February 11, 2016

"Remember, my Rubio prediction was 100% wrong. That is objectively true. No wiggle room at all."

"Now watch me describe my wrong prediction as being more right than wrong. I do this for entertainment, and to make the point that you can force any data to fit the past if you try hard enough. I’ll do that for you now...."

Said the very entertaining Scott Adams.

ADDED: From another recent post (with a fascinating chart):
... I don’t believe our brains evolved to give us truth. Our brains evolved to create little movies in which we get to be the stars. And we can view our movies through many filters with no preference for which filter is the “right” one.

For example, Ted Cruz and Richard Dawkins believe totally different things about reality and yet both can use an ATM, shop at a store, and procreate. So your filter on reality need not be related to any actual underlying reality in order to keep you alive. It just has to NOT kill you.
That can't be true... by its own terms. But, boy, does it feel true! And, therefore, it's... true/not true.

46 comments:

tim maguire said...

Our brains didn't evolve to show us movies where we're the stars. Our brains evolved to keep us alive. One way it does that is by putting our experiences into a story to help us make sense of the world and improve our choices over time. Each of us is the hero of our personal story, but that's part of the how, not the why.

Ann Althouse said...

"Our brains didn't evolve to show us movies where we're the stars."

It's a ridiculous statement on its face, of course, and I think he knows it. He's not speaking the truth, which is his point.

How could your life be experienced as a movie in which are the star unless you live your life looking in a mirror, which would be a crappy movie. What movie has a person looking in a mirror constantly.

You don't see much at all of your face. You see everyone else's face. Exactly not like a movie.

Ann Althouse said...

Why have I stopped using question marks.

Limited blogger said...

Scott's blogging triggers an unusual array of comments. He seems to really rankle some people. Which means he is probing in uncomfortable areas. The 'High Ground' chart is a classic. I need to strive to rise above the 'Social filter'?

Brian said...

What Adams said about our beliefs not needing to track reality in a fine-grained way is true for many or most individuals, but not true for the culture. I can worship Satan in my free time, but only because the next morning I trudge to work to get a paycheck from a business sustained by reality-focused individuals. An unfortunate individual can spend his days getting a graduate degree in Woman's Studies, but only because his federal student loans are subsidized by taxpayers who work for a living. To sustain a culture - and thus to sustain all of us - some creators and workers have to be focused on reality.

Tregonsee said...

Just about everybody has some blind spot. Living in the Buckle of the Bible Belt, I know many professionals who believe literally in the biblical creation story, and yet are highly successful pilots, accountants, contractors, etc. I have yet to meet one who does not understand that the US budget is out of control. By comparison, most of the ones who can accurately give the scientific ages of the earth and the universe have great difficulty in understanding that. The question is whether that blind spot matters in daily life.

traditionalguy said...

Hmmm. But the faces of others are the mirrors we use. Humans are socially sensitive to how others react to us. That is one reason we need to meet many people to get a good composite view of ourselves.

As a corollary, an outlier face that reacts badly to us is usually wrong about everybody.

n.n said...

Evolution is a chaotic process. However, we "evolve" to conserve a mean state with limited variance.

buwaya puti said...

Ok, a movie isn't a good analogy. Story is good. The great novel of you.

n.n said...

Tregonsee:

The biblical creation and evolutionary creation stories are equally possible.

It is integral to note that science is necessarily and implicitly a frame-based philosophy that acknowledges accuracy and perception are inversely proportional to the product of time and space (perhaps just space) offsets from an established reference.

It's important to understand that everyone, without exception, has a faith of varying degrees. That's simply an unavoidable consequence of our limited perception and comprehension. The critical issue is the identification, characterization, and reconciliation of logical domains with significant concepts of morality (i.e. behavioral standards), fitness (e.g. evolutionary stability), physics (e.g. forces), etc.

mtrobertslaw said...

The movie analogy has a ring of truth to it. Introspection is something like a movie. There, the "I" is reflecting on, or "observing", certain past actions or behavior of the "I"

Karen of Texas said...

I wonder how this self examination tracks with the development in the gamer world of fps games. Now you *are* part of the game as far as your pov - unlike the "god-like" games where you control that character you see displayed on the screen.

Losing the question mark? I don't use one sometimes because I'm not really asking for feedback. It seems like a question, and a question mark would be appropriate, but it's actually a 'musing statement'. I suppose.

Phil 3:14 said...

Nihilism rankles.

M Jordan said...

Scott's right about our brains evolving a preference for story over reality but he's wrong about why this is so. Story, or narrative, is handy because it allows us to fill in missing data points. The story connects the dots. In real time, you can't do Dara-gathering research: you've got to make a decision now based on the usually few data points available. Tall, dark stranger offering candy from car: RUN!

