The Affect Heuristic, Sentiment, and Art

by [anonymous]5 min read13th Sep 201058 comments

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I was having a discussion with a friend and reading some related blog articles about the question of whether race affects IQ.  (N.B.  This post is NOT about the content of the arguments surrounding that question.)  Now, like your typical LessWrong member, I subscribe to the Litany of Gendlin, I don’t want to hide from any truth, I believe in honest intellectual inquiry on all subjects.  Also, like your typical LessWrong member, I don’t want to be a bigot.  These two goals ought to be compatible, right?

But when I finished my conversation and went to lunch, something scary happened.  Something I hesitate to admit publicly.  I found myself having a negative attitude to all the black people in the cafeteria. 

 Needless to say, this wasn’t what I wanted.  It makes no sense, and it isn’t the way I normally think.  But human beings have an affect heuristic.  We identify categories as broadly “good” or “bad,” and we tend to believe all good things or all bad things about a category, even when it doesn’t make sense.  When we discuss the IQ’s of black and white people, we’re primed to think “yay white, boo black.”  Even the act of reading perfectly sound research has that priming effect.

And conscious awareness and effort doesn’t seem to do much to fix this. The Implicit Awareness Test measures how quickly we group black faces with negative-affect words and white faces with positive-affect words, compared to our speed at grouping the black faces with the positive words and the white faces with the negative words.  Nearly everyone, of every race, shows some implicit association of black with “bad.”  And the researchers who created the test found no improvement with practice or effort.

The one thing that did reduce implicit bias scores was if test-takers primed themselves ahead of time by reading about eminent black historical figures.  They were less likely to associate black with “bad” if they had just made a mental association between black and “good.”  Which, in fact, was exactly how I snapped out of my moment of cafeteria racism: I recalled to my mind's ear a recording I like of Marian Anderson singing Schubert.  The music affected me emotionally and allowed me to escape my mindset.

 To generalize from that example, we have to remember that the subconscious is a funny thing.  Mere willpower doesn’t stop it from misbehaving: it has to be tricked.  You have to hack into the affect heuristic, instead of trying to override it. 

 There’s an Enlightenment notion of “sentiment” which I think may be appropriate here.  The idea (e.g. in Adam Smith) was roughly that moral behavior springs from certain emotional states, and that we can deliberately encourage those emotional states or sentiments by exposing ourselves to the right influences.  Sympathy, for example, or affection, were moral sentiments.  The plays of 18th century England seem trite to a modern reader because the characters are so very sympathetic and virtuous, and the endings so very happy.  But this was by design: it was believed that by arousing sympathy and affection, plays could encourage more humane behavior.

Sentiments are a way of dealing directly with the affect heuristic. It can’t be eradicated, at least not all in one go, but it can be softened and moderated.  If you know you’re irrationally attaching a “yay” or “boo” label to something, you can counteract that by focusing your reflections on the opposite affect. 

I suspect – though I have no basis beyond anecdote – that art is a particularly effective way of inducing sentiments and attacking the affect heuristic.  You don’t hear a lot about art on LW, but we probably should be thinking more about it, because art is powerful.  Music moves people: think of military marches and national anthems, and also think of the humanistic impulse in the Ode to Joy. Music is not an epistemic statement, but acts at the more primitive level of emotion. You can deploy music to change yourself at the pre-rational level; personally, I find that something like “O Isis Und Osiris” from The Magic Flute can cut through fear and calm me, better than any conscious logical argument.

Poetry also seems relevant here – it’s verbal, but it’s a delivery system that works at the sub-rational level.  I’m convinced that a large part of the appeal of religion is in poetic language that rings true.  (It’s interesting what happens when scientific or rationalist ideas are expressed in poetic language – this is rarer, but equally powerful. Carl Sagan, Francois Jacob, Bertrand Russell.)  The parable, the fantasy, and the poem can be more effective than the argument, because they can reach emotional heuristics that arguments cannot touch.

This is not an argument against rationality – this is rationality.  To fight our logical fallacies, we have to attack the subconscious directly, because human beings are demonstrably bad at overriding the subconscious through willpower.  It's not enough to catalogue biases and incorrect heuristics; we want to change those errors, and the most effective way to change them isn't always to read an argumentative essay and decide "to think rationally."  I’m an optimist: I think we can, in fact, seek truth relentlessly.  I don’t think we have to taboo whole subjects of inquiry in fear of the affect heuristic.  But we need to fight affect with affect.  

(As a practical suggestion for ourselves and each other, it might be interesting to experiment with non-argumentative ways of conveying a point of view: tell an illustrative story, express your idea in the form of an epigram, or even quote a poem or a piece of music or a photograph. Eliezer does a lot of this already: commandments, haikus, parables, and a fanfic.  The point, for rationalists, is not manipulation -- I don't want to use emotion to get anyone to adopt an idea thoughtlessly.  The point is to improve understanding, to shake loose our own biases by tinkering with our own emotions.  Clearer writing is not necessarily drier writing, and sometimes we understand an idea best when it makes use of our emotional capacities.)

