Intellectual humility

Adam Grant pointed to How ‘Intellectual Humility’ Can Make You a Better Person which I found intriguing.

We all have a tendency to overestimate how much we know — which, in turn, means that we often cling stubbornly to our beliefs while tuning out opinions different from our own. We generally believe we’re better or more correct than everyone else, or at least better than most people — a psychological quirk that’s as true for politics and religion as it is for things like fashion and lifestyles. And in a time when it seems like we’re all more convinced than ever of our own rightness, social scientists have begun to look more closely at an antidote: a concept called intellectual humility… which has to do with understanding the limits of one’s knowledge. It’s a state of openness to new ideas, a willingness to be receptive to new sources of evidence, and it comes with significant benefits: People with intellectual humility are both better learners and better able to engage in civil discourse. Google’s VP in charge of hiring, Laszlo Bock, has claimed it as one of the top qualities he looks for in a candidate: Without intellectual humility, he has said, “you are unable to learn.”

I wonder how my wanting to explain things tied in with my Imposter Syndrome derails the above overestimations. There is a thing in the back of my head looking to find fault in myself. So in going to explain something and realizing my weaknesses, my confirmation bias is to think, “Of course, I don’t understand it as well as I ought.”

Let Me Explain; Let Me Sum Up

There is a great quote from The Princess Bride

Westley: Who are you? Are we enemies? Why am I on this wall? Where is Buttercup?
Inigo Montoya: Let me explain.
[pause]
Inigo Montoya: No, there is too much. Let me sum up. Buttercup is marry Humperdinck in little less than half an hour. So all we have to do is get in, break up the wedding, steal the princess, make our escape… after I kill Count Rugen.

It is what I thought of while reading Mike Caufield’s The Power of Explaining to Others.

I like discussions about things because in talking about it, I have to…

  1. Judge how much the other person knows.
  2. Judge how much I know.
  3. Figure out the best way to provide additional value.

In going through this, I figure out that what I know is usually less than I originally thought. Which makes me more curious, so I will seek more information. Many of my times getting lost down the rabbit hole of the Internet is trying to clean up the holes of my understanding from some recent conversation. There is an obsession to better know things, so I found it interesting that my habit of explaining books, articles, or whatever is on my mind ties to well into countering false information.

The conclusion to Gotcha Jerks Part II

Not long ago, it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling for a very conservative coworker to call me the only liberal he knows that he can discuss things. We disagree, but we respect each other enough to discuss things. I am not hurt by our disagreements. And as much as he tries to act radical, I suspect a lot of it is poker bluff acting.

My motivation in talking with him is in part understanding what I do and do not know. He provides a perspective I normally probably would not see. He uses keywords I can search for to find more about those views. And… He is not seeking to convince me (nor I him) to the “right” side. We just talk to explain what we know to better understand. So, I hope in explaining to me, he is getting the same benefit I am.

 

Tinkering

Another Rands In Repose gem.

Tinkering is a deceptively high-value activity. You don’t usually allocate much time to tinkering because the obvious value of tinkering is low. You don’t start tinkering with a goal in mind; you start with pure curiosity. I’ve heard about this thing, but I’ve never used it. How does this thing work? I’ve always wanted to know about more about X. Downtime is an easy time to tinker. Nothing is pressing, so these acts of mental wandering are acceptable.

This is how things get done. This is my life.

I think Dopamine is related to why I tinker. There is a definite expectation to getting something out of it. And that is all the motivation I need.

The dopamine from the ventral tegmental area… usually sends dopamine into the brain when animals (including people) expect or receive a reward. That reward might be a delicious slice of pizza or a favorite song. This dopamine release tells the brain that whatever it just experienced is worth getting more of. And that helps animals (including people) change their behaviors in ways that will help them attain more of the rewarding item or experience.

My reward is learning something about a gadget. Similar to how reading rewards me with learning about science, history, motivations, or behavior.

 

Gotcha Jerks Part II

If you have not read Gotcha Jerks, then please do first. I recently ran across The “Other Side” Is Not Dumb which goes further. Here is my favorite quote from it.

Sharing links that mock a caricature of the Other Side isn’t signaling that we’re somehow more informed. It signals that we’d rather be smug assholes than consider alternative views. It signals that we’d much rather show our friends that we’re like them, than try to understand those who are not.

It makes a great point that part of what makes discussion politics on social media problematic is the false-consensus bias where we assume people we like should always think the same way we do because they are awesome like we are. Liking the posts of Facebook friends who state things with which we agree or defriending / unfollowing people who disagree, leads to the algorithms creating an environment for ourselves where the information coming to us drives the FCB into overdrive. If we are only seeing the stuff where we agree, then we are blind to other positions out there. Going even a leap further to knocking down Straw Men certainly alienates the Other Side. They will defriend / unfollow us which leads to the same result.

