Michael Mauboussin

Just heard an interview with Michael Mauboussin on The Knowledge Project podcast (a Farnum Street blog production) and he was super interesting.

A few quotes form the podcast. These are paraphrased:

  • “An expert is someone who has a predictive model that works.”
  • “When it comes to decision making, Daniel Kahneman advises us to use the statistical baseline first (system 2) then Overlay your intuition (system 1), not the other way around or you have confirmation bias.”
  • Evaluate your decision making – track your results. The objective is to make quality decisions over time (like Munger and value investing which is more about avoiding loss than making huge gains).
  • Lessons from Colonel Blotto – if you are dominant player you want to keep It as simple as possible – fewest possible battlefields.    Also for weaker then dilute the power Of the powerful opponent.  Create more complexity, more battlefields.
  • Advice for Parents: Instill Growth Mindset (praise for effort not characteristics) , consider opposite viewpoints and learn how to bet ( decision tracking). Teach kids that even though they win a bet, if it was an irrational/reckless bet, they will lose in the long run. Offer them recommendations, not orders. If you are right, they will learn to respect your recommendations.

He recommended these books:

Miller’s Law

From Wikipedia:

Miller’s law, part of his theory of communication, was formulated by George Miller, Princeton Professor and psychologist.

It instructs us to suspend judgment about what someone is saying so we can first understand them without imbuing their message with our own personal interpretations.

The law states: “To understand what another person is saying, you must assume that it is true and try to imagine what it could be true of.”[1] [2]

The point is not to blindly accept what people say, but to do a better job of listening for understanding. “Imagining what it could be true of” is another way of saying to consider the consequences of the truth, but to also think about what must be true for the speaker’s “truth” to make sense.

On Bullshit

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[Update: After I posted this I came across a great study –  “On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit” [PDF] – freshly published in November 2015. Well worth a read. I also recently came across this old but great post from Scott Berkun “How to Detect Bullshit“]

Because I see so much of this  on Facebook, I wanted to post the classic essay “On Bullshit” by Harry G. Frankfurt.

http://www.stoa.org.uk/topics/bullshit/pdf/on-bullshit.pdf

Here is Wikipedia on the essay:

“On Bullshit (2005), by Harry G. Frankfurt, is a philosophical essay that presents a theory of bullshit that defines the concept and analyzes the applications of bullshit in the contexts of communication. As such, bullshit can be neither true nor false; hence, the bullshitter is someone whose principal aim — when uttering or publishing bullshit — is to impress the listener and the reader with words that communicate an impression that something is being or has been done, words that are neither true nor false, and so obscure the facts of the matter being discussed. In contrast, the liar must know the truth of the matter under discussion, in order to better conceal it from the listener or the reader being deceived with a lie; while the bullshitter’s sole concern is personal advancement and advantage to their own agenda.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Bullshit

Here are some quotes:

Humbug is not designed primarily to give its audience a false belief about whatever state of affairs may be the topic, but that its primary intention is rather to give its audience a false impression concerning what is going on in the mind of the speaker. Insofar as it is humbug, the creation of this impression is its main purpose and its point.

 

Consider a Fourth of July orator, who goes on bombastically about “our great and blessed country, whose Founding-Fathers under divine guidance created a new beginning for mankind.” This is surely humbug. …the orator is not lying. He would be lying only if it were his intention to bring about in his audience beliefs which he himself regards as false, concerning such matters as whether our country is great, whether it is blessed, whether the Founders had divine guidance, and whether what they did was in fact to create a new beginning for mankind. But the orator does not really care what his audience thinks about the Founding Fathers, or about the role of the deity in our country’s history, or the like. At least, it is not an interest in what anyone thinks about these matters that motivates his speech. It is clear that what makes Fourth of July oration humbug is not fundamentally that the speaker regards his statements as false. Rather…the orator intends these statements to convey a certain impression of himself. He is not trying to deceive anyone concerning American history. What he cares about is what people think of him.

 

…Her statement is grounded neither in a belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth –  this indifference to how things really are – that I regard as of the essence of bullshit.

