No savant has ever been known to become a “Big-C creator,” who changed their field

Wednesday, December 11th, 2019

When we know the rules and answers, and they don’t change over time — chess, golf, playing classical music — an argument can be made for savant-like hyperspecialized practice from day one, David Epstein argues (in Range), but those are poor models of most things humans want to learn:

Chris Argyris, who helped create the Yale School of Management, noted the danger of treating the wicked world as if it is kind. He studied high-powered consultants from top business schools for fifteen years, and saw that they did really well on business school problems that were well defined and quickly assessed. But they employed what Argyris called single-loop learning, the kind that favors the first familiar solution that comes to mind. Whenever those solutions went wrong, the consultant usually got defensive. Argyris found their “brittle personalities” particularly surprising given that “the essence of their job is to teach others how to do things differently.”

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Psychologist Barry Schwartz demonstrated a similar, learned inflexibility among experienced practitioners when he gave college students a logic puzzle that involved hitting switches to turn light bulbs on and off in sequence, and that they could play over and over. It could be solved in seventy different ways, with a tiny money reward for each success. The students were not given any rules, and so had to proceed by trial and error.* If a student found a solution, they repeated it over and over to get more money, even if they had no idea why it worked. Later on, new students were added, and all were now asked to discover the general rule of all solutions. Incredibly, every student who was brand-new to the puzzle discovered the rule for all seventy solutions, while only one of the students who had been getting rewarded for a single solution did. The subtitle of Schwartz’s paper: “How Not to Teach People to Discover Rules”—that is, by providing rewards for repetitive short-term success with a narrow range of solutions.

[...]

As psychologist Ellen Winner, one of the foremost authorities on gifted children, noted, no savant has ever been known to become a “Big-C creator,” who changed their field.

[...]

When experienced accountants were asked in a study to use a new tax law for deductions that replaced a previous one, they did worse than novices.

Comments

  1. Harry Jones says:

    It’s all well and good until they move your cheese.

    The trouble with learning is it takes time and effort, and usually a lot of money, too. You pay all that cost up front and then you think you’ve bought your meal ticket. No one tells you you’ve only rented it.

    Why shouldn’t they be brittle? Somebody moved their cheese on them for no discernable reason, and now they have to start from scratch.

    “Who moved my cheese” should not be a rhetorical question. Because cheese being moved makes life grossly inefficient. it is churn. It is wasteful.

  2. Kirk says:

    Ah, but I have to point out to you, Harry, that it’s not some nefarious arsehole of ill intent going around moving the cheese on us all–It’s the universe itself, which is capricious, unpredictable, and entirely malevolent.

    A lot of this goes into the root problem for a lot of us: We’re taught and trained in imperfect ways to evaluate a lot of what we experience in life. The “Crisis of Reproducibility” isn’t coming out of nowhere, it’s a feature of the Universe and our imperfect way of seeking to understand it. Garbage In=Garbage Out.

    It’s not a question of moved cheese; instead, it is a question of the cheese itself not even being cheese, and that the position of it was imperfectly recorded in the first damn place.

  3. Graham says:

    Ooh! Schrodinger’s Cheese.

    Bet it tastes sour.

  4. Graham says:

    More seriously, I can see both points.

    The universe or its localized manifestations are always testing us and its worthwhile being prepared. A training regimen of frequent change with that goal in mind is worthwhile.

    A society of people infatuated with Change for its own sake and doing it daily for moral uplift is just tiresome. Of course, the uplift is a cover story for self-interest, but still.

    I had a colleague once whom I called the Agent of Change. Wonderful woman. But wow. Really loved change.

  5. Harry Jones says:

    The universe being capricious will do nicely as a null hypothesis. As a philosophical stance, it leaves much to be desired.

    At first, second and third glance, deterministic chaos is indistinguishable from true randomness. The only distinction that matters is: can you figure out how to predict a thing if you try hard enough?

    Because if you can, you can perhaps get off the treadmill of repeated single loop retraining.

  6. David Foster says:

    “No savant has ever been known to become a “Big-C creator,” who changed their field.”

    This is a weird sentence structure. It could be read as saying that people who change from one field to another never become “Big-C creators”, whatever those are. Or it could be read to mean that “savants” never become Big-C creators.

  7. Harry Jones says:

    When I see the word “savant” I think “idiot savant” with the “idiot” part de-emphasized.

    It’s a mistake to be over-specialized. You get blindsided by what you weren’t trained to see coming. But more to the point: you won’t see opportunities that you weren’t trained to look for and recognize.

    The only way to be excellent at something is to be so obsessed with it that you neglect all else. At that price, excellence is not necessarily worth it. Better to be good enough at everything that matters.