I reluctantly have culled people over their behavior during the election season. I also did not expect things to get better November 9th. In my mind, this animosity has been ever increasing since 1998, so I saw no reason for it to end. Both candidates held unfavorable numbers by majorities of likely voters, so  whoever won would cause butthurt.

Family Feud is a game show where people try to guess the common answers to a poll question. If people had no FCB, then the game would be completely pointless. People would provide fairly accurate responses leading to people only uncommonly getting answers wrong. Instead, from what I have seen of the show, it seems hard for contestants in general.

Advice from The “Other Side” Is Not Dumb to consider:

A dare for the next time you’re in discussion with someone you disagree with: Don’t try to “win.” Don’t try to “convince” anyone of your viewpoint. Don’t score points by mocking them to your peers. Instead try to “lose.” Hear them out. Ask them to convince you and mean it. No one is going to tell your environmentalist friends that you merely asked follow up questions after your brother made his pro-fracking case.

Not long ago, it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling for a very conservative coworker to call me the only liberal he knows that he can discuss things. We disagree, but we respect each other enough to discuss things. I am not hurt by our disagreements. And as much as he tries to act radical, I suspect a lot of it is poker bluff acting.

Further reading:

Peril of Good Intentions

Defeated in college

I ran across a friend’s Facebook post about parenting and related a description of a college psychology professor’s eugenics lecture. The reply was that eliminating the genes of less intelligent people seems like it could help improve society. This seeming promise is why it has been tried many times. Before the Holocaust shifted to genocide, it dabbled in eugenics and mimicked United States eugenics programs.

But, let’s assume that a eugenics program stayed away from genocide. I still have issues with this…

Why a specific person is intelligent or not tends to be not so clear cut as good or bad genes. Psychologists tend to be pretty sure that most of intelligence comes from genes. I personally think genes provide recipes for brain cells and a layout of those cells. The brain cells still have to be grown and connections established in the brain. Exposure to various experiences in the raising of the child help achieve the potential provided by the brains. If a person both has good genes and was raised in such a way to maximize their potential, then I think a person ought to become the person we want them to be. Are we at a point where almost all children can are provided the experiences to reach this potential? Not even close. I think people who think we reasonably are at this point feel that eugenics or genetic modification are the ways to push beyond our plateau. I would prefer we fix the environment before we start punishing people for lack of socioeconomic resources or programs to help.

Biases cloud our conclusions in situations where we are not usually aware. It was thought the reason orchestras were almost all male because they were better performers. They shifted to a better mix of genders after the practice of blind auditions became common. Why? Because there are biases which affect opinions assessments beneath our ability to tell. We see similar issues when it comes to intelligence assessment and especially jobs in skilled fields. IQ tests have fought hard to get better at not being WEIRD. Anonymous names on papers change the grades students get and which conference submissions are accepted. Some of meritocracies could be doing much better.

When people think they are objective and unbiased then they don’t monitor and scrutinize their own behavior. They just assume that they are right and that their assessments are accurate. Yet, studies repeatedly show that stereotypes of all kinds (gender, ethnicity, age, disability etc.) are filters through which we evaluate others, often in ways that advantage dominant groups and disadvantage lower-status groups.

The eugenics movements were confident the physically & mentally unfit, materially poor, and atheists needed to controlled. People of color just happened to commonly be identified as meeting their criteria. I will be skeptical of any similar movement to be truly objective because even though they truly intend to be, the prior ones thought they were too. Hindsight shows they were not.

Of course, the abomination that I am was the reasoning for why my parents were not allowed to marry in my home state. It was deemed bad for the Caucasian race to allow mixing with inferior races. That probably fuels my own bias against this kind of thing.

Android personality 

I will try not to spoil Westworld but no guarantees.

So the premise of the show and movies is there is a park with androids who become dangerous. Part of the fun is determining whether this is because of an accident, systemic problems, or sabotage. Essentially this is the kind of story that motivated Isaac Asimov to create his Three Laws of Robotics.

Still, everywhere I run across androids in science-fiction there is a nagging feeling that I am actually one. I understand these machine characters better than the human ones. I better empathize with their plight of the machines. Their problems ARE my problems.

I spend far too much time thinking about how real people behave in order to better pretend that I am also one. My question about my humanity: Why would anyone who is human have to pretend to be one?

Thankfully my college education in philosophy and psychology comes to my rescue in these moments of doubt.

  1. “Normal” is an abstract concept. No one is truly normal.
  2. Confirmation bias pollute these moments.
  3. Availability bias also warps my impression.

Of course, the other problem is I tend to play my fake android and fake autism off each other. “You are not an android, you are just autistic.” vs “You are not autistic, you are just an android.”

Social Currency

This is from Douglas Rushkoff who is known for his infecting marketing with the idea of viral marketing.

