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Luminosity (Twilight fanfic) Part 2 Discussion Thread

Hi, Alicorn, just wanted to say that the ideas from your fanfic and the related sequence have noticeably helped me in real life. I'm not fully implementing them or I wouldn't be spending my Saturday screwing around online, but I definitely feel empowered and optimistic, which is an unfamiliar situation. Applying these patterns of thinking at any time has proven to improve my life and my effectiveness. That is pretty cool for someone addicted to instant gratification.

Luminosity seems very related to mindfulness; it requires intentional control of one's attention in much the same way as meditation. I'm probably in better mental health than I usually am, since I can control my attention, but adding in your other strategies has allowed me to identify factors that help or inhibit my control.

So, uhh, thanks.

Open Thread: May 2010

I've also read that people with bipolar disorder are more likely to commit suicide as their depression lifts.

But antidepressant effects can be very complicated. I know someone who says one med made her really really want to sleep with her feet where her head normally went. I once reacted to an antidepressant by spending three days cycling through the thoughts, "I should cut off a finger" (I explained to myself why that was a bad idea) "I should cut off a toe" (ditto) "I should cut all the flesh from my ribs" (explain myself out of it again), then back to the start.

The akrasia-lifting explanation certainly seems plausible to me (although "mood" may not be the other relevant variable--it may be worldview and plans; I've never attempted suicide, but certainly when I've self-harmed or sabotaged my own life it's often been on "autopilot", carrying out something I've been thinking about a lot, not directly related to mood--mood and beliefs are related, but I've noticed a lag between one changing and the other changing to catch up to it; someone might no longer be severely depressed but still believe that killing themself is a good course of action). Still, I would also believe an explanation that certain meds cause suicidal impulses in some people, just as they can cause other weird impulses.

Boredom vs. Scope Insensitivity

What do you mean by coordinating cooperative activities broadly? Surely culture also coordinates cooperative activities in numerous ways without the requirement of the market.

Religions, the use of force, ad campaigns, and volunteer organizations can all coordinate cooperative activities that are not already embedded in the culture as well. Not to mention the contributions of evolution in inclining us to cooperate and providing the tools we need to do so.

The market didn't build Rome or Babylon.

Of course the market is flexible in what sorts of cooperation it coordinates, but there are still some types of generally desirable cooperation that it fails to coordinate. And much real-world cooperation--for instance, on the family level, and everything predating the market--relies on other means of coordination. It would be a shame to neglect these.

Reason as memetic immune disorder

I know. I knew when I was writing that. The ideas in that paragraph were just forming as I typed them out, which is why I attributed cause where I didn't mean to.

Something closer to what I mean: It's fine to discuss intelligence differences between race. My intro psych textbook has a long discussion about it. People have an uproar when, instead of saying, oh, here's what the test results are, here's what the results of experiments that shed some insight into the cause of the differences (ie environment vs. genetic), and leaving it at that, someone says that there's a difference in IQ and that that explains social inequity.

So, yeah, they're objecting because it's racist, not because it challenges institutions or policies (other than the institution of denying racial difference, which to me seems relatively rational considering all the sources of bias that would cause people to make too much of racial difference). But it's not racist just because he says Africans have done poorly on IQ tests but because he defaults to assuming that that's enough to be "gloomy about the prospects of Africa".

Furthermore, his quote in this piece of the interview:

. His hope is that everyone is equal, but he counters that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.

is pretty much as racist as you can get. His piece of evidence here is the anecdotal observations non-specific employers that fit right into a really old stereotype. Additionally, it seems odd--employers recruit who they employ, and you wouldn't hire someone who had insufficient intelligence to do what you were hiring them for--the job selects for people of a certain intelligence range (which may be offset by, say, an intelligent person with a disability or who just didn't get an education, or an average person who's outperforming expectations of her intelligence due to hard work and a certain cultural background)--so race shouldn't matter because you can only hire someone from a certain race for a job given they have adequate intelligence for the job.

All the press I've read so far on the topic stresses general racism, his tendency to make claims without scientific evidence, and his intentional offensiveness and doesn't focus entirely on the issue of "lower intelligence of Africans", which you seem to think. Maybe you're talking about official reprimands or such that I haven't read, but the public kinda objected to a lot more than just that. So I think you're misguided in asserting that the only part of what he said that was controversial is low average African IQ and thereby claiming that he was on firm scientific ground.

Another part of the problem is intelligence = IQ. There's evidence (from the Flynn effect and cross-cultural examination of answers given to standard IQ test type questions) that environment and culture strengthen specific cognitive abilities and predispose one to reason in certain ways or interpret questions in certain ways. So even if IQ scores show that average African IQ is whatever, that's not indisputably the same as showing lower intelligence, because you could usefully define intelligence to include cognitive abilities/reasoning that Africans are stronger at than Westerners. And here I'll mention that I don't want to get in an argument over whether defining intelligence that way is good or not--I'm just saying it in response to this:

The lower average test scores of Africans is surely an undisputed scientific fact.

