Mary Chernyshenko's Shortform

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Those brilliant guys made a plane from mud and sticks. It could not fly. It just stood there.

But even a man who could not understand a word of their language; who knew nothing of their way of life; who would never come to visit, - even such a man could see this thing out of his cockpit and know what it meant. And he would translate it, this only thing ever, into his own words and tell others.

Because the plane that never flies is a sign.

We have them polished in museums and rusting in abandoned hangars. There, we imbue them with meaning which is allowed to be personal.

...But you make one life-size model with one single possible interpretation, and suddenly it's cargo cult.

Some other people who play to win

It's a crowd I'd come into contact with as a manager of an online bookshop (and most of the reason I quitted). Usually, I can pretend they don't exist, but... we all know how it goes... and now that they don't make my blood boil every weekend, I can afford to speak about them.

"Some other people" will play to win - say, a facebook lottery with a book for a prize, and they will mean it. If they don't win, they will say the lottery was rigged. Public righteous indignation on every player's behalf is a weapon (and for the manager, a potent vaccine against righteously indignant polemics of many other kinds). Private appeals to the manager's pity; commenting the rules' exploitable/exploited loopholes - after the winner is announced; repeating actions which have already been answered elsewhere in the thread. I don't include 'filing a complaint' here, because it's frankly too straightforward for most of them, most of the time; the bookshop would likely send them a book with an eloquent blessing/apology, just to get them to shut up and earn good PR points for "owning up to mistakes". But in practice, it still matters too much to be the actual winner, and the brain of the trophy-gatherer works like other brains don't. At least not for a while.

I'm not unusually out-of-touch with customers; I was recommended for the job after two years in an offline shop. And this was... entirely different. I'd never encountered people with whole profiles dedicated to reposting online lotteries - living people I had to call on the phone. It is another world.

When I read about (simple) "pure" game theoretical problems, in which the players "care only about winning", I cannot reconcile the image of Worthy Rivals the author has in mind with the actual Really-Want-This-Whatever Whiners who seek out such contests. Get it, not the passively allowing themselves to be drawn into a strategic game kind of players, but the self-sorting to exploit as many offers as possible kind. They will be few, yes. Nobody of them might force their way through every single time.

But they will define the meaning of the rules you think you write.

I cannot reconcile the image of Worthy Rivals the author has in mind

What's the book?

Not any particular book, but rather some frequent conditions of game theory problems I have seen here and elsewhere (my fb friend keeps posting such pieces). "The players care only about winning" etc. Well, some people actually do.

The unshareable evidence.

I have a friend, a fellow biologist. A much more focused person, in terms of "gotta do this today", with lower barriers for action (e.g., I help her with simple English, but she is the one to tutor kids in it, and so on.) I have known her for about ten years.

And over time, I learned that her cousin died at seventeen. It was the time when atypical pneumonia was around, and he died in a hospital a week after he fell ill with typical symptoms, but his certificate had another kind of pneumonia in it. Officially, there was no AP in the area. And his death changed the familial structure so that it is still unbalanced, in a way, years later. Her sister has recently lost half a finger, after an accident with a saw, when there was a good chance of saving it. Both her children (one 14, the other 3 years old) usually get horrifying allergic swellings and fever from even the common bugs, and then only slowly get better. In the city region where she lives, there is one neurologist for ten thousand people, and she can't get an appointment. I keep hearing about such things when I visit her.

Her kids are unvaccinated.

We have talked about it, and she said all the usual things about vaccines causing autism, and the mercury, and the questionable quality etc. The Kitchen Argument uniting people all over the world.

Of course, the link between vaccines and autism was disproved, but this means that somebody did take it seriously. It's not one woman's struggle or suspicions, its The Statistics. You can discuss it much like weather - you're being polite! It gives me an ugly feeling, that a friend of mine should hide behind common and expected and false - she knows it's false - lore because she knows the script and to know that it was I who forced her to it. I and people like me gave her this shield.

But the pneumonia, the finger and the swellings, the life which she builds her thoughts around, never get mentioned. We've had the same education, we both know this has no relation to the narrow question of having some shots, but - there's shareable evidence, and then there's unshareable evidence. And in this setting, people don't have to update on evidence, even when they exchange some of it. With obvious goodwill all around.

This reminds me a little bit of the posts on anti-memes. There's a way in which people are constantly updating their worldviews based on personal experience that

  • is useless in discussion because people tend not to update on other people's personal experience over their own,
  • is personally risky in adversarial contexts because personal information facilitates manipulation
  • is socially costly because the personal experience that people tend to update on is usually the kind of emotionally intense stuff that is viewed as inappropriate in ordinary conversation

And this means that there are a lot of ideas and worldviews produced by The Statistics which are never discussed or directly addressed in polite society. Instead, these emerge indirectly through particular beliefs which really on arguments that obfuscate the reality.

Not only is this hard to avoid on a civilizational level; it's hard to avoid on a personal level: rational agents will reach inaccurate conclusions in adversarial (ie unlucky) environments.