# Generalizing From One Example

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

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

-- Vlad Tal­tos (Is­sola, Steven Brust)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foot­notes

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

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

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

• 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.

• Upvoted for spel­ling “ex­travert” cor­rectly :)

• Awe­some com­ment—lots of good info here. Thanks.

• Well—your com­ments cer­tainly fit with the idea of ‘gen­er­al­is­ing from one ex­am­ple’. In this case, your own some­what dis­torted per­cep­tions. For ex­am­ple: are the ‘typ­i­cal women’ the rov­ing se­ducer should try to un­der­stand based on some­one you know? Or was there some data in­volved?

• I think you are go­ing to have to give some ex­am­ples of per­cep­tions I’ve pre­sented that you con­sider dis­torted.

There is a lot of data on av­er­age fe­male prefer­ences that I dis­cuss here. On av­er­age, women are at­tracted to var­i­ous mas­culine traits, in­clud­ing ex­traver­sion and dom­i­nance. Dom­i­nance by men is at­trac­tive to women, at least when dis­played to­wards other peo­ple, though dom­i­nance-based sta­tus may be in­fe­rior to pres­tige-based sta­tus. There is some ev­i­dence show­ing that Agree­able­ness is at­trac­tive to women, yet strangely men with higher Agree­able­ness don’t show higher suc­cess with women. Women of­ten tend to as­so­ci­ate sex with sub­mis­sion and have sub­mis­sive sex­ual fan­tasies.

Any man, rov­ing se­ducer or not, should know these things and take them into ac­count when in­ter­act­ing with women. I also pre­sented the hy­poth­e­sis that some women in al­ter­na­tive sub­cul­tures are of­ten wired differ­ently.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

That is in­ter­est­ing. Any at­tempt I make to read off the grid seems to in­volve recre­at­ing the grid about nine times. On the other hand I have no par­tic­u­lar difficulty men­tally enu­mer­at­ing rapidly over char­ac­ter ar­rays.

• TAWME (This Agrees With My Ex­pe­rience)

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

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

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

• From what I have read, rather lit­tle. The pro­cess of de­vel­op­ing ex­per­tise in chess in­volves ded­i­cat­ing whole ar­eas of the cor­tex to rep­re­sen­ta­tions of im­por­tant chess piece lay­outs. Th­ese rep­re­sen­ta­tions can then be ma­nipu­lated rapidly in very nearly the way a novice would ma­nipu­late work­ing meme­ory. Generic re­pro­duc­tion of a phys­i­cal chess board would be al­most triv­ial in com­par­i­son to the mem­ory struc­tures de­vel­oped by the chess ex­perts.

• I can’t, at all. And I find this ex­tremely odd, as I’ve always thought of my­self as some­one with ex­tremely good vi­sual-spa­tial skills, and can pic­ture and ro­tate quite com­plex ob­jects in my mind. I can also do it if, in­stead of those words, they are a se­ries of 9 num­bers. I would spec­u­late as to what’s go­ing on here, but I have no idea what­so­ever.

It’s been 36 hours since I last slept, so that may also have some­thing to do with it. I’ll see if I can do it af­ter I sleep (it might have some­thing to do with work­ing mem­ory, which is cur­rently not op­er­at­ing at full ca­pac­ity).

• I can’t ei­ther, but I won­der if I might have been able to as a child. My spa­cial rea­son­ing skills have always been ter­rible (which is prob­a­bly re­spon­si­ble for my ab­solutely ap­pal­ling sense of di­rec­tion; I have liter­ally got­ten lost in a straight line on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions,) but my per­cep­tion is that I had a much more pow­er­ful vi­sual imag­i­na­tion as a child. I could ac­tu­ally vi­su­ally “see” fabri­cated images over­laid over real scenery if I so chose (but not in­definitely, I needed cooldown time be­tween images.) I haven’t had any such abil­ity since at least the time I be­came a teenager, prob­a­bly ear­lier.

That’s not the only men­tal fac­ulty I’ve lost in the pro­cess of grow­ing up ei­ther. I re­mem­ber in kinder­garten my teacher com­plained that I needed to pay at­ten­tion to the les­son, while I was clearly di­vert­ing my at­ten­tion to some­thing else, and I told her I was quite ca­pa­ble of pay­ing at­ten­tion to both. She un­der­stand­ably didn’t be­lieve me, un­til I proved to her that I could listen to two sep­a­rate au­dio record­ings si­mul­ta­neously, one in each ear, and af­ter­wards, re­cite the con­tent of both. To­day, my abil­ity to split my at­ten­tion is ter­rible, and it bog­gles my mind that I was ever ca­pa­ble of this.

• I can still see images over­laid, or more ac­cu­rately shapes and den­si­ties. I can’t give the things I imag­ine color or even shad­ings, but I can pic­ture ob­jects and their spa­tial re­la­tions to each other. I think that I am not vi­su­ally pic­tur­ing the num­bers when I imag­ine the grid of num­bers, but rather that my mind treats them as prim­i­tive ob­jects that can be put in a grid pat­tern. I can do that with let­ters, but not when I con­sider them as part of a word (my mind is weird, even by my stan­dards). So I can imag­ine ge­o­met­ric shapes in 2 and 3 di­men­sions (I’ve got­ten 4 on oc­ca­sion, but it’s not easy and ro­tat­ing those shapes makes it feel like my brain is about to over­heat), but I can’t pic­ture a scene to paint it.

I have the same mem­ory of be­ing able to split my at­ten­tion be­tween two tasks, but I’m not sure that mem­ory is ac­cu­rate. In­stead, I think I may just have a very good abil­ity to cache the last 30 sec­onds or so of my life. The rea­son I think that is that when I was in el­e­men­tary school (ei­ther 1st or 4th grade, I don’t re­call which), I spent most of my time in class read­ing. When the teacher would ask me what she just said, I could an­swer pretty much ver­ba­tim. How­ever, I didn’t re­tain any of the in­for­ma­tion given for his­tory (which I have at­tributed as me be­ing bad with his­tory, but is ac­tu­ally prob­a­bly that I was ex­posed to all of the other sub­jects out­side of the class­room and so didn’t no­tice that I wasn’t learn­ing). So it seems likely that I was caching but not pro­cess­ing what the teach­ers.

I can still cache con­ver­sa­tions very well, so that if I’m writ­ing a pa­per, and my room­mate will ask me a ques­tion, I can finish the sen­tence I’m writ­ing and then pro­cess and an­swer the ques­tion.

I won­der how con­sis­tent my abil­ities are. Speci­fi­cally, I won­der if I’ll have the same sub­jec­tive ex­pe­rience of cog­ni­tion and men­tal imagery in a year, or if it changes from day to day. Be­cause it may be that we not only as­sume that ev­ery­one else ex­pe­riences cog­ni­tive phe­nom­ena the same way as we do, we also as­sume that we always ex­pe­rience these phe­nom­ena the same way.

• 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.

• 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.

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

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

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

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

• That may ap­ply to shoplift­ing, but not when you’re pre­dict­ing your be­havi­our in differ­ent situ­a­tions—“I would be good even if given more power”.

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

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

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

• 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.

• 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”

• 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...

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.)

• 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.

• 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.

HOWEVER

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.

• 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.)

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

HOWEVER

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?

• I think this is some­thing that varies be­tween peo­ple. I was very sur­prised to learn that my sister doesn’t even listen to the lyrics of songs, whereas I do and want to learn them so I can sing along (prob­a­bly very badly, but hey) and get an­noyed if I come to a part where I don’t know the words. Like­wise if I’m fully en­gaged dur­ing a film I can re­call al­most all of it, even some time later, whereas my sister can’t (or per­haps wasn’t as en­gaged in the ex­am­ples I have in mind).

I’m sure ex­pe­rience helps too though. When I was younger used to listen to songs from anime and mem­o­rise the words de­spite not know­ing the lan­guage. I prob­a­bly wouldn’t be as good at pick­ing up lyrics if I wasn’t as ob­ses­sive about know­ing them and didn’t listen to the same songs a lot.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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?

• 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.

• Granted, nat­u­rally.

• It is worth not­ing that Mu­si­cal Ear Syn­drome is of­ten framed as a con­di­tion in which ‘vic­tims’ can ‘suffer’ from au­di­tory hal­lu­ci­na­tions. Any in­tru­sive men­tal event can oc­cur to the point that it is nega­tive. I have also heard some suffer­ers of OCD (speci­fi­cally Pure O) com­plain of ever-pre­sent mu­sic.

How­ever, I agree that in gen­eral, more mu­sic in your head is bet­ter :-)

• Yep, can con­cur. I avoid listen­ing to mu­sic with lyrics for this rea­son. Some­times I’m tempted, though, and give-in!

edit 1: also avoid listen­ing to mu­sic with­out lyrics, but to a lesser ex­tent.

• 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.

• 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?

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

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

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

Ob­vi­ously, I can­not speak for Vladimir_Nesov.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• So this is a few months later but I de­cided to re­spond any­ways be­cause 1) I had an­swers to many of your ques­tions when I pic­tured a tri­an­gle and 2) my name is also David and “TheOtherDavid” is a name I fre­quently use on­line. How’s that for typ­i­cal mind?