 

…The characteristic topics of a bull session have to do with very personal and emotion-laden aspects of life for instance, religion, politics, or sex. People are generally reluctant to speak altogether openly about these topics if they expect that they might be taken too seriously. What tends to go on in a bull session is that the participants try out various thoughts and attitudes in order to see how it feels to hear themselves saying such things and in order to discover how others respond, without it being assumed that they are committed to what they say: It is understood by everyone in a bull session that the statements people make do not necessarily reveal what they really believe or how they really feel. The main point is to make possible a high level of candor and an experimental or adventuresome approach to the subjects under discussion. Therefore provision is made for enjoying a certain irresponsibility, so that people will be encouraged to convey what is on their minds without too much anxiety that they will be held to it.

 

Each of the contributors to a bull session relies, in other words, upon a general recognition that what he expresses or says is not to be understood as being what he means wholeheartedly or believes unequivocally to be true. The purpose of the conversation is not to communicate beliefs. Accordingly, the usual assumptions about the connection between what people say and what they believe are suspended. The statements made in a bull session differ from bullshit in that there is no pretence that this connection is being sustained. They are like bullshit by virtue of the fact that they are in some degree unconstrained by a concern with truth.

 

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

 

…Someone who lies and someone who tells the truth are playing on opposite sides, so to speak, in the same game. Each responds to the facts as he understands them, although the response of the one is guided by the authority of the truth, while the response of the other defies that authority and refuses to meet its demands. The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.

 

One who is concerned to report or to conceal the facts assumes that there are indeed facts that are in some way both determinate and knowable. His interest in telling the truth or in lying presupposes that there is a difference between getting things wrong and getting them right, and that it is at least occasionally possible to tell the difference. Someone who ceases to believe in the possibility of identifying certain statements as true and others as false can have only two alternatives. The first is to desist both from efforts to tell the truth and from efforts to deceive. This would mean refraining from making any assertion whatever about the facts. The second alternative is to continue making assertions that purport to describe the way things are but that cannot be anything except bullshit.

 

Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic. This discrepancy is common in public life, where people are frequently impelled –  whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others – to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant. Closely related instances arise from the widespread conviction that it is the responsibility of a citizen in a democracy to have opinions about everything, or at least everything that pertains to the conduct of his country’s  affairs. The lack of any significant connection between a person’s opinions and his apprehension of reality will be even more severe, needless to say, for someone who believes it his responsibility, as a conscientious moral agent, to evaluate events and conditions in all parts of the world.

 

The contemporary proliferation of bullshit also has deeper sources, in various forms of scepticism which deny that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality and which therefore reject the possibility of knowing how things truly are. These “anti-realist” doctrines undermine confidence in the value of disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false, and even in the intelligibility of the notion of objective inquiry. One response to this loss of confidence has been a retreat from the discipline required by dedication to the ideal of correctness to a quite different sort of discipline, which is imposed by pursuit  of an alternative ideal, sincerity. Rather than seeking primarily to arrive at accurate representations of a common world, the individual turns toward trying to provide honest representations of himself. Convinced that reality has no inherent nature, which he might hope to identify as the truth about things, he devotes himself to being true to his own nature. It is as though he decides that since it makes no sense to try to be true to the facts, he must therefore try instead to be true to himself.

 

Facts about ourselves are not peculiarly solid and resistant to skeptical dissolution. Our natures are, indeed, elusively insubstantial – notoriously less stable and less inherent than the natures of other things. And insofar as this is the case, sincerity itself is bullshit.

 

See also

Wikipedia’s great article on Lies that described the many types of lies.

The BBC Ethics page on Lying

St Augustine on the 8 types of lie

 

Rise of the Expert Generalist

Enjoyed this profile of Charlie Munger on Medium, especially the description of the Expert Generalist, a rival to the 10,000 hour specialist:

The Rise Of The Expert-Generalist

The rival argument to the 10,000 hour rule is the expert-generalist approach. Orit Gadiesh, chairman of Bain & Co, who coined the term, describes the expert-generalist as:

“Someone who has the ability and curiosity to master and collect expertise in many different disciplines, industries, skills, capabilities, countries, and topics., etc. He or she can then, without necessarily even realizing it, but often by design:

  1. Draw on that palette of diverse knowledge to recognize patterns and connect the dots across multiple areas.
  2. Drill deep to focus and perfect the thinking.”

The concept is commonly represented by this model of the “T-shaped individual”:

NewImage

The War on the Exceptional

Is there a war on the exception (radical) to the detriment of humanity?

