January 20, 2009

God's Cheat Code For Accuracy

One reason why not having fixed and predetermined identities may be useful to us.

I. The Wisdom Of Crowds

How many M&Ms are in the jar at the bar?  Wrong.  So are the other thirty people playing the game.  No surprise, it's hard to guess.  But take the median of the answers, and you'll find it is closer than most of the people's answers.  Take the mean of the people's guesses, and it is even closer to the truth. 

Unfortunately, you're a narcissist, incapable of truly connecting with others.  You fake it, posture the right emotions at the right times but even to you it feels unreal, disconnected.   And so you find yourself alone, even if surrounded by others.  You just don't feel close to anyone, even those you are obsessed with, even to ask them their guess.  It's a shame.  You really wanted some M&Ms

It hits you: why not simply make several guesses youself, and then average them together?   It's better than nothing, right?

Turns out, you are right: averaging multiple guesses increases accuracy.  Not hugely-- averaging two guesses increases reliability by, say, 0.3%. Hey, it's not like it cost you anything.


II.

Yeah, but so what?  Getting one other person's guess and averaging it with yours would have increased accuracy by 7%.   True, but you're too self-absorbed to ask her how many M&Ms she thinks are in there. Let alone to ask her out.  (You think it's shyness.  I know, I know.) 

What you need is a way of obtaining an educated second opinion without actually involving other people.  One way is to do this:

First, assume that your first estimate is off the mark. Second, think about a few reasons why that could be. Which assumptions and considerations could have been wrong? Third, what do these new considerations imply? Was the first estimate rather too high or too low? Fourth, based on this new perspective, make a second, alternative estimate.

This is called dialectical bootstrapping, and, provided you are not an idiot, it works.  A recent study found that doing this improved accuracy over simply guessing twice and averaging the results:

dialectical average.jpg



I mention that you can't be an idiot because your guess has to be rationally considered.  Simply guessing, or using some crazy worldview, is not likely to work.

But here's a question: why does averaging with some other idiot's guess still beat averaging with your best, most thought out second guess?

III.

The reason averaging two people's guesses improves accuracy has nothing to do with the accuracy of the guesses-- indeed, a moment's reflection shows that both people could be idiots, and the average still gets you closer to the truth:



---Guess 1--------Truth----------------------------Guess 2-----      (1)


The accuracy of two people's average is related instead to the qualitative differences in their errors.  Two people do not make the same kinds of errors-- systematic errors-- and so averaging them will cancel those out.  (In a simplified example: Bill tends to overestimate, John tends to underestimate.  Now consider the numerous biases or cognitive heuristics that each person uses to make guesses, that may be negated by averaging.)

Averaging two of your own guesses reduces the random error-- so you get a small improvement-- but without additional information or reflection, you're likely to make the same kind of systematic error in your guesses.

Dialectical bootstrapping is a way of reducing both random and systematic error.  In order for this to work, your second guess has to be a thoughtful one, using either more information or at least reflection from a different perspective.  This different perspective has its own systematic error, but less of your first guess'  systematic error.  That's why averaging with  this second guess can considerably improve accuracy.

But, as shown in the graph above, it's still less accurate than averaging some other idiot's guess precisely because that idiot is not you.  There's a larger difference in your systematic errors and Bill's systematic errors than there is in yours and "yours from a different perspective."

If you follow this reasoning, then it suggests that God has included a Cheat Code to improving accuracy: pretend you are someone else.

IV. The Wisdom of Narcissism

Because narcissism is so dependent on the interplay between two people's personalities, narcissists are quite excellent, through natural inclination or diligent practice, at empathy.  Granted, they might not care what the other person feels, but they are amazingly perceptive when they choose to be.

Everyone has narcissistic traits; the question is, how well can you tap into them?

In theory, people who are perfectly able to get inside another person's head-- or were completely able to get out of their own head-- could produce a second guess that would be totally independent of their first guess, and there'd be an increase in accuracy almost identical to actually asking another person.  People who are less able to do this would get gains that were less.  In other words, something like this:

dialectical gains of individuals.JPG


IV. Is that really narcissism?

You might think my labeling of this trait as narcissistic is superfluous or exaggeration.  But some teens hide behind irony; some people have excellent bullshit detectors; or the ability to "read" a person's body language; all of these things are really the ability to look into yourself and determine what those things would mean if you said or did them.  And that works because that's how you learned to be a person in the first place: by incorporating various characteristics from other people into yourself.  Healthy narcissism, self-aware narcissism, means you remember how and where those characteristics came from.  "I've inherited my Dad's temper."   So if your Dad was really mad, how many M&Ms would he think were in there?

-----------



1. You might ask, but what if my two guesses are both on the same side of wrong?


--------------------------Truth-------Guess1--------------------------Guess2-----------

The average isn't more accurate.

However, in real life, you wouldn't know which of your two guesses was better.  You'd have to pick between them.  The average of the two guesses may be worse than one of the guesses, but it is always at least as good as randomly picking one of them.




Comments

"And that works because ... (Below threshold)

January 20, 2009 12:02 PM | Posted by Matthew: | Reply

"And that works because that's how you learned to be a person in the first place: by incorporating various characteristics from other people into yourself."

"Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everybody I've ever known."

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Guessing correctly various ... (Below threshold)

January 20, 2009 12:23 PM | Posted by lorg: | Reply

Guessing correctly various quantities has actually been researched: see http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/sanjoy/oom/

The book I linked to also recommends taking different guesses with different methods, and the mathematical reasoning behind it.

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I enjoy your posts. I appre... (Below threshold)

January 20, 2009 2:43 PM | Posted by sj: | Reply

I enjoy your posts. I appreciate your writing style, sense of prose and topics.

However, i think the emphasis on narcissism has become narcissistic (I'm teasing). But its as if you see narcissism to the exclusion of all other traits. You've become the cop who only see's criminals.

Perhaps if you clarified your interpretation of the narcissistic spectrum from "normal or healthy" to "serial killer" it would help us poor narcissistic readers.

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You keep saying (as you do ... (Below threshold)

January 20, 2009 2:56 PM | Posted by ME: | Reply

You keep saying (as you do in this post) that if a man has trouble asking a woman out, then that (in this narcisstic generation, etc.) is likely to be a result of narcissism. But you also say that narcissists are never aware that they're narcissists. So, if I have trouble asking a woman out, and I've just read your article saying that it's because I'm narcissistic and wonder if it applies to me, then is narcissism an explanation, or isn't it?

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How is being afraid to ask ... (Below threshold)

January 21, 2009 1:40 AM | Posted by Steve: | Reply

How is being afraid to ask a girl out a sign of narcissism? Aren't narcissists generally immune to rejection and self doubt?

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I share this skepticism abo... (Below threshold)

January 21, 2009 2:43 AM | Posted by jb: | Reply

I share this skepticism about an inability to ask women out indicating narcissism. You previously mentioned that self-awareness negates narcissism: if I am conscious of the self-obsesssion of my behaviors, I am not a narcissist. I am conscious of how my inabilities at interacting with women, as well as people in general, in some sense follow from my general introversion, i.e., my obsession with my self. Just being conscious of this failure does not fix it. If anything, my consciousness of it compounds it, in virtue of the fact that I now have a label to ascribe to this failure in behavior ('narcissism'), and I begin thinking of myself in that way (as a a'narcissist'), and come to justify subsequent actions on the grounds that they follow from my true nature as a narcissist (even though I may be in denial about it, on the grounds that I do not want to actually admit my narcissism). How, again, is this a good thing?

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I see the asking-someone-ou... (Below threshold)

January 21, 2009 9:36 AM | Posted by MedsVsTherapy: | Reply

I see the asking-someone-out thing: anyone who could get the power to expose yourself to yourself is threatening. My opinion - I have no research data on this - is that these jilted boyfriends and husbands are threatening, stalking and killing their girlfriends/wifes because if the woman abandons the guy, then it unmaks the hard truth that the narcissist is avoiding: he fundamentally believes he is worthless. The scariness of that is what powers the narcisssistic efforts to demonstrate (to himself or herself) self-worth.

This I believe can play out two ways: one: fear of asking someone out because it exposes the narcissist to rejection; two: mastery of asking a woman out since this is a seemingly wonderful badge of value, but the fear of subsequent rejection makes the narcissist controlling in the relationship, or violent when dumped.

Same things apply to non-narcissist guys: risk to self-esteem. But the narcissist is more threatened by this fear, and is hampered by the lack of natural ability to mature, to handle rejection, to keep a relationship through whatever it is that makes a decent relationship work, etc.

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I would think that a narcis... (Below threshold)

January 21, 2009 12:37 PM | Posted by ME: | Reply

I would think that a narcissist might be more afraid, but their motivation would also be greater. In other words, I might feel that having a girlfriend will say something good about me, but I also don't think that my relationship status defines me, and so it's not essential. But a narcissist (as I understand it) might feel that having a girlfriend is actually essential to his identity, and so he will be forced to overcome his fear.

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Alone,I'd like to ... (Below threshold)

January 21, 2009 8:50 PM | Posted by Dyson: | Reply

Alone,

I'd like to hear you flesh out your thoughts more, if you wouldn't mind. A glance at wikipedia reveals that some think there are two different subtypes of narcissistic personality disorder. An oblivious subtype that presents a large, powerful, grandiose self to be admired, envied and appreciated. Whereas a hypervigilant subtype doesn't fight devaluation, but is obsessed by it. They are critical of others, and put on a false image of superiority, they avoid sharing embarrassing thoughts with friends/partners in fear of rejection, or they choose critical partners and allow themselves to be a doormat.

After reading your blog, I've started to wonder if I am a closet hypervigilant narcissist...

..But why is your focus on narcissism in society? Are you trying to accomplish something besides merely putting your thoughts to pen? Is it to hopefully get people like myself to question myself? I'm not sure if I understand what your aim is and I'd like to understand your perspective a bit better.

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That's interesting, but I t... (Below threshold)

January 21, 2009 10:18 PM | Posted by Lilian Nattel: | Reply

That's interesting, but I think I'd just buy a packet of M&M's if I wanted some.

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Enough with your god delusi... (Below threshold)

January 23, 2009 9:12 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Enough with your god delusion already!

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I would just steal the M&M'... (Below threshold)

January 24, 2009 7:36 AM | Posted by J: | Reply

I would just steal the M&M's and the offer them to the girl. Perhaps, I should run for office?

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Again with the narcissism. ... (Below threshold)

January 28, 2009 1:54 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Again with the narcissism. Would you please start calling it something else?

Anyway, how about, instead of this being "god's cheat code for accuracy" it's actually just how we evolved. World demands social interaction and communicative exchange, you get to form an identity, once you "are an individual", you socialize some more, make some babies, and the whole thing starts over again?

And I found a contradiction:

you're a narcissist, incapable of truly connecting with others. You fake it, posture the right emotions at the right times but even to you it feels unreal, disconnected. And so you find yourself alone, even if surrounded by others. You just don't feel close to anyone, even those you are obsessed with, even to ask them their guess. It's a shame. You really wanted some M&Ms

It hits you: why not simply make several guesses youself, and then average them together? It's better than nothing, right?

But then you go on to say:

Because narcissism is so dependent on the interplay between two people's personalities, narcissists are quite excellent, through natural inclination or diligent practice, at empathy. Granted, they might not care what the other person feels, but they are amazingly perceptive when they choose to be.

If Narcissists are so dependent on the interplay between two people's personalities and they are amazingly perceptive at times, and great at faking empathy, why would they choose to make the guesses themselves? The second paragraph implies they'll ask around, but the first implies a detachment from people, their emotions and thoughts, and because they find it almost impossible to be in another person's shoes, this will lead to their guesses being pretty much more of the same. Even if they do ask around, they won't average, because of two core features of the disorder: their sense of grandiosity ("My ideas are better") and their preference for splitting ("That guy is a genius" -- "That guy is stupid").

So why would detached, self-absorbed, splitting individuals who find it difficult to see beyond their own prejudices have an inherent advantage over otherwise healthy people? Not for the reasons you listed, I think. I'd wager it has to do more with their constant pestering for idealized possessions - like a child - (be they material, mental, or simply attention), other people's willingness to help them at first because they can't see beyond the fake empathy and feel flattered and impressed, emotions which slowly turn into a desire to get rid of them as soon as possible once their rage is apparent (unless they become subjected to their control, be it by emotional or legal entanglement), and their ability to drop the people they've used, blaming the problems of these relationships on their partners, and drawing sympathy out of these experiences from new prey. These behaviors lead to their being exposed, serendipitously, to the mean of guesses you've described.

