Far Idealism Puzzles

In far mode we attend to more general abstract explicit goals.  These tend to be more idealistic goals:

“Values are more likely to be expressed through value-congruent judgments and behaviors when individuals think abstractly about their actions, and not when they think concretely.” … By “values” these psychologists actually mean what I’ll call “ideals” – abstract, as opposed to concrete, goals that we verbally, and usually proudly, embrace.

I’ve mentioned a few other patterns that fit with this, such as that sex is near while love is far, and that on a fast sinking ship it was every man for himself, but on a slow sinking ship social ideals more determined who survived.

But I should also mention some patterns that don’t fit as neatly.  For now, I’ll just put these puzzles out there:

1. We help others more when we envision a particular person in need,  not a big group in need. (more)

2. Schools help induce far mode, creativity is far, yet schools reduce creativity.

3. We are less likely to procrastinate on a task framed as near:

Participants were asked to respond to a questionnaire via e-mail within 3 weeks. … Individuals were less likely to procrastinate performing the task when the questionnaire induced a more concrete construal. Furthermore, this effect did not depend on the attractiveness, importance, or perceived difficulty of the task. (more)

4. We make more indulgent choices for others than we make for ourselves:

Consumers typically manage these personal goals by combining indulgent and virtuous choices. When choosing for others, however, this is not the case. Consumers then focus on a pleasure‐seeking goal, which leads to indulgent choices for others. … Consumers tend to make more indulgent choices for others than for themselves, unless the concept of management is highly accessible or people are making choices for the distant future. (more)

5.  Power is far, lower classes have less power, yet lower classes are more generous:

Across 4 studies, lower class individuals proved to be more generous (Study 1), charitable (Study 2), trusting (Study 3), and helpful (Study 4) compared with their upper class counterparts. Mediator and moderator data showed that lower class individuals acted in a more prosocial fashion because of a greater commitment to egalitarian values and feelings of compassion. (more)

6. We care less about things that are far.  We care less about hypothetical and low probability events, about outcomes further in the future, and about people who are more socially distant.

Added 8p: It isn’t especially elegant, but a simple resolution of these puzzles is just to say that nearfar isn’t the only factor that influences idealism.

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  • JS Allen

    If anything, this points out a potential flaw in your definition of “Love”. In order to contrast a “far Love” with a “near sex”, you seem to be defining “love” as a sort of intellectual exercise where someone reads “Sorrows of Young Werther” and “Romeo and Juliet” and fantasizes himself into a frenzy. Personally, I wouldn’t call that love.

    Historically, “love” has been associated with a woman picking up and feeding a crying baby, a man jumping into a raging river to save a stranger, people giving food and water to the homeless, a friend taking a bullet for another friend, and so on. By this more historically appropriate definition, “love” is definitely near.

  • James D. Miller

    For (2): It’s hard to teach and test creativity.

    Our profession doesn’t stress creativity when teaching undergraduates as evidenced by the huge percentage of economic’s exam questions in which there is a single correct answer one could arrive at by memorized mechanical means.

  • Buck Farmer

    Near/far analysis should be subsumed by signalling analysis.

    Signalling explanations will get you most of the near/far distinctions and will resolve puzzles 1,4,5.

    2. That creativity is not rewarded reliably in the market (look at lawyers, corporate jobs, etc. versus entrepreneurs, artists), and that parents are primarily concerned about downside risk for their children, means that parents choose schools that discourage creativity.

    3. This is a simple risk/reward problem with hunter-gatherer thinking. If you know the berries can be gathered tomorrow, but you don’t know what opportunities are available today, you’ll put your attention on resource search not research capture. I think this reasoning is flawed without some additional assumptions, but it seems a reasonable heuristic/bias that could be tested in hunter-gather populations.

    Don’t hammer all your pegs into round holes.

  • Stuart Armstrong

    2. and possibly 5. seem as if they are in the category of “situations that emerge from complicated and contradictory processes, hence there is no single simple explanation”.

    3. does not seem a surprise; far mode thinking seems to correlate with far mode actions (ie we are more likely to change careers for the sake of far mode thinking than to balance our budget very differently).

    Is 4. stable across cultures?

    I can invent many explanations for 1., but none of them are particularly convincing…

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  • mjgeddes

    (1) Thinking in terms of large groups of people is actually near when it triggers logical utilitarian calcualations that are not idealistic and simply Machiavellian. Thinking in terms of individuals can be far when triggering fuzzy idealistic emotions.

    (2) Schools are not clearly favouring far over near. Far mode (narrative, analogical) thinking is the natural child-hood mode of thought, the near-mode logical training of school tends to crowd that out. Schools are teaching a contradictory mish-mash of near and far – logical training and invented rationalizations for a *limited* set of ideals.

    (3) ..because it’s important in a logical utilitarian sense to get urgent tasks done (this is simply Machiavellian near rather than idealistic far).

    (4) The need for useful purchases can be Machiavellian (logical and utilitarian near) rather than virtuous. The desire for indulgence can trigger fuzzy idealistic emotions.

    (5) Solidarity/Group Identity is far, not power per se. Lower classes require more solidarity and well defined group identities to resist domination.

  • Dirk

    Schools only hint at the idea of far mode. Being in school, like being in prison, is near.

  • mjgeddes

    Near mode of thought is similar to the system-oriented/aspergers/autistic side of the thought spectrum. More male oriented? Far mode is simialr to the more emotional/intuitive/imaginative side of the thought spectrum. More female oriented?

    As far as I can tell, everything is far mode. Consider reasoning about bayesian Induction. Every single step of your reasoning (in so far as you are conscious of it), has to involve categorization (other wise you would not be conscious of it!) So in fact, every single conscious step of bayesian reasoning can be translated into a description in terms of analogical inference (far mode). This suggests to me that far mode wraps near mode.

    I say to those who have swalled the ‘pill’ offered by the Sing Inst/Less Wrong world view, beware! Beware you are not still in the Matrix! Consider the bias that may be caused by over-emphasis and skill with near mode (the aspergers-autistic-system-oriented side of the spectrum). Isn’t it highly plausible that lack of far-mode skill could be causing these people to miss big obvious flaws in their world-view? The answer is yes!

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  • There’s an ongoing discussion at Less Wrong (Urges vs. Goals) in which, at least broadly, goal setting lines up with far mental processes, whereas “urges” are near. This suggests that far thinking serves a more important function than hypocrisy, as we pretty obviously can’t function at all effectively without goals. I wonder if Hanson agrees with this alignment.

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