Observe yourself the next time you’re listening to a joke. You may start by listening to the joke for the humor – because you really want the belly laugh at the end. But chances are, a few sentences in, you will find yourself not only listening, but attempting to remember its whole sequence. You’ll do this tentatively at first, until you’ve decided whether or not it’s really a good joke. And if it is, you’ll commit the entire thing to memory – maybe even with a personalized variation, or a mental note to yourself to fix that racist part. This is because the joke is a gift – it’s a form of social currency that you’ll be able to take with you to the next party.

In this election season, we watched the debates in order to be able to talk about them with others. Having something to say about it and being able to connect it to other parts is a major motivation to watch. The fact the past year has been such a political mess, the opportunity to pick up on the next disaster was difficult to resist. Things went viral because it gave people something exciting to report to others.

Television in the 90s was like this. Everyone watched the same shows in order to be able to gather in groups to discuss. I rented and/or bought video games in part so I could talk about the secret areas or tricks I had found. Friends would talk about the bands they discovered.

Popular culture was viral well before the internet. We have just made it easier by being able share in real time rather than by gathering. I often watch sports events BECAUSE of being able to share the experience with others. Friends posting about a crazy game unknowingly get me to tune into it as well. Shows where everyone is talking about it probably get a good portion of their viewers because of others talking about it.

The Fear Of Missing Out is a powerful social motivator. To be relevant, one needs social currency. To get social currency, one needs to acquire chunks of social information (memes) to offer others. Or, maybe my personality depends on having social currency.

Gladwell described “Mavens are people who have a strong compulsion to help other consumers by helping them make informed decisions” in The Tipping Point. I can seen elements of being a Connector (lots and lots of acquaintances from different realms) and Salesmen (inducing others’ behavior). But the Maven is the one I claim and most strongly identify.

Defensive pessimism

… a strategy used by anxious people to help them manage their anxiety so they can work productively. Defensive pessimists lower their expectations to help prepare themselves for the worst. Then, they mentally play through all the bad things that might happen. Though it sounds as if it might be depressing, defensive pessimism actually helps anxious people focus away from their emotions so that they can plan and act effectively.

I have always thought of myself as a pessimist. Well, a worrier. The background clutter that is my mind constantly runs through problems. Instead of like Kirk cheating his way through the Kobayashi Maru test, I would have mentally run through all those permutations and been ready for whatever it could throw at me. Imagining all the things that will go wrong and being prepared for handling them is, I think, what made me good at my job. Even if the situation is not exactly the same, then it is likely similar.

Plenty of situations are completely new to me. They are what cause me stress. But, then my brain gnaws on them until I am ready.

One gratifying thing is I see this defensive pessimism in other information technologists. Any field where things are built for high resiliency and maximum usage, I think, we want people like me designing and operating them. We plan for failure and will more likely give the thing more success for ensuring most of the ways it could fail are resolved or at least give ourselves enough warning to deal with it.

Creature of Habit

I can be pretty scatterbrained. Time has a way of whizzing past when engaged in some activity. Creating and adhering to a schedule makes being where I need to be easier and less stressful.

Pre-smartphone, I set Google calendar to send me SMS notifications to give me a heads up about meetings or appointments. If I my dream job allowed me to just sit in front of my computer all day might, I would not have needed this. Unfortunately, at the time back-to-back meetings were fairly common for me. Once I got my first smartphone, the amount of notifications in my calendar bloomed. My life is a world of notifications about what to do when.

Most importantly I try to organize my environment such that I will have what I need when I need it. For example, I have five gym bags with a change of clothes, so I can toss several in the car and have them when I go to the gym after work.

Failing to have a bag probably means I will skip the gym. Going home to change means I get distracted. Plus, I am not too keen on the gym location closer to home than halfway between home and work.  I dither which I want to visit and probably end up getting an early dinner instead.

I use a similar strategy for everything else.

  • Bills I need to pay sit in a spot so I walk past them when I enter, leave, or go to do something.
  • Things I need to take to work are placed in front of the door, so I cannot open it without moving them.
  • Keys and wallet and work laptop stay in specific places.
  • Coats go next to the door.
  • The next load of laundry I need to do gets stacked in the room. I have hamper bags for each load so I toss them into right place at the time.

All this organization is because I know left to my own habits there would be chaos. My personality leads to entropy, so I have to work at creating systems to establish order in my life. The better I allow the systems to work, the fewer the stumbles and gotchas. That said, the order often falls apart into disarray, so the systems have to be simple enough to restore.

 

Disgust and politics

I am a fan of Jonathan Haidt. In running across this, I think it helps me understand where social conservatives are coming from. He talks about three dimensions:

  1. Solidarity: how close we are to something. Family are close. Strangers are far.
  2. Hierarchy: who is above and below.
  3. Divinity: closeness to a deity.

Disgust originated as a guardian for what we ate, but later adapted to preventing contamination of the body in general including morality.

Found this on The politics of disgust animated for the age of Trump.

Further reading: