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Generalizing From One Example

245 Post author: Yvain 28 April 2009 10:00PM

Related to: The Psychological Unity of Humankind, Instrumental vs. Epistemic: A Bardic Perspective

"Everyone generalizes from one example. At least, I do."

   -- Vlad Taltos (Issola, Steven Brust)

My old professor, David Berman, liked to talk about what he called the "typical mind fallacy", which he illustrated through the following example:

There was a debate, in the late 1800s, about whether "imagination" was simply a turn of phrase or a real phenomenon. That is, can people actually create images in their minds which they see vividly, or do they simply say "I saw it in my mind" as a metaphor for considering what it looked like?

Upon hearing this, my response was "How the stars was this actually a real debate? Of course we have mental imagery. Anyone who doesn't think we have mental imagery is either such a fanatical Behaviorist that she doubts the evidence of her own senses, or simply insane." Unfortunately, the professor was able to parade a long list of famous people who denied mental imagery, including some leading scientists of the era. And this was all before Behaviorism even existed.

The debate was resolved by Francis Galton, a fascinating man who among other achievements invented eugenics, the "wisdom of crowds", and standard deviation. Galton gave people some very detailed surveys, and found that some people did have mental imagery and others didn't. The ones who did had simply assumed everyone did, and the ones who didn't had simply assumed everyone didn't, to the point of coming up with absurd justifications for why they were lying or misunderstanding the question. There was a wide spectrum of imaging ability, from about five percent of people with perfect eidetic imagery1 to three percent of people completely unable to form mental images2.

Dr. Berman dubbed this the Typical Mind Fallacy: the human tendency to believe that one's own mental structure can be generalized to apply to everyone else's.

He kind of took this idea and ran with it. He interpreted certain passages in George Berkeley's biography to mean that Berkeley was an eidetic imager, and that this was why the idea of the universe as sense-perception held such interest to him. He also suggested that experience of consciousness and qualia were as variable as imaging, and that philosophers who deny their existence (Ryle? Dennett? Behaviorists?) were simply people whose mind lacked the ability to easily experience qualia. In general, he believed philosophy of mind was littered with examples of philosophers taking their own mental experiences and building theories on them, and other philosophers with different mental experiences critiquing them and wondering why they disagreed.

The formal typical mind fallacy is about serious matters of mental structure. But I've also run into something similar with something more like the psyche than the mind: a tendency to generalize from our personalities and behaviors.

For example, I'm about as introverted a person as you're ever likely to meet - anyone more introverted than I am doesn't communicate with anyone. All through elementary and middle school, I suspected that the other children were out to get me. They kept on grabbing me when I was busy with something and trying to drag me off to do some rough activity with them and their friends. When I protested, they counter-protested and told me I really needed to stop whatever I was doing and come join them. I figured they were bullies who were trying to annoy me, and found ways to hide from them and scare them off.

Eventually I realized that it was a double misunderstanding. They figured I must be like them, and the only thing keeping me from playing their fun games was that I was too shy. I figured they must be like me, and that the only reason they would interrupt a person who was obviously busy reading was that they wanted to annoy him.

Likewise: I can't deal with noise. If someone's being loud, I can't sleep, I can't study, I can't concentrate, I can't do anything except bang my head against the wall and hope they stop. I once had a noisy housemate. Whenever I asked her to keep it down, she told me I was being oversensitive and should just mellow out. I can't claim total victory here, because she was very neat and kept yelling at me for leaving things out of place, and I told her she needed to just mellow out and you couldn't even tell that there was dust on that dresser anyway. It didn't occur to me then that neatness to her might be as necessary and uncompromisable as quiet was to me, and that this was an actual feature of how our minds processed information rather than just some weird quirk on her part.

"Just some weird quirk on her part" and "just being oversensitive" are representative of the problem with the typical psyche fallacy, which is that it's invisible. We tend to neglect the role of differently-built minds in disagreements, and attribute the problems to the other side being deliberately perverse or confused. I happen to know that loud noise seriously pains and debilitates me, but when I say this to other people they think I'm just expressing some weird personal preference for quiet. Think about all those poor non-imagers who thought everyone else was just taking a metaphor about seeing mental images way too far and refusing to give it up.

And the reason I'm posting this here is because it's rationality that helps us deal with these problems.

There's some evidence that the usual method of interacting with people involves something sorta like emulating them within our own brain. We think about how we would react, adjust for the other person's differences, and then assume the other person would react that way. This method of interaction is very tempting, and it always feels like it ought to work.

But when statistics tell you that the method that would work on you doesn't work on anyone else, then continuing to follow that gut feeling is a Typical Psyche Fallacy. You've got to be a good rationalist, reject your gut feeling, and follow the data.

I only really discovered this in my last job as a school teacher. There's a lot of data on teaching methods that students enjoy and learn from. I had some of these methods...inflicted...on me during my school days, and I had no intention of abusing my own students in the same way. And when I tried the sorts of really creative stuff I would have loved as a student...it fell completely flat. What ended up working? Something pretty close to the teaching methods I'd hated as a kid. Oh. Well. Now I know why people use them so much. And here I'd gone through life thinking my teachers were just inexplicably bad at what they did, never figuring out that I was just the odd outlier who couldn't be reached by this sort of stuff.

The other reason I'm posting this here is because I think it relates to some of the discussions of seduction that are going on in MBlume's Bardic thread. There are a lot of not-particularly-complimentary things about women that many men tend to believe. Some guys say that women will never have romantic relationships with their actually-decent-people male friends because they prefer alpha-male jerks who treat them poorly. Other guys say women want to be lied to and tricked. I could go on, but I think most of them are covered in that thread anyway.

The response I hear from most of the women I know is that this is complete balderdash and women aren't like that at all. So what's going on?

Well, I'm afraid I kind of trust the seduction people. They've put a lot of work into their "art" and at least according to their self-report are pretty successful. And unhappy romantically frustrated nice guys everywhere can't be completely wrong.

My theory is that the women in this case are committing a Typical Psyche Fallacy. The women I ask about this are not even remotely close to being a representative sample of all women. They're the kind of women whom a shy and somewhat geeky guy knows and talks about psychology with. Likewise, the type of women who publish strong opinions about this on the Internet aren't close to a representative sample. They're well-educated women who have strong opinions about gender issues and post about them on blogs.

And lest I sound chauvinistic, the same is certainly true of men. I hear a lot of bad things said about men (especially with reference to what they want romantically) that I wouldn't dream of applying to myself, my close friends, or to any man I know. But they're so common and so well-supported that I have excellent reason to believe they're true.

This post has gradually been getting less rigorous and less connected to the formal Typical Mind Fallacy. First I changed it to a Typical Psyche Fallacy so I could talk about things that were more psychological and social than mental. And now it's expanding to cover the related fallacy of believing your own social circle is at least a little representative of society at large, which it very rarely is3.

It was originally titled "The Typical Mind Fallacy", but I'm taking a hint fromt the quote and changing it to "Generalizing From One Example", because that seems to be the link between all of these errors. We only have direct first-person knowledge one one mind, one psyche, and one social circle, and we find it tempting to treat it as typical even in the face of contrary evidence.

This, I think, is especially important for the sort of people who enjoy Less Wrong, who as far as I can tell are with few exceptions the sort of people who are extreme outliers on every psychometric test ever invented.


Footnotes

1. Eidetic imagery, vaguely related to the idea of a "photographic memory", is the ability to visualize something and have it be exactly as clear, vivid and obvious as actually seeing it. My professor's example (which Michael Howard somehow remembers even though I only mentioned it once a few years ago) is that although many people can imagine a picture of a tiger, only an eidetic imager would be able to count the number of stripes.

2. According to Galton, people incapable of forming images were overrepresented in math and science. I've since heard that this idea has been challenged, but I can't access the study.

3. The example that really drove this home to me: what percent of high school students do you think cheat on tests? What percent have shoplifted? Someone did a survey on this recently and found that the answer was nobhg gjb guveqf unir purngrq naq nobhg bar guveq unir fubcyvsgrq (rot13ed so you have to actually take a guess first). This shocked me and everyone I knew, because we didn't cheat or steal during high school and we didn't know anyone who did. I spent an afternoon trying to find some proof that the study was wrong or unrepresentative and coming up with nothing.

Comments (379)

Comment author: roland 28 April 2009 10:40:54PM 3 points [-]

I think "Generalizing from yourself" would be more appropriate as a title.

Comment author: Alicorn 28 April 2009 10:43:51PM *  16 points [-]

This reminds me of some of the literature on fallibility of introspection. (If you have time only for one essay, read "The Unreliability of Naïve Introspection" and try the experiment with the playing card.)

As far as generalizing about an entire gender: It's extremely likely that I know a wildly unrepresentative sample of women, but why would you assume that the pickup artists don't? I imagine they meet vast numbers of women, but if they find them all at parties and clubs and bars, they're going to meet the kinds of women who go to parties and clubs and bars, not the ones who spend their time gardening at home or who go to all-women gyms to avoid being hit on or the ones who play D&D with their brothers in the basement. Even if their statements are accurate about that sort of woman (which I am not yet prepared to believe), that doesn't make them applicable to the entire gender, and the stereotype remains wildly inappropriate and offensive. If you're hearing things about men as a group that don't apply to you or any men you know, then chances are you're not hearing from someone who has a really ideal sample. If a female friend of mine complains about her sixth boyfriend in a row being a jerk, I don't conclude that men are jerks, I conclude that she has terrible taste.

Comment author: Psychohistorian 28 April 2009 10:58:25PM 9 points [-]

Not to mention that they're only talking about a specific subsection of a specific subsection, namely the women they are actually successful with. I'm assuming their batting average is well below .500, though I could be wrong. Thus, a small subsection of a small subsection of women conform to those particular stereotypes, or at least that's all you can say from that evidence.

Other examples suffer somewhat similar problems; all men may seem like chauvinistic jerks because chauvinistic jerks are quite noticeable and quite memorable. Thus, women may encounter more jerks because they get around more, rather than because most men are jerks.

Post is overall excellent, but some of those vaguely anecdotal counterexamples may well suffer from skewed reporting due to other biases.

Comment author: Z_M_Davis 29 April 2009 12:39:03AM 6 points [-]

all men may seem like chauvinistic jerks because chauvinistic jerks are quite noticeable and quite memorable. Thus, women may encounter more jerks because they get around more, rather than because most men are jerks

Yes, see also the availability heuristic. P(A|B) does not in general equal P(B|A), but this is not necessarily obvious to human intuition.

Comment author: mattnewport 28 April 2009 11:26:08PM 12 points [-]

They don't find them all at parties and clubs and bars. There's a whole raft of material on 'day game' - approaches in non-obvious places like bookshops, grocery stores, museums, the high street, etc. which are designed in part to reach women who are unlikely to be encountered in clubs and bars.

Comment author: Alicorn 28 April 2009 11:30:39PM *  3 points [-]

Thank you for the correction; that still won't reach women who don't get out much in places where they can be easily approached (my gardening/D&D in the basement/all-women gym examples still hold, for instance).

Comment author: mattnewport 28 April 2009 11:45:59PM 18 points [-]

One of the reasons the seduction community has been a topic on less wrong is the application of rationality to success in everyday life. If there is any significant subset of desirable women who are not easily approached then someone in the seduction community will have tried to figure out a way to engineer an approach opportunity. If there are a lot of attractive single gardeners in the world then there is probably a blog somewhere that extols the virtues of garden centres as potentially fruitful pickup venues.

You can argue that the consensus judgement of the community as to what constitutes an attractive/desirable woman is flawed but to the extent that the 'hard to reach' women you describe are considered desirable, the likelihood is that someone will have tried to figure out how to reach them effectively.

Comment author: AnnaSalamon 29 April 2009 01:02:43AM *  41 points [-]

...which I am not yet prepared to believe...
...wildly inappropriate and offensive...

Alicorn, are you applying the virtue of evenness, and searching equally for evidence for and against your conclusions? I mean, is your aim solely to get an accurate answer?

For myself, I find that phrases like “not yet prepared to believe” are a tip-off, when I notice them in my own thinking, that... I’m looking for permission to keep believing a pleasant, socially useful, or otherwise convenient belief, rather than really trying to figure out what’s true. I’m thinking “but the evidence doesn’t yet force me to change my mind, or at least I can see it that way!” instead of asking “what’s most likely to be true? what clues can I draw from the evidence? what models are most likely to help me make accurate predictions in the future?”.