Because while that sentence can be true, it is not sufficient evidence to conclude, as Watson does, that the testing is adequate to say Africans have lower intelligence. That depends on how you define intelligence. (Although his actual words just say that their intelligence is different, which does seem clear, but from other remarks he seems to think that Africans have lower intelligence due to genes, which is not scientifically undisputed at all.)

I am bothered by the fact that I know the discussions on race and intelligence that I have read are heavily biased in the information they present--for instance, in the US, racial intelligence differences correlating better with degree of pigmentation than with amount of African genes--because this information seems like it's picked in order to prove the politically correct point, whereas the other side likes to ignore all the evidence for the politically correct point and just simplify things because it seems obvious to them that the bigoted view is true. Point me to a transparent, relatively unbiased discussion of all available experimental evidence and I'll thank you.

I lean toward the politically correct side because it's the side that presents a lot of evidence and then says, "It's kinda inconclusive and we don't really know what causes group intelligence difference, although we do know a lot of it isn't genetic." Whereas the non-politically-correct side attempts to explain away a lot of the evils of the world by saying inequity is genetically based just because there are differences in the way groups perform on a psychometric instrument. But it seems like history and other social forces can greatly affect the conditions of one group: a few generations ago, when my ancestors were impoverished farmers in Europe, I have little doubt they would've failed modern IQ tests, but my race's genes haven't change since then, and the genes weren't responsible for our economic, social, and political problems.

It's both reasonable and humane to assume that, given Westerners spent a century gaining IQ points due to the Flynn effect, and given that the low quality of life in the West changed radically over spans of centuries or decades, one group currently doing poorly on IQ tests and living in poverty has the potential to change just as drastically. Any pessimism about their prospects can surely be more strongly justified by citing current and historical economic, political, social, and environmental trends, as well as unprecedented possible events like existential threats.

Reason as memetic immune disorder

But it's fact that "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours"? That is, not only is there a difference in IQ distribution, that difference is so significant that "all our social policies" are not going to help them.

I remember reading something by Flynn explaining that people with IQs below 70 today still have problems functioning even though they might score in the average range if given an IQ test normed on a population from the same country decades ago. From this I gather that the correlation between IQ and how well someone can function breaks down when you compare different populations.

In order to conclude that Watson's quoted remark is scientific fact, you must not only prove that Africans have lower average IQ test scores, but you must prove that:

  1. This interferes with our social policies towards Africa in some way.

  2. Any evidence we draw about the capabilities of Africans with a certain IQ must be based on studies on the same population, not on Americans or Europeans or whatnot with the same IQ.

It's unlikely that such a broad sweeping statement like "all our social policies", applied to the whole of Africa, is correct, considering the considerable variation both of social policies and across the continent.

Additionally, I find it interesting that people see the backlash against these remarks as merely "politically correct" anti-racism. It seems clear that this is a challenge to an entrenched way of thinking about a wide range of problems including international relations and poverty. Watson is claiming (in a rather nonspecific and unsupported way from what I've heard, which is only second hand) that the status quo for trying to help or otherwise influence Africa isn't working because we make bad assumptions about their intelligence. Now, I'm sure we make many, many bad assumptions about Africans that influence our social policies and that may break many or make them less efficient or keep us from hitting on something that really works. Intelligence is the most controversial candidate, of course, for historical reasons. But some of the backlash is embedded in our very lack of practice in treating any such assumptions as malleable.

Avoiding Failure: Fallacy Finding

I haven't done the necessary investigation to tell whether or not it's false, although I'm inclined to believe that recent technological advances support jimrandomh's position, but that was aside from the point. I was merely saying that I have heard people argue that every one of the points is a fantasy, and solar energy was one of them. I'm not the one who connected it to gay marriage and evolution, so its inclusion among two things I believe I have enough knowledge to say are not fantasies is not meant to imply an endorsement of solar energy.

Avoiding Failure: Fallacy Finding

Ah, no. I grew up listening to arguments like, "Racism, sexism, and ableism. You know what I think of all that? Marxist bullshit, invented to turn people against each other. Divide and conquer."

That was my father, a few weeks ago, expressing his belief that the world (and especially the US, but even more so Europe) is ruled by Marxist who invented racism and sexism. This is someone who went to first grade in southern Georgia, the US, the first year of racial desegregation in schools.

I have heard it argued, and not just by him, that all the things listed are retarded liberal fantasies: That evolution is a way of denying God and thereby justifying hedonism, a lot about how solar panels take more energy to manufacture than they'll produce in their lifetime, and about how a society that tolerates homosexuality cannot survive (and that it can't truly be a marriage if it's between two people of the same sex).

