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[P]
A Case for Humility.

By Electric Angst in MLP
Tue May 08, 2001 at 08:56:18 PM EST
Tags: You Know... (all tags)
You Know...

The web site for the American Psychological Association has a remarkable article up entitled Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.

Looking at this article, one must take a moment to sit back and think about how we consider ourselves and our abilities, particularly social skills.


Here, in the grand tradition of the UnOrdered List, I shall quote selections in an attempt to tittilate you into visiting the link...

  • If one skims through the psychological literature, one will find some evidence that the incompetent are less able than their more skilled peers to gauge their own level of competence. For example, Fagot and O'Brien (1994) found that socially incompetent boys were largely unaware of their lack of social graces (see Bem & Lord, 1979 , for a similar result involving college students)
  • In short, Study 1 revealed two effects of interest. First, although perceptions of ability were modestly correlated with actual ability, people tended to overestimate their ability relative to their peers. Second, and most important, those who performed particularly poorly relative to their peers were utterly unaware of this fact. Participants scoring in the bottom quartile on our humor test not only overestimated their percentile ranking, but they overestimated it by 46 percentile points.
  • Perhaps the best illustration of this tendency is the "above-average effect," or the tendency of the average person to believe he or she is above average, a result that defies the logic of descriptive statistics[.]

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Poll
I believe that my social skills are:
o Far Above Average 7%
o Above Average 12%
o Average 22%
o Below Average 36%
o Far Below Average 21%

Votes: 114
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o American Psychological Association
o Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments
o Also by Electric Angst


Display: Sort:
A Case for Humility. | 56 comments (55 topical, 1 editorial, 1 hidden)
Unlikely to spawn real humility (4.27 / 11) (#2)
by DesiredUsername on Tue May 08, 2001 at 02:22:14 PM EST

Now that I've read the paper, I'm very good at estimating my actual competence. I rate myself "above average" in estimating competence.

Play 囲碁
What I find interesting about your joke... (none / 0) (#40)
by eLuddite on Wed May 09, 2001 at 04:49:29 PM EST

Is its ratings compared to Bo^H^HWagner's. I thought Jack was rather more elegant, myself:
  • It illustrates the MLP's thesis with regard to the well known sporketence vs competence phenomena.

  • It raises questions about the MLP if you judge competence according to normative social convention.
Unfortunately, it's that time of the week for me to get trusted user status so -- I'm alright Jack, 34 zeros with nary a 1 is your lot to resent. You overly competent Hare Krishnas can arent getting a nickel from me, either.

---
God hates human rights.
[ Parent ]

What about the inverse? (3.80 / 5) (#3)
by jabber on Tue May 08, 2001 at 02:22:24 PM EST

Does the inverse relationship also hold true?

If the less competent see themselves as more competent than their peers, does that mean that those who see themselves as less competent than their peers are in fact more competent?

Does this mean that poor self-esteem is actually a desirable trait, since those who feel inadequate in their productivity and skills overcompensate to rise to a perceived level of competency, which in reality puts them above average?

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

Sticky semantics... (4.50 / 2) (#10)
by Office Girl the Magnificent on Tue May 08, 2001 at 03:21:51 PM EST

If the less competent see themselves as more competent than their peers, does that mean that those who see themselves as less competent than their peers are in fact more competent?

This isn't exactly an inverse relationship. The question should be, "If the less competent see themselves as more competent than their peers, does that mean that those who are more competent than their peers see themselves as less competent?"

The answer, by the way, according to this article, is yes.

Moderation in everything. Including moderation.
-- Mark Twain

[ Parent ]

Psychologists beaten to it (3.33 / 6) (#4)
by leviathan on Tue May 08, 2001 at 02:28:56 PM EST

The more I learn the less I know

    - UB40

And I'll wager that wasn't original either.

--
I wish everyone was peaceful. Then I could take over the planet with a butter knife.
- Dogbert

Precedent (4.42 / 7) (#9)
by jabber on Tue May 08, 2001 at 03:17:06 PM EST

"One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing." --Socrates

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

Well... (3.33 / 3) (#5)
by iamriley on Tue May 08, 2001 at 02:31:30 PM EST

In short, the same knowledge that underlies the ability to produce correct judgment is also the knowledge that underlies the ability to recognize correct judgment. To lack the former is to be deficient in the latter.

I guess this explains the problem with /.'s moderation system.

And with democracy in general... (3.66 / 3) (#7)
by DesiredUsername on Tue May 08, 2001 at 02:46:51 PM EST

OTOH, it may also provide an explanation why education is so disproportionately effective in making a country great--once a person reachs a critical mass of education they start to do it for themselves.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
Yes, but... (4.76 / 17) (#6)
by ignatiusst on Tue May 08, 2001 at 02:45:50 PM EST

Yes, but how does all this apply to kuro5hin, a site whose members are well-known for their enlightened, highly sophisticated, articulate...

oh, wait.. never mind.

When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him. -- Jonathan Swift

Maybe you meant something else... (4.00 / 3) (#8)
by trhurler on Tue May 08, 2001 at 02:56:53 PM EST

By "humility," do you mean the actual fact of being humble, or the act of pretending, which we call "tact?" The latter, if you know when NOT to use it, can be invaluable on occasion, but the former is incompatible with success; all those "humble" people you see rising to the top are anything but, I can assure you. If you want proof, wait until they think you're wrong, and see how they act then.

As for skills, yes, we all know that we all think we're the best drivers on earth, even though clearly most shouldn't even be allowed on the roads, and this extends to most other skills too. Nobody wants to think he's not good. The reason people gain better ability to judge with skill is partly knowing the field, but also partly that they are less unwilling to admit that they're "pretty good" than they are that they "suck."

Anyway, I'm well aware of the areas in which I'm incompetent - and there are a lot of them. I just don't give a rat's ass:)

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

I consider myself humble... (4.33 / 3) (#11)
by Electric Angst on Tue May 08, 2001 at 03:52:13 PM EST

I have to disagree, trhurler. (Yes, you're shocked, I"m sure.)

If you read the study, it shows that those who have greater amounts of skill are actually more likely to underrate their talents. Humility is a virtue, because without it all you have is arrogance. Yes, there are successful people who are egomaniacs, but that is a very different thing than being arrogant. You can still have the drive of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs and have a fine understanding of your abilities. Persustance is far more important to sucess than arrogance.


--
"Hell, at least [Mailbox Pipebombing suspect Lucas Helder's] argument makes sense, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of people." - trhurler
[ Parent ]
Ah, but... (3.50 / 2) (#14)
by trhurler on Tue May 08, 2001 at 04:07:27 PM EST

Do you really think those people are "humble," or do you think they just refuse to make any comment on what they really think, owing to the fact that they've had it beaten into them since birth that standing out is a bad thing, and given that others are often envious of their achievements, which can make it harder to get things done unless you do a little ass kissing and playing dumb? And do you really think an "egomaniac" can be "humble?"

