# 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 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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 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.

• 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 in 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 strongly relate to that, although I have the opposite issue.

As someone with very easy aural imagination, I can very easily imagine tunes, and occasionally harmonies with a bit of effort.
There is a very clear distinction between what I constantly imagine and sometimes the perfectly clear music that I hear in my head.

I used to try doing that a lot, but whenever I noticed the imagination shifting to actual music, I’d lose my focus, which is a shame because I’ve tried reproducing this experience purposefully several times to no avail.

• 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?

• 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).

• 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?

• 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”.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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?

• 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.

• 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).

• “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.

• 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.

• 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 :)

• 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.

• “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

• 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.

• 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!)

• 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 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...

• 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.

• 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 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...

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• “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.

• 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.

• 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.

• You take 10 people, and ask them each in turn : “Imagine a tiger. Can you tell me how many stripes it has?”

• Five people tell you a number right away

• Five people scratch their head and say “I’m not imagining a specific number of stripes, what do you mean?”

… then you have a good clue as to which of these people have strong mental imagery. That’s useful, non-trivial information. I’m not sure which part you object to, and we seem to be talking past each other.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 14 Jun 2015 4:50 UTC
3 points

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.

• 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?

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

• done

• 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.

• 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 :)

• 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.

• 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.

• 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 …

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 29 Apr 2009 1:48 UTC
1 point

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...

%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.

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

• 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.

• 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...

• 21 Jul 2010 6:15 UTC
0 points

“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.

• 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.

• 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.

• “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?

• 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 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.