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Generalizing From One Example

262 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.


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 (386)

Comment author: HughRistik 29 April 2009 06:58:23AM *  62 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: MTGandP 27 November 2012 05:22:43AM 2 points [-]

Going back to ~1920, "extrovert" has been pretty consistently more popular.

Comment author: bill 29 April 2009 03:20:47AM *  49 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 author: pjeby 29 April 2009 06:36:48PM 12 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 05:39:14AM [-]
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: scientism 29 April 2009 03:15:19AM *  49 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: bill 29 April 2009 03:11:58PM 29 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 9 points [-]
Comment author: rosyatrandom 28 April 2009 11:38:40PM 48 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: Emile 29 April 2009 06:25:59AM 20 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: [deleted] 29 April 2009 03:12:56AM 11 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: wtpayne 22 November 2012 09:39:40PM 5 points [-]

Now that the two extremes have been discounted, I have a disturbing compulsive need to know exactly how many other people there are out there who are like me.

Comment author: abramdemski 23 August 2012 07:48:09AM 3 points [-]

Oh! Yes. This makes me recall the moment when I realized that I should, in fact, generalize to other minds from the example of mine. (Before reading your post, it did not occur to me that I had not always done this.) It was in grade 8, after talking with someone who reported mental states similar to mine. I am not sure exactly what I thought before this, but more or less, I felt that I had no way of knowing what it was like for other people.

Comment author: cousin_it 29 April 2009 09:40:03AM *  29 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: stcredzero 30 April 2009 12:13:52PM 14 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: CronoDAS 29 April 2009 07:40:50PM 13 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: Hayashi 27 March 2012 12:24:51AM 2 points [-]

No, some of the music of the NES and SNES era are the best music ever written. And I was born AFTER that era, so by the childhood argument my favourite music ought to be of the early Pentium games I played... I only heard the music of the SNES era more recently. They are actually THAT GOOD.

Ditto, the thing that people still listen to Mozart and Beethoven even though they've been dead for centuries.

I'd argue that music nowadays is regressing to the lowest common denominator of rhythm and losing all the melodic complexity I like. And melodic complexity is perfectly achievable using only 8-bit instruments.

On my end my visual imagery is poor, I can barely remember faces, places clearly, but it does exist somewhat.


My aural imagery is nearly peerless relative to any of the people I know in real life, I can sing songs in languages I know after two passes and in languages I don't after about 10 passes, I can isolate specific instruments from my memory of a song and play them back, not just the melody; I remember music not just as a whole, but as coordinations of multiple single instruments.

The idea that aural and visual imagery must be closely linked in itself is a generalisation.

Heck, for an extreme example I'd bet that the blind from birth generally don't have visual imagery and have greatly above par aural imagery, whereas the deaf from birth generally don't have aural imagery and have greatly above par visual imagery, though there will be instances where they have neither.

Comment author: CronoDAS 27 March 2012 07:42:03PM *  6 points [-]

I'd argue that music nowadays is regressing to the lowest common denominator of rhythm and losing all the melodic complexity I like. And melodic complexity is perfectly achievable using only 8-bit instruments.

I've also read that restrictions of the systems in those days are probably why there were so many games with memorable melodies; melodic complexity was the only kind of complexity possible, so that's what we ended up with. (I agree with this theory.)

Comment author: wedrifid 27 March 2012 01:48:14AM 5 points [-]

On my end my visual imagery is poor, I can barely remember faces, places clearly, but it does exist somewhat.


My aural imagery is nearly peerless relative to any of the people I know in real life, I can sing songs in languages I know after two passes and in languages I don't after about 10 passes, I can isolate specific instruments from my memory of a song and play them back, not just the melody; I remember music not just as a whole, but as coordinations of multiple single instruments.

How did you manage to develop this superpower?

Comment author: wedrifid 27 March 2012 01:45:08AM 1 point [-]

Ditto, the thing that people still listen to Mozart and Beethoven even though they've been dead for centuries.

This point is less strong than the SNES point. Mozart and Beethoven can be (more easily) explained by simple selection. There have been a lot of pieces of music written over many centuries.... etc.

Comment author: solipsist 20 October 2013 06:20:21PM 7 points [-]

Even after reading the article, this comment completely blew my mind. I knew intellectually that some people might have eidetic imagery, but didn't emotionally believe that people's visual imagination could really feel as vivid as life.

Unlike sounds, which obviously can be imagined as exactly as when you hear them.

Does this Futurama joke work for you? Do you get songs stuck in your head? I'm expecting a "yes", but am prepared to be shocked.

Comment author: fburnaby 13 April 2010 05:30:07PM 7 points [-]

My ex-girfriend's exceptional ability to draw realistic, well-proportioned humans in detailed scenes tipped me off to this phenomenon in much the same way.

I have very little ability to visualize a scene the way that must be required in order to do this. If I were attempting to draw (a pursuit I've long given up on, though I commend your attempt at overcoming the gap in your own abilities with music), I would have to draw an outline of the scene, and then come back and gradually fill in details, relying on my previous low-resolution version of the drawing for input as to how to draw the next iteration.

She was perfectly capable of starting on one end of the scene and filling it in at near full resolution. The proportion would be right in the end, requiring only minor touch-ups and modifications. She must have some very vivid image in her head.

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: 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 30 October 2009 12:56:18AM 6 points [-]

Remember, I had no data on this, and a priori starting to hear sound where it isn't really there seems like nothing normal. Even if you possess the knowledge to rule something hilarious, it doesn't necessarily invalidate the correctness of an a priori position. If I toss a coin without looking, you peak at it and see it's "heads", my suggestion that it might well be "tails" isn't wrong for my state of knowledge.

Comment author: pdf23ds 30 October 2009 06:42:22AM 3 points [-]

Granted, naturally.

Comment author: christina 06 August 2011 10:34:00AM 3 points [-]

I have had that ability all my life. I do not experience any sort of auditory or visual hallucinations as a result (I can distinguish the difference between a sound or image from my mind and one from my eyes or ears). I guess it was alarming to you because it turned up suddenly and you had no prior expectation of it. Maybe for some people this is something to worry about, but as long as you can perceive the difference between external inputs and internal ones, this abiility is actually very useful.

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: 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: PhilGoetz 26 April 2010 11:02:28PM *  5 points [-]

Wait - there are people who can't do this? How do they get ear-worms? If you imagine Boris Karlof singing "You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch", and the voice in your head doesn't sound like Boris Karlof, what does it sound like? How can you do a Ronald Reagan impression if you can't hear what Ronald Reagan sounds like in your head?

I get terrible, terrible ear-worms. I once heard parts of the first 2 movements of Beethoven's 5th nonstop for almost a week.

I've introspected about this a lot - yes, introspection bad - trying to figure out how many parts I can hear at once. At first I thought I could hear 3 to 4 parts at once (4 only when the song was very familiar or the parts were very different). But I can't hear even 2 parts begin at precisely the same moment. It seems to require very rapid, barely-perceptible, attentional switching between parts, on the order of tens of milliseconds, to change the note.

Mozart could reproduce complex polyphony after hearing it once, so he must have been able to hear and imagine all the parts. Although I'm sure he had very good compression and predictive accuracy to help him reconstruct it.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 20 October 2013 06:53:28PM *  3 points [-]

If you imagine Boris Karlof singing "You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch", and the voice in your head doesn't sound like Boris Karlof, what does it sound like?

It doesn't sound like anything.

If that seems odd to you, imagine a triangle.

No, really, do it. I'll wait.

Now: what color was that triangle? How many centimeters across was the base? Was it a solid, or a line enclosing an area, and if the latter how thick was the line? Did it have a matte finish, or glossy? Was it opaque, transparent, or translucent? If opaque, did it cast a shadow? Where was the light source, and how tall was the triangle, and what was the color of the light... for example, was the shadow cool or warm?

Most people's imagined triangles simply won't have those visual properties, even though triangles they actually see do have those properties, because imagination isn't a matter of re-presenting things to our visual systems. It's something else, though it has aspects of that.

In much the same way, when I imagine a song, it doesn't sound like anything... it simply doesn't have those acoustic properties.

Or, well, that's my default state. I've trained (mostly for my own entertainment) to where imagined songs have various acoustic properties for me if I pay close attention to providing them, but typically they don't.