Story is inductive reasoning. It's efficient. It's useful. And it's often wrong.

Bob Ellison said...

Not using question marks is a pet peeve of mine, but at least it helps you avoid the following oh-so-irritating essay tactic:

X is the case. Why, you ask?

I didn't ask. When I read that, I exit the essay.

Laslo Spatula said...

"charming bad logic" is one of my favorite Althouse tags.

I like that "charming" can be either an adjective or a verb in that phrase.

Depends on the filter, I presume.

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

Mr. Jones, Diversity Seminar Instructor...

"I get it, people: you are each the star of your own little movie. I am not saying this is a bad thing, just making an observation...

The problem is -- like in Hollywood -- many of you cast only white people in your own little movies. The best friend: white. the girlfriend: white. The hot chick you are so sorely tempted to fuck: white...

Sure, you'll hire on a few minorities as extras: someone has to be at the counter when you get fast food...

Let's face it: your own personal movie is The Story of White. And, as for black people's own movies: you're really not interested in watching those. Not your thing. Too ethnic, and then they start dancing like black people always do, and you just want to go back to your own little white movie...

People, may I suggest: do a little out-of-the-box casting. Is it really unthinkable that the 'hot chick' is black? Can the best friend be a black guy who doesn't rap or play basketball?

"Yeah, I know: you'll save it for the sequel, perhaps..."


I am Laslo.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

The Scott Adams filter, widely held by others, is that the Republican establishment wants to stop Trump. Is that supported by the evidence?

robother said...

Since the key to genetic survival for homo sapiens (especially since the agrarian revolution) is the social environment, the narrative trait he's describing can be divorced from physical reality, at least to the extent that the mistaken worldview (e.g., earth-centric vs hello-centric) doesn't immediately threaten tribal survival.

The narrative can also literally threaten individual survival (e.g., the need to be heroic in battle), but ironically that is part of the genetic survival package, as Dawkins pointed out.

Freder Frederson said...

The biblical creation and evolutionary creation stories are equally possible.

This is simply untrue. The biblical creation story isn't even internally consistent. Read your Bible. There are two contradictory creation stories in Genesis. Neither of which are consistent with scientific facts.

Paddy O said...

This is simply untrue. The biblical creation story isn't even internally consistent. Read your Bible. There are two contradictory creation stories in Genesis. Neither of which are consistent with scientific facts.

This is simply untrue. I teach conservative Christian theology for a living.

The issue with the Creation narratives is they're not primarily about "when" or "how," they're saying that God is the lord of everything by co-opting creation narratives of surrounding cultures. You have a little bit of knowledge about the Bible and you're expressing absolute knowledge (Fundamentalists do the same thing, by the way, so that's not a one sided problem).

Paddy O said...

Of course, inasmuch as evolution suggests random origins from scratch, there's problems. But, evolution really doesn't itself suggest this at all. Once we get past the point of how things started, we can find much common ground with how things developed into their present shape.

cubanbob said...

Only a minimum acceptance (your milage may vary) of objective reality is needed to survive in advanced societies. The rest is optional. High levels of survivable crazy and or unreality are a great civilizational achievement.

M Jordan said...

The Genesis account of creation allows for evolution. Each living thing produced is to reproduce "after its own kind." This implies that moving outside specie boundaries is not only possible but likely has happened in the past before this creation event. The "gap" theory, which posits that there was a huge time gap between Gen. 1:1 and 1:2, allows for all kinds of mysteries in the story of creation.

Fernandinande said...

It may be the case that Adams should stick to comicstrippery.

Do you believe in climate change science?

Yes. Scientists are studying the Earth's climate, and they know a lot more about it than anyone did 100 or 1000 years ago.

How about the existence of a gender pay gap?

On average, women earn less than men. Children earn less than adults. Shocking.

The people on both sides are certain the science is with them. So science fails when it takes the leap from the laboratory to the human brain. In the end, we see what we want to see.

Nope. He cherry-picked a couple of contentious, complicated (statistical), issues, but in general people believe in science and its results: internal combustion, insecticides, electric lights, nuclear power, (to a lesser extent)medicine, the inks and presses used to produce "Dilbert", etc. Pretty much everything that's different from living in mud huts is the result of science.

Lem said...

What movie has a person looking in a mirror constantly.

A movie starting Bashir Assad and Kim Jong Un?

Western educated mind you, those two.

dreams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MaxedOutMama said...