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I'm a new reader, and I thought you might like to know that this is the post that made me feel like it might be okay to get involved in the LW community. My initial instinct when I started looking around here was trepidation--it reminded me of some people I know who are very smart, intellectual, and rational, who love to debate and analyze ... and to argue with people who might not want to, and who are hopeless at understanding people less rational than themselves, don't acknowledge their own emotions, and don't see how irrational it is to think and behave that way. Before joining the conversation, I needed to hear that this place was not for those people--not an intellectual wankfest but something actually practical, even when it comes to the less reasoned parts of ourselves. So, thanks for that.

Now to salvage the relevance of this comment.

As a practical suggestion for ourselves and each other, it might be interesting to experiment with non-argumentative ways of conveying a point of view: tell an illustrative story, express your idea in the form of an epigram, or even quote a poem or a piece of music or a photograph.

I would have worded this more strongly, myself. In my experience, people who are themselves inclined towards reasoned debate, even civilly, drastically overestimate how much other people are also inclined towards debate and argument. They are of course generalizing from one example, but in this particular case they're also doing intense harm to their social relationships and to the point they're trying to communicate. In their minds, they're engaging in a way which displays and encourages intelligent thought, but to people who dislike a heavily oppositional mode of conversation, they come off as belligerent prats.

The point here is that those who enjoy an adversarial style of heated conversation might find their communication more effective and more readily listened to by a dissimilar audience if they choose to present their ideas in a way that seems to them to be more indirect--perhaps not quite to the level of writing a sonnet about it, but by speaking in general terms, avoiding language which invokes an accusatory tone whether or not personal accusation is intended, and so on. In short, intellectuals that no one will listen to have a lot to learn from poorly-educated but widely-admired poets.

Also, at the risk of exposing my unintellectual taste, my "O Isis Und Osiris" is the bassline of Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl." I briefly worked in QA at EA (many of you know the reputation of that job and also that company, and those who don't can infer it from the tone of this parenthesis). I was testing the original Rock Band, and when I was having a rough morning and didn't want to be there, I'd play through that bassline a couple of times and I'd be doing all right.

[-][anonymous]11y 12

I actually hadn't thought of it in quite this way, but you're right.

I find that I gravitate towards spending time with people who can debate and like it, because constructing arguments is my best skill (math is just a more formal version of that.) People who don't like debate -- I can be nice to them, but I feel like I have to tie my hands behind my back to talk to them. Especially if they want to talk about an "issue" and hear my opinion on it, but they don't really realize that for me to give my opinion would involve demolishing their argument, and they'd have their feelings hurt if I did that...

I think I've learned tact about politics, at least, but usually my "tact" just means "avoiding the subject." So there's probably a skill I need to learn here.

I actually hadn't thought of it in quite this way, but you're right.

Man, that's just about the ideal response to a comment, isn't it?

I feel like I have to tie my hands behind my back to talk to them

I don't think he'd have used the same words, I think the friend I had in mind would agree with this. He often seems very frustrated and annoyed when it comes up, and I don't blame him--the social circle in which I interact with him is composed almost entirely of people who prefer a very different conversation style, and the rules of that style are presumably unintuitive to him. The result is that, well, he gets yelled at sometimes for acting in a way which to him is normal.

I'm sympathetic to the situation, but at the same time, he's behaving in a way which is unacceptable in that context, and I don't sympathize with doing that. He's not dumb by any means. It's hard for me to believe that he's incapable of learning the patterns which conflict with his instincts (e.g. "if you have a clarifying question about what someone else is saying, wait until they pause to ask it"), and I wonder if his value judgments about the different social modes disincline him to do so.

On the other hand, it's easy for me to say he could just go learn them, because they're normal and intuitive for me. You don't see me out there learning to interact with people in his style, and I don't especially care to do so. On the other other hand, a) I also don't hang out with them every week, and b) my style doesn't cause anger and hurt feelings when used in the wrong context.

they don't really realize that for me to give my opinion would involve demolishing their argument, and they'd have their feelings hurt if I did that

Do you believe that it's not possible to give your differing opinion, even including rebuttal of their argument, in a manner which does not result in hurt feelings? When I observe people who are being, for the context, excessively argumentative, my impression is not that the content of what they're saying is wrong, but they're choosing a form to deliver it in which also conveys disrespect, arrogance, and belligerence to their current audience (which it wouldn't have to an audience of people more like them--hence the frustration).

usually my "tact" just means "avoiding the subject."

Honestly, in politics I think this often is the right choice, simply because it is by definition a subject that people have personal investment in. (I know there's a sequence about this, and I haven't read it yet, so I won't bother expounding further than that.) However, for less heated topics, it may only take a change in word choice to deliver the same content in a way that doesn't incite rage.

So there's probably a skill I need to learn here.

If I'm reading you correctly, it's the above--the art of disagreeing without conveying disrespect. This is one of the subjects of the book idea that's been floating around in my head for a while, which is generally a translation guide for people with very different modes of communication.