Comment author: lunchbox 17 February 2010 06:50:05AM *  16 points [-]

I think clever people are especially susceptible to the belief that their perceptions are typical. Let's say you can't visualize images in your mind, but your coworker insists that he can. Since you're not a brain scientist, you can't verify whether he's right or whether he's just misinterpreted the question. However, the last few times you had a disagreement with him on a verifiable subject, you were vindicated by the facts, so you can only assume that you are right this time as well. Add to that the fact that people's stated perceptions and preferences are frequently dishonest (because of signaling), and it's very easy to mistrust them.

One useful first step to overcoming this bias is to compare one's results on a test like UVA's Moral Foundations Questionnaire here to other segments of the population.

However, it's not enough to just learn the facts about how other people perceive the world; sometimes one has to experience them firsthand. I have always been an ambitious high achiever and used to get frustrated and confused by people who were not able to follow through with their goals. However, a few years back I had an adverse reaction to a medication, and experienced for a few hours what depression must be like. From then on, it all made perfect sense.

One day I wonder if it will be possible to alter my brain chemstry safely and temporarily so that I can experience what it is like to perceive the world as a conservative, a liberal, a luddite, a woman, a blue collar worker, a depression sufferer, a jock, an artist, etc. The impact on my emotional maturity and ability to empathize would be tremendous.

Comment author: handoflixue 17 June 2011 01:23:10AM 2 points [-]

One day I wonder if it will be possible to alter my brain chemstry safely and temporarily so that I can experience what it is like to perceive the world as...

I'd assume blue collar, artist, and depression are pretty trivial to experience, if you're curious.... Female is also eminently doable, although it'd take a lot more time and energy (and if you're set on "temporary" it's going to be even slower)

Admittedly, I seem to be vastly above-average in my ability to perceive the world through alternate lenses (Indeed, I find it baffling that you haven't experienced at least a few of those!)

Comment author: Timwi 26 March 2012 01:24:11AM 4 points [-]

You seem to be using the word “experience” differently from what I understand it to mean. “To experience depression” to me would mean that you are in a depression for real. You seem to imply that you can “experience” it without actually being in it — what do you mean by that?

Note that it is not enough merely to imagine an experience. It is certainly possible to imagine oneself in a situation one has never actually been in — but the imagined experience would be a guess. It’s like imagining (assuming you are capable of visual imagery) an animal that you have never seen before from a vague description. You can only imagine what you’ve been told, but your mind fills in the details with guesses. This is probably exacerbated by the fact that you often get conflicting descriptions, because not all depressions are exactly the same.

So what do you mean when you say “I seem to be vastly above-average in my ability to perceive the world through alternate lenses”? If you believe there is more to it than just your mind making guesses, what makes you believe that?

Comment author: handoflixue 26 March 2012 10:35:24PM 2 points [-]

So what do you mean when you say “I seem to be vastly above-average in my ability to perceive the world through alternate lenses”? If you believe there is more to it than just your mind making guesses, what makes you believe that?

From my practice as an artist, I can look at a forest and talk about the shading, light angles, and color palette. From certain neurological quirks of mine, I can look at the forest and discuss it in a weird internal palette, or discuss the flavor of the trees (I have vision->taste synaesthesia). I can push the "be happy" button and sit contentedly. I can push the "ADD" button and want to bounce around and be in motion (music also triggers this - kinaesthetic and auditory senses overlap strongly for me, and make it very difficult to track visual data). I can push the "depression" button and realize I'm all alone, miles from company, and I'm going to have to WALK back and I'm ALREADY exhausted and tired and oh god I'm stupid what made me think this would be enjoyable (low blood sugar will also trigger this one, although it's actually pretty hard to put me in a bad mood if I'm walking and/or in a forest)

Basically, there's an absolutely HUGE amount of sensory information hitting me at any given point, and I'm aware that I'm only processing SOME of it. From there, there's an exponentially vaster sea of interpretations and patterns I can within that data - I can relate it to a wide variety of topics. So, I'm aware of this huge sheaf of possible observational angles, and can generally wander between them.

I seem to be more able to notice "I don't like this perspective / I'd enjoy seeing this from multiple angles". I seem more able to actually switch perception, although most intelligent people can at least follow what I'm doing and mimic my shifts. I also seem to have a much broader set to choose from.

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: AnnaSalamon 29 April 2009 01:02:43AM *  43 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: 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: 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: 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 29 April 2009 05:41:47AM *  [-]
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: 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: 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: Arran_Stirton 07 April 2012 03:18:43AM 2 points [-]

How exactly did he convey to the actors the difference between arrogance and confidence?

Comment author: Prismattic 21 January 2012 07:00:19PM *  11 points [-]

It struck me that I think you can still see the imagination debate playing out today. Consider the following conversation, which most people will have encountered a variant of at least once+:

-- Mr. Highbrow: It is better to read books than watch movies based on them. The movies limit you to someone else's perspective on the material, but the book gives maximum reign to your imagination.

-- Mr. Lowbrow: What are you smoking? The movie is an immersive experience that makes me feel like I'm really in the story. The book is just somebody else's description of the story.

Having thought about it, my highest-probability hypothesis is now that Mr. HB has more vivid mental imagery than does Mr. LB. Further introspection led me to realize that when I read fiction, I often have very specific images of places and scenery, but usually only vague impressions of faces. When I watch film adaptions, I'm often struck that the setting is "wrong," but rarely have that feeling about the appearance of people (unless the actors are grossly divergent from the description of them in the book).++

+The correct response to this

++ I considered putting this in the "How is your mind different" thread, but I don't know how typical or atypical I am. Which is, I suppose, the point.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 21 January 2012 07:57:24PM 5 points [-]

My mental visual imagery tends to be vague if it happens at all. Nonetheless, I like books much better than movies.

Comment author: Swimmer963 21 January 2012 07:18:35PM 2 points [-]

Reminds me of the debate 'books-vs-video games', some people claiming books are better for children because they encourage imagination, others saying that video games are better because they're interactive and thus encourage creativity. As for myself...I don't think it's a valid question. There are good books and bad books, and there are good video games and bad video games. Being more immersive, a violent video game might be more likely to de-sensitize children to violence than a violent book, but I don't know, and I have no idea if it's been studied before.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 21 January 2012 07:30:36PM 2 points [-]

That doesn't make it an invalid question. There are tall women and short women, and there are tall men and short men, but asking whether women as a class are taller than men is a perfectly valid question, made no less so by my not happening to know the answer.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 21 January 2012 10:28:22PM 4 points [-]

Sure, it's a valid question, but an ambiguous one. It isn't at all clear that the only right way to answer "Are class X taller than class Y?" is to compare the mean height of members of X and Y. There are other metrics — for certain purposes, you might want to compare the maxima, the 95th percentiles, or the medians. Depending on why you're asking the question, any of these (or others) could be the right answer to comparing populations.

Comment author: swestrup 29 April 2009 02:50:22AM 11 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: juliawise 06 September 2011 04:30:36PM 10 points [-]

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.

This is why I find pickup theory so incomprehensible. It all seems to be aimed at people looking for sex in bars. I don't know anyone who does this (at least to my knowledge), so I have no mental model for how it works. I'm pretty sure the methods advocated would not work on me or most people I know, but I trust pickup artists to be right about how it works on people who hang out in bars.

Comment author: MarcTheEngineer 09 September 2011 08:42:05PM 7 points [-]

You are mistaking all pickup theory for a subset of pickup theory that happens to be very effective at picking up at bars. Due to the nature of the beast (picking up in bars) it also tends to be the pickup theory that is the least politically correct... and therefore receives the most attention outside of the pickup community.

If you don't go to clubs you are probably right that the routines in the Mystery Method probably wouldn't work on you... they make sense in the club where they don't seem out of place and are congruent with the general atmosphere. Those same methods attempted in some situations would seem incongruent... like the guy has no social awareness. A lack of social awareness being unattractive is as close to a universal rule of attraction as you can get.

Read pickup theory related to social situations that you generally find yourself in - You'll probably find that guys that you have found yourself attracted to in the past acted at least partly in accordance with that theory.

Comment author: juliawise 09 September 2011 10:29:15PM 3 points [-]

As far as I know, there's not pickup literature for the folk dance scene.

Yes, in a general way, I find confidence and social competence attractive in any environment. But at least consciously, my strategy was to look for nerdy boys who weren't overconfident - because desperate boys would value me more. Devotion alone doesn't make for a good relationship, so the trick was to find one who was both devoted and interesting. (And a folk dancer.)

Comment author: Jack 09 September 2011 10:55:39PM 5 points [-]

I think it is fair to say looking for desperation is an unusual dating strategy for young women (though if desperation isn't a turn-off for you, clearly a winning one).