Any­ways, with­out even re­al­iz­ing I had done so, when I pic­tured my tri­an­gle, it was: solid, red-or­ange, matte, opaque, and it had no shadow. As tri­an­gles go, that par­tic­u­lar form means noth­ing to me that I am aware of (it’s not, for ex­am­ple, a sign I see at work on a reg­u­lar ba­sis or any­thing like that) it just hap­pened to be what I imaged. For what­ever it may be worth, I read “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch” et al in the ap­pro­pri­ate voices in my head, but am un­able to pro­duce mu­sic or other spe­cific sounds that I am aware of.

Similar to this type of thing, though, I ex­pe­rience fic­tion al­most as a movie both as I am read­ing it and in ret­ro­spect. Even just af­ter I have read a page, I will have no rec­ol­lec­tion of any of the par­tic­u­lar words used to de­scribe the scene, but will be able to re­count ev­ery­thing that just hap­pened in de­tail. It wasn’t un­til I met my wife in the be­gin­ning of my time at col­lege that I re­al­ized this wasn’t how ev­ery­one ex­pe­rienced books.

• 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.

You might be gen­er­al­iz­ing from one ex­am­ple. There are plenty of games ask­ing peo­ple to imag­ine (say) a cube, then ask­ing them about var­i­ous prop­er­ties of the cube, and then pur­port­ing to re­late them to fea­tures of the sub­ject’s per­son­al­ity, and I can re­call very few peo­ple an­swer­ing “I don’t know” to any such ques­tion.

• I’m con­fi­dent I’m not gen­er­al­iz­ing from one ex­am­ple, though I might cer­tainly be over­es­ti­mat­ing the rele­vance of my sam­ple.

To be a lit­tle more con­crete, I would be very sur­prised if it turned out that more than, say, 10% of the pop­u­la­tion hon­estly in­cluded all of those el­e­ments, or even most of them, in their imag­ined tri­an­gle if in­structed to imag­ine a tri­an­gle. Do you think I’m over­con­fi­dent about that?

How many of those el­e­ments did you in­clude in your tri­an­gle, be­fore be­ing prompted by the ques­tions?

• How many of those el­e­ments did you in­clude in your tri­an­gle, be­fore be­ing prompted by the ques­tions?

I’m not sure you can gen­er­ally an­swer that by in­tro­spec­tion. At least in my case, when prompted by the ques­tion I re­mem­ber hav­ing seen the spe­cific de­tail. How­ever know­ing how the mind works, I also as­sign high prob­a­bil­ity to the ex­pla­na­tion that my mind filled in the re­quested de­tail when prompted—rewrit­ing my mem­ory, loosely speak­ing. This is, I be­lieve, the same phe­nomenon that makes eye­wit­ness tes­ti­mony so un­re­li­able.

• I agree com­pletely, but it’s so­cially con­ven­tional to ask peo­ple ques­tions about our past ex­pe­riences as though we were a defini­tive source of in­for­ma­tion about it.

• “Very few” /​= “none.” Peo­ple seem to vary widely in their vi­su­al­iza­tion abil­ities. It hadn’t pre­vi­ously oc­curred to me that they could vary in their au­di­tory imag­i­na­tion, but now that TheOtherDave re­ports his ex­pe­rience, I feel like I should have ex­pected it.

• Hi, Phil .

Seems like some peo­ple don’t get them (in­ci­den­tally, I’d never heard the term ear-worm used for it be­fore now—I always thought of that as song-stuck-in-my head—yours is a good suc­cinct term for it). I get them, though. Songs don’t get stuck in my head too of­ten, how­ever, and I find I can eas­ily make them go away by play­ing a few songs on a ra­dio or mp3 player that are differ­ent from the song that’s stuck there.

I ad­di­tion, most of the time I can con­trol the au­di­tory chan­nel in my thoughts, so I can use this to listen to songs I feel like hear­ing, and change these as de­sired. I can also use this to listen to other peo­ple’s voices in my head, or to waves on an ocean beach, etc. I don’t get perfect fidelity of re­mem­bered songs, but I can get both in­stru­men­tals and vo­cals. The lower the fidelity of the re­mem­bered song, the more the vo­cals sound like me(if I were a much bet­ter singer do­ing a pass­able karaoke of it).

In­ci­den­tally, why would in­tro­spec­tion be bad? As an in­tro­vert, I de­sire large amounts of in­tro­spec­tion. In ad­di­tion, I think that un­der­stand­ing one’s self is es­sen­tial for know­ing what one re­ally wants in life, which in turn is es­sen­tial for cre­at­ing plans that will max­i­mize your satis­fac­tion of life. Some ex­am­ples of this would be choos­ing the best ma­jor for your­self in col­lege, choos­ing what em­ploy­ment you will seek, and choos­ing your over­all ap­proach to life. I feel this is always one part un­der­stand­ing my­self and one part un­der­stand­ing the world.

• Some of us are de­void of all men­tal imagery, not just vi­sual, but in all sen­sory modes. It’s awfully quiet in my mind! I’ve never heard a peep, not the sound of a voice—my own or any­one else’s --, no mu­sic, nada. No ear-worms pos­si­ble. I can’t imag­ine Boris Kar­loff do­ing any­thing, be­cause I can’t imag­ine Boris Kar­loff! I can’t hear what Ron­ald Rea­gan, or any­one else, sounds like. Au­di­tory imagery sounds like a mighty fine su­per­power that I would like to have!

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

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

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

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

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

Per­son­ally, I find it an­noy­ing, but not harm­ful.

• “As soon as I no­tice it, it will go away.”

Wow, you are blessed. When I hear sounds in my head, whether re­mem­bered or imag­ined, I feel as though I liter­ally hear them. They are not merely back­ground noise… on some days all of the mu­sic in my head gets so loud I just can’t think straight and I have to find a way to silence my in­ner world. When I hear a melody, even in iso­la­tion, I hear full har­mo­niza­tion in my mind, which is why if I start singing along with a friend I have to work at stick­ing to the melody and not ex­press­ing the ac­com­pa­ny­ing har­monies I hear in my mind. Be­cause hear­ing them so vividly while know­ing the sen­sory sells in my choclea are not vibrat­ing ac­cord­ingly is some­times frus­trat­ing, thus by cre­at­ing ph­sy­i­cal ex­pres­sions of the sounds I hear in my mind, I rec­on­cile my ex­ter­nal re­al­ity and my in­ter­nal re­al­ity. All this, too, is anec­do­tal ev­i­dence, and ev­i­dence of per­haps noth­ing more than my own strangeness.

• That is ac­tu­ally pretty cool. Are you a mu­si­cian/​com­poser in any form? If not...I think you could be with­out too much effort. I would love to have the abil­ity to sing har­mony on the spot...I know the the­ory well enough to write har­mo­nized parts, but not in real-time be­cause it’s not in­tu­itive to me. And when I have a song in my head, it’s usu­ally just the main vo­cal line my at­ten­tion can hold. With a LOT of effort I can “hear” chords or two parts in coun­ter­point, but I have to work hard at it.

All this, too, is anec­do­tal ev­i­dence, and ev­i­dence of per­haps noth­ing more than my own strangeness.

I can imag­ine hear­ing imag­ined sounds like you do, maybe be­cause it’s some­thing I wish I could do...al­though you find it an­noy­ing, so maybe I should re­vise my ex­pec­ta­tions. I do know that up un­til about age 11, when I was com­pletely tone-deaf, I had al­most no abil­ity to hold a tune in my head...”songs” stuck in my head con­sisted of the lyrics, in rhythm, but in a sort of mono­tone. Which is how I would then sing them, which is why ev­ery­one said I was tone deaf.

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

• I’m re­minded of the Tetris Effect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• I’m not very sus­cep­ti­ble to this. On the rare oc­ca­sions when it hap­pens, a ses­sion of think­ing about some­thing with to­tal con­cen­tra­tion con­sis­tently does the trick.

So, when you say “think­ing about some­thing with to­tal con­cen­tra­tion”, how does that work, ex­actly? Do you con­sider “think­ing” to be vi­su­al­iz­ing, talk­ing to your­self, what?

• I guess it’s the same for ev­ery­one, the state where you are so in­side a puz­zle that the rest of the world gets pushed to the back­ground. Vi­sual imag­i­na­tion is a pri­mary work­ing tool, but that’s form, not the causal struc­ture of what gets rep­re­sented by it, which is the thing that ought to be uni­ver­sal, a level be­low the ob­vi­ous lev­ers, even if im­ple­mented on the same sub­strate.

• I guess it’s the same for ev­ery­one, the state where you are so in­side a puz­zle that the rest of the world gets pushed to the back­ground. Vi­sual imag­i­na­tion is a pri­mary work­ing tool, but that’s form, not the causal struc­ture of what gets rep­re­sented by it, which is the thing that ought to be uni­ver­sal, a level be­low the ob­vi­ous lev­ers, even if im­ple­mented on the same sub­strate.

Okay, I guess now it’s my turn to have no idea WTF you are talk­ing about. ;-)

Read­ing be­tween the lines, it sort of sounds like you’re talk­ing about vi­sual imagery that’s as­so­ci­ated, up close, or both, where you “push the rest of the world to the back­ground”. In NLP, that’d be a change in the “dis­tance” sub­modal­ity… which it oc­curs to me I’ve never tried. I’ve played with chang­ing the vol­ume of the song, but not the po­si­tion of it. I’ll have to re­mem­ber that one.

