Rebirth of Reason

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Monday, March 27, 2017 - 3:58amSanction this postReply

Thanks. I agree that not falling into those three traps is important. We could discuss just those three at length, but I find it limiting to say that this one thing will make you successful or prevent failure.  We see that in business, that people who lack something deemed essential - such as accounting, or even a business plan - do well, while many others who "have their ducks in a row" just do not make it.  


Because I am in a military unit, I have been reading war books on recommendation.  My assigned readings have been about failures.  I am not a big fan of war: if you have to kill somone back first before they kill you, you failed two steps prior.  And that is my point here.  When I launched my blog, NecessaryFacts, in 2011, one of the first articles was about a coffee shop that closed because the employees looted it.  (Here.)  But the causes only include the moral failings of the employees among others. The owner attempted to let the shop run itself while he had a day job. To me, that is more consequential. Also, it seems that even though his back had to be turned sooner or later, even if he worked there and slept there, the shop apparently lacked auditable controls. I also point to a lack of positive esprit enforcement.  If you want people to act like family, you have to engage a lot of thinking in how to achieve that.  And even in a military barracks, you have people who steal from each other, cheat at cards, and assault the weaker.  So, in mere business, with the commercial ethos of the trader, mitigating employee theft is a serious challenge. I mention all of that here as an example of how no one error causes failure, and no "Ten Commandments" can ensure success.


As important as it is to know and do the right thing, to know and avoid error, I believe that success (however defined) may be ineffable. Of course the "right stuff" matters. You cannot keep track of your money if you do not know arithmetic.   And Robbins is right about the facts.  For just one, confirmation bias, last year at this time, the demise of "ego depletion" theory was in the news.



(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 3/27, 4:03am)

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Monday, March 27, 2017 - 11:26amSanction this postReply

This post is about the Slate article that Marotta links to above (an article that is worth reading).



From the Slate article:


"We all have a limited supply of willpower, and it decreases with overuse. Eating a radish when you’re surrounded by fresh-baked cookies represents an epic feat of self-denial, and one that really wears you out. Willpower, argued Baumeister and Tice, draws down mental energy—it’s a muscle that can be exercised to exhaustion."


Notice that will-power isn't defined, but that Baumeister's studies imply that they are cutting-edge research that are in effect discovering the nature of will-power.  And by not having a definition, they can do the extraordinary conflation of a mental trait with a metabolic process.  This is pompous, intellectual fuzziness dressed to pretend it is science.  I have found that Baumeister is fairly consistent in failing to supply a defintion of the basic subject matter he purports to study.



"Other labs discovered that a subject’s beliefs and mindset could also affect whether and how her willpower was depleted."

And this was a surprise!



"It could be that willpower is a finite resource, but one that we expend according to our motivations. After all, that’s how money works: A person’s buying habits might encompass lots of different factors, including how much cash she’s holding and how she feels about her finances. But given these larger questions about the nature of willpower as well as the meta-analysis debate, the whole body of research began to seem suspicious."  [Emphasis mine]

Every one of Baumeister's studies that I've seen has this same flaw: the larger questions about the nature of the subject being examined.



"In 2011, Baumeister and John Tierney of the New York Times published a science-cum-self-help book based around this research. Their best-seller, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, advised readers on how the science of ego depletion could be put to use. A glass of lemonade that’s been sweetened with real sugar, they said, could help replenish someone’s inner store of self-control. And if willpower works like a muscle, then regular exercise could boost its strength. You could literally build character, Baumeister said in an interview with the Templeton Foundation, a religiously inclined science-funding organization that has given him about $1 million in grants."


This man was saying that taking in sugar would build character.  Notice that there is no definition of character, but that whatever it is, it has been reduced to a metabolic after-effect.



"Even meta-analyses, which once were thought to yield a gold standard for evaluating bodies of research now seem somewhat worthless. “Meta-analyses are fucked,” Inzlicht warned me. If you analyze 200 lousy studies, you’ll get a lousy answer in the end. It’s garbage in, garbage out."


Gee, another surprise!


Roy Baumeister is one of my least favorite psychologists.  He did a number of "studies" of self-esteem and in each one, "proved" that high self-esteem was bad for a person and for society.  He did different "studies" where he "showed" that violent criminals, school bullies, and students with poor grades all had "high self-esteem."  Neither he, nor the peers who reviewed his 'studies' questioned his failure to provide an adequate definition of self-esteem, nor did they question the assumption that his asking his subjects a set of 5 questions (a likert scale) where they self-rated their worth was a valid measure of the self-esteem that he hadn't defined.


Baumeister comes from the field of social psychology and draws a bit on evolutionary psychology, but only where it shows human evolution in service of society.  He claims, as a basic psychological theory, that there is a need to belong that is built into human nature and that it is our primary psychological need.  He claims that specific relationships are interchangeable, but that without an adequate number of them, we suffer psychological and behavioral issues.  And with an adequate measure of relationships we will be healthy. 


