Beware Big Bad Novelties

A central issue of this blog is: when exactly is it how important to emphasize truth, relative to other belief functions? New data suggest that truth is more important in bad times than in good, and when problems are big rather than small. Specifically, rose-colored marriage glasses help in good times, but hurt in bad times:

Individuals in new marriages were interviewed separately about their ongoing stressful experiences, and their own appraisals of those experiences were compared with those of the interviewers. … Spouses’ tendencies to form positively biased appraisals of their stressful experiences predicted fewer depressive symptoms over the subsequent 4 years among individuals judged to be facing relatively mild experiences but more depressive symptoms among individuals judged to be facing relatively severe experiences. … These effects were mediated by changes in those experiences, such that the interaction between the tendency to form positively biased appraisals of stressful experiences and the objectively rated severity of initial levels of those experiences directly predicted changes in those experiences, which in turn accounted for changes in depressive symptoms. (more)

Truth should also be especially important for situations that are novel relative to our evolved intuitions. The more our current situation differs from situations where our ancestors evolved (genetically or culturally) their intuitions about when to be truth-oriented, the more we risk by following such intuitions. And this seems especially likely for “futuristic” issues, with few genetic or cultural precedents.

Put them together and it is especially important for humanity to be truth-oriented regarding big bad evolutionarily-novel problems. Beware rose-colored glasses when turning a new corner to the future.

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  • nikki_olson

    “…..And this seems especially likely for “futuristic” issues, with few genetic or cultural precedents.”

    -the degree of caution thought necessary here could perhaps be minimized by advancements in science, yielding an increased ability to predict the outcome of novel situations. For instance, advanced computer simulations and a more completed genetics would increase the ability to predict in the face of evolutionary novelty.

  • billswift

    Rose-colored glasses are the best way to get into bad times. Or do you think all the borrowers, lenders, and Wall Street bankers recently got into trouble by being realistic?

    • Edward Spriggs

      The “borrowers, lenders, and Wall Street bankers” did not get THEMSELVES into trouble.

  • GudEnuf

    Doesn’t the media already dim our glasses pretty well, especially with regard to novel threats?

  • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

    If you are rich, or high status, then truth and reality don’t matter unless the system that maintains your wealth or high status breaks down. Then, because you don’t have practice at dealing with reality to fall back on, you are SOL.

    The bankers who caused the financial crisis are not in any trouble.

    http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2011/02/16/bankers-celebrate-bonuses-like-the-financial-crisis-never-happened-115875-22926453/

    http://blogs.wsj.com/deals/2011/02/25/banker-bonuses-more-at-rbs-get-shut-out/

    Governments couldn’t let the financial system collapse because then there would be real chaos, crop failures, starvation, looting, freezing to death, or as they say, le Déluge. The bankers played chicken with governments and the bankers won.

    Relying on wealth and status instead of the ability to deal with reality has some risk. Reality still has to be dealt with, and if you are actively thwarting those trying to deal with it (i.e. AGW deniers), then those trying to deal with reality have a harder job and the system is made more fragile. A system that is closer to its tipping point is easier to manipulate and exploit but may be irreversibly destroyed if the tipping point is exceeded.

    When playing chicken with a rational opponent, wearing rose colored glasses (or rose colored welding goggles) is an advantage. When both opponents are optimistic to the point of delusional, they will likely crash.

  • nw

    I disagree.

    Firstly, with respect to your argument, it seems there are three things we need to clear up:
    1. in an unhappy partnership, one partner may want to stay in the relationship
    2. breaking up a partnership is only rational if the two partners can get a better deal elsewhere.
    3. you reference a study of marriages which may or may not apply to business dealings, cultural issues, or “macro” politics. We can’t reason universals from particulars.

    Anecdotally, the truth is more important in good times, as you are more likely to run into rosy colored speculative projects in good times. A realtor published “are you missing the real estate boom” in 2005, but didn’t re-issue the book in 2009. There is no money to finance rosy colored projects in bad times.

    Also, in bad times, we regress to a state living familiar to our ancestors. When the price of oil hit $140 a barrel, I read airlines would re-start propeller aviation, with “luxury” jet travel reserved at higher prices. There’s no especial need to hear the truth in bad times since our bodies are better suited to intuit truth in bad times.

  • hanlon

    ” Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth”

    — Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)

  • Miley Cyrax

    Things like affirmative action and illegal immigration don’t sound so bad when the economy’s good, but now that the economic landscape is bleak more people are starting to take notice.

  • Evan

    New data suggest that truth is more important in bad times than in good, and when problems are big rather than small.

    I suppose it’s good that new data suggests the exact same thing common sense does.

    @Miley Cyrax

    Things like affirmative action and illegal immigration don’t sound so bad when the economy’s good, but now that the economic landscape is bleak more people are starting to take notice.

    I don’t know, it seems like illegal immigration was a big issue before 2008, it makes a good distraction for the Republicans so their voters don’t notice when they ignore far more important issues. And I remember that several states restricted affirmative action before the financial crisis, California in 1996, Washington in 1998, Michigan in 2006. Nebraska banned it in 2008, which meant it had to have been on the ballot before the crisis broke.

  • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

    I would be interested in an analysis of today’s op-ed by Peter Diamond in terms of truth relative to other belief functions. Presumably the most serious economic downturn since the Great Depression does count as “hard times”.

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