Biases Of Fiction

This essay, on “The 38 most common fiction writing mistakes”, offers advice to writers. But the rest of us can also learn useful details on how fiction can bias our thinking. Here are my summary of key ways it says fiction differs from reality (detailed quotes below):

Features of fictional folk are more extreme than in reality; real folks are boring by comparison. Fictional folks are more expressive, and give off clearer signs about their feelings and intentions. Their motives are simpler and clearer, and their actions are better explained by their motives and local visible context. Who they are now is better predicted by their history. Compared to real people, they are more likely to fight for what they want, especially when they encounter resistance. Their conversations are mostly pairwise, more logical, and to the point. In fiction, events are determined more by motives and plans, relative to random chance and larger social forces. Overt conflict between people is more common than in real life.

And I’ll add that stories tend to affirm standard moral norms. Good guys, who do good acts, have more other virtuous features than in reality, and and good acts are rewarded more often than in reality.

A lot of our biases come, I think, from expecting real life to be like fiction. For example, when we have negative opinions on important subjects, we tend too much to expect that we should explicitly and directly express those negative opinions in a dramatic conversation scene. We should speak our mind, make it clear, talk it through, etc. This usually a bad idea. We also tend to feel bad about ourselves when we notice that we avoid confrontation, and back off when from things we want when we encounter resistance. But such retreat is usually for the best.

Those promised quotes:

In more than twenty years of teaching courses in professional writing at the University of Oklahoma, I think I’ve encountered almost every difficulty an aspiring writer might face. …

“Wally, these characters are dull. What they are is flat and insipid. They are pasteboard. They have no life, no color, no vivacity. They need a lot of work. ”
Wally looked shocked. “How can these characters be dull? They’re real people-every one of them! I took them right out of real life!”
“Oh”, I said. “So that’s the problem. ”
“What?” he said.
“You can never use real people in your story. ”
“Why?”
“For one reason, real people might sue you. But far more to the point in fiction copy, real people – taken straight over and put on the page of a story – are dull. ” …

Good fiction characters, in other words, are never, ever real people. Your idea for a character may begin with a real person, but to make him vivid enough for your readers to believe in him, you have to exaggerate tremendously; you have to provide shortcut identifying characteristics that stick out all over him, you have to make him practically a monster-for readers to see even his dimmest outlines.

For example, if your real person is loyal, you will make your character tremendously, almost unbelievably loyal; if he tends to be a bit impatient in real life, your character will fidget, gnash his teeth, drum his fingers, interrupt others, twitch, and practically blow sky high with his outlandishly exaggerated impatience….

Good fiction characters also tend to be more understandable than real-life people. They do the things they do for motives that make more sense than real-life motives often do. While they’re more mercurial and colorful, they’re also more goal-motivated. Readers must be able to understand why your character does what he does; they may not agree with his motives, but you have carefully set things up so at least they can see that he’s acting as he is for some good reason. …

In real life, a young woman may come out of a poverty-stricken rural background and still somehow become the president of a great university. Except in a long novel, where you might have sufficient space to make it believable, you would have a hard time selling this meshing of background and present reality in fiction. … In short fiction, characters and their backgrounds are almost always much more consistent than people in real life.

Motivation? Again, fictional characters are better than life. In real life, people often seem to do things for no reason we can understand. They act on impulses that grow out of things in their personalities that even they sometimes don’t understand. But in fiction there is considerably less random chance. … in real life people often don’t make sense. But in fiction, they do. …

interesting characters are almost always characters who are active-risk-takers – highly motivated toward a goal. Many a story has been wrecked at the outset because the writer chose to write about the wrong kind of person -a character of the type we sometimes call a wimp. … He’s the one who wouldn’t fight under any circumstances.
Ask him what he wants, and he just sighs. Poke him, and he flinches-and retreats. Confront him with a big problem, and he fumes and fusses and can’t make a decision. …

In reality-in the real world -much of what happens is accidental. … In most effective fiction, accidents don’t determine the outcome. And your story people don’t sit around passively. … In good fiction, the story people determine the outcome. Not fate.