You're not humble, by the way. Not even close. I might argue that you're thin skinned, overly defensive, and whiny, but that's not the same thing :)

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
You have intimate knowledge of Gate's childhood? (2.50 / 2) (#17)
by Electric Angst on Tue May 08, 2001 at 04:32:44 PM EST

Oh, I had no idea you were around during the childhood of everyone that would be considered 'sucessful' that would allow you to make the blanket statement above. Without a keen understanding of their abilities, including their limitations, how do you think these people were able to get ahead without falling on their ass, anyways?

As for an "egomaniac" being "humble", perhaps my use of terms is a bit too fast and loose for a purely literary enviornment. One can be very focued on the self and yet still not overestimate their abilities. In fact, as the study shows, those with great ability often underestimate that ability.

And yes, perhaps I'm not humble, but I strive for humility, which is far better than I can say for you...


--
"Hell, at least [Mailbox Pipebombing suspect Lucas Helder's] argument makes sense, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of people." - trhurler
[ Parent ]
Better? (3.50 / 2) (#18)
by trhurler on Tue May 08, 2001 at 04:44:53 PM EST

You are never going to convince me that humility is a virtue. As long as you fail in that, you cannot convince me that trying to be humble is "better" than anything else. It might be less evil than, say, trying to be soaked in the blood of your neighbors, but that's not really relevant.

You cannot separate genuine confidence from the ego, and you cannot separate the ego from self admiration. In so many areas, people try - but when we expect the best out of people, be they computer programmers, athletes, fighter pilots, scientists, or whatever - we generally tolerate, at least within their own circles, the very arrogance that those people decry, because in the end, we know better.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
You're not the one I'm trying to convince. (4.66 / 3) (#21)
by Electric Angst on Tue May 08, 2001 at 05:56:23 PM EST

trhurler, I doubt I'd be able to convince you that the earth revolves around the sun, much less any moral point. You're just a convenient foil against which I'm allow me to argue my side of an issue. Hell, if I could convince you of things, it would ruin my ability to make those convinceing arguments in the future, since far too often people are content to sit back and not express their views...

Now, I like the way you managed to take a few wild logical jumps in your post. True, you cannot seperate confidence from a healthy ego, but you then try and turn that around with the skippery term "self admiration", which could mean anything from humble confidence to cooing-in-the-mirror vanity. There is a line between the confidence that arises from self understanding and arrogance that comes from having an inflated sense of self.

As for your comment about our allowing arrogance in those from which we damand the best, I think that you're taking too much from media perception and not enough from actual knowledge. Other than the occasional athlete, those who excell in the fields you mentioned are typically have a very good understanding of what they can and can't do, and that knowledge of their own limitations keeps them from the arrogance you seem to think is prerequisite for sucess.

Which leads me to another point, if you believe that arrogance is such a primary point behind success, what type of life would that cause you to lead? I'd hate to go around thinking that my smugness would lead me to greatness.


--
"Hell, at least [Mailbox Pipebombing suspect Lucas Helder's] argument makes sense, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of people." - trhurler
[ Parent ]
Oh? (3.00 / 1) (#24)
by trhurler on Tue May 08, 2001 at 07:56:48 PM EST

There is a line between the confidence that arises from self understanding and arrogance that comes from having an inflated sense of self.
And where is that line? It is tempting to say that this is like sex: what I do is erotic, what you do is kinky, and what THOSE people do is perverted! Similarly, I'm sure you think you're appropriately confident, and I'm sure you tend to find fault with others for their arrogance. Now, I make no bones about it - I'm arrogant by conscious choice. However, where do you draw the line, and how?

You don't. The two are not separable in practice, even if they are in some theory that has yet to be proven to have any relation to reality, and whose purpose is simply to justify the extreme passive ethics of sheeple. Neitsche(sp) was usually wrong, but he was dead on when he said that usually a man constructs his other beliefs in order to concur with a morality he has prejudices in favor of.
Other than the occasional athlete, those who excell in the fields you mentioned are typically have a very good understanding of what they can and can't do,
Have you ever met any good programmers, pilots, and so on? I don't rely on the media for my characterization of these people; I work with and for them and people who know them. Good ones are typically at least as arrogant as I am, even if they might pretend otherwise(as I might) under certain circumstances for their own good.
Which leads me to another point, if you believe that arrogance is such a primary point behind success, what type of life would that cause you to lead?
For me, the result is actually the opposite of what you'd think. Most people who've met me when I'm not partying or posting describe me as abnormally calm. Some think I'm "too intense." Some think I'm too unemotional. Some think I'm always angry. Whatever people associate with slight detachment and calm, they attribute to me. The ones who've seen me partying usually find the difference to be incomprehensible; I'm not the loudest or most obnoxious person out there, but nobody would describe me as detached. There is a point beyond which most things really don't matter until they affect you, and even then, only to a certain extent. The things that do matter tend to matter a lot.

The funny thing is, I've only met three people who understand who I am who haven't seen me post(not just here, but here recently.) Most of them think I'm just a slightly offbeat loner, and don't trouble themselves with the fact that most loners don't spend their free time with friends, much less with four or five different circles of them. None of them would describe me as arrogant, or even particularly confident in most cases. They associate confidence with swagger, I suppose.

I'm here to tell you, though, I'm as confident in my abilities and my choices as anyone but a moron ever can be, and I've deliberately chosen a life in which the idea of backing down for the sake of convenience is simply nonexistent. Watching people agonize over that sort of thing makes me sick. Go for it, and if you lose, get your ass back in the ring and try again. If you find yourself having to spare the feelings of your friends, then they aren't your friends; go find friends instead of a codependent support group.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
look at it from the POV... (none / 0) (#35)
by yannick on Wed May 09, 2001 at 03:19:34 AM EST

of personal interest, if you must. Humility is that quality which allows you to make mistakes and not have to suffer a significant backlash.

Everyone makes mistakes, but people are more likely to exploit errors in those around them when the error is made by one who frequently flaunts his/her abilities and skills.

If you're arrogant and you mangle something important, people are going to jump on you like ravenous hyenas, simply to make themselves feel better for all the times you've emphasized your superiority.

When you're humble, people don't feel as compelled to drag you down. They are more prepared to forgive your errors, and celebrate your successes. And, interestingly enough, they may even begin to consider your triumphs as theirs, and (gasp) might actually try to *help* you, rather than resent you.

All this is from personal experience. YMMV.
---
Pretend that this sig contains something deep, witty and profound.
[ Parent ]

My experience (none / 0) (#36)
by trhurler on Wed May 09, 2001 at 11:41:47 AM EST

If I put on a humble act(which is NOT the same as humility,) people assume I can't do the job, and they undermine what I'm doing. If I just do the job, be my usual charming self, and don't worry about what anyone thinks, I come out ahead practically every single time. Sure, some people probably resent me. Those people don't matter. Trust me on this. I will always be a few steps ahead of them, because the reason they resent me is that they're clueless and incompetent. Other talented people around me get along with me just fine - and most of them are not that different from me. They've got their egos, and nobody sees a problem with this - except the people who don't matter.