Yes, it's possible to tell parodies from people honestly stating their views if you study the context, but it's not often possible to do so just from the context of what they're saying. I thought the above person was just stating their views succinctly in a way they thought was clever.

Can self-help be bad for you?

What if it is literally true that some people are more lovable and some less, and that this has unavoidable effects on self-esteem?

(my italics)

Well, it's not true that those have unavoidable effects on self-esteem. Some people can see their less-desired traits and not castigate themselves for it, instead accepting it as part of a generally positive picture of themselves. You can also teach people to adopt that mode: It's the basis for some and a huge part of other Cognitive Behavioral Therapies. CBT has a large body of research showing it works.

On a somewhat-related note, does anyone know about Carol Dweck's work on motivation and praise and the like? She found that praising someone for something that they didn't expend effort on was bad for their motivation in the future. (It also increases a belief that static ability determines one's performance--at least in students with relationship to school work.) I've personally been in that situation, of being praised for things I didn't see as an accomplishment--which is essentially being praised for doing or being something you don't feel you did or are--and it feels awful.

Praise is praise FOR something--whether it's hard work in school or a loveable personality--and so you can hear someone praising the trait, and you look at yourself lacking the trait, and it does highlight the difference and make you feel guilty and such, if you're looking at it that way. And I'd say people with low self-esteem are more likely to interpret praise as applying to something external (the trait) and blame as applying to something intrinsic (themselves). /shrugs

An interesting speed dating study

Umm, why do we think the psychological effect of the abnormal situation is rooted in EVOLUTIONARY psychology? It could be quite simply that the women get a sort of high/thrill/adrenaline rush from being in the unusual situation of more physical and psychological activity (the anticipation as you approach someone), whereas sitting in the same chair for a long time as person after person comes by is going to dampen anyone's spirits and make them a bit more grouchy when it comes to evaluating others.

To me your evolutionary explanation seems like it might be a bit too specific. Is there any reason to think natural selection has resulted in a distinct "hardwired" pattern of reactions for this situation? Or even that women are less likely, culture aside, to proposition a man when they're attracted to him than men are to proposition women? Especially since the female has more incentive to be choosy, it seems like she would benefit from making sure she "catches" one of the relatively few men who meet her standards, whereas since more women would meet his standards, if you're assuming anything but unlimited polygyny, I could definitely explain why natural selection would result in an advantage for "forward" women.

The enemy within

Mmm, am I the only one not thinking right, or does the article debunk its own suggestion?

Their conclusion was that those who experienced mild depressive symptoms could, indeed, disengage more easily from unreachable goals. That supports Dr Nesse’s hypothesis. But the new study also found a remarkable corollary: those women who could disengage from the unattainable proved less likely to suffer more serious depression in the long run.

I'm not sure how they define "mild depressive symptoms", but it looks like depression in the sense of the word I expect--the serious illness that is among the top 10 causes of disability worldwide--is not necessarily linked to the mechanism of low mood => give up unattainable goals. The article also suggests that this giving up motivation is adaptive because it allows one to focus on new goals--or at least to rationally appraise the situation and see if you want to keep going or if there's a better alternative.

Additionally, in what looks to me suspiciously like an example of bad science reporting, the article devotes a considerable part of itself to this:

The importance of giving up inappropriate goals has already been demonstrated by Dr Wrosch. Two years ago he and his colleagues published a study in which they showed that those teenagers who were better at doing so had a lower concentration of C-reactive protein, a substance made in response to inflammation and associated with an elevated risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Dr Wrosch thus concludes that it is healthy to give up overly ambitious goals. Persistence, though necessary for success and considered a virtue by many, can also have a negative impact on health.

Okay, first, no mention of how they measured ability to give up "inappropriate goals". That seems methodologically difficult to me. Second, they used a proxy measure (C-reactive protein) for total health, which puts one more link in the cause-effect chain to potentially be a weak link. Third, correlation does not prove causation, even if it seems plausible. Fourth, higher concentrations of C-reactive protein do not equal overall health, so a lot more study would have to be done to tell whether the measured variable has an overall effect on health or not, so the conclusion seems premature.

So I can see why you might discount the article's main argument that the low mood => give up goal mechanism is adaptive even today, but why not accept its challenge? Perhaps your persistence in pursuing the task of heightened motivation is maladaptive--putting yourself at greater risk for psychological problems as you continually fail yourself, taking up more energy than is worthwhile, and keeping you from noticing other opportunities that work more in harmony with your abilities rather than against. I don't see that there's anything in this line of speculation to point in one direction or another--and I do know from experience that if you're working on working on your goals, you're not working.

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