Comment author: Arepo 23 September 2011 02:49:30PM 4 points [-]

Hitting on desperate boys(/girls) is an unusual strategy by definition...

Comment author: wedrifid 23 September 2011 03:18:06PM 3 points [-]

(Nitpick: This is not technically by definition.)

Comment author: dlthomas 20 October 2011 05:14:03PM 5 points [-]

By the definition of desperate including "not frequently hit on"?

Comment author: MarcTheEngineer 20 October 2011 03:47:20PM *  2 points [-]

Are you on "The Pill" - Recent scientific studies have indicated that taking birth control hormones actually affects a woman's attraction triggers. Essentially the pill causes a woman to more highly value masculine traits that indicate stability (because it tricks the body into believing its pregnant, the body decides it wants to mate with a male who will take care of it, rather than the best possible sperm).

There is some discussion that the pill could be in part responsible for the increase in divorce rates as women come off the pill after marriage and suddenly find themselves no longer attracted to their husbands.

While there isn't any literature specific to folk dancing, there is significant literature on the subject of using Niche Hobbies for pickup... As well, while "appearing desperate" is certainly advised against in basically any pickup literature, there is a significant body of work on the subject of appearing interesting (breakdowns on how to structure your conversation with someone new so that you can appear to have common interests... essentially how to make a cold read on someone).

I would be surprised if you don't find real desperation a complete turn-off... guys who are actually desperate are almost universally despised by women and are generally called "creepy".

On a side note - Pickup Theory asserts (This is even part of Mystery's work) that showing vulnerability mixed in with confidence is an effective method in demonstrating your Long Term potential if your cold read of your target indicates that she is looking for an LTR.

Comment author: juliawise 20 October 2011 04:42:27PM 2 points [-]

I wasn't on the pill when I was looking for a mate. True, pure desperation is not attractive, but I was looking for a medium value between cockiness and desperation.

Comment author: simplicio 12 March 2010 02:41:42PM 8 points [-]

"There was a wide spectrum of imaging ability, from about five percent of people with perfect eidetic imagery to three percent of people completely unable to form mental images."

Yesterday I was surprised to learn that my wife can barely see afterimages. I was watching a lecture where the green, yellow & black American flag appears, you stare at it, and then it goes away and an afterimage of the real red white & blue one appears. She couldn't see it after 4 tries. Then I told her to stare at a lightbulb for several seconds and look away. She still didn't see anything. Staring at it even longer produced a weak afterimage that she could only just barely see if she closed her eyes.

Comment author: Aurini 17 March 2010 07:30:22PM 4 points [-]

Whenever I wear polarized lenses I can see patterns in safety-glass, and more bands on rainbows than would regularly be there; most other people I've met are similar.

One day, on a long car trip, I was talking to the guy sitting next to me and he was able to see these things with his eyes uncovered. I haven't the faintest clue whether this is a hardware or a software difference, either seem feasible.

Comment author: simplicio 02 September 2010 12:50:22AM 5 points [-]

Related: ever seen Haidinger's brush?

It's very cool, but because it's on the threshold of perception it also requires a good deal of discipline not to fall into an N-ray style state of mind when attempting to view them.

Comment author: LebensWert 02 September 2010 12:33:48AM *  2 points [-]

Maybe the people who can see those things with their eyes uncovered lack stereo vision?

Since I was a child I found that when I close one eye, light sources (against a sufficiently dark surroundings) change their appearance... Similar to a lensflare effect. Works with each eye individually, but with both eyes open these artifacts disappear. I always figured these are optical phenomena which will be identified as such by the brain by comparison between both eyes and therefore eliminated.

So if someone lacks stereo vision, or has a significant impairment of the stereo vision system, this might explain this polarizing phenomenon. However, maybe I'm in error and those two phenomena are apples and oranges.

Comment author: jasey 12 December 2010 08:03:33AM 1 point [-]

Hm, I don't think it's likely a function of basic differences in visual perception - I have normal vision as far as I'm concerned, but I have very vivid mental imagery. I also have very vivid dreamscapes, and every dream I have is a new scape - I've never had the same one twice. (Unrelatedly or relatedly, I dream A LOT, even when I doze off for 5-10 minutes.) In any case, I can be physically looking at something in the real world, but be "looking" at something completely different in my mind's eye, but there is a definite shift in attention that facilitates how much information I can get from either the current sensory input or the mental image.

Comment author: kpreid 17 March 2010 07:52:06PM 2 points [-]

Have you read about Haidinger's brush?

Comment author: JGWeissman 06 April 2010 05:08:05PM 1 point [-]

This is more likely to be caused by a hardware difference than a software differnce, but both of these explanations seems really unlikely compared to the theory that this person's self report was confused. If in a controlled experiment, he can reliably differentiate between patterns of light polarization, then I will worry about explaining this.

Comment author: Strange7 06 April 2010 04:47:13PM 1 point [-]

I would think hardware. Polarization isn't something you can reconstruct from just color, but naturally-polarized lenses occur in nature and thus could have been produced by a mutation.

Comment author: orbenn 08 March 2011 05:32:59PM 3 points [-]

You're thinking about this all wrong. It's biological so the hardware IS the software.

A better question would be: is the difference in the eye or the brain? This you could test by taking some blue-detecting cones from the retinas of people who can and cannot detect Haidinger's brush and see if they respond differently to changes in polarization.

Comment author: Tem42 14 June 2015 10:51:21PM 1 point [-]

My understanding is that all humans have the 'hardware' to see polarized light, but that most of us filter it out -- that is, it is a software issue. However, you could also phrase this as 'the eyes register the light, but the brain discards the information'.

Comment author: VincentYu 09 September 2012 06:21:10PM 7 points [-]

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.

The challenging paper: Brewer and Schommer-Aikins (2006)


In 1880, Galton carried out an investigation of imagery in a sample of distinguished men and a sample of nonscientists (adolescent male students). He concluded that scientists were either totally lacking in visual imagery or had “feeble” powers of mental imagery. This finding has been widely accepted in the secondary literature in psychology. A replication of Galton’s study with modern scientists and modern university undergraduates found no scientists totally lacking in visual imagery and very few with feeble visual imagery. Examination of Galton’s published data shows that his own published data do not support his claims about deficient visual imagery in scientists. The modern data for scientists and nonscientists and the 1880 data for scientists and nonscientists are in agreement in showing that all groups report substantial imagery on recollective memory tasks such as Galton’s breakfast questionnaire. We conclude that Galton’s conclusions were an example of theory-laden interpretation of data based on the initial responses from several very salient scientists who reported little or no visual imagery on Galton’s imagery questionnaire.


It now appears that Galton’s strong claims were incorrect. It is not the case that most scientists show little or no mental imagery. Galton’s own data and our more recent data demonstrate that scientists show strong visual imagery in recollective memory tasks, just as nonscientist undergraduates do. The data do suggest there may be some small differences in vividness of visual imagery between scientists and undergraduates. However, these differences could easily be due to age differences (Galton, 1879, p. 432, suggested that there may be a decline in imagery with age) or to differences in style of reporting internal mental states. It seems to us that future work on these issues should not focus on imagery in recollective memory tasks such as the breakfast questionnaire. It is not obvious that this type of memory plays a special role in the work of scientists. However, we think that there might be interesting differences on various types of spatial reasoning tasks between scientists and nonscientists, and more particularly among different types of scientists (e.g., crystallographers vs. physiologists).

We also think this analysis of the reasons for the discrepancies between Galton’s claims and his data provides interesting insights into the power of top-down factors in the work of scientists. We entertained the hypothesis that the discrepancy was due to deep-seated beliefs about a hierarchy of intellectual abilities. However, we discarded that hypothesis as Galton gave a non-nativist account of his findings and was surprised by his initial finding that a few scientists reported that they had little or no mental imagery.

We conclude that Galton’s top-down interpretation of his findings was not driven by deepseated theoretical beliefs but merely by the occurrence of a few unusual individuals in his pilot sample. If our interpretation is correct, it certainly highlights the powerful role of even relatively routine top-down beliefs in the way that scientists carry out their work (cf. Brewer & Lambert, 2001).

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 6 points [-]

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

Comment author: handoflixue 17 June 2011 01:33:15AM 4 points [-]

I recently experienced that - or rather, realized I hadn't experienced that. I just assumed people were exaggerating, and then, wham, blindsided by love! It's been very jarring ^^;

(My experience of "love" doesn't line up exactly with limerence, but was a very substantial shift from what I'd previously labelled "love".)