In fiction, the best times for the writer- and reader- are when the story’s main character is in the worst trouble. … There are many kinds of fiction trouble, but the most effective kind is conflict. You know what conflict is. It’s active give-and-take, a struggle between story people with opposing goals. … The calmer and more peaceful your real life, the better, in all likelihood. Your story person’s life is just the opposite. You the author must never duck trouble … Because fiction is make-believe, it has to be more logical than real life if it is to be believed. In real life, things may occur for no apparent reason. But in fiction you the writer simply cannot ever afford to lose sight of logic and let things happen for no apparent reason. …

In real life, coincidence happens all the time. But in fiction – especially when the coincidence helps the character be at the right place at the right time, or overhear the crucial telephone conversation, or something similar -coincidence is deadly. Your readers will refuse to believe it. …

Your character must have an immediate, physical cause for what he does. This immediate stimulus cannot be merely a thought inside his head; for readers to believe many transactions, they have to be shown a stimulus to action that is outside of the character-some kind of specific prod that is onstage right now. Turning this around, it’s equally true that if you start by showing a stimulus, then you can’t simply ignore it; you must show a response. … In real life, you might get a random thought for no apparent reason, and as a consequence do or say something. But … fiction has to be better than life, clearer and more logical. …

Writers sometimes mess up their dialogue. Sometimes, without realizing it, they let their characters talk on and on, boringly, becoming windbags. … The great majority of your characters have to be more terse and logical than we often are in real life, if the dialogue on the page is to appear realistic. … whenever possible, set up your dialogue scenes so that they play out “one-on-one”, getting rid of other characters (who might interrupt and make the conversation more complicated). … Simplicity… directness… goal orientation… brevity. These are the hallmarks of modern story dialogue. …

If you have any doubt that the reader will understand the meaning of what someone in the story says or does, you must work in at once some method of pointing out what you may think is obvious. (more; HT Eliezer Yudkowsky)

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  • VV

    Mandatory TVTropes reference:
    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RealityIsUnrealistic

    Anyway, it seems unfair to claim that most of our biases come from fiction. Fiction doesn’t come from another planet, it is made by humans for humans, thus it reflects common human biases, although it could perhaps act as a feedback loop to reinforce them (at least for some people and some kind of fiction).

    • Philip Goetz

       Fiction doesn’t reflect common biases.  It is biased in ways that sell books.  (That is, its biases are biased.)

      • VV

         Over-detection of agency and purpose is a common bias, and so it is illusion of control (the two biases are related, and in fact they are both at the core of religion)

      • Philip Goetz

         True.

  • Caryatis

    Some of these are specifically characteristics of _modern_ fiction. For instance, for a character in a 18th or 19th century novel, direct, goal-oriented, brief statements that stay on topic were certainly not the ideal.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    You’ve had some posts before here on how fiction lies which have obtained some of my mindshare, but I often forget which specific posts they are. I’m linking them here as a reference for later. Searching now, you linked some of the main ones off “Tropes Are Treasures”: Why Fiction Lies and Data on Fictional Lies. Robin also noted that we seem to accept dreams as evidence, and presumably accept the “detached detail” of fiction similarly. That likely motivated his disagreement with Eliezer over learning moral truth from the latter’s series of stories on aliens originally published on OB (which I refrained from reading for just those reasons).

  • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

    A construal-level theorist shouldn’t speak generally about the effects of fiction without considering the medium. Reading fiction is far-mode. So, of course it is appropriate for the author  to omit the inessential and incidental. Readers don’t automatically carry over their far-mode thinking directly to near-mode, as you of course know. Good fiction gives us a far-mode perspective on our near-mode quotidia. It keeps us from losing the forest for the trees in our day-to-day life.

    The villain is television, which provides a greatly distorting near-mode experience. It’s television, not books, that the population apes; not just because they spend more time at it but because of the construal level it induces. It is near-mode in form, far-mode in content. The distortions of far-mode experienced in near-mode. Now, an even more near-mode version of TV dominates: reality TV. And increasingly people act like it really is reality and think it represents appropriate or typical real-world behavior.

