Author: Madelyn Freed

About Madelyn Freed

I'm an artist, a technologist, a performer, and aspiring entrepreneur. Keep an eye on me.

Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior

Because of a recommendation from Quora, I have just belatedly started a Behavioral Economics class on Coursera called “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior.” Right up my alley. I’ve already written down some interesting points and I’m only 20 minutes in.

  1.  Humans have difficulty with the Planning Fallacy. These dopes consistently underestimate how long a task will take, even when they are extremely experienced in that task. These mistakes only happen when you evaluate yourself, and not if you are an unrelated observer–in that case, you over-estimate. Selfish, counterproductive optimism.
  2. We may have good intentions, plenty of experience, and strong intuitions but we can still be wrong. The fundamental principle of irrationality is that we think we know the right thing to do, but we are wrong.
  3. We do not see with our eyes, we see with our brains. Our brains incorporate our expectations into our perceptions, which is why optical illusions work. Though our brains are very strong and very good at vision, we still make predictable, systematic errors. We are evolved to be good at eyesight, and yet that is still the case. Consider other skills that we aren’t evolutionarily optimized to do (investing money, for example), and it becomes clear that we will make predictable, systematic errors in those areas too.

It’s really good shit. I’ll keep at it.

Tom Gauld

I’ve never mustered the nerve to buy this print but I love it

Betting on the Future

By the people who run the Long Now Foundation, and used by the likes of Warren Buffett. I like the Rules. Some favorite bets–

That last bet is only for $1000. Worth it.

Willpower that drains

I read something about willpower, but I don’t remember where. I told my friend Sam about it. This author that I cannot recall said that you have a finite amount of it at the start of the day, and any small amount of expenditure will diminish it. That includes the willpower spent not checking your phone, or not checking Facebook. Sam countered that his willpower is bolstered when he accomplishes something as in “I went for a run this morning and now I have the willpower later on not to eat like shit.” I’ve felt similarly.
So we made the distinction between active and passive expenditures. Successfully finishing something is of a different character than the endless small obstacle of not doing something. There’s no triumph, no boost of confidence. It’s draining. The suggestion made by that thing I read was to remove those drains on willpower–go without your phone, block Facebook, make the expenditure of willpower only available to the task at hand. Remove yourself from distractions when you have to do the things you don’t want to do. Now all I have to do is find that link, but first I have to check my email again.

If you want to look like a goon in public, but also be amazing

Mandel_11.jpg.CROP.article920-largeSpeed read! I’ve been using spreeder.com, which is not the classiest interface book does it pretty right. You have to pay very close attention to what you’re reading, and can’t get distracted by looking at your phone etc.

Spreeder and comparable apps relying on a technology called RSVP, Rapid Serial Visual Presentation, which makes reading seem more like watching a gif, or “listening with your eyes”. So when you’re reading in a coffee shop, you stare at a single spot on your phone, not moving, totally engrossed. The newer, fancier, much discussed Spritz has some science on where your eyes should focus on a word for quickest comprehension (where Spreeder just centers the words presented), but they don’t seem to be available to the common man yet. And I want to use it so much on iBooks on my iPad, but no one has that unless I rip the DRM off of the books I purchased (and ugh sigh). I think I’ll buy Velocity for my iPhone, which seems to work with Pocket so I can use it offline for articles. Try it! How fast are you? I’m up to 475 wpm!

Leveling up, Rationally

I read something incredible, in the form of a Harry Potter fan fiction. I’m not joking and it was amazing. Reading it made me think more than I ever have about my own biases, and the real point of learning.

I will certainly write more about this line of thinking in the future, but here are some initial thoughts.

  1. Rules of society are arbitrary.
  2. People find it nearly impossible to think critically about the roles they have assigned themselves. For example, thinking of yourself as being a ‘responsible’ person may prevent you from acting in a rational way (ie telling a group to follow some safety procedures that you disagree with).
  3. There is such a thing as truth, and it the purpose of science to uncover that truth.
  4. The truth does not care what you think of it. It only exists. So to really be a scientist, you have to ignore what you wish was the truth. Because we are emotional creatures that evolved to ally with our tribe, this is incredibly hard.
  5. Do not train your brain to punish yourself for going through bad ideas. Doing so will train yourself to never think of anything again. You must reward yourself for solving puzzles, but also taking the ‘failure’ steps that will lead to a solved problem.
  6. To know how to do something, you must be practicing it. This is true for everything.
  7. Humans are optimistic about everything. How long something will take, probable outcomes of every kind. It is almost impossible to over-correct in your pessimism, so always try. At the very least, you will get places on time.
  8. An important problem should be thought about for FIVE FULL MINUTES.
  9. For a complicated problem, if you are charged with solving it in a group, do not first suggest a solution. If you do that, people will take sides and dig in rhetorically, never able to convince each other. Talk about the problem for as long as you can before settling on a solution.
  10. If you are arguing with someone, consider quietly whether it is possible for them to ever convince you. Ask others that of your argument as well.
  11. Direct quote from the Virtues of Rationality:  “Beware lest you place huge burdens of proof only on propositions you dislike, and then defend yourself by saying: “But it is good to be skeptical.” If you attend only to favorable evidence, picking and choosing from your gathered data, then the more data you gather, the less you know. If you are selective about which arguments you inspect for flaws, or how hard you inspect for flaws, then every flaw you learn how to detect makes you that much stupider.”
 I have one critique of this work so far, which is that we may not be smart enough to be truly rational. Actually, it may not be that we’re not smart enough, that’s not quite right. Instead, it’s that we have too much of our brainpower channelled into the unglamourous work of understanding emotions and being social animals. Of course that is much harder computation than rationality, but we are biased against valuing it as it comes so easily to us. (This is an idea I got from reading about autistic savantism. We think of these neuro-atypical people as having incredible genius power, but in fact they have brain impairment that lets them access the computational power of our brains without the higher level filtering. As Allan Snyder writes, “savants have privileged access to lower level, less-processed information, before it is packaged into holistic concepts and meaningful labels…Unlike the healthy mind, which has inbuilt expectations of the world (internal order), the autistic mind must simplify the world by adopting strict routines (external order).“). To be truly rational, you may have to ignore emotional knowledge, which we are evolved to have. A tough ask.
Really, read the fanfic.