Bounded cognition is the other half of confidence and NLP

I apologize in advance. This is not a very good post. Still posting it though.

Bounded cognition is a term taken from Stephen Hsu.

I was thinking about why people regularly get offended when I state certain sorts of facts. A good example is “I’m a strange person”. Every aspie knows how this conversation goes:

One might wonder why some with Asperger want so much to “fit in”. It is so that a person with Asperger is seen by most normal people as “different”, even though many of those normal people will violently deny this when confronted (“There’s nothing wrong with you!”).

Paul Cooijmans
Straight talk about Asperger syndrome

More examples: “A is probably going to happen”, “I might be able to accomplish B and I might not”. After thinking over a few examples, I realized that all of them rely on probabilistic reasoning about distributions. But most people are incapable of elementary probabilistic reasoning.

When I was a kid, I remember having a revelation that I immediately expressed to my dad. “Hey dad, I guess there’s always either a 0% chance that something is going to happen, or 100%, because it’s either going to happen or it’s not!” My dad congratulated me for being clever, despite the fact that I was 100% wrong. I eventually grew out of this belief when I got interested in probability. But this is how most people think about the future.

The reason people object at statements of this sort is that they see it as an emotional expression of personal identification. “I’m a strange person” means “I identify as a strange person, so that’s how I’m going to act on purpose now”. This is a gross violation of social mores! It is much worse than declaring oneself a rebel or outcast, because although these are low-class forms of self identity they are still an acceptable part of the culture. “Strange” is by nature an unacceptable identity because if it were acceptable, it wouldn’t be strange.

People see these as identity statements rather than descriptions partly because they believe “identity” and “personality” are something you put on like a shirt, then take it off when it suits you to do so. Thus, when a person is at work he wears a “business identity” where he thinks of himself as highly productive and motivated to succeed. But after work he might think of himself as lazy and directionless, and see no contradiction in this. This is only half of the phenomenon.

The other half is an assumption buried deep inside of people that attitude is the difference between success and failure in what they choose to do. This is mostly true in social situations, where success is defined by the opinions of others. Other people care a great deal about what they think is the right attitude. Human survival and reproduction is primarily acquired by insulating oneself from nature by climbing the social hierarchy. This does not require statistical reasoning. But the fact is that in many endeavors there are a lot of circumstances other than attitude that matter- materials available, concrete skills, fluid intelligence, etc. Because most people are extraverts, they choose not to pursue tasks where these things matter.

This means that people take a mental shortcut. First, they decide whether something is possible or not. Then if they decide to do it, they commit to believing they will be successful with 100% certainty. This is a way of influencing their attitude to be more confident. They completely skip the step where you’re supposed to try estimating the odds that you’ll be successful. Then if they fail, they look back and say “oh, it looks like it was completely impossible because X happened.” You can point out that they might have had a 70% chance of succeeding at the start, but they’ll just shout you down and say “NO! X happened and that’s why I failed! It couldn’t have been different because we know for sure, 100%, that X would have happened and screwed the whole thing up!”

That’s why all extraverts believe in fate and destiny by default- they don’t have mental categories for plausibility when they plan for the future. Hence such Americanisms as “You can do anything you put your mind to.” You can tell they don’t really believe this because they never reconsider this attitude after failing- the blame always gets placed on the situation being “impossible”. It never seems to bother people when they switch from believing something is 100% certain to 0%. Yesterday the worker’s revolution was inevitable, today “communism just doesn’t work”. They don’t even miss a beat.

So that’s why people are so intent on creating false confidence. It’s just a survival strategy. Maybe that’s why insecurity is such a common theme in art and psychology.

Neurolinguistic programming is just a generalized and weaponized form of this sort of bravado. NLP requires a person to buy in to what they’re hearing, and there’s an assumed belief that it’s a good idea to believe lies in order to put on a more confident identity, like putting on a more expensive shirt to impress people with how much money you must have.

So every time you make a probabilistic statement, you are basically calling their bluff. Hence the violent response.


About Aeoli Pera

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20 Responses to Bounded cognition is the other half of confidence and NLP

  1. Edenist whackjob says:

    Ignoring quantum mechanics, it would seem to me that the “everything is either 0% or 100%” thing is actually the truth.

    Probability is about psychology – how much should we believe in a certain possible outcome given our state of information? Maybe it would be easier if we called it credibility instead. The credibility of “the sun rises tomorrow” would be very high, close to 100%, while “the moon is really made of cheese” should be assigned low credibility.

    The Swedish word for probable – troligt – can actually be translated as “believable”.

    • Edenist whackjob says:

      Corollary: if probability is about psychology, people will get psychological hang-ups about it. Because if you say there’s less than a 100% chance of someone succeeding, what you’re really saying is that you don’t believe in them 100%. And most people see this as a personal attack (“you suck!”) rather than “your particular resources and constraints don’t automatically lend themselves to a high belief in victory”.

      But now I’m just repeating what you wrote :)

      • Edenist whackjob says:

        As you can imagine, there are lots of situations where having maximum confidence is actually a game-changing variable. Ie in investing your confidence is not going to matter (or it might be a negative) but in pick-up, for instance, it definitely matters.

        This is actually one of these things I struggled with in my own personal development. I never took to the NLP 100% confidence things because I was always bothered by giving up The Truth.

        I suspect the answer lies in redefining “100% confidence” somehow. A predator animal is 100% confident in the moment, it doesn’t need to stop and think about how much belief to assign to its own awesomeness. Because that would interfere with the hunt. But now we are in Koanic-territory :)

      • Edenist whackjob says:

        In those areas where the irrationally confident do better (ie pick-up), is it actually the confidence that’s doing the thing?