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Said by commenter ME above:... (Below threshold)

January 28, 2009 2:40 PM | Posted, in reply to Steve's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Said by commenter ME above:

You keep saying (as you do in this post) that if a man has trouble asking a woman out, then that (in this narcisstic generation, etc.) is likely to be a result of narcissism. But you also say that narcissists are never aware that they're narcissists

Steve:

You keep saying (as you do in this post) that if a man has trouble asking a woman out, then that (in this narcisstic generation, etc.) is likely to be a result of narcissism. But you also say that narcissists are never aware that they're narcissists

You guys mean Bruce Willis doesn't know he's dead? That he sees what he wants to see? (like his wife is giving him the silent treatment or, say, thinking a magazine made Heath Ledger look gay on purpose to increase speculation and sells, even though Bruce Willis/Dr. Malcom Crowe doesn't even know the guy, let alone the magazine's actual photo/editorial process, yet you'll notice he always leans towards choosing the nefarious intentions and interpretations from other sources or, sometimes, leaving them at limbo to "make you think").

You people know narcissistic disorders and careers in medicine, including psychiatry, aren't mutually exclusive? Yeah, take a guess at where I'm going with this.

Ok, ok, hint: either the doc is out of whack, or he's going through some really heavy midlife crisis (notice how he's commented leaving the profession, his notes on the economy, his disenchantment with academia, industry and society, never finished that book of his -- which, then again, could be condemnations, attention calls, and "may I ask for donations, pretty please"?).

Just sayin', be careful what you read. Ironically, this blog's message. But, like I've said before, if I'm reading, it's for me.

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Wovon man nicht sprechen ka... (Below threshold)

February 20, 2009 2:24 PM | Posted by anti-supernaturalist: | Reply

Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, daruber muss man schweigen

You continue to (mis)use Wittgenstein's proposition 7. from the Tractatus. This is a matter to speak about -- it's called intellectual dishonesty. Where's the citation?

anti-superaturalist

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"...some teens hide behind ... (Below threshold)

June 21, 2009 1:06 PM | Posted by Anon: | Reply

"...some teens hide behind irony; some people have excellent bullshit detectors; or the ability to "read" a person's body language; all of these things are really the ability to look into yourself and determine what those things would mean if you said or did them. And that works because that's how you learned to be a person in the first place: by incorporating various characteristics from other people into yourself. Healthy narcissism, self-aware narcissism, means you remember how and where those characteristics came from."

I think some people, such as myself, attain those traits/abilities not from being narcissistic, but more with the intention of blending in unnoticed. Not always low self esteem, perhaps just being introverted and avoiding social activity. Is there a label for that or something I can search the internet for to learn more about it?

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No, you wouldn't.... (Below threshold)

September 2, 2011 10:51 PM | Posted, in reply to J's comment, by Fran: | Reply

No, you wouldn't.

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Narcissism does not equal t... (Below threshold)

March 28, 2012 6:36 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Narcissism does not equal theory of mind. Unless you're a narcissist.

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Also, we should stop using ... (Below threshold)

September 24, 2013 8:44 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Atarii: | Reply

Also, we should stop using the word "fairytale," because fairies don't exist. Ooh! And "that's the way the cookie crumbles" is totally a ridiculous phrase, since the cookie does not always crumble, nor is there "a" cookie.

No one says these things because we all understand the implications and the truth, but why does using the word "God," capital G, seem so threatening to so many people?

Also, if evolution were actually KNOWN to be true (whether it is true or not is irrelevant: We don't KNOW that it is true, so your dogma is unnecessary and arrogant) then scientists would not be postulating so many mechanisms for how it might work. The hopeful monster theory. Punctuated Equilibrium, Neo-Darwinism, Evo-Devo (or, Evolutionary Development). If it was such a well-established, blatantly true theory that EVERY scientist believed, then they would not still be searching for a mechanism to make it work. They would not keep proving again and again that non-life can spontaneously become life. (It doesn't matter if you think abiogenesis is not part of the theory of evolution: That is how it is taught in America, as part of the theory.)

There are too many holes. So EVEN IF THE THEORY IS TRUE, it is not established well enough to be dogmatically accepted by the masses, to the exclusion of all other theories.
You don't have to believe everything was designed to not bullheadedly retain faith in an unproven theory.

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