Notes on Thinking

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Revision as of 12:15, 29 November 2021 by Rasmusen p1vaim (talk | contribs) (Sympathy and Empathy)
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This is for notes on thinking.

Trying to Think: Using Your Brain

I was just thinking of how two "skills" are really important:

1. Remembering to think rather than just exist (IQ, like strength, does you no good if you don't even try to use it)

2. Thinking about improving a situation rather than just accepting it (I finally tried using an external mike for my zooming-- why didn't I try to improve that six months ago?)

I suspect that being good at these two things is why so many people who have little brains and little education do so well anyway in business and life. Tho, to be sure, most of the people I've known who have been successful have pretty good brains too. I am struck, though, by how often I and others make dumb mistakes not by thinking about it and coming to wrong conclusions, but by not thinking about it at all when just a little thought would have revealed the right answer.

When we talk about teaching "critical thinking", what we really mean is "remembering to think". The key is to think about what you see. Most people don't do that. This is independent of IQ-- of how well you think. That's one reason low-IQ people can succeed.

Modelling and Prediction

In my experience, for making predictions, simple models are typically better than relatively complex ones. The modeller does need to have a sense of how to cancel out likely errors, though. I expect this is the actual skill that Youyang has shown.

Complex models are useful for demonstrating how systems work. That is, as a teaching tool when working with well understood systems. --

Thinking in terms of models, and conditional statements generally

Models are conditional statements: If the Assumptions are true, Then the Conclusions are true. Thus, we need to start by thinking about conditional statements. Most people have a lot of trouble with them.

Men versus Women

Are women more sympathetic but men more empathetic? Women are more emotional and compassionate, but men are more objective and better able to put themselves in other people's places.

One of her ideas is that men have a social strategy that works well in war: organize unrelated males, fight other groups overtly according to rules, then reconcile after battle. Women have a social strategy that works well for protecting their individual health and the health of their children: emphasize safety, covertly undermine the status of unrelated females, and exclude rivals rather than reconcile with them...

Keep in mind that men can have worrier personalities and women can have warrior personalities, but those are not the norm.

Comment: One of the most fascinating books I have read is “Self-Made Man” by Norah Vincent. Vincent decided to disguise herself as a man for a year, with the intention of learning more about males and then writing a fascinating book about it. Among other things Vincent sought out male bastions that were generally closed to females – a bowling club, a monastery etc. One of the things that amazed her were how men were focused on excellence rather than dominance. She joined a bowling club but she was a terrible bowler. Even so, men on her team encouraged her and didn’t shame her, and a few times men from the competing team came over to her and gave her tips on how to improve her game. (Even though money was riding on these games.) Vincent writes that women don’t naturally act this way. I am not qualified to judge if Vincent is right but it fits right in with what Arnold is getting at.

Comment: Roy Baumeister’s book Is there anything good about men? is my favorite book about gender differences and I’d recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning more about the ideas in this post. One specific thing he notes IIRC is that women for the most part have not themselves formed large organizations and imbued them with a feminine-oriented culture. Instead, they have sought inclusion in organizations that men initially created and then sought to change the culture of those organizations.


Two Conceptions of Teamwork. One way to think of teamwork is as division of labor: I stay near the goalpost, and you go on the offensive. A second way is to think of it as cooperation: we encourage each other in doing our math homework. The first way is male; the second way is female. The female way can be very counterproductive. Rather than having one sentry stay awake from midnight to 4am and the other from 4am to 8am, it has both stay up from midnight to 8am to provide company and encouragement for each other.

