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AlanCrowe comments on Guessing the Teacher's Password - Less Wrong

62 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 August 2007 03:40AM

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Comment author: AlanCrowe 03 January 2012 04:14:02PM 13 points [-]

I've just bumped into a fun link about guessing the teachers password. It is only 184 words so here it is:

I do a game called k9 nosework with my corgi. You take a qtip dipped in certain scents and hide it in boxes in the beginning then progressing to furniture and outside areas. The game is for the dog to find the qtip and identify; there's even a contest / sport. If you decide to do the sport, the handler has to read the dog and decide if the dog is identifying a given bit of car or whatever as the location of the goal scent or if the dog is just sniffing. The point of this rambling is even the plain trainers that do k9 nosework know that the handler has to go blind and can't know where the scent is or the dog will learn to read the handler instead of learning to use its nose to find the scent. The idea that the police are unaware of this is ludicrous, since this sport grew out of nose training for police dogs, and it's a major training obstacle.

The meat of the comment is "the handler has to go blind". It took me a while to work out what is being said here. My understanding:

You take up the sport. You hide the scented qtip yourself. You train your dog to sniff it out. Your dog does good. You go to the competition. The judge hides the scented qtip and you don't know where. Your dog does bad. Explanation: Your dog never learned to sniff out the scented qtip, he learned to read you and the tells you gave away when he sniffed near where you knew the qtip to be.

Why is this fun? Well, John Holt's book How Children Fail has a lovely story about guessing the teachers password

... since it was clear to me from the way the children were talking and acting that they hadn't a notion of what Nouns, Adjectives, and Verbs were. Finally one child said, 'Miss ---, you shouldn't point to the answer each time.' The teacher was surprised, and asked what she meant. The child said, 'Well, you don't exactly point, but you kind of stand next to the answer.' This was no clearer, since the teacher had been standing still. But after a while, as the class went on, I thought I saw what the girl meant. Since the teacher wrote each word down in its proper column, she was, in a way, getting herself ready to write, pointing herself at the place where she would soon be writing. From the angle of her body to the blackboard the children picked up a subtle cue to the correct answer.

Dogs do this too!

The relation of my comment to Eliezer's point is delicate. It is not correct to decenter and imagine yourself as the teacher; Eliezer is not writing pedagogy. You have to decenter and imagine yourself as the sniffer dog. You train hard, winning lots of praise and treats from your owner. You wag your tail happily. Then you go to the competition and discover that you haven't learned the skill that you were supposed to learn, at all!