Instrumental vs. Epistemic -- A Bardic Perspective

by MBlume2 min read25th Apr 2009188 comments

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Anticipated ExperiencesAliefEvolutionary PsychologyRationality
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(This article expands upon my response to a question posed by pjeby here)

I've seen a few back-and-forths lately debating the instrumental use of epistemic irrationality -- to put the matter in very broad strokes, you'll have one commenter claiming that a particular trick for enhancing your effectiveness, your productivity, your attractiveness, demands that you embrace some belief unsupported by the evidence, while another claims that such a compromise is unacceptable, since a true art should use all available true information. As Eliezer put it:

I find it hard to believe that the optimally motivated individual, the strongest entrepreneur a human being can become, is still wrapped up in a blanket of comforting overconfidence. I think they've probably thrown that blanket out the window and organized their mind a little differently. I find it hard to believe that the happiest we can possibly live, even in the realms of human possibility, involves a tiny awareness lurking in the corner of your mind that it's all a lie.

And with this I agree -- the idea that a fully developed rational art of anything would involving pumping yourself with false data seems absurd.

Still, let us say that I am entering a club, in which I would like to pick up an attractive woman. Many people will tell me that I must believe myself to be the most attractive, interesting, desirable man in the room. An outside-view examination of my life thus far, and my success with women in particular, tells me that I most certainly am not. What shall I do?

Well, the question is, why am I being asked to hold these odd beliefs?  Is it because I'm going to be performing conscious calculations of expected utility, and will be more likely to select the optimal actions if I plug incorrect probabilities into the calculation? Well, no, not exactly. More likely, it's because the blind idiot god has already done the calculation for me.

Evolution's goals are not my own, and neither are evolution's utility calculations. Most saliently, other men are no longer allowed to hit me with mastodon bones if I approach women they might have liked to pursue. The trouble is, evolution has already done the calculation, using this now-faulty assumption, with the result that, if I do not see myself as dominant, my motor cortex directs the movement of my body and the inflection of my voice in a way which clearly signals this fact, thus avoiding a conflict. And, of course, any woman I may be pursuing can read this signal just as clearly. I cannot redo this calculation, any more than I can perform a fourier analysis to decide how I should form my vowels. It seems the best I can do is to fight an error with an error, and imagine that I am an attractive, virile, alpha male.

So the question is, is this self-deception? I think it is not.

In high school, I spent four happy years as a novice initiate of the Bardic Conspiracy. And of all the roles I played, my favorite by far was Iago, from Shakespeare's Othello. We were performing at a competition, and as the day went by, I would look at the people I passed, and tell myself that if I wanted, I could control any of them, that I could find the secrets to their minds, and in just a few words, utterly own any one of them. And as I thought this, completely unbidden, my whole body language changed. My gaze became cold and penetrating, my smile grew thin and predatory, the way I held my body was altered in a thousand tiny ways that I would never have known to order consciously.

And, judging by the reactions, both of my (slightly alarmed) classmates, and of the judges, it worked

But if a researcher with a clipboard had suddenly shown up and asked my honest opinion of my ability as a manipulator of humans, I would have dropped the act, and given a reasonably well-calibrated, modest answer.

Perhaps we could call this soft self-deception. I didn't so much change my explicit conscious beliefs as... rehearse beliefs I knew to be false, and allow them to seep into my unconscious.

In An Actor Prepares, Bardic Master Stanislavski describes this as the use of if:

Take into consideration also that this inner stimulus was brought about without force, and without deception. I did not tell you that there was a madman behind the door. On the contrary, by using the word if I frankly recognized the fact that I was offering you only a supposition. All I wanted to accomplish was to make you say what you would have done if the supposition about the madman were a real fact, leaving you to feel what anybody in the given circumstances must feel. You in turn did not force yourselves, or make yourselves accept the supposition as reality, but only as a supposition.

Is this dangerous? Is this a short step down the path to the dark side?

If so, there must be a parting of ways between the Cartographers and the Bards, and I know not which way I shall go.

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Part of this is about how we draw a balloon around what 'you' are. If you are a talking ape, then that ape might be lying to itself. If you are a rationalist trapped in part of the brain of a talking ape, then you are just tricking another part of it's brain, which is entirely rational.

A bounded entrepreneur will keep searching until all likely problems have likely solutions, and he has at least one likely successful plan.It don't know if this would be a cause or an effect of optimism. (and by optimism I mean feeling like things will be ok, independent of your probability estimates of what will happen.) If I had to guess, I'd say you might find solutions in your attempt to rationalize why you're not worried about something that you would not find in an 'unbiased' search.

A pessimist might see problems coming that an optimist wouldn't see, but maybe that's just not enough of a disadvantage in todays economy.

Not really on topic, but very interesting story: Normal people are convinced by role players that they are in a magical universe. http://yro.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=91462&cid=7876768

Not really on topic, but very interesting story: Normal people are convinced by role players that they are in a magical universe. http://yro.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=91462&cid=7876768

That is an excellent story, and I don't think it would be at all out of place in a top-level post.

It would be even better if there are links that strengthen the claim that it's true (iff it's true). It's certainly entertaining, but I disbelieve it. For this to hold any water, the people in question should've been really drunk. There also should be a reason for all those magical land people to be consistently good actors.

0[anonymous]8yI dunno -- there was a programme on the Italian TV a few years ago where people were subjected to pranks, and some of them were made to believe stuff just as absurd. You might be overestimating the strength of non-rationalists.
6Eliezer Yudkowsky12yI second the motion. This is the most awesome illustration of conformity that I have ever, ever heard of.
4Scottbert8yDid a post ever get made of this? It is a really cool story, but I too disbelieve it although I'll admit it's possible -- it needs more details. Any LARP I've been to, I'd think the padded-stick swords and calls of "2 [damage]" and the 'monsters' consisting of people in masks would be a giveaway that something's up, even if there was a big stigma against breaking character and the RPers all thought the wedding guests were in on it. Also if I didn't know about LARPs and somehow became convinced I was in a magical land I'd want to see some magic, and since mages were a PC class there would be some around. I'd become suspicious when they threw beanbags or declared they'd made a force wall that I could walk right through. Maybe the guests had other priorities, though...
1VAuroch7yYou've probably only been to American LARPs. European ones, particularly in Scandinavia, are much more serious about things, and use minimize the unbelievable aspects. So the people playing skilled warriors are actually skilled warriors, the armor is more or less real armor, and the weapons are real (though unsharpened) weapons. Even in the US, long-runner LARPs (generally run in periodic several-day sessions, with a consistent cast of characters who persist from session to session) tend to be along those lines as well.
1smoofra12yseconded
2TheAtomicMoose11yI absolutely love that idea. But I think a clearer way of explaining it is that we are talking apes who have picked up this blunt, rotting bone of rationality and are using it as any other tool to pursue the same old talking ape desires. While the means are rational, the ends aren't even close. Anyway, great point and lovely imagery!

Excellent post.

Today's interesting background fact: Jeffreyssai has attained some rank in the Bardic Conspiracy by virtue of being a good teacher. Also, in their world, there's absolutely no such idea as "beisutsukai are not allowed to lie" but they consider it stylish to speak only the literal truth while pulling off a complicated plot - the fact that the adversary will be aware of this and watching makes it extremely difficult, which is why it is considered stylish to actually get away with it.

"Acting" in the sense described here wouldn't even be considered a special property of the Bardic Conspiracy, just a matter of day-to-day social machiavellianism. It's only Bardic if you're doing it to tell a story.

But of course I agree with your post: there's a huge difference. Maybe we could call it "self-pretending" instead of "self-deception". The difference is as large as the difference between lying to someone and writing fiction. Yes, there are residual dangers, yes, reading fiction or acting in a play can blend over into your actual belief pool. But to try out an alternative personality, is not to relinquish your art and lose your powers - it's not like trying to tell yourself a single actual lie.

6pjeby12yIn NLP, it's called "modeling". Other schools speak of "acting as-if". The key distinction between these concepts and the common conception of self-deception, pretending, or acting, is that when ou are acting-as-if, you are not allowed to signal that you're only pretending. That is, you must suspend your own disbelief, for others to suspend theirs.

Since I doubt anyone present is interested in my opinions on the seduction community, I'll just respond to the theater example. Entertaining an idea or indulging a fantasy that you are a skilled manipulator is wildly different from deceiving yourself into believing it. Thinking about the idea - turning it over in your mind, considering the ramifications and the ways you'd act differently if it were so - can of course affect your behavior.

