(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.
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
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.
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.
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'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.)
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)
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.)
Okay. That works.
I 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.
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.
IAWYC here, but I'm pretty sure they're not actually thinking about genes.
...amusingly enough, "sit in my room and write posts on Less Wrong" turned out to be a pretty good move, in retrospect.
Snopes says otherwise. 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.
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.
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)
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)
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"?
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.
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.
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)
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)
If being irrational is rational then it's rational.