Confirmation bias The greatest lesson learned i…

Confirmation bias

The greatest lesson learned is that people are locked in their own heads. This seems obvious. Everyone has their own perspective. What is less obvious is that perspective is not chosen, its innate. It’s not as if every person was born, given a set of optional world views and then consciously chooses the one that suits them. Perspective forms and grows as the person grows up, influenced by family and friends. Perspective becomes integral to who a person is; you can wholly describe a person by describing how that person sees the world. There’s no such thing as detachable, plug-n-play world views.

My writing teachers would tell me over and over again that I need to understand my audience. This point was always lost on me. To me, writing was expository in that I was laying down the facts. Facts are universal, understood by all. What I’ve come to understand is that what is fact to me may be fiction or inconsequential to another.

If I’m interested in imparting my opinion and world view on others, I would need to find a method for changing the world view of others. The brute force method of hammering out ‘facts’ would not do the job.

The challenge when working with others is to understand their perspective and to understand that their perspective is big part of who they are. If I want that other person to see the fact of something I see, I need to understand their point of view. While their point of view is integral to who they are, how can I make my point without butting up against who they are? Once I answer that question, I can frame my argument for them.

Wired 11.09: PowerPoint Is Evil I’m of two mind…

Wired 11.09: PowerPoint Is Evil

I’m of two minds regarding PowerPoint.

On the one hand:


  • I love outlines


    • Organize thoughts

    • Easy for others to understand (I think)

  • PowerPoint is a easy to use graphics editor


    • I’m not aware of an easier app for creating flow charts

    • Has most of the features of paint

  • It interfaces nicely with the other office apps


    • esp. Excel

On the other hand, PowerPoint isn’t conducive to telling stories. Today at work, I was giving a training where I wanted to impart the purpose and value of one of our products. My purpose was to enable people at work to intelligently discuss the value proposition of our product and given the nature of our services, to add more value in the services they provide.

Being the good corporate minion I am, I created a PowerPoint presentation that nicely outlined all of the points I wanted to make. As I droned through the presentation, the audience began to nod off as I noticed a typo in the slide I was discussing. Basically, on the slide I had written something like “call center” performance when I meant to say “support center” performance. The difference is that support centers are multi-media (i.e. they support via the web, email or phones), but call centers are phone-based support only.

The typo, and the distinction I pointed out, reminded one of our consultants of an interaction she had with a customer. The customer was trapped in the frame of mind of call centers. Because the issues that are of concern in call centers (hold times, call queuing, etc) are only a subset of the issues of a full support center, the customer was missing the bigger picture. Our consultant told us that she was able to reorient the customer to see the larger picture and doing so, demonstrate the value of our ongoing relationship with the customer.

Anyway, the discussion in the room really took off after the consultant shared this story. PowerPoint, by itself, was unable to convey a sense of context that story telling gives. Also, the folks that I was training today are much more likely to remember the story than they are to remember an esoteric bullet point.

DRAFT Book Review: A Heartbreaking Work of Stagger…

DRAFT Book Review: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

What is postmoderism

– culture of self-reference and reference not to reality but to references (which may be to reality)

– an awareness of that self-reference

– struggle of a generations of rich kids

– struggle to define self with a wealth of opportunity vs dearth of opportunity as one would struggle against nature or poverty

Reference to the way this article was written

– transparancy

– outline, intuition first

review other reviews

– missing the point of reference to the self-reference, eggers deflated arguments that peg him as an egotist by admitting that his technique will show him to be an egotist

– others miss that the tragedy is not the story, the story is of him writing that he knows the tragedy is a story and his struggle to get over the postmodern delima

– some claim that he has a sick sense of humor. hi, missing the point. in the book, your witnessing how he reacted as a human. and if you’ve had someone close to you die, you know what i mean. you have a mix of fealings swimming in your head at once. it is impossible to write or to speak of these feelings but since writing began we’ve tried to. eggars is getting us closer to the truth by breaking the taboo that these critics don’t want to pearce. they want eggars to be “sad”, to say things that have been said before. “I love my mother, she was really great, I’ll never say anything bad about her or make light of her death, she means that much to me.” Well, that’s not reality. In reality when someone close to you dies you think great thoughts, thoughts that you before thought only available to geniuses or maybe greek gods up on olympus. You also think horrible, unthinkable, thoughts. And the problem is that neither of these extermes desires the as many words I have given them because these thoughts aren’t really thoughts but flashes of emotion and snippets of ideas.

The point is that the boohooing you normally hear is really a characture and his character is written to show what was reality. His character is him, but much less of a character than ever seen before in a book. In any case, irreverence is being miswrought to mean uncaring, but it is the authors ultimate symbol of caring because he has exposed this unexpected reaction when to do so would be taboo. Why break a taboo unless your making a point? Why make the point that you’re uncaring about your parents’ death? He must be making the point that he cared and he is showing us how he cared.

