Social Presuppositions

by lucidfox1 min read2nd Dec 201049 comments


Personal Blog

During discussion in my previous post, when we touched the subject of human statistical majorities, I had a side-thought. If taking the Less Wrong audience as an example, the statistics say that any given participant is strongly likely to be white, male, atheist, and well, just going by general human statistics, probably heterosexual.

But in my actual interaction, I've taken as a rule not to make any assumptions about the other person. Does it mean, I thought, that I reset my prior probabilities, and consciously choose to discard information? Not relying on implicit assumptions seems the socially right thing to do, I thought; but is it rational?

When I discussed it on IRC, this quote by sh struck me as insightful:

I.e. making the guess incorrectly probably causes far more friction than deliberately not making a correct guess you could make.

I came up with the following payoff matrix:

Has trait X (p = 0.95) Doesn't have trait X (p = 0.05)
Alice Acts as if Bob has trait X +1 -100
Acts without assumptions about Bob 0 0

In this case, the second option is strictly preferable. In other words, I don't discard the information, but the repercussions to our social interaction in case of an incorrect guess outweigh the benefit from guessing correctly. And it also matters whether either Alice or Bob is an Asker or a Guesser.

One consequence I can think of is that with a sufficiently low p, or if Bob wouldn't be particularly offended by Alice's incorrect guess, taking the guess would be preferable. Now I wonder if we do that a lot in daily life with issues we don't consider controversial ("hmm, are you from my country/state too?"), and if all the "you're overreacting/too sensitive" complaints come from Alice incorrectly assessing a too low-by-absolute-value negative payoff in (0, 1).