Put me on a team with people who are not my equals, and I will find someone else to work for. That's how I get away with it:)

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Success and happiness. (4.00 / 2) (#22)
by ucblockhead on Tue May 08, 2001 at 06:00:43 PM EST

Arrogance breeds success. Humility breeds happiness.

You just have to decide whether you'd rather be happy or successful.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

No, arrogance breeds enemies. (5.00 / 1) (#30)
by ZanThrax on Tue May 08, 2001 at 11:18:10 PM EST

Competence breeds success.

When you don't feel like thinking, quote!


[ Parent ]
data (3.50 / 2) (#13)
by alprazolam on Tue May 08, 2001 at 03:56:17 PM EST

if you read the page (its quite interesting) respondents in the 'top quartile' tended to underestimate their rank relative to peers. so it could be that you're wrong about humility. i would question your assertion that 'people you see rising to the top are anything but' humble. just because common sense or experience gives you the impression that humility is incompatible with success doesn't mean it's true.

[ Parent ]
Stating the Obvious (2.80 / 5) (#12)
by Signal 11 on Tue May 08, 2001 at 03:53:01 PM EST

This story states the blatantly obvious -

If you don't know about computers, you won't be good at them. If you don't know any manners, you won't have them. If you haven't had a girlfriend, you won't know how to make out.

Comeon people... does it take a 300 page report to point this out?


--
Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.

What you can do v. What you think you can do. (4.00 / 2) (#16)
by Electric Angst on Tue May 08, 2001 at 04:15:17 PM EST

The important part of this article wasn't that it was showing that there were people who are incompetent in certain arenas, it was that those who are imcompetent are far more likely to overestimate their abilities. Ever had a manager who thought "Well, I just won't call the techies in for overtime and fix it myself"?

As far as how this fits in with the average techie, I was tremendously tempted to put in a link to ESR's sex tips, but managed to restrain myself...


--
"Hell, at least [Mailbox Pipebombing suspect Lucas Helder's] argument makes sense, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of people." - trhurler
[ Parent ]
Exactly (none / 0) (#54)
by ignatiusst on Fri May 11, 2001 at 12:39:04 PM EST

If you haven't had a girlfriend, you won't know how to make out.
That is exactly what I tried to tell my wife.. She thought it would be okay if I didn't know how to make out, though.

When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him. -- Jonathan Swift
[ Parent ]

Competent make the case as well as incompetent (4.16 / 6) (#15)
by bjrubble on Tue May 08, 2001 at 04:10:51 PM EST

The top-quartile participants underestimated their performance; the researchers' conclusion is that this is because they overestimate others. I think this is a salient point for all the people who constantly harp on how stupid the people around them are.

hmm? (none / 0) (#32)
by nickco on Wed May 09, 2001 at 12:15:20 AM EST

Perhaps they do this because in reality their feelings about themselves are less than brilliant.

So, those that perceive others as 'stupid' could actually be underrating themselves, even though by doing so they imply that they themselves are smarter.

This is of course assuming that they really are brighter than the majority of those they think are idiots.

[ Parent ]
They conclude differently (4.00 / 1) (#38)
by bjrubble on Wed May 09, 2001 at 02:24:24 PM EST

The researchers disagree; they found that the top performers had quite accurate assessments of their own performance. It was that group's tendency to judge others generously that seemed to have the greatest impact on the data.

[ Parent ]
This seems somehow relevent. (3.80 / 5) (#19)
by jd on Tue May 08, 2001 at 04:55:20 PM EST

I heard a short poem, somewhere looong looong ago, before Dinosaurs roamed the Earth. :) It seems somehow relevent to this discussion, but I'm not 100% sure how it fits in...

    A quiet owl lived among the folk.
    The more he heard, the less he spoke.
    The less he spoke, the more he heard.
    That was one wise, old bird.


Link to a less technical version (4.16 / 6) (#20)
by Kellnerin on Tue May 08, 2001 at 05:08:34 PM EST

Here's an old story from Lingua Franca on the same study. There's another one I swear I read a while ago, which I now can't find, but had a great opener that went along the lines of: "There is an amazing number of incompetent people in the world. David Dunning is afraid he may be one of them."

--Stop it, evil hand, stop it!--
NY Times article (4.33 / 3) (#29)
by bjrubble on Tue May 08, 2001 at 11:13:28 PM EST

Among the Inept, Researchers Discover, Ignorance Is Bliss

Hilarious.

[ Parent ]
YES (none / 0) (#31)
by Kellnerin on Tue May 08, 2001 at 11:21:12 PM EST

I spent all afternoon looking for that! Thank you thank you thank you ...

--Stop it, evil hand, stop it!--
[ Parent ]
How attractive are you? (3.00 / 1) (#23)
by skim123 on Tue May 08, 2001 at 06:19:13 PM EST

I remember from my psych classes in college the study that had college students rate their physical attractiveness on a scale from 1 to 10, 1 being god-awful ugly, 5 being average, and 10 being freakin' beautiful. The "average" college student rated him/herself at something like an 8. Must have been a really good-looking student body.

Such inflated assessments are good for our self-esteem, though. Many psychologists contend that there is an evolutionary advantage for having an inflated sense of self-worth... if our self-views were more in-line with reality, we would, likely, be more depressed or more easily discouraged. Those whose genes encouraged a positive, over-inflated outlook were more likely to live longer, accomplish greater feats, attract sexual mates, etc.

Sorta like being gay: you're walking around, you know something's up, you just don't know what it is yet.

Evolutionary `psychology' == B.S. (3.00 / 2) (#28)
by Estanislao Martínez on Tue May 08, 2001 at 08:39:35 PM EST

Many psychologists contend that there is an evolutionary advantage for having an inflated sense of self-worth... if our self-views were more in-line with reality, we would, likely, be more depressed or more easily discouraged. Those whose genes encouraged a positive, over-inflated outlook were more likely to live longer, accomplish greater feats, attract sexual mates, etc.

There is hardly a shred of evidence for evolutionary "psychology", I may remind you. The whole "theory" consists of assuming modern evolutionary theory (which is already a terribly overinterpreted theory) and coming up with just-so stories, from which you can deduce precisely your prejudices about whatever you claim to be "explaining". All with the ample funding of corporate-funded right-wing think tanks.

--em
[ Parent ]

Evolutionary psychology (4.50 / 2) (#33)
by sigwinch on Wed May 09, 2001 at 12:25:37 AM EST

There is hardly a shred of evidence for evolutionary "psychology", I may remind you.
Stating that evolutionary psychology is meaningless is the same as making one or more of these statements: 1) Consciousness is not purely a function of chemistry. 2) The development of the brain is not a substantial function of genes. 3) The genes which control brain formation are substantially not subject to natural selection.

