02. Developing Self-Awareness

Dated Dec 28, 2021; last modified on Mon, 05 Sep 2022

Signs of a Scout

These Don’t Make You a Scout

Feeling objective. The more objective you feel, the more you trust your own intuitions and opinions as accurate representations of reality, and the less inclined you are to question them.

Being smart and knowledgeable. It’s not a case of “if people were smarter and well-informed, they’d realize their errors”. For example, found that polarization (on political fronts) on anthropogenic climate change increases as scientific intelligence increases. found similar patterns: political & religious polarization on stem cell research, the Big Bang, human evolution; political polarization on climate change; little evidence of political or religious polarization on nanotechnology and genetically modified foods.

The popular “rigidity of the right” theory (conservatives are inherently more prone towards bias than liberals) doesn’t stand up to scrutiny: the questions supposedly measuring rigidity were actually measuring if one held conservative beliefs. Maybe the theory was widely adopted because most psychologists lean left (14:1).

Actually Practicing the Scout Mindset Makes You a Scout

Tell other people when you realize you were wrong and they were right. Prioritize truth over ego.

Welcome (e.g. accommodate anonymous feedback; phrase feedback requests more invitingly) and react positively to personal criticism.

Engage in truth-seeking that proves yourself wrong, e.g. who revised her initial claim that women call her “Dr.” more than men do.

Take precautions to avoid fooling yourself, e.g. defining successes and failures for a project to avoid moving goalposts later, seeking counsel on disagreements by describing it without revealing the side that you’re on.

Have good critics, e.g. people who are critical of your beliefs who you consider thoughtful even if you believe they’re wrong; reasons why someone would disagree with you that you’d consider reasonable.

Being able to point to occasions in which you were in soldier mindset.

Noticing Bias

Issues for which I’m interested in some logically unrelated feeling, e.g. feeling mature/rational because of taking a tentative position.

A thought experiment is a peek into a counterfactual world. However, these thought experiments do not tell what is fair or true; they only reveal motivated reasoning.

The Double Standard Test

Doing a reversal test (like the one in ). Given the same underlying principle, it shouldn’t matter which side I’m on - the reasoning should be the same. Notice areas in which I’m hesitant to apply the principles.

Am I judging other people’s behavior by a standard I wouldn’t apply to myself?

More to notice this in others, e.g. “Oh, come on, stop defending your candidate! How’d you have reacted if someone from our party did the same thing?”

Rarer to notice this in myself, e.g. when I’m judging myself more harshly than I’d judge someone else in a similar situation.

The Outsider Test

How would you evaluate this situation if it wasn’t your situation?

In 1984, IBM’s Japanese competitors had figured out how to make faster and better memory chips, and were having Intel’s lunch in the memory-chip market. The founders were hesitant to change because memory chips were Intel’s identity. Andy Grove: If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what do you think he would do? Gordon Moore: He would get us out of memories. Grove: Why shouldn’t you and I walk out the door, come back and do it ourselves?

Conformity Test

Views that I hold, that can be predicted based on my demographics. Furthermore, I typically wouldn’t have well thought-out justifications for my position.

Issues for which I’ve not given much thought. My opinion is mostly a function of the opinions that I’ve been exposed to, e.g. hesitancy on Web3 from being an HN reader.

If other people no longer held this view, would you still hold it?

For example, suppose only 30% of people wanted to have kids. Would I still want kids?

It’s also beneficial to ask myself why 70% of people want to have kids. The conformity test only reveals my bias; it doesn’t reveal what the ideal position is.

The Selective Skeptic Test

Issues that throw me into a solider mindset, where my first reaction is to look for holes, or to accept the conclusion.

If evidence supported the other side, how credible would you judge it to be?

For example, if someone criticized a decision made by my company, it’s easy to think, “They don’t have all the relevant details.” But had they praised the decision, would I still think they’re not informed enough to have a valid opinion?

The Status Quo Bias Test

If your current situation was not the status quo, would you actively choose it?

For example, “Life extension research is undesirable because it’d slow down progress (the newer generation would need to wait longer)”. However, if human lifespan was naturally 170 years, and a genetic mutation reduced it to 85 years, would the shorter lifespan be worth the faster societal change? goes deeper into this test.

How Sure Are You?

I think objective truth exists, but sometimes it’s too complex, and so we make models which come with assumptions and approximations. The more degrees of freedom that the model has, the more tentative I hold resulting conclusions. In order from most certain to more tentative: axioms and mathematics, hard sciences, soft sciences.

My degree of certainty is a prediction of my likelihood of being right. For example, in a binary question, certainty levels could range from 50% (no clue) to 100%.

has a quiz on calibrating one’s degree of certainty. Pretty floored by the fact that I was 95% sure that “flamingos are pink because they eat shrimp” was false.

Flamingoes get the pinkish hue from carotenoids in their diet of brine shrimp and blue-green algae.

My faulty reasoning: Kenya has pink flamingos in Lake Nakuru; I did not grow up seeing shrimp being served in restaurants; there’s probably no shrimp in the flamingo-laden lakes; those flamingos must be pink for some other reason.

Lake Nakuru is rich in blue-green algae . should have read “flamingos are pink because of their diet of blue-green algae or brine shrimp.”

Prefer thinking in terms of bets rather than in claims. proposes the “equivalent bet test” for quantifying uncertainty. For example, how sure am I that self-driving cards will be on the market within the year? I can bet on self-driving cars and get $10k if they’re on the market in a year. Or, take the ball bet: given a box containing \(n\) balls, one of which is grey; reach in and pull a ball at random; if it’s grey, win $10k. The \(n\) at which I’m indifferent about which bet to take implies that I’m \(\frac{1}{n}\) certain of the claim about self-driving cars.

claims that press rooms of companies make claims, while the board makes bets.

Maybe that can be a nice way of seeing through PR claims. For example, why do boards recommend unintuitive positions on proposals (e.g. Alphabet’s board recommending AGAINST on a report on charitable contributions ; Microsoft’s board recommending AGAINST on a report on median pay gaps across race and gender )? The boards' justification seems to go along the lines of “we’re already pursuing other paths to get there”.


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