But this isn't a special feature of entertaining ideas or fantasizing. Priming happens. Read a list of words about old age and Florida and you'll walk slower; think about Iago's machinations and you'll stand and speak in a cold and calculating way. Choosing to prime yourself to achieve a theatrical goal is just a way of self-consciously harnessing that mechanism for your own ends.

I doubt anyone present is interested in my opinions on the seduction community

I'm interested, but if you say it's not relevant to our main topic, I am entirely willing to trust you on it. (I have an SO and have never tried anything like seductionism. But I've heard more than one male rationalist claim that seductionists are systematizers worth listening to.)

5Alicorn12yIt's their goal, not their means of deriving methods to achieve their goal, that I would be tempted to take issue with if I tried to engage with the topic.

Just to provide a different female perspective, I'd heard about the seduction community a while back, and a few months ago decided to find out more about it. I read some (admittedly not all) of The Game, watched The Pickup Artist, and read a very substantial amount of material online, including most of the archives of a few blogs, my favorite of which was The Sinns of Attraction.

I take almost no issue with the seduction community, in fact my response is closer to the opposite. Insofar as the techniques advocated work, and I have every reason to believe they do, this seems to me to be, if anything, positive-sum.

Maybe I'm unusual girl, but what I remember thinking when I saw most of the advice was that it would totally work on me, and that that would be a good thing! For example, consider body language when approaching a group of girls. I hadn't given all that much thought in the past to what made me feel creeped out by some guys when they came up to me, but I always knew I didn't like that feeling! If more guys are learning to approach girls in a way that makes them more attractive and less creepy, I'm all for that, because that makes my life better.

To me, guys learning p... (read more)

To provide yet another different male perspective:

Some part of the success caused by "game" can no doubt be explained as a rationally justifiable taking-into-account of genuinely increased excitingness/attractiveness, but some other part of the extra success is no doubt better explained as a direct influence on the decision mechanism, not on the thing that it makes decisions about. "Game" that's mostly about the former strikes me as being a good thing for the reasons divia mentions; "game" that's mostly about the latter strikes me as being manipulative.

The part that I haven't seen emphasized is that in some cases PUA success shows there are security flaws in female decision-making about mating, and just like it's bad to exploit security flaws, it's bad not to patch them up. When evidence shows my decisions (or the decisions of members of a group I belong to) are not in line with the values I hold on a conscious level, I worry about how I can defend psychologically against the distortions.

Lest I be seen as taking easy potshots across the gender fence, I think the same is true for men and female appearance: being with a better-looking woman will make a... (read more)

2mattnewport12yCould you elaborate on these claims. Neither is obvious to me. Are you suggesting that people should altruistically pursue relationships with people they are not attracted to?
3steven046112yOK, the "certainly" was an overstatement. Probably there are some arguments from evolution you can make about how it's probably installed mechanisms that can work against (at the same time as being valid input to) your rational judgments of future happiness or whatever else you're pursuing. It's my impression that in men visual attraction is more like this than other considerations, but I might be wrong. No, that sounds like a terrible idea. Maybe it could tip the balance in close marginal situations; but I was thinking more in terms of altruistically exerting nonzero psychological effort to change what one finds attractive; I agree though that the process is mostly (or wholly?) not under one's conscious control. Probably I should have stuck to self-interest, as it's less minefieldy.
2mattnewport12yIt's fairly clear that men already do weigh physical attractiveness against other qualities when judging a mate, and in fact use different weights based on the length and nature of the relationship they are considering entering into. I feel I'd need to see more evidence to back up a claim that they consistently over-weight attractiveness in such a way that it works against their own long term interests before accepting that it is the case though. Indeed, 'attraction is not a choice'. I think there might well be scope for some rationally directed self-manipulation to direct attraction towards individuals that you judge to be more suitable than what your natural unguided instincts would guide you towards. I think it would be very interesting to see a movement amongst women to take the lessons learned by the seduction community and use them to redirect their own feelings of attraction towards individuals who they rationally judged to be more desirable partners.

I've thought similar things. As a married man, I've also wondered whether certain aspects of the seduction community could be repurposed to maintain a high level of attraction within a long-term relationship. The misogyny of some PUAs is very troubling like you note, though.

5divia12yWell, some people do write about relationship game [http://patrissimo.livejournal.com/966633.html], but it's certainly the minority of the material. And some of what I have read I find either a mixed bag [http://roissy.wordpress.com/2009/04/14/relationship-game-tender-lovemaking-edition/] or decidedly unappealing [http://roissy.wordpress.com/2008/03/27/dread/].
2patrissimo10yYou want this blog: http://www.marriedmansexlife.com/ [http://www.marriedmansexlife.com/]
6jefftk9yI started reading this some, and it's perspective is jarring. From the introduction: """ Let’s be real here – maybe you had some good reasons for marrying your wife – but we both know what really counted was you wanting to have sex with her. You might have done that “Pro and Con” thing with a line down the middle of the page, but whatever was on the “Con” column didn’t matter a damn compared to “I get to screw her!” on the “Pro” side of the page. I also know that apart from your hobbies, pretty much everything else in your life is just a hoop that you have to jump through to get back to having sex with her. """ They present as an authority on what people think, yet they are way far off in explaining my motivations for marriage and work.
6lukeprog10yYes. This is a point I emphasize quickly when discussing pickup with people. Do girls really want to keep being approached by so many men with creepy body language? I think not.

I think (from your comments here and elsewhere) you are putting far too much trust in the good judgment of unimproved human dating. Taking an outside view of various women you have known picking partners the normal way, were they able to reliably make good matches? How many of them ended up pair bonded to a bad match, and had to break up?

I think the truth about dating is that intimacy, companionship etc are what you have to build after you're in a relationship. The process that grabs up a single and whisks them into a pair bond is very non-rational, but it's the prerequisite for all the various advantages of a relationship. What the seductionists are trying to do is bump themselves over that one particular roadblock - for whatever reason.

6pjeby12yAs another commenter pointed out, "their goal" may not be what you think it is. It's much more accurate to say, "their goals", plural. There are people who want harems, and there are people who want to find a nice girl to settle down with and want to be the best person they possibly can. There are people who find out that a big part of what they really wanted was deeper friendships with -- or more respect from -- other men. Some people just wish they knew how to meet people and talk to them. Quite a lot of people start out thinking they need women to get self-esteem, and then end up realizing they could've had the self-esteem all along, and women have nothing to do with it. And then, within each of these major goal areas, there are a wide variety of subgoals pursued by different schools, and different worldviews to go with them. This means that the odds are very likely that, if you speak of "their goal" in the singular, you're speaking about a projection that has very little to do with "them". In a very real way, a significant part of the seduction community is really more like the "men's movement", disguised under a cooler-sounding cover identity, with less drumming and hugging.
6Alicorn12yIt is possible that my distaste for the subject has led me to be insufficiently familiar with the intricacies of the motivations of pickup artists. What I have seen (I read this blog [http://www.theyhatethegame.com/], and otherwise have only passing knowledge) leaves me with a very bad taste in my mouth about the practitioners, their attitude towards my gender, and the revolting dishonesty of the entire genre of interaction. That having been said, it's possible I'm an outlier. Maybe the fact that I don't generally hang out in bars or attend parties has left me with too high an opinion of the sort of women who can be found in those places. Maybe they're just as bad. I don't know. This is exactly the kind of uninformed, emotional shuddering I suspected no one would be interested in.

When I lived in Asia. I would bow to people, be extremely deferential to my superiors, and avoid saying any original thoughts out loud in any situation where I was not the highest status person. I didn't do this because that's Really Deep Down Who I Am, I did it because I read a book on dealing with Asian people, and that was what you were supposed to do. As a result, I got along with the Asians I knew and had pretty good relationships with most of them. If I'd been completely direct and honest all the time, the Asians wouldn't have "appreciated my honesty". They'd have fired me from my job and stayed away from me.

I don't feel guilty for "manipulating" any Asians. I did what I had to do to be successful in Asia, it made me happy, and it made the Asians who worked with me happy.

I interact every day with two groups of people whose ways I find even stranger than the Asians', those being extroverts and women. I basically coexist with extroverts the same way I coexisted with Asians; I read books about their behavior, I figure out what I need to do to get along with them, and I do it. Do I wish I could win their friendship solely by being myself? Yeah. But that was wh... (read more)

As an extrovert who likes talking to clever people, but often finds that there's a barrier between myself and the shy that needs to be pushed through, I really appreciate the efforts you have made to make it possible for us to genuinely like one another. I feel I ought to reciprocate. Is there a 'guide to getting along with introverts' somewhere? I'd imagine that since I don't know whether I'm doing anything wrong, I'm probably doing lots of wrong things and alienating people that I'd enjoy being friends with.

