood education or matrix multiplication?), it seems unlikely that 'Avoid all outside influences' is a plausible strategy. Is there really going to be nothing in my room which affects my judgment on matters of importance? Indeed, even if I lock myself in a dark room, maybe this primes me to think about ghost stories, or astronomy, or photography? I think wherever you are, you're probably subjecting yourself to some priming effects.

Given that it's pretty hard to avoid all stimuli, I think the 'average your guesses' technique might well be necessary - think about your decision in as many contexts as possible and average your conclusions - if not, you'll never know what influences are lurking in your supposedly neutral environment.

Comment author: gwern 18 March 2009 04:35:42PM 11 points [-]

Why do you expect the decision made in a default state to be more accurate than if it's modified by an unknown factor? If you don't expect to be primed in any particular direction, you may as well be swayed towards the right choice.

Besides Yvain's point about noise, I would point out that we live in a society that systematically seeks to distort our decisions toward non-optimal decisions. I refer to the >$150 billion advertising industry.

I certainly don't believe that a supermarket's many careful product placements and signs and illustrations are priming me to shop more rationally than I would without those stimuli.