The first is equivalent to saying that the mind is governed by a metaphysical soul. The second is equivalent to saying that "god" builds your brain, not biochemistry. The last is equivalent to saying that "god" determines matings, pregnancies carried to term, and death. Statements that strong demand more than mumbling about "corporate-funded right-wing think tanks".

The reason that evolutionary psychology is so fuzzy and noncomittal is that *all* psychology is fuzzy and noncomittal. The human brain is simply too complex to be directly analyzed and modelled, so researchers have to use indirect experiments like the incompetence research in the present story. And even then, they are restricted to measuring fairly simple properties of the mind.

As to your assertion that "there is hardly a shred of evidence for evolutionary psychology", I present a typical theory: If human parents didn't take good care of their own children, the species would die out. However, people who take good care of any children would have less resources available to their own children, and would therefore have a lower reproduction rate, and therefore a tendency to take care of any child is selected against. Hypothesis: given identical physical settings, people will take less good care of children that are not genetically related to them. Experiment: Track the lifes of 1000 children who are descendants of their caretakers, and 1000 children who have a caretaker they are not descended from. Result: stepchildren have a vastly higher mortality rate from neglect and abuse than non-stepchildren.

There are countless other examples, including things like the nursing reflex of infants, the panic response, the attraction of humans to bright shiny objects, the attraction of humans to others based on skin health and facial symmetry, the common aversion to creepy crawly bug, yadda yadda yadda.

--
I don't want the world, I just want your half.
[ Parent ]

Fallacy of decomposition (none / 0) (#37)
by streetlawyer on Wed May 09, 2001 at 11:58:43 AM EST

Stating that evolutionary psychology is meaningless is the same as making one or more of these statements: 1) Consciousness is not purely a function of chemistry. 2) The development of the brain is not a substantial function of genes. 3) The genes which control brain formation are substantially not subject to natural selection.

No. It is the same as making the statement that *particular* psychological entities (or behaviour patterns) are not determined *solely* by the *internal* chemistry of *particular brains and that the unit of inheritance and selection in psychology is not the DNA sequence. It has been pointed out on numerous occasions that the supporters of sociobiology tend to have a very poor understanding of the underlying genetics.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

Re: Fallacy of decomposition (none / 0) (#39)
by sigwinch on Wed May 09, 2001 at 02:44:53 PM EST

It is the same as making the statement that *particular* psychological entities (or behaviour patterns) are not determined *solely* by the *internal* chemistry of *particular brains...
That's what I meant by item #1. Either brain behavior is purely determined by ordinary -- albeit fabulously complex -- chemical processes, or there are processes at work that are not accounted for by the standard model of physics. In other words, behavior is either "the result of amino acids bumping together", or it is the result of something more, for lack of a better word, "religious". All the evidence I have seen points towards the former conclusion, and I think it's plausible to accept as a working hypothesis.
...and that the unit of inheritance and selection in psychology is not the DNA sequence.
That contradicts the central dogma of biology (DNA --> proteins --> every property of the organism). If you have the slightest shred of experimental evidence for this contradiction, there's a Nobel prize waiting for you. Naturally, the manifestation of behavior from genes is indirect and highly nonlinear, involving vast ensembles of genes, but that does not somehow make it immune to selection.
It has been pointed out on numerous occasions that the supporters of sociobiology tend to have a very poor understanding of the underlying genetics.
Every field has its cranks and fools. The cranks in evolutionary psychology only get press because their subject is human behavior and incompetent research can therefore be twisted to support arbitrary "progressive" social agendas, for which there is generous funding available. There are just as many cranks in physics, but the rubber meets the road much quicker in physics, and predictions are much easier to make and test, so physics cranks tend not to get past the front lines of review.

--
I don't want the world, I just want your half.
[ Parent ]

That's not an empirical claim. (5.00 / 1) (#41)
by Estanislao Martínez on Wed May 09, 2001 at 09:42:07 PM EST

Either brain behavior is purely determined by ordinary -- albeit fabulously complex -- chemical processes, or there are processes at work that are not accounted for by the standard model of physics. In other words, behavior is either "the result of amino acids bumping together", or it is the result of something more, for lack of a better word, "religious".

What you are saying is bothr trivial and incredibly clueless. Puting apart the fact that I'm an incorribgible skeptic, let's adopt some strict version of materialism for a second.

Your statement is trivial in this way: of course we have to account for whatever happens in the brain in terms of entities and relations we accept as real, and nothing else. So what? What you're doing is not empirical science, but rather deduction from ontological preconceptions.

And it is clueless because it is completely unenlightening about the real world. What do we learn about the world by having you (or Dennett, or Wilson, etc.) sit in your armchair and proclaim that whatever happens in the brain must *somehow* be explainable within the laws of physics, and then dismissing people who rightly ask for a demonstration by saying that it is something incredibly complicated and unknown? Damn, that's *so* easy.

The fact that your claim passes off as "science" nowadays just attests to the low standards of research in some areas of biology nowadays.

That contradicts the central dogma of biology (DNA --> proteins --> every property of the organism). If you have the slightest shred of experimental evidence for this contradiction, there's a Nobel prize waiting for you.

What are you smoking?

My late cat has the following property: if you let it fall from the ceiling of a tall building on planet Earth, it will accelerate towards the planetary surface at a rate of 9.62 m/s/s. How does this property follow from the DNA of my late cat? (For the record, my late cat died a natural death at age 16.)

Of course, that's a toy example. There's all sorts of properties any organism has which have *nothing* to do at all with DNA. Like, e.g., having a scratch on a particular day, or being a widow.

Where do I pick up my Nobel Prize?

The cranks in evolutionary psychology only get press because their subject is human behavior and incompetent research can therefore be twisted to support arbitrary "progressive" social agendas, for which there is generous funding available.

Why do you claim that "research" with such conclusions as "Human males are genetically programmed to rape" supports "progressive" causes? Isn't this quite dishonest?

--em
[ Parent ]

Empiricism (3.00 / 1) (#42)
by sigwinch on Thu May 10, 2001 at 01:15:31 AM EST

What do we learn about the world by having you (or Dennett, or Wilson, etc.) sit in your armchair and proclaim that whatever happens in the brain must *somehow* be explainable within the laws of physics, and then dismissing people who rightly ask for a demonstration by saying that it is something incredibly complicated and unknown?
Consider a very simple computer with, say, 256 bytes of memory. Load an arbitrary program into it and start the computer running. How long will it run before reaching a particular state? Will it ever reach that particular state?

Alan Turing showed that, for an arbitrary starting state, there exists no closed-form analytical answer to these questions, not even in principle. There are some simple states for which answers may be derived analytically, but for the remaining states there are no such analytical answers. Once an information processing machine reaches a certain level of complexity, the only way to tell what it is going to do is to start it running and watch what happens. This is the famous Turing Halting Problem.

