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In­side/​Out­side View

TagLast edit: 1 Oct 2020 18:25 UTC by Ruby

An In­side View on a topic in­volves mak­ing pre­dic­tions based on your un­der­stand­ing of the de­tails of the pro­cess. An Out­side View in­volves ig­nor­ing these de­tails and us­ing an es­ti­mate based on a class of roughly similar pre­vi­ous cases (al­ter­na­tively, this is called refer­ence class fore­cast­ing).

For ex­am­ple, some­one work­ing on a pro­ject may es­ti­mate that they can rea­son­ably get 20% of it done per day, so they will get it done in five days (in­side view). Or they might con­sider that all of their pre­vi­ous pro­jects were com­pleted just be­fore the dead­line, so since the dead­line for this pro­ject is in 30 days, that’s when it will get done (out­side view). Another term for tak­ing an out­side view is refer­ence class fore­cast­ing.

The plan­ning ex­am­ple is dis­cussed in The Plan­ning Fal­lacy. Pos­si­ble limi­ta­tions and prob­lems with us­ing the out­side view are dis­cussed in The Out­side View’s Do­main and “Out­side View” as Con­ver­sa­tion-Halter. Model Com­bi­na­tion and Ad­just­ment dis­cusses the im­pli­ca­tions of there usu­ally ex­ist­ing mul­ti­ple differ­ent out­side views.

I did 1500 piece jig­saw puz­zle of fire­works, my first jig­saw in at least ten years. Sev­eral times I had the strong im­pres­sion that I had care­fully elimi­nated ev­ery pos­si­ble place a piece could go, or ev­ery pos­si­ble piece that could go in a place. I was very tempted to con­clude that many pieces were miss­ing, or that the box had ex­tra pieces from an­other puz­zle. This wasn’t im­pos­si­ble – the puz­zle was an open box a rel­a­tive had done be­fore. And the al­ter­na­tive seemed hu­mil­i­at­ing.

But I al­lowed a very differ­ent part of my mind, us­ing differ­ent con­sid­er­a­tions, to over­rule this judg­ment; so many ex­tra or miss­ing pieces seemed un­likely. And in the end there was only one miss­ing and no ex­tra pieces. I re­call a similar ex­pe­rience when I was learn­ing to pro­gram. I would care­fully check my pro­gram and find no er­rors, and then when my pro­gram wouldn’t run I was tempted to sus­pect com­piler or hard­ware er­rors. Of course the prob­lem was al­most always my fault.

– Robin Han­son, Be­ware the In­side View

Fur­ther Examples

Th­ese illus­trate failure to use the Out­side View.

Ex­am­ple 1: Ja­panese stu­dents ex­pected to finish their es­says an av­er­age of 10 days be­fore dead­line. The av­er­age com­ple­tion time was ac­tu­ally 1 day be­fore dead­line. When asked when they’d com­pleted similar, pre­vi­ous tasks, the av­er­age re­ply was 1 day be­fore dead­line. (Buehler, R., Griffin, D., & Ross, M. 2002. In­side the plan­ning fal­lacy: The causes and con­se­quences of op­ti­mistic time pre­dic­tions. Heuris­tics and bi­ases: The psy­chol­ogy of in­tu­itive judg­ment, 250-270. Cam­bridge, UK: Cam­bridge Univer­sity Press.)

Ex­am­ple 2: Stu­dents in­structed to vi­su­al­ize how, where, and when they would perform their Christ­mas shop­ping, ex­pected to finish shop­ping more than a week be­fore Christ­mas. A con­trol group asked when they ex­pected their Christ­mas shop­ping to be finished, ex­pected it to be done 4 days be­fore Christ­mas. Both groups finished 3 days be­fore Christ­mas. (Buehler, R., Griffin, D. and Ross, M. 1995. It’s about time: Op­ti­mistic pre­dic­tions in work and love. Euro­pean Re­view of So­cial Psy­chol­ogy, Vol­ume 6, eds. W. Stroebe and M. Hew­stone. Chich­ester: John Wiley & Sons.)

It is con­tro­ver­sial how far the les­son of these ex­per­i­ments can be ex­tended. Robin Han­son ar­gues that this im­plies that, in fu­tur­ism, fore­casts should be made by try­ing to find a refer­ence class of similar cases, rather than by try­ing to vi­su­al­ize out­comes. Eliezer Yud­kowsky re­sponds that this leads to “refer­ence class ten­nis” wherein peo­ple feel that the same event ‘ob­vi­ously’ be­longs to two differ­ent refer­ence classes, and that the above ex­per­i­ments were performed in cases where the new ex­am­ple was highly similar to past ex­am­ples. I.e., this year’s Christ­mas shop­ping op­ti­mism and last year’s Christ­mas shop­ping op­ti­mism are much more similar to one an­other, than the in­ven­tion of the In­ter­net is to the in­ven­tion of agri­cul­ture. If some­one else then feels that the in­ven­tion of the In­ter­net is more like the cat­e­gory ‘re­cent com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­no­va­tions’ and should be fore­cast by refer­ence to tele­vi­sion in­stead of agri­cul­ture, both sides plead­ing the out­side view has no re­s­olu­tion ex­cept “I’m tak­ing my refer­ence class and go­ing home!”

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