They have transcribed my TEDx talk on stories

by on December 22, 2011 at 6:17 am in Education, Philosophy | Permalink

The link and pointer come from Ben Casnocha, here is one excerpt (emphasis is from Ben):

…as a general rule, we’re too inclined to tell the good vs. evil story. As a simple rule of thumb, just imagine every time you’re telling a good vs. evil story, you’re basically lowering your IQ by ten points or more. If you just adopt that as a kind of inner mental habit, it’s, in my view, one way to get a lot smarter pretty quickly. You don’t have to read any books. Just imagine yourself pressing a button every time you tell the good vs. evil story, and by pressing that button you’re lowering your IQ by ten points or more.

One interesting thing about cognitive biases – they’re the subject of so many books these days. There’s the Nudge book, the Sway book, the Blink book, like the one-title book, all about the ways in which we screw up. And there are so many ways, but what I find interesting is that none of these books identify what, to me, is the single, central, most important way we screw up, and that is, we tell ourselves too many stories, or we are too easily seduced by stories. And why don’t these books tell us that? It’s because the books themselves are all about stories. The more of these books you read, you’re learning about some of your biases, but you’re making some of your other biases essentially worse. So the books themselves are part of your cognitive bias. Often, people buy them as a kind of talisman, like “I bought this book. I won’t be Predictably Irrational.” It’s like people want to hear the worst, so psychologically, they can prepare for it or defend against it. It’s why there’s such a market for pessimism. But to think that buying the book gets you somewhere, that’s maybe the bigger fallacy. It’s just like the evidence that shows the most dangerous people are those that have been taught some financial literacy. They’re the ones who go out and make the worst mistakes. It’s the people that realize, “I don’t know anything at all,” that end up doing pretty well.

The talk itself is here on video.

dearieme December 22, 2011 at 6:46 am

That’s an awful ot of words to tell us not much more than “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”.

anon December 22, 2011 at 7:30 am

+1

Rahul December 22, 2011 at 8:45 am

How does one reach full knowledge without passing little knowledge on the way? Always puzzled me.

dearieme December 22, 2011 at 9:22 am

If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, just think how much harm a lot can do. (Tom Sharpe)

US December 22, 2011 at 10:53 am

“If a little knowledge is dangerous, where is the man who has so much as to be out of danger?” (T.H. Huxley.)

dearieme December 22, 2011 at 11:50 am

Sharpe’s was the sharper, I’d say.

D December 22, 2011 at 12:17 pm

A lot of knowledge is dangerous too. See Long Term Capital Management and it’s Nobel-winning leadership.

Will Wilkinson December 22, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Commenting on blogs is an awful waste of time you could better spend brushing up on banal proverbs.

mjw149 December 23, 2011 at 8:09 am

No, the core is, narrative is dangerous. That’s what leads religous extremists astray. That’s what leads to infidelity. It’s very Buddhist, in the sense that it’s not the conditions that make us miserable (with obvious exceptions). It’s how we frame it. My boss is mean. My wife is lazy. I met this girl and I know God wants me to be with her, even though I’m married. Government is inefficient, rich people are all hardworkers, the poor are sinners who deserve misfortune.

The politician’s prime power to spin tales around reality is just as dangerous to the politician as the citizens, that’s the lesson from this week.

J Storrs Hall December 22, 2011 at 6:59 am

After about 40 years of studying AI, I have come to the conclusion that intelligence is mostly stories. More precisely, remembered and generalized trajectories in some vastly multidimensional space; at low levels, this produces process controllers (e.g. for walking) and at higher levels they can be interpreted as stories. We have an enormous tendency to interpret things as stories because that’s how we think. But, and this is the key to what you were saying if I may be so bold, one trajectory does not a controller make. There must be enough of them to infer the shape of the space around them, and thus give good predictions of novel actions and situations.

zbicyclist December 22, 2011 at 10:15 am

Indeed. There’s also a line of socail psych research (Dick Nisbett and Tim Wilson, among others) showing concrete evidence (My neighbor bought a Volvo and likes it) is more influential than abstract evidence (Volvo rated high in Consumer Reports). What’s more concrete than a good story?

I think Casnocha’s conclusion is wrong. It’s the people who think they know more than they do who make the worst mistakes.

