2019-03-11 RRG Notes

Table of Contents

The Bottom Line

  • There are two boxes up for auction
  • One contains a valuable diamond, the other is empty
  • The boxes are covered with signs and portents, but no sign or portent is known to be perfectly reliable
  • Let's say that there's a clever arguer, hired by one of the box owners to argue that their box has the diamond
    • The clever arguer starts by writing, at the bottom of the page, "And therefore that's why this box contains the diamond."
    • Then, they go back and fill in all of the other arguments as to why the box might contain the diamond
    • When the clever arguer comes to you, they recite their argument – saying that the box is blue, it has certain markings, etc, and therefore it must contain the diamond
    • However, the evidentiary entanglement between the box and the argument became fixed when the clever arguer wrote their conclusion at the bottom of the paper
  • Let's say there's another person, who is genuinely curious about the contents of the box
    • This person writes down the distinguishing characteristics of both boxes
    • Then, using their knowledge of the laws of probability, they write down the conclusion
    • In this world, the conclusion is entangled not with the willingness of the box owner to pay, but with the actual signs and evidence on the boxes
  • Your effectiveness as a rationalist is determined by whether you write down your conclusion first or last
  • Note: this is intended as a check on your own thinking, not as a fully-general counterargument against others

The Apologist and the Revolutionary

  • Anosognosia is the condition of not knowing your own disability
  • People deny even clearly observable disabilities, like paralysis or blindness and come up with increasingly implausible excuses for why they can't e.g. move their limbs
  • Why do people have trouble admitting their disability?
    • Patients might be psychologically incapable of coping with their disability, but anosognosia only occurs in patients who have strokes in the right hemisphere
    • Patients might not have access to the part of the brain responsible for thinking about the affected area – however anosognosic patients will make equally implausible claims about other parts of their body
    • This points to anosognosia as being a failure in rationality, rather than a problem particular to a particular part of the body
  • Dr. Ramachandran posits two different interacting systems in the brain
    • Apologist – tries to fit data to the brain's existing theory
    • Revolutionary – initiates a "paradigm shift" when the enough contradictory evidence has accumulated to overthrow the brain's existing hypothesis
  • Normally these two systems work in balance
  • However, if a stroke takes the revolutionary offline, then the brain loses its ability to "update"
  • The really weird thing is that squirting cold water into the patient's left ear seems to temporarily "wake up" the revolutionary
    • The patient will admit to their paralysis and will exhibit confusion that they ever denied their paralysis
    • However, after some time, the effect fades and the patient will go back to not only denying their paralysis but also denying that they ever admitted that they were paralyzed
  • The reason this seems so strange is because we think of our intellect as being primarily propositional in nature, and therefore internally consistent
  • However, anosognosia shows that our intellects don't have to be internally consistent


  • Rationality is a forward flow from evidence to conclusion
  • Rationalization is a backwards flow that starts with the conclusion and assembles the evidence to fit that conclusion
  • These two words shouldn't be as close to each other as they are
  • When you're investigating something, make sure that you're weighing the evidence first, and then coming to the conclusion, and not the other way around

Simultaneously Right and Wrong

  • 1978 study on self-handicapping shows that people will voluntarily choose circumstances that make them perform more poorly if those circumstances allow them to "excuse" their poor performance
    • Hmmm… this is a sexy result from before 2005; I'm not sure how much I believe it
    • Leary (1986) contains a list of replications
      • Gibbons & Gaeddert, 1984
      • Kolditz & Arkin, 1982
      • Tucker, Vuchinich & Sobell, 1981
  • In order to handicap, subjects must have both an inaccurate and an accurate assessment of their own abilities
  • Need to know that they expect to perform well (in order to have self-esteem to handicap) and must know that their "true" expectation is lower than their ostensible expectation
  • This is a different version of the "belief in belief" problem, similar to the person who has to explain away experimental results disconfirming the presence of a dragon in their garage
  • Belief in religious faith and self-confidence seem to be two areas where we can be simultaneously right and wrong – we can express a biased position on a superficial level while holding accurate beliefs at a deeper level
  • This relates to the Apologist and Revolutionary reading as another example of the intellect not being propositionally consistent

You May Already Be A Sinner

  • The doctrine of Calvinism emphasizes predestination – it's already determined whether you'll go to heaven or hell, and there's nothing you can do in this world to affect that outcome
  • The blessed live virtuous lives, and the damned live sinful lives, but the type of life a person leads has no bearing on their entrance to heaven; it's just something that happens to them after they've been blessed or damned
  • So knowing this, would you choose to live a virtuous life or a sinful life?
  • Amos Tsversky argues that one should live a sinful life – the blessed/damned decision has already been made, so why not have an enjoyable sinful life, full of earthly pleasures?
  • However, people under a Calvinist doctrine often lead virtuous lives, under the impression that the choice to lead a virtuous life affects the probability of their soul being blessed or damned
  • In a similar experiment volunteers were told that there were two kinds of heart – Type I and Type II
  • They were also told that people with Type II hearts had longer, healthier lives
  • One group of volunteers was told that people with Type II hearts had higher pain tolerance after exercise
  • The other group was told that people with Type II hearts had lower pain tolerance after exercise
  • The group that was told that people with Type II hearts had higher pain tolerance chose to keep their hands in ice water longer after excercising
  • In both the Calvinist predestination case and the Type II heart case, people believed on some level that their actions would be able to affect a predestined outcome
  • However, in both cases, that knowledge didn't rise to the level of conscious thought, and thus when asked, people got the causation reversed – said that their actions were a result of predestined variables
  • Similar to self-handicapping literature – in both cases people take an action to protect their self-image that will work if and only if the intent behind the action doesn't rise to the level of conscious thought
  • In both cases, the action is apparently successful, self-image is protected, and the mind remains unaware of its true motives

Author: Rohit Patnaik

Created: 2019-03-10 Sun 16:28