Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Seven Blue Cards out of Ten

I'm a great follower of the rationalist communities over at Overcoming Bias and Less Wrong. I highly recommend those sites for anyone interested in how the human mind works, and just how much the workings of everyone's mind (yes, yours included, dear reader) is completely hidden from all but the most searching inquiry. I also find their brutally empiricist standards to be a healthy antidote for a lot of the shaky or just flat-out wrongheaded evo-psych "science" you find on pick-up sites.

This is some seriously dorky stuff, but it will basically save your life (and, perhaps, if the authors are to be believed, the lives of every human being on Earth). That's a bit tongue in cheek, so let me explain.

I have a lot to say about how rationality comes to bear in the world of sex and gender dynamics, so this is going to take me multiple posts to get it all out. But first, let me emphasize something: Rational does not mean unfeeling.

The pop-culture stereotype of a rational agent is someone who doesn't feel any emotion, like Spock from Star Trek. It pits the robot against the passionate lover and pretends they are opposite-behaving agents. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the true study of rationality, rationality is a tool that can be used by any agent, passionate or cold or otherwise.

Basically, the thrust of those websites, and of the thinkers on whom most of the content depends, is that rational agents should win. That is, if you have some logical-seeming, airtight-seeming theory, but data in the real world contradicts it, then your theory is wrong. No matter how pretty it might look on paper, if it doesn't work, that's it! End of story. Of course, this might sound pretty elementary to anyone who has studied science or the philosophy of science for even ten minutes. But it's remarkable how often people forget this simple and obvious point (yes, even scientists). Especially when it comes to affairs of the heart, people will cling to false beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence.

So then, according to this way of thinking, you must first decide what your goals are. Then you must examine your behavior: if it does not lead to your goals, then it is not rational behavior, no matter how pretty or complicated your "reasoning." Rationalization and Rationality are two different things.

Let's take an example of how easily humans get caught up in their pet theories when the proper answer is staring them right in the face, completely unnoticed.

I will quote wholesale from a post on Overcoming Bias, by Eliezer Yudkowsky:

From Robyn Dawes, Rational Choice in an Uncertain World:

"Many psychological experiments were conducted in the late 1950s and early 1960s in which subjects were asked to predict the outcome of an event that had a random component but yet had base-rate predictability - for example, subjects were asked to predict whether the next card the experiment turned over would be red or blue in a context in which 70% of the cards were blue, but in which the sequence of red and blue cards was totally random.

In such a situation, the strategy that will yield the highest proportion of success is to predict the more common event. For example, if 70% of the cards are blue, then predicting blue on every trial yields a 70% success rate.

What subjects tended to do instead, however, was match probabilities - that is, predict the more probable event with the relative frequency with which it occurred. For example, subjects tended to predict 70% of the time that the blue card would occur and 30% of the time that the red card would occur. Such a strategy yields a 58% success rate, because the subjects are correct 70% of the time when the blue card occurs (which happens with probability .70) and 30% of the time when the red card occurs (which happens with probability .30); .70 * .70 + .30 * .30 = .58.

In fact, subjects predict the more frequent event with a slightly higher probability than that with which it occurs, but do not come close to predicting its occurrence 100% of the time, even when they are paid for the accuracy of their predictions... For example, subjects who were paid a nickel for each correct prediction over a thousand trials... predicted [the more common event] 76% of the time."

(Dawes cites: Tversky, A. and Edwards, W. 1966. Information versus reward in binary choice. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 71, 680-683.)

Do not think that this experiment is about a minor flaw in gambling strategies. It compactly illustrates the most important idea in all of rationality.

Of this experiment Dawes goes on to say, "Despite feedback through a thousand trials, subjects cannot bring themselves to believe that the situation is one in which they cannot predict."

But the error must go deeper than that. Even if subjects think they've come up with a hypothesis, they don't have to actually bet on that prediction in order to test their hypothesis. They can say, "Now if this hypothesis is correct, the next card will be red" - and then just bet on blue.

