Thursday, May 22, 2008

Un-subscribing to "Overcoming Bias"

Win Ben Stein's MoneyImage via Wikipedia

Un-subscribing to "Overcoming Bias". What drove me over the edge was Robin Hanson's agreeing with the "Darwinism"-Nazi link pushed by "Expelled: No Ferris Bueller Allowed", starring Ben Stein. But it was a gradual slide down in quality, and a greater realization what a tiny contribution "Overcoming Bias" was going to have in fulfilling my personal goals and aspirations. What is "Overcoming Bias"? I cannot see it as more than Libertarians and Trans-humanists joining together to help each other in the "Art of Controversy". The point is: we don't want Rationality, we want Human Effectiveness. If there was some way to achieve your highest held goals, requiring you to dispense with all Rationality, dispense with Rationality you should. Imagine a malicious God, omniscient and omnipotent, causing you to stub your toe, or suffer other indignities, every time you attempted a Rational analysis. All evidence suggests that Rationality is a large component of Human Effectiveness. But it is not the whole thing. Like the parable of the two frogs in a bucket of cream. Both are swimming furiously to keep atop and keep from drowning. The first frog surveys the situation, realizes that his swimming will give out eventually, realizes that drowning is inevitable, and gives up and sinks to the bottom to die. The second frog, an irrational optimist, keeps swimming furiously, keeps swimming, keeps, swimming, the cream turns to butter, and the frog is able to hop on top, and hop out of the bucket. Which frog was Rational? Which frog was Effective? You can conflate the two (if it makes you happy to do so), but the distinction remains in reality. OK, we have Human Effectiveness and Rationality. Rationality is a large component of Human Effectiveness. What are the failure modes of Rationality, as practiced by humans or groups of humans? Well, there are a lot. Consider the list of logical fallacies. Consider the examples in the book Predictably Irrational. Consider Robert Cialdini's study of human influence, beneficial and malevolent. Each failure mode has the potential to deprive you of successfully achieving your goals and aspirations.

FallacyImage via Wikipedia

So, I don't see the point of studying "bias" outside of the context of:
  • a human identifying what they believe to be their highest goals and aspirations
  • a human having to accomplish this goals and aspirations with limited resources; the most important of which are time, energy, attention, focus.
  • with goals and aspirations identified, and limited resources acknowledged, the human can now proceed acting like a stakeholder: observation of situation; leading to analysis; leading to identifying choices; leading to decision; leading to action; leading to evaluating effectiveness; leading back to observation.
  • critical analysis of the soundness and ranking of the goals and aspirations identified earlier. Were some chosen simply from social pressure? Are some simply impossible? Are some harmful?
  • We expect goals and aspirations to augmented, to be tossed out, to be raised or lowered in relative importance.
Without this context, judging the value of anything claiming to be "Rationality" is pointless. Is it a tool for helping human achieve goals and aspirations? Does it work? And this is where "Overcoming Bias" leaves me cold. There is absolutely no interest in integrating these tools of rationality into a framework of human achievement of goals and aspirations. But the tools of the art of controversy are constantly leaped to, when there is a chance of harming the relative standing of Libertarianism or Trans-Humanism in the world of ideas and notoriety. It happens too often for an observer to miss it. So, I gain little for the cost of my limited attention.
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