4TheOtherDave8yI don't know of any guides. My own strategies for working with introverts include: * Explicitly create a space for them to express their ideas, without obliging them to do so. E.g., ask open-ended questions in a diffuse way, rather than either putting them on the spot to express a position on a topic of my choice or counting on them to grab the floor when they have something they want to say * Explicitly pick up on the stuff they say, refer back to it often as I respond to it. (This is also helpful with extroverts, but for different reasons, and not nearly as necessary.) * Allow myself to be comfortable with silence... don't feel obligated to fill it. * Find tasks we can both concentrate on together, rather than concentrating exclusively on one another. (This is also helpful with extroverts, but for different reasons, and not nearly as necessary.)
4wedrifid8yI find extroverts are also less likely to remember what they have previously said. They are much more likely to get confused when you refer to their own statements.
1TheOtherDave8yHuh. I've never had that thought, but it is entirely consistent with my experience. Adds to toolkit
0Vaniver8yThis is the best place to start, I think- note how it is a foundation for the first and last items on your list.
0TheOtherDave8ySometimes. Sometimes not. Depends on the person and the situation. But it's one of the easiest things to do on that list, and it's something I can practice even in groups of extraverts. So, yeah, it's often a good place to start.
3byrnema12yThat explains a lot about a meeting several months ago in which I was the only Caucasian. I was only trying to signal my willingness to engage on the issue by coming up with a "helpful" idea but there were pained expressions and then the PI "responded" by just repeating exactly what he had just said before my comment. I would love to spend a few years learning Asian culture. I imagine it would greatly expand your skill-set to understand both Western and Asian paradigms. Or do the memes compete and confuse? I suppose a child raised in both cultures could find the synergy -- but what about a 'typical' adult? What did you find? Do the ideas synergize or broadly need compartmentalization? In response to komponisto, below: I did mean 'principle investigator', apologies if it was inappropriately assumed common knowledge.
4komponisto12ySorry to be off-topic, but: Even after consulting this list [http://acronyms.thefreedictionary.com/PI], I can't come up with a single meaning of "PI" that would make sense in this sentence. ( "Principal investigator" is perhaps the closest, but that would only be appropriate if you are a research scientist and everyone here knows this, likely because they're research scientists too.)
0TheAtomicMoose11yPrivate Investigator? :-O
2private_messaging8yJust a note: if what you says about Asians is true, then that is clearly a major cultural impediment to doing anything technological where you have to divide the cognitive load between multiple people. It would also explain some rather bizarre deficiencies in how Japan handled Fukushima which go beyond the incompetence of Soviet Union with Chernobyl.
5SoullessAutomaton12yAn honest question--would you find it as objectionable to similarly discuss other areas of interpersonal communication? e.g., I've seen a very similar tone and style (and even similar tricks suggested!) used in the context of discussing, for a business, how to make sales and retain customers. That is to say, is it the manipulative social engineering that bothers you? Or is it specifically that it's in the area of dating and romantic relationships? ETA: I notice after posting that Nominull does indeed find objectionable the entire idea of manipulative social engineering.

(Warning: My reactions to this topic have become affected by emotion. This doesn't change my actual opinions, but it is likely to change how I present them.)

I object to all forms of manipulation. I wish businesses, for example, would purely and simply be honest about the features of their product and compete on those alone. Advertisements annoy me unless they have independent entertainment or social value.

However, I think socially manipulative behavior is especially repulsive in dating/romantic relationships and between (ostensible) friends, because these are supposed to be paradigmatic cases of personal closeness and genuine affection. The closeness and affection seem to me much less than genuine if they're wrapped up in layers of showmanship. Whether I think retailers will live up to their ad promises or not, at least I don't operate under the delusion that they value me deeply and individually for my hard-earned personal traits and accomplishments. They want my money.

7pjeby12yWhen my wife is upset, she likes me to hug her and tell her that things are going to be okay. Am I being a showman if I do that, regardless of how I actually feel in that moment? If she's in a funk, and I say something funny or tease her to make her smile, am I being manipulative? If I go shopping with her, even though I'm not interested in shopping, but because I know if I'm there and I smile and ask questions and be helpful, she'll be happier, does that make me dishonest? And if, the first four or five times I did these things, I felt awkward and fake because it "wasn't really me", does that make me an evil person?
8Alicorn12yIf you want your wife to be happy, and you do things to make her happy, that's nothing but genuine. If you had to adjust your automatic instruments for happy-making to suit her preferences, as long as it's known that you're doing that, that isn't dishonest. If she asks you outright if you are interested in shopping... and you tell her you are... then I am pleased not to be your wife. But this is me. As I have said, I could easily be an outlier. Maybe I'm the only person in the world who hates being lied to enough to really want this kind of honesty.
5Z_M_Davis12yYou are not alone!
2pjeby12yWhy does it have to be known that I'm doing that? (Btw, all three things are things I learned about from the seduction community -- specifically, the importance of doing them whether I think they're "honest" or not.)
2Alicorn12yIf I were your wife, then what I'd want you to do would be to remark at some point while trying to bring me out of a funk, "This wouldn't have been my first instinct, but it really seems to make you feel better," or something along those lines. Then, assuming that in this parallel universe I retain my trait of honesty, I could determine whether it makes me feel better by a wide enough margin to be worth the cost and communicate that information.
4pjeby12yMy wife prefers I make the appearance into a reality, and is willing to overlook the time in between where I'm still working on making it such. Like me, she prefers an improved relationship to truth-at-all-costs. Don't get me wrong -- we went through many years of doing it your way, which also used to be my way. And it really, really sucked. I had argued for doing things that way, because in one of my first relationships, I was hit with a bombshell when my newly-ex told me that she'd had sex with me because she wanted me to like her, not because she wanted to. At that point, I went all radical honesty in my relationships, because I never wanted to be responsible for someone else doing something they didn't like or want, just for my approval. And it made a mess of several years of my relationship with my wife, because we were both unhappy and unsatisfied, because I insisted that we be "honest" in this fashion. Fortunately, we eventually came to our senses and decided to do something about it. Granted, it's only in recent years that we've had the technology that's allowed us both to start making the necessary changes in ourselves, not only so that we don't have to pretend, but also so that we don't care any more if the other person is "just doing that to make me happy". Because, as it turns out, doing something to make someone else happy is actually a good thing, as long as the person is happy to be doing it. If I'm happy that she's happy, then she's happy I'm shopping with her. 'Nuff said.
1mattnewport12yRadical Honesty [http://www.esquire.com/features/honesty0707] is a movement of its own. Interestingly one of the selling points seems to be success with women...
7SoullessAutomaton12yI'm afraid that's going to be a selling point of any movement that's marketing itself to men, irrespective of whether it's actually true.
3MBlume12yThere's an old Dave Barry column I'm trying to find which claimed that if you wanted to advertise to men, you must either show that your product will get them dates with bikini models, or that your product will save them time and money, which they will need, in order to date bikini models. He went on to say that given that the female mind is so much more complicated and nuanced than the male mind, you must convey a much more subtle message in order to advertise to women: you must tell them that, if they buy your product, they will be bikini models.
1CronoDAS11yI saw that one in The Dilbert Principle. I don't know where Scott Adams got it from, though.
0MBlume11yactually I think you're completely right.
3Alicorn12yThis approach conflates honesty with tactlessness.
1mattnewport12yI think you're being a little disingenuous... You say you really hate being lied to and you really want the kind of honesty where your husband would not lie to you about enjoying shopping but you also say that too much honesty is tactlessness. It almost sounds like you want complete honesty but only as long as it doesn't offend. People tell white lies all the time. They generally do it because they are being 'tactful' - they would rather mislead than offend. There's nothing wrong with that, white lies are a social lubricant. A preference for honesty is fine, even admirable, but if you believe you have a way of being always honest without ever being tactless then I'd love to know it.
3Alicorn12yI consider tact to be about what topics one brings up and in certain decisions about how to phrase a truth. If you're talking about X, you can say all and only true things about X without being unnecessarily rude. If you're not already talking about X (or doing something that implicitly makes X the topic), and it's not something that's polite to bring up, there is no need to express truths about it; that isn't dishonesty, that's being appropriately topical. If I were under a mistaken impression about a significant other's enjoyment of shopping (not that this would be likely to come up, since I don't care for shopping myself), that would be to no one's benefit. in a distant possible world where I go out and buy things recreationally, I would prefer to do so with people who actually share that interest and trust me enough to believe me when I say I want honesty. I am not a friendless loner; people who are friendless loners probably should look into that before they start hunting for romantic relationships anyway. If my significant other lied to me and said (s)he liked shopping, I'd take him/her along and be missing out on an opportunity to go shopping with someone who genuinely liked it instead.
6Psychohistorian12yAll of these hypotheticals have the common thread of having her best interests at heart. The objection Alicorn is making to the seduction community is that much of their technique is both dishonest and against the interests of the target. The goal is to get a woman really interested, sleep with her, then move on to the next woman, even knowing that this has a good chance of causing net suffering on the women involved. At least, that's what I understand her objection to be, and it's something I would also object to. A comparable (though still imperfect) hypothetical would be that you go shopping with your wife because you know it will make her feel obligated to agree when you propose something that she really doesn't agree with and that imposes substantial cost or sacrifice on her. You're manipulating her with the principle goal of advancing your own interests at her expense. Having a moral objection to this seems quite understandable. On the other hand, using techniques that have proven effective because it makes you better at breaking the ice, when you have reasonably good intentions, seems morally quite justifiable.
4Cyan12yI recommend Elana Clift's honors thesis [https://webspace.utexas.edu/ejc329/ElanaCliftThesis.pdf] on the subject.
1Alicorn12yBefore I download a PDF, could you say a bit about what is in the thesis and why you recommend it?
4gwern12yHere, let me do you the inestimable service of pasting from the intro... Long story short: the author's brother couldn't get a girl, so he joined them; this is her account of the motivation of such people, tied in with an attempt at a comprehensive account (as she notes, the best general overview of the seduction community seems to be Wikipedia!).
0Cyan12yThanks, Gwern. I would add only that the thesis highlights that although prestige in the seduction community depends on having good game, this isn't the only or even the main thing men get from membership.
9Eliezer Yudkowsky12yIf a man's prestige in the seduction community depends on his reports of how many women he has seduced, then, in the absence of non-gameable standards of observational evidence, this potentially invalidates everything they have ever concluded about anything.