Ditto for terms like “offensive”, if applied to peoples’ anticipations about the world (matters of truth and falsity) rather than to peoples’ non-belief actions. If what you mean by “offensive” is that you suspect folks’ beliefs here are stemming from emotional biases, it is okay to say that, and to explain the causes of your beliefs about their biases. If what you mean by “offensive” is that having statements like this around may make women uncomfortable, it is okay to say that, to explore why, and to start a dialog on how (without ceasing to seek accurate beliefs, but while perhaps taking special pains to include other facets of the story) we can make LW a comfortable place for women. But a belief’s “offensiveness” isn’t directly relevant to its truth, and so it’s confusing to include it in an argument about what’s true, or in an argument about what we should say and believe.

I agree that women and men sometimes vary (though I'd love a better model of the details). It isn’t really your conclusions I’m trying to talk about here; it’s how to talk about potentially mind-killing topics, as a community, in a way that helps true conclusions come to the fore.

Comment author: Alicorn 29 April 2009 01:25:57AM -1 points [-]

I don't put a high priority on discovering the truth value of the proposition "women who are found at parties, in clubs, and patronizing bars are [insert pejorative here]". I don't currently have a belief about it (I'm ambivalent because my uninformed dislike for parties/clubs/bars and their patrons is in opposition to my equally uninformed general wish to think well of others), and I'm not looking for evidence either way because it's not important to me in comparison to other things I could learn about as easily or more so. The information that I've stumbled across passively hasn't pushed me to accept either conclusion, especially since my information is filtered by what happens to appear on my screen without any special looking. Regardless of whether women who are found in those places are [insert pejorative here], that doesn't change my relevant opinions because I don't think rights are a function of personal virtue, and all of the ethical claims I've made have been based on rights. It also doesn't change whether I think the topic is appropriate, because among the reasons I find it inappropriate is that it makes me, personally, uncomfortable.

I think spending so much time talking about how men can sleep with/achieve success with/be more confident around/pick your favorite charming descriptor with women makes Less Wrong very gendered. It seems to be the pet topic of a few posters, who attribute specific characteristics unqualifiedly to "women" as an apparently undifferentiated group; this is alienating and stereotypifies us in what seems an obviously unwarranted way.

Comment author: MBlume 29 April 2009 01:35:16AM 7 points [-]

[insert pejorative here]

If it's not horribly offensive, may I ask you to actually insert the pejorative? I don't think I've seen any assumed in mainstream conversation here.

I'm afraid I might come off as being deliberately obtuse, but I really am genuinely confused about...what the actual accusation is here.

Comment author: Alicorn 29 April 2009 01:48:48AM 2 points [-]

No specific word belongs in the brackets. It represents a variety of things that have been said that appear to me to convey negative attitudes about women, some simply by virtue of saying anything about "women" without a qualifier like "many" or "in my experience" or "as a general tendency".

Comment author: jimmy 29 April 2009 03:17:57AM 9 points [-]

In against disclaimers Robin argues against the idea that those qualifiers should be included

The idea is that among aspiring rationalists, it is silly to assume that "Any general claim about human behavior is an absolute law without exception unless it includes qualifiers like "tends" or "often."". Since there are always exceptions, you can drop the qualifier without losing any information.

Comment author: Alicorn 29 April 2009 03:54:34AM 10 points [-]

I disagree with that part of that article. In spite of the fact that it may be safe to make charitable assumptions of most people on this site, the fact remains that people do make general statements about groups, including women, without deliberately intending to leave room for abundant exceptions. Also, qualifiers can convey different information about how general a tendency is being claimed. If I say "women have two X chromosomes" - am I making a definitional statement that excludes the transgendered, or am I just mentally classifying them as exceptions and hoping everyone knows what I mean? If I say "diamonds are the favorite gem of women", am I unaware that plenty of women think moissanite is prettier or am I just saying that I think, if all women voted, diamonds would win? Qualifiers do change the information in many cases. Even when they don't (less often, I suspect, than Robin thinks), they're polite.

Comment author: jimmy 29 April 2009 06:29:37PM *  3 points [-]

Hanson's post certainly does come off a bit strong, and I agree that there are times to use disclaimers.

However, in this case, I assumed the disclaimer and (correct me if I'm wrong Yvain), but I think my interpretation was more accurate because of that.

I added the "among aspiring rationalists" qualifier for a reason; it makes less sense for those with no mental "sub buckets" within the "women" one.

If the disclaimer goes as far as to specify the size/location of the exception then yes, it adds more information. This may be not be useful information if the point is just that it's a general trend. I see it like saying "The probability of a meteorite striking my house tomorrow is 0" (with the implied disclaimer "almost")

Comment author: Cyan 29 April 2009 04:12:02AM *  1 point [-]

I'm just going to link my own comment on Robin's post. Short version: include written disclaimers if the idea you want to convey includes disclaimers.

Comment author: AnnaSalamon 29 April 2009 03:35:44AM *  21 points [-]

Um, hmm.

I'm ambivalent because my uninformed dislike for parties/clubs/bars and their patrons is in opposition to my equally uninformed general wish to think well of others.

So... wishes to think well of others aren’t actually evidence about what’s true. (I realize you probably know that, but you did cite it as a reason for belief.)

doesn't change whether I think the topic is appropriate, because among the reasons I find it inappropriate is that it makes me, personally, uncomfortable.

Whether or not any given LW-er aims to believe something for a reason other than truth, it would be really nice if we could make LW a place where public conversation, at least, does aim for truth. If I want to go off and believe a convenient might-be-falsehood, fine, but other LW-ers shouldn’t have to censor themselves so as not to interfere with my belief. This is similar to my impressions on LW theists: yes, anyone should be welcomed here insofar as they help us learn rationality; no, we should not censor ourselves to avoid interfering with might-be-false beliefs folks want to preserve. And, no, LW shouldn’t be a forum in which people can take beliefs they hold for non-truth-related reasons, and try by non-truth-related arguments (e.g., arguments about social offensiveness) to get others to adopt those beliefs. There are plenty of other places to do that.

Although I do care that the topics make you uncomfortable. I liked your last two posts, and many of your comments, and I very much hope we’re able to form a community in which you’d like to stick around.

and I'm not looking for evidence either way because it's not important to me in comparison to other things I could learn about as easily or more so.

It might be useful to distinguish two senses of “not looking for evidence” here. There are many topics on which it’s not worth one’s time/energy to go out and seek evidence, which is I think what you’re saying. But sometimes people “don’t look for evidence” in a different sense: they actively close their minds against the evidence, avert their eyes, and look for excuses not to let the evidence upset their beliefs. This sort of not looking is more costly; I find it can clog my head up, and make it harder for me to acknowledge truths elsewhere as well (including in areas where I do need accurate beliefs). I hope this isn’t what you mean.

Regardless of whether women who are found in those places are [insert pejorative here], that doesn't change my relevant opinions because I don't think rights are a function of personal virtue, and all of the ethical claims I've made have been based on rights.

Okay. But other people are trying to build accurate models of how various groups of women actually act -- either because we’re intrinsically interested in how people work, or because it’s practically useful to understand how people work. And for these inquiries, information helps. I don’t think my or various others’ interest stems from trying to find out whether these groups of women are bad or pejorative-worthy. I’m also a bit skeptical of trying to form one’s ethics about how to treat people in isolation from empirical data on what makes people happy or unhappy and on what people in fact prefer -- but I’m ignorant of the empirical details here, and I haven’t yet read most of your exchanges on those other threads, so maybe you really can ignore how people work as you form your ethics.

makes Less Wrong very gendered.

I agree that info on how to pick up women is likely to be of more direct relevance to LW men than to LW women. It might be good to create some articles that are of strong interest to LW women and/or that would help women feel more comfortable here, although our numbers make that more difficult. If you have thoughts on e.g. how to be comfortable being both intellectual and in at least some ways feminine (something I have trouble with, despite organically wanting both), I’d love to hear it, and, if it’s good, I could imagine referring other smart women I know to LW though the post.

Comment author: MBlume 29 April 2009 03:45:08AM 1 point [-]

Anna, not sure if you meant to paste in Alicorn's entire comment at the top of yours, but the fact there's no quote bar made me think you might not've -- hence this comment =)

Comment author: AnnaSalamon 29 April 2009 03:51:03AM 0 points [-]

It was indeed a mistake. Thanks. Fixed.

Comment author: Alicorn 29 April 2009 04:07:09AM *  3 points [-]

So... wishes to think well of others aren’t actually evidence about what’s true. (I realize you probably know that, but you did cite it as a reason for belief.)

I did no such thing. I cited it as something that contributed to my lack of a belief on this topic. I recognize that it would not suitably motivate any belief; it's just competing with an equally unsuitable intuition to make me have no particular interest in the answer to the question. If I had a belief on this topic, I would not cite my optimism about human nature as evidence.

Whether or not any given LW-er aims to believe something for a reason other than truth, it would be really nice if we could make LW a place where public conversation, at least, does aim for truth...

Of course; I agree completely. That doesn't mean we can't have a narrowed, less creepy topic set; there are several subjects that don't get much attention here that nonetheless can have truths about them, and I think seduction might do better in that category.

It might be useful to distinguish two senses of “not looking for evidence” here. There are many topics on which it’s not worth one’s time/energy to go out and seek evidence, which is I think what you’re saying.

You read me correctly. I did mention passively absorbing information on the subject; I'm not sticking my fingers in my ears and humming show tunes when I read things about seduction.

If you have thoughts on e.g. how to be comfortable being both intellectual and in at least some ways feminine (something I have trouble with, despite organically wanting both), I’d love to hear it, and, if it’s good, I could imagine referring other smart women I know to LW though the post.

The only characteristically feminine thing I have any special knowledge about is cooking. Would that be a suitable subject, if I can figure out how to make it on-topic? (Drawing a blank, but perhaps something would come to me in a dream.)

Comment author: mattnewport 29 April 2009 05:21:33AM 3 points [-]

A rational/scientific approach to cooking is the inspiration behind quite a few books and websites. I don't really like to follow recipes so I'm quite interested in explanations of cooking that let you improvise by deriving from first principles rather than blindly following a rule book.

Comment author: Alicorn 29 April 2009 05:30:39AM *  1 point [-]

I haven't read that book (I independently developed my style) but I'm thinking of buying it. Still, "how to cook without a recipe" is the premise of Improvisational Soup proper; I'd need some way to connect it more tightly to Less Wrong-worthy subjects to turn it into a post here that wouldn't just serve as an excuse to plug Improv Soup. Maybe I could relate intuitions about food to the stuff about control theory (I don't always know what I need to do to make my food turn out how I want it, so I guess, and with experience cooking all the ingredients, it'll often work).

Comment author: mattnewport 29 April 2009 05:57:38AM 9 points [-]

You could potentially make an interesting article illustrating common biases and failures of rationality with culinary examples.

One that springs to mind is browning meat to 'seal in the juices' when making stews or casseroles. As I've heard the story, a famous cookbook from many years ago explained the importance of browning meat to producing good stews and explained it as 'sealing in the juices' and that was the standard explanation for many years. At some point it was realized that the actual value of browning the meat is that the caramelization of sugars in the meat improves flavour and that the original explanation was nonsense. The process is still called 'sealing' however and many chefs will still try to avoid leaving any part of the meat 'unsealed'. This seems like a pretty good example of how people come to believe a spurious explanation because it produces a good outcome and are reluctant to abandon the original explanation even when a better explanation comes along.

I'm sure there must be many more examples of this kind of thing in cooking - there seems to be a lot of pseudo science and poorly understood ritual in the culinary arts.

Comment author: Alicorn 29 April 2009 06:06:21AM 0 points [-]

I don't know enough about how other people cook to have a collection of myths like that on hand, although I guess I could consult my mother (a more traditional cook) and see what she has to say.

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 29 April 2009 09:23:23AM 1 point [-]

At some point it was realized that the actual value of browning the meat is that the caramelization of sugars in the meat improves flavour and that the original explanation was nonsense.

Actually, if memory serves me, the primary benefit comes from the Maillard reaction, a heat-driven process involving amino acids. Not that this changes your point, of course.

Comment author: MichaelVassar 29 April 2009 06:44:00AM 9 points [-]

Cooking's a great place to talk about where to add, where to multiply, where to pay attention to ratios, and above all where to pay attention to diminishing marginal utility of returns to X. These are core rationalist skills that haven't been adequately discussed.

Comment author: [deleted] 29 April 2009 07:25:52AM *  8 points [-]

deleted

Comment author: Z_M_Davis 29 April 2009 08:39:30AM 14 points [-]

What has been said on LW about seduction is the aggregate state of the evidence. The discussions about seduction on OB and LW are the most unbiased summary on the topic I know. Take an intersection of Robin's signaling theory, Eliezer's essays on gender, and the skeptical-empirical knowledge of pickup artists. That is the truth insofar approximable.

