Monthly Archives: August 2015

The principle of accuracy

In an alternate universe, the field of psychology began fifty years earlier than it did in ours. Sigmund Freud was born into a society where psychology had utterly captured the public imagination: ordinary people got together and talked about psychology, kept up with newspaper coverage of the field, and so on, often cluelessly. Would-be psychologists took advantage of the interest and jumped into the spotlight, forsaking depth and rigor for pay and prestige, and holding entertaining and utterly uninformative psychological debates in giant theaters which always managed to find themselves full. Freud, seeing the state of the field, despaired of ever finding a halfway decent critic, but he soon hit upon an idea: he knew that the psychologists and the journalists didn’t read in great detail and often came away with clueless and muddled interpretations of what they had only skimmed, and decided to allow the casual reader to believe that he had written something absurd, but make it unambiguously clear that he had not.

Sure enough, the weekend after he released his book, the theaters all sold out, and their headline events all had to do with this strange man who actually believed — and this is not hyperbole! — that all your dreams are about your secret desire to fuck your mother. Thus is it revealed to Freud, and to everyone with a goddamn clue, who is and who isn’t applying the principle of accuracy.

Except for the spotlight, this isn’t far from what happened in our universe, so intent, while useful to those who want to ensure they can know who understands what they’re talking about and who doesn’t, isn’t necessary. People will naturally misread, exaggerate, pattern-match to the most ridiculous shit, and walk away confident that they understand what this dumbass they just wasted five minutes on was on about. But you already know that — and you already know that it can be used as a test, to see if they really understand what that dumbass was saying. Evolution contradicts the laws of thermodynamics! Checkmate, atheists!

By the way, Mencius Moldbug believes that a quasi-conspiracy that includes all of America’s top universities is secretly working to control what people are allowed to think.

The future belongs to whoever shows up for it

Robin Hanson says that people would rather live like ‘foragers’ than like ‘farmers’:

I think a lot of today’s political disputes come down to a conflict between farmer and forager ways, with forager ways slowly and steadily winning out since the industrial revolution. It seems we acted like farmers when farming required that, but when richer we feel we can afford to revert to more natural-feeling forager ways. The main exceptions, like school and workplace domination and ranking, are required to generate industry-level wealth. We live a farmer lifestyle when poor, but prefer to buy a forager lifestyle when rich.

In other words, in a situation of contact between traditional cultures heavily adapted to vertical transmission and progressive cultures heavily adapted to horizontal transmission such that it’s possible for people to convert from the former to the latter, the latter will win out.

This situation of contact exists in the case of religious groups like the Haredi Jews and the Amish, but the retention rates of at least the latter (I haven’t looked into Haredi retention rate) have gone up over time.

The historical evidence shows a decline in defection in some Amish communities in the last half of the twentieth century. Defection in Geauga County, Ohio, for example, dropped from 30 percent for those born during the 1920s to 5 percent for those born in the 1960s. Similarly, the exit of people from the Elkhart-LaGrange community in northern Indiana dipped from 21 percent for those born in the 1930s to 10 percent for those born in the 1950s. The loss of Amish-born people in Nappanee, Indiana, dropped from 55 percent in the 1920s to 16 percent in the 1970s.

How can this be explained? Cochran and Harpending attribute it to genetic selection: if there’s a genetic component to the plain, ‘farming’ personality that the choice to join the Amish church selects for (and they think there is), then, each generation, you get biological evaporative cooling: the people with the lowest ‘Amish quotient’ leave, and its average across the group increases.

The key assumption here is that personality has a genetic component. If you grant that, everything else falls into place.

Let’s say a space alien lands in Belgium and redesigns all its buildings overnight, so that the buildings in the north of Belgium are designed for very tall people, the buildings in the south of Belgium are designed for very short people, and the buildings in the middle of Belgium are designed for people of average height. (To avoid the issues posed by sex differences in height, let’s also say the alien converts all of Belgium to Islam, adds separate men’s and women’s facilities to every building, and carries out the height calculations separately for each sex.) If you’re a very tall person living in the south or the middle of Belgium, you’ll get sick of having to duck all the time and move north; if you’re a very short person living in the north or the middle of Belgium, you’ll get sick of being unable to reach things and move south. Everyone knows that there’s a genetic component to height – so everyone would expect that, after a few decades of this, there would be a genetic height gradient in Belgium. It might take a few generations – you could have people who didn’t eat well in their childhood moving south and having tall children – but it would eventually show up.

There wouldn’t be a genetic height gradient in Belgium now, but that’s because the selection mechanism isn’t there. To step out of the analogy: if your social context is uniform in ‘farming’/‘foraging’ tendencies, your genetic tendency toward one or the other won’t matter for the purposes of selection. It’s only when you have ‘farming’ and ‘foraging’ populations in close contact that the selection would apply – and the strength of the effect is going to depend on how easy it is to move from one to the other.

Strictly speaking, no genetic explanation is necessary. If the fertility and retention rates of a group are high enough, the group will grow over time – and the group doesn’t even have to grow; it just has to decline at a lower rate than the general population for it to show proportional growth. And since retention rates can, for whatever reason, increase over time, it’s even possible for a declining group to turn around, as long as its fertility rate is far enough above replacement to allow it.

Anything that causes higher fertility is selected for, and anything that causes lower fertility is selected against. This is the principle behind IQ shredders. In this case, if ‘farming’/‘foraging’ tendencies have a significant genetic component, there’s a ‘foraging’ shredder: the exodus from ‘farming’ to ‘foraging’ social contexts is not a time-invariant law about the relative strength of the two memeplexes or of horizontal to vertical transmission – it’s a temporary process of selection. The ‘farmers’ burn off their ‘foragers’, but they have more children, so they win in the end.