If a man's prestige in the seduction community depends on his reports of how many women he has seduced, then, in the absence of non-gameable standards of observational evidence, this potentially invalidates everything they have ever concluded about anything.

As I understand it, gurus usually compete in the field, with students watching. It's not how many you did pick up in the past, it's how many can you pick up today, with what degree of elegance/speed, and with how "hot" of girls, as judged by the watching students. Such a rating method may not be objective, and lead to debates over who "won" a showdown, but it keeps them from devolving into complete non-usefulness.

By the way, in-field trainers and coaches are routinely expected to demonstrate for their students in the field, usually when, like Luke with Yoda, the student says that, "but that's impossible!" (Trainers sometimes remark that this is the most pressure-filled part of their job, not because they need validation from the woman or fear rejection, but because they'll be embarrassed in front of several students if they can't show some kind of positive result on cue.)

9Eliezer Yudkowsky12yOkay. That works.
1Cyan12yWell, yes and no -- not every PUA is a guru. Go on the forums and you'll see tons of pick-up stories. I'm not a PUA so I have no first-hand knowledge, but I think talking a good game gets eyes and respect.
0outlawpoet12yDoesn't that make the problem worse, though? If the feedback is esteem of students in the field, then you're rewarding the mentor who picks his battles carefully, who can sell what happened on any encounter in a positive and understandable light. The honest mentors and 'researchers' who approach a varied population, analyze their performance without upselling, and accrete performance over time(as you'd expect with a real, generic skill) will lose out.
3gwern12yIf I may: based on my minimal reading of PUA blogs & essays, I get the impression that picking battles carefully, & spinning losses, is exactly what is valuable about the techniques. Consider the previously mentioned thesis: the author's brother was not interested in a goal like 'increasing, over the population of all females, the success of an approach' or 'learning how to pick up any girl', but rather something like 'how to get a reasonably attractive girl, period'. If the seduction techniques worked on only one girl in an entire bar (but infallibly), that'd be fine by them. (I was particularly struck by one PUA who spent at least 2000 words discussing how to differentiate women who might sleep with him that night from 'princesses' who would require many dates and gifts before even considering sex.)
2elityre1y> (I was particularly struck by one PUA who spent at least 2000 words discussing how to differentiate women who might sleep with him that night from 'princesses' who would require many dates and gifts before even considering sex.) Do you still have a link?
2pjeby12yExactly, which is why talking about statistical models in this context is "academic", in the sense of "interesting to academics, but not particularly relevant to practitioners". Statistical models from experimental research can certainly inform practical approaches, but sometimes, one has to be "sorry for the Good Lord" in reverse: the theory may be utterly, totally, wrong, and yet still work. If you want your rationality to protect something, let it protect results rather than "truth". Well, as long as it was a girl they were interested in! ;-) But by the same token, the reader of a self-help book is only interested in whether a technique fixes their problem, not a problem or all problems. The bigger picture of truth and generalizability is -- rightly and rationally -- not their concern.
2Cyan12yYuck. Furthermore, yuck. Don't get me wrong -- results are very important. But getting the model right is the only way to guarantee results. Get the model wrong, and one day you might to do the equivalent of filling your car's gas tank with acetone.
1Paul Crowley12ybarfs
1gwern12yHis term, not mine. Disgusting as it may be, it conveys his point with exceptional clarity.
0Cyan12yThat would be the case if the students were buying just the experience of watching the guru. The students expect rather more than that.
1[anonymous]12yI run the website www.theyhatethegame.com - which has been mentioned in this post a few times. I used to be shy, insecure, lonely and without any girls in my life. After a low point a few years ago, I began reading books on self help, female psychology, evolutionary sexuality and relationship management. All of this information did NOT turn me into a social robot designed to manipulate people. It DID give me a feeling of safety because I learned that we all share the same human condition - we are all born, we all die, and we are all molded by life in-between. This idea helped to cure my shyness and insecurity because I realized everyone else was just like me. That feeling prompted a series of extreme social experiments over a period of three months where I determined - through trial and error - how to present myself in a way that provided others with the most pleasurable social experience. I found that by being the sort of person others liked, it would enrich their lives and provide my life with deep relationships that I so badly wanted. They Hate The Game exists to give men the same tools that I wish I had when I was beating my shyness and insecurity and starting to have lots of fun with girls. Some of you may view what I do as social manipulation (I accept that you have probably spent more time in libraries reading books on how to determine what is social manipulation and what isnt, so I'll let you be the judge of that.) but what helps me sleep good at night is knowing that my life is changed - and I have fulfilling relationships with women.
5Nominull12yI appreciate your honesty. Personally, I have to say that I get uncomfortable when I read or hear people discussing any sort of mind control techniques, whether they be the art of the pickup or the art of the sale, or even the art of the job interview. Why can't we just exchange information like cold mechanical robots and then make decisions only on the facts presented? Anything else strikes me as fraud. But I appreciate that this is a personal flaw of mine, that this wish is impossible, and that I would not want it granted even if it could be. What makes human interaction interesting is our attempts to control each other's minds, and I don't see how you can eliminate salesmanship without eliminating those things we value about human relationships. We would be left in something along the lines of Eliezer's catgirl dystopia, where you would never need to fear someone else's influence because everyone else who was real had been safely sequestered where the two of you would never meet.
9Alicorn12yI disagree vehemently with this statement. I don't want other people to approve of me for my salesmanship. I'm working on systematically eradicating dishonesty, secrecy, manipulation, and other forms of "salesmanship" from my personal relationships. I'm quite sure that this is going to result in me having fewer personal relationships over time, but they seem to be of higher quality. Since I started this project, I have not lost any friends to whom I was already close and someone has fallen in love with me. I have not turned into a "cold mechanical robot". Among the things I am honest about are my emotions. Another, purely pragmatic, trouble with personal salesmanship is that it confuses feedback. If you are being duplicitous in this way and someone disapproves of you, it could reflect either on your salesmanship or your actual characteristics and you don't know what to change if approval is your goal - and changing your sales pitch won't actually improve you for the better, which ought to be the real function of feedback. If I am honest and garner disapproval, I have the facts about what the disapproval was about and I can decide whether I value the disapproved characteristic over the potential approval or not.
2Nominull12yIf you are such a wonderful person that people will fall in love with you on their own accord, without being persuaded, then more power to you. Most human beings, myself definitely included, are not that lovable. It's not hard to see why this should be the case, either. The world is full of people optimizing their relationships for being loved. A person who optimizes his relationships working under the constraint that he cannot influence his target's decision processes is at a severe disadvantage, and will need serious natural advantages to remain competitive. I used to be a hopeless romantic. I credit/blame Eliezer's writing for changing that.
6Alicorn12yIt's just the one person, and I'm not discounting the luck factor. But if no one would fall in love with me "of their own accord", I should not lie, cheat, and steal to get them to do it anyway. That not only isn't the kind of love I'm interested in achieving, it bears no resemblance to the kind of love I'm interested in achieving. I am not an unusually wonderful person. I have a mixed bag of traits, and I happened on someone who isn't unduly bothered by my flaws and is remarkably enthralled with my positive characteristics - "honesty" among the latter. That is the way it's supposed to work; and if someone has so many flaws or so few positive traits that they can't find anyone who'll put up with them, the last thing they should do is add "manipulative liar" to the "flaw" column.

