Loosemore's Collected Writings on SL4 - Part 11 - end

From: Richard Loosemore (rpwl@lightlink.com)
Date: Sat Aug 26 2006 - 20:40:12 MDT

[begin part 11]

* *
* What Happens When Humans are Not Perfectly Rational? (3) *
* *

Ben Goertzel wrote:
> Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote:
>> Consider a regular six-sided die with four green faces
>> and two red faces. The die will be rolled 20 times and
>> the sequence of greens (G) and reds (R) will be recorded.
>> You are asked to select one sequence, from a set of three,
>> and you will win $25 if the sequence you chose appears on
>> successive rolls of the die. Please check the sequence of
>> greens and reds on which you prefer to bet.
>> **
>> Obviously, 65% of the undergraduates in this study,
>> betting real money, chose to bet on (2) over (1) because
>> of conversational implicature prototyping ecological
>> triggering mechanisms. I'm sure they wouldn't have made
>> the same mistake if only the instructions had been
>> written in blue ink.
> Indeed, there's no conversational
> implicature here, and this error may well be pure
> inferential stupidity. (One could try to argue that
> there is a connections with what kinds of patterns
> are most commonly observed in nature... but I don't
> see quite how at the moment...). It seems people are
> just reasoning something stupid like "Evenly balanced
> sequences are more likely"
> However, some inferential errors may well be partly
> or largely caused by conversational implicature and
> other such factors...
> One of the beautiful things about us humans is
> that we have soooo many different ways of being
> stupid, with so many different causes ;-)
> Ben

I am just a little stunned at the two comments above (Eliezer's sarcasm,
and then your partial agreement that this cannot be explained except by
pure inferential stupidity).

Stunned, because I am amazed at the inferential(?) stupidity that allows
two AGI researchers to look at this experiment and not be able to see
any factors that could have been involved. [NOTE: I use the word
"stupidity," of course, not to get personal :-) , but just as a
rhetorical invitation for you to contrast and compare, if you will, your
own response to the experiment to the subjects' responses].

So here goes.

First, when subjects turn up to do experiments in psychologists' labs,
all kinds of junk is going through their heads. One of the main things
is that, as you know, the general population has some pretty weird ideas
about what psychology actually is, and what the researchers are up to. A
lot of the time, I think, they view the experiment as some kind of test
or competition between them and the experimenter, and they have to
'prove' themselves smart in the experimenter's eyes. This, if nothing
else, lends an element of stress in even the most relaxed of settings.

Second, the experimenter cannot answer questions (often), so if the
subject reads the instructions and cannot understand them, they are
supposed to do their best to interpret them. I don't know if
clarification questions were allowed in the above experiment. Do you? I
suspect they were not.

Third, subjects are often hunting for "the" way to solve the problem set
to them. For whatever reason, they assume that it would somehow be
tricky or deceitful if the experimenter set them problems that require
them to deploy more than one strategy. So if they find one obvious
strategy, they go with that.

Fourth, when they are given instructions by the experimenter (like
"Relax and take your time, because it does not matter"), they sometimes
(and perhaps frequently) appear to disregard some of the instructions
(so they hear the experimenter tell them to take their time, but they
believe that the experimenter is secretly measuring the time it takes
them, anyway).

Fifth, when the wording contains any element of ambiguity whatsoever
(and sometimes ambiguity can be forced by the time constraints of the
experiment, and not be at all obvious when we, at our leisure, read the
instructions afterwards), they try to construct a model of what the
experimenter is probably trying to get them to do, to help them resolve
their confusion.

Sixth, the experimental materials can easily contain confusing features
that nobody ever discovers. (Such damaging features are discovered so
often in the years after an experiment is published, without ever being
noticed by the original experimenters, that it makes you wonder just how
much effort anyone ever takes to analyze possible problems with a design
before they go ahead and do it).

You're beginning to get the picture, I'm sure.

So in the case of the above experiment, I had forgotten the punchline of
the experiment, so I looked at it and did it on the spot.

Hey presto: my first answer was (2)!

Why? Because, even though I had been primed by all the Conjunction
Fallacy stuff in the last week, I completely forgot to notice that the
the first string was shorter than the other two (perhaps because all the
RRRR strings misled my eye, in the way that you may, depending on your
mail client, have had your own eye misled earlier in this sentence). And
on the other hand I did notice (because I had been primed by the only
relevant information given in the instructions) that there were
differences between the proportions of Gs and Rs in the three strings. I
was also rushing because I felt some urgency to prove to myself that I
could polish it off quickly.

Well well well. I am stupid and irrational, apparently! And there is no
other explanation for my (or the subjects') behavior: it really cannot
be anything except irrational stupidity.

Some of the troubling little factors I catalogued above are matters of
good experimental design, but some of them are just so embarrassing to
the entire psychological community that they are ignored. I mean, if
*all* subjects come to your lab trying to second guess your intentions,
no matter what you say to them, what the hell do you do? Give up being
an experimental psychologist? Of course not: you agree with all the
other psychologists to overlook the problems (at least, if your name is
not Gibson), and say that it will all come out in the wash.

These are some of the reasons why the conclusions derived from
experiments like these (and the other several hundred in the literature)
don't merit the kind of most-humans-are-irrational triumphalism that I
see around this list all too often. To say nothing of the kind of silly
sarcasm that only seems to demonstrate a complete ignorance of both the
complexity of experimental design and the implications that that has for
the robustness of conclusions derived from experiments.

[And YES YES YES, if you could somehow do the impossible and eliminate
all the factors I just mentioned (you would have to at least draw the
subject's attention to the fact that the first string is shorter than
the others (*)), I know that we are still going to get an interesting
(but reduced) percentage of people who simply cannot relate the length
of the string to the probability of getting the string to come up. But
in that case see my parallel arguments in the other post, which still

If either of you were actually speaking to a more robust version of the
above experimental design, when you assessed the implications in your
comments above, then let me know. If you were, that would have been a
little sneaky, no?, because that really was not the experimental
protocol that was quoted, and I, poor fool, have referenced that
particular protocol in my example and not wasted a day chasing through
the literature looking for other, more sophisticated versions of the
design that eliminated ALL of the above issues (never learn, do I? :-)).

  Richard Loosemore.

(*) Make the subject take part in an example session in which a bunch of
pseudo subjects take different positions (some of them betting on the
short sequences), and give the subject the opportunity to observe a few
cases where someone else goes for a short sequence that is identical to
their own sequence up to that point, but in which the subject doesn't
get the $25 payout (while of course the other person does) and instead
have to wait for one more roll of the dice to see if they win. Watch
their face after that situation comes up (just for fun), and then later
give them the real test. I bet $25 that after that, the number of
stupid-irrationals goes down by a factor of two, at least. Maybe even
eliminate the effect. Doesn't prove a lot, except the sensitivity of the
experiment to factors other than inherent stupidity - which latter ought
to be constant, no?

[end part 11]

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