Whether that ac­tu­ally re­lates in any way to what you just said, I don’t know, but it’s in­ter­est­ing any­way. ;-)

• Noth­ing about po­si­tion, I used ‘back­ground’ as a metaphor for some­thing not be­ing at­tended to. For ex­am­ple, if I in­dulge my­self with think­ing too se­ri­ously while com­mut­ing to work, I’m more likely to make a cached turn along the way that hap­pens to be con­tex­tu­ally in­cor­rect, or to miss my sta­tion, or to run into some­one.

• Noth­ing about po­si­tion, I used ‘back­ground’ as a metaphor for some­thing not be­ing at­tended to.

I un­der­stand that; the ques­tion was how you made that dis­tinc­tion. Tak­ing your lan­guage liter­ally, you said you “pushed” those things to the back­ground. One ob­ser­va­tion of NLP is that quite of­ten (though not always), peo­ple de­scribe their men­tal pro­cess­ing quite liter­ally, even though their lan­guage is “metaphor­i­cal”.

NLP also ob­serves that if you take those de­scrip­tions liter­ally and then perform the same “metaphor­i­cal” steps in your own mind, you can of­ten more-or-less re­pro­duce the sub­jec­tive ex­pe­rience of the other per­son.

So when I read what you said, I re­al­ized that there are times when I more or less liter­ally “push things to the back­ground”, but that I had never done so with a song in my head. So it seems worth try­ing, whether it ac­tu­ally has any­thing to do with how you push things to the back­ground.

• Well, the metaphor en­com­passed that word as well, so “push­ing” liter­ally is an in­cor­rect way to put it, more like dis­plac­ing, as the new ob­ject of at­ten­tion gets al­most all of it, other things be­come less at­tended to, just be­cause at­ten­tion is a limited re­source.

• So there’s no kines­thetic as­pect to the ex­pe­rience?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry. I changed it.

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

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

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

Haha, good point.

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

What makes you say that?

• 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.

• ...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.

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

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

• Um, hmm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

makes Less Wrong very gen­dered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• deleted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t this a fully gen­eral coun­ter­ar­gu­ment?

Not nearly as much as the re­ply was!

• deleted

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

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

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

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

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

• Anec­do­tal, per­haps, but I always found that the com­pli­cated method of “mak­ing a roux” seems to­tally pointless to me.

The point is to mix in a starchy flour-like sub­stance to a sauce, then heat it up to make the starches go gluti­nous… this can be done much eas­ier by mix­ing the flour into a lit­tle bit of cold wa­ter—then stir­ring it into the sauce while the heat is on it.

All this frig­ging about with putting it in but­ter in a pan and heat­ing it up while madly stir­ring it to make sure it doesn’t burn or clump and only then adding it to the sauce seems to­tally un­nec­es­sary com­pli­ca­tion. It’s much more difficult than just dis­solv­ing it in wa­ter and stir­ring.

• The point is to mix in a starchy flour-like sub­stance to a sauce, then heat it up to make the starches go gluti­nous… this can be done much eas­ier by mix­ing the flour into a lit­tle bit of cold wa­ter—then stir­ring it into the sauce while the heat is on it.

If you pre­fer to thicken things this way, use corn­starch: that’s ex­actly how you do it. The point of roux is partly to cook the flour so it doesn’t taste so floury. (Although if you find you have to “madly stir” your but­ter and flour you may have the heat up too high.)

• Hmm—I guess I do tend to use corn­flour. How­ever—even when I use nor­mal flour—I’ve never had it taste that floury. Cook­ing it in the sauce also cooks the flour… just af­ter­wards in­stead of be­fore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

• It was in­deed a mis­take. Thanks. Fixed.

• [in­sert pe­jo­ra­tive here]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• 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.

• 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).

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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%.

• 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.

• The suc­cess of pickup artist tech­niques only prove that there are enough women who are vuln­er­a­ble to them to keep pickup artists in busi­ness.

The point is good, but I would per­haps make it with­out im­ply­ing vic­tim­hood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• My ob­ser­va­tions tend to match yours Hugh. Per­haps my sam­ple is bi­ased some­what be­cause when­ever I am de­vour­ing in­for­ma­tion I nat­u­rally seek out the higher qual­ity sources. In the PUA cir­cles the best liter­a­ture always comes from a per­spec­tive of adding value to other peo­ple’s lives in ad­di­tion to fulfilling their own goals. One rea­son for this is that it is sim­ply a more effec­tive way to think about so­cial in­ter­ac­tion. What you be­lieve leaks out non-ver­bally and hav­ing a pro-so­cial iden­tity sim­ply works bet­ter.

Re­gard­less of the PUA scene, I sim­ply find de­scrip­tions that are a car­rier sig­nal for a strong nor­ma­tive frame dis­taste­ful in gen­eral.

• 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.

Once is bad luck, twice is a mis­take, six times is a re­ally bad habit!

(Which, mis­ter down­voter, I sug­gest is a damn im­por­tant in­sight that is fun­da­men­tal to self de­vel­op­ment that all too many peo­ple never man­age to mas­ter. Who has not had friends who gen­er­al­ise from their own ex­pe­rience a qual­ity of the world at large rather than see­ing an area of their life and de­ci­sion mak­ing which they could dras­ti­cally im­prove? Heck, I’ve been there my­self.)

• Which, mis­ter down­voter [...]

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

• Quite right. And if the said down­voter was fe­male then it is for no­body.

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

• It wasn’t me, though.

Good. I con­sid­ered the pos­si­bil­ity, mul­ti­plied by the amount that mak­ing an in­nacu­rate ad­dress would ir­ri­tate me and de­cided that it was some­what less than the cost of dredg­ing up gen­der neu­tral terms from the dusty cor­ners of my brain.

• One of the prac­ti­cal ex­er­cises pickup artists use to break their shy­ness is to open con­ver­sa­tions with thirty women on the street; in fact, be­ing able to start con­ver­sa­tions and ask out strange women in a non-bar set­ting is part of what a good pickup artist is ex­pected to be able to do (in Tokyo there’s even a name for it, “nampa”). I’d ex­pect a pickup artist to know many differ­ent kinds of women.

Also, if you don’t re­ally know what pickup artists do, how do you know what they think of women?

• 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.

• Huh, sev­eral years af­ter the fact, with­out hav­ing read this com­ment at the time, I had come across the no­tion of Di­achronic vs Epi­sodic iden­tity. (This post seems do a de­cent job ex­plain­ing it).

But I hadn’t thought to con­nect this to broader be­liefs peo­ple might be form­ing about what sorts of ex­pe­riences are morally rele­vant.

• 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.

• 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”?

I have very dis­tinct be­hav­ior pat­terns and per­son­al­ity, so I think that if I had to de­ter­mine whether a se­ries of videos was of me, or a bunch of ran­domly se­lected chil­dren made to look like me with SFX, my suc­cess rate would be sig­nifi­cantly greater than chance.

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.

I think a good steel man of the con­cept of “per­sonal iden­tity” is “the part of your util­ity func­tion that con­tains prefer­ences for how your mind, per­son­al­ity, val­ues, etc, will change in the fu­ture.” I think this man­ages to con­tain all (or at least most) of the con­cepts re­lated to per­sonal iden­tity that peo­ple care about, while si­mul­ta­neously ac­count­ing for the fact that our brains are chang­ing ev­ery sec­ond.

I have a very strong set of prefer­ences for how my mind and gen­eral psy­cholog­i­cal makeup will change in the fu­ture. In or­der to see these prefer­ences satis­fied I am of­ten will­ing to sac­ri­fice other prefer­ences, such as hav­ing pos­i­tive ex­pe­riences, feel­ing plea­sure, etc. The very fact that I am will­ing to sac­ri­fice some of my “hav­ing-ex­pe­riences-re­lated prefer­ences” in or­der to avoid thwart­ing my “per­sonal-iden­tity-re­lated” prefer­ences is proof, that, for some peo­ple at least, per­sonal iden­tity is im­por­tant, and that all my val­ues can­not be re­duced to the de­sire to have ex­pe­riences.

So un­der my frame­work, say­ing “I am the same per­son as me1995” is say­ing “I am a per­son that me1995 would like to change into in the fu­ture, and me1995 is some­one that I am glad changed into me.”

I sus­pect many peo­ple are similar. For in­stance, many peo­ple talk about “find­ing them­selves” or try to see “who they re­ally are.” Un­der my frame­work, what they are ba­si­cally say­ing is “I want to de­ter­mine the CEV of my per­sonal-iden­tity re­lated prefer­ences.”

How­ever, it oc­curs to me that there might ex­ist some peo­ple who ei­ther lack these strong prefer­ences about per­sonal iden­tity, or who are un­usu­ally bad at in­tro­spec­tion re­lated to them and ex­trap­o­lat­ing them. Th­ese peo­ple might as­sume ev­ery­one else is like them, and think that all those peo­ple talk­ing about per­sonal iden­tity are ir­ra­tional or some­thing.

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.

