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Comment author: dhasenan 19 December 2014 03:58:30PM 1 point [-]

Hard mode version: instead of music, use a cron job that will start deleting all your files if you don't answer a prompt within the space of a minute.

Comment author: gjm 19 December 2014 04:38:34PM 3 points [-]

Then one day you're ill, or in the shower, or you go away on business and forget to disable the cron job, and BOOM no more files.

Comment author: Gondolinian 19 December 2014 04:08:42PM *  0 points [-]


Nitpick: Would it be better to spell it "munchkinning" with a double-n? To me at least, it seems that with the current spelling the most natural pronunciation would be munch-KINE-ing.

[Edit: slightly rephrased]

Comment author: gjm 19 December 2014 04:37:30PM 0 points [-]

I think that's true in British English but not in American English. (I am a native BrE speaker and lots of AmE participles look wrong to me for want of a doubled letter.) Since the Munchkins are the creation of an American author, I'm quite content with the spelling used here :-).

Comment author: gjm 19 December 2014 04:28:39PM 3 points [-]

This would become a little clearer if you were more explicit about distinguishing between two senses of "contradiction": (1) what happens when one person contradicts another, versus (2) what happens when one person says two things that are inconsistent with one another.

I'm afraid I have the same impression overall as Lumifer: that you wrote this because you are fed up with having people disagree with you, and would like to put a roadblock in the way of that.

It would indeed be nice if everyone always carefully researched every factual claim they make, and carefully reasoned through every argument they make. But I don't think that's a reasonable burden to demand that everyone bear. If it applied to every comment, then (I hope it's clear) scarcely anything would ever get said. And I don't really see a good reason for thinking it should apply only when disagreeing with someone else.

(And it really does sometimes happen that someone puts a lot of effort into writing something, but it still contains errors that another person can spot quickly. When that happens, we do not want the other person to be forbidden -- or even reluctant -- to point them out.)

In response to comment by gjm on Understanding Agency
Comment author: malcolmocean 18 December 2014 05:01:13PM 1 point [-]

With respect to the remark you made about my post, hmm.

I suppose, now that you mention it, that that kind of notation could also be applied to cover any arbitrary shift from being an Xian to being Yist. But I find myself averse to that usage for reasons that don't immediately come to mind. Likely it's just because I'm used to it describing a basically-one-way shift, in the context of CDT. Even though ultimately it's a symmetric notation.

I appreciate you pointing out that the thing I was posting about potentially has larger applications! :)

Comment author: gjm 18 December 2014 11:18:10PM 0 points [-]

You're welcome!

In response to comment by gjm on Understanding Agency
Comment author: malcolmocean 18 December 2014 04:50:26PM 1 point [-]

Hey, author of the post on notation here. I think that the overview of CDT by Pruyn suffers from a (common) lack of ability to distinguish "morally better" from "functionally better". The author is trying to say "people at the lower levels aren't bad people" and ends up suggesting "it's not worth trying to level up".

Comment author: gjm 18 December 2014 11:17:58PM 0 points [-]

Hmm. Not convinced, I'm afraid: why would anyone think (or expect others to think they think) that being lower on the scale is a moral failing? It looks to me more as if Pruyn is trying to claim that he doesn't even see people at the higher levels as functionally better. Except that very clearly he does.

In response to comment by gjm on Understanding Agency
Comment author: gworley 18 December 2014 06:36:15AM 0 points [-]

I agree that one of the problems with constructive development theory, as you seem to hint at, is that it sets off certain alarm bells in your mind because it matches the same patterns as things which we have now concluded to be incorrect or just instruments for abuse of power.

Explicit levels are a common tactic taken to try to give rationalizations of why this person or that person of higher status "deserves" that status against human egalitarian norms, so naturally any theory that includes something like them feels a bit icky, and nothing in the material presented here does much to clear that up.

I've also not read a good explanation of constructive development theory that would make sense to someone who doesn't understand the subject-objection notation (that is, I've seen nothing that does a great job of explaining subject-object notation to someone who doesn't immediately grasp the concept and then just needs some details filled in) or who hasn't started thinking at least some of the time at level 4.

However constructive development theory certainly hasn't been as vigorously researched and written about as many other topics in psychology, and lacking any strong disconfirming evidence I'm inclined to suspect we might find good evidence and helpful explanations if we spend some more time digging into it.

I'm woefully under-skilled for the task of both rigorous scientific studies and clear explanations that will satisfy a wide audience, so my main hope is that my insights spur on a few folks who are appropriately skilled to dig deeper.

Comment author: gjm 18 December 2014 03:25:52PM 1 point [-]

No, I wasn't hinting that it sets off alarm bells because it pattern-matches against other things that we've found to be wrong or harmful.