In my mind, Baumeister epitomizes the worst kind of scientist/theorist.  He puts together a theory that, I believe, supports an emotional state that he experiences and that he shows an appalling lack of self-awareness that this is what he is doing.  Then he abuses logic and the language to make his theory sound rational and consistent with accepted theories.  Then he manages to get well paid for doing research that is horribly shoddy in its failure to deal with the most basic of assumptions, and that purports to prove his theory.  To me, there is no worse form of dishonesty than that of a psychologist who allows himself to live in a state of denial so that he can fake reality in his own field, creating shoddy theories and research to support what are most likely just his own personal psychological issues. 


Maybe I'm just annoyed because psychology, as a field, is so intellectually deficient that it elevated this man to the top while referring to Branden as a pop-psychologist.  There is a cargo-cult kind of mentality in those who go through these rituals that are dressed up to look like real research (they have subjects, they have a hypothesis, they have a paper that they submit for publication, it is constructed using the APA format, etc.).... as if this would make the underlying theory be right.

Post 2

Monday, March 27, 2017 - 5:38pmSanction this postReply

University psychology departments are too easy as targets.  The range of intellectual errors is based on a lack of good philosophy. Beyond that, it is not my field, so I do not know if any outstanding examples exist. Thanks to grants from John Allison, we do have good professors of philosophy, so that is a start.

From the discussion of "The Trading Syndrome" here in RoR: http://rebirthofreason.com/Forum/ArticleDiscussions/1513.shtml

My comment:


“The Weirdest People in the World: How representative are experimental findings from American university students? What do we really know about human psychology?” by Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine, and Ara Norenzayan (all from the University of British Columbia Department of Psychology and  published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol33; 2-3 , June 2010, pp 61-83; available from the authors here) explains that we have made ourselves – the Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic people – the standard for “human nature.”  They say cogently that psychological experiments which supposedly tease out the basic patterns of “human nature” really tell us only about a small group: undergraduates in psychology departments, their friends, and sometimes their young children. The paper demonstrates that most people on Earth seem to hold entirely different views than we do.  And “views” is the basic problem.  What we accept as standard optical illusions work differently or not at all among different peoples around the world.  The paper is well worth the time to read through and mark up.


The authors are not enamored of us WEIRD people.  When I reviewed the paper for my blog, I was on our side, of course.  "The fact that 90% of the world is not "individualistic” does explain why 90% of the world is poor."


(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 3/27, 5:45pm)

Post 3

Monday, March 27, 2017 - 6:01pmSanction this postReply

...[the paper] explains that we have made ourselves – the Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic people – the standard for “human nature.”  They say cogently that psychological experiments which supposedly tease out the basic patterns of “human nature” really tell us only about a small group: undergraduates in psychology departments, their friends, and sometimes their young children.


That is very true, but it only deals with a surface level flaw.  Today's research is empiricism run amuck.  The deeper flaw in all this bad research goes beyond the narrow subject-population.  If psychology had a proper philosophical base AND if the particular research project was built upon that base AND if it was done with sound assumptions, then even a narrow cultural/societal base would work, because they would still be humans and would, therefore, do just fine.


Notice how the authors of that paper appear to think that if we just switch peoples we would be okay.  Like a kind of cultural relativism where diversity is a value and measured in population numbers.  Find the group that has the highest numbers and make them the politically correct standard for human nature.  (I say 'Politically correct' because the non-weird group are the non-Western, non-Educated, pre-industrial, and poor peoples.)


How is any of this science?

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - 3:32amSanction this postReply

Steve, you might actually have read the paper and found something that I missed, but as I remember this from some years back, the researches did not fall into any of the traps you claim. They did not endorse primitivism from postmodernist prejudices of multiculturalism. The research report was dispassionate. 


They sent out 12 teams to different cultures.  Two had logistical problems and did not complete their missions. The other ten reported back. Their goal was to test a broad set of hypotheses from common academic psychology.  For instance, they showed these peoples optical illusions. You know the arrows:  < -- > versus > -- < and we think that the first line is longer than the other.  Other people do not fall for that. Optical illusions are not natural, but are based in learned culture. At least, that one is...  


Similarly, people who have no contact with markets never learn - seemingly cannot be taught; or not taught in a short time - that coins of smaller size can have greater value than larger coins. We had systems of bronze-silver-gold for over 2000 years before pure token money was invented. We learned it as children.  Obviously, at some point in the past, adults invented it. And it would seem that adults should grasp it. However, the empirical evidence is that the conceptual awareness that size does not equal value requires experience with a market economy.  Even a nominally isolated tribe that traded outward only once a year understood the coins. The truly isolated tribe never got it (at least in the short time that the researcher was among them).


I could go on.  


If you read the paper, you might have other criticisms, but so far, you are attacking a strawman.


(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 3/28, 3:34am)

Post 5

Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - 8:54amSanction this postReply

Steve, ... as I remember this from some years back, the researches did not fall into any of the traps you claim. They did not endorse primitivism from postmodernist prejudices of multiculturalism.

I misspoke.  I was holding in mind the many, many academic psychology papers (like many of those Baumeister has turned out), and how they commit those two basic flaws (in addition to conflating a narrow subject-population with human nature).  A lack of focus on my part.

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