        No, I would say that it’s the unlimited willingness to take right action. Ie keep digging away at the problem and throw maximum resources at it. And in the case of pick-up, it’s about getting access a resource in the form of a social script with high sex appeal (everyone has it, under the right circumstances).

        Epistemologically, people with irrational confidence are actually hurting themselves. They undue high belief will probably infect other areas (ie the successful pick-up artist who tries to get gains in finance as well).

        So, what does irrational confidence get us?

        1. Willingness to keep trying and trying (example: startup people)
        2. Access to hidden inner states that we would otherwise not be able to get at (example: pick-up artists)

        This would also lend itself to two types of activities where irrational confidences comes into play:

        1. Activities where it’s necessary but not sufficient. So, you have to believe that your startup is destined to win, that’s just to get you onboard with the same baseline as every other entrepreneur.
        2. Activities where it’s necessary and sufficient. So, the aforementioned “accessing my inner sex god” example.

        I wonder if this are biochemically distinct. Type 2 would seem to be more “chemical” in nature, and probably triggerable by certain drugs.

      • Koanic says:

        “But now we are in Koanic-territory :)”

        Yep exactly. The confidence of a predator need not infect the operation of rationality. Being is orthogonal to calculation.

  2. Edenist whackjob says:

    Neurosis: nervous-system distress that comes from trying to solve non-problems (in the animal realm) like “what is the meaning of my life?” through a symbolic-logic system that works for hunting and agriculture (ie bounded tasks with undeniable chains of reasoning for getting results). And in particular, feeling urgency to solve them NOW. Ie “meaning of life” is something to tick off on the TODO.

    Conscientiousness: tying self-worth to solving tasks of the aforementioned sort.

    I was less neurotic and conscientious when I was younger. I still recognized the problems of human existence, I just didn’t feel like I had to solve them to feel good. Or at least, the answers were not readily apparent.

    Conclusion: existential neurosis is Clueless. You’re just a bureaucrat pounding away with heartburn and anxiety in an office, trying to complete enough widgets to be promoted.

    Also conclusion: I suspect Conscientiousness is tied to the nervous system somehow. Tight-asses and all that. Clenching one’s sphincter and gritting one’s teeth.

    • Edenist whackjob says:

      Trying to see the superclass/myth of neurosis:

      A group of half-apes sitting around a fire. One of them is an inquisitive sort.

      Hominid 1:”Why mammoths go south?”
      Hominid 2: “They go every warm-season”

      H1: “What is meaning of [hand-sign]?”
      H2: “It mean ‘spear'”

      H1: “What is the meaning of [another hand-sign]?”
      H2: “It mean ‘good hunt'”

      H1: “And this?”
      H2: “It mean ‘maybe mammoth'”

      H1: “Why we go south?”
      H2: “We follow mammoth”

      H1: “Why we follow?”
      H2: “To get food”

      H1: “Why we get food?”
      H2: “So we can live one more day! *laughs*”

      H1: “What is the meaning of life?”
      H2: “???” *much scratching of brows as question sinks in*

      So what happened was that “request for explanation of symbol” (what is the meaning of X?) was jammed together with an existential given (we are alive and seek to keep it that way).

      While Hominid 1 was a bit of a dreamer, Hominid 3 was constipated and walked around like he had a stick up his butt. While before he was content to arrange the mammoth-bones in orderly piles and boss everyone around, this was a task he just couldn’t complete. He would be the one to keep raising a fuss about the matter at every tribal gathering, and to impress upon the young ones the importance of figuring out this question. While before people did the same thing every day – hunting, eating, socializing, etc – now they felt there was something lacking. All of that indolent hunter-gatherer energy had to go somewhere. Symbolics had been unleashed on the immaterial realm. The rest is pre-history.

  3. A lot of this stuff is like poker. If you read Doyle Brunson’s poker book a lot of basic bitch confidence plays are based around the concept of raising the stakes in order to find out more information. DB sort of typified American bravado with his style which made him popular.

    A lot of these things can be thought of like a poker game. Like if the ante is high (no welfare) you have to play fast and loose (Murca) but in a zero ante society (high welfare) everything is dull, boring and tight (Europe) and people forget completely how to even play the game because folding becomes the de-facto strategy.

    Yeah probability is funny. You should read about some of the controversy surrounding Bayes’ Theorem. Just listening to people talk about Black Swans and systemic risk is enough to make a grown man cry.

    The way that Manboons structure their language isn’t even appropriate for discussing future events in terms of making informed individual decisions. Like how African languages can’t describe gradations of height. In this way I believe gambling in moderation to be good for them, like alcohol, as it teaches humility. Perhaps even the Great Casinos in London and New York have acted as a relief valve for their martial instincts. And perhaps blockchain-based hive-mind technology will cohere their shattered souls. Something like Augur might perhaps allow them a means to understand future events in terms of risk while also letting them ‘fight it out’ in the ‘f̶i̶g̶h̶t̶i̶n̶g̶ trading pits’.

  4. Further to this I think to avoid language parasitism it is necessary to develop language faster than those who want to categorise it are able to form neural networks to hack it.

  5. Heaviside says:

    To ultimately put a fixed system of probability or “plausibility” before any fixed collection of possible worlds is wrong, because it does not allow possibility to be what it is: a radical opening into a different totality. In this opening there is fate.

  6. Koanic says:

    That implies a level of conformity which I neither embrace nor enforce.

  7. Koanic says:

    To OP:

    You might be right.

    (OooOoo SNAP!)

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