This is one of the subjects of the book idea that's been floating around in my head for a while, which is generally a translation guide for people with very different modes of communication.

The world needs this. Let us know when you have it, or if any of us can help! ;-)

Thanks--I will. It's about third-tier on my priorities right now (first tier is homework and guitar, second is a game idea), but I suspect that this community will be a good resource when I'm working on it more actively.

I like your post because it makes me feel bad.

What I mean by that is that it gets at something really important that I don't like. The problem is that I get more pleasure from debates than almost anything else. I search for people who don't react in the intensely negative way you describe, and I find it hard to empathise with those that do. I don't do this because I think one method is 'right' and the other 'wrong' I just don't enjoy trying to conform to others expectations and prefer to find others who can behave in the same way. I think for most people deep down, community is more important than ideology (or indeed achieving anything), but a community where you cannot be yourself is one in which you always feel uncomfortable, whether this is intellectually confrontational or indirect. Does anyone know of any other environments like Less Wrong where an intellectually direct way of communicating wont get you flamed to death?

I like your post because it makes me feel bad.

Thanks, I think? You're not explicit about why it makes you feel bad, and I'm curious. (Rather, while you address it in the next sentence, I'm not sure I understand what kind of "feeling bad" you mean.)

I think for most people deep down, community is more important than ideology (or indeed achieving anything)

I think you've hit the nail on the head here.

but a community where you cannot be yourself is one in which you always feel uncomfortable

This is why it bothers me to see it happen. I'm an empathetic sort, and seeing my friend try to fit in like a square peg in a round pegboard makes me cringe. (Well, that, and I'm one of the people who finds the behavior obnoxious when applied to the wrong context.)

an intellectually direct way of communicating

I think this is an interesting way to phrase it, although I can't put my finger on why. What would you call the opposite? I'm on the lookout for terms to use for these which don't imply value on either side, since the only criteria for value I see are utility and effectiveness, which are context-dependent.

I think this section of your post is part of what makes me feel bad about your comment. The reason I said I like it, is because I think it's important that people can talk about these things and the fact that your comments affect me in that way highlights that they are important to me.

I would have worded this more strongly, myself. In my experience, people who are themselves inclined towards reasoned debate, even civilly, drastically overestimate how much other people are also inclined towards debate and argument.

I can't speak for anyone else, but personally I don't think I drastically overestimate others' interest in debate, I'm painfully aware of how much hostility there is to making direct statements about even slightly controversial issues. When I talk that way with others, I'm not doing it to fit in, I'm doing it because I want to and because I feel driven to. I feel frustrated at having a different personality from the majority and don't view others lifestyles as inherently more legitimate than my own. In particular, I have a desire to understand why society and my community works as it does. I feel there is a great deal of unspoken social dynamics and traditions which act as a mask to unjustified status hierarchies and passive aggressive conflict. I love the directness of reasoned argument because I feel that it is basically fair. It can quickly sear away self delusions and unjustified assumptions, getting to a lasting truth. A truth that while unpalatable is, at its best, independent of who has said it and how it has been said. Avoiding the undesirable (for me at least) political maneuvering that seems to dominate so much of society.

For me, I'm looking for a community which is honest and fearless with itself and others. I'm less interested in productivity or instrumental rationality than simply being able to discuss issues in a direct way so that I can get a better understanding of them for my own satisfaction. Without this opportunity, I feel I am engaging in a social dance that never satisfies my desire to find what is true and what is important.

In terms of a neutral opposite something like:

Psychologically accommodating

might be good. It emphasises the fact that the communication is designed to be easy to absorb without implying manipulation. Both sound like they would be useful and both subtly imply their weaknesses (i.e. insult and compromise).

Oh and I should add, I like your forest : )

Ah, I think I understand now. Thank you.

honest and fearless with itself and others

Hmm--I don't think that either honesty or fearlessness requires directness.

a social dance that never satisfies my desire to find what is true

You can learn a lot from the social dance if you know how to read it, including some things it's very hard to communicate any other way.

My point here is not to refute your perspective, just to observe that your goals (honesty, truth, and so forth) do not necessarily require directness. Human language is an imperfect tool for conveying the contents of human minds. Only ever using it directly limits us to expressing the symbols it has words for. Taking advantage of implication and social convention lets us derive more information from our limited symbol set.

The difference is like counting in unary vs. counting in decimal. Instead of only having the presence or absence of symbols to communicate value, you get the benefit of place values. With a frustratingly subtle change in expression (moving a digit to the left), you get the power to say much more, and more succinctly.

Obviously it's not as useful when discussing topics that we do have words for, but for difficult-to-nail-down things like emotion and desire, I find it invaluable.

Psychologically accommodating

I like that. I might not call it catchy, but it's definitely a clear descriptor, and I think it's accurate.

Oh and I should add, I like your forest

Thanks! I don't put as much active work into it as perhaps it deserves.

Welcome!

Although it sounds like you've very much landed on your feet here, may I point out the LW FAQ?