I am not an unusually wonderful person. I have a mixed bag of traits, and I happened on someone who isn't unduly bothered by my flaws

I think part of the reason women have a problem with the seduction community is because they have literally no idea what it is like to be a heterosexual male. Any girl within about 2 standard deviations of the mean of physical attractiveness will have been approached on numerous occasions by men who will introduce themselves and suggest further meetings. This tends to reinforce the belief that if you just 'be yourself' then someone out there will recognize you as a unique and special flower and fall for you. The truth is however that a guy who takes that attitude will never meet a woman, unless he's Brad Pitt or a rock star. The life experience of your average man and woman means that they will have great difficulty understanding each other since they literally live in different worlds.

3Alicorn12yFalse. False false false. This applies only to women with a certain social attitude who frequent certain social situations. (I'm bi, and therefore qualified to judge whether the women I've met fall into the physical attractiveness range you specify.) Look, I have some sympathy. There are some lingering cultural norms and an average sex drive to each gender that probably make things very difficult for heterosexual men to scratch their itches, for free, with women "within about 2 standard deviations", without resorting to either rape or the art of pickup. But you know what? Lots of people have desires they can't satisfy ethically. This isn't just the plight of straight men. It's the plight of physically unattractive or shy or cautious women; it's the plight of gay people in small towns; it's the plight of pedophiles and zoophiles and other people with unconscionable fetishes. I have some sympathy, but I'm not going to ethically greenlight dishonesty so you can get what you want by exploiting the poor judgment of other members of my gender. I'm just not. Incidentally, have you heard of the whole thing where "nice guys" are in love with their female friends and pine for them in long laments that they post on the Internet? It happens to girls, too. It is not the case that no one ever falls for a guy based on his personality. It's not even the case that no one ever falls for a basically average guy based on his personality. The difference is she probably doesn't say anything, and she might be a little farther south of the "mean of physical attractiveness" than the more shallow type of guy prefers.
2mattnewport12yIt may have been a slight exaggeration to say that any girl within 2 sd of the mean will be approached but would you accept that overall women are much more likely to be approached by men than the other way around? I would think that's a fairly uncontroversial claim. I can't provide direct evidence for that if you doubt it but there is supporting evidence from studies [http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/Papers.cfm?abstract_id=895442] of online dating. That paper found that the median number of first contacts for men was 0, the mean 2.3 and fully 56% of men received no first contacts. The figures for women were a median of 4, a mean of 11.4 and only 21% of women received no first contacts. My guess would be that real world first approaches are more heavily skewed than that because of the greater pressure of social convention in public situations that men should be the approachers. Anyway, it would seem your main concern is the ethics of pick up. Specifically it seems to be dishonesty that concerns you. That brings us back to the original discussion of whether your image of the seduction community reflects reality. I think you've picked up on the most unethical/dishonest aspects and letting that blind you to the range of other approaches that fall under the general umbrella. Dishonesty is not a requirement of pick up. Some people might advocate it but others will strongly advise against it. Neither is it the case that the main goal of pick up is a one night stand by whatever means necessary. Again, there are elements of the community that see that as the primary goal but they are probably in the minority. It's mostly about finding things that work to improve the chances of a positive interaction with women. It's up to the individual to decide whether any given technique is something they are ethically comfortable with and act accordingly.
2Paul Crowley12yI have to say, I went Googling for PUA next to words like "honesty" and "feminism" in the hope of finding a PUA community that was loud about ethical principles, and what I found was more exactly the opposite. What I read makes me want to press the work of sex-positive feminists like Susie Bright, Pat Califia, Carol Queen, Avedon Carol, or Greta Christina into the hands of everyone in the PUA community.
5pjeby12yIn PUA lingo, the term for "honesty" is "direct game": From a page by one Vin DiCarlo: In contrast, "indirect game" is the term for approaching someone without letting them know that you're attracted to them, and the bulk of "material"-oriented schools focus on it, whereas "natural game" or "inner game" schools are more likely to also be "direct". The reason you don't see much mention of honesty in relation to PUA, is because direct schools treat it as flat-out obvious, and indirect schools treat it as irrelevant, except where they're making excuses for why an opening line like, "Did you see that fight outside?" isn't "really" a lie. I believe Soporno is the only trainer who makes sex-positive feminism a focal point in his work, although I don't think he ever uses the word explicitly. Nonetheless, there are many natural game schools, although the google results for "natural game" are dominated by spam at the moment. TheApproach, CharismaArts, and UltimateNaturalGame are a few of the schools that are strongly or excusively "natural" in bent, and some, like Real Social Dynamics have a mixed bag of training, moving increasingly towards emphasis on natural/direct game and away from material except for overall logistics. Viewed as an outsider, I'd say that the trend among established training companies is increasingly towards natural and direct game, away from indirect/material. In part, this is a response to the fact that "canned material" gets played out through overexposure, but also just because as the trainers get older and more experienced, they tend to get more mature outlooks on life. (A lot of these guys start really young!) (The main reason I even follow the field these days is because competition in the increased emphasis on "inner" game aspects means that the PUGs are driven to innovate in the area of training people to believe in themselves and act confidently... which of course crosses over into my own area a bit. Back when the industry consisted mainl
2mattnewport12yI think it's probably fair to say that the community is primarily 'results driven' - you won't find a tremendous amount of normative ethics there. The most common ethical principle (if you can call it that) would be the idea that the ultimate goal is self improvement (inner game) - become the kind of person who is attractive without needing to rely on any kind of 'tricks' or dishonesty. If the sex-positive feminists you mention had advice that would actually produce positive results I imagine it would find a positive reception. I followed a link here to Greta Christina's blog and didn't find anything very enlightening there in the time I looked around it but if you have specific links to material you think is representative of the ideas you would like to spread please share them. My impression is that sex-positive feminists represent a very small percentage of women and so their views are not likely to be helpful in understanding how to relate better to most women. I am open to being persuaded otherwise though.
1cousin_it12yOver the course of human history, about twice as many women as men have been able to reproduce at all. How do you propose to end the inequality?
5Nick_Tarleton12yEven supposing the inequality needs to be ended, what makes you confident that it can be, ethically?
3cousin_it12yPickup techniques are already ameliorating the inequality by giving the loser guys a shot. Laws that encourage more equal paternal investment, and a more equal distribution of alimony and child custody decisions among sexes, could attack the problem from the other side.
3Nick_Tarleton12yPoint taken.
2Alicorn12yInequalities are only bad if they deprive someone of a right. You don't have a right to sex that you don't provide yourself - no one does. You certainly don't have an absolute right to father children. No way in hell do you have that right.
1cousin_it12yI do not believe that you seriously subscribe to this thesis. For example, even the most severe rich/poor divide doesn't deprive anyone of a right - no one has a right to someone else's money. Discrimination against women in the workplace doesn't deprive women of a "right" to be promoted - no such absolute right exists for anyone. Any other ideas?
1Alicorn12yI do hold it, but obviously it's more complicated than a single sentence. Severe poverty deprives people of rights to various forms of safety and health, or if not those, then to independence or freedom, that I think everyone has. Discrimination against women in the workplace deprives them of the right to be considered on their relevant merits. (If women really didn't have the relevant merits, then I wouldn't think the inequality needed resolution.)
0cousin_it12yI can invent similarly sounding vacuous rights to justify anything at all. For example, let's ban cars to give everyone the right to clean air. Or, alternatively, let's give everyone free cars: the right to transportation. Surely such a right is less far-fetched than your "right" to financial independence or the "right" to be considered, by me, on some "merits" that some organization defined as "relevant". (Thoughtcrime alert?) The point of this whole exchange being, of course, that your idea about rights is just a rationalization for defending the status quo of women having higher reproductive chances. No. Severe inequality can be bad for us all even when no "rights" are involved.
2Alicorn12yLook, I'm obviously not going to sufficiently explain and justify my entire novel ethical system in comments within comments within comments here on Less Wrong. Ask me about it in five years and I'll e-mail you a copy of my thesis, okay? That is, if you're actually interested in what I think about ethics instead of looking for excuses to put me down for not thinking you are entitled to reproductive opportunities.
4cousin_it12ySorry, I'll repeat it once again because your reply didn't really address my words. Reproductive inequality is not about anyone's personal entitlement to sex. Yes, it's bad, and it's bad despite being not about rights. It's bad because it entails inequal average chances of good stuff happening to random people who were unlucky enough to be born a certain way. It's bad in the same way that severe inborn IQ and ability gaps between people are bad. It's not, not, not about rights or "entitlements". Maybe your ethical system says in advance that if some issue isn't about personal rights, then it can't require a communal solution. Well... then your ethical system is wrong by the criterion of my ethical system and (I imagine) those of many other people.
5Paul Crowley12yCould you express the problem you see and the solution you propose in more directly consequentialist language? Different kinds of inequality can lead to different problems and therefore prompt different solutions. If you want to colonise the moon, fine, but it would seem weird to justify that in terms of a "fertility gap" between the Earth and the Moon, since that would be to state a "problem" that could be solved by reducing the fertility of the Earth.
4cousin_it12yFair objection. Myself, I don't much like the socialist angle of attack that always begins with the word "inequality". Inequality is only a problem because it leads to suffering: in our world many men suffer from being unable to have sex or offspring, whereas in a more equal world men and women would be matched more or less pairwise in percentiles of sexual market value. Yes, it would necessarily mean that some females settle for lower quality males than they currently desire, so your Moon analogy isn't completely unfounded. (I believe this thought is at the root of most female critique of PUA: they feel that when men deliberately increase their sexual attractiveness, it amounts to fraudulently disguising low-quality genes.) Disseminating PUA knowledge is one way to ameliorate the problem, helping the losers rise up. Another way would be legislation to promote more equal parental investment and more equitable child custody decisions in the hope that a) women loosen up and b) alpha men start having fewer ilegitimate kids, pushing more women out into the tails. And, of course, monogamy can be viewed as another attempt to rescue humanity from the Darwinian horror where a few alpha males get all the girls, and all lesser males are expendable labour and war fodder.