  • Michael Vassar

    What makes you think that dramatic conversations, talking things through, not retreating from resistance, etc are mistakes?  In my observations, retreating from resistence, avoiding confrontation etc in the ways that people do are very much more commonly mistakes.  

    • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

      Life experience is my source.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        When people try to compensate for their cowardly loss aversion, they do what usually happens when you try to compensate for unconscious bias consciously: they overcompensate. (Re overcompensation bias, see my “The deeper solution to the mystery of moralism” — http://tinyurl.com/9exlxlk )

        Far-mode (and its adjunct, literature) are more efficient compensation mechanisms than the conscious effort that engenders excess.

  • Philip Goetz

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, for two reasons.  The first is that I’m reading War and Peace.  In every poll of famous Western writers, War and Peace comes in first place as the best novel of all time.  But it’s not like other novels!  It’s hyper-realistic in many ways.  All of the characters are a mix of virtues and failings, so that it’s hard to like or dislike any of them.  There’s no plot–there’s an over-arching story about the war with Napoleon, but it isn’t a plot, because Tolstoy doesn’t try to make you care about the war.  Instead, every character uses the war to pursue their own petty concerns.  At no point do you wonder (or care) what’s going to happen next to any of them, because they’re not very sympathetic, and their problems are generally trivial ones they stupidly created for themselves.  Even when they’re in battle and under fire, the characters aren’t usually worried about getting killed or winning the battle, but are bewildered, focused on a specific task, wondering how to win glory for themselves, admiring an emperor or general, obsessing over something trivial, or in some other way distracting the reader from the danger and defusing the tension.  All of the battle scenes show people wounded or killed because some leader made a stupid decision, forgot something, or deliberately led men on a useless and dangerous mission in order to win glory.  No one gets upset about the stupidity because they themselves endorse the same stupid values–or when they do get upset, it’s because they’re overcome by some competing but equally-stupid meme.

    One of the themes appears to be the uselessness and unmanliness (and un-womanliness) of reason.  Stupidity reigns supreme, and kills people uselessly, but is beautiful.  Stupidity is the prime mover for both good and evil. There’s a subplot in which a Mason accuses Pierre of living his life as a wastrel instead of helping his fellow man. The Mason’s arguments are vacuous, and he misunderstands Pierre; but Pierre’s own ignorance and lack of confidence leads him to accept the arguments and join the Masons. Pierre attempts to help his serfs, motivated by the words of Masons who themselves do no such thing. His efforts are all worse than useless because of his naivete. But another count, believing that Pierre’s efforts were effective, seeks to imitate him, and in so doing has real, beneficial effects on his serfs. So, in the story, good intentions are kept alive as a cultural meme by the pride of fools, and spread from person to person until they happen upon someone who believes the propaganda and actually does something good.

    In most ways, it depicts people much more truthfully than other books.  But I don’t know if I want to write or read stories that are that truthful!  It has little emotional impact and no suspense.  The only way I can get through it is on audio, because if it were a physical book, I would never be motivated to pick it up again after setting it down.

    Why is it that writers love this novel above all others, but never try to write anything like it?

    The second is that I read Fallout: Equestria.  Although it’s longer than War and Peace, I read it in two weeks.  It’s both intellectually interesting, and has gripping action.  At first I thought that was genius, because no other books are like that.  Then I realized that it was probably just that the author was ignorant of the war in literature between intellectuals and populists, and didn’t realize she was supposed to choose a side.  Books aren’t allowed to be both interesting and exciting.  Books that are meant to be popular are required to be either optimistic or cynical, but never realistic.  Books that are “literature” can’t have exciting action sequences.

    • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

      Why is it that writers love this novel above all others, but never try to write anything like it?

      Because what makes the book highly interesting is the extraordinary psychological insight packed into every page. If an author isn’t also a psychologist of the caliber of Freud and Nietzsche he doesn’t have a chance. How many authors qualify?

      The only way I can get through it is on audio, because if it were a physical book, I would never be motivated to pick it up again after setting it down.

      Philistine!

      • Philip Goetz

         Oh, dammit, I’m being honest again instead of signalling, aren’t I?