I was saying that the author of the piece in question shows signs of intellectual dishonesty: presenting this taxonomy in a way that makes it clear that he sees people at higher levels as more capable, more fit for high responsibility, etc., while also claiming explicitly not to think any such thing. This of course has little bearing on whether the theory is correct (my feeling is that like most such theories it's describing something real but putting more structure on it than the reality actually has; different people think at different levels of abstraction, have more or less detailed models of the world, care differently about others, etc., and all these things are continuously variable and dividing into "stages" is artificial) but -- and at this point I am pattern-matching -- it seems to me like it might be a sign that he, and so maybe others, may be embracing the theory for the feeling of superiority it gives as well as for its actual merits.

someone who doesn't understand the subject-object notation

I'm not sure whether that's me or not. I mean, the description in the article you linked to seems perfectly straightforward but it seems to me that the right way to think about it is that you have

  • a notation for indicating steps from A to B (A; A(B) meaning "basically A but with B beginning to creep in"; A/B meaning "a mixture of A and B, with A having the upper hand", B/A meaning "a mixture of A and B, with B having the upper hand", and B(A) meaning "basically B but with occasional bits of A")
  • the ability to use this notation when A and B are successive steps along some path of cognitive development, with a little more specificity in the meanings of the steps (e.g., the boundary between A/B and B/A being which of two frameworks you mostly use for understanding things)
  • one specific application to CDT

and the only place where subjects and objects come into it is in the fact -- which has basically nothing to do with the notation -- that CDT has this idea that you can be acted upon by things that are at too high a level of abstraction, too large a scope, for you to be thinking about them explicitly, and that important progress happens when you gain the ability to think about them rather than merely being acted on by them. Which is all very well but really isn't a reason to call it "subject-object notation".

In response to Understanding Agency
Comment author: gjm 17 December 2014 11:52:35AM 7 points [-]

You have a link to an "article on constructive development", which you repeat no fewer than six times to encourage readers to go and read it.

However, the thing at the far end of the link is not an article on constructive development. It is an article about (1) two ways of responding to one's own misdeeds and (2) a notation for describing stages in the transition between two modes of thinking. (The notation is called "subject-object notation" but appears to have nothing specifically to do with the subject/object distinction. This doesn't seem to me like a good sign that the author is thinking clearly about things.)

There is a link from there to a summary of constructive-developmental theory by Peter Pruyn. It seems ... OK, I guess. I'm rather put off by the patronizing mealy-mouthedness with which the author disclaims the very idea that the later stages might be thought "better" -- in the same article in which he says that later stages indicate their capacity to cope with difficult situations, suggests that those at earlier stages are unfit for senior roles at work, calls the later stages "higher levels of consciousness", and of course classifies them as developmental stages which on its own pretty much gives the game away.

Still, congratulations on reaching level 4. (Though it seems to me there's something rather inappropriate about saying that.)

Comment author: gjm 17 December 2014 01:54:33AM *  3 points [-]

Some general remarks on incomparability: Human preferences may be best modelled not by a total ordering but by a preorder, which means that when you compare A and B there are four different possible outcomes:

  • A is better than B.
  • B is better than A.
  • A and B are exactly equally good.
  • A and B are incomparable.

and these last two are not at all the same thing. In particular, if A and B are incomparable it doesn't follow that anything better than A is also better than B.

(I don't think this is saying anything you haven't already figured out, but you may be glad to know that such ideas are already out there.)

John Conway's beautiful theory of combinatorial games puts a preorder relation on games, which I've often thought might be a useful model for human preferences. (It's related to his theory of "surreal numbers", which might also be useful; e.g., its infinities and infinitesimals provide a way, should we want one, of representing situations where one thing is literally infinitely more important than another, even though the other still matters a nonzero amount.) Here, it turns out that the right notion of equality is "if you combine game A with a role-reversed version of game B in a certain way, the resulting game is always won by whoever moves second" whereas incomparability is "... the resulting game is always won by whoever moves first"; if two games are equal then giving either player in the combined game a tiny advantage makes them win, but if two games are incomparable then there may be a substantial range of handicaps you can give either player while still leaving the resulting game a first-player win and hence leaving the two games incomparable.

On the specific question of multiple utility functions: It's by no means the only way to get this sort of incomparability, but I agree that something of the kind is probably going on in human brains: two subsystems reporting preferences that pull in different directions, and no stable and well defined way to adjudicate between them.

[EDITED to add:] But I agree with ChaosMote that actually "utility functions" may not be the best name for these things, not only for ChaosMote's reason that our behaviour may not be well modelled as maximizing anything but also because maybe it's best to reserve the term "utility function" for something that attempts to describe overall preferences.

Comment author: philh 16 December 2014 01:35:50PM 0 points [-]

Yes. If the median interval is 20 years, then the median date is not 20 years from today (modulo weird hypothetical data sets which I don't think we actually have).

I think Gary's aware that the median interval has always been 20 years. But when he says this:

what they found is, the central prediction, I believe it was the modal prediction, close to the median prediction, was 20 years away. But what's really interesting is that they then went back and divided the data by year

It sounds like he's saying that the median date is 20 years from today. I guess another interpretation would be something like "the median interval is 20 years, and you might think that that's because in the 1950s they were saying maybe 40 years, and the interval's been reducing, and now they're saying maybe 5 years, and the median is 20 - but actually, when you do divide it up by year, you see that they've always been saying 20". But that would be kind of forced.

This is just minor nitpicking, I think that he misspoke rather than misunderstood, hence the parentheses.

Comment author: gjm 16 December 2014 03:36:43PM 1 point [-]

Actually, I think your "other interpretation" is almost certainly what he meant; it seems to me the most natural reading of his words. So I don't think he even misspoke.

Comment author: Alsadius 15 December 2014 06:52:35PM 0 points [-]

Um...no, that's exactly what it means. Today is a subset of always.

Comment author: gjm 16 December 2014 09:10:39AM 3 points [-]

What's going on here is ambiguity between median date and median interval. (And I'm fairly sure Gary Marcus is talking about the median interval rather than the median date.)

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