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August 29, 2008


Here's something I'd like to figure out, and am pretty sure you've thought about, since it's related to disagreement and bias. It's also timely for the election.

(1) The difference between one's stated reasons for holding a political belief or position on a policy, and one's "real" (perhaps not articulated) reason for holding the belief. For example, if you refute the stated reason, the person might stick to it, which could reveal another reason.

(2) Why, when, or how people change their minds about political issues. Do they? If so, what is that process like? Can they be persuaded, and if so, what are the most effective approaches? (Are we wasting our time trying to persuade?) Or to people slowly change their minds over time, with many "nudges" from other people?

(3) How people arrive at their political beliefs. For example, correlation with their parent's beliefs. There's also some research in what's called "political socialization," which could be interesting.

A relevant paper is Mike Huemer's Why People Are Irrational About Politics.

Is the overcoming bias blog worth the effort? This blog is no longer new. What are you conclusions about eliminating human bias and has Tyler changed his mind over the significance of bias.

What comes to mind the most is bias medicine. In addition, it seems obvious that bias itself must be important for trivial reasons. Bias info leads to false claims. Maybe both believe bias is something different altogether.

I'd like to see some digging into the implicit "Archimedes point" issue.

Here are some crazy topics I've wondered about lately I'd love to hear you two talk about:
1. It seems logical to me that catastrophic insurance is the only insurance that makes any sense. For instance, if someone asks you "Do you want to insure this package for $50?" your answer, by any measure of reason, should be NO. Why is it that almost no "normal" person realizes this? I'm wondering if the current health care crisis will force people to learn this obvious (to me) fact, just out of necessity. Will catastrophic health insurance (i.e. everything is out of pocket below a certain very high deductible) ever be the norm? Health insurance, of course, has the extra complication that regular visits may improve outcome (though even this is hard to prove) and therefore "maintenance visits" covered by insurance have some logic. But if it is a regular thing, why the heck is it tied to insurance? Could we separate the two?
2. US Law, as a rule, gets more complicated every year. More new laws are added, few are ever subtracted. What are the repercussions of this? Would it be possible to build a system to prevent this? Could you have a system where every new added law would need to be tied to another law to delete to keep the total "amount of law" constant? Would this be desirable?
3. A friend of mine likes to say that government intervention in free markets hurts average growth. However, he argues, it also flattens the lows and limits the highs. This, he says, is worth the negative effects on growth, because the peaks and troughs are what hurt individual people most profoundly. Is this idea nonsense, or is there any merit to it?
4. Is the stock market "fair"? Does the average person get a fair shake when they invest in stocks? Or, is it basically just a "trick" to slowly transfer money from regular joes to investment houses and other "insiders"? Does this question even make sense, or would the economist just say "People wouldn't do it if the incentives weren't worth it" ? Is it just a cynical conspiracy theory?
5. Are "complex" and "hard to understand" synonymous? When do they differ? I'm talking about "complexity" in the mathematical sense- Roughly, how long the formula is for describing it. I think there are many things that are actually very simple, but are very hard for the human brain to deal with. These include the benefits of free trade vs protectionism in economics, special relativity, and monads in computer science. All of these I think can be explained with a small number of very simple formulas- Why are they still so hard for humans to understand? Is there a common pattern?

I'd like for you both to cut odds on the likelihood of humanity surviving the next 100 years, the next 1000, the next million.
I know he sweats the nukes and you've said you think estimates of one being used on the U.S. soon are overblown.

or how about a real time demonstration of a Bayesian reconciliation of opinion, with the topic above or something you two diverge significantly on.

@Conrad Barski: Health insurance, of course, has the extra complication that regular visits may improve outcome (though even this is hard to prove) and therefore "maintenance visits" covered by insurance have some logic.

Wow, "Dr." Barski. Wait until you see what (if anything) Robin Hanson has to say about this. In the meantime, you may want to review his series on the subject, starting with this one, and chasing the links.

Health care, schooling, universal pre-k, nutrition and how little we know about these subjects (and yet we legislate).

I'd be interested in how much of an effect you (plural) think that your blogging has had on your prestige.

I would like you to discuss uncertainty in daily reasoning. Nassim Nicolas Taleb says we should focus on the consequences of events, rather than their probability, since the probability is unknown (usually, in practice), but the consequences are easily predicted.

For example, I don't know the probability of an earthquake happening in San Fransisco, but if I live there, I can pick a house less likely to bury me when it happens.

Whether Roissy is evil

I second Larry Roth's request.

Why does Tyler expect a more normal future than you?

Why aren't we working directly on terraforming Mars or wormhole transportation devices? Why do people insist on working on such mundane things? Electric vehicles are a dead end, and no matter how much we scale them up, will not get us across the universe.

how about your 14 wild ideas,5 of which are true

To what extent does becoming deeply immersed in a different culture overcome/exaggerate biases?

I would like to see a debate on the concept of common knowledge. Aumman's conclusion about rational disagreement, which is so readily accepted here, appears to me to be a case of one man's modus ponens is another man's modus tollens. Put me on the mt side.

For a moment I thought there was an error in the blog software, but instead it appears that there really are two Andy Woods here. How about that. From now on I will be Andy the Programmer.

(formerly Andy Wood)

How does Hayek's "The Sensory Order: An Inquiry into the Foundations of Theoretical Psychology" fit in with the OvercomingBias project?

From a post of Steve Horwitz: "Another really cool piece of evidence for the basic framework of The Sensory Order is an optical illusion known as the "Charlie Chaplin Mask." Again, the mind "fills in" what is supposed to be there based on its past experience, even though we rationally know that's not what's there. It's "the mind's best guess" in action. You really have to force your mind to see what IS there not what it's making you THINK is there."

How bout religion (not necessarily the existence of God)?

More generally, I'd like Robin to press Tyler on whatever issues they discuss.

The variety of suggestions here and at the parallel thread at Marginal Revolution is daunting.

If you think they're decent topics for discussion maybe you could do several.

I mean several bloggingheads episodes. How bout a weekly episode?

Daunting? Well here is a lighter suggestion. Tyler recently posted a list of underrated Sci-Fi flicks. How about critiquing and adding your own selections?

I'm also pulling for at least three "p=__" statements are made throughout the conversation.

Scott Adams of Dilbert fame has commissioned a survey of professional economists*
and described it here^. What do you think of this idea? How should the survey be run?


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