Upvoted for providing an important deepening of the popular understanding of “Schelling point”
More generally, “portray yourself as an empathetic character” is a social skill I find myself using often. Basically copy the way the protagonists talk on This American Life, where even the ones who’ve done crazy things tell you their side of the story in such a way that you think “sure, I guess I can relate to that”.
If I reply with the naive factual response, “Yes I’m stocking up to prep for the virus”, and leave it at that, there’s a palpable awkwardness because all participants and witnesses in the conversation are at some level aware that this carries the subtext, “Yes I’m smartly taking action to protect myself from a big threat while you are ignorantly exposing yourself to danger”, which means a listener has to wonder if they’re stupid or I’m crazy. Even if the listener is curious and doesn’t take any offense to the conversation, they know that I’ve made a social error in steering the conversation to this awkward state, because it’s mutual knowledge that a savvy conversationalist needs to be aware of the first-order subtext of the naive factual response. The objective social tactlessness of my naive response provides valid evidence to update them toward me being the crazy one.
I think a more tactful response is, “Yeah, I know a lot of people say it’s not a big deal and I hope they’re right, but I think there’s enough risk that extra supplies might come in handy”.
If I first acknowledge and validate or “pace” the background beliefs of mainstream society, then it’s socially graceful to segue to answering with my honest beliefs. Now I’ve portrayed myself as an empathetic character, where any listener can follow my reasoning and see that it’s potentially valid, even if it doesn’t identically match theirs.
What are some examples of good PR that’s reputation-like and bad PR that’s not? It’d be interesting to analyze a failed high-budget public PR campaign.
A lot depends on what type of “interactions” we’re considering, and how uniform the distribution is: indoor/outdoor, masks on/off, etc. If we assume that all interactions are of the identical type, then the quadratic model is useful.
But in a realistic scenario, they’re probably not identical interactions, because the 100 interactions probably divide across different life contexts, e.g. 5 different gatherings with 20 interactions each.
Therefore, contrary to what this post seems to imply, I believe the heuristic of “I’ve already interacted with 99 people so I’m not going to go out of my way to avoid 1 more” is directionally correct in most real-life scenarios, because of the Pareto (80/20) principle.
In a realistic scenario, you can probably model the cause of your risk as having one or two dominant factors, and modeling the dominant factors probably doesn’t look different when adding one marginal interaction, unless that interaction is the disproportionally risky one compared to the others.
On the other hand, when going from 0 to 1 interactions, it’s more plausible to imagine that this 1 interaction is one of the most dominant risk factors in your life, because it has a better shot of changing your model of dominant risks.
“Go into a room and subtract off all of the screens. How do you know you’re not in 1973, but for issues of design?”
“Go into a room and subtract off all of the screens. How do you know you’re not in 1973, but for issues of design?”
At least if you’re in an average grocery store, you can tell it’s the 2000s from the greatly improved food selection
Another amazing post. How long does each of these take you to make? Seems like it would be a full-time job.
Thanks :) Hmm I think all I can point you to is this tweet.
I <3 Specificity
For years, I’ve been aware of myself “activating my specificity powers” multiple times per day, but it’s kind of a lonely power to have. “I’m going to swivel my brain around and ride it in the general→specific direction. Care to join me?” is not something you can say in most group settings. It’s hard to explain to people that I’m not just asking them to be specific right now, in this one context. I wish I could make them see that specificity is just this massively under-appreciated cross-domain power. That’s why I wanted this sequence to exist.
I gratuitously violated a bunch of important LW norms
As Kaj insightfully observed last year, choosing Uber as the original post’s object-level subject made it a political mind-killer.
On top of that, the original post’s only role model of a specificity-empowered rationalist was this repulsive “Liron” character who visibly got off on raising his own status by demolishing people’s claims.
Many commenters took me to task on the two issues above, as well as raising other valid issues, like whether the post implies that specificity is always the right power to activate in every situation.
The voting for this post was probably a rare combination: many upvotes, many downvotes, and presumably many conflicted non-voters who liked the core lesson but didn’t want to upvote the norm violations. I’d love to go back in time and launch this again without the double norm violation self-own.
I’m revising it
Today I rewrote a big chunk of my dialogue with Steve, with the goal of making my character a better role model of a LessWrong-style rationalist, and just being overall more clearly explained. For example, in the revised version I talk about how asking Steve to clarify his specific point isn’t my sneaky fully-general argument trick to prove that Steve’s wrong and I’m right, but rather, it’s taking the first step on the road to Double Crux.
I also changed Steve’s claim to be about a fictional company called Acme, instead of talking about the politically-charged Uber.
I think it’s worth sharing
Since writing this last year, I’ve received a dozen or so messages from people thanking me and remarking that they think about it surprisingly often in their daily lives. I’m proud to help teach the world about specificity on behalf of the LW community that taught it to me, and I’m happy to revise this further to make it something we’re proud of.
Ok I finally made this edit. Wish I did it sooner!
Update: I’ve edited the post to remove a lot of parts that I recognized as gratuitous yuckiness.
Glad to hear you feel I’ve addressed the Combat Culture issues. I think those were the lowest-hanging fruits that everyone agreed on, including me :)
As for the first point, I guess this is the same thing we had a long comment thread about last year, and I’m not sure how much our views diverge at this point...
Let’s take this paragraph you quoted: “It sounds meaningful, doesn’t it? But notice that it’s generically-worded and lacks any specific examples. This is a red flag.” Do you not agree with my point that Seibel should have endeavored to be more clear in his public statement?
Zvi, I respect your opinion a lot and I’ve come to accept that the tone disqualifies the original version from being a good representation of LW. I’m working on a revision now.
Thanks for the feedback. I agree that the tone of the post has been undermining its content. I’m currently working on editing this post to blast away the gratuitously bad-tone parts :)
The essay gave me a yucky sense of “rationalists try to prove their superiority by creating strawmen and then beating them in arguments”, sneer culture, etc. It doesn’t help that some of its central examples involve hot-button issues on which many readers will have strong and yet divergent opinions, which imo makes them rather unsuited as examples for teaching most rationality techniques or concept
Yeah, I take your point that the post’s tone and political-ish topic choice undermine the ability of readers to absorb its lessons about the power of specificity. This is a clear message I’ve gotten from many commenters, whether explicitly or implicitly. I shall edit the post.
In the meantime, I still think it’s worth pointing out where I think you are, in fact, analyzing the content wrong and not absorbing its lessons :)
For instance, I read the “Uber exploits its drivers” example discussion as follows: the author already disagrees with the claim as their bottom line, then tries to win the discussion by picking their counterpart’s arguments apart
My dialogue character has various positive-affect a-priori beliefs about Uber, but having an a-priori belief state isn’t the same thing as having an immutable bottom line. If Steve had put forth a coherent claim, and a shred of support for that claim, then the argument would have left me with a modified a-posteriori belief state.
In contrast to e.g. Double Crux, that seems like an unproductive and misguided pursuit
My character is making a good-faith attempt at Double Crux. It’s just impossible for me to ascertain Steve’s claim-underlying crux until I first ascertain Steve’s claim.
even if we “demolish” our counterpart’s supposedly bad arguments, at best we discover that they could not shift our priors.
You seem to be objecting that selling “the power to demolish bad arguments” means that I’m selling a Fully General Counterargument, but I’m not. The way this dialogue goes isn’t representative of every possible dialogue where the power of specificity is applied. If Steve’s claim were coherent, then asking him to be specific would end up helping me change my own mind faster and demolish my own a-priori beliefs.
reversed stupidity is not intelligence
It doesn’t seem relevant to mention this. In the dialogue, there’s no instance of me creating or modifying my beliefs about Uber by reversing anything.
all the while insulting this fictitious person with asides like “By sloshing around his mental ball pit and flinging smart-sounding assertions about “capitalism” and “exploitation”, he just might win over a neutral audience of our peers.”.
I’m making an example out of Steve because I want to teach the reader about an important and widely-applicable observation about so-called “intellectual discussions”: that participants often win over a crowd by making smart-sounding general assertions whose corresponding set of possible specific interpretations is the empty set.
Curve fitting isn’t Problematic. The reason it’s usually a good best guess that points will keep fitting a curve (though wrong a significant fraction of the time) is because we can appeal to a deeper hypothesis that “there’s a causal mechanism generating these points that is similar across time”. When we take our time and do actual science on our universe, our theories tell us that the universe has time-similar causal structures all over the place. Actual science is what licenses quick&dirty science-like heuristics.
Just because curve fitting is one way you can produce a shallow candidate model to generate your predictions, that doesn’t mean “induction is needed” in the original problematic sense, especially considering that what’s likely to happen is that a theory that doesn’t use mere curve fitting will probably come along and beat out the curve fitting approach.
I think at best you can say Deutsch dissolves the problem for the project of science
Ok I think I’ll accept that, since “science” is broad enough to be the main thing we or a superintelligent AI cares about.
Since “no one believes that induction is the sole source of scientific explanations”, and we understand that scientific theories win by improving on their competitors in compactness, then the Problem of Induction that Russell perceived is a non-problem. That’s my claim. It may be an obvious claim, but the LW sequences didn’t seem to get it across.
You seem to be saying that induction is relevant to curve fitting. Sure, curve fitting is one technique to generate theories, but tends to be eventually outcompeted by other techniques, so that we get superseding theories with reductionist explanations. I don’t think curve fitting necessarily needs to play a major role in the discussion of dissolving the Problem of Induction.
Ah yeah. Interesting how all the commenters here are talking about how this topic is quite obvious and settled, yet not saying the same things :)