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        Just kidding, Philip Goetz (and doing my own signaling). But you really should bear in mind that construal-level theory predicts you will have a materially different experience of the book by hearing it than Tolstoy intended.

      • VV

        You are signalling honesty :D

      • Drewfus

        signalling = dishonesty ?

    • http://www.facebook.com/yudkowsky Eliezer Yudkowsky

      And that, in a nutshell, is why I can’t read real books anymore.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        Is Harry Potter a real book or an alt. book? Gotta calibrate…

    • Gabriel Duquette

      Have you read any Thomas Harris? Everything about his writing contradicts your last three sentences.

    • Ray Lopez

      good one.  Russian writers are like that.  Checkov, contrary to the tone of the article, once said to describe things indirectly:  not the full moon but the glint off the bottle.

  • Philip Goetz

    “whenever possible, set up your dialogue scenes so that they play out “one-on-one”, getting rid of other characters (who might interrupt and make the conversation more complicated)”

    I’ve been going through famous books and noting how many of the dialogues are one-on-one.  This may be a new thing.  Books before the 20th century may have had more conversations with many people. I haven’t got a big enough sample and haven’t written down counts, so I can’t be sure.  20th century books have mostly one-on-one dialogues.  I don’t think this is in order to make the conversation less-complicated.  I think it’s due to the strong stylistic fad for editing out speech tags.  If you write, ‘ “Free at last!” Martin said’, many editors will tell you to rework the dialogue to reduce the number of tags like “Martin said”.  This is a stupid fad that subconsciously teaches writers to avoid conversations with more than two people.  With 2 people, you don’t need speech tags.

    We can test this theory by comparing plays and movies to novels and short stories. Plays and movies don’t need speech tags. My impression is that plays have more conversations with more than 2 people.

  • Philip Goetz

    You linked to a pirate site of the worst kind: the for-profit pirate.  Scribd charges a subscription fee to allow you access to their illegal collection of copyrighted works.

    • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

      Why should we care? (Don’t you all support the Pirate Party?)

      • Philip Goetz

         I doubt even the Pirate Party supports people who steal stuff and then sell it.

      • dEMOCRATIC_cENTRALIST

        “Steal?” Oh my! How terrible!

        If piracy isn’t theft, their “crime” is selling, not stealing.

  • Drewfus

    “Fictional folks are more expressive, and give off clearer signs about their feelings and intentions. Their motives are simpler and clearer, and their actions are better explained by their motives and local visible context. Who they are now is better predicted by their history.”
    “…real folks are boring anonymous and unpredictable by comparison.”

    Culture is about how we want everyone else to behave.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CronoDAS Douglas Scheinberg

    Many a story has been wrecked at the outset because the writer chose to write about the wrong kind of person -a character of the type we sometimes call a wimp. … He’s the one who wouldn’t fight under any circumstances. Ask him what he wants, and he just sighs. Poke him, and he flinches-and retreats. Confront him with a big problem, and he fumes and fusses and can’t make a decision. …

    You mean, they act like Hamlet? Or Thomas Covenant?

  • Philip Skogsberg

    ” We also tend to feel bad about ourselves when we notice that we avoid
    confrontation, and back off when from things we want when we
    encounter resistance. But such retreat is usually for the best.”

    why is it for the best? I often find myself regretting not taking the chance to confront someone about something that is important to me, feeling like I should have said something, like it would have been good to stand up for myself. I’m curious, why could this be a bad idea?

  • Gabriel Duquette

    I think a lot of smart people treat their media like comfort food and then assume the rest must be the same. And of course other media isn’t THEIR comfort food, it’s obviously riddled with dumb biases. Compounded error.

  • Monte Davis

    Agreed with your emphasis on the extreme compression we take for granted in fictional encoding. Consider the extremely simple profile caricature of Alfred Hitchcock, http://lfpictures.com/blog/?p=1090 .
    For anyone who’d seen even a few photographs of him, it was instantly recognizable. It contains very few bits compared to a photo or video, let alone AH in person, but they’re the right bits.