Start with this “In Our Time” episode on Kierkegaard, the read these two essays by Anthony Judge:

Anonymity

With so so few people being antifragile combined with increasing attacks on people’s livelihoods over their mere thoughts and beliefs, we have millions of prisoners of conscience, people persecuted or justifiably fearful of persecution for the non-violent expression of their conscientiously held beliefs.

If it is unsafe for you to speak freely or reveal what you think for fear of persecution, then anonymity is your shield. Learn about how to achieve it properly and use it wisely.

our method: pseudonymous speech…

anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. it thus exemplifies the purpose behind the bill of rights, and of the first amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation– and their ideas from suppression– at the hand of an intolerant society.

The right to remain anonymous may be abused when it shields fraudulent conduct. but political speech by its nature will sometimes have unpalatable consequences, and, in general, our society accords greater weight to the value of free speech than to the dangers of its misuse.

– mcintyre v. ohio elections commission 514 u.s. 334 (1995) justice stevens writing for the majority

though often maligned (typically by those frustrated by an inability to engage in ad hominem attacks) anonymous speech has a long and storied history in the united states. used by the likes of mark twain (aka samuel langhorne clemens) to criticize common ignorance, and perhaps most famously by alexander hamilton, james madison and john jay (aka publius) to write the federalist papers, we think ourselves in good company in using one or another nom de plume. particularly in light of an emerging trend against vocalizing public dissent in the united states, we believe in the critical importance of anonymity and its role in dissident speech. like the economist magazine, we also believe that keeping authorship anonymous moves the focus of discussion to the content of speech and away from the speaker- as it should be. we believe not only that you should be comfortable with anonymous speech in such an environment, but that you should be suspicious of any speech that isn’t.

From http://www.zerohedge.com/about via http://fabiusmaximus.com/about/authors/ 

See also:

https://www.eff.org/issues/anonymity

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anonymity

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anonymous_post

Liberating the inner psychopath

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I was listening to a BBC podcast today on the Islamic State called Bureaucracy and Brutality. In one segment, a former jihadi called Aimen Dean talks about a friend, now an ISIS judge, who delights in handing out sadistic punishments (dismembering, crucifixion, lashings, beheadings) in the ISIS occupied territories (the new Caliphate).

A sense of elitist isolationism. It is that isolationist, elitist mentality which liberates the psychopath within.

There are many people in this world who have that small psychopathic tendency at the back of their mind, but it is guilt and conscience that basically stops them from hurting other people.

However, if you tell someone that “you will be able to behead, to kill, to lash, to burn a village, to do of whatever you like while serving a cause and you will be rewarded for it by God in the afterlife”, it does wonders in terms of liberating the inner psychopath.

And therefore they do not see themselves as part of the world, they see themselves as a part of a new world, a purer world.

ISIS Psychopaths

A perfect description of the standard issue true believer extremist who is blind to the ironies of their extremism. Think of the “anti-racist” who chides us for our hidden biases and lack of tolerance but who vehemently hates the “haters”,  celebrating violence against them and spending all their time posting grossly offensive stereotypes about the supposed “oppressors”.  but it also immediately reminded me of a contemporary scourge:

It also reminds me of what I call the the iTartuffes, those smarmy PC platitude posting faux-moralists who team up with the zealots to form the pitiless digital pitchfork wielding mob bullies of social media. You know the type, they are everywhere. Think of those male “feminists” who say all approved gender neutral things, but who come across as creepy and insincere, looking more to score ladies than defeat the patriarchy.

I am not talking about the “political” friends we all have on Facebook. Those people with earnest if predictably strong positions on world events. Nope, iTartuffes are moral posers: PC, smug and in your face with their finger wagging moralism. They are quick to judge, demand apologies for the slightest offence and almost always fraudulent hypocrites.

here is something faintly disgusting about them, like a waft of BO or flatus. There is a vague but disquieting feeling that the iTartuffe does not believe their own words, because, well, they don’t. We groan when we see their Facebook posts shamelessly repeating the right-on platitude of the day. There is something awkward and forced about their style. They are fronting and we can tell. Since human hate deception and coercion, we end up hating the iTartuffes too. They end up in echo chabers with fellow iTartuffes each striving harder than the next to prove their loyalty and ideological purity.