The people’s choice

From 1994 to 1997, the artists worked on the series People’s Choice, whereby they created the “most wanted” and “least wanted” paintings of various countries based on the results of surveys conducted by professional polling companies. The book, Painting by Numbers: Komar & Melamid’s Scientific Guide to Art, published in 1997, explains the statistical underpinnings of the polling process and provides the results of each country’s preferences. Komar & Melamid used the same process in 1996–1997 in a collaboration with composer Dave Soldier to create The People’s Choice Music, consisting of “The Most Wanted Song” (a love song with low male and female vocals, of moderate duration, pitch, and tempo) and “The Most Unwanted Song” (in part: an operatic soprano raps over cowboy music featuring least-wanted instruments bagpipes and tuba while children sing about holidays and advertise for Wal-Mart).

The Most Unwanted Song has a Wikipedia page. The Most Wanted Song does not.

The Most Unwanted Song was uploaded to YouTube in September 2012. It has over 238,000 views. It was also uploaded in parts in October 2009. The first part has over 73,000 views. The Most Wanted Song was uploaded in December 2011. It currently has 34,512 views. Here’s the video description:

The Most Unwanted song is easy to find everywhere, but the Most Wanted isn’t – so here it is.

And here’s the first comment:

The funniest thing about this is that I listened to the Most Unwanted song longer. I found it more interesting. Does that make me a hipster?

And here are the replies:

nope, this is a rubbish song. makes sense.

No, I think that’s the point. This song was made based off of what was popular on the radio/what people ‘liked’; the result being that it sounds really samey and not special. The unwanted song was built off of weird things that you don’t hear often, so it’s more interesting. I don’t know what their aim was with this project, but I assume it has something to do with showing how popular music can be quite boring.

See also: Eurovision.

NPR: Musical dysmorphic disorder

Men who play music may be engaging in practicing behavior to the point that it’s harming their emotional or physiological health, according to a recent study.

The preliminary study, presented Thursday at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention, recruited 195 men ages 18 to 65 who played music at least twice a week and regularly engaged in practicing behavior.

Participants answered questions about their practicing behavior use as well as their self-esteem, mental image, musical habits and gender roles.

“These men want to be conventionally talented, and it makes sense that [practicing behaviors] are what they’re using or abusing,” says Richard Achiro, lead author of the study and a registered psychological assistant at a private practice in Los Angeles.

Forty percent of participants, who were all men, increased their practicing use over time, while 22 percent were replacing regular activities with practicing behaviors. Eight percent of participants had signs of bodily stress due to practicing behavior, and 3 percent reported injuries caused directly by it.

Men who used practicing behaviors inappropriately also were more likely to have behaviors associated with mental disorders.

Achiro is no stranger to the culture of practicing behaviors. His interest was piqued when he noticed throughout college and graduate school how common it was for his male friends to go to practice rooms to use musical instruments.

“It became more and more ubiquitous,” Achiro says. “Guys around my age who I knew — I’d go to their apartment and see some kind of guitar.”

Not to mention that this has become a multibillion-dollar industry that’s grown exponentially in the recent decade or so, he adds. …

One big factor behind practicing behavior use is dissatisfaction, the study found. The men internalize a particular set of cultural standards of talent usually depicted by the media: “like Yngwie Malmsteen,” says Achiro. And they’re unhappy that they don’t meet that ideal.

But the study also found that the men using practicing were more likely to feel gender role conflict, which Achiro explained as underlying insecurity about one’s masculinity.

“This isn’t just about the music,” Achiro says, “What this is really about is what the music represents for these men. It seems that the findings in part [show] this is a way of compensating for their insecurity or low self-esteem.” …

“Someone with anorexia will feel they need to continue to get thinner and lose weight. With musicians, they act in the same kind of manner. They acknowledge that they’re skilled, but are obsessed with certain techniques that they find inadequate. This drive for talent preoccupies them. Practicing behaviors serve them the same way diet products serve someone with an eating disorder,” Cohn says.

For people affected by musical dysmorphic disorders, this constant and compulsive behavior takes over their lives — they are constantly skill-checking and can be unhappy, dissatisfied, or have low self-esteem.

“Think about bands on the high school and college level. Lots of these guys are encouraged by teachers and trainers to take these behaviors,” says Cohn. “This isn’t thought of as a negative behavior but can have negative consequences.”

The silver lining, Achiro points out, is that 29 percent of study participants knew that they had a problem of overusing practicing. But they might not be aware of possible underlying psychological factors.

“Guys think using practicing behaviors is healthy, [they’re] convinced it’s good for them, [it’s] giving them all kinds of skill they wouldn’t be getting otherwise,” says Cohn. “[This is] ignorance about what proper skill is.”

It’s also not unusual for people diagnosed with musical dysmorphic disorder or its characteristics to also have a high incidence of depression, anxiety and alcoholism, Cohn adds.

Although the research is preliminary and has yet to be peer-reviewed, Achiro hopes his research puts the issue on the map and encourages researchers to replicate his work.

“This is just the very beginning. There’re still tons to look at,” he says.

You heard it here first, folks. Wanting to get better at something is a sign of disordered thinking, low self-esteem, and insecurity about masculinity. And if an angel ever gives you a choice between being Haydn and being an immortal oyster, pick the oyster.

The original article is here.