I believe this thought is at the root of most female critique of PUA: they feel that when men deliberately increase their sexual attractiveness, it amounts to fraudulently disguising low-quality genes.

IAWYC here, but I'm pretty sure they're not actually thinking about genes.

0[anonymous]12yEven supposing the inequality should be ended, what makes you confident that there is an ethical way to end it?
3Paul Crowley12yI have a problem with the seduction community because it openly advocates treating women dishonestly.
2pjeby12ySome schools are just as vehement about being absolutely, utterly, bluntly honest. But if you're a reporter, which parts of the community are you going to write a story about?
2Paul Crowley12yI'm going by the way people talk about it here; most hint darkly, and Sirducer who has spoken most openly has explicitly advocated dishonesty. I'm glad to know there's another side to it - I'd be interested to read more about that, if you have pointers.
8pjeby12yOne example of that would be Johnny Soporno; in particular, his free "Seductive Reasoning [http://www.johnnysoporno.com/WPI/philosophy-seductive-reasoning.html] " video series. I've only watched the first couple of tapes, but those made it pretty clear his philosophy is centered on liberating women from the societal slut/whore dynamic. I know there are others, I'm just not recalling offhand anything else that's available for free or that is this explicit (in the sense of being verbally advocated). In some of my other comments, though, I've mentioned that there are entire methods based on honest SOI, such as the book "Mode One: Let The Women Know What You're REALLY Thinking". Edit: Soporno's site also has this interesting article on guys who blame women for their problems [http://www.johnnysoporno.com/WPI/reframingrejection.html].
2[anonymous]9yI don't like that analogy, anyway. I don't think any fish would actually want to be caught by you in any circumstance, whether I'd rather women actually would want to have sex with me, as opposed to being ‘baited’ and ‘caught’ by me. ( Would want ≅ CEV here; the overwhelming majority of women don't want sex with me right now (e.g. because they've never met me yet) but I guess this doesn't mean I'll never be able to have consensual sex with any of them short of unethically manipulating them. I hope that makes sense.)
0TheOtherDave9yThe amount of sense it makes to me correlates pretty well with how well I understand the boundaries of categories like "unethical manipulation," "baiting," "catching," etc., are. Unfortunately, I don't understand the boundaries of those categories very well.
4elityre1yI'm aware of this book: Models: Attract Women Through Honesty [https://www.amazon.com/Models-Attract-Women-Through-Honesty/dp/1463750358].
0MBlume12yUpvoting you doesn't seem like quite enough. There needs to be a "this comment is strongly confirmed by my experiences" button
5Nominull12yI bet if you squint a little, they would look a lot alike, actually. Why do you think you're special? Why are you taking the inside view [http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/09/planning-fallac.html]? Do you think humans in general don't want people to fall in love with them if they have to work on them to bring it about? This talk of "the way it is supposed to work" strikes me as irrational; you are looking at what "ought" to be, what you want to be, and ignoring what actually is.
3Alicorn12yI don't know what humans in general want, but I don't think I'm completely alone - an illustrative cartoon [http://cowbirdsinlove.com/436] - in wanting affection that is genuine in the way I describe. But maybe I'm a rare specimen? If you're content to have relationships where you and others model each other on a web of carefully selected half-truths, I'm not exactly going to parasail in and demand that you stop like a spandex-clad vigilante for truth and transparency. You simply won't have anything, in having that relationship, that I have an inclination to value, promote, or normatively endorse. Also, I don't see how the link is relevant. The article is about deadlines and cost estimates and there's nothing apparently applicable to this topic.
2Nominull12yThe article is about the dangers of considering yourself a rare specimen, the talk of deadlines and cost estimates is just for concreteness. That's a really good cartoon, by the way, because it can make two people on the opposite sides of an argument each think it supports their own point. To me it seems like the construction of the third robot was just as wrongheaded as the first two, and that the scientist has a fundamental confusion about the nature of love stemming from romanticism. But clearly you see it differently.
0Alicorn12yI considered it illustrative not because of the third robot, but because of the second one. It had - ostensibly - freedom, but circumstances were manipulated by the scientist so it would love the scientist. The resulting love is not valuable. Seduction is a subtler circumstance manipulation than that, but otherwise similar-looking.
3pjeby12y90% of what guys want from the seduction community is the ability to confidently approach a woman and start a conversation, so that they have a chance to get to know each other, and find out if they want to do something more. As some put it, "I'm looking for the One, but I don't know what I would say when I meet her." Yeah, there's maybe 10% who, like Sirducer, just want to get laid, and are looking for a formula to do that. I have the impression, though, that quite a few of those guys end up raising their standards, when they realize that it's just as empty as you're saying. Read e.g. Neil Strauss' book, "The Game" -- it ends with him being really glad that he found a woman his more-manipulative tricks didn't work on... and yet, he never would have had the confidence to even talk to her in the first place if he hadn't already had so much successful experience with comparably intimidating women (in terms of looks, intelligence, strong personalities, etc.) To put it another way, actually being confident, caring, and knowing ways to please women (in and out of the bedroom) is not a trick. But for many people, the only way to get there is to first learn tricks. If they have to wait until they can do it without any tricks, they will never be able to start. And that would be a terrible shame, for an awful lot of men and women.
1Alicorn12yThere is a dramatic difference between learning tricks to increase confidence/social success and then not sleeping with anyone under false pretense (via honesty or just ending the game three-quarters of the way through), and learning tricks to increase confidence/social success and then proceeding to use them to get poorly-informed women to have sex. I assume it's possible to do the first thing.
4pjeby12yYep. Actually, from one trainer's blog, I get the impression there's a paradox, though. The trainer tells a student: go over there and get blown out (rejected). Say whatever you have to say to get those women to reject you. Paradox: the set opens, the student gets attraction, because he's absolutely at ease, not caring about the outcome. The more outrageously he speaks and acts, the more the women perceive him as a confident guy who's just being playful with them. Now, the trainer says, "okay, you see how well it works when you're confident? Now go over there and talk to those other women and do the same thing..." Student gets blown out, because now he cares. So, it's not quite that simple. When the entire point of the exercise is to be confident taking things all the way to the end of the process, bailing out becomes an excuse not to face the fear of the next step. And if somebody bails at LMR -- the last possible moment before sex occurs -- then the woman is going to be just as disappointed, if not more, than if the guy went all the way. i.e., if you get to LMR, you already got somebody to go home with you or vice versa, and it's very likely the case that she did so, already wanting to have sex with you! I guess what I'm getting at, is that a premature ending can be more deceitful/hurtful than going all the way, if the entire subtext was that the woman wanted to get laid and the guy was providing her with excuses. I'm really not that familiar with that kind of game, and find it a turnoff, as I prefer women who can be direct about their desires. Doesn't mean I want to deprive those women of having any outlet at all, just because society's taught them they're not supposed to want it or be direct... even less if it's because of their genes!
0Nominull12yThat sounds like you are trying to say you can learn karate by kicking the air in front of someone. [http://mcdojo-faq.tripod.com/#whyfullcontact]
0Alicorn12yOnly if your goal really is sex by hook or by crook. Clearly, not having sex will not increase your capacity to just plainly and simply get sex. But if someone finds seduction appealing because they want confidence and social skills, there is no obvious reason they have to take the suggested tricks to the point of actual sex under false pretenses in order to develop them into skills.
0SoullessAutomaton12yKicking the air in front of someone would be more analogous to practicing your confidence tricks talking to a dressmaker's dummy, then never actually going out and talking to women.