    But then, recursively: we probably shouldn’t compare the information content/density of characters in fiction to living people, but to our (already massively compressed) mental representations of others. To speak of someone’s “character” or “temperament” — even someone we’ve known intimately all our lives — is inevitably to simplify, flatten, encode.

    -Monte Davis

  • http://twitter.com/TruthHive TruthHive

    Yes I agree 100% about this.  We build an idea of what life will be like when we’re young and the only knowledge we have to go on is media and entertainment.  Then, when we get older we have to face deprogramming ourselves with the misinformation burned into our brains – kinda sucks.  Anyways, that kind of my personal experience, I wonder if the author can give what difference from reality has most shocked him?

  • Drewfus

    “you have to exaggerate tremendously”
    “you will make your character tremendously, almost unbelievably loyal”
    “…his outlandishly exaggerated impatience…”
    “While they’re more mercurial and colorful, they’re also more goal-motivated.”

    So very low probability traits in real people are normal probability in fictional characters.

    “you would have a hard time selling this meshing of background and present reality in fiction. … In short fiction, characters and their backgrounds are almost always much more consistent than people in real life.”
    “But in fiction there is considerably less random chance. … in real life people often don’t make sense. But in fiction, they do. …”
    “In reality-in the real world -much of what happens is accidental. … In most effective fiction, accidents don’t determine the outcome. … In good fiction, the story people determine the outcome. Not fate.”

    So relatively low probability life outcomes and behaviours are high probability in fiction, whereas…

    “interesting characters are almost always characters who are active-risk-takers – highly motivated toward a goal.”

    … the characters themselves are more risk-taking.

    Overall, the fiction writer shifts randomness from life to character traits and risk-seeking behavior. All these unlikely traits manage to result in an unlikely outcome. For the reader, the novel becomes like a long-odds Parlay that wins. The novel is gambling is disguise. The purpose is to encourage risk-taking. Risk-taking is negative-sum for the risk taker, but society needs people to take risks. Hooray culture!

    Having been coaxed into the joys of risk-taking by a lifetime of hearing and reading stories, most people then answer 2. for the following question:

    Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations. Which is more probable?

     1. Linda is a bank teller.
     2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

    • Goatherd

      Are you saying that exposure to stories wipes out our innate understanding of Bayesian probability? 

      • Drewfus

        Yes, i think that would be a reasonable way of putting it. Perhaps the cognitive load of understanding the story has the effect of lowering our intellectual standards in general, so that the big winning gamble each story encodes is consistently accepted uncritically, until a distorted sense of probability becomes habitual. Or perhaps rather than a lowering of intellectual standards, it is simply an issue of focus, and the implicit gamble is the unseen gorilla.

        More generally, my hunch is that cognitive biases have an as yet unseen social purpose. By that i don’t mean a higher purpose, rather in the sense of society as a self-organizing system. This possibility should be considered before overcoming bias.

      • Drewfus

        More reasonably, i’d say:

        Exposure to stories wipes out degrades our innate understanding of Bayesian probability.

    • dmytryl

      A problem with relevance of bank teller example is that

      a: ‘probable’ has many meanings,
      b: maxim of relevance / presumption of relevance.
      c: direction of ‘is’ can sometimes be changed by context.

      For example, it can be interpreted as “a bank teller is Linda” and “a bank teller active in the feminist movement is Linda” because the original direction of is leads to overly trivial question, which would violate maxim of relevance.

      (Anecdotally, making an assumption that the questions are meant to obey maxim of relevance is something that slightly autistic persons seem to fail to do).

    • dEMOCRATIC_cENTRALIST

       The bank teller problem as an example of risk-taking is quite a stretch. You have to examine the massive evidence for the interpretation supplied by Kahneman and others–that is, other problems that show the same bias without involving risk. Anyone can take a problem, abstract some aspect (e.g. risk taking), and say it proves the applicability of the analyst’s rubric. That’s guesswork in the worse sense of the word, since it simply ignores the available evidence.

      • dmytryl

        Kahneman tends to find very strong effect, whereas others ( http://www.econ.jhu.edu/wp-content/uploads/pdf/papers/wp552.pdf ) tend to find smaller biases than Kahneman, and find that minor variations which increase realism or clarity massively decrease the bias.