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: Douglas_Knight 29 April 2009 04:13:38PM 11 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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 deleted 29 April 2009 05:59:11AM [-]
Comment author: Z_M_Davis 29 April 2009 07:04:17AM *  5 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 16 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: 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: 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: 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 5 points [-]

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

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: lucidfox 28 November 2010 03:21:45PM 6 points [-]

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.

What statistical evidence do you have for this claim? It seems to me that this is a True Scotsman fallacy: either women behave the way the men in question ascribe to them, or they are "educated and opinionated" and thus don't count.

There are valid reasons why the discussion between "jerks" and "nice guys" turns the way it usually does. For example, both camps tend to see womens as goals to be conquered, like, I don't know, video game NPCs who respond to certain key phrases - as opposed to complex people like themselves. These so called "nice guys", as opposed to genuinely nice guys, think that if they treat a woman nicely, she's somehow obligated to fall in love with him. Reality, alas, does not work that way.

Comment author: Desrtopa 28 November 2010 04:05:04PM 12 points [-]

This explains the poor luck of "nice guys," but if Yvain knows the acquaintances in question to be actual nice guys, then it resolves nothing.

When people think about "Nice guys who can't get a date," they tend to recall self proclaimed nice guys publicly railing against the unfairness, rather than thinking of all the legitimately nice people they know, and thinking if they've ever known them to go on dates. This doesn't mean that "nice guys" actually outnumber genuinely nice dateless guys.

Comment author: handoflixue 17 June 2011 12:56:43AM 8 points [-]

Privileging "women secretly want jerks" as a hypothesis seems rather absurd given the evidence presented.

"Yvain says he has nice but dateless friends" is incredibly easy to explain without assuming "women only date jerks". For one, it's entirely possible that Yvain isn't a very good judge of character here, or is falling victim to the "Halo effect" (they are, after all, his friends).

Amongst other things, I get the impression that he's male, and I'd wager none of these nice friends has attempted to start a relationship with him, so he presumably doesn't have a ton of direct experience with their methods, with the experiences of a female dealing with relationships, etc..

(Obvious disclaimer: I don't know Yvain, or his friends. It's entirely possible they're genuinely nice! :))

Comment author: MondSemmel 20 January 2014 01:24:07PM 1 point [-]

The delicious irony of Yvain (alias Scott) possibly committing a True Scotsman fallacy...

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: bigjeff5 27 January 2011 04:05:19AM 2 points [-]

That sounds like either the optimism bias or the positive outcome bias. They are related, but I think the optimism bias fits best.

People tend to over-estimate their chances of success, and under-estimate their chances of failure. If 90% percent of people eventually go broke after winning the lottery, chances are more than half of them were certain it wouldn't happen to them.

The UK government has special procedures in place to help avoid project failures due to the optimism bias.

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: 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: gwern 23 June 2015 04:36:51PM 5 points [-]

"Lives without imagery - Congenital aphantasia", Zeman et al 2015

In 2010 we reported a particularly 'pure' case of imagery generation disorder, in a 65 year old man who became unable to summon images to the mind's eye after coronary angioplasty (Zeman et al., 2010). Following a popular description of our paper (Zimmer, 2010), we were contacted by over twenty individuals who recognised themselves in the article's account of 'blind imagination', with the important difference that their imagery impairment had been lifelong. Here we describe the features of their condition, elicited by a questionnaire, and suggest a name - aphantasia - for this poorly recognised phenomenon...We explored the features of their condition with a questionnaire devised for the purpose and the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ) (Marks, 1973) (see supplementary material for further details). Participants typically became aware of their condition in their teens or twenties when, through conversation or reading, they realised that most people who 'saw things in the mind's eye', unlike our participants, enjoyed a quasi-visual experience. 19/21 were male. 5/21 reported affected relatives. 10/21 told us that all modalities of imagery were affected. Our participants rating of imagery vividness was significantly lower than that of 121 controls (p<.001, Mann Whitney U test - see Figure 1). Despite their substantial (9/21) or complete (12/21) deficit in voluntary visual imagery, as judged by the VVIQ, the majority of participants described involuntary imagery. This could occur during wakefulness, usually in the form of 'flashes' (10/21) and/or during dreams (17/21)...14/21 participants reported difficulties with autobiographical memory. The same number identified compensatory strengths in verbal, mathematical and logical domains.

"The Brain: Look Deep Into the Mind's Eye; We take visual imagination for granted. But the blank inner world of a patient called MX demonstrates the rich neural processes needed to create the images in our heads." & "Picture This? Some Just Can't", describing "Loss of imagery phenomenology with intact visuo-spatial task performance: A case of 'blind imagination'", Zeman et al 2010 (mirror):

MX agreed to a series of examinations. He proved to have a good memory for a man of his age, and he performed well on problem-solving tests. His only unusual mental feature was an inability to see mental images. Dr. Zeman and his colleagues then scanned MX's brain as he performed certain tasks. First, MX looked at faces of famous people and named them. The scientists found that certain regions of his brain became active, the same ones that become active in other people who look at faces. Then the scientists showed names to MX and asked him to picture their faces. In normal brains, some of those face-recognition regions again become active. In MX's brain, none of them did. Paradoxically, though, MX could answer questions that would seem to require a working mind's eye. He could tell the scientists the color of Tony Blair's eyes, for example, and name the letters of the alphabet that have low-hanging tails, like g and j. These tests suggested his brain used some alternate strategy to solve visual problems....When the scientists asked their [21 later surveyed] subjects to mentally count the windows in their house or apartment, 14 succeeded. They seem to share MX’s ability to use alternate strategies to get around the lack of a mind’s eye.

...Thomas Ebeyer, a 25-year-old Canadian student, discovered his condition four years ago while talking with a girlfriend. He was shocked that she could remember what a friend had been wearing a year before. She replied that she could see a picture of it in her mind. “I had no idea what she was talking about,” he said in an interview. Mr. Ebeyer was surprised to discover that everyone he knew could summon images to their minds. Last year, someone showed him my article about MX...Dr. Zeman now wonders just how common aphantasia is. “Moderately rare” is his guess, but to follow up, he has sent the questionnaire to thousands of people in Exeter. He hopes to find enough people with the condition to begin a bigger scanning study, comparing their brains with those of people who see vivid mental images. Together, they may reveal more than MX could on his own.

Comment author: gwern 23 April 2016 06:17:45PM *  1 point [-]

Blake Ross discovers he is aphantasic (HN) as is his mother* & two FB friends, and is astounded to survey 70+ friends and learn they all genuinely see things in their minds. He also doesn't seem to hear music in his head or dream much, and thinks he gets less out of literature because of the lack of visualizing.

Apparently geneticist Craig Venter is aphantasiac. Also check out Penn (of Penn and Teller) discussing his experience on his podcast (75:15) last year. His experience matches mine perfectly.

* has anyone looked into heritability of this or relatives' scores on tests of mental imagery? maybe aphantasia is the extreme of a normal distribution

Comment author: Ghatanathoah 01 April 2013 03:34:26AM *  5 points [-]

I wonder if the typical mind fallacy explains some of the varying philosophical views on personal identity.

I personally have a very strong sense of personal identity. On introspection I can definitely see that I possess certain characteristics that I consider my personal identity. I definitely think there is a "me" that persists in time.

Of course, introspection isn't very reliable, so I examined old home videos of me as a child, and things I had written when I was little. It wasn't hard at all to notice many characteristics that I still possess today. The child version of me had a similar personality, quirks, interests, values, and so on. He was obviously a "younger me," not a different person.

However, I've heard other people argue that personal identity is obviously an illusion, that you aren't the same person you were in the past. Such views seemed obviously insane to me at first, but it occurred to me that maybe other people lack the same sense of connectedness to their past self that I did. Maybe the philosophers who have argued against, or partially against personal identity (Hume, Parfit, and Giles for instance), have very weak senses of self. They mistakenly think everyone is like them and that other people are just under some sort of illusion.

What especially disturbs me about this instance of the typical mind fallacy is that some people have taken it to mean that personal identity has no moral significance. For instance, I've heard arguments that individual people don't matter, all that matters is the total quantity of pleasure, experiences, or some other fake utility function the proponent has. It seems disturbing to think a simple instance of generalizing from one example could lead to such grave moral repercussions.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 01 April 2013 02:28:00PM 3 points [-]

I'm curious: if someone constructed entirely forged "home videos of your childhood," using the environmental cues from your actual past (e.g. your house, your family, a child who appears to be you, etc.) but the behavioral script from some other kid's home videos, how confident are you that you would not recognize that child's behavior as that of a "younger you"?

