Implicit Conditionals

We often misjudge claims because those claims contain implicit conditionals.   That is, when we say A, we really mean A if B, and we often implicitly assume different Bs.  For example:

Long Term Bets –  What chance would a betting market assign to the scenario that we will all be destroyed within twenty years?  Well, pretty near zero; if such a disaster happens, no one will have pay off their losing bets.  Similarly you would give very low odds to scenarios where you and all your friends are wiped out by genocide; what do you care if you lose money in that scenario?  So long term bets have many implicit conditions.

Paternalistic Altruism –  We honestly care about our friends, relatives, and other social allies, but we care about them conditional on them remaining our allies.  If they betray us, they can go to hell.  Other people care about themselves regardless of whether they remain allies.  If the situations where we remain allies differ systematically, that can set the stage for altruistic paternalism.  For example, if scenarios where we lose allies are more stressful than other scenarios, we could want our allies to invest more in health than they would choose for themselves. 

Male Confidence – Men have high variance in evolutionary outcomes – most end up pathetic losers, but a few are so impressive that scores of women want their our babies.  Evolution should have pushed men to focus behavioral strategies on those rare big win scenarios.  If being confident in our greatness makes us will all the bigger when we are in fact great, that can easily pay for making us do even worse when we are not great.

Contrarian Research – I pursue some research ideas most people think unlikely, but which I think have promise.  When I take an outside view, looking at the track record of similarly contrarian ideas, I have to admit that the odds are far against them.  But when I take an inside view, thinking about my reasons for them, and which variations I should focus on, I quickly move to a mental mode where they seem quite likely to be vindicated.  This makes sense if most of the benefits to me of pursuing these ideas occur in scenarios where my instincts are right, and they are in fact great ideas. 

How many disagreements can be well explained by assuming that the differing parties are using different implicit conditionals? 

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  • Caledonian

    most end up pathetic losers, but a few are so impressive that scores of women want their our babies

    Italicized for emphasis.

    I think your Freudian slip is showing, Hanson.

  • gutzperson

    ” have high variance in evolutionary outcomes – most end up pathetic losers, but a few are so impressive that scores of women want their our babies”

    All my friends and I have been queuing for decades. We still have not reached you few hero-geniuses.
    By the way, you are not approving of “Lebensborn”, are you?
    Besides its ugly racial and racist concept, it was all about supermen giving their supersperms to superwomen.

  • http://lonelygenius.wordpress.com LG

    Robin, I enjoy your posts very much, but this isn’t your best work. There are many typos in it that make it hard to follow, and it seems to lack a strong central argument. I understand what you’re saying because I am already familiar with the concept, but if I weren’t familiar, I would be lost. Maybe you should revisit this post for a second draft?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    LG, I’ve tried to clean it up a bit.

  • http://www.scheule.blogspot.com Scott Scheule

    Contrarian Research – I pursue some research ideas most people think unlikely, but which I think have promise. When I take an outside view, looking at the track record of similarly contrarian ideas, I have to admit that the odds are far against them. But when I take an inside view, thinking about my reasons for them, and which variations I should focus on, I quickly move to a mental mode where they seem quite likely to be vindicated. This makes sense if most of the benefits to me of pursuing these ideas occur in scenarios where my instincts are right, and they are in fact great ideas.

    Interesting. You tend to criticize Caplan for his contrarian views. It seems to me he might defend himself as you have.

  • Constant

    Pascal’s wager could fit in here, with the exception that he made the reasoning explicit.