All those people who realize “I only have a little financial knowledge, so I’m just going to stick my money in the Vanguard 500 Fund” probably do pretty well, but we don’t hear about them — BECAUSE THERE’S NO STORY there.

mjw149 December 23, 2011 at 8:14 am

Well, we don’t hear from people who cheat the system successfully, either, and that’s also based on knowledge. So you’re absolutely right.

Let’s consider that the stock market is primarily a gambling milieu, and there’s a certain amount of chicanery and manipulation involved. The successful ones don’t get caught. I think the old attitude was best, that sports and stocks were essentially dangerous for outsiders, who are easily ripped off. People who hear the theories about gambling and stocks and then think success and failure are luck are the worse.

Michael Nielsen December 22, 2011 at 7:35 am

This seems to contradict results such as the Wason card test (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wason_selection_task ), which are more consistent with J Storrs Hall’s point of view. It’d be interesting to find a (narrative?) explanation that reconciled the best parts of both points of view.

Alexis December 22, 2011 at 8:24 am

I’d be really interested to see the financial literacy research that shows people who have it make the worst mistakes. My dissertation is on the financial literacy of the poor and near-poor (particularly as I relates to fringe banking) and whlle I have seen academic literature showing little to no effect for fin ed, I haven’t come across any articles showing negative effects and would love to include any references in my dissertation.

Rahul December 22, 2011 at 9:41 am

+1.

Let’s see some hard evidence supporting this “little knowledge worse than no knowledge” meme. I suspect there is none.

D December 22, 2011 at 12:27 pm

I think it depends on who the teacher is. If your “teacher” is a mortgage broker trying to sell you on a subprime loan, you’re better off not having taken the course to begin with.

I used to be a mortgage broker way back in the early 90s. Ten years later when I was buying my townhouse, I was stunned at how much easier it was to get a mortgage (no doc loans, higher debt/income ratios etc). I ended up getting a short-term low-rate loan and refinanced a couple years later. It worked out for me (not least because I live in an area where property values have remained stable), but it didn’t for many others.

The knowledge I gained from the mortgage broker who got me the loan was of fleeting value.

Laserlight December 22, 2011 at 10:05 am

>”It’s the people that realize, “I don’t know anything at all,” that end up doing pretty well.”

I would have thought the people who realize “I don’t know anything at all” don’t get into the market. It’s hard to lose if you don’t play.

Claudia Sahm December 22, 2011 at 2:50 pm

I certainly don’t know of any evidence that interventions to increase financial literacy actually lead to even worse decision making. I helped organize a GWSB/FRB Financial Literacy Seminar Series and this semester’s papers (and talks) are at: http://business.gwu.edu/flss/papers/ . Researchers and practitioners still have a lot to learn about how to best support individuals in their financial decision making.

Nevertheless (a literal reading of) this post strikes as over-the-top pessimistic (even worse than TGS). And it’s pretty rich coming from someone who ostensibly reads a lot of books. I admit that a tough part of learning is coming to terms with how much you don’t know…but that’s just part of the process. Some challenges are healthy…or maybe that’s the ‘fairy tale story’ I tell myself to do my work and not lay on the couch watching TV.

guy December 22, 2011 at 8:29 am

It should be illegal to post video on the net without a transcription. I’m kidding and not really referring to TED talks but I can’t tell you how many news stories I skip because they are video only.

EB Hansen December 22, 2011 at 10:34 am

+1

joshua December 22, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Stop trying to stifle innovation.

Bill December 22, 2011 at 8:30 am

Your claim that telling stories lowers your IQ has reallybeen the point of other behaviouralists and social psychologists for some time. I certainly disagree with your claim that these books do not identify storytelling as one of the problems.

Kahneman and Tversky’s lifetime work are full of this theme on coherence and cognitive ease. They say we tell ourselves stories to increase coherence, or use stories to show coherence as a persuasive device. Just read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Kahneman, and also read the articles in the appendix written 20 years ago. If you want to read about coherence in persuasion as it is used in social psychology read anything by Cialdini.

If you believe, for example, in the rational economic man, and believe in stable utility preferences, you need to read his, Amos Tversky’s work on cognitive ease, cognitive illusions, and coherence. And, anything by Cialdini.