For my part, I definitely have that sense of recognition you describe when I encounter artifacts of my childhood, but I'm pretty confident that I would equally "recognize" entirely fictitious artifacts. I wouldn't therefore say that I actually am the other kid whose modeled behavior I recognized. So I don't consider that sort of "recognition" terribly meaningful evidence about identity.

So, I wouldn't say I lack the "sense of connectedness" you describe. I just don't consider it to be especially meaningful or morally significant.

By way of analogy, I also have a sense of being at the center of the perceivable universe, but I don't consider that to describe anything important about the world other than how I perceive it.

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: Blueberry 17 November 2009 01:54:33AM 5 points [-]

I can't consciously form mental images, but I have no problem daydreaming images which seem to come to my mind randomly, and I do sometimes have vivid dreams.

I'm sure that forming mental images can be improved with practice. For instance, people who play a lot of chess or Go can visualize the board in their head and the relationship between the pieces, to the point where they can play a game entirely in their head.

When I try to visualize a mental image, the pieces of the image just don't stay there. For instance, say I try to visualize a house with flowers and a porch and trees and children playing in the yard, and so forth. (I just tried this now to see what happens in my mind.) When I put the porch down, and then try to put some trees in and visualize all the details, the porch "disappears" and I have to remember how I built it. I just don't understand how anyone has a good enough memory to construct a persistent mental image. To me, it's like holding ten phone numbers in your mind.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 17 November 2009 02:07:50AM *  15 points [-]

I can't consciously form mental images, but I have no problem daydreaming images which seem to come to my mind randomly, and I do sometimes have vivid dreams.

I have something like this experience. I can visualize schematic or geometrical images pretty well. But when it comes to textural detail, one thing slips away when I try to visualize the next. I can visualize a wagon wheel spinning in space, but if I try to add the grain of the wood or gradients in the lighting, it doesn't work. I can visualize a green lawn as seen from high above, but if I try to visualize the different blades of grass as they'd appear at standing height, I can't hold onto the details.

But all this changes when I'm dreaming or about to fall asleep. In fact, one way I can tell that I'm about to fall asleep is that I find myself able to visualize that lawn, or many pebbles at the bottom of a clear brook, or other such texture-rich visual tableaux.

ETA: In the couple nights since I wrote this comment, I decided to try inducing sleep by forcing myself to visualize things like grass and pebbles in detail. It seems to work remarkably well. I've stopped taking the melatonin pills that I'd been relying on.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 17 November 2009 03:48:23AM 4 points [-]

I'm sure that forming mental images can be improved with practice. For instance, people who play a lot of chess or Go can visualize the board in their head and the relationship between the pieces, to the point where they can play a game entirely in their head.

Something is being improved with practice, but don't jump to too many conclusions about what is inside people's heads. Playing a game in the head doesn't guarantee visual modality.

Comment author: gwern 19 June 2010 09:20:33PM 12 points [-]

Playing a game in the head doesn't guarantee visual modality.

Right. In fact, chess is the perfect example here.

Many chess grandmasters are famous for being able to recall perfectly games and board positions from years or decades ago, but there are also (somewhat) famous studies to the effect that their recall drops to normal when given random board positions. If their recall is due to a 'mental image', the mental image is certainly not a 64x64 pixelized grid but something quite different.

Comment author: wedrifid 19 June 2010 09:36:31PM *  3 points [-]

Many chess grandmasters are famous for being able to recall perfectly games and board positions from years or decades ago, but there are also (somewhat) famous studies to the effect that their recall drops to normal when given random board positions. If their recall is due to a 'mental image', the mental image is certainly not a 64x64 pixelized grid but something quite different.

(Well, the recall drops back to moderate improvement over normal, with diminishing returns for level of expertise rather than being downright astounding.)

Comment author: Dmytry 21 June 2011 09:51:08PM *  1 point [-]

The reason's obvious for anyone who played chess. You see that knight is threatening this pawn, which is protected by this bishop, etc. You (well, me at least) literally see such relations when playing the chess, i.e. you train to see it at higher level just as we all train to see a 3d cube as a 3d cube rather than as shaded faces of said cubes. Someone who can't do that, chances are, won't be a good chess player.

Comment author: SilasBarta 21 June 2011 10:56:01PM 3 points [-]

I suck at chess. I have trouble keeping all those relationships in mind. So my strategy is always to do a bunch of capture exchanges so the board is simpler and my disadvantage is somewhat reduced. :-)

Comment author: wedrifid 21 June 2011 11:19:45PM 1 point [-]

So my strategy is always to do a bunch of capture exchanges so the board is simpler and my disadvantage is somewhat reduced. :-)

I love that strategy too! Charge!

Comment author: wedrifid 21 June 2011 10:46:56PM 3 points [-]

Exactly, and chess is such a good model for studying the general phenomenon of this kind of expertise. A concentrated focus on building an enormous database of significant patterns and the development of the ability to use long term memory with almost the same malleability that we commonly use working memory but confined to that domain limited problem.

Someone who can't do that, chances are, won't be a good chess player.

I would also say that someone who can't do that is not yet a good chess player. This is a core human skill. With some work everyone (who does not have some cognitive disability) will develop the skills you are talking about. They may still be terrible at at the strategic side of the game but the pattern matching is nigh inevitable.

Comment author: lindagert 06 August 2011 09:22:28AM 5 points [-]

I am completely mentally blind, no activity in the mind's eye at all -- I have no concept of a mind's eye. Chess is a good example of how I committed the Typical Mind Fallacy for years, enabling me to maintain denial about other people's mental imagery. I was so determined to not know that a big part of my mind was missing, that I consistently glossed over anything that other people told me about their own mental imagery... including this:

My oldest son and his father are both expert chess players. They would sit in the car and call out moves to each other. Then afterwards, they could both write down a list of all the moves, compare notes and demonstrate that they had played the same game of chess in their heads. When asked how they performed this magic trick, they told me that they simply visualized the board and moved the pieces!

Now this should be undeniable evidence of mental imagery, but I continued to maintain my denial about that so-called mind's eye -- because as I was to find out later, after breaking through the denial, the denial was a defense mechanism that was protecting me from the emotional devastation of when I discovered the truth about what was missing from my mind.

Comment author: aausch 31 December 2009 05:35:31PM 1 point [-]

For instance, people who play a lot of chess or Go can visualize the board in their head and the relationship between the pieces, to the point where they can play a game entirely in their head.

I would imagine go and chess playing select for these kinds of people. I'm willing to bet that if you can't make good mental images, chances are you'll give up at the game before you've had enough practice to make a noticeable difference.

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 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 9 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: Dmytry 22 June 2011 05:58:53AM 2 points [-]

There's a picture of tiger: http://www.solarnavigator.net/animal_kingdom/animal_images/Tiger_panthera_tigris_tigris_Bengal.jpg How many stripes it has?

Turns out the number of stripes is not even well defined. Let alone can be told right away in an instant. Obviously one coming up with tiger example doesn't have good enough mental imagery to see the flaw without looking at a photo of a tiger.

Comment author: Jones 29 May 2011 12:37:33PM 4 points [-]

Could you please reference this. "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 images." The footnotes contain no references, and in my mind is the most extraordinary claim of the article.

Comment author: Bill_McGrath 09 September 2011 10:04:16PM *  2 points [-]

I just thought that was what Galton had found. A quick Google gives me this. I haven't read it thoroughly enough to verify the figures are there, but it certainly appears to be the correct topic.

Comment author: Confringus 01 April 2011 11:37:20PM 4 points [-]

As a teenager dealing with the already weighty bias against arguments originating in youth, the typical mind fallacy has proved a constant and grating annoyance. Nothing in my (admittedly short) life is quite as frustrating as trying to explain a concept to someone who doesn't understand how it is that I understand the concept in the first place. In future I intend to refer my friends and instructors to this and other articles with the hope of clarification, so for that I thank you.

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: kip1981 29 April 2009 01:00:46AM 4 points [-]


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: Delta 30 August 2012 02:03:37PM 3 points [-]

These differences of thought-process are fascinating, suggesting some attributes of a person's mental landscape can be completely different from our own. Unfortunately this makes it very difficult to properly empathise with people in very different mental states. I know someone who is anorexic and it is incredibly easy to fail to grasp the difficulties and think "just eat something" because their problem is entirely removed from my experiences. This happens despite the fact I know driven, productive people would say the same about my extreme akrasia and procrastination issues.

The inability to imagine minds other than our own may also be why well-meaning people mistake significant differences like homosexuality for something superficial one can just "stop" being (see HaveYouTriedNotBeingAMonster on TV Tropes). They have difficulty with the idea something so different could exist at all.