For one thing, no blog is large enough to contain the aggregate state of the evidence about anything. For another, don't you suppose some women might know something about this topic that you and your sources have missed? It may help to meditate on "Reversed Stupidity is Not Intelligence"---even if some critics irrationally discount the domain knowledge of PUAs, this is no excuse for irrationally discounting the critics' domain knowledge.

Now AFAICT you refuse to accept OB and LW as 'extraordinary institutions'.

Argument screens off authority. I agree that this is a wonderful blog, but it doesn't mean that you should expect people to just accept the majority opinion here simply on the grounds that it's such a wonderful blog. Especially on a mind-killing topic like gender, about which I fear no one's rationality can simply be trusted. The authority of biologists derives from massive amounts of empirical evidence and many years of intense study, and even then, I do not think you should automatically trust everything a biologist says about anything to do with biology; you may have domain knowledge of your own that bears on some particular question. A comment thread full of smart people who profess truthseeking has still less authority.

You can afford to do this because inaccurate beliefs may cost you little in this area.

Isn't this a fully general counterargument? It might similarly be said that you can afford to hold the opinions you do because inaccurate beliefs may cost you little in this area. And it gets us nowhere, either way.

Comment author: [deleted] 29 April 2009 09:05:59AM *  1 point [-]

deleted

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 April 2009 08:54:29AM 2 points [-]

I did no such thing. I cited it as something that contributed to my lack of a belief on this topic. I recognize that it would not suitably motivate any belief; it's just competing with an equally unsuitable intuition to make me have no particular interest in the answer to the question. If I had a belief on this topic, I would not cite my optimism about human nature as evidence.

The confusion comes from ambiguity between lack of belief as disbelief, and lack of belief as not looking for evidence and thus lacking strong opinion either way.

Comment deleted 29 April 2009 05:41:47AM *  [-]
Comment author: MrHen 29 April 2009 01:40:56PM 0 points [-]

Which, mister downvoter [...]

Hmm, since I did not downvote, I must not need to read the rest of that paragraph.

Comment deleted 29 April 2009 01:56:29PM [-]
Comment author: Alicorn 29 April 2009 02:13:04PM 0 points [-]

That depends on your views on definite description. (It wasn't me, though.)

Comment author: Yvain 29 April 2009 08:50:46AM 7 points [-]

You're right.

The success of pickup artist techniques only prove that there are enough women who are vulnerable to them to keep pickup artists in business. Same with any stereotypes about males. If my post implied there was strong evidence that such people were in a majority, that was an error. Although I think if these women were too small of a minority, the PUAs would alter their techniques to ones that worked on a more representative sample of women (assuming they're rational; I don't know any, but people in this community seem to have a high opinion of them.)

I think the general point that we're too unwilling to believe there are significant groups of people who think differently from ourselves still stands, though, whether it's closer to 20% or 60%.

Comment author: pjeby 29 April 2009 03:13:25PM 6 points [-]

Although I think if these women were too small of a minority, the PUAs would alter their techniques to ones that worked on a more representative sample of women (assuming they're rational; I don't know any, but people in this community seem to have a high opinion of them.)

One phenomenon I've observed is that some of the biggest gurus have begun talking about "higher quality women" or "true 10s" in the last couple of years, where they are meaning "women who have more than looks going for them"... suggesting that as the gurus and their markets mature, they become more interested in other qualities. And these gurus then begin emphasizing personal development, getting one's own life in order, etc.

Comment deleted 30 April 2009 04:04:36PM [-]
Comment author: Cyan 30 April 2009 04:15:41PM 1 point [-]

The use of the term "vulnerable" is little more than an echo of a large proportion of the PUA literature.

Comment author: HughRistik 30 April 2009 05:08:48PM 2 points [-]

Have you read a large proportion of this literature? Or just marketing blurbs, which try to make the material sound sensationalistic, controversial, and forbidden? If by "large," you mean nontrivial, then I would agree, but if you mean the majority of the literature, I don't think that's true. For the most part, these guys want to believe that what they are doing is a positive thing, and that they are "adding value" (to use the technical term) to other people's lives in addition to fulfilling their own goals.

Whether a journalist, or one of these guys, describe these techniques in ominous tones, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are unethical. Likewise, just because those techniques are described in glowing terms, it doesn't necessarily mean they are ethical.

People should judge the ethics of the techniques based on actual arguments which understand these techniques, rather than falling prey (see what I did there?) to assumptions embedded in the language describing them that block thought.

Comment author: Cyan 30 April 2009 05:47:35PM *  2 points [-]

I've read some free instructional material, some forum discussions, and some blog posts. I've also read Elana Clift's thesis and recommended it here on LW, as you have done.

I've found that for the most part the instructional material is as you describe it: the techniques are presented as directed towards a a positive sum interaction. The forums and blog posts are rather more mixed -- some PUAs hold to the "added value" line, and others are forthright in expressing the bedpost-notching attitude.

Comment author: HughRistik 03 May 2009 12:01:08AM 5 points [-]

Sounds like we are more on the same page. You are observing that the attitudes of PUAs are not homogenous; empirical research would be necessary to figure out exactly what subsets of PUAs have what attitudes towards women.

The forums and blog posts are rather more mixed -- some PUAs hold to the "added value" line, and others are forthright in expressing the bedpost-notching attitude.

Of course, seeking casual sex, and seeking positive-sum interactions, are not mutually exclusive. There may be a correlation between seeking multiple casual sexual partners, and engaging in negative-sum interaction, yet I don't think that such a correlation is as high as stereotypes, or even PUA's own language, may make it sound.

Since the primary piece these men are missing is usually their ability to find partners who are sexually attracted, and to initiate sexually with those partners, it's unsurprising that these guys primarily focus on sexual topics on internets forums; yet this kind of talk may not represent the totality of their attitudes towards women or their relationship goals. To assume that this kind of technical discussion in a specialized forum represent their entire attitudes towards women would be a classic example of the fundamental attribution error.

As for "bedpost-notching," it's another loaded term because it implies that seeking many partners is due to a motivation to rack up numbers, rather than, say, simply finding many people desirable.

Comment author: Cyan 03 May 2009 05:57:35AM 1 point [-]

I should have been more careful in my wording -- I was using "bedpost-notching" as the negation of the "added value" attitude, which it is not, as you point out.

To assume that this kind of technical discussion in a specialized forum represent their entire attitudes towards women would be a classic example of the fundamental attribution error.

I would be committing the fundamental attribution error if I assumed that the person who cut me off in traffic was just a jerk instead of, say, momentarily distracted. But much of the PUA ethos is about the correct attitude to hold towards women in order to have good game. Teachings and opinions vary in the community, but it's not hard to find the contingent that holds that the optimized attitude is "bitches ain't shit".

Comment author: HughRistik 03 May 2009 08:10:10PM *  1 point [-]

But much of the PUA ethos is about the correct attitude to hold towards women in order to have good game.

Yes, you are quite correct. And there are indeed contingents in the community that advocate attitudes towards women that are negative, in which case it would be reasonable to expect that such men would be less likely to have positive-sum interaction with women. What I wanted to explain was that seeking sexual partners ("bedpost notching") is not sufficient to ascribe a zero-sum attitude (not that you were necessarily saying otherwise). I didn't necessarily think that you were committing the fundamental attribution error yourself; I just wanted to put forward the hypothesis that what PUAs write on internet forums doesn't represent the totality of their views on women.

Comment author: ciphergoth 03 May 2009 08:04:46AM 4 points [-]

It has pleased me to rack up numbers in the past; I noticed that the rate at which I was sleeping with new people slowed down after I'd reached a psychologically satisfying number. So it does happen, and I'd like to hope it's not incompatible with a sex-positive, positive-sum-seeking attitude.

If PUAs are seeking positive-sum interactions, why doesn't their language reflect that?

Comment author: pjeby 03 May 2009 03:19:55PM 5 points [-]

If PUAs are seeking positive-sum interactions, why doesn't their language reflect that?

It does. I've pointed you to more than one sample already. Hell, even Ross Jeffries, arguably one of the sleaziest in the business, has said for decades, "Always leave her better than you found her."

Comment author: HughRistik 03 May 2009 09:00:03PM *  6 points [-]

It has pleased me to rack up numbers in the past; I noticed that the rate at which I was sleeping with new people slowed down after I'd reached a psychologically satisfying number. So it does happen, and I'd like to hope it's not incompatible with a sex-positive, positive-sum-seeking attitude.

I agree with you that there is nothing wrong with wanting a certain number of partners as long as raising one's count isn't the primary motivation for seeking a partner (does anyone actually have that motivation? I don't know). But the pejorative nature of the term "bedpost notching" suggests that seeking a psychologically satisfying number of partners is incompatible with a sex-positive, positive-sum-seeking attitude.

If PUAs are seeking positive-sum interactions, why doesn't their language reflect that?

As pjeby observes, a lot of the time, it does. Outsiders reading it just think that it doesn't (and they do have some valid beefs).

Outsiders, when first encountering PUA language, will often note how PUAs are focused on sex and conclude that this is all they are interested in. Due to the dichotomy between sex and relationships in our culture, and stereotypes of "players," a viewer might further conclude that since PUAs are looking for sex, then they are not looking for relationships. Women want "relationships," men who are "players" want sex.

This is a stereotype, a schema, that ignores the fact that adult relationships typically contain sex. The next part of the schema is that "players" will do whatever it takes to have sex with women including lying and "manipulating," and then move on, misleading and hurting her ("using her").

Sometimes, responses to the seduction community really show less about it, and more about our culture's views towards sex, men, and women. Some people cannot imagine that men learning to pursue sex can use it as a building block for a relationship. That it is possible for men to ethically pursue women when they are not interested in long term relationships. That some women aren't looking for something long term with every partner. Or that guys may not be sure what they want, and that they are trying to meet people until they meet someone they really connect with.

So there are actually several types of language in the community:

  • Language that is positive-sum, and sounds positive sum to outsiders

  • Language that is positive-sum or neutral in that regard, yet sounds zero-sum to outsiders who hold certain assumptions

  • Language that is zero-sum, and also sounds zero-sum to outsiders

Comment author: roland 28 April 2009 10:58:59PM 13 points [-]

The response I hear from most of the women I know is that this is complete balderdash and women aren't like that at all. So what's going on?

I think asking people directly is the wrong approach. Both men and women are good at rationalizing and you never hear someone admitting: "Yes, I'm an asshole." You really have to observe how people actually behave and the more I open my eyes I see that there is a lot of wisdom in the seduction community.

Comment author: Zvi 29 April 2009 01:11:34AM *  1 point [-]

I can counter-example; I have a good friend who will say upon request that he is, in fact, an asshole. Of course, he's not typical of the type, which is both why we're friends and why he's happy to admit it.

Comment author: Nominull 29 April 2009 02:47:17AM 8 points [-]

I'm an asshole. That's one of the unpleasant truths about myself that I've had to face because of OB/LW. How I long for the days of blissful ignorance when I thought I was a friend to mankind!

Of course, now that I realize it, I can try to effect some changes, so the rest of the world benefits. Everything is moving according to Eliezer's plan...

Comment author: rosyatrandom 28 April 2009 11:38:40PM 38 points [-]

Very interesting post. Perhaps I should mention that there's a possibility to go to the other extreme; assuming you're different to everyone else. A lot of very bad pretentious teenage poetry stands as testament to this.

Comment author: hegemonicon 29 April 2009 03:12:56AM 9 points [-]

Indeed, it's one of the interesting paradoxes about people. We think that everyone is the same as us (shown in examples like this), while simultaneously thinking that we're unique and special (for things like narcissism, the narrative fallacy, and even religion.)

It's actually a wonder we manage to accomplish anything at all, given the messy state of our brains...

Comment author: Emile 29 April 2009 06:25:59AM 15 points [-]

Very true. A typical reaction when reading advice or something about the typical flaws of people (biases, planning), is "Yeah but that doesn't apply to me". It often takes a deliberate effort to override the inside view and stop finding excuses.

Note that in both cases the mistake makes us look better:

  • "I know how others work from the experience of my own mind" sounds better than "I don't understand other people"
  • "I don't make that common mistake because I'm different from others" sounds better than "whoops I'm also likely to make that mistake"
Comment author: rhollerith 29 April 2009 12:06:05AM *  12 points [-]

John T. Molloy once paid actors to go into bars and try to get women's phone numbers. One group of actors he asked to act confident. A second group of actors he asked to act arrogant. The actors asked to act arrogant were more successful. (Described in Molloy's 1975 book Dress for Success.)