In isolation the iTartuffe is a nuisance, at worst an irritation but numbers, and led by trie believers, however, these cowards are dangerous, as any mob can be. Their inner psychopath is let off the leash completely. All the conditions of cruelty are there: They are serving their cause which licenses the punishment of ideological enemies, and they will be rewarded with social approval and moral smugness in the new, purer word, purged of the intolerant/the male/the pale skinned/the rich or whatever hated class of oppressor they are targeting.

The psychology of this is well understood, if not widely known. The best description of the psychology is in the Kindle single “Trial by Fury: Internet Savagery and the Amanda Know case”. Here is an excerpt from a Salon article based on the book:

The answer to this human behavior lies, as many such answers do, in evolutionary biology. Experiments show that when some people punish others, the reward part of their brain lights up like a Christmas tree.

It turns out we humans avidly engage in something anthropologists call “altruistic punishment.”

What is altruistic punishment? It is when a person punishes someone who has done nothing against them personally but has violated what they perceive to be the norms of society.

Why “altruistic”? Because the punisher is doing something that benefits society at large, with no immediate personal gain. Altruistic punishment is normally a good thing. Our entire criminal justice system is based on it.

In our evolutionary past, small groups of hunter-gatherers needed enforcers, individuals who took it upon themselves to punish slackers and transgressors to maintain group cohesion.

We evolved this way. As a result, some people are born to be punishers. They are hard-wired for it.

What does all this have to do with Amanda Knox? Almost all the nasty comments about her follow a pattern. Even though she did nothing to them, they are all demanding her punishment. This is altruistic punishment gone haywire, in which the anti-Amanda bloggers have become a cybermob not unlike the witch-hunts of medieval Europe or lynch mobs in the American South.

These mobs form all over the Internet, and not just in the Amanda case, assailing everyone from Anne Hathaway to Katie Roiphe. Everywhere you look on the Internet you find self-appointed punishers at work. Never in human history has a system developed like the Internet, which allows for the free rein of our punishing instincts, conducted with complete anonymity, with no checks or balances, no moderation, and no accountability. On the Internet, our darkest evolutionary biology runs riot.

So what yourselves all you internet vigilantes. You are ISIS of the Occident. You are the useful idiots of fanaticism, bent away from the genuine service of civilised values by your wayward hunter gatherer moral brain.   Don’t the the haters. Don’t even hate ISIS. Don’t even hate the fake feminist and the racist anti-racists. We are ALL coded with bugs in the wetware.
SEE MORE…

On the Islamic State

Bureaucracy and Brutality [BBC Radio Documentaries]

Rare Islamic State visit reveals ‘brutal and strong’ force [BBC] 

Islamic State: Yazidi women tell of sex-slavery trauma [BBC]

Bullying, Pecking Orders, the psychology of Online Mobs

Fronting – Urban Dictionary 

Bully Psychology: Where Evolution And Morality Collide [Forbes]

Finger-Wagging Moralists Hurting Themselves, Society (1995) [MIT]

The evolution of altruistic punishment [2002] [PNAS]

On Ideology by Kenneth Minogue [First Principles] 

True believers [Wikipedia]

Pecking order / punishing transgressors and cheats by Howard Bloom [Youtube Video]

Two superb books on morality…

Moral Tribes by Joshua Green [Amazon Kindle]

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt [Amazon Kindle]

 

Code of Conduct for Foreigners

Years ago, when I set up the Belgrade Foreign Visitors Club, I wanted to formulate a Code of Conduct for members of the club, foreigners living in Serbia. I never did, but here is the list I came up with. It is a flawed list, sure, but it has served me well living almost my entire adult life  as an immigrant in multiple countries.

  1. Obey the laws – Obey the laws of the land, even the petty bureaucratic laws
  2. Contribute – Give something back economically, socially and culturally
  3. Be positive– Focus on the positives of your new home
  4. Be loyal – Be as loyal as you can to your host country
  5. Learn the language – Make an effort to learn at least the basics of the language
  6. Learn the history – Learn about the history of the country and its peoples
  7. Be neutral – Try and be as neutral as possible on contentious local matters or conflicts
  8. Try not to judge – Try not to be too judgemental about local negatives. Nowhere is perfect
  9. Show, don’t tell – Do not lecture the locals about how to be, act, think. Teach by example, not complaint
  10. If you hate the place, leave – If you hate the place, do not inflict your misery on others, be brave and leave