This disconnect presumably combined with humans' general fear of difference or the unknown must make it considerably more problematic to have thought processes that differ from what is assumed to the norm.

Comment author: slartibartfastibast 15 March 2012 05:33:12PM 3 points [-]

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.

This might apply to all "writer phenotypes" in general. Perhaps there are other romanticized ideas about human nature that stem from a bias of this sort?

Comment author: RobinZ 04 March 2010 09:35:29PM *  3 points [-]

Relating to the quotation: bearing in mind that the character and author are not the same, it might be more accurate to write (judging by my secret sources, and following the TV Tropes quoting convention):

Vlad Taltos: "I'm generalizing from one example, here, but everyone generalizes from one example. At least, I do."

-- Stephen Brust, Issola

Edit: It seems that one or two people agree - I'm PMing Yvain now.

Comment author: Lightwave 10 November 2009 06:08:32PM *  3 points [-]

Anyone else think this post should be tagged as "other_optimizing"?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 10 November 2009 06:46:16PM 1 point [-]


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


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: 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: 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 [-]


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: linguera 26 April 2010 10:05:58PM 2 points [-]

As a linguist and practiced language learner AND lifelong classroom outlier, I have a couple thoughts which may or may not be informative, and which are most certainly unprofessional.

The challenge with assessing which of those methods would "work better" in the classroom (the ordinary vs Yvain's) is that teaching, wich children especially, depends on acheiving two different sets of results: success in catching and holding children's interest and motivating them to perform more extensive internal elaboration on the content of their lessons (assessing this is not a far cry from assessing what sort of TV ads will prompt audiences to elaborate on the content and become convinced), hence the vapid games and tricking them into thinking vocab is interesting---and success in teaching the material in a way that takes unknown information and makes it not only known to but understood by the children.

IOW: vocabulary has to be memorized and not systematized because the link between sound and meaning is, in all cases except onomatopoeia, arbitrary. But language as a whole is not necessarily taught best by brute force memorization, as context and understanding of the context in which vocabulary words are used and the history of those words can prompt students to elaborate on the culturally-loaded passle of meaning encoded by that series of sounds, thereby strengthening the associations to the memory of the related mental sound-file, ie the vocabulary word, improving memory of that word, and increasing potential for accurate usage by the language learner.

I am quite good at "filling in the gaps" and the main reason is that some teachers made off-hand comments about why and how to do this when I was young. I caught and heard those comments, and all through high school I worked at learning how to do what they said. I would never have figured it out without those teachers' comments, so if teachers more often and more directly taught these kinds of learning skills and "test-taking skills," I suppose many more people would be better at this process. My entire K-12 education came from curricula which strongly emphasized teaching students "how to learn" in addition to teaching information and life skills. My younger sister did not have this education for as many years. She is in college now and often calls me and asks me how to write a certain sort of paper. As I flip back through the direct lessons I received on such things in school, I explain to her how to teach and guide herself and why those broad learning methods will help her. For the first time in her life, she is a confident student not cowed by the thought of having to write a paper. That is some anecdotal evidence for the importance of teaching people principles and meta-skills. And if our teachers learned in their education schooling the information that is already out there about teaching meta-skills, then they would not find it so very difficult to teach. Unfortunately, many of the teacher certification courses out there do not provide this information.

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 *  4 points [-]

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

Comment author: gwern 23 June 2015 04:52:50PM 2 points [-]

See also http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/03/17/what-universal-human-experiences-are-you-missing-without-realizing-it/ Claimed negative examples include forms of colorblindness, foods tasting good, anosmia, dyspraxia, prosopagnosia, lust, rape, art, mouth-breathing (rather than being able to breath through a nose), various kinds of social dysfunctionality/theory-of-mind failure; and positive ones: bodily awareness, autobiographical memory, perfect pitch, inner monologues or choruses, and mostly kinds of synaesthesia.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 22 September 2011 09:57:28PM 2 points [-]

What strikes me is the complete lack of reference to studies with falsifiable measurements in the bazillion responses. I would have thought that with all the compulsive analyzers on the list, someone would know about more serious studies. Is it possible that such studies really haven't been done?

Galton asked people what they saw, but reading the paper briefly, it seemed that he relied on self reported descriptions of scenes, but didn't require any evidence that the descriptions were true. Experiments would seem straightforward enough. Show a picture. Test recall at varying level of detail, and varying level of delay.

This kind of testing could be used for training as well. Visual. Auditory. Gustatory. Olfactory. Acceleration. Touch. Time. It would be very interesting to know the distribution of capabilities of mental imaging in all sense modalities. Has this work really not been done?

It looks like some work has been done. The following paper refers to some: Mental Imagery and Creative Thought - David G. Pearson http://www.proc.britac.ac.uk/tfiles//147p187.pdf

And I remember some books by Michael Gelb on thinking like DaVinci, and someone else's book on thinking like Einstein, advocating similar training and practice in mental imagery.

Comment author: Peterdjones 19 April 2011 02:38:20PM *  2 points [-]

Isn't there an example on Less Wrong? Yudkowsky assumed that, given a few clues, people would come by their own efforts to his "solution" to Free Will, a form of compatibilism. But they didn't and he was "forced to write it out in full". Presumably they didn't match his expectation because they had whatever values and intutiions that regularly make people choose other "solutions" such as scepticism and incompatibilist indeterminism. He assumed they would think similarly and they didn't.

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. :)

Comment author: kyaka 21 June 2011 01:34:26PM 1 point [-]

Forgive me for stealing the gusto of your post, but it seems I can't make a comment on an old post. I am new here, and I can't help but think that some things are being over looked here.

Maybe everyone is already thinking this, so everyone feels that no one needs to say it (but isn't that exactly the "problem" this is discussing).

I absolutely disagree that generalizing from one example is a bad thing. I do agree that people tend to make that idea permanent, rather than just taking it as a starting point.

We are human. We are living, remember, reactional beings. We are able to make quick decision because we are able to come to quick conclusions. Let me give you an example. You see someone pick up a mushroom, eat it, and then die. What do you think? "If I eat that mushroom, then I will die to." But isn't that exactly the problem you discussed? Generalizing based on one example?

So then you go on to do science and prove that this particular mushroom is bad and not ALL mushrooms; you find out that some (not all) people have allergies to some (not all) mushrooms; but in the mean time you were spared from trial by fire. It is important for people to be able to make a snap decision, it is important for them to be able to figure out what is "going on" from very limit examples. The problem is that people are stubborn; once a person makes up their mind, they stick to it so stead-fast, it takes extra-ordinary measures to change their mind - something like a 95% confidence at minimum (I jest).

Sorry if the explanation is hard to follow. I am bad a setting up / introducing my ideas, so my meaning tends to get lost.

Let me reiterate: You speak as though generalizing is bad. I disagree. You need to have a basis to get started from. You need to be able to start making intelligent decision about the world around you based on what you see. But, you cannot assume that a) you are right or b) that you have accounted for all the variables.

A) Just because you are able to act on knowledge doesn't mean that knowledge is right. It means some of it is right, but not all of it. You need to be open to situations where that knowledge is wrong, and figure out how the situations are different.

B) A good place to start is that XKCD comic that was referenced: http://xkcd.com/385/ When the main character sees the male at the board, he is able to see the male for who he is. He perceives that the male is bad at math. When the female is at the board, the main character only perceives that she is female. I could give any number of explanations for this from Freud to pheromones to National Geographic, but there is no way of know which may be right. The point is he just perceives that "she" is bad at math. And I think that is perfectly acceptable. I DO think that if the main character perceives another female who proves to be good at math, then he needs to overturn his original assumption.

Make assumptions! Do it! But be open to being wrong.

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: 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: 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


Excellent post.

Comment author: roland 28 April 2009 10:40:54PM 2 points [-]

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

Comment author: cathwrynn 14 March 2011 09:21:37AM 1 point [-]

Hi, I am new here. Great find. Mental differences interest me greatly. As does variety in emotional experience and processing- since we relate not only as mental beings. Much personal reflection for the last while on interpersonal dynamics, and POV and understanding others. It seems to me that the psychological equivilant of this "one example is all" mentality is the current pop psych fashion of "projection"- express pretty much any relational difficulty and someone will offer the brilliant insight that projection is at play.

Comment author: Alicorn 14 March 2011 03:52:29PM 3 points [-]

You seem to have posted this comment three times. Please delete the other two instances by clicking the "Delete" link under their text.