Of course, as Alicorn says, the population of women who go to bars and talk to strange men might not be representative of all single women.

Comment author: CronoDAS 29 April 2009 07:09:29PM 12 points [-]

/me wonders what percentage of phone numbers received were fake

Comment author: rhollerith 29 April 2009 07:31:22PM 5 points [-]

Molloy did not mention verifying the numbers (by, e.g., calling them) so he probably did not verify them.

Comment author: arundelo 29 April 2009 12:25:30AM 2 points [-]
 We are secrets to each other
Each one's life a novel no-one else has read

http://www.kovideo.net/lyrics/r/Rush/Entre-Nous.html

Excellent post.

Comment author: kip1981 29 April 2009 01:00:46AM 3 points [-]

Yvain:

Some points.

  1. The typical mind fallacy sounds just like the "Mind Projection Fallacy," or the empathy gap. It's a fascinating issue.

  2. You sound like you have Asperger tendencies: introverted, geeky, cerebral, sensitivity to loud noise. Interestingly, people with Asperger's are famously bad at empathizing; i.e. more likely to commit the Mind Projection Fallacy. This may be one reason why we find the fallacy so fascinating: we've been burned by it before (as you relate in your post), and seem uniquely vulnerable to it.

Comment author: gjm 30 April 2009 12:03:50AM 3 points [-]

Every time I have heard the phrase "mind projection fallacy" before, it has been with an entirely different meaning, namely the error of mistaking bits of your mental processes for aspects of the external world. It's unfortunate that it sounds so similar both to "typical mind fallacy" and "projection".

Comment author: Liron 30 April 2009 04:08:01AM 0 points [-]

And a better name for the Mind Projection Fallacy is "Stealth Computation".

Comment author: gjm 30 April 2009 09:45:57AM 0 points [-]

Why is that a better name?

Comment author: Liron 01 May 2009 07:57:01AM 0 points [-]

If nothing else, its definition is more likely to be remembered separately from "projection" and "typical mind fallacy".

Comment author: gjm 01 May 2009 08:18:42AM 0 points [-]

Well, sure, but on the other hand it's more likely to be thought of as (e.g.) a term for unconscious brain activity, or for thinking people do that isn't apparent to others, or for any phenomenon in the natural world that has computational power despite not having an obvious computing mechanism (e.g., evolution). And, at least to my mind, it has no particular connection with the phenomenon it's supposed to name. What I'm not seeing is why "stealth computation" is, overall, a better name than "mind projection fallacy".

Comment author: Liron 09 May 2009 10:04:58PM 0 points [-]

OK you're right.

Comment author: PeterKinnon 14 October 2009 11:30:28PM 0 points [-]

I apologize for the diversion but would be most interested to hear your reasoning behind the attribution of computational power to evolution . (I presume you are referring to the process of evolution of living systems by natural selection) PK

Comment author: gwern 14 October 2009 11:50:01PM 1 point [-]

I'd guess it goes something like this: the answer being computed is what set of genes is best adapted to the environment (a search problem over the space of reachable organism genomes); each organism is a possible answer; every generation, an organism producing more or fewer than the average # of offspring represents a computed 1 or 0; after enough generations... Not a Universal Turing Machine, no, but still computation.

Eliezer gives a few examples of this kind of thinking in http://www.scribd.com/doc/2327578/Worlds-Most-Important-Math-Problem-Eliezer-Yudkowsky-Future-Salon and I gather it's a reasonably well-established way of mathematically approaching evolution.

Comment author: gjm 15 October 2009 09:50:08PM 1 point [-]

Yes, what gwern said. Evolution produces (very slowly and wastefully) things that are well adapted to their environments. It seems reasonable to call this an instance of computational power. If you (PK) prefer not to, though, fair enough; I think we would only be disagreeing about words, not about things.

Comment author: [deleted] 29 April 2009 01:48:32AM 1 point [-]

Surely eidetic imagery isn't absolute. Who can imagine a sine curve and then zoom in on the least positive root in order to calculate pi? Less than five percent of people, I would think.

Comment author: MBlume 29 April 2009 02:08:43AM 0 points [-]

well, you'd have to be decently well-trained in math to picture a sine curve that isn't, say, a series of parabolas glued together.

Comment author: MrHen 29 April 2009 01:45:11PM 0 points [-]

I may not be using the same imagery you are. My mental eye appears to work from something my real eye has seen. I can look at a drawing of a sine curve and later imagine it in my head. This is not the same as recalling the original curve I saw. I can toy with the curve in my head but I do not sit there and draw the line from point A to B. It just poofs into my mind's eye.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 April 2009 08:16:21AM *  3 points [-]

How do you draw a sine curve (on paper, say), without knowing the value of pi, in order to take the measurement of pi from it when you've finished? This example is broken. Unrolling half a circle should work though.

Comment author: steven0461 29 April 2009 05:36:26PM 0 points [-]

Disagreed -- if you know the general shape and you know the derivative at 0 is 1, then while you can't calculate pi very accurately, you can find out that it's closer to 3 than to 5.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 April 2009 05:40:32PM 0 points [-]

Yeah, I thought about that, but this information doesn't exactly define the curve, and so it becomes unclear which portion of the work is done by visual imagination, and which just fits the known result, taking a few obvious bounds into account. Unrolling half a circle, on the other hand...

Comment author: [deleted] 30 April 2009 09:54:21PM 0 points [-]

It took me a little while to think of a definition of the sine function that does mention pi, though it turned out to be the first one taught in (my) school: "the y coordinate after going t/2pi times counterclockwise around the unit circle starting at (1,0)". If I were to draw the curve, I'd use Euler's method or roll a circle, both of which use the derivative going between -1 and 1 instead of pi for the frame of reference.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 01 May 2009 09:50:22AM 0 points [-]

Since the derivative is also a sine curve, it helps only very approximately.

Comment author: denisbider 29 April 2009 02:36:36AM 6 points [-]

I wonder if there is any correlation to be found between (1) people having strong eidetic imagery and (2) people reporting seeing ghosts, UFOs, being abducted by aliens...

Comment author: scientism 29 April 2009 02:43:31AM 5 points [-]

I think the problem with mental imagery is that the concept is poorly formed. "I don't experience images" and "I experience vivid images" would apply about equally to my own experience of mental imagery. On the one hand my only way of talking about them, thanks to the long standing and highly flawed theory vision that portrays it as "pictures in the head," is as "images." On the other hand it's nothing at all like picture viewing. I can easily get "lost" in mental imagery while reading a book but at the same time this "vividness" is not like the experience of veridicality. Given that the language for describing visual experience is so impoverished, I'm inclined to believe the reported differences are problems of accurately reporting experience.

Comment author: Emile 29 April 2009 06:14:12AM 2 points [-]

The common language for describing visual experiences may be impoverished, but that doesn't mean carefully crafted questions can't find differences.

For example, "Imagine a tiger. How many stripes does it have?", or the gas-oil-dry example.

Comment author: scientism 29 April 2009 01:30:29PM 4 points [-]

The problem is that you're asking somebody to imagine more than one thing. "Imagine a tiger, imagine the tiger's stripes, imagine a specific number of stripes." The whole point of imagination is that it's not veridical. To assume that you can visually explore a mental image the way you would visually explore an object or a picture is to already assume too much.

Comment author: Emile 29 April 2009 01:36:50PM *  2 points [-]

The point of that kind of question is precisely to tell whether a given person can visually explore a mental image. It's certainly not assuming you can explore the image, otherwise there wouldn't be any point to it.

Comment author: scientism 29 April 2009 02:08:53PM 1 point [-]

It's assuming that there's some sense to the idea of exploring a mental image. You can't put people on a scale of their ability to explore mental imagery without also assuming that it makes sense to talk about exploring mental imagery. That's a huge assumption to make.

Comment author: Emile 29 April 2009 03:05:37PM 8 points [-]

You take 10 people, and ask them each in turn : "Imagine a tiger. Can you tell me how many stripes it has?"

  • Five people tell you a number right away
  • Five people scratch their head and say "I'm not imagining a specific number of stripes, what do you mean?"

... then you have a good clue as to which of these people have strong mental imagery. That's useful, non-trivial information. I'm not sure which part you object to, and we seem to be talking past each other.

Comment author: swestrup 29 April 2009 02:50:22AM 10 points [-]

This post completely takes the wind out of the sails of a post I was planning to make on 'Self-Induced Biases' where one mistakes the environment one has chosen for themselves as being, in some sense, 'typical' and then derives lots of bad mental statistics from this. Thus, chess fanatics will tend to think that chess is much more popular than it is, since all their friends like chess, disregarding the fact that they chose those friends (at least partly) based on a commonality of interests.

A worse case is when the police start to think that everyone is a criminal because that's all they ever seem to meet.

Comment author: Yvain 29 April 2009 08:56:10AM 4 points [-]

No, not really. I kind of thought we needed more on that, but that this post was long enough already. And I didn't even think of the police-criminal thing. If you have more than what you said in this comment, please do post it, maybe with this post in the "related to" section.

Comment author: swestrup 02 May 2009 08:53:05AM 1 point [-]

Okay, then I shall attempt to come up with a post that doesn't re-cover too much of what yours says. I shall have to rethink my approach somewhat to do that though.

Comment author: MrHen 29 April 2009 01:35:28PM *  1 point [-]

I would read that.

Comment author: swestrup 29 April 2009 02:52:57AM 1 point [-]

I find it interesting that some folks have mental imagery and others don't, because this possibility had never occurred to me despite having varying ability with this at different times. My mental imagery is far more vivid and detailed when I'm asleep than when I'm awake, which I've often wondered about.

Comment author: AnlamK 29 April 2009 03:11:36AM 3 points [-]

Hey Yvain,

I'm enjoying your posts very much - so please don't be shy to digress from Rationalistic subjects.

About women and dating, I just wanted to add that you can't really trust stated preferences. (This is known as attitude-behavior gap.) Let me quote a study:

"Do women c hoos e nic e g uys? When given the choice between John, an inexperienced, nice, but somewhat shy man, and Mike, an attractive, fun man who had had sex with 10 women, 54% of the women reported that they would prefer John as a date. Twent y-eight percent reported they would equally prefer dat ing John or Mike, and 18% reported they would prefer Mike. Y et, 56% of the women knew of other women who had had the choice of dat ing nice but sexually inexperienced men, but who chose to date men who were ver y sexually experienced but not so nice. Also, 56% of the women agreed that nice guys are less likely to have as many sexual partners as guys who are not nice. "

This comes from "Dating Preferences of University Women: An Analysis of the Nice Guy Stereotype" by Herold et. al.

So there. Women prefer "the nice guy" yet report as having seen other women prefer the "jerk" over the nice guy.

Comment author: mattnewport 29 April 2009 05:31:12AM 8 points [-]

Those statistics don't necessarily imply any inconsistency in self-reported vs. actual preferences. If the 18% who self-report preferring Mike are both more promiscuous and more sociable with other women then it's possible for all the women to be telling the truth about their preferences and reporting accurate answers to the other questions.

Comment author: Emile 29 April 2009 06:17:23AM *  3 points [-]

There are spaces inserted in the middle of words all over your quote ...

Comment author: MrHen 29 April 2009 03:12:08AM *  5 points [-]

If anything clicked while reading this post, I highly recommend reading My Way again with this post in mind. A few other things may click that were not noticed the first time.

Comment author: scientism 29 April 2009 03:15:19AM *  44 points [-]

Maybe I'm just cynical but I think people vastly overestimate their own goodness. Often "goodness" is just a way to dress up powerlessness. Like an overweight man might say he's "stocky" or an overweight woman might say she's "curvy," so an undesirable or shy man or woman might emphasize the upside: "I would never cheat." There's a version of the typical mind fallacy in there: a person might genuinely think they would never cheat but be extrapolating from a position where the opportunity rarely presents itself. We can all talk about how, if we were in a position of political power, we'd never succumb to bribes or cronyism because we don't have any political power. It both makes us look good and, as far as we know, it's true. I think testimony, especially when it comes to ones moral worth, is the least valuable form of data available.

Comment author: Yvain 29 April 2009 08:47:25AM 1 point [-]

But we also have evidence from our past actions. For example, I have never cheated on a test or shoplifted in the past, so I assume this is true of everyone. My friends say the same thing (and I mostly believe them).

Comment author: Emile 29 April 2009 01:41:43PM 10 points [-]

That may apply to shoplifting, but not when you're predicting your behaviour in different situations - "I would be good even if given more power".