Sympathy and Empathy

  • Beta testing of products, focus groups, and showing your writing to other people for comment is useful for everyone. It is more important the less intelligent you are, though. This is not just because you make more mistakes. It is also because you are less capable of seeing your work as other people see it. The intelligent person can put himself in the user's place and imagine, from their point of view, how they might be puzzled by how something works or what a piece of writing means. The unintelligent person can only see it from his own point of view.
Note, however, that though intelligence is highly correlated with this kind of empathy-- the kind where you can imagine how the other person feels, whether or not you can feel what they will be feeling-- it is not correlated 100%. Many people are highly intelligent but caught in their own viewpoint. High-functioning autism is an example, though this can be true even for completely non-autistic people. The autistic person just can't see something the way other people do without training himself to do so and then doing so by force of intellect. The narcissist can't either, I think, though I don't know enough about that disorder. And there are intelligent people who are neither narcissist nor autistic but just rigid in their thinking. Indeed, being able to put yourself in someone else's place is closely related to being able to "think outside the box", because it at least means you know how to escape your own box and put yourself in somebody else's.

  • On Exactitude in Science Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley....In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps nolonger satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, andwhich coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.—Suarez Miranda,Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV,Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658

Abnormal Psychology


To believe something means to be willing to take action based on it.

What makes people believe in something?

1. Observation. With their own senses, they learn it.

2. Authority. They hear it from somebody they trust. This includes newspapers and books as well as people directly.

3. Reason. They deduce that something must be true.

What's Wrong with Social Science and How to Fix It: Reflections After Reading 2578 Papers Sep 11, 2020 by Alvaro de Menard. He says:

Criticizing bad science from an abstract, 10000-foot view is pleasant: you hear about some stuff that doesn't replicate, some methodologies that seem a bit silly. "They should improve their methods", "p-hacking is bad", "we must change the incentives", you declare Zeuslike from your throne in the clouds, and then go on with your day.

But actually diving into the sea of trash that is social science gives you a more tangible perspective, a more visceral revulsion, and perhaps even a sense of Lovecraftian awe at the sheer magnitude of it all: a vast landfill—a great agglomeration of garbage extending as far as the eye can see, effluvious waves crashing and throwing up a foul foam of p=0.049 papers. As you walk up to the diving platform, the deformed attendant hands you a pair of flippers. Noticing your reticence, he gives a subtle nod as if to say: "come on then, jump in".

Andrew Gelman says:

Statistics does not require randomness. The three essential elements of statistics are measurement, comparison, and variation. Randomness is one way to supply variation, and it’s one way to model variation, but it’s not necessary. Nor is it necessary to have “true” randomness (of the dice-throwing or urn-sampling variety) in order to have a useful probability model.

Suicide of the Liberals in First Things:

In one memorable scene, the hero of ­Solzhenitsyn’s novel November 1916, Colonel Vorotyntsev, finds himself at a social gathering principally of Kadet adherents, where everyone repeats the same progressive pieties. He soon grasps that “each of them knew in advance what the others would say, but that it was imperative for them to meet and hear all over again what they collectively knew. They were all overwhelmingly certain that they were right, yet they needed these exchanges to reinforce their certainty.”

From Science:

The size of color vocabulary of an individual varies dramatically across the population. We systematically harnessed this variance and showed that the number of color names one possesses almost perfectly predicts her/his color memorization ability; however, the size of color vocabulary is not related to one’s basic color perception. In addition, it is known that color names are not evenly distributed across the color wheel. We systematically captured this source of variance and showed that color memorization—and not basic color perception—is more accurate for parts of the color wheel described by higher density of color names.

--"Richer color vocabulary is associated with better color memory but not color perception,"

Maryam Hasantash and Arash Afraz. PNAS December 8, 2020


People hate facts. They think it's unfair trickery. Remember Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado: I've got a little list Of society offenders who might well be underground... All children who are up in dates, and floor you with 'em flat..."

Similar: 2 equals the square root of two. Replace the1+1 route along the sides of a square from one corner to the opposite with .5+.5+.5+.5, and keep increasing the number of sharp turns till the route is the diagonal. The fallacy has real-world implications for pedestrians.

"thinking about the time US special forces introduced breathing techniques that increased target accuracy & reduced deployment insomnia but the troops wouldn’t do them because they were called “relaxation breathing” but compliance improved once it was renamed “tactical breathing”"