Friday, July 20, 2007

When should we give up short-term?

Common problem. You are in an unusual bad mood, some extreme stress, or whatever.

You feel that it is hard to keep control. Reason also says that some things can be given up at hard times. Is it true?

A rational calculation says that the value of cheering yourself up is higher in hard times, so the revenue from something (like a high calorie snake, or other mischevious acts) is relatively high. Also the cost of holding yourself up is sometimes higher in tough times. Maybe save some of the self-control ability to more urgent current goals? *

But the "expensive" actions are of two kinds. long term costs verus short term costs.

Long term costs: Spending instead of saving, entails long term costs. For that the reason of "now it is more cost effective to spend money" maybe wise.

Short term costs: Giving up and eating some heavy food. Spending concentration ability on a computer game that only makes you immedyately less focused and much more depressed. Not sleeping on time.

All these things bear immediate costs. So in a sensitive time, their cost may actualyl go up. Getting the stupid feeling in hard times is even more costly in bad times.
Contrary to intuition, hard times is when self-control against short termish costing behavior is most important.

Bottom line. In hard times it maybe worthwhile giving up on things whose cost is long termish, since in hard times the value of seering yourself up is higher. For mischevious actions costing in the short term, the opposite. Be even more disciplined than relaxed time. Now is the time when short term costs are most costly. And life balance etc. most important.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Extreme and special cases and causes

Static vs. dynamic causes of phenomenons
Latent possible effects may always be there
Inference form extreme/artificial cases is problematic

Looking for relationships between a resulting phenomenon and various causes is very common nowadays. Part of the following is very confusing. So, turn off your logical powers, you will need them here.

Static = the "default" case. What causes things in the "usual" case: No special treatment was applied AND not for a very special group/case you have selected.

Dynamic = special cases. Extreme behaviors of one of the parameters. duefully applied intervention. Some effect was introduced that is never there in the "normal" case.

Potential = a latent effect that can be used to cause a huge (or small) effect. But when not applied it has zero effect.

An example for a latent "potential": Heart disease has various causes and surgeon knife is not one of them. But miracousely, a bypass operation can have near 100% effect on the heart state once applied. Hence, bypass surgery is a "potential" cause, that is totally absent from the causes of the static case, and strictly there in the dynamic/interevention case.

A big difference exists between what causes things in the static case, and the dynamic case.things that have zero or negligible effect in the static case may have a main effect when done on purpose to have an effect. This (1) gives hope to find - for example - effective intervention to improve happiness, but it also implies that (2) the inference form extreme cases to the average is limited. I will start with (2)

(2) The inference problem.
You cannot always infer from extreme cases to the normal case. Extreme cases may practically be different things.

Example 1. Are reshus monkeys violent (relatively) because of their genes, or because of culture? Frans de Waals has two pieces of evidence that culture plays a role. young reshus monkeys that grow up for six months mixed up with other non-violent monkeys, got used to live much less violent. Similarly, a group whose big aggresive males died, started to live peacefully for a decade, even after all males in the group were totally new (males change troops as adolescenes). This can be explained in two ways. The favorite way is that culture palys a big role in the violent behavior. I feel the more correct definition is that extreme cultural effects may change the behjavior, but I would guess that it is mainly genetic. It is only in very special cases

Example 2. The great psychologist Roy Baumeister in his book "meanings of life", says that people need their life to have value. One of the evidence is mothers that killed their babies. They show strong signs of distress for the anti-value acts they did etc.
Does it show that peolle need value in life? not at all. It only shows that extremely unjustified action carry a strong negative feeling. But it is quite possible that in the average case value does have to be there.
("need for value" may have other evidence. It is hardly the point here)

This problem is rampant with experimental and other kinds of scientific inquiry. Elegant and logicaly strong conclusions are many times exactly the kind I am condemning here. An extreme case can show minute details on how things actually work. You can iron out alternative hypotheses, and be clear of various biases and protocol problems etc.

That we have reason to choose a line of inquiry, does not eliminate its build-in problems. Truth does not work in our service. Reality never apologizes for being sonfusing and hard to decipher. Saying "that is the way to know" when you do not really know is stupid and pathetic.

(1) There may always be strong unknown potential cause.

The analisys of the static/default case does not tell us what potential causes are not being applied.

Example: Happiness research may give a gloomy feeling that we cannot improve happiness much, as half is genetic, 40% unknows, and the rest 10% are correlates we have little control of.
This is the static picture. Are there effective interventions? maybe. these shold be things not seen in the static case, but very powerful once discovered and applied in practice.

To sum up:
Static vs. dynamic causes. in default cases have one set of causes, while intervention may actually change part of the very structure of waht causes things.
Inference form extreme cases is problematic, as extreme/artificial cases may be very different in waht causes what.
Looking at static causes alone, one cannot conclude that there are no potential other causes.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Short term is the place to look for in happiness improvement

the stable component of happiness (in ten year terms), is probably 80% genetic. This is the results of research done on identical twins (Lykken & Tellegan 1996), it accords well with research on the stable component of personality whihc is also 80%. And remember that happiness is strongly correlated with personality traits. (I do not know on any study contradicting the above data).

There maybe sophisticated ways to get around these thing. I will ignore them now.

Most of the variation in personal happiness is in the element changing over time.
Practical implication: Only invest in improving happiness at this second, this minute, or maybe this day etc. long term improvement, are on the face of it, impractical.

Intuitively speaking, improving next day mood is much easier. While "long term" stuff is kind of fantasy.

Aside from the above, there are other reasons to be short term.
1) The longer the horizon the less reliable our opinions (see Gilbert' Stumbling on Hapiness for a great read AND much interesting stuff)
2) Uncertaincy grows with time. We know so little about ten years from now, that it is simply stupid to assume knowledge and even suffer now for then.
3) Usually, the longer the horizon our expectation plans etc. are more complicated. Reliability of a chain is practically the product of the weakness of its chains, implying that long chains of causation are worthless. Reminds me the teacher telling us at age 11 "You be good boys now get accepted to a good school, be good boys then, get accepted to a good college, then you will get a good wife and have a happy life". I was so young, but felt that going throught life that way is utterly stupid. Not just stupid, uttrly dtupid!