Well, that last bit is a pointless statement. Both Dawkins and Cruz believe the same things about what is necessary to use an ATM, shop at a store, and (presumably) procreate.

The total difference in what they believe about reality is probably quite limited.

I don't enjoy Scott Adams recent line of psuedo-wisdom because it is sloppy and untruthful. I think he is gaming all his readers.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said...How could your life be experienced as a movie in which are the star unless you live your life looking in a mirror, which would be a crappy movie. What movie has a person looking in a mirror constantly?

"Movie" isn't a very good metaphor, but "narrative" is. It's a topic a few economists I read have been discussing recently (w/r/t the 2008 crash)--people seem almost hard wired to construct narratives, and specifically narratives with familiar characteristics, when presented with data. Personally I think one could tell a tight "just so" story tracing this tendency to evolution in the sense that apes who used a mental narrative structure to understand cause and effect (however imprecisely) were more likely to adapt, survive, and procreate than those who didn't.

Think about something like Freudian psychoanalysis. A modern psychiatrist might say a patient experiences something due to a particular chemical imbalance. A Freudian constructs a story to explain the symptom. Which is the more powerful explanation? And note that "there's a chemical imbalance, it causes X, taking this pill will make X go away" is ITSELF a story! That form of story is one we're more likely to believe these days (as opposed to, say tiny demons tormenting our brain or something), but that doesn't necessarily mean it's TRUE.

Here's a Scott Sumner post on Econlog that talks about the tendency to invent stories to fit data. He quotes an essay that talks about an experiment in the 1940s where people are shown a cartoon that features just a few shapes interacting and almost everyone interprets that cartoon as telling a specific type of story (with characters, emotion, etc).

Ron Winkleheimer said...

Ted Cruz and Richard Dawkins believe totally different things about reality

No they don't. They disagree with each other about a tiny subset of reality relating to how the universe came to be. This seems like a huge disagreement to us, but only because we take the other, much larger, set of believes in common.

I would bet both believe that an unsupported stone would be pulled to the earth via gravity and that murdering other people is immoral.

The number of things they agree on are larger by orders of magnitude than the subjects they disagree on.

Smilin' Jack said...

That can't be true... by its own terms.

Neither can that.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

MaxedOutMama said...Well, that last bit is a pointless statement.

Imagine two people with very different views of reality, though--what if person A thinks the world is flat and person B thinks the world is an oblate spheriod. That's a huge difference, and one of them is closer to the truth than the other. Does that fact make a big difference in their lives, though? If the "wrong" belief isn't pathological--doesn't cause actual harm in the person carrying on in their daily life--in what sense can an outside observer really criticize it (in terms of what the person themselves should believe)? This gets back to the concept of objective vs. subjective reality, of course, but if you look at a topic like how the medical community actually defines mental illnesses you'll see that the reference is usually to some habit or belief that interferes with their life in some way. Simply having the strange belief or habit itself isn't usually enough to be considered "wrong" in a medical sense.

I have a decent grasp of Newtonian physics. I don't have a very good grasp of quantum physics. That fact hasn't harmed me in my daily life, so if I decide that quantum physics is a bunch of rubbish that story--that "wrong" story--might not matter to me. If I tried to design a GPS system, suddenly that wrong story would cause me harm, but up to that point the fact that my story was less accurate didn't harm me in any way. My story was good enough--it didn't kill me, and it's possible if I did well that the story itself would be passed on/believed by others.



Ron Winkleheimer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron Winkleheimer said...

set of believes in common.

should have been: set of beliefs for granted.

CStanley said...

Adams' theory seems close to something that is true, but it differs in some ways that make it wrong.

Whenever there really is a life or death threat, our primitive brains process the incoming data very quickly and react accordingly, erring on the side of protecting ourselves. Our forebrain processes things differently, and we sometimes don't like the implications of the initial reactions we feel (racism, xenophobia, etc.) The forebrain (our conscious mind) generally deals with this dissonance by creating a story. We feel first, and make all kinds of judgements based on emotion- but then we create the rationale to fit the feeling. It's called confabulation, and there's quite a bit of evidence that this is how we form most of our viewpoints even when we think we're being completely rational.

That is what Adam's theory reminded me of, anyway- the confabulated narratives that we play like movies in our mind.

dustbunny said...

I don't think watching a a movie in your head is watching yourself in a mirror except in the case where all the people in your movie as they look at and interact with you, become your mirror. You as the viewer have your thoughts and your thoughts about the thoughts of those others, plus the perceptions of the others which your thoughts build other stories on. It can be a very complicated and confusing film set.

Hunter said...