Bill December 22, 2011 at 8:36 am

And, I certainly disagree with any proposition that KNOWING that you have these biases, or having been shown these biases through stories, makes you an overconfident thinker. To the contrary. It makes you a skeptic and one willing to search out for information that does NOT confirm your bias or to develop testing methodologies that you use consistently across all statistically verifiable ideas so as to minimize your known human errors and biases. Kahnenman and Twersky’s work on statistical heuristics well illustrates this, even with stories.

John Thacker December 22, 2011 at 9:46 am

Bill, in my experience, it often makes people more likely to be a skeptic about things that challenge their biases, but it does not make them necessarily willing to search out for information that does NOT confirm their bias. Intelligent people are often simply better at justifying their own biases, and learning these stories simply provides them new ways to confirm their own biases and discount new evidence as biased. They do so while becoming ever more confident in their own beliefs.

It would be nice, for example, in the recent LA Unified School District food post, to see more comments from people explaining why the position that they favor has biases. Instead we see people who like the idea of a healthier menu skeptical of the old menu and explaining why the evidence against is biased, while people who are skeptical of the new menu explain why the studies and tests in favor of the new menu were likely to be biased.

Even when people have good skeptical points about the other side, they rarely use it to point out the weakness in their own views. So learning about these biases can and does strengthen your own viewpoint.

There’s a reason why many studies have shown that more intelligent people are more likely to hold relatively extreme political opinions.

Rahul December 22, 2011 at 10:07 am

Do you have a study that shows intelligence makes people more extreme? Quite counter-intuitive.

I thought education made a person more likely to appreciate nuance and know the other side of an argument. Of course, education and IQ are distinct, but I expected both to reduce extremism not increase it.

Bill December 22, 2011 at 4:10 pm

I’ve waited long enough.

Don’t expect John to offer a study when the evidence is that liberals have a higher IQ and conservatives a lower one: See this report: Liberals and atheists score higher: http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/02/26/liberals.atheists.sex.intelligence/index.html

You can also see how the American Enterprise Institute handled this here quoting and then commenting on the study:

“Conservatism and cognitive ability are negatively correlated … At the individual level of analysis, conservatism scores correlate negatively with SAT, vocabulary, and analogy test scores. At the national level of analysis, conservatism scores correlate negatively with measures of education … and performance on mathematics and reading assessments.

Provocative, yes. But two important caveats are needed. First, by “conservatism” Stankov does not necessarily mean people who favor free market economics. He has in mind a kind of traditionalism probably best described as social conservatism:” Here is that link: http://www.american.com/archive/2009/october/are-liberals-smarter-than-conservatives

Interesting reading, but being liberal or conservative–my choices–does not make me smart or stupid.

And, I doubt that anyone has support for the proposition that intelligent persons are more extreme in their political views. But, I am willing to be persuaded if John points me to a study.

John Thacker December 22, 2011 at 9:51 am

I should say that it’s understandable why people minimize pointing out the biases in “their side.” Generally they feel that “their side” is losing, and it’s okay to simplify somewhat if it moves the equilibrium belief closer to the truth. So for many intelligent people, their “true belief” is more nuanced than their polemics on the Internet and elsewhere.

Crenellations December 22, 2011 at 9:15 pm

“You need to have studied economics for many years before you’d be surprised by my research; it didn’t shock my mother at all”

Kahneman

zrzzz December 22, 2011 at 8:36 am

It’s the people that realize, “I don’t know anything at all,” that end up doing pretty well.

Truer words have never been spoken, but then again, that could be my bias…

David Welker December 22, 2011 at 9:00 am

I really liked this TEDx talk. I think your point, that we tend to impose simplifying narratives on a much more complex world, is quite right. While we cannot avoid telling stories, we can be more aware of the simplifications inherent in these stories. Life is not nearly as coherent as the narratives we produce.

Bill N December 22, 2011 at 9:03 am

My response is in narrative form. Consider the student who climbs the mountain to seek enlightenment from the wise man at the top. Upon reaching the summit the wise man tells him,
“you do not want enlightenment! because enlightenment is only pain!”

To achieve enlightenment you must pass through three stages, each step more difficult and painful than the previous.
First, you must see reality. This is hard, reality is ugly and most choose to avert their eyes. But if you can bear to see, it becomes more difficult!
Second, you must accept reality. To deny the reality makes it easier to bear. Only a very few can accept the truth of what they see. But it gets far worse!
If you can force yourself to see and bear to accept, then, to achieve the next step you must do something about it!