...not an intellectual wankfest but something actually practical, even when it comes to the less reasoned parts of ourselves. So, thanks for that.

Oceans of ink have been spilt on this topic here. We're trying very hard to be practical, but a lot of us also really enjoy more airy topics for their own sake.

...people who are themselves inclined towards reasoned debate, even civilly, drastically overestimate how much other people are also inclined towards debate and argument... [and might be] more readily listened to by a dissimilar audience if they choose to present their ideas in a way that seems to them to be more indirect...

Yes. This is why I love projects like HP:MoR. Of course it IS very didactic, but still manages to convey a lot of important ideas without bogging down in syllogisms or raising people's hackles.

Also, at the risk of exposing my unintellectual taste, my "O Isis Und Osiris" is the bassline of Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl."

Although I mentioned Beethoven as mine in another comment, the same goes for about ten folk songs. :)

Welcome!

Thanks! Yeah, I've done a little bit of exploratory looking around, but not so much as to have found that yet; I'll take a look. (I did, however, find the welcome thread, and not post in it. Yet. cough)

We're trying very hard to be practical, but a lot of us also really enjoy more airy topics for their own sake.

Good to know. I may not appreciate every thread, but I needn't flee from the whole community. That is acceptable. ;)

HP:MoR

Okay, I do at least try to Google unknown terms, but I'm guessing you were not referring to a printer.

However, the bit you quoted is also the reason that I like Nonviolent Communication, which I forgot to mention at the time. It's essentially a codified template for how to talk about emotions and needs, and find practical solutions, in a conflict situation, without making the conflict worse. As someone who is fairly balanced between the logical and emotional sides of her brain, I find it handy, but it seems like for someone who was very logic-dominant it would be invaluable. Of course, it's written in a very emotional, touchy-feely style (typical psyche again), which makes it very unappealing to the people who (incoming opinion) need it most. This inspired me to start brainstorming a book designed for more logically-minded and less emotionally-conscious people on how to communicate with those who are the other way around. I may at some point try to pick the brains of folks here about that.

the same goes for about ten folk songs

That too. I'm very early in the process of learning the guitar, and spent much of this afternoon belting out Jim Croce's Workin' at the Car Wash Blues. It went a long way towards getting me out of a frustrated "oh-god-this-is-hard-and-there-is-so-much-more-to-learn" funk.

Sorry! HP:MoR = Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, a fanfic by Eliezer Yudkowsky.

This inspired me to start brainstorming a book designed for more logically-minded and less emotionally-conscious people on how to communicate with those who are the other way around. I may at some point try to pick the brains of folks here about that.

I look forward to that! You may want to know that a lot of those communication methodology issues have been talked about (though certainly not exhaustively) in the "Craft and Community" sequence.

It went a long way towards getting me out of a frustrated "oh-god-this-is-hard-and-there-is-so-much-more-to-learn" funk.

Well done! I'm still in that funk with my mando, alas.

I think this is an area where linking to HP:MoR with the text of the link being the term looked for helps Google properly categorize it. Of course, Google mostly ignores forum threads, so the link above probably won't help much.

Sorry!

No worries. I've had fair warning about the frequency of specialized communication in here; I was mostly just amused by that particular one's unsearchability (as opposed to, say, "akrasia," which I just asked Wikipedia about the first time I encountered it).

in the "Craft and Community" sequence

Thanks; I'm eyeing the sequence list in another tab but hadn't gotten that far yet. I'm a huge communication and language nerd (albeit one wholly without technical qualifications), so that and the word definition stuff jump out at me, aside from the core. However, the fact that it's nearly 1:30am also jumps out at me. (Speaking of akrasia.) (I did just go through the gentle intro to Bayesian Theory, although after getting the initial problem correct, I admit I skimmed some of the explanation. I don't have a good intuition for what the right answers are, but I have a good intuition for when not to trust my intuition about what they are, and then I can work the math out at my leisure.)

I'm still in that funk with my mando

Good luck! Two things it has helped me to remember when working on the guitar come from my mental file of good-advice-I-heard-somewhere, both paraphrased:

1) "Getting better at things is a skill which, like any other skill, improves with practice." (I got this from a documentary whose name I don't recall, about a fellow trying for the world record in Missile Command. It encourages me because my last big learning project went well, so maybe I'm getting better at getting better at things!)

2) "You're going to lose your first hundred games; may as well get them over with." (From a Go player. Generalizable to: "When you're new to something, you're going to suck at it. Do it loud, do it proud, and most importantly do it often, and soon the necessary period of sucking at it will be over.")

Also, at the risk of exposing my unintellectual taste, my "O Isis Und Osiris" is the bassline of Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl."

That can't be any worse than my taste in music. This is one of my favorite CDs to listen to. ;)

(And I still can't sing this song from the beginning to the end without tearing up.)

That can't be any worse than my taste in music. This is one of my favorite CDs to listen to. ;)

Sounds like an even weirder version of Moore's paradox. "I like this music, which I consider to be bad music."