I like Adams, however, when he starts talking about how we're all hobbled by conscious and subconscious biases, it seems like he's trying to channel "Scott Alexander" of Slate Star Codex. And he isn't very good at it.

Uncompromised rationalism is not part of what Adams would call his talent stack.

Ann Althouse said...

"Hmmm. But the faces of others are the mirrors we use. Humans are socially sensitive to how others react to us. That is one reason we need to meet many people to get a good composite view of ourselves."

If it's a movie with a star, we need to be gazing at the star's face.

It would make more sense to say our life is a movie and we're endlessly stuck in the audience, but that wouldn't be true either.

Nichevo said...

If it's a movie with a star, we need to be gazing at the star's face.



Why? You know what you look like.

dustbunny said...

It's been a while since I've seen it but I think the William Holden characteri in Sunset Blvd. is both the star and the voice of the character as he witnesses and narrates the story of his demise. He is looking at himself in his imagination which is usually how we see ourselves.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said...It would make more sense to say our life is a movie and we're endlessly stuck in the audience, but that wouldn't be true either.

Movie is not a good metaphor because of the POV problem. Think about human consciousness generally, though. When you wake up in the morning (or at night between sleeps) how do you know who you are? Your memory is a story you tell yourself about your past. Is your memory wholly reliable (in the sense of matching objective reality (whatever that is) perfectly)? Try to conceptualize who you are without using a storytelling framework. Describe yourself to someone else in a way that doesn't tell a story--that doesn't have a narrative thrust.

Dude1394 said...

Scott Adams post today I think is pretty solid. He goes through and doesn't ask "why won't you vote for trump" but "why does he make some people literally afraid". Trump is probably the safest candidate in the race.

Cruz is a true believer who is willing to burn it all down.
Rubio is a puppet who will go along to get along.
Bush may be safer because he is so milk toast.

Certainly Trump is the least likely to get us into another conflict.

Rusty said...

This is simply untrue. The biblical creation story isn't even internally consistent. Read your Bible. There are two contradictory creation stories in Genesis. Neither of which are consistent with scientific facts.

I don't know. An infinite universe in which time ,as humans know it, doesn't exist is a pretty sophisticated concept for a recently post nomadic people.
The idea of a cretor god is what sent us on our journey to western civ. to begin with.

ken in tx said...

I once had a conversation with a very competent and reliable plumber who was also a fundamentalist Christian. I commented that because our well was over 400 ft. deep we might be drinking dinosaur water. I was joking. He asked if I really believed in dinosaurs because they weren't in the Bible. I replied that Behemoth and Leviathan are both in the Bible and that God can expand or contract time as he pleases. That's in the Bible too--Psalm 91 and 2nd Peter. If you know enough about the Bible And science, you know there are not really contradictory.

ken in tx said...

BTW, Rusty the two creation stories in Genesis are not supposed to be consistent. They represent the traditions of two different groups of ancient Israelites. They expresses their understanding of God's creation. There is something special about these stories, or we wouldn't still know about them.

Saint Croix said...

Ted Cruz and Richard Dawkins believe totally different things about reality and yet both can use an ATM, shop at a store, and procreate. So your filter on reality need not be related to any actual underlying reality

It's vitally important to understand the difference between ideology (our ideas about the world) and reality. There is only one reality, and one truth. We might not know what that truth is. But there is only one. There are not multiple truths.

To use slavery as an example, Lincoln freed the slaves. What he did not do, was humanize property. When we recognized the humanity of the slave, we recognized something that was always there. We gave up on our bad ideology, and recognized the pre-existing reality, the humanity of the slave.

To use abortion as another example. Maybe pro-lifers are right about the humanity of the unborn baby. Maybe pro-choice people are right, and the unborn is appropriately defined as property.

But what is not right, what is a fiendish and diabolical lie, is this idea that the unborn's humanity can shift and change with our imagination. There is one truth about the unborn. We might not know what that truth is. Or we might struggle to figure out what the truth is. But there is an answer, and only one answer.

So pro-choice people should not be allowed to pretend that they recognize the humanity of the unborn child in some situations. They do not. When a pregnant woman decides to keep her baby, does that baby then become a person with a right to life? No. Because tomorrow or the next day, you still have the option to terminate the baby. You have that ability throughout the pregnancy, because the baby's humanity is officially denied throughout the pregnancy.

I understand why many are uncomfortable with this. This not only makes Breyer and Ginsburg and Kennedy look bad. It also makes Scalia and Thomas and Roberts look bad. All nine of them have failed to recognize the humanity of the unborn child. Not one of them has ever said an unborn baby is a person with a right to life.