    Some problems can only be solved by thinking outside the box. Breakthroughs are outside the box. Beware the box. It limits you. It blinds you.

  8. Long says:

    “providing rewards for repetitive short-term success with a narrow range of solutions”

    That sounds like an excellent summary of Dungeons & Dragons, as well as many computer games.

    “it’s not some nefarious arsehole of ill intent going around moving the cheese on us all–It’s the universe itself, which is capricious, unpredictable, and entirely malevolent.”

    No, I think it’s not just one nefarious arsehole, it’s a lot of nefarious arseholes, most of whom have high net worth and work for think tanks, banks, government agencies.

    The rich move the cheese of middle-class workers so that the rich don’t have competition. That’s why middle class life evades so many hardworking college graduates. Work hard, obey the rules, and some McKinsey white-collar criminal will move your cheese and guarantee that you suffer long and die broke.

  9. Bruce says:

    “no savant has ever been known to become a Big-C Creator who changed their field”

    This might be the reason the Napoleonic Code works- Napoleon didn’t know that much law, didn’t pretend to, did know some law, did have a very wide experience to draw on and enough clout to make the legal savants listen.

  10. Rodney Jean says:

    How about Mozart?

  11. Kirk says:

    “The rich move the cheese of middle-class workers so that the rich don’t have competition. That’s why middle class life evades so many hardworking college graduates. Work hard, obey the rules, and some McKinsey white-collar criminal will move your cheese and guarantee that you suffer long and die broke.”

    LOL… The paranoid delusion is strong. You want to blame an outside agency for your own stupidity in buying into the shell game, never having taken the time to evaluate the reality of it all before taking part in it.

    Of course you’re a victim of the three-card monte shyster–You never stopped to observe or think through what you were seeing. You just wandered into the back of the crowd, and did what everyone else was doing, and then when all you idiots got swindled, you’re outraged. You’ve been feckless victims since the beginning, willing partners in your own course of self-destruction.

    Only an idiot would look at the shifty game that the academics have played out for the last century-plus, and not cotton onto the essential facts of the swindle. Have you not met the product of these institutions, and noted their essential lack of the “education” they were supposed to have received?

    My grandmother had to pass Latin and Greek to leave high school back before 1920; I barely had to prove I could write and spell in English. What does that tell you? My Great-uncle left Stanford with a degree in petroleum engineering during the 1920s, and was a man of refined erudition; he could discuss the finer points of Greek mythology as well as he could lay out an oilfield. Today’s equivalent? A narrowly-trained ignoramus, with no grounding in the basics of the Western Canon.

    This is not accidental. And, having failed to note all of this, if you still bought into the cheapened and demeaned product they were selling you…? You’re a fool. They haven’t been educating people in this country since at least the 1960s, and the death of the intellect was apparent even then.

    I hear people make similar complaints, but it’s a lot like hearing the girl who wrote the man in prison for rape complaining about how he raped her upon his release and their meeting in the real world. What the hell were you expecting?

    I read posts like this, and I’m suddenly enlightened as to how it is that the Nigerian scams still go on; people are actually too stupid to grasp when they’re being swindled.

  12. Harry Jones says:

    Here’s my one all-purpose conspiracy theory: everyone is out for himself and his tribe, and anyone who says he isn’t is a liar.

    Who moves the cheese? Anyone and everyone who can move the cheese. It all adds up to Brownian motion of the cheese. The best you can do is notice who’s in charge of the cheese at the moment and watch closely.

    And try to control the cheese yourself. Why not take your shot? Even if only to keep it from moving.

    Master the cheese.

  13. Graham says:

    What I was getting at here:

    “The universe or its localized manifestations are always testing us and its worthwhile being prepared. A training regimen of frequent change with that goal in mind is worthwhile.”

    is exactly that the universe’s complexity is of sufficient breadth and depth that it will likely always challenge and, not always but very frequently, will overcome us. Training that emphasizes complexity and change will more likely prepare humans to find patterns where they can through not being flummoxed by the complexity.

    The universe doesn’t have to be truly random, let alone capricious [I was not intending to imply consciousness], for that. El Capitan can test one’s climbing abilities, and its weather patterns can test them in variable ways, without the need of caprice or any other form of will or intent.

    Or more succinctly, I was supporting the generalist position as a superior means of attaining maximum readiness.

  14. Graham says:

    Kirk,

    You really left me torn on that one.

    On one hand-

    - Pop culture from the fifties on [or before] has often featured the naive working class man always on the make, seeking the quick fix, the fast buck, the sure thing, the hot tip, and always getting ripped off by a con, or the workings of the stock market [arbitrary distinction perhaps] or just in too late to get out profitably, or similar outcomes. The archetype was so powerful that it was half the personality of Fred Flintstone in the cartoons. I grew up wondering how anyone could be so stupid as to think these big, sudden strike it rich moments were a life strategy.