So you don't even need metaphysics, psi powers, or the existence of a deity for the brain to be unfathomable. All you need is neurons which act like information processing elements, and the neurons must be connected such that information loops back upon itself in patterns that have a little complexity. From the halting problem point of view, the amazing complexity of the human brain is pretty much an absolute guarantee that its behavior will be difficult to predict. Of course, the brain is not a random noise generator, so you can measure its behavior over time and predict what it will tend to do under certain conditions.

But that leaves the other question -- whether neurons arise from plain old chemsitry -- unanswered. I think it's a reasonable working assumption to make. Researchers have studied and modelled numerous biological systems, and not only have they all ended up being ordinary chemistry, there hasn't even been the slightest hint that unexplained forces are at work. Moreover, there is no behavior at larger scales that cannot be readily ascribed to chemistry: people are not clairvoyant, they do not teleport instantly from one place to another, etc. Of course, there can be no absolute proofs in matters like this. You cannot disprove the existence of god, all you can do is point to a vast pile of experimental evidence completely lacking in evidence for him.

My late cat has the following property: if you let it fall from the ceiling of a tall building on planet Earth, it will accelerate towards the planetary surface at a rate of 9.62 m/s/s. How does this property follow from the DNA of my late cat?
The bulk properties of organisms are functions of their DNA in exactly the same fashion as their chemical and microscopic properties. And you're rather inaccurate: the cat will not, in fact, accelerate at a fixed rate. Its acceleration will decrease asymptotically until it reaches its terminal (ha ha) velocity. Actually, even that's not quite correct: it will tumble, flex, and sway in the wind, and it's instantaneous speed will vary. The average terminal velocity will be stable, however, and will be a function of muscle tension, skeletal structure, skin "flappiness", and hair drag. In particular, muscle tension will be a strong function of brain behavior, and thus the terminal speed of a cat depends on its psyche.

Let's look at muscle tension in more detail. A cat dropped from a great height suffers from panic in the first moments. Its muscles tense as a direct result of the panic. This is a strong effect, and seems more or less inevitable. If the cat strikes the ground while its muscles are tense, its body will not give; tendons, muscles, and ligaments will be ripped to shreds; and bones will be broken. Curiously, after a moment of falling, the muscles relax. If the cat strikes the ground after the muscles relax, it will be floppy and injuries will tend to be much less severe than if it had struck during the "tense" phase. This effect has been verified experimentally in injuries to pet cats that fell out of skyscrapers, by correlating severity of injuries to height of residence: cats from lower floors tend to be more severely injured. If we were in an evolutionary psychology mood, we might ascribe this to evolution having gifted the cat's brain with the ability to recognize falling and override the panic response. Since cats are famous climbers, such a response would increase fitness, and is consistent with the observations.

Let's go back to the accelleration of dropped animals, and replace the cat with some other types of tetrapods. For instance, we could try the experiment with a particular species of squirrel, one that has flaps of skin between its legs, the skill to manipulate and stretch those flaps, and a strong innate desire to fling itself out into thin air. This is, of course, the flying squirrel, and because of its DNA it would accelerate much slower than a cat and have a much slower terminal velocity. The way it is built even gives it the capability to land softly and survivably. Such a difference from the cat, or even the other squirrels, and all from having somewhat different DNA.

Try the experiment with another tetrapod: the bat. It might accelerate downward at considerably greater than one gee, hover, accelerate upward, or anything in between. It contains carbon, a cat contains carbon. It is powered by ATP, a cat is powered by ATP. It shares many chemicals and hormones with a cat. So why such a drastic bulk physical behavior? DNA.

Of course, that's a toy example. There's all sorts of properties any organism has which have *nothing* to do at all with DNA. Like, e.g., having a scratch on a particular day, or being a widow.
The very concept of a scratch is predicated on the existence of a keratin-rich epidermis produced by -- yep, you guessed it -- our friend DNA. And, while the existence of a particular scratch may not be an obvious result of the activities of DNA, the frequency and severity of scratches are strongly dependent on DNA-derived properties. E.g., hemophiliacs tend to have fewer, less-deep scratches than non-hemophiliacs; people with a strange love of roses might tend to have more scratches than non-rose lovers; and people with thick, tough skin will have fewer, less-deep scratches.

--
I don't want the world, I just want your half.
[ Parent ]

worst abuse of Turing *ever*! (5.00 / 1) (#44)
by streetlawyer on Thu May 10, 2001 at 03:20:36 AM EST

Alan Turing showed that, for an arbitrary starting state, there exists no closed-form analytical answer to these questions, not even in principle

What? A computer with 256 bytes of memory counts as a Universal Turing Machine these days???????

Researchers have studied and modelled numerous biological systems, and not only have they all ended up being ordinary chemistry, there hasn't even been the slightest hint that unexplained forces are at work

Researchers who have actually worked in these areas are considerably more humble about what they have and haven't established decent evidence for than you are on their behalf.

And you're rather inaccurate: the cat will not, in fact, accelerate at a fixed rate. Its acceleration will decrease asymptotically until it reaches its terminal (ha ha) velocity. Actually, even that's not quite correct: it will tumble, flex, and sway in the wind, and it's instantaneous speed will vary. The average terminal velocity will be stable, however, and will be a function of muscle tension, skeletal structure, skin "flappiness", and hair drag. In particular, muscle tension will be a strong function of brain behavior, and thus the terminal speed of a cat depends on its psyche.

That's the thing about smartasses and wankers -- they always make mistakes by trying to show off their knowledge. EM said that his cat "would accelerate" at 9.62 ms^-2. And it will, from the definitions of the units. What happens later with air resistance is another matter; EM made a statement about "what happens when you release" a body, which is a statement about an instantaneous event. It is in fact you who was "rather inaccurate", and you might want to learn to be a *lot* more precise before you start acting the pedant.

And in any case, your ludicrous defence of DNA is not going to support your original argument about evolutionary psychology, as you have now admitted that numerous non-genetic factors influence the behaviour of animals. So you're defending a lost position anyway. If you ever fancy playing backgammon for money, my email address is above.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

Re: worst abuse of Turing *ever*! (none / 0) (#48)
by sigwinch on Thu May 10, 2001 at 08:21:21 PM EST

What? A computer with 256 bytes of memory counts as a Universal Turing Machine these days???????
It counts as a finite-tape Turing machine, which means that it is subject to the halting problem (at least, that's what my somewhat rusty knowledge says). Anyway, the point was not to discuss the niceties of computational theory, but to justify the assertion that since the brain is complex, it is difficult to understand from first principles.
Researchers who have actually worked in these areas are considerably more humble about what they have and haven't established decent evidence for than you are on their behalf.
I wasn't talking about their lack of proof that all life processes are conventional chemistry -- there are certainly vast areas of ignorance. I was referring to the total lack of evidence for "supernatural" phenomena.
That's the thing about smartasses and wankers -- they always make mistakes by trying to show off their knowledge [regarding the acceleration of the cat].
I am well aware of the difference between instantaneous and sustained acceleration, and my emphasis of sustained acceleration was out of enthusiasm, not ignorance.

