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"Conversation. What is it? A Mystery! It's the art of never seeming bored, of touching everything with interest, of pleasing with trifles, of being fascinating with nothing at all. How do we define this lively darting about with words, of hitting them back and forth, this sort of brief smile of ideas which should be conversation?" Guy de Maupassant

Sunday, October 23, 2005

All my notes from Pop!Tech 2005 are on this page. I will share reflections on my take-out from this conference later.

3:10:49 AM    comment []  trackback []

Robert Trivers uses neuroscience to talk about the self-deception that led to the Iraq War. Warfare is very conducive to self-deception. In the animal and plant kingdom, deception is part of the arsenal of any virus, bacteria, protozoa etc that use deception to attack. If a deceiver is rare, it is more effective, as the deceived cannot predict the deception.

Deception within species was not first recognised ... but now a wide representation of studies on it. Sexual deception in fish, frogs, insects leads to reproduction. False alarm calls by birds hunting food. Another example, ravens show a consciousness of deception in their food cacheing.

In a complex co-evolving world, between deceivers and those perpetuating deceptions, self-deception comes into play. Self-perception is subject to internal manipulation to give a feeling of confidence. Language while it accelerates our ability to make true statements, also enables false statements. Likewise, belief-systems. Studies have shown how our mind can affect how we perceive ourselves and the world.

Memories are biased - psychologists have done significant work in this area, but the judicial systems are slow in adopting these systems. Where memory can be inserted into the mind.

In the context of war, lets consider selective forgetfulness. How many remember 1956 - Saddam was our boy. 1982 - a truly tragic and immoral decision to support Saddam and Iraq to go to war on Iran. 1991 - we kick Iraq out of Kuwait.

To generalise the discussion on self-deception and war, there is a background to human warfare, which can be seen in chimpanzees. Features of modern warfare that makes it conducive to self-deception -- low history, ignorance is high, overlapping self-interest is low, little negative feedback - you can practice self-deception at home and be caught out - not when it is another nation.

We know that the arguments for war are baseless today. All assertions made turned out to be false. Consequences of this war on bogus grounds ... one thing psychologists have shown ... when you plan to do womething, you are more rational in your thought patterns ... in a down state ... not euphoric or happy then ... but once you sign on and decide you are going for it, your mood goes up, you feel euphoric, overconfident. The bitch is there was no planning with the war. The administration just jumped at it. And then had to justify their action.

Self-deception leads to two things -- leads you into disaster, then makes sure you don't have the tools to deal with what you have done to yourself.

The good news is that we really have a good opportunity to put together a broad theory of self-deception. The bad news is that the forces of deceipt and self-deception are really very powerful.

3:07:55 AM    comment []  trackback []

Nassim Nicholas Taleb says we tend to treat knowledge as personal property, as something we own.  This is self-deception.  He encourages us to play a thought experiment - using traders as an example.

Assume fair odds (50% chance)
Year 1 : 1 mn
Year 2: 500,000 successful ones
Year 3 : 250,000
Year 4 : 125,000
Year 11 - about 1000 geniuses ... just by luck!

You can try and explain these things logically, you can rationalise it all.  Books like Lessons from the Legends of Wall Street, The Millionaire Mind, Secrets of the Millionaire's Mind make it all seem so easy. In one of these books, one of the fallacies in the finding that millionaires take risks, is that the author doesnot take note of the fact that bankrupt people take risks too. 

He takes on calibrations of 2% error rates - in tests he has conducted, it has been shown that the 2% error rate can actually be as high as 80% and not 2%. Hehe - higher error rates among MBA students than Math students!

Our bodies of knowledge are swelling, but we all have this disease of error rate.  The confidence in this knowledge we think we know may well be a fallacy.  When you look at the future, and ask people to predict the future, we have this tendency to tunnel and ignore events that may happen infrequently but which have impact on the outcome.  The most accurate predictors are weather analysts, economists hide it well, and security analysts perhaps the worst !

Sydney Opera House is a monument to a human disease.  It was scheduled to open 10 years before and cost much less than it actually did. Planning fallacy.  Because we tunnel.  Very few projects are completed on time, because while they can plan it very well, they don't take account of unpredictable elements.

The reason --- 'The Black Swan' --- for a long time, everyine thought all swans were white, because all the swans we saw were white.  But in Australia, we found black swans. Much of what happened in history is determined by Black Swans and not White Swans.  Their contribution is cumulatively huge, but noone notices it.

He shares some more tests on Bloomberg reports to show how surveys are less accurate than an analysis of prior experience.

A forecast has no validity unless you know the error rate.  It is getting harder and harder to forecast, particularly in social science, as complexities are increasing daily.  He doesnot say we shouldnot or cannot forecast, but we must try a little less self-deception in forecasting.

2:35:23 AM    comment []  trackback []