    Or to put it in the words of an old saying I didn’t get as a kid, “You can’t con an honest man”. I didn’t realize the definition of honest in use was broader than now, and implied, not seeking unearned reward.

    -And I see your point about the larger structural features of modern society, and beyond just the US.

    -On the other hand, the more embedded these things are, the less one can expect to see all the traps, and the fewer alternatives exist. That’s where politics comes in, in the broadest sense.

    Exactly where the lines are between avoidable personal stupidity and unavoidable structural limits, I’m not so sure. I don’t want to expect too much of people in terms of social observation and foresight.

  15. Kirk says:

    Graham, the old saw about “You can’t cheat an honest man…” is a truism that ought to be extended a hell of a lot further. Perhaps something like “You can’t exploit a man with integrity”.

    The root problem in all of it is the falsity, the desire for the easy path: Everyone wants the Royal Road to fame, fortune, and a wonderful life. The reality is that there’s not a lot of any of those things to be found along the easy path, and what there is to be found is more often Fool’s Gold rather than bullion.

    You can live a life like the ninety percent who go along for the ride, never thinking about what they are doing, never spending a moment in introspection. At some point, you’re going to have that epiphany, and then realize you’re fundamentally unhappy with your life–And, who is to blame? The “system”, or the “you” of your youth, that did not pause to consider the implications of it all? If you fail to note the bear trap, whose fault is it? The trapper, or you for not seeing it there, in the middle of your path?

    A lot of this reminds me of dealing with some of my troops who would go downtown and buy their used cars for exorbitant prices with outrageous interest rates, and then come back to complain that they’d been cheated, robbed, I tell you!!–After having ignored good advice about the pitfalls and having ignored them all, because they “knew better”.

    Same-same with the idiot kids who go off to college, and lock themselves into wage slavery for life: You point out the essential flaw in getting a degree without real direction or purpose, and they ignore you, blithely signing away their futures on the dotted line. What are you to do, when they won’t listen, or think for themselves?

    Ninety-nine percent of this misery is self-inflicted due to an utter lack of foresight or consideration. My sympathies are not with any of these people, at all.

  16. CVLR says:

    Kirk, most people conform. The economy is centralized and regulated and there are few classes of good jobs open to the uncredentialed. Most are not competent to become petit bourgeois. All of their friends are signing on the dotted line, and all of their elders are insistent that they must.

    You claim that an honest man cannot be cheated. But the truth is somewhat different, and that difference produces an inversion of reality vis-à-vis your claims.

    An honest man cannot be cheated in an honest system.

    Do we have an honest system?

    It is the dishonest man who cannot be cheated in a dishonest system.

  17. CVLR says:

    *In a dishonest system, it is the dishonest man who cannot be cheated.

  18. CVLR says:

    Here’s my one all-purpose conspiracy theory: everyone is out for himself and his tribe, and anyone who says he isn’t is a liar.

    Who moves the cheese? Anyone and everyone who can move the cheese. It all adds up to Brownian motion of the cheese. The best you can do is notice who’s in charge of the cheese at the moment and watch closely.

    And try to control the cheese yourself. Why not take your shot? Even if only to keep it from moving.

    Master the cheese.

    Yeeeeeees….

  19. Graham says:

    When I was a kid, my failure to understand that aphorism was that I assumed “honest” meant some combination of not wanting to steal or cheat others. I couldn’t figure out how some of the cons that seemed to involve “found money” required the mark to be considered “dishonest”.

    Stupid, sure, in the important sense that one ought to see immediately it’s a con. But dishonest? No.

    Similarly, the scenario with the hot stock tip. I can understand instinctively that those stories required the character to be basically stupid or, at least, unaware of the way things work.

    Something like, the dumb or uninitiated think it’s all about getting “hot tips” without knowing anything about either the business or the market conditions, or indeed any reason to think the person passing on the tip has any kind of knowledge. So, accepting information as valid without knowing any context or any ability to evaluate the source. The smarter people went for brokers and spreading investments around and doing some homework [here the middle class struggles to break even]. The really smart ones know it’s really about hot tips and insider knowledge after all, but the kind that comes from credible sources, is backed up by wealth managers, and involves spreading one’s existing assets around so as to manage risk. They can still get burned, but they aren’t playing Fred Flintstone’s game.

    But the failures of the Flintstone approach might have seemed lazy and stupid, but still not dishonest.