But no matter, a trivial variant of my argument holds just as well for instantaneous acceleration as it does for sustained: At the moment the cat is dropped, it is entirely possible -- in fact very probable -- that the cat is thrashing about. Since it is thrashing, it will be pushing the air, and its acceleration will different than g. Q.E.D.

It is in fact you who was "rather inaccurate", and you might want to learn to be a *lot* more precise before you start acting the pedant.
Don't teach your grandma how to suck eggs, Streetlawyer. I can be a pedant par excellence, but in this case I was assuming a readership that would understand that any argument about sustained acceleration would apply equally to instantaneous acceleration, and would also understand that the choice of sustained acceleration was merely a rhetorical form to put the experimental results in a form that would be easily measureable by the naked eye.

If I was really being a pedant, I would have called attention to the fact that g = 9.62 m/s/s is a glaring error. The standard notional value is 9.81 m/s/s, and the actual value even at the equator is still 9.78 m/s/s. I know he said "a tall building", but that would take a building 60.4 km tall (or somewhat shorter, if you account for the Earth's rotation), which stretches the imagination beyond the breaking point. But I ignored this, as did everybody else, because it didn't affect the essence of his point.

And in any case, your ludicrous defence of DNA is not going to support your original argument about evolutionary psychology,...
Regardless of the ludicrosity of my arguments, I made specific, falsifiable assertions: the brain is built and functions according to instructions coded by DNA, psychological behavior is therefore subject to natural selection, that no processes outside the standard model of physics operate within the brain, and the mere fact that the brain is complex means that analysis from first principles is probably intractable (or very, very difficult). To the best of my knowledge, these assertions are generally either accepted as fact, or taken as working hypotheses until something better comes along.

A scientific argument against those assertions would consist of either experimental evidence contradicting them, or a logical argument contradicting them. I have seen neither, and while I am a nonspecialist and might miss the relevant papers, such evidence would be explosive and widely reported.

...as you have now admitted that numerous non-genetic factors influence the behaviour of animals.
Duh. That's the whole point of evolutionary psychology: to study responses to non-genetic stimuli, with a view towards understanding how those responses evolved.

--
I don't want the world, I just want your half.
[ Parent ]

[ahem] (none / 0) (#49)
by streetlawyer on Fri May 11, 2001 at 02:37:43 AM EST

It counts as a finite-tape Turing machine, which means that it is subject to the halting problem (at least, that's what my somewhat rusty knowledge says).

Your knowledge has rusted away completely. The set of programs which use 256 bytes of memory is finite and can therefore be checked individually to see whether they halt, and any program which uses 257 bytes of memory will halt when it runs off the end of the tape.

I was referring to the total lack of evidence for "supernatural" phenomena.

And trying to sneak through a definition of "supernatural phenomena" which includes consciousness, I note, in a wonderful example of the kind of intellectual dishonesty which is thankfully rare in serious consciousness research. We have abundant evidence of the existence of human consciousness -- or at least I do; you're a seven line Perl script, so you probably don't. What we don't have is physical evidence of non-physical phenomena, which is a fact far less overwhelming than you think.

At the moment the cat is dropped, it is entirely possible -- in fact very probable -- that the cat is thrashing about

So dead cats thrash about in your world? Read the fucking example, fool, and don't try to save a lost position unless you're playing backgammon against me for money.

Don't teach your grandma how to suck eggs, Streetlawyer. I can be a pedant par excellence, but in this case I was assuming a readership that would understand that any argument about sustained acceleration would apply equally to instantaneous acceleration

Why not, I taught your mother to suck dicks. Why on earth did you think that such a sophisticated audience would appreciate your humourless, sophomoric wanking, particularly as you couldn't be bothered to get the details right?

A scientific argument against those assertions would consist of either experimental evidence contradicting them, or a logical argument contradicting them

Or a logical argument pointing out that the principles taken together are nowhere near sufficient to establish any interesting conclusion about the role of genetic inheritance in human psychology.

Duh.

Here's a fucking clue, lugnuts; you're dealing with an expert here. I have a shelf of books in my house about sociobiology and am a contributor to a major sociobiology mailing list. You wank off over Dawkins; I've discussed the matter with him in person, over dinner. I'm giving you this friendly warning; I can be nice about this, or nasty. Avoiding saying things like "Duh" to me is your one chance at avoiding humiliation.

That's the whole point of evolutionary psychology: to study responses to non-genetic stimuli, with a view towards understanding how those responses evolved.

Which is the entire problem with the field; intellectually honest fields of study don't arrive at the data "with a view" toward fitting them to a just-so story. The evidence for genetic hard-wiring of maternal and status-seeking behaviour is obvious; the evidence for things like language is far more contentious; the evidence for specific human social institutions is non-existent. Unless you know different, which you don't.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

Hmmm... (1.00 / 1) (#50)
by Estanislao Martínez on Fri May 11, 2001 at 04:23:36 AM EST

The set of programs which use 256 bytes of memory is finite and can therefore be checked individually to see whether they halt, and any program which uses 257 bytes of memory will halt when it runs off the end of the tape.

Actually this is trickier to see than you make it sound... It took some thinking to see clearly.

A TM with a 256 byte tape and n states would have 8273153554255617868983008432299507701873690283447163912225368429446311715550180068658483561349865846704311797996005892990494607142525675800342567010930760478881504606029054999488050624099750939339790755426321297478858807972510657577430552150649899640468901338121294090979219428234512847003533414175726178693610069347755095659695353545360529790683181065043538446867918248788742705333365840422466199773229341881841562551926235483545177894989221351527346588987721531194144175285969973689640218042094418808237706900648114671371775300698367651383174442595695957899162146670906778789201530522867749937550298524431256635047936 * n possible configurations. Since this is a finite number, each time you see a configuration, you can record the fact that you saw it, and thus, if you see the same configuration twice, then you know the program is looping, and it never takes more that that number of steps + 1 to tell. Thus, for each of the programs, you just trace it's execution for that number + 1 steps, and if it hasn't stopped by then, then it doesn't halt.

Scroll sideways if you reply to find the reply box.