Since I con­sider that sense of con­nect­ed­ness to be a man­i­fes­ta­tion of my per­sonal-iden­tity-prefer­ences, I con­sider it very morally sig­nifi­cant, be­cause re­ally, it seems like the satis­fac­tion of other peo­ple’s prefer­ences is one of the most im­por­tant parts of moral­ity. I con­sider the idea that our prefer­ences can be re­duced down to the de­sire to have ex­pe­riences, ir­re­spec­tive of per­sonal iden­tity, to be the same kind of morally wrong­headed think­ing as the idea that our prefer­ences can be re­duced to the de­sire to feel plea­sure.

• OK, thanks for clar­ify­ing.

the idea that our prefer­ences can be re­duced down to the de­sire to have ex­pe­riences, ir­re­spec­tive of per­sonal iden­tity [..] morally wrong­headed think­ing...
a good steel man of the con­cept of “per­sonal iden­tity” is “the part of your util­ity func­tion that con­tains prefer­ences for how your mind, per­son­al­ity, val­ues, etc, will change in the fu­ture.”

For my own part, I agree that our prefer­ences can’t be re­duced to the de­sire to have ex­pe­riences, but I wouldn’t say that they can be re­duced to (the de­sire to have ex­pe­riences + the de­sire to be a cer­tain way in the fu­ture) ei­ther. Mostly my de­sire-to-be-a-cer­tain-way is in­stru­men­tal.

Since I con­sider that sense of con­nect­ed­ness to be a man­i­fes­ta­tion of my per­sonal-iden­tity-prefer­ences, I con­sider it very morally sig­nifi­cant, be­cause re­ally, it seems like the satis­fac­tion of other peo­ple’s prefer­ences is one of the most im­por­tant parts of moral­ity.

Sure, if your prefer­ences are bound up with that sense of con­nect­ed­ness in a way that im­por­tantly defines your no­tion of moral­ity, then that sense of con­nect­ed­ness will be morally sig­nifi­cant to you. Agreed.

• For my own part, I agree that our prefer­ences can’t be re­duced to the de­sire to have ex­pe­riences, but I wouldn’t say that they can be re­duced to (the de­sire to have ex­pe­riences + the de­sire to be a cer­tain way in the fu­ture) ei­ther.

I agree en­tirely, I wasn’t ar­gu­ing that “de­sire to have ex­pe­riences” and “de­sire to be a cer­tain way” are all of what our prefer­ences re­duce to. I was just ar­gu­ing that “de­sire to be a cer­tain way” is a prefer­ence that is some­times ig­nored when dis­cussing moral philos­o­phy. Ob­vi­ously we can have even more kinds of prefer­ences than that.

• I wasn’t ar­gu­ing that “de­sire to have ex­pe­riences” and “de­sire to be a cer­tain way” are all of what our prefer­ences re­duce to.

Ah, OK. I mi­s­un­der­stood you as equat­ing per­sonal iden­tity with prefer­ences for change.

• 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.

• 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!)

• 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?

• 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.

• “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?

When I say “ex­pe­rience” de­pres­sion, I mean I’m ac­tu­ally de­pressed. When I say “simu­late” de­pres­sion, I mean I can model the state with­out ac­tu­ally di­rectly ex­pe­rienc­ing it. “Si­mu­la­tion” would line up with watch­ing a TV show or read­ing a book—I re­act as though the char­ac­ters were real, I sus­pend the knowl­edge that ev­ery­one will be OK at the end of each epi­sode, and so on.

I was in fact talk­ing about ex­pe­rience, not simu­la­tion, how­ever.

If you want to ex­pe­rience be­ing an artist, then take a draw­ing class and learn to draw. There isn’t some spe­cial “artist” prop­erty, you just have to draw. If you want to ex­pe­rience be­ing a good artist, you’ll prob­a­bly need to spend some time prac­tic­ing. If you want to ex­pe­rience the com­mu­nity of art, well, there’s a lot of those, but learn po­etry and go to po­etry jams. Learn writ­ing and join a writ­ing cir­cle. Find a Google Group where painters chat and dis­cuss tech­nique. Fol­low art blogs.

Equally, if you want to ex­pe­rience be­ing a “jock”, then get in shape and join a gym that seems to have a lot of jocks. Learn to fit in with them.

Fe­male is a bit trick­ier, but there’s peo­ple on this site that have done male-to-fe­male tran­si­tions. Most of it is re­versible, and the main ir­re­versible bit (surgery) is pretty op­tional un­less you’re in­ter­ested in a VERY spe­cific phys­i­cal as­pect of be­ing fe­male. I wouldn’t recom­mend it ca­su­ally, but if you’re se­ri­ous about want­ing to ex­plore new sen­sa­tions and ex­pe­rience new mind­sets, it’s a pretty amaz­ing change.

• Op­ti­mism/​Pes­simism seems to op­er­ate on a pretty lin­ear scale. I was very op­ti­mistic about my own fu­ture un­til I hit my early 20s, now af­ter a few bouts of de­pres­sion I reg­u­larly un­der­perform. (to gen­er­al­ize from one ex­am­ple, I know I have a hard time be­liev­ing some peo­ple can be de­pressed and pro­duc­tive at the same time)

What I can say with rea­son­able cer­tainty is that liber­als and con­ser­va­tives build up differ­ent as­so­ci­a­tions, re­tain differ­ent facts, etc, etc, which would make a tem­po­rary switch more difficult.

• I be­lieve that the mood as­pect of de­pres­sion and the in­er­tia as­pect are al­most in­de­pen­dent from each other.

• In­ter­est­ing, I was mostly af­fected by the in­er­tia as­pect, which in turn spoiled my mood (from the in­abil­ity to get any­thing done).

• 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.

• 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...

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

• 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.

• /​me won­ders what per­centage of phone num­bers re­ceived were fake

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

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

• 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).++

++ 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.

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

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• Out­side of the airy realms of the­ory, though, the ques­tion prob­a­bly trans­lates to some­thing like “which gen­der should be solely al­lowed to pick ap­ples, and which should be solely al­lowed to dig pota­toes?”

(Or, per­haps more likely, “which one is the Bad Gen­der?”)

• I agree with your im­me­di­ate point: how­ever, height is some­thing which is eas­ily mea­surable and eas­ily com­pared be­tween both sexes. I don’t know if there’s a qual­ity of books and video games which is equally easy to mea­sure and com­pare. Read­ing books teaches kids to be bet­ter at read­ing (and prob­a­bly writ­ing too, or at least it did so for me), and ex­poses them to a range of ideas, con­cepts, and role model char­ac­ters. Some books are well writ­ten, some badly writ­ten...some char­ac­ters are use­ful role mod­els for chil­dren, oth­ers aren’t. As for video games, I’ve been told that they im­prove in­for­ma­tion pro­cess­ing and re­ac­tion times. In fact, my taek­wondo in­struc­tor says that likely one of the rea­sons I’m slow is be­cause I never played video games as a kid. Differ­ent peo­ple have told me that video games en­courage cre­ative and out-of-the-box think­ing. Th­ese are all good things, and books don’t have an effect on them, I would as­sume.

I guess, in the­ory, you could ask “are chil­dren raised solely on books bet­ter adapted and more suc­cess­ful than chil­dren raised solely on video games”? Still, ‘suc­cess’ is such a broad cat­e­gory and de­pends on so many fac­tors that I don’t know if the an­swer could be mea­sured even in the­ory.

• As for video games, I’ve been told that they im­prove in­for­ma­tion pro­cess­ing and re­ac­tion times. In fact, my taek­wondo in­struc­tor says that likely one of the rea­sons I’m slow is be­cause I never played video games as a kid. Differ­ent peo­ple have told me that video games en­courage cre­ative and out-of-the-box think­ing.

I main­tain to this day that the Fi­nal Fan­tasy se­ries taught me how to read. No one ever be­lieved me. Re­cently, I heard a story on NPR’s claiming that there are in fact a non-triv­ial num­ber of peo­ple in my gen­er­a­tion that make similar claims.

• This is a bit tan­gen­tial, but since the sub­ject came up. I’m read­ing this free e-book on game de­sign. One of the es­says in their makes the point that:

Since the in­dus­trial rev­olu­tion and the com­mod­ity cul­ture it brought to bear, games have in­creas­ingly been treated as me­dia prod­ucts like books, movies, or songs. The busi­ness mod­els and pat­terns of con­sump­tion re­lat­ing to books, mag­a­z­ines, movies, and mu­sic are all based on a short cy­cle of re­lease, con­sume, and move on. It is into this model of con­sumer cul­ture that videogames have po­si­tioned them­selves, and in the pro­cess be­came a form of epher­mera—quickly con­sumed with lit­tle or no ex­pec­ta­tion of last­ing effect. But games are ever-chang­ing, cul­turally shaped prac­tices that have more in com­mon with square danc­ing, and, as Frank Lantz has pointed out, but­terfly col­lect­ing than they do with pas­sively con­sumed en­ter­tain­ment prod­ucts. And so the more we try to treat games like me­dia, the less game-like they are. (Kin­dle lo­ca­tion 2298 of 3810)

I haven’t de­cided how much I agree with this, but it does sort of seem to ex­plain why some of the trends in videogames have largely turned me off them and back to­ward table­top games. In any case, it is a data point in fa­vor of “don’t com­pare books and videogames”.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.)