    I can’t remember how old I was when it suddenly seemed clear to me that the definition of dishonest being used included not seeking an unearned fast buck. I concede that from the point of view of that ethical system, I am still flawed in that I can’t quite see anything that doesn’t involve stealing or cheating as “dishonest”. My grandfather probably would get intuitively what I have to apply consciously.

    Of course, the people really succeeding in many fields have to be consciously dishonest in every sense, but there you go.

    Perhaps for me it’s a matter of language. I don’t really want an unearned buck either, but I am comfortable enough to say that without worrying about my next meal, and I’m conscious of that sentiment on my part being as much about pride or vanity, respectively a valid but dangerous and a questionable state of mind, as about integrity let alone honesty.

  20. Graham says:

    On a lighter note, I appreciate the many calls out to “Who Moved My Cheese”?

    I have that book and it’s catchphrase in my head all the time during frequent periods of unnecessary turmoil at work.

    Also, whenever anyone moves my actual cheese in the office fridge. This actually happens.

  21. Kirk says:

    “An honest man cannot be cheated in an honest system.

    Do we have an honest system?”

    The “system” is a figment of the delusional imagination. Show me where the universe signs a contract with you that things are “just so”, and I will agree with you that there is any such thing as a “system”. Until then, forget about it–The “system” you so humorously believe in and refer to is about as real as the gods of Greek mythology.

    The root problem for most is that you’re buying into a worldview based on what you’ve been told, trusting that those who do the telling are telling you those things out of sheerest altruism. And, ohbytheway, that they’re right…

    The “system” that people are so delusively certain of existing is nothing more than an ephemeral set of conditions that they have generally imperfectly understood–Will any of those bleating about the “system” being corrupt still be doing so after the Sweet Meteor of Doom comes down like Chicxulub’s nemesis and wipes the slate clean? Will there be any sign that that “system” still exists after such an event?

    This salient feature would argue that no, there is no such system, and that the attempt to impose the viewpoint that such a thing exists upon the facts of reality is essentially a failure. The world is what it is, not what the map says it is–And, my friends, that “system” is a metaphoric map of reality, not reality itself. Failure to comprehend that fact is the problem, not the various “cheats”.

    This is why I say it’s more accurate to talk about the man of integrity and clarity than it is the “honest” man–You can’t get swindled when you’re aware of the inherent unreality of the game around you. So long as you keep the “game” aspect of the whole thing in mind, it is impossible to be “taken” by other game players. There is still the underlying reality of nature, red in tooth and claw, lurking underneath it all. What does the “reality” of the stock market mean, in the grand scheme of things, were we to be swatted out of existence by some extra-solar intruder we don’t even observe before it hits?

    Does anyone give a flying fuck what the palace intrigues were, at Knossos? Who the profiteers were, in their markets? Who lied to whom, about which marital infidelities? At this remove, is it anything other than fodder for a game of Trivial Pursuit, knowing what transpired before the eruption of Thera?

  22. Graham says:

    That’s a clarifying way of looking at it — less a “system” set up to benefit some over others than a set of conditions some start off better equipped by nature or resources to interpret, navigate, and shape to their advantage in future. Occasionally some who started off more endowed by nature and less endowed with resources manage to navigate their way faster or higher, or to break some element of conditions into a new shape that benefits them.

    These are admirable men and I wish I was more of such a one.

    On the other hand, there’s the guys who manage to just live for pleasure and irresponsibly leave unspecified numbers of genetic legacies to play the game in the next round.

    These are admirable in their own peculiar way.

    Then there’s Woody Harrelson’s pirate radio conspiracy theorist in the movie 2012:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4BOqH3-yrU

    and standing on the lip of the Yellowstone supervolcano at the end of the world, revelling in it:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1Kbym7WYzs

    Woody the Bartender from Cheers, Existentialist Hero of the Apocalypse.

    You inspire me to hope that some ancient Cretan was standing on the lips of Thera similarly glorying in the end of his world. Sometimes you really just have to bow to the spectacle of events.

  23. Kirk says:

    Graham, it’s all a dance with chaos. The conditions which we mistakenly think are “systemic” in nature are really not so; they are mere ephemera. You may be very good at playing chess, but when the gamemaster says “Now, we play Go…”, you’re more than likely fucked–Because you don’t know the rules of the game, let alone the tactics and strategies to win it.

    The true nature of things is something we need to recognize; take someone like Steve Jobs, and dump him into the Serengeti of the late Paleolithic era. Does he somehow recreate Apple in that environment? Does he even survive?

    Likewise, snatch up Ug, a most successful Paleolithic hunter from the Serengeti, and put his ass in charge of the boardroom at Apple: Does he take the iPhone to commercial success, or does he wind up deposed and living homeless on the street, trying to fit himself and his template of the world into the realities of modern Palo Alto?