        A pattern typical of psychology: someone has a speculation, and they’re producing “massive evidence” arguably in it’s favour. After they retire or die, someone new comes around, and there’s new speculation which explains same things in a new way, and new massive evidence. It works because the speculations are not predictive enough to be falsifiable, and the field over-relies on confirmation. Not that it hasn’t improved since Freud, it has, but the overall dynamics of theories like “ego, id, superego” or “type 1 and type 2″ remains the same.

      • dEMOCRATIC_cENTRALIST

         “Massive evidence” is overstatement; I should have said “varied evidence.” The point is that whatever effect exists, it can’t be explained convincingly by risktaking except by isolating a single study.

      • Drewfus

        Thanks for the info, above and below.

        “… but the overall dynamics of theories like “ego, id, superego” or “type 1 and type 2″ remains the same.”

        Ideas that a more speculative, ego-satisfying, status affirming or boosting, politically correct or political in their implications, need more science and ‘massive evidence’ to give them the veneer of credibility they require. Demand and supply at work.

        The concept of science as the search for the knowledge is carefully maintained by culture. Regardless, humans build tools (in the broadest sense) to be exploited, not to be used according to some set of ethical principles. We believe in ourselves, and only in ourselves – all the rest is window dressing.

      • dmytryl

         Drewfus:The issue with psychology, I think, is that evidence is simply non existent. There is zero evidence in favour of any grand psychological theory (be it ego super ego or be it near far). Absolutely zero.But you will say, they conduct experiments! Surely I seen evidence! No. The evidence for theories only exist if a theory makes unique predictions, and if said prediction fails, the theory is discarded. That absent from psychology, because a: an experiment can fail to detect anything for any reasons, and b: theory does not have to predict effect size. The amount of actual evidence in favour of a theory is microscopic when the predictions are binary, and zero when predictions don’t have to be correct.

      • Drewfus

        @dmytryl

        Fine, we are all off the hook. I’m sure that will be popular, and if we all stay paid, i’m sure the overall situation could be regarded as acceptable, even ideal. Maybe that is why the controlled experiment is held in such high regard, in spite of its apparent inability to move us forward, because it helps make doing science an end in itself.

      • dEMOCRATIC_cENTRALIST

        Mathematically, the evidence in favour of a theory can only exist if a theory makes unique predictions, and under condition that if said prediction failed the theory would have been discarded.

        Mathematically? Math has nothing to do with it–except within a philosophical theory of evidence.

        You’re writing as if Karl Popper was the last word on the philosophy of science–as though we lived in an alternate universe that never saw Quine or Kuhn. Sorry. Popper went down when his theory of verisimilitude failed.

        Maybe Katja will weigh in. She’s a philosopher.

      • dmytryl

        dEMOCRATIC_cENTRALIST:

        How, pray tell, would Quine substantively disagree?

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        Quine maintained (I would say demonstrated) that no theory has unequivocal implications.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        I’m democratic centralist, if anyone doesn’t know.

      • dmytryl

        srdiamond:

        And what bearing it has exactly on the issue? A theory can have evidence in favour of its usefulness, or against, or it’s greater usefulness than alternatives, and it works the same. Far from “defining” anything, philosophy is squabbling over the matters under which everything is invariant (or should be invariant), such as choice of words, and generally has detrimental effect on progress of science in so much as anyone gives any weight what so ever to it. See Boltzmann and positivism.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        And what bearing it has exactly on the issue?

        No true predictions, as you would require, even in physics. Only plausibility arguments–although more decisive arguments, relatively speaking, in the “hard” sciences.

        Far from “defining” anything, philosophy is squabbling over the matters under which everything is invariant (or should be invariant), such as choice of words, and generally has detrimental effect on progress of science in so much as anyone gives any weight what so ever to it. See Boltzmann and positivism.

        Did I say philosophy defines things? The point isn’t philosophy’s grandeur but that certain of its critics are themselves prisoners of (stupid) philosophies–of Popperian nonesense that every thinking person who has seriously considered the matters have rejected. 