I know how you feel though... my particular albatross is that I'm a subdued teetotaller geek whose favourite songs invariably consist of whiskey, philandering and pub brawls, whack-fall-the-derry-o.

Sounds like an even weirder version of Moore's paradox. "I like this music, which I consider to be bad music."

Well, I don't think it's bad music, just low status music. ;)

I enjoy a band that I believe to be of fairly mediocre quality. I've noticed that I can only enjoy them when I'm not paying close attention; as background music while I'm doing something else, they're one of my favorite bands, but when I deliberately put them on to listen to, they're painfully bad.

[-][anonymous]11y 13

Related: http://www.slate.com/id/2267299/ "Priming" people by making them write an essay about either "Tyrone Walker" or "Brad Walker" has powerful effects. (Tyrone being a stereotypically black name and Brad a stereotypically white one.) The subjects who wrote an essay about "Tyrone Walker" were more likely to believe an editorial painting Obama as the Antichrist.

I found this rather shocking. All you have to do to get the effect is to prime people to write about an imaginary, supposedly black man. The prompt is just "Tyrone Walker"! The mind must be incredibly frail.

The prompt is just "Tyrone Walker"! The mind must be incredibly frail.

You say "incredibly frail"; I say "exquisitely sensitive".

The mind must be incredibly frail.

That depends on what you mean by "the mind". I think individual minds aren't all that bad. The problem is that minds are incredibly strong at building up group effects like racism.

Sometimes I think humans are built (by evolution) to be lied to, but I can't figure out why.

This seems like a very useful effect, which like komponisto I've been using for some time, in my case many years. In my music library I have a few playlists I've put together to effect (with an 'e') certain emotional states, every song in my library that brings forth and/or incorporates well with the state. I have one designed for badass determination, which doesn't appear to have helped that much, beyond serving as good workout music. It just doesn't seem to translate into a mental state useful for sort of cognitive work we need to be doing; if I were going into battle it might be more helpful.

Another playlist I have is designed for things like compassion, humility, peace, "grace", warmth, (platonic) love, etc. [Example] This one has been tremendously helpful, at many different points in my life. For one thing, it's great when I'm feeling troubled by something smaller, that wouldn't be a problem if I could just feel alright about it. And while I can't say with certainty that it was necessary, the songs have been very present in several major periods of emotional growth I've had since making the playlist (I also add new songs over time). I use it deliberately sometimes, especially so with a certain simple procedure: After spending amounts of time thinking about such subjects, finding good reasons to feel more that way (better interpersonal relationships, much more enjoyable, etc), I'll listen to the playlist and continue contemplation, hitting both affect and reason at the same time. Contrasted to the "badass determination" playlist, perhaps this one has been more useful as it engenders an emotional state that is lower effort and intrinsically rewarding.

To generalize from that example, we have to remember that the subconscious is a funny thing. Mere willpower doesn’t stop it from misbehaving: it has to be tricked. You have to hack into the affect heuristic, instead of trying to override it.

I think "trick" isn't a very accurate way to describe the process, rather it feels like speaking the right language, like "tricking" a Martian by speaking in Martian rather than English. A better analogy would be interacting with animals. You don't construct well-reasoned arguments and then debate them with a horse or dog. If you want a dog to do something, you make it friendly, moving slowly, offering a hand so it can smell you, give it treats, pet it. It seems less like a trick than the correct interface; a dog just doesn't have systems for reasoning out logic.

For another example, I began earnestly seeking to become more rational after reading the Beisutsukai stories, as they emotionally made it much more awesome, giving a visceral (though fictional) demonstration that more is possible.

Suppose this post were written so
It self-illustrated: take a doe
Peaceful and quiet in a field of grass
About to get shot in the ash
Tree grove it calls its home
By a hunter on the roam
But the doe is lucky as ever can be
The hunter, that morning, had just watched "Bambi".

The example take a double life
One strand explicit, the other rife
With self-reference
What's your preference?

Does this comment make you bored?
Is it obvious and hackneyed, its conceit absurd?
Wedged in between so many others
I know that if I had my druthers
I'd skip it, or rip it, in general stand up it
But I cannot ignore its rhyming couplet.

You might say that it's gimmicky.
I don't mind; in that sense, it mimics me.

I suspect – though I have no basis beyond anecdote – that art is a particularly effective way of inducing sentiments and attacking the affect heuristic. You don’t hear a lot about art on LW, but we probably should be thinking more about it, because art is powerful. Music moves people: think of military marches and national anthems, and also think of the humanistic impulse in the Ode to Joy. Music is not an epistemic statement, but acts at the more primitive level of emotion. You can deploy music to change yourself at the pre-rational level; personally, I find that something like “O Isis Und Osiris” from The Magic Flute can cut through fear and calm me, better than any conscious logical argument.

Poetry also seems relevant here – it’s verbal, but it’s a delivery system that works at the sub-rational level. I’m convinced that a large part of the appeal of religion is in poetic language that rings true. (It’s interesting what happens when scientific or rationalist ideas are expressed in poetic language – this is rarer, but equally powerful. Carl Sagan, Francois Jacob, Bertrand Russell.) The parable, the fantasy, and the poem can be more effective than the argument, because they can reach emotional heuristics that arguments cannot touch.