Comment author: free_rip 26 January 2011 10:51:56AM 1 point [-]

I am reminded strongly of this comic

Comment author: Houshalter 27 May 2010 09:48:51PM 1 point [-]

"three percent of people completely unable to form mental images" I don't have photographic memory or anything, but I find it hard to believe some people don't actually have immaginations. How could they even go through every day life? Somethings got to be wrong here. Kind of reminds me of those people that can't dream in color. Weird.

Comment author: Garth 01 July 2010 04:34:55PM 28 points [-]

Hi, new here.

I am utterly incapable of forming voluntary mental images, and experience very faint involuntary ones only occasionally, during the hypnagogic state when falling asleep. (I used to practice at manipulating these, but made no headway.) I do experience afterimages, and I must be encoding information in a 'visual format' somewhere, because I can rotate molecular models (for example) in my mind with no problem, and get a very faint disturbance in my visual field when I do so.

Yet I do dream, sometimes quite vividly. Dreams are pretty much the only time I see something purely in my mind. I once experienced bizarre visual hallucinations due to a side-effect of medication, and they struck me as being quite dreamlike.

I suspect that my incapacity for mental imagery was strongly influenced by the fact I was born blind, and had no usable vision until the age of three. However, so far as I know, that doesn't explain my incapacity for other kinds of sensory imagination.

I am a fairly skilled singer, with a good pitch sense, yet I would not say I can 'hear a tune in my head'. Rather my experience is that I 'just know' what intervals sound like, how the tune flows. I can hum or sing it for you from memory, but I cannot 'play it back' in my mind. When I try, what I really end up doing is making motions in my mouth and throat as if I were singing very faintly. It's as if the information is encoded somewhere, but gets decoded only at the point of action. In much the same way, though I can't draw well, I can roughly draw complex shapes from memory - like the outline of the contiguous United States. But I am not aware of experiencing that shape in a visual way in my mind; it is somehow encoded.

I used to believe, as this excellent post says, that my experience was universal and that all talk of 'visual imagery' was metaphor, but I was convinced otherwise by deep conversation with a close friend who is an eidetic imager.

Comment author: alie 29 May 2011 07:02:55PM *  5 points [-]

I am also new, like Garth, and I also completely lack visual imagery.

Unlike Garth, I don't even see things when I dream--I dream in thoughts, which for me are textual or feeling-based. Afterimages are hit and miss for me. Also, unlike Garth, I was not born blind; my vision is completely fine and corrected to normal with glasses, which I wear all the time. I am also a fairly skilled singer and have good pitch sense, however this is a skill that has developed from practice. My experience in this is similar to Garth's, as is my experience in drawing.

I am extremely bad with directions to get somewhere, but have no problem navigating to a place once I've learnt the way. I think this may indicate the difference between imagery and procedural memory. Interestingly, I have /fantastic/ semantic memory. As a recent example, I crammed/studied for a test over the course of 2 hours after missing 8 or so hours of lecture. I got a 85/100 on the test, simply by remembering which answers fit textually.

Comment author: Confringus 01 April 2011 11:45:28PM 3 points [-]

I have to admit, I was skeptical about the existence of those without visual imagination, but after reading your post it seems that that skepticism was derived from a lack of understanding. I couldn't comprehend the vehicle by which thoughts would be transmitted without a visual component, but your description has gone a long way towards clearing that up. Thank you for your excellent contribution.

Comment author: Dmytry 18 June 2011 01:07:41PM *  2 points [-]

Hmm, that is very interesting. I'm fairly good at imagining stuff but not to the point of e.g. looking at Rubik's cube and then solving it blind.

I have a theory here. The mental imagery requires two things:

A: forming mental image somewhere in your brain - akin to how Boeing will simulate aircraft in computer. B: perceiving it consciously.
Some people might lack B but possess some form of A which they could not consciously access. I'm pretty sure that A can work without B in myself - e.g. good mechanical design can just pop in my mind, the kind of good mechanical design that absolutely requires some sort of simulation to produce. Yet I did not consciously imagine variations of that design.

The most important part of A for me is ability to imagine system and the rules and evolution of that system. For example I can even imagine configuration of conductors, and then imagine electric potential and electric field around them, from just the differential equations (i simply know how nabla squared times a looks). I can do that in 3D, and i imagine the 3D itself, not the 2D projection (which i can imagine if i need to). It's a lot like imagining soap film surface (it obeys same equations).

Comment author: thomblake 01 July 2010 04:50:14PM 2 points [-]
Comment author: lindagert 05 August 2011 02:08:16AM 18 points [-]

I am 100% bereft of mental imagery in a waking state of consciousness (I have fully sensory dreams when I sleep). It is dark and quiet in my mind all the time. Thoughts take the form of silently talking to myself. There are only words. No visual memory, no imagination -- I don't know what these things are, they are only words. Seeing things in the mind, hearing things, re-experiencing, exploring non-physical possibilities via imagination: these all sound like paranormal or supernatural experiences to me, literally, because what is normal and natural for me is the dark and quiet mind.

I find it fascinating how the Typical Mind Fallacy works both ways here: many mentally blind people say that they had no idea that other people could actually see pictures in the mind -- this sounds so preposterous to us that, until some point when we break through our denial, we believe that people are speaking metaphorically about the "mind's eye" or "picturing" something... because obviously it's impossible! And the scientific community is largely unaware of the existence of non-imagers, because whenever they show up as research subjects, their self-reports of mental blindness tend to get discounted or ignored -- again, because the researchers are committing the Typical Mind Fallacy -- that can't be true!

So I am writing a book about mental blindness. The book, tentatively titled "Mental Blindness and the Typical Mind Fallacy" will present the history of the non-study of non-imagery (due to the TMF), and characteristics of non-imagers, including some of the emotional and psychological aspects of living with this kind of cognition.

I’ve created a research survey to collect information from others who are non-imagers, or nearly so. To take the survey, click on this link: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/RQXHZZQ

You are invited to participate in this survey if you fall into one of the following categories:

  1. Non-Imager: you never experience any visual mental imagery in a waking state of consciousness; your mind is always dark, there is nothing picture-like that happens in your mind, either willed or unwilled. You have no sense of having a “mind’s eye.”

  2. Weak-Imager: if there is any visual imagery, it is so vague or fleeting that you do not make use of it in purposeful, constructive thought processes: you do not use imagery for problem solving, memories are not visual, there is no visual component to imagining or daydreaming or planning. You experience a “mind’s eye,” but yours is more or less “legally blind.”

many thanks Linda

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 19 August 2011 12:03:51PM 5 points [-]

I wonder what would happen if you took hallucinogens. Have you ever tried any?

Comment author: lindagert 29 August 2011 04:43:36AM 8 points [-]

That's the really sad part: no mental imagery with hallucinogens! Peyote, ayahuasca: nada, my hopes were dashed. The only effects with peyote, in meetings of the Native American Church, were a sense of connection and surrender, but there was nothing in terms of enhanced cognition. With ayahuasca, with a Huni Kuin shaman in Brazil, my mind dissolved into a state of bliss, but there was no imagery whatsoever -- my mind was as dark as always.

My first ayahuasca ceremony was a personal healing for me, to rewire my brain and activate the missing part of my mind. I felt like there were psychedelic shapes coming into my head but I couldn't see them; it was like knowing that something is there in the dark. It reminds me of when I gave a massage to a deaf client, who told me that she could feel the music during the massage and almost thought she was hearing it, but she couldn't actually hear it. It gave my brain something to work with, it was the start of the rewiring process. I could feel the brain working hard to learn how to see, but it didn't happen. No sense of journeying, just sitting in a state of nothingness.

My second ayahuasca experience, the following day with the same shaman, was a group ceremony. Here's an excerpt from my journal from that ceremony:

"Ayahuasca told me that I am such an adept Buddhist and such an efficiency expert that I developed a method of staying glued to the present: I limited my neurological functioning in a way that prevents distraction of memory or other cognitive distractions. I am so devoted to the growth of my consciousness that I disabled the ability to recall past experiences or project myself into the future, or entertain myself with pictures or noises in my head. An evolutionary neurological mechanism to guarantee total focus! Because all experience of memory, all visualization, etc. is a distraction from present consciousness, and it is unnecessary! A brilliant spiritual solution that I devised for myself in this lifetime to learn presence. Bliss is the only thing that is real; all else is illusion and distraction. Even when Ayahuasca is activated in me, I don't journey to other places, I don't watch psychedelic video, I just remain present in the experience. What an extraordinary gift I have given to myself."

But even so, i continue to feel that something essential is missing from my experience as a human being, and I continue to search for activation of mental imagery.