• 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).

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

• (Nit­pick: This is not tech­ni­cally by defi­ni­tion.)

• By the defi­ni­tion of des­per­ate in­clud­ing “not fre­quently hit on”?

• It’s still a leg. ;)

• 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.

• 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.

• “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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

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.

• 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’.

• Any­one can see those things if look­ing at re­flec­tion of blue sky. Blue sky’s light is po­larized. Ditto if look­ing at a re­flec­tion. But most peo­ple wouldn’t no­tice that, the effect is fairly faint. The per­son who could de­tect po­larized light would no­tice that LCD dis­plays are po­larized and could tell you some are po­larized other way than oth­ers.

• 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)

Ab­stract:

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.

Con­clu­sions:

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).

• 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.

• I’d be sur­prised if there is one sin­gle “emo­tion that some other peo­ple con­cep­tu­al­ize as ro­man­tic love”.

• Edited to change “the” to “an”.

• 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”.)

• The funny thing is that af­ter read­ing it I re­al­ise the ar­ti­cle you men­tioned may also lead to gen­er­al­is­ing from one ex­am­ple. In my case there’s some­one in my life whom the au­thor would prob­a­bly con­sider as my limer­ent ob­ject, based on the ‘out­ward signs’ that some­one would be able to pick up as men­tioned. How­ever, to me I per­son­ally don’t re­ally care so much as to whether it’s re­cip­ro­cated, and also in a way don’t re­ally have a way to stop it from my end. That is, I can­not will my­self to stop car­ing. I can also per­ceive in quite a bal­anced man­ner the per­son’s at­tributes, but can never ap­ply this to more than one per­son at a time, and it also causes me to leave other con­cerns in the back­ground.

Essen­tially, a state that is a mix of both the el­e­ments de­scribed as love and limer­ence.

I guess what I’m try­ing to say is that they’re col­laps­ing a spec­trum into two con­cepts at the ex­tremes, whereas in hu­man ex­pe­rience it’s quite likely that there are many feel­ings in be­tween.

• It is true, at least for me (don’t know how many other peo­ple have this ex­pe­rience). I have never ex­pe­rienced ro­man­tic love. I am in my late twen­ties, so this is not a re­sult of youth. I do ex­pe­rience pla­tonic love. I’m the only one in my fam­ily I know of who is like this. I have no de­sire to ex­pe­rience ro­man­tic love per­son­ally. How­ever, I am glad for oth­ers when their ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships work out, and can still en­joy ro­man­tic el­e­ments in a story, etc.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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?

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

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.”

• My par­ents are mis­sion­ar­ies to Spain. Thus I have had sig­nifi­cant ex­po­sure to them, other other mis­sion­ar­ies, and con­ver­sion tech­niques in gen­eral. Far and away the most pop­u­lar among those I have been ex­posed to is #3, with #1 com­ing in a far sec­ond, fol­lowed by #2 and then #4.

The one that got a con­ver­sion out of me, how­ever, was #1. As a pre­pubescent boy, I was ter­rified of get­ting ‘left be­hind’ in the rap­ture and/​or be­ing eter­nally sep­a­rated from all of my loved ones. (btw, I am now an athe­ist)

Any­way, prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant part of pros­ely­tiz­ing is get­ting to the peo­ple who are in­ter­ested in spiritual things. Door-to-door liter­a­ture dis­tri­bu­tion, uni­ver­sity cam­pus fly­ers, open air evan­ge­lism, etc.; most of these done for the pur­pose of get­ting a hand­ful of leads with which to de­velop a friend­ship and re­la­tion­ship with in the suc­ces­sive months.

One sel­l­ing points of Chris­ti­an­ity (speci­fi­cally Ply­mouth Brethrenism) was a dili­gent search in the Bible (and only the Bible) to find spiritual truth. Mis­sion­ar­ies would have been quite cer­tain of their in­ter­pre­ta­tions and quite able to back them up with scrip­ture. Peo­ple want truth and the my par­ents et al. did a re­mark­able job of chalk­ing up their re­li­gion as truth.

Another was the promise of re­lease from guilt pre­ceded by the de­liber­ate in­cul­ca­tion that one is a rot­ten sin­ner. This point cen­tered mainly on the guilt it­self, not the fear of pun­ish­ment. The guilt was cre­ated by re­flect­ing on the po­ten­tial con­vert’s past life, whether full of ac­tual sin­ful­ness or self-righ­teous­ness in­stead (rarely is a per­son nei­ther of these), and com­par­ing that to God’s perfec­tion. Usu­ally, po­ten­tial con­verts were in­di­vi­d­u­als already of the­is­tic or con­versely ec­u­meni­cal per­sua­sions, so be­lief in a good God was pre­sent.

The ar­gu­ment was such that in­frac­tions re­quire pun­ish­ment and that God is perfect and can­not en­ter­tain im­perfec­tion. Every­one mer­its eter­nal pun­ish­ment for their sin, yet no amount of pun­ish­ment is suffi­cient to make them perfect. This should lead to a crisis where one be­comes dis­traught and con­vinced of their in­abil­ity to di­vert their fate: they are ut­terly hel­pless and vuln­er­a­ble. At this point, the Sav­ior en­ters the pic­ture, ask­ing for be­lief and ac­cep­tance in ex­change for im­pu­ta­tion of his sac­ri­fice at Cal­vary to their ac­count. God sees the con­vert as Je­sus Christ, not as the sin­ner, and there­fore as whole, sin­less, and perfect. Guilt flees, and grat­i­tude on the be­half of the con­vert seals the deal.

Another sel­l­ing point which was never made ex­plicit was the church as a so­cial group. Of course, churches in gen­eral are known to be com­mu­nity gath­er­ing places. How­ever, the Ply­mouth Brethren (aka Assem­blies) are a tight lot. In Spain, and also in the US, there usu­ally are one or two about 75 per­son as­sem­blies per medium size city. Many friend­ships within the Assem­blies are decades old, there is a high amount of in­ter­mar­riage (mar­riage out­side the Assem­blies is gen­er­ally frowned upon, but the spiritual com­mit­ment (and there­fore born again sta­tus) of the po­ten­tial mate is the nec­es­sary and suffi­cient con­di­tion for the fam­i­lies’ bless­ing), there are large fam­i­lies (6 chil­dren be­gins to be large--4 and 5 are very com­mon) and prac­ti­cally no di­vorce, there are camps, re­treats, and con­fer­ences for the Assem­blies, there is at least one col­lege (at­ten­dance at Chris­tian col­leges is smiled upon, but it is not nec­es­sar­ily en­couraged). At any rate, the Assem­blies form a small, co­her­ent global net­work of peo­ple that I’m sure is very at­trac­tive to the nor­mal hu­man. I have yet to know of any other such com­mu­nity; please let me know if you know of one.

So, con­ver­sion works like this: es­tab­lish the au­thor­i­ta­tive­ness of the mis­sion­ary, cre­ate an emo­tional crisis, provide the solu­tion which is be­lieved be­cause of the prior es­tab­lish­ment of au­thor­ity, ini­ti­ate the con­vert into a well-rounded Chris­tian lifestyle and com­mu­nity.

• 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.)

• 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?

• 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.

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

• 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?

Do you mean evan­ge­lists? I know quite a few mis­sion­ar­ies and more chil­dren thereof. Most are en­g­ineers, trans­la­tors or teach­ers, with a cou­ple of pasters thrown in and their skills don’t seem to ap­ply here. If you mean “re­li­gious nuts who are good at se­duc­ing folks into their bul­lshit’ then the most suit­able can­di­dates tend to be the ones who stay lo­cal.

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

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

• 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? ;-)

• You have my at­ten­tion :)

• 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?

While your point about your un­rep­re­sen­ti­tive sam­ple is an in­ter­est­ing one, my sus­pi­cion is that that effect may be over­shad­owed by an­other. My gen­eral policy for deal­ing with peo­ple is that I always trust what peo­ple do, not what they say. This is par­tic­u­larly true when it comes to peo­ple with power and the ex­e­cu­tion of power plays in gen­eral. Sex­ual in­stincts and the drives for power and sta­tus are closely linked and when it comes to sex­ual be­hav­iors, what peo­ple say (and some­times what they think) are not nec­es­sar­ily similar to what they ac­tu­ally do.

• 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.)

• 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.

• 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”.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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).

• I know that PUA is “pickup artist” but what is AFC?

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

• 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.

The ‘covert con­tract’.

No More Mr Nice Guy is a use­ful re­source for any­one in­ter­ested in this gen­eral topic.

• I don’t need a cite, but what are “mas­culine traits”? Grunt­ing?

• Agres­sion, dom­i­nance, lead­er­ship, as­sertive­ness, phys­i­cal size, com­pe­ti­tion, con­fi­dence, deeper voice, slow speech and move­ment, un­re­ac­tive, takes up more space with pos­ture.

• 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.

• Use­ful re­sources! I’ve en­coun­tered most of the stud­ies but that com­pila­tion will come in handy when talk­ing with those pesky friends of mine who de­mand refer­ences for the claims I make! (And if you’re read­ing this out there, yes, I do mean you!)