    You have to recognize that the whole of everything is basically chaos; you have to dance with the conditions of the day, and the ability to do so is what marks the truly successful man. The Admirable Crichton trope is something to keep in mind; in English society, Crichton was a mere butler while on the island, his talents inevitably led him to being the top male in the hierarchy. This speaks to the essential nature of the issue at hand–It’s not a question of virtue, it’s a question of whether or not you’re adapted to the situation at hand. In one environment, you’re ideally suited to conditions, working your way up the hierarchical cursus honorum with sublime ease; in another, you’re barely able to function.

    Break the structure of the game, and see if you can still come out on top. If you can’t, then the sad fact is that you’re just really good at playing that particular game.

  24. CVLR says:

    Kirk,

    The “contract” into which you are born is not with “the universe” but with your elders, whom you presume to be just, fair, honest, and so on. In short, with whom you share vital interests, and so expect to reap the natural rewards of mutual interest.

    A systematic government is an elaboration of tribal government, and the substance remains the same as the forms evolve: education, border control, adjudication of crime, regulation of reproduction, and so on. In systematisation there is pathologisation, and the degree and intensity of the pathologisation is remembered by future peoples as “golden” or “dark” ages.

    In denying the system you deny what it is to be human. The system isn’t fake, and it isn’t a game. The system is real; the system is very real; the system is hyperreal. It’s what your cerebral cortex evolved to do. Time compresses, swirls, and if you’re a poor swimmer, expect to catch a bullet. The Good Chairman said that power grew from the barrel of a gun, but he was self-deprecating.

    I “watch” as few moving pictures as practically possible, but I’ve subjected myself to a few, and occasionally there are shining moments of brilliance. Here are two from a television show prior to its running out of high-IQ material:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxlIraEV8n4

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMLa4IeFKHM

    Those are lies also, but if you want to know why you’ll have to figure it out for yourself.

    But Donald J. Trump is without question the greatest PR man that has ever lived, that I can tell you.

  25. Harry Jones says:

    Any given system is real so long as it exists. But no system exists forever. Make your grudging peace with the god of the here-and-now, prince of this world, but don’t mistake him for Jehovah.

    Burning, burning, all is burning.

  26. Kirk says:

    Tell me, CVLR, where do I go when the “elders” renege on their supposed “contract”? What happens when the meteor strikes, and they are no longer able to either uphold the terms of the contract? Who do I sue for breach of this “contract”?

    There is no “contract”, there is no higher power to appeal to, when someone doesn’t keep it. Thus, there is no contract, except in the minds of the delusional.

    You want to impose an order on things that is simply impossible in a vast uncaring universe with no authority you can appeal to. Whether or not the God-concept is real, the games we play do not appear to influence him much, or all the dead from all our wars with each other would have had their desperate appeals granted–Or, at least, an appreciable fraction of them would have.

    The fact is that the universe is chaos personified; you either dance with it, or you die. No promises are kept, between man and universe, because none were ever made. Except, again, in the minds of the delusional who look up into the night sky and see deity. We need to be able to do that, or we go mad, but it’s madness itself to do so without keeping a weather eye firmly fixed on the chaotic morass around us. Life is largely an aberrant process, running against the laws of thermodynamics. Treasure what you have of it, but maintain awareness that you and yours exist in a cosmic eddy, off the main channel of entropy, running backwards against the flow of the totality of it all.

    To even hypothesize the “contract” is to lie to yourself about it all. Today, you’re an investment banker along the Puget Sound, well-compensated by the universe for your skill and talents. Tomorrow, after the next iteration of the Cascadia Subduction Fault, you are reduced to the stone age, living among the rubble of your vaunted civilization, fending off the starving hordes of what were once your fellow domesticates, living the life your ancestors abandoned. Will you be able to survive? Or, will your adaptation to the here-and-now be what kills you, as you persist in believing in your fantasies about “social contract”?

    Conditions change. Environments change. If you think there’s some contract that promises you anything, you’re unlikely to survive those paradigm shifts, when they come. You likely won’t even recognize them, having framed your worldview around this idea of “contract”, when the reality is that the universe promises nothing, offers nothing, and will give you nothing when appealed to.

  27. Bruce says:

    ‘You can’t cheat an honest man’ is what con men say to cow their victims afterwards.

  28. Kirk says:

    An honest man never listens to the siren call of the con man in the first place, because he knows there is no such thing as a truly free lunch.

    The waily-waily-woe types never recognize the fundamental flaw in their own worldview; when they talk about being tricked by the genie they set free from the bottle, they fail to grasp that the essential lesson of that myth is not that genies are untrustworthy, but that they aren’t owed a damn thing by the genie in the first damn place. It’s like the essential lesson of Chris Rock, when talking about how boastful inner-city black men are about “taking care of their kids”. Motherfucker, that’s what you’re supposed to be doing as a decent human being–Asking for praise because you conformed to the lowest common denominator thing? What the hell does that say about you?