From Why Does Power Corrupt?:

The young revolutionary's belief is honest. There will be no betraying catch in his throat, as he explains why the tribe is doomed at the hands of the old and corrupt, unless he is given power to set things right. Not even subconsciously does he think, "And then, once I obtain power, I will strangely begin to resemble that old corrupt guard, abusing my power to increase my inclusive genetic fitness."

Comment author: scientism 29 April 2009 02:03:20PM 5 points [-]

Did you have a reason to cheat? Did your friends have a reason to cheat? (Alternatively, did they have a reason not to tell you they did? Would it have made them look especially bad compared to you?) If you're good at taking tests you'll probably never cheat, associate with people who are similarly academically gifted, and make people who aren't academically gifted embarrassed to admit their struggles. This obviously isn't a case of powerlessness though.

Imagine you are particularly bad at taking tests though. It's not obvious that cheating would be easy. I went to a particularly awful school and while I was good at taking tests, none of my friends were, and after finishing the test I would openly hand my paper to them and they'd all quickly copy down the answers. They were all fortunate to have an amoral friend and disinterested teachers. In college I knew a girl who would write notes on her thighs before going into an exam. She claimed she could get away with it because she's attractive. (She also claimed to have cheated on every exam.) To cheat on a test, you need access to answers, the ability to get away with it, etc. If these conditions aren't forthcoming, but you're not academically gifted, you might be tempted to say "I may be a C student but at least I've never cheated on a test." Should your situation change, you'd probably start peeking at the answers. (At which point you might start saying, "these sorts of tests are meaningless anyway.")

Comment author: CronoDAS 29 April 2009 07:19:27PM 15 points [-]

I'd like to say I've never cheated on a test. As a general principle, I prefer to avoid doing so. I've never copied answers from another person, but I have stored notes in my calculator for tests in which doing so was explicitly forbidden - we were told to memorize various formulas that we would have to use on the test, and not to store them in our calculators. Also, on one of those "fill in the bubble" standardized tests which are Really Important, I used extra time on one section to go back and finish a previous section, although we weren't supposed to.

So, have I cheated on a test? Well...

I take advantage of opportunities. You bend the rules. He's a dirty cheater. ;)

Comment author: bill 29 April 2009 03:11:58PM 24 points [-]

When I've taught ethics in the past, we always discuss the Nazi era. Not because the Nazis acted unethically, but because of how everyone else acted.

For example, we read about the vans that carried Jewish prisoners that had the exhaust system designed to empty into the van. The point is not how awful that is, but that there must have been an engineer somewhere who figured out the best way to design and build such a thing. And that engineer wasn't a Nazi soldier, he or she was probably no different from anyone else at that time, with kids and a family and friends and so on. Not an evil scientist in a lab, but just a design engineer in a corporation.

One point of the discussion is that "normal" people have acted quite unethically in the past, and how can we prevent that happening to us.

Comment author: MichaelHoward 30 April 2009 05:36:10PM 7 points [-]
Comment author: bill 29 April 2009 03:20:47AM *  44 points [-]

Interesting illustration of mental imagery (from Dennett):

Picture a 3 by 3 grid. Then picture the words "gas", "oil", and "dry" spelled downwards in the columns left to right in that order. Looking at the picture in your mind, read the words across on the grid.

I can figure out what the words are of course, but it is very hard for me to read them off the grid. I should be able to if I could actually picture it. It was fascinating for me to think that this isn't true for everyone.

Comment deleted 29 April 2009 05:39:14AM [-]
Comment author: MBlume 29 April 2009 09:09:58AM 4 points [-]

TAWME (This Agrees With My Experience)

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 29 April 2009 06:00:59PM 4 points [-]

Same here. Is there anyone who does it with no trouble? If so, I'm envious.

Comment author: MichaelHoward 30 April 2009 05:41:24PM 1 point [-]

I bet with the right training we could learn to do this, and on bigger grids too.

Comment author: Cyan 29 April 2009 06:24:47PM 1 point [-]

I wonder if the ability to play blindfold chess is related to the ability to perform with exercise.

Comment author: pjeby 29 April 2009 06:36:48PM 11 points [-]

Picture a 3 by 3 grid. Then picture the words "gas", "oil", and "dry" spelled downwards in the columns left to right in that order. Looking at the picture in your mind, read the words across on the grid.

Interestingly, I find the task much easier if I do it the other way: visualizing the words spelled across, and then reading off the words going down the grid.

If mental images consist of replayed saccades, this makes perfect sense. To generate the downward images of words and then read across would reasonably be harder than simply replaying the stored "across" patterns, and then reading them down. IOW, visualization is more like vectors and sprites than it is like pixels -- which reflects how sight itself works.

Comment deleted 29 April 2009 05:59:11AM [-]
Comment author: Z_M_Davis 29 April 2009 07:04:17AM *  6 points [-]

when it comes to sexual behaviors, what people say (and sometimes what they think) are not necessarily similar to what they actually do.

Corollary: many of the men who self-righteously complain that women only like jerks, may in fact be jerks themselves. (This is a cached thought in the feminist blogosphere, but see also the xkcd version.)

Comment author: HughRistik 29 April 2009 07:21:29AM 15 points [-]

This is indeed a cached thought, but it's mostly wrong.

Men who are introverted, sensitive, and Agreeable often make this complaint, yet they tend to perceive men without those qualities as "jerks." So, "women only like jerks" really means something like "women like men with personalities different from mine."

The observation that "women only like jerks," while untrue, is unsurprising given a well documented female preference for masculine traits in the psychological literature (cites upon request). Feminists may find this notion politically difficult, and feminists themselves might atypically dislike masculine traits in men and project their preferences onto other women via the Typical Psyche Fallacy.

Comment author: MrHen 29 April 2009 01:33:40PM 3 points [-]

I don't need a cite, but what are "masculine traits"? Grunting?

Comment deleted 30 April 2009 03:29:42PM *  [-]
Comment author: HughRistik 02 May 2009 11:18:31PM 1 point [-]

That's a pretty good list.

I reviewed some of the evidence of female attraction to masculine traits in men here, and in this series.

Comment author: pjeby 29 April 2009 03:23:23PM *  12 points [-]

Men who are introverted, sensitive, and Agreeable often make this complaint, yet they tend to perceive men without those qualities as "jerks."

The PUA community also notes that many of the men who make this complaint are in fact passive-aggressively misogynistic and/or fearful of women, and that they need to get over it.

That is, some men who have "nice" behaviors towards women do so because they are enacting a one-sided bargain, expecting to trade these behaviors in exchange for being accepted and not rejected, then become angry when the "bargain" isn't kept.

IOW, being "nice" can be just as manipulative for the typical AFC, as anything the PUAs are going to teach him. And many of the things they'll teach him will be far less manipulative and deceitful than what he was already doing, despite being less socially acceptable than being "nice".

Comment author: William 30 April 2009 08:03:56PM 1 point [-]

I know that PUA is "pickup artist" but what is AFC?

Comment author: mattnewport 30 April 2009 08:14:13PM 4 points [-]

'Average Frustrated Chump' - your typical guy who's not a natural and hasn't got any game.

Comment author: HughRistik 02 May 2009 11:15:14PM 5 points [-]

All excellent points. You've probably read the Nice Guy Syndrome by Robert Glover.

My impression is that the pool of men who complain that "women go for jerks" is large, and certainly contains the tendencies you mention. I do think that most of these guys are misguided, and many are bitter, but I don't see evidence that the majority of them are "jerks."

What I object to is labeling guys jerks solely on the basis that they complain that women like jerks.

Comment author: pjeby 03 May 2009 12:27:18AM 3 points [-]

You've probably read the Nice Guy Syndrome by Robert Glover.

Nope, just pickup stuff, as noted in the comment above.

My impression is that the pool of men who complain that "women go for jerks" is large, and certainly contains the tendencies you mention. I do think that most of these guys are misguided, and many are bitter, but I don't see evidence that the majority of them are "jerks."

See the comment you are responding to (which, btw, does not even contain the word "jerks", except in the part where it was quoting you):

The PUA community also notes that many [emphasis added] of the men who make this complaint are in fact passive-aggressively misogynistic and/or fearful of women, and that they need to get over it.

That is, some [emphasis added] men who have "nice" behaviors towards women do so because they are enacting a one-sided bargain, expecting to trade these behaviors in exchange for being accepted and not rejected, then become angry when the "bargain" isn't kept.

Comment author: HughRistik 03 May 2009 05:07:23AM 3 points [-]

pjeby said:

Nope, just pickup stuff, as noted in the comment above.

Well, I would recommend that book because it might be useful for some of your clients, without having to open up the can of worms of the community.

See the comment you are responding to (which, btw, does not even contain the word "jerks", except in the part where it was quoting you):

I wasn't attributing the "jerks" judgment to you. I just wanted to make it clear why, even while agreeing with the points in your post (e.g. "many of the men who make this complaint are in fact passive-aggressively misogynistic and/or fearful of women"), I still disagree with the perspective that Z.M. Davis' mentions, which reflexively ascribes jerkitude to those men (see the comments of the post ZM linked to, for example).

Comment author: haig 29 April 2009 06:20:27AM 0 points [-]

Good post and important issues: How similar are other human minds to my own? How can I discuss academically what other minds should/should not do/believe if they are so different from my own? It is much like trying to argue over aesthetics of a colored art piece to a person born blind.

It would be constructive to be able to deduce which attributes a person has and which they're lacking, and in what proportions.

Comment author: HughRistik 29 April 2009 06:58:23AM *  58 points [-]

I'm glad to see someone bringing up the topic of seduction, and how it relates to rationality, and how attitudes inside and towards the seduction community relate to rationality and biases.

I'm going to give a big warning to everyone on this topic. The seduction community is an expansive and heterogenous phenomenon. Unless someone has some experience of the community (say 30+ hours of reading of multiple gurus with different philosophies, and they have gone out and tried the approaches the community advocates or seen real pickup artists in action), then it is virtually impossible to understand what it involves and describe it in a way that isn't skewed.

Elana Clift's honors thesis is a good place to start.

Yvain, you are right to take the mass perceptions of people of each sex as evidence (though evidence of what is unclear, so far). Let me unpack a few things:

There are a lot of not-particularly-complimentary things about women that many men tend to believe. Some guys say that women will never have romantic relationships with their actually-decent-people male friends because they prefer alpha-male jerks who treat them poorly. Other guys say women want to be lied to and tricked.

There are guys who think like this, but not all pickup artists do, and probably most of the men who think like this aren't pickup artists. Here's my quick availability-heuristicky impression of what pickup artists think on these subjects, and whether or not these beliefs are complimentary, based on more than half a decade of involvement with the community:

  • Female attraction to male friends: Pickup artists typically believe that if a woman sees a man as "just a friend," then it is unlikely that this perception will change, and that his efforts are best allocated elsewhere.

  • Alpha males: Pickup artists typically believe that women are attracted to "alpha males." What "alpha male" means is subject to intense debate.

  • Lying and trickery: Pickup artists typically don't believe that women want to be lied to or tricked. Pickup artists do present themselves selectively and strategically. Yet the modal point of view in my experience is that lying and trickery are looked down on, and seen as antithetical to seduction. If a pickup artist isn't looking for a relationship, then he will try to make that obvious, or even state it explicitly.

Well, I'm afraid I kind of trust the seduction people.

It's good to see someone caring what pickup artists think, but I would take their views with a bit more caution for several reasons:

  1. The availability heuristic. The seduction community has a pretty good model of young female extraverts with average IQ, because these are the women they encounter most often. As you look at women who differ more and more from the average extravert, the prototype of the seduction community becomes less and less correct. This is a point where I agree with Alicorn. This doesn't mean that the community's advice completely ceases to work, but it requires modification. Women who are nerdy, systemizing, bisexual, feminist, or in alternative subcultures are wired differently. (And to tie in to your post, women with those traits are going to be bad judges of the preferences of typical women due the Typical Psyche Fallacy, which I think is a special case of the availability heuristic.)

  2. Naive realism. Pickup artists often assume that because a theory produces results, then it is true. This isn't necessarily the case. Pjeby has correctly described how correct-enough theories will often be useful without being true. Having a model of women that lets you predict the behavior of say, 30% of women better than chance is actually really good for a guy who is completely in the dark about women and their preferences and behaviors.

(I wonder whether more complex models would necessarily be more useful; I think this varies. When you are a beginner, it may be best to understand typical women, and then later try to figure out how all the outlier types of women work by seeing their similarities and differences from typical women. Ultimately, the model that is most important to have is the model of the type of women you are compatible with.)

