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Visakan Veerasamy @visakanv
, 24 tweets, 6 min read Read on Twitter
People typically have high-res models of their own lives and lower-res models of other people’s. We are all born clueless with incredibly low-res models of the world - then we tweak and upgrade our models. Different people do this to different degrees depending on many variables
Cluelessness, innocence, naïveté, privilege - these are all words used to describe the condition of having a flawed and/or low-res model of the world. A child who loses their innocence is forced to develop a higher-res model of some harsh and ugly things
A common source of misunderstanding is as follows: a person experiences an increase in resolution of their own model of something that’s relevant to them. They then make a claim based on that model that extends beyond it. It might seem accurate to them!
People inadvertently do this all the time because natural language is fundamentally fuzzy&vague. We say things that seem true to us, but may only at best be true in the context of our model, which is vague to a degree we cannot appreciate until we get a more precise, hi-res one
What does this look like? A person has a bad experience. He then makes a general statement that extends beyond that experience. This statement contradicts someone else’s experience. Boom, we have ourselves a conflict
One way of avoiding this is to caveat everything endlessly. “It seems to me in my experience under X circumstances that...” - but this is tedious and tiresome. (It’s a good habit, though)
Here’s an example of someone who thinks he’s developed an insight based on his experience, and makes a general statement that extends beyond it. It’s interesting to consider that his statement must have genuinely seemed true to him when he said it. Why?
Because his model of reality is vague to a degree he does not realize. This is true for everyone, and it’s truer for people who are clueless or privileged - meaning they’ve gone through their lives not having to develop a higher-res model of other people’s experiences
In this case, Chris Rock arrives at what he thinks is an insight based on his high-res model of what it’s like being a man, and generalises from it to make a statement about the experiences of women
People can develop incredibly high-res models of a narrow field, and have low-res models outside of it. This is why smart people can say really dumb things. They often develop excessive confidence from being good in their domain and assume they’re good at everything else too
There are many interesting things we can explore with this model of models. It’s possible to have a high-res model that’s wrong (conspiracy theories). Some domains are difficult to model, and being honest about this can help you make better decisions by admitting uncertainty
So far I have been describing scenarios assuming good faith - ie that people are at least trying to have accurate models. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. Orwell had a good essay about this:…
We should all acknowledge that our models are imperfect and require constant revision. Unfortunately people tend to get very attached to their models and react defensively when their models are challenged. I think this is because we’ve been conditioned to identify with our models
People who inherit their models from some in-group are especially subsceptible to this. In-groups often have sacred truths that cannot be questioned - violate this and you get excommunicated. It’s actually quite rational for people to prioritise group loyalty over model accuracy
An interesting in-group ritual the mockery of the most incompetent members of the outgroup for model failure. This reinforces group conviction. If we care about model accuracy, we should actually be engaging with the most competent members of the outgroup
I lost quite a bit of respect for Ricky Gervais when he spent a segment of his Netflix special literally mocking the stupidest responses he’s gotten on Twitter. This is too easy to do and frankly it’s intellectually & artistically dishonest
If you have to do some mocking, you should mock the incompetence in your own ingroup. Mock your own incompetence while you’re at it. Being able to laugh at ourselves is a huge relief anyway, and it’s fun, and it makes you more likeable to pretty much everyone
Lifehack: if you add the caveat that you might be wrong about what you’re about to say, people react much more favourably
Can you identify the phenomenon of vague+exaggerated claims happening right here in this tweet?
The valid observation is that some people are trapped. But it’s actually shoddy thinking on my part to say “largely” (I don’t know that!) or to extrapolate that to the whole damn world (I don’t know that either!)
If you want to think clearly you have to be very careful with your words. I’ve gotten more careful over the years but you can see I’m still not great at it. The impulse to generalize is strong
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