The cognitive biases are a bit like this in that “what you do about it” is a challenge. Unless you have workable techniques and strategies in place, you fail at the final step.

John Thacker December 22, 2011 at 9:38 am

It’s certainly true that far too many people misunderstand the Efficient Market Hypothesis, and try to use it to mean exactly the opposite of what it means. I think that the EMH, properly understood, teaches us to be skeptical of the financial industry and financial innovation. However, I find that people who are skeptical of finance tend to swallow the incorrect notion of the EMH as much as people who like finance and think (amazingly) that the EMH means that they can “beat the market” and find risk-free arbitrage with the right pricing formula or right regulation.

What the EMH tells you is that both your clever strategies and your clever regulations will fail, in the sense that they won’t produce sustainable risk-free arbitrage.

Bill December 22, 2011 at 12:04 pm

If you believe in EHM, you would have to say that the price of Tulips in the Netherlands carried the relevant information about tulips, and that we mortals never suffer from information cascades or self-deception.

Think about EHM and Tulip Mania.

Or, about financial crises.

DBonar December 23, 2011 at 6:18 am

If you believe there is an exogenous ‘correct price for tulips – as there is a single value for the speed of light in a vacuum I dependant of human belief or understanding – then EMH is wrong. Most of economics is based on that not being the case though. Prices are set based on an interplay of needs, availability and potential trade offs. They are based on human biases and as such can vary wildly. EMH just tells you that if you have no better information and no execution advantage, you have no reason to believe you will beat the market consistently.

Of course betting systems – including those related to investing – are basically stories we tell ourselves about why we have more insight than the odds or the market. Sometimes they may be true, but often they are not. Which can be kind of frustrating because the two types of stories can sound very similar. Worse, what was a good story (system) can become a bad one by becoming better known. Again, EMH isn’t talking about absolutes, but about information relative to everyone else.

Bill December 23, 2011 at 11:11 am

DBonar,

Your comments regarding the correct price of tulips reminds me of how I was taught calculus, but only in reverse.

When you learnt calculus, you learned how you approached zero, and could keep dividing by 1/2 and there would be an infinite amount of space until you reached zero.

Your response is just the reverse: if you step back far enough–that is, expand time to a few year time periods–you will see the “correct” price of tulips.

Yet, I would argue we buy tulips here and now, not some period over time, where you can see the “correct” price.

Bill December 23, 2011 at 11:14 am

DBonar, On rereading your comment, I think I misunderstood one point. I would agree that the market price is probably the best you can do at that instant–but I would also argue that the “market” contains misinformation and emotion–and you get what you pay for.

Ed December 22, 2011 at 10:04 am

That’s your story, and you’re sticking with it

Engineer December 22, 2011 at 10:09 am

Even when trying to convince people about a technical issue (“use technology X rather than Y”), you will be more successful if you make it into some type of compelling narrative.

N December 22, 2011 at 10:15 am

I accepted the Bush administration story on WMD because I had little knowledge and I didn’t believe in evil.
I accepted the no-strings-attached 2008 bailout because I had little knowledge and assumed the experts weren’t evil.
I watched Tyler make weak excuses for the Republicans during the debt ceiling silliness because he thought he could raise his IQ by 10 points by not taking sides.

I am trying to drop my mental habit of reflexively rejecting “good vs. evil” arguments. All heuristics can be gamed, evil people are more real than I wanted to believe, and high IQ doesn’t mean you aren’t a sucker.

Scoop December 22, 2011 at 11:54 am

And, I assume, the vast majority of the evil people will be on the opposite side of most issues from you.

Jim December 22, 2011 at 12:15 pm

>the Bush administration story on WMD
Ah yes, that evil mastermind, making up things all by himself…

“One way or the other, we are determined to deny Iraq the capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them. That is our bottom line.”
–President Bill Clinton, Feb. 4, 1998

“If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program.”
–President Bill Clinton, Feb. 17, 1998

“Iraq is a long way from [here], but what happens there matters a great deal here. For the risks that the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security threat we face.”
–Madeline Albright, Feb 18, 1998

“He will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has ten times since 1983.”
–Sandy Berger, Clinton National Security Adviser, Feb, 18, 1998

“[W]e urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions (including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq’s refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs.”
Letter to President Clinton, signed by:
– Democratic Senators Carl Levin, Tom Daschle, John Kerry, and others, Oct. 9, 1998

“Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process.”
-Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), Dec. 16, 1998

“Hussein has … chosen to spend his money on building weapons of mass destruction and palaces for his cronies.”
– Madeline Albright, Clinton Secretary of State, Nov. 10, 1999

“There is no doubt that … Saddam Hussein has reinvigorated his weapons programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf War status. In addition, Saddam continues to redefine delivery systems and is doubtless using the cover of a licit missile program to develop longer-range missiles that will threaten the United States and our allies.”
Letter to President Bush, Signed by:
– Sen. Bob Graham (D, FL), and others, Dec 5, 2001

“We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandate of the United Nations and is building weapons of mass destruction and th! e means of delivering them.”
– Sen. Carl Levin (D, MI), Sept. 19, 2002

“We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country.”
– Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002

“Iraq’s search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power.”
– Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002

“We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction.”
– Sen. Ted Kennedy (D, MA), Sept. 27, 2002

“The last UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in October of 1998. We are confident that Saddam Hussein retains some stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and that he has since embarked on a crash course to build up his chemical and biological warfare capabilities. Intelligence reports indicate that he is seeking nuclear weapons…”
– Sen. Robert Byrd (D, WV), Oct. 3, 2002

“I will be voting to give the President of the United States the authority to use force — if necessary — to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security.”
– Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Oct. 9, 2002

“There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years … We also should remember we have always underestimated the progress Saddam has made in development of weapons of mass destruction.”
– Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D, WV), Oct 10, 2002

“He has systematically violated, over the course of the past 11 years, every significant UN resolution that has demanded that he disarm and destroy his chemical and biological weapons, and any nuclear capacity. This he has refused to do”
– Rep. Henry Waxman (D, CA), Oct. 10, 2002

“In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members … It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.”
– Sen. Hillary Clinton (D, NY), Oct 10, 2002

“We are in possession of what I think to be compelling evidence that Saddam Hussein has, and has had for a number of years, a developing capacity for the production and storage of weapons of mass destruction.”
– Sen. Bob Graham (D, FL), Dec. 8, 2002

“Without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime … He presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation … And now he is miscalculating America’s response to his continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction … So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real…”
– Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Jan. 23. 2003

bunker brown December 22, 2011 at 1:13 pm

I agree that Saddam was a threat that needed to be taken out-but he could have been taken out by bribery and non-military means as well. Every dictator loves a trip to the White House. We could have filled his palaces with Russian and Chinese whores and stuffed his aging frame with Viagra. We could have bought his sons trinkets like Lamborghinis and Ferraris to gain their favor.

After the invasion, as soon as we discovered there were no WMD, we should have immediately left. Just left. Who cares what happened to Iraq? Who cares now?

D December 22, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Yes, but Bush (and all the others quoted) used the Good vs. Evil formulation. Saddam was certainly a pscyopath, but his pursuit of WMD or, if you like, his pretense to pursue them was perfectly rational given his history with both Iran and the US. How many times have we invaded North Korea?

crankee December 22, 2011 at 10:23 am

With people like N around, those of us on “the other side” have an obligation to use “good vs. evil” stories more. Furthermore, considering that high IQ libertarians tend to be unilaterally anti-patriotic and anti-nationalist on questions of war and immigration, compels those of us who believe that group loyalty can and should be a virtue, not a defect, to overcompensate.

Tom West December 22, 2011 at 10:28 am

“you do not want enlightenment! because enlightenment is only pain!”

I think there’s actually a point there. A lot of the ‘truth-seekers’ (those that try and escape their biases) are not terribly happy people.

I suspect that comes about from the fact that reality has no satisfying narrative, and for the most part truth isn’t even particularly aesthetically satisfying, filled with exceptions, corner cases, and a chaos that cannot be decoded in any meaningful way. In a vastly mutli-dimensional space, truth-seekers alone truly understand that they understand an insignificant thread or two, and likely not even that.

Worse still for them is when they realize that they literally cannot reach the vast majority of humanity. Evolution has created creatures that are not designed to comprehend reality as it truly stands. Trying to force it upon them is, in by definition, ‘unnatural’. It can be done, perhaps, in short stretches, but it is a Sisyphusian task that, in the end, cannot last. Even worse comes upon the realization that the truth doesn’t make them happier. Instead, in trying to make humanity objectively better off, truth-seeking makes them subjectively worse off. And for humans, the subjective is the only part that’s real.