When you put these two together, you get pickup artists running around with oversimplified-but-nevertheless-useful models of women, who start to get some better results, confirming their over oversimplified-but-nevertheless-useful models of women in their minds.

I figured this out because I view the empirical approach as the core of the seduction community's teachings, so I often try out stuff that my gut tells me and break the rules of what is "supposed" to work or not work.

As for how much the view of women in the seduction community is complimentary or true, those are topics I'll have to save for another time.

Comment author: dclayh 29 April 2009 07:52:14PM *  1 point [-]

Upvoted for spelling "extravert" correctly :)

Comment author: dclayh 03 May 2009 08:49:58PM 4 points [-]

Wow, I'm highly amused and somewhat surprised at the vitriolic reaction to this innocent little comment.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 27 May 2009 05:03:53AM 3 points [-]

Me too, but I think we should use extrovert now that it's in common use.

Comment author: MichaelVassar 29 April 2009 07:14:56AM 7 points [-]

It's great that Less Wrong is getting so many PUAs, but why oh why must we have so many PUAs and so few salesmen?

Not only would the latter be more female friendly, it would be useful to a larger set of readers.

Comment author: mattnewport 29 April 2009 07:19:30AM 10 points [-]

Maybe it's a result of the bias towards computer programmers here, a group that generally has little trouble finding people willing to pay them good money for their professional services but more trouble finding women willing to talk to them.

Comment author: pjeby 29 April 2009 03:24:42PM 6 points [-]

It's great that Less Wrong is getting so many PUAs, but why oh why must we have so many PUAs and so few salesmen?

I'm an internet marketer. Does that count? ;-)

Comment author: Alicorn 29 April 2009 03:31:19PM 5 points [-]

You have my attention :)

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 29 April 2009 04:13:38PM 10 points [-]

so many PUAs and so few salesmen?

That's an unnatural comparison. It's obvious why there are more men-who-date than salesmen, here, or anywhere. PUA is an approach to dating for people who are highly analytic. Such people probably avoid sales in the first place, leading to the lack of an analytic approach to sales. But, as Sailer always asks: why don't introverted analytic people, once they've learned to think about psychology in dating move on to do the same thing in sales?

There are people who study sales, such as in business schools. But they are probably much more like the typical salesmen than the people here and there are probably serious barriers to communication, just as many men who become PUA were unable to understand the usual descriptions of dating. I think that analytic people ought to be able to do better, but it may take a lot of work to reach the state of the art.

The implication of your last sentence is that everyone has to do some sales. That's true, but most people don't want to admit it. Intelligent people, especially verbal ones are too easily distracted from how the world actually works by verbal descriptions thereof. I think that the main point of PUA is to replace conventional verbal descriptions with other verbal descriptions. But denying convention is highly offensive.

Comment author: MendelSchmiedekamp 29 April 2009 04:35:52PM 8 points [-]

Perhaps I should see if I can unpack some of the pick-up artist-like skills I've developed in recruiting for table-top roleplaying games.

To my mind the real measure of success of any "seduction" skill is cross-domain application. There are people who are very good at seducing people into bed, or into buying a car, or into their religion. But can that expertise be turned into beyond cached arguments and sequences or even specific games into areas beyond?

That's why I suspect a good break down of methods across different domains will be very valuable. I wonder if anyone here has significant experience with the techniques of successful religious missionaries?

Comment author: Alicorn 29 April 2009 04:47:26PM 5 points [-]

I know some former missionaries, but I strongly doubt that any of them would find this a comfortable environment to share their ideas.

Comment author: MendelSchmiedekamp 29 April 2009 05:12:18PM 3 points [-]

Especially since the portion of the folks here would almost certainly want to use those techniques to proselytize for atheism...

In any case, I figured a first person experience was too much to ask. Do you have or know someone who has enough second hand experience to shed some light? Religious conversion is one of the most effective forms of "seduction" it would be more than foolish to ignore it.

Comment author: Alicorn 29 April 2009 05:14:41PM 3 points [-]

I agree about its interestingness and efficacy, but everyone I know who used to be a missionary or who has been heavily exposed to missionaries is presently a theist.

Comment author: MendelSchmiedekamp 29 April 2009 05:29:56PM 2 points [-]

Which is anecdotal but relevant proof of the efficacy. I may have some means at my disposal. But my to-do list for this site (which I suppose gets added to the Singularity tab) keeps growing.

If I do manage to pull together something on the subject, I look forward to your critique and perspective.

Comment author: ClayCup 29 April 2009 08:22:12PM 9 points [-]

I am a Christian with a background in well...Christian life, missions, and "seduction." :) First of all, I think it's important to point out that all seduction in Christendom isn't created equally and that "religious missionaries" is as almost as broad a stroke as "irreligious atheists." In other words, when it comes to the "cross-domain application" of the discipline of seduction, I am not of the opinion that these approaches are the right way. They just happen to be the ways that I'm sure have been observed by this community. Here they are (these are my own words - I'm sure that other more academic terminology are used by Tim Keller, Mark Driscol, John Piper, DA Carson, Matt Chandler, and the like).

  1. Risk-based or the "Turn or Burn" Technique - It's this approach that emphasizes the risk to not becoming a Christian - hell.
  2. Reward-based or "Heaven Bound" Technique - It's this approach that emphasizes the reward to becoming a Christian - heaven.
  3. Relationship-based or "Coffee Shop" Technique - This approach tries to emphasize that you and I are both in need of a restored relationship with each other and ultimately God. This approach is often called "incarnational"
  4. Rock-n-roll-based or "Cool Guy" Technique - This approach does much to emphasize the same as 1-3, but does so under the guise that you and I are both cool and therefore you don't become uncool when you're are a Christian. This approach is often called "attractional."
Comment author: MendelSchmiedekamp 29 April 2009 08:57:41PM *  3 points [-]

About the broad brush, I'm well aware. Missionaries and proselytes vary greatly in capability and goals in and outside of Christianity and even theism. It's a huge area, I hoped a broad call would give something.

Thank you for the break down. It makes sense given what pieces I've seen.

How results rather than scripture guided would you say these methods are? (Or is that a difficult question to unpack?)

Do you have any sense as to the relative efficacy and target populations of these techniques? (Especially if there anything surprising going on there - like 30-45 single women are a prime Rock-n-roll based demographic.)

Comment author: sep332 30 April 2009 03:40:45AM 2 points [-]

On results vs. scripture based: If you want to divide it that way, there are a few schools of thought. Some say that God only demands a "best effort," and the missionary is not personally responsible for the conversion (that's between God and the proselyte). Others believe that certain people are chosen by God to be converted, and it's up to the missionary to make that happen. So these missionaries tend to be more results-based, whereas the first category strive for better "technique". There are obviously a lot of other categorizations that could be made, this is just the first I thought of.

Comment author: ClayCup 30 April 2009 11:48:53AM 3 points [-]

There is scriptural relevance to each of these approaches and any one practitioner of any technique can be overly focused on results. Then, of course, you have to ask the question, "what are results?" or "how do you know when you've Jesus-ed someone to the point that they are now a God-follower?" More on the "what are results?" if you're interested, but not now...

There is definitely generational significance with regard to which approach is more effective. For example: the post-modern, doesn't really respond to the "I'm a sinner" idea. Since their response would be something like "sin is socio-culturally imposed ideologies and therefore isn't a religious problem, but more one of culture and context." Therefore #1 and #2 work less well on the post-modern than than they did on the modern or previous generations, who had to at least deal with the "problem of sin." The post-modern is more accepting of the idea that, if God exists, then he's been telling as story of creation-fall-restoration-redemption in mankind and through Jesus. Which of course, lends itself more toward #3.

With regard to #4, let me say that it usually "attracts" anyone who finds the church exclusionary or non-accepting. Usually, though, within a younger demographic (less than 60) only because they are methodologically "hip" -- literally using rock-n-roll, rock climbing walls, and mini-circuses to attract the un-churched community.

To bring up my previous comment though, there are definite spectrums even within these four groups--both in their approach and how they themselves define efficacy?

Comment author: MBlume 29 April 2009 09:21:29PM -1 points [-]

I've had a couple of Mormon missionaries come by my apartment a few times -- I'm not sure how much of their technique I could usefully recount.

Comment deleted 30 April 2009 03:43:38PM [-]
Comment author: MendelSchmiedekamp 30 April 2009 04:32:07PM 2 points [-]

Missionary has several different usages. One of which is people who go out and try to convert people to their religion in any of a variety of ways. Certainly there are also other folks who also go under the title missionary, with other specialties.

Although I have wondered whether or not proselytizing via example is at all effective. Does being religious and behaving in an emulatable way serve as a means of inspiring conversion? If it does, then those teachers, engineers, and translators may be as capable evangelists as any overtly seductive preacher.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 29 April 2009 07:19:13AM *  3 points [-]

Great post. This might be the one thing that I'd wish more people would realize.

(Out of curiosity, what were the creative versus ordinary teaching methods you tried? Just wanting to see if I'm a similiar outlier as you.)

Comment author: Yvain 29 April 2009 10:05:19PM 8 points [-]

Keeping in mind that I taught English as a second language to older elementary school children:

Ordinary teaching methods: constant repetition of unconnected topics followed by endless vapid games. For example, a game of bingo with vocabulary words in each square. Attempts to trick children into thinking something was interesting; for example, calling vocabulary "word baseball" or something like that and dressing up in a baseball cap while teaching it.

Things I predicted would work better: attempts to make material genuinely interesting, have each lesson build on the previous, and create links between different concepts. For example, a lesson on the days of the week including a mini-presentation on the Norse gods after whom they were named, references to previous lessons when we had learned "sun" and "moon" for Sunday and Monday. Attempt to teach how to apply general principles instead of doing everything ad hoc.

Comment author: CronoDAS 30 April 2009 05:38:03AM 5 points [-]

Hmmm...

In foreign language classes, I found learning grammar to be fairly easy (it's usually just a few relatively simple rules) but vocabulary was hard for me, because it comes down to brute force memorization. In other subjects, if I forgot something, I could deduce it from the rest of what I knew, but there's no way to deduce the word "red" from the words for other colors, or from practically anything else at all.

What you tried might have worked better in a science or even a math class.

I wonder how many people are good at "filling in the gaps" in their knowledge when taking tests? There seem to be meta-skills that make academics a lot easier but usually aren't taught explicitly. For example, the general method of how to turn word problems into equations - which I learned from a computer program before I learned any real algebra. Are general principles and meta-skills harder to learn and to teach than ad hoc methods for solving the problem that's right in front of you?

Comment author: cousin_it 29 April 2009 09:40:03AM *  26 points [-]

Regarding differences in mental imagery: only this winter did I really understand that good musicians have vivid aural imagination, while I couldn't hear any sounds in my head, period. Immediately after this realization I started exercising. By now I can hear complete monophonic melodies, and (on good days) imagine two notes sounding at the same time. Classically trained conductors can imagine a complete orchestral sound while reading sheet music. I don't see any reason why visual imagination can't be similarly trained.

Comment author: Jack 29 April 2009 09:44:14AM 2 points [-]

What were you methods for practicing? These are the sorts of practical skills that we could really experiment with and develop actual lessons and strategies for the development of certain mental abilities.

Comment author: cousin_it 29 April 2009 09:58:27AM *  10 points [-]

The Typical Psyche Fallacy says my methods won't necessarily work for everyone, but anyway...

The hardest part for me was the beginning, getting a toehold at any inner sound. Pick a note on the guitar - I started with D on the second string. Play it at a steady rhythm with rests, slowly fading away into nothing. (Might not be possible on the piano or other instruments.) At some moment the brain will start to "complete" the sound, even though by that point you're playing too softly to hear. Catch that feeling, expand on it. When you can "do" several different notes, try playing a simple melody and hearing it afterwards. After you're comfortable with that, try to hear a simple major scale without playing it immediately beforehand. Then work from unfamiliar sheet music without playing it - solfege-sing in your mind - by now I can do this quite easily. And so on.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 April 2009 10:04:33AM 1 point [-]

I used to sing is a boys choir. At the time, I started to develop an ability to actually hear songs in my head, but I became afraid of this turning into uncontrollable hallucinations, so I suppressed the vividness of experience. I'm still not sure whether it's dangerous, as the issue never turned up since. But I urge you to research this risk before going deeper.