1SoullessAutomaton12yWhy is it irrational to think that the ways things ought to be is different from the way they are?
1Nominull12yIt's not, of course. But you should be careful not to mix the two up and, for example, give romantic advice based on how you feel relationships ought to work.
2Alicorn12yI wasn't giving romantic advice. I was giving ethical advice, and my personal data point on why the ethical advice won't necessarily spell romantic doom.
0mattnewport12yIt's not. What's irrational is to let your idea of the way things ought to be prevent you from acting in such a way as to achieve your desired goals given the way things actually are
2SoullessAutomaton12yAnd if one's goal is "have a relationship that meets criteria X", disregarding criteria X only serves to better attain the goal "have a relationship" which isn't what one actually wanted in the first place. You seem to be making unwaranted assumptions about other people's goals.
0mattnewport12yI don't think I'm making any assumptions about other people's goals, I'm just saying that allowing beliefs about the way you'd like the world to be to interfere with success in the actual world is irrational. In the special case where maintaining your belief is a high priority goal in itself that obviously factors recursively into your decisions in a complicated way. A community of rationalists who give short shrift to religious arguments for god along the lines of 'I wouldn't want to live in a world without god' and that professes a high regard for truth would at least be receptive to the idea that maintaining false beliefs is not a strongly defensible position I would think.
2SoullessAutomaton12yValuing "a relationship meeting criteria X" is not a belief, it's a term in a utility function. "People would be better off if their relationships had criteria X" is a belief that may or may not be justified. Determining the latter to be false in the general case does not invalidate the former. Furthermore, your argument seems to be based on the observation "Most relationships do not meet criteria X" which is true but logically irrelevant to either of the above propositions.
1Sirducer12yAgain, if you want to obtain the result of getting sex, learning how to manipulate people and not being afraid to lie in social interactions is a great way to get that result.
1Alicorn12y...and we come full circle to: If your goal is to get sex and that's all, the ethical choices are to explicitly advertise this goal and find someone who shares it, or to take the solo route. As I said, I'm not offering practical advice for the morally indiscriminate pickup artist. I'm talking about ethics.
-7Sirducer12y
0mattnewport12yAre you interested in becoming more informed or is it just a topic you prefer not to touch? Both are valid positions but in the latter case the discussion is probably best ended here.
0Alicorn12yThe blog I linked to in another comment is my dose-controlled information drip. If you want to offer a substitute that you think is more representative, I'd be interested in that. I don't care to spend a large block of time investigating the art of pickup.
5MBlume12yFor the record, I am not myself a member of the seduction community, and in fact got the first draft of this post badly wrong [http://lesswrong.com/lw/cn/instrumental_vs_epistemic_a_bardic_perspective/9ng] as a result. My feelings on the question of goals are best stated here [http://lesswrong.com/lw/9p/extreme_rationality_its_not_that_great/6ir]. All that being said: let us say that I am single, and that all I do is sit in my room and write posts on Less Wrong. And let us say that I have a term in my utility function for being in a happy relationship (which I emphatically do [http://lesswrong.com/lw/c0/the_ideas_youre_not_ready_to_post/8ok]). The one would give me excellent advice by telling me to walk outside my bedroom from time to time, rather than writing for an audience which is a) mostly male, and b) geographically far-flung. So, in this extreme case, we see that there definitely exists non-manipulative romantic optimization. The only question left to ask is how much more optimization we can get before we run into the scuzzy manipulative stuff. I think you and I would agree that that border should be drawn fairly conservatively. Nonetheless, behind that border there probably exists an art well worth learning for those of us who are alone, and wishing we weren't.
9MBlume5y...amusingly enough, "sit in my room and write posts on Less Wrong" turned out to be a pretty good move, in retrospect.
0Crux5yDid you gain any skills which allowed you to achieve the position you have now which were acquired through not "sitting in your room and writing posts on Less Wrong"? (I assume your point is that you met your partner through Less Wrong.)
1Eliezer Yudkowsky12yUnderstandable. And yeah, that's probably not strictly on-topic, just the degree to which they are good or bad systematizers. (Just so that I don't sound too much like a prude here, I do agree with Michael Vassar, Robin Hanson, and Tyler Cowen that there is an unexplained shortage of sex [http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/12/the-best-exerci.html].)
2Alicorn12yThe shortage is only unexplained if you look at sex as a physical act taking place in a complete vacuum, competing with taking a nap or watching TV.
5Eliezer Yudkowsky12yThere are micro-baby-booms nine months after long power outages. Sex apparently does compete directly with watching TV. Sex is also more pleasurable than TV, so why does sex (presumably) go back down when you turn the electricity back on again? (Not sure we should go into this, but I do still agree with Vassar/Cowen/Hanson - albeit I might phrase it, "There is an unjustifiable shortage of sex", not "There is an inexplicable shortage of sex". Of course I can think of possible explanations too. But none of them imply that people are having too much sex, and it's unlikely that people are having exactly the right amount of sex, so...)
9Alicorn12ySnopes says otherwise. [http://www.snopes.com/pregnant/blackout.asp] Even if Snopes is mistaken, that kind of fluctuation could result from a power outage interfering with the responsible use of birth control. Can't find your pills in the dark? Don't want to go out when all the streetlights are off to run to the drugstore for condoms? Meh, don't let that stop you. I think that individuals are probably very likely to have the wrong amount of sex, but it is my suspicion that on average we're doing okay.
1Eliezer Yudkowsky12yThanks for the correction. (Though I still disagree about the average part, but for this just see Vassar, Cowen et. al.)
0mattnewport12yI think you're mistaken if you believe there is a single shared goal. I've seen examples of many different goals that can all be furthered by some common techniques. I can certainly understand why someone might object to some of the goals of some members of the community but the implication that there is one common goal is inaccurate.
0pwno12yThat is more applicable to the "structured" school of thought. With natural game, you have internal goals too, like "having fun."
3Annoyance12y"Entertaining an idea or indulging a fantasy that you are a skilled manipulator is wildly different from deceiving yourself into believing it. " Distinguishable, yes - but as far as much of our minds are concerned, there is no difference. They tend to treat an imagined or hypothetical scenario as though it were actual data and actual conclusions - and the more clearly the situation is envisioned, the more strongly the pseudobeliefs are held, the more powerfully they'll respond. People tend to become what they pretend to be. The longer and more intensively the pretense is maintained, the more likely they'll come to believe it themselves. Remember, too, that we derive our ideas about ourselves by observing our own actions and then making up stories to account for them. If you can induce people to act as though they believed something, they'll tend to conclude that they believe it, and act accordingly in the future.
5Eliezer Yudkowsky12yExaggeration. There is a difference. There is a major difference. It's just that there's also major overlap left over.
2Alicorn12yCognitive dissonance works as a sort of an inference to the best explanation when people behave in ways they don't understand. An actor on stage understands exactly why he acted the way he did: he's an actor, pretending to be someone else. There's no reason for cognitive dissonance to come into play.
5Annoyance12yThe higher functions of the actor's mind know that, yes. Do all of the lower functions? We know that putting our faces into the expressive configurations associated with emotional states induces those feelings in ourselves, even though people know that the expressions are completely artificial and that they have no reason to feel that way. I suspect you're trying to create a sophisticated explanation for the behavior of some very unsophisticated cognitive modules.
2beoShaffer8yWhile priming as a whole has not been (completely) discredited severe doubts have been cast on the walking speed study [http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0029081].