Imagine there's no heaven...

[-][anonymous]11y 1

Yep. That song used to freak me out so bad.

You can say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one...

I can't remember where I read this anecdote, but it pertains to a student who became obsessed with the Implicit Awareness Test to the point where he completed it on a daily basis. One day, out of nowhere, it came back with a net positive association with black faces. He struggled to account for this until he realised he'd been watching coverage of the Olympics that morning.

As for expressing points with non-argumentative methods, the general idea makes me a little uneasy. Some time ago, after attending a folk festival, I came to the conclusion that music shouldn't be the dialectic of politics. It's too easy for the uninitiated to conflate a good piece of music with a good argument. Artistic flair is both a useful and fun tool for presenting ideas, but too much flair and you have to start wondering if the ideas could stand up by themselves

[-][anonymous]11y 3

Oh, art is dangerous. I always thought that if you don't realize that Plato had a point, you shouldn't be making art at all.

Ever seen "Triumph of the Will"? It's beautiful, particularly the music. It won't make a modern viewer into a Nazi, but if you get absorbed in it you're going to have emotions that you never intended.

I thought it would be obvious to the LW community that art can deceive; what I thought was more interesting was that art can help you fix an incorrect heuristic that you already know is incorrect

I'm very much behind the idea of using art (or indeed anything) to regulate undesirable brain events that are outside of direct conscious control. I'm also behind making ideas aesthetically pleasing in general. It's the "non-argumentative ways of conveying a point of view" that I find uncomfortable. How do you properly respond to them?

Making something beautiful for beauty's sake creates a barrier to destroying it. If someone writes a perfectly palendromic villanelle advocating a borderline-indefensible position, it becomes harder to critique that position without looking and feeling like an unappreciative phillistine.

This may be covered by your "not manipulation" caveat, but I'd still rather ideas be incidentally beautiful than deliberately so.

Making something beautiful for beauty's sake creates a barrier to destroying it.

Every argument dares you to demolish it, but not so with art. Bach wrote a beautiful song about how death is good. Those who believe that death is good can derive some comfort from it, but I don't feel it is an obstruction when I try to convince them of the opposite point of view. A rational argument for the value of life has nothing to fear from a song; and an affect-laden parable is not made weaker by Bach's song.

Personally, I would still listen to Bach on my 200th birthday.

It's the "non-argumentative ways of conveying a point of view" that I find uncomfortable. How do you properly respond to them?

The same way I properly respond to all other ways of conveying a point of view: the most effective way I know that isn't itself unethical. If my audience is more moved by poetry than prose, arguing in prose when others are using poetry to argue wrong positions is not praiseworthy.

Of course, if I've spent decades learning how to argue in prose and/or am naturally skilled at it, whereas I'm not skilled at arguing in poetry, that means choosing to compete in an area where I'm not confident.

And you're absolutely right: that is uncomfortable. Sometimes, the right thing to do happens to be uncomfortable. It sucks, but there it is.

All of that said, it is important to clearly distinguish in my own head between the goal of being compelling and the goal of being correct. They are distinct, and largely orthogonal. But they are both important.

I came to the conclusion that music shouldn't be the dialectic of politics...Artistic flair is both a useful and fun tool for presenting ideas, but too much flair and you have to start wondering if the ideas could stand up by themselves

Add to that the danger of a corrupting effect on art itself, whose primary value does not derive from extra-artistic "ideas" it "presents".

It is notable how little of the greatest music (to take the art form I know the most about) is explicitly political.

I suspect it works both ways. Art with an explicit political message (i.e. something sophisticated enough to be able to disagree with) is less likely to gain widespread appeal than something politically ambiguous.

I've recently been thinking about notorious graffiti artist Banksy lately, who's a pretty good example of this. He does have widespread appeal, in spite of his work being considered political, but his art doesn't present a coherent enough political stance for anyone to actually disagree with.

[-][anonymous]11y 0

Sure. I'm a fan of folk music, and it definitely suffers at the more didactic end. (I have a pretty high tolerance for explicitly political music -- I'm a Phil Ochs fan -- but there does reach a point where it isn't music anymore, it's an editorial set to a tune.) Art does its work below the rational level -- that means that good art is pretty much amoral, and it'll always take some wrangling to corral art into serving a purpose.

You can deploy music to change yourself at the pre-rational level; personally, I find that something like “O Isis Und Osiris” from The Magic Flute can cut through fear and calm me, better than any conscious logical argument.

Thanks for setting me on that scent. My magic bullet is the (somewhat overplayed, but who cares?) adagio from Beethoven's 5th piano concerto.

I've found that a certain posture of bemusement at the world is useful in fighting negative affect when it starts to get misanthropic. As in taking a deep breath, smiling & thinking something like "Wow, look at all these talking monkeys!"

As in taking a deep breath, smiling & thinking something like "Wow, look at all these talking monkeys!"