--em
[ Parent ]

hey! (none / 0) (#51)
by streetlawyer on Fri May 11, 2001 at 05:43:58 AM EST

someone's got access to arbitrary precision arithmetic! Yeh, that's the sketch proof. In general, when you see the word "infinite" in a proof (as appears in Turing's original statement of the halting problem), it ain't there for decoration.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]
*click* *click* *whooooosh* (none / 0) (#52)
by sigwinch on Fri May 11, 2001 at 06:28:00 AM EST

The set of programs which use 256 bytes of memory is finite and can therefore be checked individually to see whether they halt,...
...and the process of checking would take up to 2^2048 bits of storage and 2^2048 instruction cycles for each program. Sure, strictly speaking it *is* finite, but it's ludicrously beyond anything that people can actually do. I mean, if you stored one megabit on a single proton, you'd need orders of magnitude of orders of magnitude more mass than is in the visible universe just for the memory your halting prover would need. The same problem for a computer with as many bits of memory as there cells in the human cerebral cortex would take a truly vast halting prover -- the numbers are so gosh darn colossal that they become meaningless even on cosmological scales.
And trying to sneak through a definition of "supernatural phenomena" which includes consciousness, I note,
Huh? Where did you read that? AFIK, I never said that, and I certainly never intended to even imply it.
So dead cats thrash about in your world?
Hmmm. A second, closer reading does show a complete lack of the past tense (i.e., before the cat was late), which I somehow managed to read into it. Of course, with that interpretation it becomes a totally idiotic example, as the entire topic of the discussion was living things. With that interpretation, it becomes nothing more than rhetorical misdirection designed to draw attention away from weak ideas. A less misleading approach would have been to talk about a brick painted with denatured DNA solution, but that is so obviously pointless that nobody would bother.
Why not, I taught your mother to suck dicks.
*boggle*
Or a logical argument pointing out that the principles taken together are nowhere near sufficient to establish any interesting conclusion about the role of genetic inheritance in human psychology.
Such an argument is neither an element of contradiction, nor an element of support for a competing hypothesis. It is merely an enumeration of ignorance. Moreover, the relative degree of ignorance is mostly opinion.

Besides, if it's not largely genetic, then it's some combination of random factors, divine intervention, or external stimuli. The first case can be obviously ruled out. Divine intervention/supernatural phenomena are possible but have no smoking gun evidence (but then, if God was programming our brains, he mightn't let us see the evidence). External stimuli as the basis of psychology can be ruled out since people who develop in vastly different environments are nontheless very psychologically similar; moreover, members of other species -- even the chimpanzees and great apes -- raised among humans remain mostly like their wild counterparts.

Avoiding saying things like "Duh" to me is your one chance at avoiding humiliation.
So when one espouses a particular position, and the other debater says it back to you as if it were a Holy Revelation that one could see if one wasn't as dumb as a sack of bricks, what should one say? "Respected sir, I would like to point out that I just mentioned that selfsame sentiment."?

As to humiliation, respected sir, I simply cannot conceive the circumstances where that would occur.

...intellectually honest fields of study don't arrive at the data "with a view" toward fitting them to a just-so story.
That's not what I said: I was talking about the guessing of hypotheses that are consistent with the data. The study of evolutionary events is necessarily fraught with uncertainty, since you are working with proxies for invisible events, and you rarely even have a record of the proxies. Developing hypotheses consistent with the data is therefore hard, and you must always accept the certainty that other hypotheses can be created that will also fit the data.

But uncertainty does not imply total lack of meaning. Every hypothesis that is consistent with the data and logically acceptable tells us something about the possible history of the human race. Every hypothesis found to be untenable rules out swaths of conceivable histories. We may find that there are large sets of hypotheses that are mutually incompatible. But there is still value. Even if we don't find out how important numerical reasoning was to Cro-Magnon man, the exercise will give us likely limits on the minimum and maximum effect of numerical reasoning, as well as their effects on lifestyle.

The evidence for genetic hard-wiring of maternal and status-seeking behaviour is obvious;
In other words, it is exhibited today, and while there is no fossil record demonstrating status seeking 1,000,000 years ago, hell, it seems plausible enough.
the evidence for things like language is far more contentious;
It other words, it is exhibited today, and while there is no fossil record demonstrating language 1,000,000 years ago, hell, it seems ambiguous enough. Which is what I'm saying: some things, especially the complex things, will be uncertain. But the effort to understand them -- especially the effort to circumscribe the uncertainty -- are still useful.

And a lot of this will become much clearer once we start getting a detailed behavioral description of the brain. Right now, cognitive neurology is like the blind men describing the elephant, but that will change (I can hope, right?).

And when it does, the true golden age of evolutionary psychology will begin. To give a concrete example of how I think this will become more relevant, we could find that the speech generators can be driven by what appears to be an ancient mechanism for generating repetitive sounds, a mechanism shared with the other primates. From an evolutionary point of view, this is a plausible adaptation for early vocal communication, as repetitive howling and chattering would be a useful protolanguage (hey, it works for the chimps). Suppose that the mechanism could also cause stuttering. It's recent fitness would explain why it is not yet vestigial, even though stuttering has low fitness.

the evidence for specific human social institutions is non-existent. Unless you know different, which you don't.
Of course I don't. That sort of specialization cannot survive in an organism that is otherwise a generalist. Even if women had somehow become hardwired to decorate themselves with the mud of the Nile, it would have disappeared since being able to move away from the Nile has higher fitness. OTOH, humans do seem to have a hardwired drive to decorate their bodies. From the evolutionary point of view, difficult and elaborate body decorations would serve as an advertisement of fitness (sick or deranged people aren't good at making flashy symmetric things), increasing fitness by attracting mates. This helps explain social conventions like biker tatoos, not as hardwired behaviors but as manifestations of simple drives. The really cool trick is that many behaviors have no apparent or plausible fitness value, but if you have evolution running around and designing general solutions, all sorts of weird crap just falls out. For instance, if evolution didn't just drive people to decorate their skin, but instead gave them a general decoration engine, it would explain the mania for interior decorating and flower arranging.

--
I don't want the world, I just want your half.
[ Parent ]

boing (none / 0) (#53)
by streetlawyer on Fri May 11, 2001 at 07:07:43 AM EST

Sure, strictly speaking it *is* finite

You were the one who started this nitpicking game, not me. Strictly speaking, it's finite, so strictly speaking, the Halting Problem does not apply. You had a perfectly good argument about combinatorial difficulty, but you had to go and spoil it by trying to show off, didn't you?

AFIK, I never said that, and I certainly never intended to even imply it.

Ahem *rewind*

Researchers have studied and modelled numerous biological systems, and not only have they all ended up being ordinary chemistry, there hasn't even been the slightest hint that unexplained forces are at work
Human consciousness is unexplained, and it is certainly "at work" in human beings. What's wrong, was this meant to be stored in the 256th byte?

With that interpretation, it becomes nothing more than rhetorical misdirection designed to draw attention away from weak ideas

I note in this context that you have completely ignored my own counterexample along the same lines; the differences between a malnourished and a correctly nourished mouse.

Such an argument is neither an element of contradiction, nor an element of support for a competing hypothesis.

He also serves humanity who plants no seed of his own, but merely clears a field of weeds and stones.

It is merely an enumeration of ignorance.

You don't know what the word "enumeration means". And you're wrong anyway. To point out that your evidence doesn't support your theory is a perfectly good argument against it, unless you have more evidence that you're hiding from us.

External stimuli as the basis of psychology can be ruled out since people who develop in vastly different environments are nontheless very psychologically similar; moreover, members of other species -- even the chimpanzees and great apes -- raised among humans remain mostly like their wild counterparts.

I was not previously aware that chimpanzees held tea parties in the wild.