Comment author: cousin_it 29 April 2009 10:12:12AM *  2 points [-]

My singing teacher can imagine polyphony and doesn't seem crazy. My opera singer friend can imagine vocal lines complete with manner, and doesn't seem crazy either. It seems to be a pretty standard ability of trained musicians.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 April 2009 10:49:54AM *  2 points [-]

That's anecdotal evidence; if it's that usual, there should be a better study. How many people do you know that have hallucinations? Is not knowing people who can imagine hearing sounds but don't hallucinate any indication that there is as little risk of developing hallucinations in these people as in the rest of the population? What is the absolute risk with/without aural imagination? At most, you may place an upper confidence bound on the absolute risk, like 10%, which is not that good for deciding to jump off the roof. Also: "imagine" allows too much ambiguity, I was talking about hearing in a way that's basically indistinguishable from actually hearing (hence the worry).

Comment author: MrHen 29 April 2009 01:30:33PM *  2 points [-]

To add more anecdotal evidence, I also "hear sounds" in my head that relate to music. I can catch myself actually processing these as audio which seems similar to your statement of actually hearing songs in your head. As soon as I notice it, it will go away.

The real example, however, is that I took an intro from a folk song and made it my ring tone. I hear that thing everywhere even when my phone is not ringing. I have no idea why. If I think, "was that my phone?" I start hearing the song.

Personally, I find it annoying, but not harmful.

Comment author: Alicorn 29 April 2009 02:11:09PM 2 points [-]

Is this related to the phenomenon where if I play on a Gameboy for a long time, I start hearing its music constantly (usually identifying it as someone else playing the same game on theirs)?

Comment author: steven0461 29 April 2009 02:43:01PM 3 points [-]

I'm reminded of the Tetris Effect.

Comment author: MrHen 29 April 2009 02:45:05PM 2 points [-]

Possibly. It certainly seems related, but I have no real idea. It seems a little more like processing long-distance repetition after the source has stopped. Hearing my ring tone may be more of an association between the thought "I wonder if I am going to miss a call" and hearing the ring tone. My experience backs this up: I only hear the ring tone if my phone is within earshot and I am doing something that causes me to miss calls (driving, taking a shower).

While we are talking about auditory randomness, when I listen to a large amount of music in a day and the next day listen to none, I have the songs from the previous day stuck in my head but in reverse-chronological order. The song I played at the end of day 1 is in my head at the beginning of day 2 and as the day progresses I move backward up my playlist. Has anyone else ever noticed this?

Comment author: Emile 29 April 2009 05:35:44PM 1 point [-]

I can't relate ... that sounds weird. I'll certainly lower my expectations as to how other people's experience is like mine.

Comment author: Steve_Rayhawk 30 April 2009 05:13:16AM *  4 points [-]

The song I played at the end of day 1 is in my head at the beginning of day 2 and as the day progresses I move backward up my playlist. Has anyone else ever noticed this?

Related: Reverse replay of behavioral sequences in hippocampal place cells during the awake state (LiveScience, Nature News and Views)

Here we report that sequential replay occurs in the rat hippocampus during awake periods immediately after spatial experience. This replay has a unique form, in which recent episodes of spatial experience are replayed in a temporally reversed order. This replay is suggestive of a role in the evaluation of event sequences in the manner of reinforcement learning models. We propose that such replay might constitute a general mechanism of learning and memory.

Comment author: pdf23ds 30 October 2009 12:26:26AM 2 points [-]

I was talking about hearing in a way that's basically indistinguishable from actually hearing (hence the worry).

Ahh, I see. I've never really experienced this; I can always tell the difference between imagined sounds and real ones. Note that this is entirely different from the phenomenon of misinterpreting real sounds as being something else (especially very soft ones), which is completely harmless.

Comment author: pjeby 29 April 2009 03:05:31PM 0 points [-]

I became afraid of this turning into uncontrollable hallucinations, so I suppressed the vividness of experience. I'm still not sure whether it's dangerous, as the issue never turned up since. But I urge you to research this risk before going deeper.

You don't need to suppress it, you just need to include something to be able to tell the difference between it and a real sound. It doesn't even need to be something auditory, it can be imagining them coming out of a pair of imaginary speakers.

Hypnotherapist Milton Erickson is said to have cured a woman of schizophrenia in the following fashion: after finding out that she couldn't tell the difference between things that actually happened and things she imagined, he hypnotized the woman's therapist and asked him how he could tell the difference between fantasy and reality.

The therapist said that he saw imagined things in a little square box like a TV set, with a black border around them. So Erickson hypnotized the woman and told her to put a square black border around everything she imagined so she'd be able to tell the difference. Subsequently, she ceased to be "crazy".

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 April 2009 03:17:48PM -1 points [-]

Your reply is not even anecdotal evidence. It only tells me that you find it fitting to give this particular advice.

Is your example with curing hallucinations supposed to impart the idea that getting hallucinations is OK, since they can be cured or worked around anyway? That's bullshit.

Comment author: pjeby 29 April 2009 03:47:16PM 6 points [-]

Is your example with curing hallucinations supposed to impart the idea that getting hallucinations is OK, since they can be cured or worked around anyway? That's bullshit.

No, it was intended to impart the idea that the primary difference between imagination and hallucination is whether you can tell the difference between the two. NLP latched on to this distinction from Erickson's example, and have since noted that skill in a wide variety of achievements (music, baseball, golf, interior design) rely on various forms of visual or auditory hallucination, and that these hallucinations are behaviorarlly indistinguishable from the hallucinations of crazy people. (Same eye movements/focal changes, same breathing/posture/ shifts, etc.)

The only difference they've been able to find is that the crazy people don't know when they're hallucinating, but they can be taught to do so.

IOW, distinguishing imagination from reality appears to be a learned skill, just like learning to imagine things on purpose.

Comment author: Annoyance 29 April 2009 03:57:57PM 12 points [-]

No, it was intended to impart the idea that the primary difference between imagination and hallucination is whether you can tell the difference between the two.

Yes, very yes! Talking to oneself is considered to be a sign of madness in folk psychology, but in actuality everyone talks to themselves constantly and merely represses the exterior component of this discussion to an incomplete degree. (The nerves of the larynx still react, making it theoretically possible to 'read someone's mind' by examining the electrical activity of the throat.)

People who hear voices aren't fundamentally different from normal people, except that they attribute their own internal thoughts to other entities instead of perceiving them to be self-generated. There's actually very little reason to think that the auditory system of such people acts differently.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 April 2009 04:10:19PM 0 points [-]

No, it was intended to impart the idea that the primary difference between imagination and hallucination is whether you can tell the difference between the two.

Uncontrollable imagination that you can tell from reality but can't get rid of isn't fun either. I'm pretty confident it's called 'hallucination' too, although we'd need to look that up in a diagnostic manual to resolve the question of definition.

Comment author: pjeby 29 April 2009 04:17:09PM 0 points [-]

Uncontrollable imagination that you can tell from reality but can't get rid of isn't fun either.

True. Sometimes I find it annoying when a song gets stuck in my head. I usually just replace it with a song I like better, though.

Still, it would be nice to be able to learn how to suppress auditory information like that... which sounds like something you learned to do. Any pointers?

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 April 2009 04:29:26PM *  0 points [-]

I'm not very susceptible to this. On the rare occasions when it happens, a session of thinking about something with total concentration consistently does the trick. The routine of concentrating on one question or another during the day is possibly the reason this problem got away since childhood, but I won't count on that explanation. The statistics on what portion of people gets that effect, how often it goes away, and how often if goes away for e.g. mathematicians will be more informative as a start.

Comment author: jimrandomh 29 April 2009 05:29:01PM 0 points [-]

Still, it would be nice to be able to learn how to suppress auditory information like that... which sounds like something you learned to do. Any pointers?

This came up awhile ago; actually, we went back and forth a few times about it, here. That discussion looks like a clear case of the typical mind fallacy, on both our parts, but there may still be something of value there.

Comment author: arundelo 30 April 2009 05:23:44AM 2 points [-]

When you say "actually hear", do you mean that the only way you could tell that the sounds weren't real was that you knew (for example) the radio was off? Or do you mean something else?

Comment author: MrHen 30 April 2009 01:26:06PM 0 points [-]

When you say "actually hear", do you mean that the only way you could tell that the sounds weren't real was that you knew (for example) the radio was off? Or do you mean something else?

I would describe my related experiences as my imagination producing background noises. If I tried to concentrate on the background noises and bring them to the foreground they disappear and I only have the non-noise version left in my head. My hunch is that this latter state is more common amongst people who get songs stuck in their head: You think of words, you think of melodies, but you do not hear anything.

Another easy way to show the distinction, I never sing along with the fake audio. It is always background and as soon as I notice that I am hearing something it goes away. The experience reminds me of deja vu to an extent. I can tell something is hiccoughing in my sensory processing but instead of complaining about it I just enjoy the song as long as I can before it goes away.

Obviously, I cannot speak for Vladimir_Nesov.

Comment author: pdf23ds 30 October 2009 12:19:20AM 11 points [-]

As a trained musician with a vivid aural imagination, I find this idea to be hilarious. Totally. Risky? Really? What could possibly be risky about practicing a skill that others possess in much greater quantities, due to the same sort of practice?

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 April 2009 09:58:14AM 1 point [-]

I don't see any reason why visual imagination can't be similarly trained.

I guess it can be trained somewhat, but not to a game-changing degree.

Comment author: MrHen 29 April 2009 01:20:15PM *  3 points [-]

Out of curiosity, can you back that up with a reference or really cool personal story?

(Edit) "Out of curiosity," was originally "No offense, but"

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 April 2009 01:58:54PM *  0 points [-]

I'm sorry, maybe you misread my statement? I didn't assert anything extraordinary, on the contrary actually.

Comment author: MrHen 29 April 2009 02:38:00PM 2 points [-]

Well, I am not trying to say you were right or wrong, I was just wondering why you thought what you did. If the statement was merely a reaction, that is fine.

I didn't assert anything extraordinary, on the contrary actually.

Sure, I understand, but ordinary for you is extraordinary for me. My instinctive opinion is that visual imagination can be trained a significant amount. I have no real reason for believing that, however, so I thought that any input you can offer to the contrary will help me figure out the puzzle.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 April 2009 02:54:56PM *  2 points [-]

The "No offence" prefix communicates a connotation that is strongly at odds with your elucidation above.

Anyway, my response was basically indicating that I'm unaware of evidence for training being able to improve visual imagination in a game-changing degree, my intuition tells that it isn't so, and so I'm surprised by cousin_it's remark. Although, strictly speaking, "I see no reason why it can't happen" communicates the same statement, but again with the opposite connotation.

Which is an example of exactly the kind of clash of overconfident beliefs resulting from different intuitive judgments that Yvain described in this article!

Comment author: MrHen 29 April 2009 05:46:43PM 2 points [-]

The "No offence" prefix communicates a connotation that is strongly at odds with your elucidation above.

Sorry. I changed it.

Anyway, my response was basically indicating that I'm unaware of evidence for training being able to improve visual imagination in a game-changing degree, my intuition tells that it isn't so, and so I'm surprised by cousin_it's remark. Although, strictly speaking, "I see no reason why it can't happen" communicates the same statement, but again with the opposite connotation.

Which makes sense. I guess my original comment was just a ping for "Is this an opinion?" but it did it in an confusing way. But I guess I got an answer, so it eventually worked. :P

Which is an example of exactly the kind of clash of overconfident beliefs resulting from different intuitive judgments that Yvain described in this article!

Haha, good point.

Comment author: pjeby 29 April 2009 03:06:37PM 1 point [-]

I guess it can be trained somewhat, but not to a game-changing degree.

What makes you say that?

Comment author: CronoDAS 29 April 2009 07:40:50PM 12 points [-]

At any given time, I always have some song or another playing in my head, and I can recall songs I've memorized and "play them back" at will. Usually it's just the melody, though; the harmony usually doesn't seem to get captured as easily. (I've taken piano lessons for most of my life and I'm told I'm rather talented, although I'm nowhere near as good as professional musicians.)

Sometimes, an earworm gets attached to the point where I can't tell the difference between what's in my head and what I'm hearing with my ears. This usually happens when I've been playing a video game with MIDI-like music for a long period of time. (On a side note, I must have no taste, because I find I prefer the MIDI-like sounds of the NES and SNES-era to the more elaborate music of today's video games. The FF6 soundtrack is my favorite music, ever.)

Comment author: stcredzero 30 April 2009 12:20:35PM *  9 points [-]

There's a lot of great music that's gotten into videogames. Anything that people can listen to for hours on end and not get sick of must have some merit.

(Anyhow, the only true measure of taste is what people like years hence. And even supposedly great musicians can be unreliable predictors.)

I think a lack of aural imagination explains a lot of mediocre musicians who are beginners, and who stay beginners, in traditional music. They are only trying to waggle their fingers in the right magical sequence to get the tune to somewhat come out. They're not hearing the tune in their head and letting it come out.