• 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.

• 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.

• 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! :))

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

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also I find this assertion

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

highly im­plau­si­ble; do you have any ev­i­dence for it?

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

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

do you have any ev­i­dence for it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• 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...

• “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. 1921 were male. 521 re­ported af­fected rel­a­tives. 1021 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.

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.

• 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

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.)

• 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.

• 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. :-)

• 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!

• 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.

• 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.

• My old­est son and his father

Ah. Linda Gert.

I’m cu­ri­ous though. How do you ex­pe­rience mem­o­ries/​knowl­edge of vi­sual things? For ex­am­ple if you re­mem­ber that some­one has long black hair I as­sume this is more similar to read­ing about a char­ac­ter with long black hair in a book rather than see­ing some­one with your own eyes? Or is it com­pletely differ­ent from both?

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• Yvain:

Some points.

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

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

• 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”.

• And a bet­ter name for the Mind Pro­jec­tion Fal­lacy is “Stealth Com­pu­ta­tion”.

• Why is that a bet­ter name?

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

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

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

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

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

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

• OK you’re right.

• 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.

• 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?

• 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.

• I very strongly dis­agree.

• Why? The cur­rent form sug­gests Stephen Brust as the refer­ent of “I”, which is mis­lead­ing.

• It is con­ven­tional to do quotes this way, so I re­ject the claim that it is mis­lead­ing. We at­tribute to An­drew Marvell the lines “But at my back I always hear /​ Time’s winged char­iot hur­ry­ing near” with­out any con­fu­sion. It is a lit­tle mis­lead­ing, since it makes Brust look like a stand-up comic, rather than a nov­el­ist, but that is a rather triv­ial mat­ter.

• Can you back up your claim that it is con­ven­tional to at­tribute quotes by char­ac­ters solely to the au­thor? It doesn’t seem to me that this is cor­rect and search­ing Google I can’t find a defini­tive an­swer, though I turned up this blog post that ar­gues it is un­eth­i­cal. One of the com­menters claims:

As a stu­dent of liter­a­ture from col­lege on­ward, I have to make this point: one must ALWAYS quote the char­ac­ter mak­ing the state­ment, AND the book and au­thor from which it is taken. This is Liter­a­ture 101.

I think the dis­tinc­tion is use­ful and can be very im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion if the char­ac­ter is ex­press­ing views con­trary to the au­thor’s own.

ETA: From About.com on Shake­speare quotes:

No for­mal Shake­speare quote is com­plete with­out its at­tri­bu­tion. For a Shake­speare quote, you need to provide the play ti­tle, fol­lowed by act, scene, and line num­ber. It is a good prac­tice to ital­i­cize the ti­tle of the play. Here is an ex­am­ple:

“He was ever pre­cise in promise-keep­ing.” (Mea­sure for Mea­sure, Act I. Sc. 2)

In or­der to en­sure that the quote is used in the right con­text, it is im­por­tant to refer­ence the quote ap­pro­pri­ately. That means, you must men­tion the char­ac­ter’s name who made the state­ment.

• Con­ven­tion is what peo­ple do. The first post you cite demon­strates that TV shows don’t source quotes. It im­plies that mod­ern play­wrights have their lines at­tributed to them. And de­spite your sec­ond source, your first en­dorses at­tri­bu­tion to Shake­speare.

From the books on my shelves, Barzun is the only au­thor who ever iden­ti­fies char­ac­ters, and in­con­sis­tently (and oc­ca­sion­ally with­out the au­thor at all!). I don’t think he ever dis­t­in­guishes nar­ra­tors from the au­thor, even when the nar­ra­tor uses the first per­son. Like many peo­ple, he usu­ally cites the source, so you can look it up to see if it is fic­tion. Many peo­ple quote with­out sources, but it is definitely cor­re­lated with look­ing like non­fic­tion. Robert Cial­dini and Marvin Min­ski have many un­sourced quotes. Min­ski quotes Asi­mov and Pope who are fa­mous both for fic­tion and non­fic­tion! (I think he only quotes their non­fic­tion, but he at­tributes to Joyce the words, in­clud­ing “I,” of Stephen Dedalus.) I think all of Cial­dini’s quotes are in the au­thor’s own voice, ex­cept Virgil. Peo­ple don’t source Ju­ve­nal, ei­ther. (ETA: Mimi Sher­a­ton uses un­sourced quotes, prob­a­bly from fic­tion.)

Sure the Rand ex­am­ple is un­eth­i­cal, but there is always con­text that can be ma­nipu­lated.

• This is all con­sid­er­ably silly. In­deed, there is a con­ven­tion that al­lows a cita­tion of a quote to just the au­thor with­out refer­enc­ing the char­ac­ter. But do­ing so is in­for­mal and can be slightly un­pro­fes­sional or grossly un­eth­i­cal de­pend­ing on the con­text. The quote here is merely stylis­tic and so the de­ci­sion to in­clude ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion in the cita­tion should just be based on whether or Yvain thinks it looks/​flows bet­ter with the full cite. If Yvain wants to be more pro­fes­sional about it but keep the short cite he can foot­note the full cita­tion.

There. Done.

• I would dis­agree with you in the gen­eral case but must agree in the spe­cific—this par­tic­u­lar point is not of great im­por­tance.

• This is all con­sid­er­ably silly. In­deed, there is a con­ven­tion that al­lows a cita­tion of a quote to just the au­thor with­out refer­enc­ing the char­ac­ter. But do­ing so is in­for­mal and slightly un­pro­fes­sional. There is no rea­son not to add the ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion and this dis­agree­ment is out of pro­por­tion with the is­sue. If he wants to be more pro­fes­sional but keep the short cite he can foot­note a full cita­tion. There. Done.

• You have a num­ber of un­sourced ex­am­ples of peo­ple not dis­t­in­guish­ing be­tween char­ac­ters and au­thors. I could give you a num­ber of ex­am­ples of at­tri­bu­tion for char­ac­ters. Jus­tify­ing your claim that it is con­ven­tional to ig­nore char­ac­ters when at­tribut­ing quotes re­quires more than a ran­dom se­lec­tion of anec­dotes. When I think of fa­mous liter­ary quotes I do not sim­ply think Shake­speare, I think Ham­let, or Mac­beth, the dis­tinc­tion is im­por­tant.

If you have to defend a claim to ‘con­ven­tion’ it’s not re­ally con­ven­tion.

• “Con­ven­tional” is not a jus­tifi­ca­tion un­less the con­ven­tion has been jus­tified. I have per­son­ally seen In­ter­net denizens heap abuse upon an au­thor (Os­car Wilde, if I re­call cor­rectly) for an out­ra­geous quote which was said by a char­ac­ter in a book. I think it is valuable in terms of mak­ing proper moral judg­ments upon peo­ple to dis­t­in­guish be­tween what char­ac­ters in their fic­tion say and what au­thors say out­side their fic­tional works.

• You could use the same ar­gu­ment to start speak­ing lo­jban.

• la lo­jban spofu ma

(Sorry, I had to. Trans­la­tion: ‘What’s wrong with Lo­jban?’ or, liter­ally, ‘Lo­jban is not-use­ful (bro­ken) for what?’)

• do

• Well, yes, but I sus­pect that that’s only be­cause I’m not even close to fluent yet. And even so I find it sur­pris­ingly grokkable. :)

• You’re right—but “start speak­ing lo­jban” is re­futed by “the peo­ple I want to talk to wouldn’t un­der­stand it”. A state­ment which is, in fact, the jus­tifi­ca­tion for the con­ven­tion of speak­ing English. Why should we quote the words of an au­thor’s char­ac­ter as if they are the words of the au­thor?

• I should have noted that “Some­one is wrong on the in­ter­net” back on your Wilde ex­am­ple.

I take the Burkean po­si­tion that the in­no­va­tor should jus­tify the old sys­tem. Nat­u­ral lan­guage and nat­u­ral con­ven­tions work. They ex­ist for rea­sons, if only be­cause sta­bil­ity. Even if I grant your claim that your changes have im­prove­ments, have you looked for costs? In my ex­pe­rience, most ar­tifi­cial changes to lan­guage im­pede com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and, in­deed, look to me to be in­tended to. On an­other note, have you backed up and asked Why is Yvain quot­ing peo­ple at all?

• Your re­mark has me en­tirely con­fused—Burkean? What? - but for a sin­gle ques­tion:

Even if I grant your claim that your changes have im­prove­ments, have you looked for costs? In my ex­pe­rience, most ar­tifi­cial changes to lan­guage im­pede com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and, in­deed, look to me to be in­tended to.

There is no clar­ity cost I can see in the pro­posed con­ven­tion—the only cost I can see is to the writer, who will have to spend a minute or two sourc­ing their quotes. If this can­not be done in a minute or two with an In­ter­net con­nec­tion (Wik­iquote is of­ten of help), it is prob­a­bly more ac­cu­rate to cite the quo­ta­tion as “at­tributed” any­way.

• Any­one else think this post should be tagged as “other_op­ti­miz­ing”?

• done

• In­ter­est­ing.

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

• 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.