And I'd be equally interested in how you propose to give some content to the phrase "psychologically similar" which does not either a) reduce the content of psychology to exclude social behaviour or b) completely falsify your statement that it is a relation which holds across "different environments".

that one could see if one wasn't as dumb as a sack of bricks,

This is my secondary hypothesis in dealing with you, the first one being "a seven line perl script".

This helps explain social conventions like biker tatoos, not as hardwired behaviors but as manifestations of simple drives.

You really are an utter innocent here, aren't you? Nobody would care about "evolutionary psychology" if it were attempting to explain little things like this. But the major project of evolutionary psychology is to try to explain important *social* phenomena by reference to genes.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

Yes, abuse of Turing indeed. (5.00 / 2) (#45)
by Estanislao Martínez on Thu May 10, 2001 at 02:31:08 PM EST

Alan Turing showed that, for an arbitrary starting state, there exists no closed-form analytical answer to these questions, not even in principle. There are some simple states for which answers may be derived analytically, but for the remaining states there are no such analytical answers. Once an information processing machine reaches a certain level of complexity, the only way to tell what it is going to do is to start it running and watch what happens. This is the famous Turing Halting Problem.

No. The "results" you mention follow only of Turing Machines, the Lambda Calculus, and equivalent systems. Your much stronger assertion depends on the Church-Turing Thesis. The crucial thing is that the Thesis is unprovable-- it is an item of faith.

So you're abusing Turing indeed. And not even in an *original* way.

I don't have time for anything else.

--em
[ Parent ]

don't be silly (none / 0) (#43)
by streetlawyer on Thu May 10, 2001 at 03:12:08 AM EST

That contradicts the central dogma of biology (DNA --> proteins --> every property of the organism). If you have the slightest shred of experimental evidence for this contradiction, there's a Nobel prize waiting for you.

Mice who are malnourished throughout childhood tend to grow up to be smaller, weaker and more prone to disease than mice which are not. This is a property of the organism which is not determined by genes, which is why the "central dogma of biology" is no such damn silly thing. On the whole, I doubt that either of us will be winning any Nobels any time very soon.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

Perhaps not accurate.... (3.00 / 1) (#25)
by dave114 on Tue May 08, 2001 at 08:02:15 PM EST

Could it be that perhaps what people say about themselves to others is not how they actually feel?

In a social sense I would think a person rating themselves a 10 would be considered a snob and thus made an outcast. On the other hand anyone rating themselves a 5 or less might be thought of as inferior and likewise cast aside.

Perhaps it is a desire to fit within the norms of society that causes these people to rate themselves as such. How likely would you be to find someone calling him/herself perfect?

hmmmm (3.66 / 3) (#26)
by jann on Tue May 08, 2001 at 08:28:44 PM EST

lemme think.

If you are above average at x you can see that there are people who are better, equal and worse than you are. You rate yourself correctly.

if you are average see above 'cept that your rating is, say, a littel out.

if you are below average you are unable to judge adequately where everyone stands on the subject x due to the nature of your lack of knowledge on the topic. You screw up your rating.

Hence no one is in the bottom percentile rank.

Reminds me of something ... the more you learn the more you learn how much you have yet to learn.

J

hmmm (2.00 / 2) (#34)
by kubalaa on Wed May 09, 2001 at 01:22:18 AM EST

Will someone explain why this is worth spending money or research time on? Maybe I missed something, but I didn't see any explanation of how the results enhance our understanding of learning or psychology. Which isn't surprising since we've known this for the last two millenia (and this study hasn't lent it any particular statistical rigour).

I'm also not too sure about their theory. If ability is directly correlated to meta-ability, then why the falloff in the first quartile? It makes more sense to me to say that self-esteem has NO BASIS in reality and everyone will tend to rate themselves as slightly above average. Or you could just say that the bottom quartile will tend to perform badly on any analytical task. Or perhaps, as someone else already suggested, it is not the self-examination ability which is skewed, but the ability to honestly report on one's self-esteem. It's hard to say if these are any better because their theory made no quantifiable predictions whatsoever.

Oh well, I guess psychologists have to do "research" on something.

your flawed thinking (none / 0) (#46)
by alprazolam on Thu May 10, 2001 at 04:08:10 PM EST

We have 'known' nothing. There has never been any data taken on the subject that wasn't subject to some flaw mentioned in the article. As I stated before, so called 'common sense' is meaningless bullshit. Data is meaningful.

[ Parent ]
data is meaningful? (none / 0) (#56)
by kubalaa on Mon May 14, 2001 at 03:41:21 AM EST

I don't want to get overly philosophical and abstract here, but I think you missed my point. First, data is not meaningful. In fact, there is nothing more meaningless. Whatever your idea of meaning, it usually has something to do with the abstract ideas consciousness attaches to something. "This means that" means that this, some concrete thing like data, is an embodiment of that, some abstract concept.

Anyways, my point is that the theory is the "meaningful" part of science, the meat on the bones of the data. While a theory is nothing without data to back it up, data without a theory is even worse. And I think the theory that this study has provided is weak, unoriginal, and useless.

So they've taken some data that seems to support common sense. You and I do that every day by observing people around us; that's where common sense comes from. I'll be interested when they've developed an interesting, enlightening, useful predictive theory and a large body of data which actually fits it to a high degree. The topic is also a good one for k5, but the study itself is only acceptable fodder for academics who can't find anything better to do.

[ Parent ]

My own experience (4.66 / 3) (#47)
by error 404 on Thu May 10, 2001 at 04:43:51 PM EST

In a number of fields, is that the real masters tend to say things like "sure, anybody can do it - here, try it this way, you'll be great". My interpretation is that when you get real good at something, it feels easy. From what I've seen, expressions of pride max out at about the C+ or B- level, although real masters seem to have the most fun.

Now, I haven't really noticed it in my technology skills, perhaps due to being too emotionaly involved in making a living. But in art (I indulge in several art forms for personal growth. I take it seriously. But I take the technology that feeds my family more seriously.), I've noticed a pattern.

I become comfortable. And then, suddenly, something doesn't work - a work fails badly. And I notice that everything I've ever done stinks to heaven. After a while, if I can force myself to try again, I get better. And after a while, I look at what I was doing, and realize that there was a noticable jump in quality right when I noticed I sucked. So at this point, I interpret the realization that I suck as a sign that my standards have gotten harder and I'm ready to move to another level. Still damned hard to mark up perfectly good paper or canvas or take a chisel to an uncarved block when I feel like that, but now I make the effort. Fortunately, once I reach that new plateau, I can see what was right about my old work again.


..................................
Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

I liked the end of the article... (2.00 / 1) (#55)
by Brains Akimbo on Fri May 11, 2001 at 02:11:03 PM EST

... where the researcher says (using the majesticus pluralis form) "We are superior to these pathetic losers in so many ways that we can't begin to count them."

A Case for Humility. | 56 comments (55 topical, 1 editorial, 1 hidden)
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