Note, however, that the current crop of books allows humans to *believe* they can circumvent their biases, allowing them to feel better about themselves, and making people feel better is a good thing (unless you’re a truth-seeker).

Rahul December 22, 2011 at 10:36 am

“Reality has no satisfying narrative”: Movie “A Serious Man” by the Coen Brothers.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1019452/

Samuel X Brase December 22, 2011 at 10:30 am

“Good vs. evil” is something I’ve struggled with in my storytelling for years. Generally, I see it as a sign of teleology, and I think teleology is a faulted way of looking at the world. Storytelling frequently reinforces teleology, and it does so because of good vs. evil narratives.

Most writers who try to erase “good vs. evil” narratives have one major problem: doing so also erases your easiest route to conflict. Creating an evil character establishes clear, undeniable conflict. Movies use it a lot because they don’t have a lot of time to set characters up. I had similar trouble in novels I wrote the last couple of years; conflicts were half-hearted and honestly kind of boring.

I spent a lot of time thinking about this, because going away from “good vs. evil” narratives is something I strongly believe in. Difficult but fulfilling conflicts come from believable, three-dimensional characters with differing goals. It takes time and care to construct plots in this manner, but if you can pull it off, the conflict and resolution are intense and rewarding (and heartbreaking). Doing so involves more than just seeing that the antagonist has a sick brother; doing so involves understanding the antagonist’s reasoning, their childhood, their current environment, what they desire to get out of the world. You have to think about how people arrive at their viewpoints, and how those viewpoints change over time (possibly altering the conflict). If you’ve built the characters well, none of them are good or evil–they are all flawed, perhaps some more than others, and they are all working to fulfill their interests.

I realize a lot of what I said seems obvious for storytelling, but it’s an idea that is abandoned more and more in popular narratives.

D December 22, 2011 at 1:00 pm

I avoid good vs. evil narratives as well, but the media climate encourages the opposite.

Also, I find that when I do slip and use good vs. evil, I end up getting angry or defensive, thus lowering my overall happiness level.

Urso December 22, 2011 at 10:34 am

Maybe I’m being cynical, or maybe I’m just in a bad mood. But to me the quoted section comes off like this: “You’re all a bunch of simpleminded fools who trick yourselves into believing stories. In fact, those of you who think you have some self-awareness are even dumber. Only I, I!, have enough intelligence and self-awareness to escape this trap.”

ezra abrams December 22, 2011 at 11:49 am

I think the drop your IQ misses the point, at least as I understand Kahnemann
We use stories cause *most* of the time it is fast and easy and efficient, in kahnemanns’ language, we use system 1, and call on system 2 only when stressed
To put it another way, do you have data demonstrating that not telling good vs bad stories produces better results in the real world, for large nubmers of people, over an extended period of time ?

D December 22, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Racism is a good vs. bad narrative and it made life very miserable for a lot of people for a very long time.

Bill December 22, 2011 at 12:58 pm

D,Racism fits into Kahneman’s Category 1, not 2.

Tom West December 22, 2011 at 10:05 pm

Racism is a good vs. bad narrative

So is anti-racism.

Racism is also objectively bad, but I’m certain that the strength of the anti-slavery movement was built on stories, not on intellectual enlightenment.

bunker brown December 22, 2011 at 1:09 pm

I am not very smart, can someone please translate the point of the article into simpler language?

Bill December 22, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Well, the post says many things and can be interpreted many ways.

1. Is it a plea for ignorance? You can read the last line as don’t bother trying to protect against your biases, or knowing how you may be biased by presentations and those that try are most at risk: “It’s the people that realize, “I don’t know anything at all,” that end up doing pretty well.”

2. Is it a claim that storytelling is a way to introduce bias and sloppy thinking? If it is, despite the claim to the contrary that the poster’s views are something new, this is old news: behaviouralists, and Kahneman and Tversky, have been saying that storytelling (with coherence) can make you a sloppy thinker: just read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Kahneman, and read his and Tversky’s articles on which this is based. But, Tyler has extended the storytelling (coherence) problem to those who illustrate this sloppy thinking with their own stories, which is a first. Never tell a story. (But, I don’t know how Tyler’s story escapes this problem, just as I don’t know how you can hold something that is a universal solvent.)