    You find an imprisoned entity, your first question ought not to be “How do I profit from this…?”, and instead, ask the question of “Why is this creature trapped here, and should I free it without knowing the true nature of it?”. Once you decide to free that genie, it owes you nothing, because all you’ve done is behave like a decent human being instead of a slavemaster. Should you demand some favor? Are you “owed”, because you did a good thing, and set someone free from a prison? No; you should not.

    Making mockery of the idea of an “honest man” not being susceptible to the con man is self-contempt. A virtuous man knows that there is a game being played around him, and will not fall prey to the wiles of the game-player. If he does decide to participate, he does so knowingly, and limits his exposure accordingly–Leaving the con man to glean only the most minimal profit from the exchange.

  29. CVLR says:

    Kirk, I’ve given you the evolutionary explanation for why people follow the rules: they follow the rules because their ancestors survived (thrived) by following the rules.

    It doesn’t matter what the rules are.

    It doesn’t matter if there’s an asteroid impact like clockwork every ten thousand years that wipes out 99% of everyone following the rules; in the interim, those who follow the rules who wipe out those not following the rules.

    This is the story of financialists vs. industrialists vs. agriculturalists vs. nomad-pastoralists vs. hunter-gatherers.

    Your hypothetical investment banker, if he survives the initial churn, is likely to do quite well. He’s smart and probably fairly charismatic, and, being smart and fairly charismatic, is probably pretty adaptable.

    In general, people are a lot more adaptable than you seem to think. If there were a zombie apocalypse tomorrow, people wouldn’t be wandering in a perpetual emotional daze as portrayed by that television series, The Walking Dead. They’d be overwhelmed for a few weeks to a couple of months, and then they’d be fine. They’d wake up in the morning, go to breakfast, and stab a few zombies in the head on the way there. No big deal.

    You can ridicule the existence of a “contract” as much as you like, but something of that approximate description exists whether you like it or not. It’s baked in. It’s why you can turn your back on someone and reasonably expect not to have your throat slit. And where there’s no law it’s solved by an ad hoc band of people hunting down the psychopath. States arrogate the justice power to themselves and call it “vigilantism”, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still there, lurking deep in the code, just waiting to break out and roam free.

  30. Kirk says:

    CVLR–That you frame your relationship to the totality of it all as being some sort of contractual relationship says all that needs to be said. Your thinking is delusional, because the way you view the universe implies a set of rules that simply do not exist anywhere outside your imagination. The universe owes you nothing–Not even a clearly stated set of conditions for you to live under.

    You think you have a handle on things, as evidenced by this laughable notion of “contract”, while the reality is that you’re merely playing make-believe with yourself–You think you “understand” things, based on what you’ve experienced and learned, but the reality is that you’re only going along on a purely subjective set of assumptions based on what you think.

    You can’t ever forget that you are, in essence, merely an ephemeral ball of neurons taking in “reality” through highly suspect and unreliable senses. You think you see things, but what you are really observing are the shadows on Plato’s walls. How do you know that you’re not a sprite in someone else’s video game?

    This being the case, you have to maintain a position that can adapt to change in the apparent universe around you, and constantly evaluate your assumptions over and over again. You can rely on your wife and children loving you today, always to act in your best interests, but what happens should that change? Do you keep operating as though it were true, because it’s uncomfortable to think that other humans are frail and fickle creatures, unworthy of your reciprocal love and trust?

    Here’s the thing we all have to learn and grasp: What is true today, here-and-now, may not always be true. There are no hard-and-fast rules, no steady shores we can dock at forever and always, away from the storm. Today’s sheltering harbor may be tomorrow’s exposed and rocky shore, hammered by the waves and wind of reality.

    To even be able to conceive of such a thing as a “contract” in life, you have to possess a vast reservoir of naivete. Contracts are artifice personified, and you can’t contract with a natural force any more than you can bring God to court over a breach of your imaginary contract. That you can even frame it this way is telling, and not in a good way.

  31. CVLR says:

    Obviously you have a problem separating the man from the idea. If you re-read my words you won’t find anywhere I’ve expressed a personal opinion.

    I’m well aware that things can change dramatically in a very short period of time. I spend a nontrivial fraction of my time dedicated to thinking about it.

    But there are rules, and there are rules because there are limits.

    There are facts, truths, and patterns that are true in all times and all places. And there are facts, truths, and patterns that are true in most times and most places.