        Falsibiability as a criterion died with the failure of verisimilitude. Both falsificationism and verificationism are both dead. And those are the schools that tried to “define things”–but they were creatures of academic philosophy.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        Also note that Thomas Kuhn was a historian of science, not a philosopher. He probably did the most to rubbish the verificationist/falsificationist mythology.

        I suppose that you, like Yudkowsky, have a particularly low opinion of historians as well as philosophers. (The fact that most of them are full of crap doesn’t distinguish them from other endeavors. Almost all of Yudkowsky’s fan club are engineers. Philosophers and historians make their own stupidities, but at least they know enough to stay away from that kind of con. You won’t see them contrlibuting $20,000 to a Singularity fund drive, as you find engineers doing.)

      • dmytryl

        srdiamond:

        if a confidence in something can’t be decreased by some event, not even a little, it should not be increased by the negation of that event. I’m not aware of any mathematical formalism that would allow this. (Perhaps there is misunderstanding? I did not mean that a single experiment should be able to overturn a theory completely).

        Something can be “truth” of proposition, or usefulness of proposition, doesn’t matter. If you are concerned with usefulness, ala functionalism – where is the massive evidence that shows the people who use “system 1″ and “system 2″ false dichotomy perform better at predicting other people? I don’t see any.

        with regards to the “system 1″ and “system 2″, they are fiction even according to Kahneman himself ( http://www.newappsblog.com/2012/11/kahneman-on-system-1-and-system-2-as-fictitious-characters.html ). People love dichotomies of this kind, and this one is clearly Freud’s id and ego re-branded in a way particularly attractive for aspies and transhumanists (whom really love inappropriate engineering analogies for states of mind). Also: when deliberately adding a fictional dichotomy, Kahneman ought to have used wording that is less prone to inducing bias; one can hardly come up with something worse than “system 1″ and “system 2″. Especially given that, plain as day, the examples of the “system 2″ thinking, such as his own choice of example of multiplication of 17 by 24, are broken down into “system 1″ steps by “system 1″ itself. Specifically: I multiply 24 by 20, then I substract 24*3 which I know . The plan is a “type 1″ knee jerk reaction, each step is a “type 1″ knee jerk reaction. Multi step reasoning can provide answers in many circumstances where single step reasoning can not, everyone knows that, without any false dichotomies like “system 1″ for single step and “system 2″ for multi step.

        re: the philosophers and engineers, the biggest difference is that latter sometimes have a lot of money, and are far more numerous. The Katja that you referenced as some sort of philosopher authority, bought into this scam to the point of moving to different continent, no?

        with regards to philosophers of science or historians of science: how’s about referencing scientists for once, rather than this crowd which does the same thing that Yudkowsky does and what you do not like: pontificating about field(s) that they don’t understand (with better social grace, perhaps, but the general approach is the same). The problem with Yudkowsky’s disdain for philosophy is that it is pure hypocrisy.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        where is the massive evidence that shows the people who use “system 1″ and “system 2″ false dichotomy perform better at predicting other people? I don’t see any.

        You would have to look at the research on controlled and automatic processes, which has been a mainstay of experiments in cognitive psychology for half a century.

        this one is clearly Freud’s id and ego re-branded in a way particularly attractive for aspies and transhumanists

        That’s an odd comment, dmytryl, unless I’m misunderstanding you. First, Kahnmeman has no truck with transhumanists (nor do I–although I have some aspy traits, mainly difficulty appreciating context emotionally.). Second, ego and id are not the same distinction. Ego contains conscious, preconscious, and unconscious; id is entirely unconscious. The distinction is equivalent to part what Freud called his topographical analysis: conscious, preconscious, and unconscious, which, as I say, cross-cuts the structural analysis.
        Freud first came up with the topographical analysis; later the structural analysis, inasmuch as the topographical analysis is much more obvious and is essentially embraced by almost all psychologists today in one name or another.

        pontificating about field(s) that they don’t understand (with better social grace, perhaps, but the general approach is the same).

