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manuelg comments on Evaporative Cooling of Group Beliefs - Less Wrong

41 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 07 December 2007 11:08PM

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Comment author: manuelg 08 December 2007 12:51:11AM 1 point [-]

Have you read Bion's "Experiences in Groups"? He was an English Freudian, so he was extremely passive while observing group behavior, which is fine, because he was also careful to record what was happening.

I am less satisfied with his analysis, because, as a typical Freudian, he always has ad-hoc reasons why any piece of evidence (or its exact opposite) perfectly confirms his theories. Absolutely impossible to falsify.

What I took from it was that, after you establish a concrete, positive goal for a group's interactions, for each and every sub-element of the goal, you can find some element of the human personal dynamic, or the human group dynamic, that will work against it.

It is a strong statement along the lines of Murphy's Law: "Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong". If it is a sub-element of a concrete, positive goal, there _will_ be, in opposition, some element of the human personal dynamic, or the human group dynamic. It is a strong statement you can use to predict failure modes of your particular work group.

*** If great progress is being made by the group, the individual identities of the members will lessen in importance. So people will assert their individual identities through disruption, gaining attention.

*** If progress of the group demands full attention on the final objective, the group will become paranoid and invent some internal or external bug-a-boo to focus on instead.

My personal take, informed by Buddhism, is that this is not necessarily a bad thing. There _should_ be some push-back on the goals of working groups. 99 out of 100 ideas turn out to be terrible ideas, and so it is a _good_ thing they die from the irrational failure modes of the human personal dynamic or the human group dynamic. If it is a good idea, then it is worth to take care from assaults from human irrationality.

And also, attempting to attack head-on any particular irrational failure mode will only make it stronger. For example, a troll will never have so many defenders as when the group leaders focus in to remove him. Better to use Jujutsu. (Trolls are best countered with neglect leading to boredom.)

Bion's "Experiences in Groups" will give a good sample of failure modes. You can attempt to skillfully steer around them, and keep the group working on the positive goal.

Yours is an interesting idea, keeping a "token" troll around. I would make a rule: any discipline against a troll will be matched by identical discipline against anyone who engages that troll, even in attack. "Feeding the troll" will have precisely the same sanctions as trolling itself.