When we need to enlist the help of our subconscious, it seems there is a need for useful deceptions... The reason this seems counterintuitive may be that we consider ourselves to be operating directly on physical and social reality, but we are not. We are going through a convoluted stack of legacy hardware that is antiquated but powerful. To make things worse, the abstractions it uses are broken. So if a parameter is 'Current Status In Tribe', this makes no sense today, for one thing, there is no tribe. However we know that inserting the value 'high' in th... (read more)

6pjeby12yIt's not doublethink... it's refraining from doubt. In other words, it's single-think. If you're doublethinking, you're doing it wrong.

It seems like you've already worked out the answer with good epistemology (you must act dominant) but you can't apply it unless you put yourself in a less epistemically correct state.

But were you in an epistemically correct state to begin with? Your thoughts were. Your executing adaptations weren't; they were shaped around an assumed bone-wielding alpha male.

Isn't what you've done really more like "moving the untruth around"?

Isn't this rather like the Bayesians v. Barbarians concept--that rational goals may sometimes require sub-parts of the entity reaching for those goals to simply fall in line?

The Game then becomes both a systematic way to override some evolutionary hangups while activating others more strongly, both of which help the person doing them to achieve deliberately chosen goals.

I see a useful analogy between the mind's control of its various sub-parts and a general's control of his brigades/troops.

As a consumer of rather than a participant in drama, I would call it suspension of disbelief - ie the thing that allows us to feel fear when the hero is in peril, even though we know rationally that the gun is a prop held by an actor.

Still, let us say that I am entering a club, in which I would like to pick up an attractive woman. A reading of The Game will tell me that I must believe myself to be the most attractive, interesting, desirable man in the room.

Sorry, but I have extensive knowledge of the seduction community and this assertion is wrong, even though it may be written in "The Game". Btw, can you quote where exactly it is written?

Mystery one of the greatest teachers in the community has coined the phrase: "Competence over confidence". The key is to have... (read more)

5MBlume12yMea Culpa -- I should've know better than to round to the nearest stereotype.
3pjeby12yBut that's just his personal road to confidence, and one that's suitable for people who need to believe that they're skilled in order to feel confident -- as opposed to people who prefer "natural" or "inner game" schools. What kind of competence is being displayed by the use of random openings like, "I like salad"? What kind of competence is a natural -- who's never heard of Mystery's A1 and C3 and such -- displaying? (Btw, I agree that MBlume needn't consider himself the most attractive, etc. man in the room.)

This is only dangerous if one supposes that the Cartographer's map is irrevocably damaged by hiding it with the bard's illusions. To the extent that one can select an appropriate mask, wear it for a while, and remove it to be none the worse for wear--what is the harm?

In fact, given the potential uses in optimizing the cartographer's interpersonal communication skills, there's an argument to be made that learning some of the secrets of the Bardic Conspiracy ought to be de rigeur for the aspiring cartographer.

2MrShaggy12y"In fact, given the potential uses in optimizing the cartographer's interpersonal communication skills, there's an argument to be made that learning some of the secrets of the Bardic Conspiracy ought to be de rigeur for the aspiring cartographer." I agree with this. There may be some dangers from knowingly rehearsing false beliefs but there are also dangers from not being able to do so effectively. To me, it seems there is strong evidence that interpersonal skills increase with 'acting'-like abilities and only weak evidence that acting, etc. involve significant distortion of belief system.

Well, no, not exactly. More likely, it's because the blind idiot god has already done the calculation for me. Evolution's goals are not my own, and neither are evolution's utility calculations. Most saliently, other men are no longer allowed to hit me with mastodon bones if I approach women they might have liked to pursue. The trouble is, evolution has already done the calculation, using this now-faulty assumption, with the result that, if I do not see myself as dominant, my motor cortex directs the movement of my body and the inflection of my voice in a

... (read more)
1Vladimir_Nesov12ySeems relevant here: Hand vs. Fingers [http://www.overcomingbias.com/2008/03/hand-vs-fingers.html], Angry Atoms [http://www.overcomingbias.com/2008/03/angry-atoms.html].

Wouldn't the lie you tell yourself in the situation be the best summary of useful behavior, or a utility function, AS a statement of fact? The best way to act is not in any way a statement of fact; but to represent to ourselves a situation and our best course of action in it, we must frequently encode the information as a set of facts. As you say, a full game-theoretical expose of how I should ACT is not possible. Therefore, I represent to myself some useful idea of what the situation IS, not based on its accuracy, but on its utility. This is an AS IF argument.

I like your description of how your body language changed. As to whether it's dangerous, I'd say the question is a little broad.

Let's take the earlier example from The Game. I would argue that the false belief version you present (most attractive, etc.) can be a useful counter to Bruce-programming (self-defeating behavior), but that it is not necessary or even optimal to have a false belief of one's status (except perhaps as a training stage) to exhibit attractive body language. But maybe that's beside the point, because I would not be surprised if some... (read more)

1byrnema12yThe only example I can think of where self-pretension would be best is if you are trying to fully empathize with another person, Daniel-Day Lewis style, perhaps as a way to predict what they'll do next (or behave exactly like them in a play) . I would like to ask the following question: If you incorporate their beliefs, to what extent is this self-pretension or just an attempt to incorporate them in your brain? (I.e., dedicating some subset of your brain neurons to simulating them?)
1MrShaggy12y"If you incorporate their beliefs, to what extent is this self-pretension or just an attempt to incorporate them in your brain?" I don't think we know enough neuroscience to know. Either way it is some set of neurons 'adopting' those beliefs. The question I guess is whether that set can become part of your system of beliefs that influence your day to day actions subsonsciously and consciously? I can't make the question clear which I think is because we don't understand the architecture well enough to do so.
0MBlume12yExcellent question. I have heard claims connecting Heath Ledger's death with the intensity of his performance as The Joker, but I am in no position to know the truth of the matter.
2MrShaggy12y"Excellent question. I have heard claims connecting Heath Ledger's death with the intensity of his performance as The Joker, but I am in no position to know the truth of the matter." I didn't look into it systematically, but I did briefly, and it looked like one of those claims people like to say (and that helps sell papers). I can't rule it out, but without actual evidence, I think it's worth ignoring.

Interesting post. Is self-pretension ever the most rational course?

All that would be required to convince me is a single example where self-delusion yields a win where the complete truth does not. However, I’m not convinced. It is my intuition (I recently asserted exactly this in a post draft and worried over how to defend it) that the complete truth will always be enough.

Consider the example in this post: it seems to me that if you believe in the notion of “alpha-males”, then you're already deep in illusion before your self-pretension that you are an alp... (read more)

2MBlume12yThis sounded extremely odd to me, until I reread it and realized that I'd already come close to using it. I did West Side Story my junior year. The whole score to the show is structured around the half-octave (also called the tritone, or the Devil's Interval -- basically the most dissonant interval in all of music). There'd be roaring finishes to songs where we'd be on these incredibly dissonant intervals, and the only way I could find to keep my voice from rounding to the nearest pleasant interval -- a major fourth or fifth -- was to push myself into a state of sheer bloodymindedness, where I wanted the dissonance, loved it, wanted to put as much of it into the world as I could, absolutely gloried in the ugliness of those notes together. It was a lot of fun, and I was on pitch, so I can't help but wonder if the same would work in the iron/bullet scenario. I also can't help but wonder whether my "find your happy place" method would stand a chance.
0byrnema12yDefinitely, it would be effective. But does handling reality by escaping it count as self-deception? (assuming here we wish to avoid self-deception, if possible) I think not necessarily. I can think of one set of examples where it seems more truthful to 'find the happy place', and this example set suggests some criteria for measuring the integrity of escaping. However, I have a tendency to build too much from the first example I think of, and would like to hear other thoughts on this. By the way: I loved your vivid description of embracing dissonance in music. I wonder if this is also how/why the audience enjoys the piece.

If being irrational is rational then it's rational.