Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rough (variable in texture) thinking

thinking can vary in texture. The emphasis and centrality of various things to take very different levels.

A conversation can take place with a flat and constant level of attention. This is what people name "full attention", the listener listens with almost the same vigor to the sneezing as to the most central aspect. He is "attentive" but not very attuned to the content.

A rough listener, will have his atention changing according to how much relevance he sees. He may not see spelling errors, because he does not look for them. He may get awakened fiercely by a highly relevant comment, and so on. This is the guy who will spring out out of what looks like sleeping and say "deal!"

Reality is rough. Things are not distributed evenly. 80% of the content of a conversation may lie in 20% of the time.

Roughness applies on many dimensions.
Attention to details. Every detail has some value. A true rough attender may somehow attend in a shallow way to seemingly irelevant details, without really thinking about them, but somewhere knowing that they have a very low level, but they are worth this low level.

The certainty of statements by him will never be binary, i.e. of 1/0 variety. They will be a continous mark that maybe 97% or 2% or many other values.

The meaning of things for him are never as clear as in the dictionary. They have complex meanings and connections. and their meaning do change according to the context.

The rough thinker will not be a careful nor a careless person. He will almost ignore the small things, but will be very serious and thoughtful in the big things. He will not, however, ignore the small things altogether, he will give them a little attention, but no more.

This is a theoretical portrait. A truly smart person will take into account the limits of the human mind. Not of the human mind, but of his own mind. We cannot be perfect and we can only make our mind smart so much. We got to be technical at times, but not too much. We must remember that the real world is not built the way our mind finds most practical to think about. Even if we give up and think in a flat way, it is a shortcut, a map. And we must not confuse the map with the territoty

When the heart has a strong tendency toward a certain decision of opinion, the rough thinker becomes especially attentive. He starts thinking a littel technically. He understands that with open mindedness, the heart has a lot of leeway to get his wants. It is much easier to fool oneself when thinking is rough. (although many managed to fool themselves no less with technical thnking and closed mindedness)

Indeed, rough thinking is a rough business.


T. said...

Is texture in thinking as used here related to ability to predict, to prognosticate? According to the work of Tetlock, foxes are better forecasters than hedgehogs. A fox takes a broader, sometimes contrarian, sometimes multidisciplinary approach; a hedgehog is likely to be focused, specialised and theory-driven. So the question is whether the fox's approach might meaningfully be characterised here as 'rough'. If reality is indeed rough as suggested, then you have empirical evidence that foxes are better forecasters, i.e., their predictions correspond more closely with actual outcomes. Contrasted against this would be the hedgehog's stereotypcial entrenched theoretical position, more prone to confusing map and territory. I was with you until the point of reading that it is easier to fool oneself with rough thinking. Might it not be easier to fool oneself with a narrower and fine grained hedgehog-like approach?

Yechezkel Zilber said...

Thanks for the reference for TEdlock.

About fooling oneself, I meant where there is an emotional interest in reaching a certain conclusion. The fox has much flexibility in mind and knows on many ways to reach to many direcitons. This flexibility can bias him where there is a strong emotional interest. The small minded with his closed thinking will be stronger on his opinion.

Tedlock shows that the foxes are easier mistaken by assigning too high probabilities to unlikly reasons that are far form the center of thought. COmpare with Tversky's findings that when possibiliteis are dissected, the more possibilities shown, the higher the subjective probability people give to them. Conjuction fallacy.
In a sense the fox may by dissecting more and more aspects and possibilities, give some of them undue weight.

A smart rough thinker is supposed to give due weight to every possibility. But this is hard to do in practice. Moreover, when there are emotional interests it is hard to be objective.