        Well, I think you do that regarding philosophy and psychology. It’s annoying, but it can still be of interest. I think the important thing is to distinguish belief from opinion.  (See my “Is epistemic equality a fiction”  — http://tinyurl.com/6kamrjs )

        I prefer arguing opinions, but the distinction is not itself widely accepted. (I’m going to have to explain it in construal-level theory terms.)

        if a confidence in something can’t be decreased by some event, not even a little, it should not be increased by the negation of that event.

        I think you’re making a “false dichotomy.” The nonexistence of unequivocal prediction doesn’t mean that confidence isn’t decreased by evidence. 

        Look, you draw conclusions without precise prediction all the time in everyday life. Science isn’t qualitatively different.

        The problem with Yudkowsky’s disdain for philosophy is that it is pure hypocrisy.

        Whereas I think he really is deeply antiphilosophical and doesn’t have an inkling about what philosophy is about–admits here he can’t even read “ordinary books.” Like you, he tries to solve philosophical (conceptual) problems by purely empirical theorizing. The difference is that your science is better, not that you have a different attitude toward philosophy.

      • dmytryl

        > That’s an odd comment, dmytryl, unless I’m misunderstanding you. First, Kahnmeman has no truck with transhumanists

        Transhumanists however absolutely love Kahneman.

        > You would have to look at the research on controlled and automatic
        processes, which has been a mainstay of experiments in cognitive
        psychology for half a century.

        Where’s a trial that has regular folks predict people’s actions, and the people who have been explained the dual process theory trying to predict people’s actions?

        Besides, the notion is ridiculous. If you do any task that is “controlled”, each step is still “automatic” and so is the decision how to break down the task. Some tasks require several serial steps to solve.

         > empirical theorizing

        What is empirical about it? Yudkowsky is anti-philosophy in words, not in deed.

      • Drewfus

        “…other problems that show the same bias without involving risk.”

        Name one.

  • dEMOCRATIC_cENTRALIST

    Great written fiction–even very good fiction–enhances far cognition in ordinary life. Some commenters have stress risk-taking behavior, and risk-taking is a far-mode value. Far from being useless to the individual (while beneficial to society), it is a valuable counter-measure to the loss-aversion of near-mode. Let us not forget that loss aversion is a bias. Its corrective may introduce new biases, but minimizing loss aversion is a fundamental task of rationality.

    Leaving aside the inherently near-mode tv and (less so) screen, the popular varieties of gripping fiction are so because of their near-mode compellingness. I don’t watch tv (got to draw the line somewhere) but I do read a fair amount of science fiction. Although set in the future, the plot is near-mode involving, giving it that can’t-put-it-down quality that shows it is indulging our near-mode rather than educating the far.

    • Drewfus

      “Let us not forget that loss aversion is a bias.”

      Really? So how do you suppose this bias managed to make it through millions of years of evolution?

      “Its corrective may introduce new biases, but minimizing loss aversion is a fundamental task of rationality.”

      We can be heroes!

      • dEMOCRATIC_cENTRALIST

        Really? So how do you suppose this bias managed to make it through millions of years of evolution?

        You answer with questions rather than objections. Then you object you are being misunderstood. No dice.

      • Drewfus

        The question stands. Try your luck answering it.

      • dmytryl

        > Really? So how do you suppose this bias managed to make it through millions of years of evolution?

        It’s probably typical that the losses are larger than what meets the eye.

        E.g. if you are wrong and lose $100, not only do you immediately lose $100, but you also are less likely to be trusted in favour lending and the like (loss of status). Or, when a loss is someone’s gain, your side loses $100, and the enemy side gets rewarded for what ever they did, with $100 . And losses result in costlier adjustments to lifestyle.

        One would have to very carefully balance out those considerations.

      • Drewfus

        Yes, and this would be getting close to my position – that when the individual is taken out of the lab and embedded into a society, his/her apparent biases start making sense.

        What we need now is a much improved understanding of society, so that individual behavior can be studied in the proper context. The accepted ideas of Sociology with its emphasis on rehashed Marxism is a problem in this regard, and perhaps one of the main bottlenecks to scientific progress.

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