3. Is Predicatably Irrational, Kahneman and Tversky, and Thaler’s work a problem that won’t go away for economists who believe in the rational economic man which drives their models? That’s what I think the message is: that it behavioural economics, the foundation of modern marketing, is at odds with economic models which require a rational agent, or which require consistent preferences–and when neither is present, creating market failure–you have a bad holiday present for economists who wish to minimize the role of government claiming markets never fail.

Merry Christmas, but whatever you do, do not read Predictably Irrational or any of the authors listed in the post. It will disturb you. As the last line of the post says:
“It’s the people that realize, “I don’t know anything at all,” that end up doing pretty well.”

Reading those authors may make you skeptical of rational economic man, and that would be troubling over the holidays when you are opening those presents, or giving those presents, you either didn’t want or didn’t want to give, but you did anyway because it was expected of you as a social human being.

Claudia Sahm December 22, 2011 at 3:12 pm

My take away is read widely and think broadly…don’t expect one book or person to give you the ‘answer.’ We have to tell stories to make sense of the incredibly complex world, but we must constantly scrutinize our stories. It helps to know about cognitive biases, but it also helps to know about data and to talk to people who look at the world differently.

Bill December 22, 2011 at 3:37 pm

That would be a good story if that is what he said.

Instead he said: “It’s like people want to hear the worst, so psychologically, they can prepare for it or defend against it. It’s why there’s such a market for pessimism. But to think that buying the book gets you somewhere, that’s maybe the bigger fallacy….It’s the people that realize, “I don’t know anything at all,” that end up doing pretty well.”

Rahul Shastri December 22, 2011 at 2:56 pm

I find this IQ- Smartness terminology a bit tricky.
What the excerpt seems to be aiming at is lack of prejudice and tolerance; tolerance is a socio cultural phenomenon : a liberal wide ranging opening of the mind which might be facilitated by an ideal education, but need not require formal education/ training.
Tolerance , to me, is independent of IQ-Smartness.
Isn’t ( to borrow from the Prayer) ‘An intellectual hatred the worst?’

Ilan December 22, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Can anyone give a list of ALTERNATIVES to not using stories to understand or process things? It seems like once you introduce language, it can automatically be “classified” as a story. In this sense, it would help to define what is story and what is non-story (or at least understand the gradient this is defined by.

Examples of Alternatives? –Abstract statistics? What else?

Steven Sailer December 22, 2011 at 3:33 pm

But all high IQ people who have read their Steven Jay Gould know that IQ doesn’t exist.

Yog Sothoth December 22, 2011 at 4:09 pm

There was something kind of awesome and meta about that talk. It had essentially no real content and at the end I felt a really deep confusion and fascination sort of like THC. That probably comes as close to performance art as any lecture I’ve ever witnessed. I’m still thinking about whether that talk made sense and how one would apply its lessons if it does.

Rahul December 22, 2011 at 11:08 pm

The Emperor’s New Clothes? That’s how I felt.

Yog Sothoth December 22, 2011 at 4:18 pm

…still thinking about this. It also isn’t lost on me that TC was invited to give a TED talk, which the hosts probably thought would be about the economy and winds up giving… this… instead. Something like

1. stories aren’t reality
2. even my lecture is a story
3. please form a neat single file line to commit suicide

A pointless(?) yet somehow compelling condemnation of the inherent structure of human thought. Awesome.

Grognor December 22, 2011 at 8:02 pm

I find the subject of stories-as-thought fascinating. There’s no end to the implications. When I first saw this talk, it was a real eye-opener, and I’ve thought a lot about it since then. I personally think it’s a shame I didn’t see it until this year.

Stories are useful, stories are helpful, stories are harmful. As Dennett says, the self is a story. It’s crazy, absolutely crazy, to realize how little research has been done in this area.

One idea I’ve only just started formalizing is that the more general narrative bias leads to a sort of “protagonist bias” where everybody thinks they’re the hero of their own story, so everything is going to work out in the end. It blinds people to negative consequences of their actions, prevents people from learning from their mistakes, makes people have a hard time admitting they’re wrong, causes overconfidence, and reduces empathy.

The rabbit hole is deep.

sam December 24, 2011 at 6:36 am

Nassim Taleb had a whole section on story-telling problems in THE BLACK SWAN. But I guess you don’t feel like talking about him or his work ever since he called you out on your comment about how financial markets can price catastrophic events and basically told you that you were stupid. He was right.

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