Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Empathy and biases

Kahneman showed that people tend to think on their life in terms of generalization that are inaccurate if we look at their actual moment to moment experience.

If you ask someone "how happy are you" he will look much more at his salary than at his amount of annoyance at work. He looks of the story "how good is my job?" and not at the relevant experience on a momentary base.

Same problem applies to the understanding of other's experience.
We tend to define a situation in generalized terms.

A trip to Paris must be a great experience. Working at the supermarket as a cashier sounds negative.

The experience does not follow our streotypes. Some people have quite a nice time at the cashier desk. A trip when you are atressed as hell can be a terrible experience.

But nobody understands you when your feelings are out of the stereotyped response.
A vacation is fun. Point blank. Go argue.......

A person may even not understand himself in these cases.
Why have I suffered in this party? Something is wrong with me. I should try it again.
But why is the supposed fun of the party of any relevance?
Because we beleive these generalization and stories too much.

Life is the experience. And experience is not fixed by situations. Different people can feel very differently in the same activities. And between different times.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The block of multi-parameter optimizations

Assuming there are good ways to improve life, that almost nobody follows. Why?

People are not entirely stupid (they are, but that is a different story).

A person moves through life from choice to choice and by all kinds of circumstances and decisions he is getting a whole life put in place with various preferences, learned wisdom (which is mostly depending on his own situations), obligations, etc.

The guy may have his life truly optimized, if we are watching one parameter at a time, and asking what other levels for this specific parameter would be right. For every single thing the person looks at he finds that his current preference is about optimal.

What we perceive as a possible unrealized optimization potential that is different from what the lad does, involves usually changing several things in life together (a perception of things, priorities, and anything else that is under an individual's control).

This is a very different story. Objectively, it is much harder to optimize and even check all various combinations of changes in a system.

A person does not - and cannot - check all possible combinations to find what theoretical mix would be better than the status quo.
Then, we will have both things true.

1) Every parameter in this life is optimal. i.e. No other value state is better.

2) There are unexploited states that are better. These are made of combinations of several at once.

This brings about a very intriguing state. The better options are quite hidden because they involve complex changes. These combined changes, are states we know much less about because they are far from the status quo.

PS. Risks and rewards of changing several things together

We know less about what will happen.

You cannot understand properly what happened. If you have changed more than one thing in your life and you see changes in how you feel and function, you cannot know which change has caused the change in feeling. I had a similar situation when I changed four central things in life together and life became horrible. It was hard to truly know what part every single thing has. With less knowledge, you can manage life less effectively (assuming you manage life, you know to manage life, and that it is good that you manage your life [1])

A person learns a lot about himself throught life. Much knowledge and practical know-how, are based on his regular way of living. When life changes significantly, older habits and knowledge become less relevant, which implies a loss whihc is serious at times.

Some will say that changing makes a person younger, and maybe even makes life worthwhile living (why?).

Living vs. feeling good. Some philosophers believe that being alive is more important than feeling good. changing etc. can make a person more alive. I disagree that anything can be more important than feeling good. But the claim is relevant to the question. I am not sure what people think/act in this regard (i.e. feeling goood vs. "being alive").

[1] If you do not like this comment, it is based on more complex stuff not introduced here.

Related posts:

The illusion of suboptimality and irrationality That by looking only at better options, we get the illusion that the current state is suboptimal. We ignore the whole picture whihc contains a lot of much worse options.

Jump to achieve/change That sometimes a change is costly short term, but worth it long term.

Latent potentials That there are various unseen potential in things. You see only the realized. Unrealized potential can come by incidently or intentionaly. the true space of possibilities is much wider than what we see.

WWDNGH 5: Technical optimization and human beings That humans are not optimizing their life technically. We are - for some unknown reasons - not optimization machines.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The problem of optimization

Optimization sounds the best thing in the world. Getting more of what we want.

Moreover, as will be shown in next post, optimizaiton is central in many modern institutions and systems.

But in most cases, optimization involves optimizing for a specified parameter, thought to be most important, while indirectly damaging to a certain extent some other parameters.

Miscalibrating of your target parameter is a central problem. Suppose, you optimize your life for money, for example, and you may lose many other things (you may win other things, too, but the point is that when you aim vehemently toward a single thing you lose some others in the way).
The known saying says "life is what happens when we are busy doing other things".

A company optimizing for quarterly reports may sacrifise long term goals for this.
Nassim Taleb shows, that much of the 2008 financial meltdown is a result of vehement optimization.
There were endless more and more sophisticated structuring of things, until some miscalibration misfired. But the damage of the seemingly docile ooptimization and sohistication lead to disaster.

Problem 2: Other people's optimization.

When others optimize for you, we do not expect them to live up my wants and interests.
But when the company trying to grab my attention is optimizing, I am much more of a victim. They fight me optimally. Their sale persons, attend highly op0timized courses on how to exploit every psychological quirk I have to enslave me (or at least annoy me optimally)
An interaction between any optimized system and a natural less optimized individual, may create a big difference in power by the sheer force of optimization by the stronger party.
A small difference may create a bigger different in results.