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Posted on 2011.02.06 at 16:50


dentin at 2011-02-14 17:04 (UTC) (Link)

Failure after failure

Before I start, I'd like to make it clear that many difficult choices are difficult because we must make decisions between short and long term goals, where the short term goals have an artificially inflated value due to our core programming. However, I do not blame most failures on this. I also do not blame most failures on lack of character.

I blame them on bad modeling.

I know a lot of people who "fail at life" in various ways. There is only one consistent theme: their model of the universe, for that part of the universe they depend on to achieve success and happiness, is inaccurate. An inaccurate model engenders inaccurate predictions, which instigate actions with sub-optimal results, which results in failure.

Failure again and again, driven by an inaccurate model, that is never updated. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.

We do not teach people how to think analytically about things they see around them. We don't teach them how to form and evaluate models, how to update models when confronted with conflicting data. Most people get offended when you give them data that conflicts with their broken model.

(As an extreme example of this, take the online Pick Up Artist community. The core principle of pickup is that attraction and seduction are complex problems that can not just be modeled, but can be accurately modeled. Oh, and BTW, here's a set of algorithms that optimize for various outcomes. Most of the people I've introduced to these concepts are either violently offended or dismissive, because they conflict with an inaccurate belief of how relationships should work.)

This is what I find so utterly sad about the unhappiness I see around me. Not that people are lazy or awful or stupid; but that they simply don't know any better.
ehowton at 2011-02-14 17:28 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Failure after failure

I must run into ignorance far more often than you do. No, ignorance is too kind - we are all initially ignorant - whatever you would call those who get offended at conflicting broken-model data, because for me those people fall into the three categories you've suggested: lazy, awful & stupid. I will admit to being *thrilled* you've given me the sub-category for that which (and I hesitate to use the word) motivates them.

The question remains, if their so unhappy, don't they know it? Don't they ever strive to not be frustrated? I don't find it sad as much as I simply don't understand.
dentin at 2011-02-14 17:47 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Failure after failure

Yes, they know it, and yes they try not to be frustrated, they really try. They just fail, because the universe doesn't work the way they think it should, and because they refuse to update their thinking. I can think of one particular example who is trying ever so hard to make the universe fit her model of it instead of the reverse. It makes me very sad.

The reasons are many and poor: "it's too hard to understand that" "you can't analyze that" "emotions can't be understood" "but that's what my mother/father/priest/teacher told me" "I like my mistaken belief better" "my friends don't believe that" "I once read an article that said the opposite", and the ultimate cop-out: "can we ever truly know anything?"

As someone who embraces change and strives for deep, solid, and consistent understanding, you immediately dismiss these reasons as ridiculous; but for those in the mix, those held back by these reasons, they are a great wall.

The wall analogy is a good one. You and I know that on the other side of the wall lies success; but they lack that understanding. To them, the wall is comfortable and tearing it down is risky and uncertain. They fear what is on the other side, because they do not know. They do not know because they will not tear it down.
michelle1963 at 2011-02-14 17:39 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Failure after failure

Inaccurate model--beautiful observation. I do have to wonder what it is in so many people that makes them resistant to redefining their model. It's not simply that they have not been taught to analyze--although that is certainly true.

As you said:

Most people get offended when you give them data that conflicts with their broken model.

This is more than just an inability to analyze. It appears that they fear any change. Is the "change = bad" scenario part of their inaccurate model? If so, how did it become so pervasive? Or is this fear driven by something else?
dentin at 2011-02-14 17:55 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Failure after failure

The reasons are legion, and it appears that a significant factor is hardwired either at a very early age or genetically. Some portion of it is definitely genetic, with controlled experiments showing differences in belief structure based on biochemical factors.

There's a huge set of posts and topics about this on lesswrong.com, if you're super bored or super interested in it.
michelle1963 at 2011-02-14 18:04 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Failure after failure

If it's hardwired genetically, that would imply an evolutionary advantage--or a side effect of some other evolutionary mutation that is an advantage.

Interesting. Thanks for the link.
dentin at 2011-02-14 18:11 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Failure after failure

If you think about it, both could be positives, combined in moderation. The bulk of a tribe conservative and risk averse, maintaining the homefront. The small percentage of individuals willing to take risks and be different are more likely to die, but also more likely to become leaders and explorers that bring back advantages for the entire tribe.

Basically a stable product line and a research department, like most large companies of today.
michelle1963 at 2011-02-14 18:42 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Failure after failure

Probably an advantage for most of homo sapiens' existence. I have to question whether this mindset is an advantage now. It seems to mire us in many of our regional/ethnic/religious conflicts.
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