    Part of your argument, perhaps the core, perhaps not, is that the future can’t be predicted because nothing can be known. That is a claim which, once made explicit, is laid bare in its absurdity.

    We all act as though certain things will be true.

    * The sun will rise in the morning: check.
    * You will be able to rely on your municipal government to provide the electricity with which you charge your laptop: check.
    * Your dollar will be worth almost as much tomorrow as it was today: check.
    * Your house won’t be surrounded by zombies: check.
    * You will use your laptop to type out something reasonable: check.

    (Ordered in probability of coming true.)

    How do you know that you’re not a sprite in someone else’s video game?

    Elon Musk thinks that there’s a base reality. Does Christopher Langan?

  32. Kirk says:

    CVLR, I’m not the one framing things around the concept of some nutzo “contract” construct. That’s you–I have no expectations. If I wake up tomorrow, and the power has gone off because electricity quit working, I’m not going to go all angsty-waaaah about the situation, I’m just going to do what it takes to deal with it.

    That’s the difference: You’ve imposed expectations on the universe, with breathtaking arrogance. Do you think you’re God, to order things for your own convenience?

    The approach I take is less hubristic; things change, I’m going to observe, orientate, and deal with it. The fact that some imaginary regime of rules have been broken means nothing–All that is required is to perceive the nature of things, and respond accordingly. I really don’t care if the trucking industry collapses tomorrow due to aliens deciding to put an end to the internal combustion engine in order to save the atmosphere for the snail darter. I’m just going to adapt to the new set of circumstances, my outlook on the universe intact.

    I rather suspect that most men of your ilk are going to be staggered by the discovery that you didn’t really grasp the true nature of things, and the follow-on reaction is going to be an entirely immature whining about the unfairness of it all–”I just bought a new car!!”.

    This is the fundamental flaw in most people’s outlooks on the reality of the world around them–They marry those beliefs and expectations, thinking that because they have them, then that creates a reciprocal obligation on the part of the universe to honor them. ‘Tain’t so, my friends. It is what it is, and you need to recognize that fact.

    COL Rene Studler was a big believer in the .30 caliber concept of a big gun firing deliberate slow fire for the battlefield of the mid-20th Century. Turns out, he was wrong–And, when that fact was slapped into the face of his institution, instead of recognizing that their understanding of reality was inaccurate, they doubled-down on the stupidity, and wanted to have their brain-child, the SPIW replace the M14. Where did that get the American fighting man? Screwed, blued, and tattooed.

    In all things, you have to maintain an observation loop, an honest one: Do the conditions of the now match the conditions you planned your actions for, or should you change your actions because the conditions have changed?

    Grasping the nature of things is the essence of it all; you have to go into those observation loops without prejudice or expectation: What is really going on, and how can I understand it? How do I respond? Can I shift the trends by tweaking things I can control, such that the conditions themselves change?

    No, you start out thinking that there’s any such thing as a “contract”, you’re locking yourself into a mindset that is not going to help you survive outside the narrowly-confined understanding that you had when you first conceived of that contract in your mind. When you frame it that way, you’re failing to account for the facts of reality, which are that you cannot understand the full totality of things (not being God himself…), and that conditions change.

    Hell, I don’t even take the so-called “Fundamental Laws of Nature” for granted, because I strongly suspect that there are regions of our space-time continuum where they probably don’t obtain. If I observe things that give me reason to suspect that things I’ve counted on do not work, I’m not going to throw a temper-tantrum and go “REEEEEEE!!!! Universe isn’t working!!”. I’m just going to try to figure out what’s going on, and conform my actions to the new reality.

    Your mind is a tool. Use it. Don’t limit it by assuming that everything is “Just so…”, as you were taught at your grandmother’s feet. Things change, people change, and many of our fundamental assumptions turn out to be wrong, wrong, wrong…

  33. CVLR says:

    You’re not wrong, you’re just missing the point.

  34. Kirk says:

    What point do you have about this “contract” thing, then? You’re the one who persists in arguing for it.

  35. Bruce says:

    Kirk, I just wasted a half hour looking up Rene Studler. Thanks. Invented the US bazooka, our reckless rifles, interesting guy.

    But this stuff about virtuous men being immune to fraud? No. Not every con looks too good to be true.
    And if you defrauded someone, you’d say no one can defraud an honest man.

  36. CVLR says:

    Call it a “durable reciprocal relationship” then, I don’t give a damn.

    In your haste you’ve missed all of the interesting bits of my comments: evolutionary reasoning, spontaneity of order, hyperreality of the system.

    And you keep droning on about how nuthin’s relly reel, maaaaan.

    Individuals come and go but all act within behavioral parameters set by the system, grooves carved into reality itself.

    Who cuts the grooves?