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

Just 13 of stu­dents never cheat­ing seems low to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• I’ve found that learn­ing how to cheat was one of the more valuable skills I gained from school. Ad­mit­tedly I work in re­verse en­g­ineer­ing, so my mind­set isn’t nec­es­sar­ily en­tirely stan­dard :)

• I agree that 13 is too low a num­ber that has never cheated. I’d say that of the peo­ple I study with, and we are at a re­mark­ably high level of ed­u­ca­tion in a pro­fes­sion with a fi­du­ciary role, about 90+% of them cheat.

I’m one of those who don’t cheat, for the rea­son you gave that I don’t care about grades. How­ever, I study in or­der to im­prove my­self to be bet­ter at fulfilling my cho­sen role in so­ciety and for the knowl­edge’s sake. Cheat­ing in no way im­proves un­der­stand­ing or knowl­edge, and is thusly com­pletely use­less to me. How­ever, I not only do not fail school, but con­versely am one of the top scor­ers in the school (and by ex­ten­sion be­cause of the school’s po­si­tion, one of the top stu­dents in the na­tion), be­cause I achieve higher lev­els of un­der­stand­ing than al­most ev­ery­one else, who use rote learn­ing in­stead, as it is effec­tive enough for ex­am­i­na­tions’ pur­poses.

• For what it’s worth, at my high school the in­ci­dence of (re­cur­rent and/​or ob­vi­ous) cheat­ing was closer to 50%, and even then the ma­jor­ity of the cheat­ing was on home­work, where some of it may not tech­ni­cally have been cheat­ing at all.

This may have been due to an un­usu­ally high prob­a­bil­ity of get­ting caught (pri­vate school, small classes, and en­gaged teach­ers) and un­usu­ally strong pun­ish­ments, up to and in­clud­ing ex­pul­sion.

• Maybe at a more difficult high­school, cheat­ing will be more preva­lent. I bet that at av­er­age schools, though, it’s just as easy to coast with­out cheat­ing.

• I’m con­fused—all schools in large ge­o­graph­i­cal ar­eas tend to have pretty much the same cur­ricula and stan­dards, so what are “easy” and “difficult” schools?

• [Public] Schools in my metropoli­tan area vary wildly—typ­i­cally the qual­ity (and difficulty) of a school varies di­rectly with the so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus of the neigh­bor­hood where it’s lo­cated.

• I think of my­self as some­one who “never cheated.” But I did. I was always in the smart kid gifted classes with the other smart kids. We had an 8th grade so­cial stud­ies teacher who al­most seemed to want us to cheat: he would set very difficult es­say tests and then leave the room for nearly the en­tire class pe­riod. Peo­ple dis­cussed the an­swers. 10th grade french, I re­mem­ber some peo­ple sug­gest­ing cheat­ing on a test be­cause it would be easy and at the time I went along. Also I re­mem­ber some­one sug­gest­ing I read “L’etranger” in English trans­la­tion and I did that, it was way eas­ier.

My point: if 13 I be­lieve it more likely that peo­ple will mis­tak­enly re­port they didn’t cheat when they did than vice versa. And I be­lieve it is easy for peo­ple to “for­get” they cheated.

• We had an 8th grade so­cial stud­ies teacher who al­most seemed to want us to cheat: he would set very difficult es­say tests and then leave the room for nearly the en­tire class pe­riod. Peo­ple dis­cussed the an­swers.

I don’t call that cheat­ing. I call it ‘co­op­er­a­tion’. Cal­ling it cheat­ing would be an in­sult to the term.

10th grade french, I re­mem­ber some peo­ple sug­gest­ing cheat­ing on a test be­cause it would be easy and at the time I went along.

Yes, cheat­ing.

Also I re­mem­ber some­one sug­gest­ing I read “L’etranger” in English trans­la­tion and I did that, it was way eas­ier.

Mere com­mon sense. If a test in no way dis­t­in­guishes be­tween knowl­edge gained by differ­ent meth­ods it has no right to call one method ‘cheat­ing’, no mat­ter what it may claim.

My point: if 13 I be­lieve it more likely that peo­ple will mis­tak­enly re­port they didn’t cheat when they did than vice versa. And I be­lieve it is easy for peo­ple to “for­get” they cheated.

Ab­solutely. This par­tic­u­larly ap­plies to sex­ual ‘cheat­ing’. I am refer­ring ex­plic­itly to re­ports that are gen­uinely mis­taken, not de­liber­ate lies. This is hav­ing sex with some­one who is not your part­ner. That’s not some­thing that isn’t a big enough deal to re­mem­ber. But peo­ple can com­part­men­tal­ize this knowl­edge. There are also peo­ple that “don’t count”. When talk­ing to friends who have their con­fi­dence it is not un­heard for peo­ple to say “I’ve never cheated”. When prompted with the ex­am­ple the gen­uine re­sponse is a dou­ble take and the im­pulse to say “Oh, but he doesn’t count!”

• “Oh, but he doesn’t count!”

and

I don’t call that cheat­ing. I call it ‘co­op­er­a­tion’.

I am amused :)

• If a test in no way dis­t­in­guishes be­tween knowl­edge gained by differ­ent meth­ods it has no right to call one method ‘cheat­ing’, no mat­ter what it may claim.

Surely by that ar­gu­ment there is no such thing as cheat­ing. If I gained the knowl­edge nec­es­sary to pass the test by brekaing into the head­mas­ter’s office and tak­ing a pho­to­copy of the ques­tions and their an­swers be­fore the exam, by your crite­rion that isn’t cheat­ing.

• If a test in no way dis­t­in­guishes be­tween knowl­edge gained by differ­ent meth­ods it has no right to call one method ‘cheat­ing’, no mat­ter what it may claim.

Surely by that ar­gu­ment there is no such thing as cheat­ing. If I gained the knowl­edge nec­es­sary to pass the test by brekaing into the head­mas­ter’s office and tak­ing a pho­to­copy of the ques­tions and their an­swers be­fore the exam, by your crite­rion that isn’t cheat­ing.

I would agree that the word­ing is not ro­bust against hos­tile in­ter­pre­ta­tion, but not much more than that. While “break­ing into the head­mas­ter’s office and steal­ing the ques­tions and an­swers” and “read­ing the English trans­la­tion of a book” are both meth­ods of gain­ing “knowl­edge” most peo­ple would con­sider the kind of ‘knowl­edge’ gained to be suffi­ciently differ­ent that they would not equiv­o­cate be­tween the two.

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

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

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

• I con­sid­ered the con­fu­sion to be one of fre­quency: “Do you cheat” vs “Have you ever cheated” vs “Did you cheat within the last year”. I find 2/​3rds sus­pi­ciously low for the lat­ter. Then again, my friends in school wouldn’t be­lieve me that I’d re­ally never shoplifted :)

• 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.)

• 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.

• Hmmm...

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

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

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

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

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

• 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.

• Hav­ing con­sid­ered this, I’m go­ing to take a more ev­i­dence based ap­proach to my poli­ti­cal po­si­tions. I sup­pose some of my liber­tar­ian lean­ings come from the be­lief that I can bet­ter man­age my­self than the gov­ern­ment, but this may not be true for all peo­ple. Thanks.

• 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.

• 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. :)

• 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.

• 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”.

• 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.

•    We are se­crets to each other
Each one’s life a novel no-one else has read


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

Ex­cel­lent post.

• I think “Gen­er­al­iz­ing from your­self” would be more ap­pro­pri­ate as a ti­tle.

• 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.

• 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.

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

• I am re­minded strongly of this comic

• “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.

• 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.

• 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 85100 on the test, sim­ply by re­mem­ber­ing which an­swers fit tex­tu­ally.

• 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.

• 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).

• 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

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

• 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.

• I don’t know if you’re still ac­tive on Less­wrong, but I won­der some things about ayahuasca. Hear­ing about it, I’m tempted to travel to Kap­i­tari and take part in a cer­e­mony. I’m cau­tious be­cause of the frag­ility of the men­tal state, but then again, it may be heal­ing.

My first ayahuasca cer­e­mony was a per­sonal heal­ing for me, to rewire my brain and ac­ti­vate the miss­ing part of my mind Can you ex­plain what you mean by ac­ti­vate the miss­ing part of your mind?

Ayahuasca told me What do you mean by told you? And how would that com­pare with other forms of tel­ling, in in­ten­sity or what­ever other di­men­sion you can describe

Also, I feel that you’re writ­ing here is some­what un­usual and ab­stract. I have no­ticed that in many writ­ings by psy­chadelics users, and fear that I will be­come less ca­pa­ble of com­mu­ni­cat­ing effec­tively af­ter use.

Thoughts from any­one else?

edit 1: also con­sid­er­ing mush­rooms more lo­cally. a class­mate’s boyfriend found and en­joyed some. thoughts?

• Wow, the part you quote is fas­ci­nat­ing. I would sug­gest what is miss­ing is sim­ply an abil­ity to un­der­stand that the “pre­sent” you re­main in is you alone, sharply defined. Once you let go or are forced to let go, you will be us. Per­haps I have been read­ing too much Chris­tian de Quincey though......

• 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.

• 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.

• 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?

• 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.

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

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• “Thoughts take the form of silently talk­ing to my­self.”

Is that not a form of “men­tal imagery”?