I wouldn't fault a subject for continuing to invent hypotheses - how could they know the sequence is truly beyond their ability to predict? But I would fault a subject for betting on the guesses, when this wasn't necessary to gather information, and literally hundreds of earlier guesses had been disconfirmed.

[all emphasis in the original]

Master Dogen's comment: Always go in with your strongest game. There may be some women out there who were raised by wolves or unicorns or something. There may be some girls who have an upside-down X-chromosome, or a backwards vagina. But the vast majority of girls respond strongly to strong game.

This is not to suggest that you should approach all women the same. Of course there are thousands of little cues that tell you about a girl's unique character. Club hoes are different from art school chicks are different from born-again Christians. You should adapt your game to the girl, of course.

But some things should always be rock solid. Your body language, your belief in yourself, your posture, your social-outgoing nature, your positive vibes, your strong eye contact. Don't second-guess yourself on these things. There may actually be a few moments here and there in life where passive, mooky, whiny behavior wins you a girl (at least for a short while). In fact, I think it's a fleeting success along these lines that traps so many AFC's into trying it over and over. Well, that mix tape you made your sixth grade girlfriend doesn't go over so well anymore, Bunky.

If you meet a pretty girl who seems to show you a soft side, you may be tempted into thinking you found the one girl out there who doesn't need to be gamed. Don't fall for it! Whether you are just looking to knock boots, or you want to find the perfect girlfriend, you must always be aware of the deep lizard-brain motivations that rule all women. Your game may not always work, but it will work a hell of a lot better than randomly acting like a beta.

Sometimes life deals you a red card, but the true Master still guesses blue the next time around. This is a hard lesson for many people to learn. Read that sentence from the researchers above: "Despite feedback through a thousand trials, subjects cannot bring themselves to believe that the situation is one in which they cannot predict." Refusing to believe something in the face of overwhelming evidence isn't being tough; it's being retarded.

Don't be the fool who guesses red-blue-blue-blue-blue-red-blue-blue-red-blue, hoping to outguess the random. The man who wins — the rational agent — guesses "blue-blue-blue-blue-blue-blue-blue-blue," fully aware that a red card is going to flip up from time to time. Know which parts of the world you can control (your betting sequence, your posture), and which parts you cannot (the random red cards that show up, a girl's prior mood).

Be a rock; be rational. Win.


  1. VERY well put. This same question has consumed me as well. When something is random, trying to suss out a pattern from noise is retarded. I don't know how many people I've met who hold beliefs like "in three card stud a four is more likely to come up after an eight than a six." What the fuck? Is the concept of random that hard to grasp? What's wrong with these people? I've always been a probabilistic thinker and have striven for my behavior to be consistent with my knowledge. All else is folly.

    Also Rationalization and Rationality are two different things. is a critical distinction and one which so many seem to fail to make. Despite the same root these concepts are diametrically opposed.

    Keep them coming Dogen

  2. Of course the behavior of women isn't actually random. Ignorance exists in the mind, not in the environment; a blank map is not a blank territory. But it can be *random relative to your ability to predict*; your map there is effectively blank, even though the woman herself may in principle be predictable to a sufficiently powerful observing superintelligence, etc.

    Or so Dogen would appear to me to assert.

  3. But it's remarkable how often people forget this simple and obvious point (yes, even scientists). Especially when it comes to affairs of the heart, people will cling to false beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence.Here is an excerpt from a chat I just had this lunch. It will not be too hard to guess who is me, and who is the friend blocking out facts.

    "Sexual revolution should've killed prostitution"
    "you're kidding? its even worse with free sexuality. half the men will not get laid anyway"
    "why? sex is free now"
    "Free? Look, for example, in sweden 80% of the sexual encounters are shared by 20% of the men, the remaining 20% by the left over 80% of the men"
    "I dont believe that. How did they select the sample" (dumbfuck.. from your ass... look at your own life.. living in scandinavia and the last time you had sex was 2-3 years ago, and you are not one who chose chastity, or mgotw.)