Ha, good idea. The world gets a lot less stressful when you start thinking about people as if they were machines.

The world gets a lot less stressful when you start thinking about people as if they were machines.

You can take it in another direction, too. Think about all the intricate and beautiful biological and chemical processes that lead to the mere functioning of a human being, its ability to think, and its ability to vocalize thoughts in a comprehensible way, and you just might distract yourself from the moronic things that one is saying! ;)

... although, actually, that IS what you were saying. But I inferred a different attitude than the one I intend.

(N.B. This post is NOT about the content of the arguments surrounding that question.)

But whenever you use it as an example, people will talk about it whether that was the intent or not. At least we should prime them for extreme caution against flame wars.

[-][anonymous]11y 11

Yes, I was worried about that.

Please, folks, for the love of Pete, don't make this a flamewar about race and IQ. For safety's sake, let's not even talk about it here. The whole point of the post is how we can successfully deal with touchy issues that tap into our worst instinctive fallacies and biases. It would be incredibly disappointing if everybody proceeded to make a mess of a touchy issue.

If this subject messes with your head, go click one of the musical links, or the emotional counterweight of your choice, before you go cuckoo all over the thread.

To borrow a silly phrase from the Schrodinger's Cat Trilogy, we're here doing Neuro-Rationality: rationality using brains. As much as it might seem silly imagining an AI using music to control its mood, it's perfectly sensible for a human to do so.

When dealing with an animal, one must use the appropriate signals to govern that animal's behavior. I'm reminded of the advice of master sheepdog trainer J.M Wilson: "Talk to your dogs, but you must talk sense!"

I don't want to address the introductory scenario much, but there's debate about what the IAT actually predicts.

[-][anonymous]11y 3

Skimmed that but didn't read that in full -- I'll get around to it. Thanks a lot.

Isn't it roughly what you'd expect, though? The authors are saying that the IAT isn't great at predicting discriminatory behavior. But discriminatory behavior depends on more than just your biases; you will discriminate more if your environment doesn't punish you, for instance. That kind of environment/self-interest factor might matter more than subconscious bias. (Your likelihood of, say, hiring a diverse workforce will depend more on the local population, the local laws, and the industry you work in, than your personal biases.)

I can report with some degree of confidence that the Blanton paper represents a skeptical view which is very much a minority in the field. This doesn't necessarily mean that it's biased or "wrong," but I think a LessWronger such as yourself will understand what this suggests regarding the intellectual status of their claims.

A couple papers to balance out the view from above:

Rebuttal to above by authors of "reanalyzed" study http://www.bsos.umd.edu/psyc/hanges/Ziegert%20and%20Hanges%202009.pdf

Reply to a different but similar Tetlock-and-friends critique: http://www.columbia.edu/~dc2534/RIOB_jost.et.al.pdf

Thanks for the links.

The general technique here is an excellent one that has a lot appeal to me, that I find quite useful, and that I actually apply quite often myself -- without ever having really stopped to take note of it as something to recommend. Bravo. (Perhaps it's no coincidence that among LW readers I have a higher-than-average interest in things artistic.)

One not-specifically-artistic example that comes to mind: when I find myself feeling negatively toward the country of Italy as a result of the Amanda Knox situation (which does sometimes happen, even though I'm very conscious of the irrationality of this), I think of Piergiorgio Odifreddi.

Good post, important topic, upvoted.

Relates to Yvain's post titled Fight Biases, or Route Around Them?.

Nearly everyone, of every race, shows some implicit association of black with “bad.”

The tested subjects were all living in a predominantly white society, or is the black=bad association found also among Africans who have no or little contact with whites? I would be quite surprised if the latter were true.

[-][anonymous]11y 5

The experiments were run in the US.

It would be odd if people all over the world were predisposed to dislike a skin color. Why would they?

It's not at all surprising when you live in a country where these sorts of racial cues are floating all over the place. What we are predisposed to do is to generalize wildly from anything we see or hear.

It would be odd if people all over the world were predisposed to dislike a skin color. Why would they?

It would be odd, but I find it odd already when the blacks in the US are biased against blacks. There is still a possibility that such predisposition exists (not necessarily towards skin color, it may as well be towards facial features), as a random result of evolution. I am really interested to see the results of the test conducted in Africa.

I get these cafeteria moments too when reading about this subject :( My only saving grace is that most of the non-white population of my city is East-Asian so (until I snap out of it) I get to ponder the putative superiority, rather than inferiority, of the Other.

[-][anonymous]11y 4

About a year ago I found myself checking if a scientists, philosophers or people with a very high IQ (hi Marilyn!) where from a Jewish background on wikipedia. I was impressed by how many intellectual giants where of Jewish roots. After some time it seemed like everyone interesting was Jewish and I even started planing a trip to Israel.

After realizing about how odd that was I got better in a month or so.

I soon went back to the way I was before I explicitly knew about the higher Askenazi IQ. I still "knew" at a gut level they are smart (with childhood heroes like Fenyman, Einstein and Neumann this is hard to miss) but it didn't factor in with the individual any more.