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

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

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

• Check out the Feyn­man lec­ture #22 - the one in which he starts with the laws of alge­bra and ends up with de Moivre’s the­o­rem. With a calcu­la­tion of pi/​2 = 1.5709 along the way. Pret­tiest thing I’ve ever seen.

In­ci­den­tally, Feyn­man did it the hard way, since he didn’t have com­put­ers. You can com­pute pi on a spread­sheet sim­ply by simu­lat­ing a har­monic os­cilla­tor.

• Be­fore any­one else com­plains: yes, there were com­put­ers in 1961, and had been for over twelve years, but Feyn­man doesn’t use any in the lec­ture. And cer­tainly Henry Briggs), who calcu­lated the first four­teen-place com­mon log ta­bles and whom Feyn­man cites in the rele­vant sec­tion, didn’t use any in 1620, and the re­sults Feyn­man pre­sents are far less pre­cise.

And Lec­ture #22 - “Alge­bra”—is a thing of beauty. Any­one who likes math­e­mat­ics will like it.

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

• If you know the deriva­tive at 0 is 1, then you know the value of pi… just sayin’.

• That’s not strictly true, see­ing as...

$sin\\;x=\\sum\_\{n=0\}^\{\\infty\}\\frac\{\(\-1\$%5En}{(2n+1)!}\,x%5E{2n+1})

...but I agree that gen­eral-shape + deriva­tive-at-zero is not re­ally enough to form es­ti­mate of pi.

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

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

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

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

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

• And I thought this was go­ing to be an ar­ti­cle on “fine tun­ing” ar­gu­ments.

• 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.

• 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.

• When I read the per­centage who had cheated on an exam, I started to call BS in my mind, know­ing that if I, be­ing among the smartest in my class back in high school, had cheated, surely the rest of the bell curve had too (After all, the only way of get­ting this data is un­re­li­able self-re­port sur­veys.), but then I re­al­ized what a perfect ex­am­ple of this fal­lacy I was mak­ing.

• Is there any re­search about chang­ing minds? My vi­su­al­iza­tion de­tail has im­proved over the last few months—any known and doc­u­mented cases of that hap­pen­ing?

And on the note of cheat­ing and shoplift­ing, my guess was 34 and 14. I never stole, but was aware of oth­ers who did. There seemed to be much over­lap be­tween the two groups...and of course I never cheated...in classes that mat­ter...

• “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.”

I perform at the SD 1 level on IQ tests, and I en­joy this web­site very much. An ex­am­ple of the “typ­i­cal less-wronger” fal­lacy, per­haps? Edit: “with few ex­cep­tions” is a caveat, but likely not a large enough one. There are surely many peo­ple like me lurk­ing here, be­cause are many more SD 1 perform­ers in the pop­u­la­tion than there are out­liers.

When I close my eyes, even if I hap­pen to be in a perfectly dark room, my vi­sual field con­tains fuzzy patches of colour, sort of like an af­ter­i­mage of a christ­mas tree with­out the tree, and per­sis­tent. Some­times the fuzzy patches are blue other times they are or­ange. I used to think this must be uni­ver­sal, but now I have sig­nifi­cant doubts about that.

Also, if I stare at the walls of a dimly lit room for long enough, es­pe­cially when I am tired, the room seems to ‘shift’ or shake around me some­how. This is only a rough de­scrip­tion, be­cause the words to pre­cisely de­scribe the ‘trans­for­ma­tion’ of the walls around don’t re­ally ex­ist in English.
Does any­one else ex­pe­rience these things?

• When I close my eyes, even if I hap­pen to be in a perfectly dark room, my vi­sual field con­tains fuzzy patches of colour, sort of like an af­ter­i­mage of a christ­mas tree with­out the tree, and per­sis­tent. Some­times the fuzzy patches are blue other times they are or­ange. I used to think this must be uni­ver­sal, but now I have sig­nifi­cant doubts about that.

Yes, I see things like that, too.

Also, if I stare at the walls of a dimly lit room for long enough, es­pe­cially when I am tired, the room seems to ‘shift’ or shake around me some­how. This is only a rough de­scrip­tion, be­cause the words to pre­cisely de­scribe the ‘trans­for­ma­tion’ of the walls around don’t re­ally ex­ist in English.

Yeah, I think I’ve felt some­thing like that, al­though it’s pretty rare for me to ex­pe­rience it. It’s a lit­tle like when you’re feel­ing dizzy be­cause you’ve been spin­ning...

• Never knew that this is an ac­tual phe­nom­ena. I just made up a fic­ti­tious world to put my point in my blog be­low: http://​​pon­der­ing­so­fanidlephiloso­pher.blogspot.com/​​2010/​​01/​​your-red-my-green.html

• After read­ing this last week I my­self have a typ­i­cal mind fal­lacy prob­lem. I hadn’t re­al­ized that other peo­ple re­ally didn’t do ev­ery­thing the way that I did, but af­ter be­com­ing aware that they might I re­al­ized that, in­deed, I was much more differ­ent than oth­ers.

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

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

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

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

• Also, how does the ca­pac­ity for ei­de­tic imagery cor­re­late with abil­ity to count vi­sual ob­jects? I can’t in­stan­ta­neously count more than about six things (e.g. mar­bles) at once or up to a dozen or so de­pend­ing how they’re ar­ranged. If you asked an ei­de­tic imager to imag­ine a bar code, and then asked them how many lines there were, would they be able to re­spond quickly?

Eide­tic imagery seems to be more a mat­ter of de­gree. If asked to imag­ine a table, I can tell you in­stantly the num­ber of chairs around it, but I would fail the tiger test. So per­haps pass­ing the tiger test has more to do fast count­ing than vivid imag­in­ing.

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

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

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

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

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

• Prob­a­bly from be­ing born twin I’ve long en­ter­tained a strong in­tu­ition that may be writ­ten down as “sup­pose is typ­i­cal your choice to­gether with what de­ter­mines it, and take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the re­sult”. There is a temp­ta­tion to re­late it to Kant’s im­per­a­tive, but there are prob­lems (typ­i­cally) illus­trated by the fact that is ob­vi­ous the re­la­tion­ship of my ver­sion to the topic of this page, while not Kant’s.

• So is there a pos­si­bil­ity, if we fol­low Gal­ton’s the­ory, that some peo­ple are born thinkers, and other’s born work­ers?

And could this mean that when we think of ‘the oth­ers’, the en­emy, as sim­pler crea­tures than us that we sim­ply can’t rea­son with, could that ac­tu­ally be true in some cases, race-re­lated to their ac­tual ge­net­ics, a whole so­ciety born with a cer­tain more drone-like way of think­ing that means we can never fully em­pathise with them from our en­tirely differ­ent men­tal per­spec­tive?

(slightly play­ing dev­ils ad­vo­cate here, some­what dan­ger­ous think­ing re­ally, but some­times truth is!)

I did find fas­ci­nat­ing the idea that ev­ery­one’s em­pa­thy may have a fun­da­men­tal flaw, in as­sum­ing our men­tal model of what we are is the same one we can ap­ply to ev­ery­one, though, and it’s hon­estly some­thing that, al­though I guess we all know it to some de­gree, I’d never ac­tu­al­ised into my con­scious think­ing be­fore, so cheers for that, made my mind pulse a bit, which I always love!

I im­me­di­ately thought about synaes­the­sia, peo­ple who see sound as colours and as­sume ev­ery­one else can, there’s a few tales I’ve heard about cer­tain com­posers shout­ing at the or­ches­tra to play ‘more blue’ (thanks to the won­der­ful QI I be­lieve) and such, and get­ting very frus­trated at their stu­pidity in not un­der­stand­ing these ‘sim­ple’ in­struc­tions!

I have a ten­dency my­self to de­scribe taste in mu­si­cal terms such as ‘It needs a bit more bass’, mean­ing a sort of meaty beefy low-end taste, or tre­ble, mean­ing the more high-end veg­etable ones, which to me are things like cit­rus and pea shoots, and to me it’s all self ev­i­dent, but I do get some funny looks at times!

• “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?”

How many times have you had women tell you that all men are jerks or are stupid and then ob­serve them seek out ONLY men who are jerks or are stupid and avoid men who are “nice” or “smart”.

Re­vealed prefer­ence beats opinion polls ev­ery time.

P.S. There is cur­rently a com­ment on my Face­book feed claiming that men are stupid. What is your prior prob­a­bil­ity dis­tri­bu­tion that she seeks out men who are stupid while avoid­ing smart men?

• The Vedanta has said for a thou­sand years—Every­thing is cre­ated twice:

• Once in the mind, and then in phys­i­cal reality

For any­thing to be cre­ated in phys­i­cal re­al­ity, it has to be first vi­su­al­ized, seen, ex­pe­rienced in the mind.

• I’m not even sure what point you’re try­ing to make, here, but the pre­sented con­cept seems clearly false to me: It is en­tirely pos­si­ble to cre­ate things by start­ing with a blank can­vas and then adding things that seem like a good idea un­til the en­tire piece looks right or func­tions as one wants, or to start from some sort of de­fault set­ting and tweak pa­ram­e­ters un­til one finds a new set of pa­ram­e­ters that are in­ter­est­ing, with­out plan­ning out the end re­sult ahead of time.