  37. Kirk says:

    CVLR… Jesus. I just don’t know what it is with you, and your persistence in putting words into my mouth.

    The entire point of what I’m trying to get at is that there is no fucking “reciprocal relationship” with anything. You’re like a little kid who persists in playing with imaginary friends, and who anthropomorphizes all their little stuffed animals. It is insanity personified.

    What I’m getting at with all of this is that your supposed “relationships” with everything exist only within your inherently flawed understanding of the situation. You think that the universe has some obligation to you, when it doesn’t owe you a damn thing, ever, in any way whatsoever. You persist in thinking that even consistency is “owed” to you, and the reality is that your own understanding of things is what’s flawed. You think “A”, behave in consistency with that belief (because, that’s all it is…) and then discover that no, the reality is actually now “Q” after your behavior gets you killed.

    There are no hard and fast “rules”; what there is actually are a set of assumptions you’ve made about consistency and cause-and-effect. The point that I’m trying to communicate to you is that absent the God-like omniscience necessary to actually divine the true nature of things, you cannot be certain that you’ve gotten everything right about everything. In order to cope with the fact that you’re not God, you have to operate as though all that you know is more a tentative hypothesis than anything else, working from first principles whenever appropriate–And, fully cognizant that nothing is guaranteed.

    The point here is that anyone who is operating inside the mindset that there is a coherent overarching rationality to things, that there are such things as immutable “rules”, reciprocal relationships with the inanimate…? Well, they’re mentally deficient. There is nothing inherent to the nature of things that things must always be “just so”–And, operating as though they were is what gets us killed, and holds us back from recognizing when we are wrong about things.

    What I am trying to get across is that when you examine the truth of human history with regards to these things, we see case after case where the establishment “great minds” have created these shibboleth “just so” situations within their specialties–The examples in geology abound. J Harlen Bretz proposed that the channeled scablands of Central Washington represented the remnants of post-Ice Age flooding, and that there had been a vast inland lake that periodically drained, creating the scablands. This is now accepted by the mainstream, but when he first proposed it, it was a theory that they all hooted at, because it was not in accordance with the “contract” that the “authorities” had imagined they had going with reality. Same set of syndromes went on with continental drift–Another currently accepted understanding of reality.

    Bretz and others of his ilk were derided, because they did not accept and conform to the then-current understanding of reality. The men who opposed those ideas thought that they understood reality, and had contracted with it for their meals. Where’d that get them? Along comes Bretz, with an open mind and no expectations of this idea of a “contract”, and everything they “knew” was upended.

    The line from Men in Black spoken by Agent Kay comes to mind, despite the historical inaccuracies in it:

    “1500 years ago, everybody “knew” that the earth was the center of the universe. 500 years ago, everybody “knew” that the earth was flat. And 15 minutes ago, you “knew” that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll “know” tomorrow.”

    Keep thinking in terms of “reciprocal relationships” and “contract”, and shifts in your environment are going to kill you and/or leave you behind when you miss things of significance because they don’t fit into your understanding of what goes into your laughable “relationship” with the inanimate. There is no such thing, in any sense.

  38. CVLR says:

    OK, Boomer.

  39. CVLR says:

    If the YD impact hypothesis is right, and it probably is, Bretz was wrong.

    Just so you understand.

  40. Kirk says:

    You’re becoming laughable.

    So what if Bretz is proven wrong? I’m not married to the idea, and if something turns up tomorrow to disprove him, so be it.

    The problem is the inflexibility of thought and the dogmatic approach to everything that is typified by your construct of there being any such thing as a “contract” or this fantastic idea of “reciprocity” with the universe. Things are what they are, and they don’t have to conform to what you think they are or what your expectations are. The issue, I’m afraid, is with the observer. The underlying facts of the matter are still there, regardless of what interpretation you layer on over them.

    If you perceive things as they really are, then it’s damned hard to pull a swindle on you. Con artists exist in that shifting space in between “reality” and “perception”. If your perception includes the concept of some random Nigerian prince contacting you out of the blue with an offer worth millions…? You’re a likely victim. If, on the other hand, you evaluate what you know of the world, see that there is no service you could possibly offer someone which was worth that kind of money, then you’re going to reject the offer that the con artist makes you. It’s not necessarily a matter of greed or avarice; it’s a question of grasping the facts of a situation at hand, and then acting in accordance with that.

  41. CVLR says:

    Kirk, I have a lot of respect for a lot of things you have to say, but clearly you haven’t understood much of what I’ve said in this conversation.

  42. Kirk says:

    CVLR, frankly, I don’t think that YOU’VE understood much of what you’ve said in this conversation. You sure as hell haven’t understood a single thing or concept I’ve tried to get across.

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