Happening to learn that someone I admired was Jewish or not lost its affect.

[-][anonymous]11y 1

I want to give this a dozen points just for that great and brave personal example.

This is certainly an inspiring call-to-arms for use of the Gray Arts to raise the sanity waterline. I'm on board.

A side-note: I've always said that I'm (usually) ok with tricking people into being less-easily tricked. This should certainly apply to oneself. If this could actually work, it could become more difficult in the long-run to hijack heuristics, for good or bad purposes. The combination of these two ideas would be the psychological equivalent of a "viral antivirus". Sort of a tangent idea, in the abstract.

I do personally like it when I believe that someone using a less direct or more emotionally charged means of communication for an important idea is capable of discussing the idea seriously. I'm not as bad as some lit majors I know, but I'm easily put on high-alert and sent into analysis-mode when reading fiction, if my persuasion alarms are set off. If I had found HP:MoR for instance, I would be on ridiculously high alert until finding LW. It may be a plus, long-term, to write or discuss analytically the ideas that you encode artistically.

[-][anonymous]11y 1

Very interesting post! As you have stated implicitly the more popular attempts at outreach as well as raising the sanity waterline on LW have already used affects for the purpose you describe.

However one needs to be very careful. First off it can be hard to measure if the affect is too strong or too weak to offset the bias, actually how exactly can one measure this? I feel like I'm perhaps unfair on this or that because I learned something less flattering about it. Belief in belief works just as well for "identified" cognitive biases as it does for angry old men in the sky.

Secondly every time you use a affect as a tool to help you correct for biases you are begging to be hit on the head by a unknown unknown or even a unknown known. We form subconscious associations very easily, we like our archetypes neat and boexd and like you mention we tend to have a cloud of things all associated with each other that are "bad" and another cloud for "good".

But I can't help but wonder if perhaps using boos and yay's to correct for these things just pushes the bias elsewhere.

Thirdly, creating or consuming art is powerful self modification. This means it can be dangerous. I would perhaps put truly sublime experiences of art and the beautiful right up there with religious experiences and sex when it comes to potential for rewiring. I hope I don't need to explain how for example fetishes or a sudden case of Bible fever can induce auto-catalytic rewiring.

I feel like I'm perhaps unfair

I would argue that you don't have to rely solely on your feelings to know whether your impression of a person or group is unfair. An unfair (or, potentially unfair) impression is one uninformed by fact. For you to be informed, there must be information; you know (mostly) whether you have relevant influential information or not. So the time for the emotional hotwiring described in the original post is when you notice that you feel strongly about something but lack information which logically supports your feeling.

[-][anonymous]11y 2

"I feel like I'm perhaps unfair on this or that because I learned something less flattering about it. "

I see now why my comment was down-voted. I should have put more emphasis in that sentence on the word because. That a unfair impression uninformed by fact is something one can't identify is not what I meant to say. What I'm cautioning is the idea of being very easily able to diagnose the reason behind the unfair impression, based on:

"well I was recently thinking about this and came to x conclusion about it, this must have spilled over"

why couldn't it be:

"well I was recently thinking about this and I came to x conclusion, and I've noticed I already had a unfair emotional response in place from before, maybe I should re-examine my previous conclusion in this light"

or even:

"well I was recently thinking about this and I came to x conclusion, I'm bound to see the world disproportionately in terms of this categorization, the unfair emotional response may well be an artefact to my dislike based on other categorizations"

Whack-A-Mole emotional counter conditioning seems likely to somewhat reduce bias, but I think its less effective and much more just a redistribution of unfair bias than first meets the eye.

[-][anonymous]11y 0

Suppose this post were written so
It self-illustrated: take a doe
Peaceful and quiet in a field of grass
About to get shot in the ash
Tree grove it calls its home
By a hunter on the roam
But the doe is lucky as ever can be
The hunter, that morning, had just watched "Bambi".

The example take a double life
One strand explicit, the other rife
With self-reference
What's your preference?

Does this comment make you bored?
Is it obvious and hackneyed, its conceit absurd?
Wedged in between so many others
I know that if I had my druthers
I'd skip it, or rip it, in general stand up it
But I cannot ignore its rhyming couplet.

You might say that it's gimmicky.
I don't mind; in that sense, it mimics me.

[-][anonymous]11y 0

I can't remember where I read this anecdote, but it pertains to a student who became obsessed with the Implicit Awareness Test to the point where he completed it on a daily basis. One day, out of nowhere, it came back with a net positive association with black faces. He struggled to account for this until he realised he'd been watching coverage of the Olympics that morning.

As for expressing points with non-argumentative methods, the general idea makes me a little uneasy. Some time ago, after attending a folk festival, I came to the conclusion that music shouldn't be the dialectic of politics. It's too easy for the uninitiated to conflate a good piece of music with a good argument. Artistic flair is both a useful and fun tool for presenting ideas, but too much flair and you have to start wondering if the ideas could stand up by themselves