So it is obvious that none of the critics got it right. For that matter, none of Eggers most enthusiastic votaries were close either. The self-reference is meant to get you closer to the actual events, the cultural references were meant to anchor the reader in today’s reality to built his story against the current environment and the humor is

Share doubt as to the self-reference

– can you ever speak of the truth when you’re referencing references

– a law of inverse squares… with each layer of reference you get a more diffuse picture

– but is self-reference a technic rather than a fact… is this meta-self-reference?

Doubt postmoderism

– the intuition is real, the observations are real, the references are real

– pre-post-modern (modern) folk made reference to the thinking and ideas before them as they did before them and so on

– what is real? eggers reminds us that death is real and the struggle to understand it our come to grips with it is real

I’m at work now and I can’t comment on this post f…

I’m at work now and I can’t comment on this post from Brad De Long…  I very much want to.

Henry Farrell expresses skepticism about “transhumanism”–which he defines as “the idea of the self as a sort of infinitely extensible meccano-set, where you can plug in new bits and pieces all the time, just because it’s cool”:

Crooked Timber: Better, Fitter, Happier : …there are serious, principled reasons why you might want to disagree with transhumanism. And this argument has been going on for a long, long time…. What [Max Weber is] saying, I think, is that Tolstoy, and people like him, ask some interesting and important questions, which “progress”-obsessed types don’t. They may not have the right answers to those questions, but that’s beside the point. They’re interested in whether life is meaningful, not whether it can be infinitely extended. And meaning, for Tolstoy, requires some reference point other than the internal desires of the individual. Which maybe allows me to articulate a little better what I find creepy about transhumanism than I could last week. It isn’t the prospect of brain-machine interfaces, Singularities, telomere hacks and the like, few of which are likely to be with us anytime soon, if at all. It’s the underlying philosophy behind this geek aesthetic – the idea of the self as a sort of infinitely extensible meccano-set, where you can plug in new bits and pieces all the time, just because it’s cool. And, in the best of all possible worlds, keep on doing this forever.

But, Henry, it’s too late. Our selves have already been infinitely extended. What has happened to the Third Chimpanzee over the past million years has already created gulfs between us and our chimpanzee and bonobo evolutionary siblings that dwarf any future Singularity. Think of trying to explain your own life to one of your African Plains Ape ancestors of the past–even those that already had upright posture, opposable thumbs, serious stone toolmaking, and language.

And if serious toolmaking and language didn’t do it, agriculture did. And if agriculture didn’t do it, writing did. And if writing didn’t do it, large-scale social organization did. And if large-scale social organization didn’t do it, metallurgy did. And if metallurgy didn’t do it, large-scale environmental manipulation (i.e., building cities) did. And if LSEM didn’t do it, printing did. And if printing didn’t do it, steam-power did. And if steam-power didn’t do it, the second industrial revolution did. And if the SIR didn’t do it, modern information technologies did.

One thing is clear along this journey: after each stage, very few people want to go back. Henry Farrell’s life would be impoverished were he to find himself switched with some eighth-century monk in a scriptorium, spending his days preparing vellum and ink and copying out Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Augustine–and little else.

So isn’t the way to bet that our descendants will marvel at how limited our capabilities were?

And “meaning”… IMHO, you can lead a very meaningful life at the stone-tool stage as you find a mate, take pride in discovering how to make a better flint hand axe, and protect your young from wandering off and getting eaten by leopards in the night. You can lead a very meaningful life at the peasant-agriculture stage as you find a mate, take pride in building a better plow so that you can keep standing water from killing your grain, and try to get enough food growing to keep your young from starving to death in periodic famines. You can lead a very meaningful life at the post-industrial stage as you find a mate, take pride in discovering, learning, and communicating how the economy works so that we can collectively make better social decisions, and try hard to equip your young with the math, literacy, and social skills they will need so that their options will be bright ones. You can lead a very meaningful life at the post-singularity stage as you find a mate, take pride in demonstrating using ordered sequences of linearised tree-level ideoplast arrays to express higher-order metaphor functors that show the existence of nontrivial toposophic hierarchies in pre-S1 societies, and strive to ensure that your 37% augmented descendants have sufficient semantic instantiation at their transcoding.

Whatever part of a fear that modern life is without “meaning” does not come from neurotransmitter uptake malfunction (and Weber’s fear did come from neurotransmitter uptake malfunction) is orthogonal to all the big issues of physical and information technology. Post-industrial life is no less “authentic” than the agricultural life of Tolstoy’s serfs or, indeed, the hunting-and-gathering life of the first Cro-Magnon generations to spill out of Africa. If you want to say that there is a style of human life–a level of physical and information technologies and patterns of activity–that we were meant to have–you have to go all the way back to the hand axe and the burning brand.