Comment author: Incorrect 05 August 2011 05:39:22AM *  4 points [-]

If you will pardon the digression I'd love to ask you a few questions.

Can you still experience sensory information for a moment after the source is no longer present? For example, if you focus on an object and suddenly close your eyes, can you still perceive the object for fractions of a second?

If you don't hear things in your mind does that mean you never have a song stuck in your head?

For me, a really useful purpose for visualization is for triggering related memories. For example, if I am trying to remember what groceries I need to buy, I will picture my refrigerator and mentally scan over the shelves to help myself recall what items usually reside there. What would you do in a situation like this?

Can you visualize spaces with object shapes and positions as distinct from images where you have to worry about color and more precise details of perspective? For me this is much easier than visualizing images.

You say your thoughts take the form of "silently talking to myself. There are only words. " Don't you ever sometimes think with concepts in place of words?

You may be interested that some people dream in black and white.

Comment author: lindagert 05 August 2011 11:55:33PM 5 points [-]

No, no lingering sensory information after the stimulus is gone. It's like the mental sensory display mechanism is turned off: in the absence of a physical stimulus for physical sensory perception, there is no way to experience anything sensory in the mind.

I can get a song stuck in my mind, kind of, but it is not auditory -- it is silent! And it's not really stuck, I don't think -- it's something that I find so compelling that some part of me wants to continue repeating it. Another part of me can stop it. It is not auditory, it is just words, and it is the same mental mechanism that is used for any other thought processes. And it cannot multitask, so if I start thinking about something other than the song (with my silent word thinking), then I can't be singing the words to a song. Both my normal thinking and thinking a song are like conversations that I am having with myself, and I can't talk about two things at once. They are not using any sensory channel, they only use the silent verbal channel, and that channel can only be occupied by one train of thought at a time.

About visualizing spaces with object shapes and positions: there is no visualization whatsoever, so no. People talk about seeing things on a "screen" in the mind's eye. I have no sense even of there being a screen, much less anything on it. It is like a TV that is turned off.

I don't believe that I have any way of thinking in concepts instead of words. There needs to be some vehicle for the concept, and silent words are the only vehicle that I have. When I am not thinking in words, the mind is empty.

About grocery shopping: I stand in my kitchen, look in the fridge and make a list before I go out. Otherwise I am screwed! If I don't have a list, I'll walk through the aisles looking at everything, wondering, is there anything I need? Or I might try to think about what i would like to eat, and wonder whether I have all the ingredients, and buy something that I'm not sure of. I might wonder if I'm missing anything for my morning smoothie, and remember that I used my last banana, but that is not any kind of an experiential memory -- it is the memory, in words, of saying the words to myself "I need to buy more bananas" ... because words and words alone are the fabric of my memory, as they are the fabric of all of my thought processes.

Comment author: lessdazed 06 August 2011 12:00:48AM 3 points [-]

Have you ever experienced anything from a dream? Remembered words from it, or woken up afraid, so you know you were probably having one, or anything?

Comment author: lindagert 06 August 2011 02:15:59AM 4 points [-]

Yes, but very infrequently. Usually I wake up and know that I was dreaming, but have no way of latching on to any dream content, because my mind can't re-experience any trace from a dream experience. The only traces that I have from dreams upon waking are either mental notes in the form of words, or emotional reactions in my body, e.g. heart pounding or solar plexus in a knot. Mental notes take the form of words spoken in the dream that were extremely compelling. So, for example, I know that I have visual dreams because once I woke up with these words lingering in my head from a dream: "Look, there's a tornado coming this way!" I have no visual recall of seeing a tornado, because my mind doesn't display visuals.

My favorite dreams were several that I've had in the past couple of years with this theme: in the dream, I have my eyes closed, and I see something in my mind! This is incredibly exciting to me. I wake up thinking the words that I spoke in the dream: I'm seeing something inside my head! It's a picture of a woman! It's in my mind's eye! -- but I don't know anything more than that, because those were the only words that I spoke about the mind picture; I don't know whether it was a still snapshot or a video of a woman, whether she was riding a bike or sitting down, etc. Once or twice I've had a dream in which, with my eyes closed, the mind's eye was seeing what I would have been seeing if my eyes were open -- only I was seeing it with my mind, not with my physical eyes.

Comment author: hargup 19 January 2015 06:33:31PM 2 points [-]

It has more than three years from the date you commented. What is the status on the book? Is it in print now?

Comment author: christina 05 August 2011 05:17:33AM *  1 point [-]

Hi, Linda.

That's interesting. You're pretty much the opposite of me, then. I experience a wide variety of mental images, sounds, etc. I get a lot out of visual images of things, and I imagine written stories as if they are movies in my head. However, if there is a very technical idea that I can't visualize either directly or indirectly, I usually struggle to understand it. For example, I am very interested in math and science and also have reason to use them on a daily basis (I am a software engineer who has a lot of scientific hobbies). But I almost always try to understand these topics through charts, graphs, geometry, tree structures, and other types of visualizations of the concepts. I posted a little on the topic how my thought processes work in this article, if you're curious.

I'm curious about how you process information internally. What methods do you find most effective for learning new material? And for recreation, what is your experience of reading a novel vs seeing a movie? Also, feel free to use those questions on your survey if you're also interested in other people's answers to them (I realize the first one is related to a question you ask on your survey, although asking about it from a slightly different angle.

Comment author: lindagert 06 August 2011 12:29:27AM 15 points [-]

Hi Christina, I learn by memorizing words about things: verbal descriptions, procedures, narratives. There are a lot of things that I don't try to learn because my mind can't accommodate them effectively in words, e.g. abstract subjects like biochemistry and physics. There are a lot of things that I have to relearn from scratch again and again, such as medicinal properties of herbs, or the names and locations and characteristics of acupressure points. If a procedure is very complicated or hard to describe in words (too many words to memorize), I just don't have a way to learn it. I am much more effective at learning hands-on things than learning about things that I can't see (which is why I am a massage therapist and not a physicist!)

There is some motor memory, but only when I have performed an action often enough for it to become automatic, e.g. riding a bike. As a massage therapist, I studied Esalen massage, where the therapist is not working in a premeditated way -- there is no sequence of moves like Swedish massage, rather exploring and listening and responding to the body in a fairly ad hoc way. There is one Esalen massage procedure that I would love to do but could never learn, because it involves a specific sequence of several very exact moves, to flip the body from a prone to supine position without the client falling off the massage table :-) I was never in a position to write down all the moves while observing it in class, so I could never practice it or duplicate it on my own.

Reading a novel or watching a movie is a lot like other things in my life: I am only engaging in the current moment of it mentally, the preceding parts are gone, because there is no way to hold on to them mentally. In order to watch a movie or read a novel, I make the effort the keep a running memorization going of a few key plot points in order to process the story. As soon as the movie is over or I've put the book down, it's basically gone from my consciousness, unless I try to think about it or talk about it, and then I only have access to those points that I memorized in order to keep up with the plot, which is a very bare-bones summary.

I often have this sort of experience: I remember that I last night I read maybe a hundred pages of a book that I was enjoying a lot, so I want to finish the book tonight. Hmmm, I wonder, before I walk into the bedroom to retrieve the book, I wonder what I was reading? It was a story about... about... rats, I have no idea what it was, I'll just have to go see!

While watching a movie, I have a hard time keeping characters straight unless they are actors that I recognize. I can remember -- the blonde woman is the husband's sister... then in the next scene, if there is a blonde woman, I think: she's blonde, is she the sister or she someone else who is blonde? So I have to memorize words describing enough distinct visual characteristics in order to know for sure who's who. It gets to be tedious sometimes, until enough of the movie has gone by that some recognition may kick in. There have been some movies that I've watched where there are, say, three main characters that are women, and they are all blond, thin, pretty. I can't find any words to distinguish them, so for the entire movie, I have no idea who's who. (unless there are some consistent, distinctive behavioral characteristics, like the pretty thin blonde who is angry and sarcastic. but then, through the magic of character growth, if she becomes nice, I don't know who she is!)

I was shocked to learn several years ago that other people have visuals while reading. A friend asked me, "How can you read literature?" and it made me sad, because I love literature and never realized that there could be a whole extra dimension to it. I don't actually know what imagination is like, so I can't imagine what one might imagine while reading a novel! For me it's just words and plot points.

Comment author: christina 06 August 2011 09:06:40AM 1 point [-]

Thanks for your detailed response! And upvoted since it gave me a lot to think about in regards to variations on how the mind works.