    ... some time later

    "Another estimate is that 10% of the kids are not from the men who they know as fathers, and this is derived statistically from the fatherhood tests"
    "so how do they select the sample?.... how do they know it is similar across cultures?"

    ... some time later

    "Look, there is David Buss, there is evolutionary psychology, biology, genealogy, sociology, behavioral sciences and statistics, all backing this up" (also experiences of PUA's, who do what works, and report from the other side)
    "Come on, how can you translate human evolution into our civilized behavior?"

    Ok, you go on be civilized, enjoy the sexual revolution's once-per-three-years fuck, while I study and understand evolution and science, and look at the situation with uncivilized, open eyes, and then reap the benefits.
    Damn, dunno if I should get angry, or just shrug it off. Right now I am smirking to myself.

    So then, according to this way of thinking, you must first decide what your goals are. Then you must examine your behavior: if it does not lead to your goals, then it is not rational behavior, no matter how pretty or complicated your "reasoning." Rationalization and Rationality are two different things.AMEN

  4. Eliezer, if that's you, thanks for stopping by.

    Indeed, I am asserting what you have parsed here. To the degree that a woman's behavior is functionally random, one must play the odds.

    Of course, the irony here is that one of the central (and often controversial) assertions of blogs like this one is that women (and men, natch) are a LOT less functionally random than they would like to believe. That is, they are relatively predictable.

    But within that larger context of 70% blue predictability, yes, I assert the specific incidence of red might as well be random.

  5. my buddy always plows ahead. he is overt about his wants, expectations etc. he strikes out, but he is eliminating the women who aren't the type he wants. his game, the core of his approach is always the same.

  6. Fantastic post, Master Dogen!

    Funny, just yesterday I discussed Tversky and Kahneman with a buddy of mine. He exemplified the concept of "base rate". It's actually a great bar conversation:
    "Johnny is introverted, somewhat socially awkward and likes to read books at night. Is he more likely to be a farmer of a professor?"
    The correct answer is "farmer" since there are way more farmers than professors and even with only few of them matching that stereotype, the probability that Johnny is a farmer is still higher than him being a professor.

    I am an avid reader of Overcoming Bias, too. I should have added it to our sidebar long time ago.

    This little insight is a true nugget of gold:

    "Even if subjects think they've come up with a hypothesis, they don't have to actually bet on that prediction in order to test their hypothesis."
    We only look for confirmation of our beliefs. We hate cognitive dissonance. And this way we excel at failing to see the truth. It reminds me of the old Harry Hill joke:

    "It's only when you look at an ant through a magnifying glass on a sunny day you realize how often they burst into flames."

  7. "Master Dogen's comment: Always go in with your strongest game"This seems like a contradiction of:"I did not approach women with any agenda. I just wanted to have fun. And that worked like a charm."I'm confused.

  8. @Anonymous:

    no agenda != no game

  9. read this post only now.

    i agree by and large. but matching probabilities can serve a rational purpose: it balances exploration and exploitation. there is an extended literature on the explore/exploit tradeoff.

    maximizing outcome based on a single strategy restricts experience. simple example: you think doing X is dangerous, so you stop doing it altogether. but if you are wrong, you can never learn that you are wrong. a random element to one's choices is therefore desirable. if your model of the system you're interacting with is perfect, then you just pay a small price to continually confirm this. and if your model is not perfect (the more likely case in the real world), then you continually improve it.

    in the abstract game of red and blue cards, there is nothing to be learned except to stop trying to learn and maximize. but in the real world (and in particular with women), most of us still have a thing or two to learn.

    that said, i do agree that we can all stop going back to trying to get pussies wet by being nice and sweet. we know for a fact that this is universally unsuccessful. and if we do it still, it is a vain wish for that sweeter reality that has us acting against our better knowledge.

  10. According to some quick Googling and the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, in 2006, there were 1,672,000 postsecondary teachers in the United States and 859,000 agricultural workers.

    So, assuming Johnny is American, he really is more likely to be a professor than a farmer.


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