Comment author: stcredzero 30 April 2009 12:13:52PM 13 points [-]

My experience in my non-academic work life, is that many programmers can't visualize verbal descriptions of subsystems, but they learn how to make convincing "I got it" noises to mollify their coworkers. It's not just programmers, it's all sorts of coworkers. I have no idea how an adult can avoid this pitfall.

Comment author: abigailgem 29 April 2009 11:49:22AM 6 points [-]

I have no ability to create images in a "mind's eye". I read of a Neuro-Linguistic Programming technique, which suggested that one try to imagine a very simple image, such as a cloudless sky, the sea (no ships or other coastline) and a beach. So, two lines, the shore and the horizon. I tried this without success.

Comment author: pjeby 29 April 2009 02:56:41PM *  -2 points [-]

suggested that one try to imagine a very simple image, such as a cloudless sky, the sea (no ships or other coastline) and a beach. So, two lines, the shore and the horizon. I tried this without success.

Have you ever been to the beach? If so, do you remember what it looked like? If so, you're done at that point, whether you actually "see" the beach or not.

Imagination is really just a form of memory, and vice versa; some people have difficulty with it simply because they try to create an image from scratch in their mind, having no idea how to go about it and nothing to start from.

In general, when any self-help book tells you to imagine or visualize something, you're better off asking yourself if you can remember something like that, or asking yourself what something like that would look like. You don't need to consciously attempt to manipulate imagery - you just ask yourself questions that presuppose you can see something, whether you feel you can "actually" see them or not.

The underlying assumption here is that your brain is absolutely capable of manipulating visual information -- otherwise, there are a wide variety of things you simply wouldn't be able to do. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that you can consciously perceive that information, without practice at observing it. In other words, your brain can visualize, but you may not be able to see that visualization without practice.

Another common block to visualization is a conceptual one: the objection that you're not "really" seeing things because they're "not real". (e.g. someone who gets told as a kid that the things they imagine aren't real and to stop it).

Anyway, not saying that you necessarily can visualize consciously or that any of these issues is yours; just pointing out that there are a lot of reasons why a person can be able to visualize in principle while not being able to perform it in practice.

Practice is actually important, too. As a computer programmer, I have considerable practice doing black-and-white visualization of boxes and lines representing data structures, but less practice at vivid color images or anything panoramic. However, if I look at something and close my eyes, I can retain the full image for a short while, because that's something I used to practice as a kid, trying to develop a "photographic memory".

Comment author: dclayh 29 April 2009 08:19:08PM *  1 point [-]

you're done at that point, whether you actually "see" the beach or not. The underlying assumption here is that your brain is absolutely capable of manipulating visual information -- otherwise, there are a wide variety of things you simply wouldn't be able to do. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that you can consciously perceive that information, without practice at observing it.

Surely the 3x3 letter grid example above shows that conscious perception can be a useful skill.

Also I find this assertion

Another common block to visualization is a conceptual one: the objection that you're not "really" seeing things because they're "not real". (e.g. someone who gets told as a kid that the things they imagine aren't real and to stop it).

highly implausible; do you have any evidence for it?

Comment author: pjeby 29 April 2009 09:31:08PM 2 points [-]

Surely the 3x3 letter grid example above shows that conscious perception can be a useful skill.

You don't have to consciously "see" an image to know what's in it. Weird, yes, but true. (Or possibly a quirk of subjective language.)

do you have any evidence for it?

Only that I've had students who say they "can't really visualize", and on further investigating, it turns out that they do see images, but insist that "they're not really there, even though I can see them".

This seems to be a separate phenomenon from those who claim that they don't see pictures, even though they're really there! (My wife, for example, can physically point out lots of things about these pictures she can't "see", and always knows precisely where in space they are, how large, and other things about them, despite "not really seeing" them.)

I have no idea what any of that really means, except that it seems to me that everybody has the ability to process visual images in some way, regardless of whether they describe it as seeing things that aren't there, not seeing things that are there, or seeing things that are also there!

However, I have not yet encountered someone who only did not see things that were also not there. ;-)

(I have encountered people who claim this, of course, but with a little bit of questioning, it's relatively easy to show that they can remember colors, spatial relationships, and other things that require some sort of visual processing, even if they don't consciously "see" anything, or don't call the experience "seeing".)

Comment author: MrHen 30 April 2009 01:44:51PM 1 point [-]

(I have encountered people who claim this, of course, but with a little bit of questioning, it's relatively easy to show that they can remember colors, spatial relationships, and other things that require some sort of visual processing, even if they don't consciously "see" anything, or don't call the experience "seeing".)

Remembering is not visualizing. I happen to have a very visual memory to the degree that when I do math in my head I do it visually. I visualize the numbers and add them like I did in grade school. If the math is simple enough I can skip the visual process and just "remember" it. Remembering colors, spatial relationships, and other things that required visual processing the first time may not require imaginative processing when recalling the information.

I can remember the layout of a building by thinking about it in my head and "looking" at the floor plan as I "walk" through the "building". When I toy around with a Rubik's Cube I "see" the other sides while working on one side. Someone incapable of imagining the Rubik's Cube or a floor plan would not be able to recall the information in the same way.

I do not see why someone like this could not recall the information about a picture without activating any visual processing.

Comment author: pjeby 30 April 2009 02:41:38PM 0 points [-]

I do not see why someone like this could not recall the information about a picture without activating any visual processing.

It seems to me you could test this by giving someone IQ-test questions that require visual processing steps. A lot of IQ tests do in fact require such abilities.

Comment author: MrHen 30 April 2009 01:34:34PM 0 points [-]

Have you ever been to the beach? If so, do you remember what it looked like? If so, you're done at that point, whether you actually "see" the beach or not.

I think the odds of someone living and having never seen the sky are relatively low, so that may be a better place to start.

Comment author: janos 01 May 2009 03:32:42PM 1 point [-]

Interesting. My internal experience of programming is quite different; I don't see boxes and lines. Data structures for me are more like people who answer questions, although of course with no personality or voice; the voice is mine as I ask them a question, and they respond in a "written" form, i.e. with a silent indication. So the diagrams people like to draw for databases and such don't make direct sense to me per se; they're just a way of organizing written information.

I am finding it quite difficult to coherently and correctly describe such things; no part of this do I have any certainty of, except that I know I don't imagine black-and-white box diagrams.

Comment author: MrHen 29 April 2009 01:49:41PM 0 points [-]

Haha, I just had a funny thought about how we can accidently generalize this fallacy from itself and try applying it to everything. The only example I could think of was noticing that I am different from you and jumping to the conclusion that my surprise was because I was falling for the Typical Psyche Fallacy when all I have is one example. So, I guess, there will be cases where there you are smack in the middle-average of things?

Anyway, I thought it was interesting. Can anyone come up with a better example? Am I just babbling to myself?

Comment author: Annoyance 29 April 2009 03:53:17PM 0 points [-]

I don't think there are any implications about qualia; the concept there is incoherent, whereas 'mental images' aren't.

Even so, I don't think the concept is very useful. What's the difference between forming a mental image, and forming the concept of what properties an image would have in great detail?

With the tiger example: are the 'eidetic imagers' really generating a picture (or the neurological equivalent of such), or is it just that their minds fill out the properties of what they're asked to imagine in far more detail than was requested?

If I ask you to imagine a man, and then ask what color shoelaces he was wearing, is answering rapidly and without hesitation evidence that you've formed an image or merely that you generated a lot of detail that wasn't specified?

Comment author: thomblake 30 April 2009 12:59:07PM 0 points [-]

Let's not forget - 'qualia' is said in many ways. One definition is that qualia of X means "what it's like to experience X". A qualia-believer thus hears a qualia-denier saying "there's no qualia" and responds, "Do you really not think there's anything it's like to see the color red?" - thus, the parallel.

Comment author: Swimmy 29 April 2009 04:45:07PM 2 points [-]

Or to summarize, as one blogger aptly put it, "your model of the individual is very likely based on you." Her extrapolation is that people should be very up front in their arguments about how they model other people. Unfortunately for the philosophers, this is harder to do the more nuanced the debate.

Comment author: MendelSchmiedekamp 29 April 2009 04:54:57PM 4 points [-]

My automatic assumption is actually the opposite. Assume other people do not think the same way I do and that I cannot model them by tweaking a self-model. I then sometimes need to weaken this assumption if my other models aren't up to the task.

Which, oddly enough, makes the Typical Mind Fallacy an instance of itself.

Comment author: gworley 29 April 2009 05:47:44PM 2 points [-]

Fantastic post. I think this one may be something of an instant classic. And, perhaps most importantly, a guide post we can point ourselves to when writing posts for LW and say "hey, now let's make sure I didn't do that".

Comment author: taw 29 April 2009 05:50:00PM 3 points [-]

Re footnote 3: My guesses were 95% and 50%. I accept the figure for shop-lifting but I'm still completely sure one third of students never cheating is untrue.

Comment author: Alicorn 29 April 2009 05:52:18PM 0 points [-]

Is it possible you have an overly broad definition of cheating?

Comment author: taw 29 April 2009 06:11:37PM 7 points [-]

Or alternatively self-reporters have overly narrow definition of cheating.

By the way I don't remember a single case where I cheated, but from my clear memory of my total lack of concern for "academic integrity" in high school, I infer that I'm extremely likely to have done so. It might sound weird, applying an outside view to own past, but my memory of things like that is extremely bad.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 29 April 2009 11:31:07PM 0 points [-]

95%? That boggles my mind. Where did you go to school?

Just 1/3 of students never cheating seems low to me.

Comment author: taw 30 April 2009 07:47:32AM 3 points [-]

It's funny that you asked an inside view question. It was a Polish high school of the supposedly very good kind.

From the outside view, why wouldn't they? Students care about grades, risk of getting caught is tiny, and respect for school among them is really really low.

The only student who wouldn't cheat would be one that: doesn't care about grades/passing at all (but student like that would just fail the school), or is naturally great at everything (but many subjects require plenty of rote memorization, won't work), has unusually high level of respect for the school system (I don't find it terribly likely), or has unusually high level of fear of getting caught.

OK, perhaps more than 5% then, I can see many kids being unreasonably afraid of getting caught.

Comment author: MrHen 30 April 2009 01:16:27PM 5 points [-]

The only student who wouldn't cheat would be one that:

The reason I never cheated was because I thought it was wrong. This has nothing to do with respect for the school system.

The other reason was because I knew it wouldn't help me learn anything. This has more to do with respect for the school system than my previous reason.

Comment author: steven0461 29 April 2009 05:53:39PM *  7 points [-]

Good post; as another example, I read recently that many people never experience an emotion that some other people conceptualize as romantic love. Don't know if it's true though.

ETA: changed "the" to "an" after Phil's reply.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 29 April 2009 11:29:34PM 5 points [-]

I'd be surprised if there is one single "emotion that some other people conceptualize as romantic love".

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 29 April 2009 07:20:05PM 3 points [-]

Interesting.

How did the surveys work, though? ie, just wondering what sorts of questions were asked that actually helped Galton figure out to what extent they had visual imagination. (as opposed to whether they just thought they did)

Comment author: AlexU 30 April 2009 01:53:23PM *  6 points [-]

Isn't there an equally well-known bias toward thinking we'll react differently to future events (or behave differently) than most people? That is, we observe that most people don't become happier when they become rich, but we convince ourselves that we're "different" enough that we nonetheless will? I think Dan Gilbert wrote pretty extensively on this in of those recent "happiness studies" books. Anyway, it seems like there's an obvious tension between the two tendencies.

Comment author: aleiby 22 October 2009 05:42:33AM 5 points [-]

Does anyone know if those incapable of forming mental images are also unable to have dreams while sleeping? Do they not hallucinate under sensory deprivation? It seems like anyone capable of vision, should have no problem stimulating those same neurons in reverse (thinking about the neocortex as presented by Hawkins). I recognize I'm exhibiting the very bias presented here, but find it hard to believe this isn't a learnable skill that can be developed through practice.

I feel similarly about noise tolerance. I spent many afternoons reading in a busy coffee shop where highschool "punk" bands would often hold "concerts". I did this intentionally to build up my tolerance to noise and ability to focus in the face of extraordinary distraction. Of course, now it just makes me annoyed at people who lack similar tolerances. How ironic.

Comment author: ellenjanuary 22 October 2009 08:23:21PM 2 points [-]

Synchronicity: this is one of the best things I have ever read in life, yet my life had to come to this point in order to appreciate what I was reading. Thanks muchly. :)