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Is there truth in victory?

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

[by Lynn C. Rees]

Things change. Beliefs don’t. Facing change, belief clings to the agreeable and resists the disagreeable. Current fashion names this reflex “confirmation bias” and frames it as the enemy of truth. Closer truth names this reflex “concentration of force” and portrays it as the friend of victory.

The notion that discovery of truth is an individual effort persists. By this notion’s curiously resilient lights, the only truthful mind is a blank mind. Purge existing beliefs. Capture change free of entanglements. Embrace blindness to see clearly. Above all, lean neither one way nor the other. Only then, after much trial, with the last mental debris bulldozed away, will light come.

No one thinks like this. Despite the occasional brave try, everyone reflexively favors things that fortify belief over things that undermine belief. If truth is a self-help exercise, the existence of confirmation bias means the mind is inescapably flawed. If truth is trial by self-improvement, the only cure for mind flaws is constant reinforcement of what human history suggests is impossible. And if reinforcing the impossible only leads to more impossibility, at least it leads to an impossibility redeemed by its righteous aggression.

And so it would be, if leaving a vacuum and calling it truth is truth. But if truth comes from group contortion rather than individual self-flagellation, confirmation bias is a feature, not a bug. Then the mind is not flawed, at least not in that way. If the mind was guilty of chronic confirmation bias, it would only be guilty of operating to spec.

Those who insist on convening a symposium for a full and frank exchange of views every time they come under fire rarely need a good retirement plan. Because of this, to enforce effectiveness under fire, Darwin decrees that the mind comes preloaded and then preloaded with live ammunition, not blanks. Beyond this, freedom to arbitrarily switch the caliber of mental ammunition mid-stream is sacrificed for clarity of supply: mind yields measured in thoughts per calorie rise when ideas are bought in bulk following spec, especially amid uncertainty in the field.

Because buying ideas in bulk creates economies of scale, if confirmation bias is bias confirmed then it is bias shared. At the tribal scale, where human routine plays out, bias shared is indistinguishable from agreement. It too is guilty of operating to spec: Agreement reduces friction. Reduced friction lets group efforts prioritize targets. Prioritized targets let group effort selectively focus. Selective focus creates opportunities for local asymmetries. Local asymmetries can be exploited to further the tribe.

This makes confirmation bias concentration of force. Concentration of force is biased, first in favor being very strong and then at the decisive point. But it is confirmed only when being very strong and then at the decisive point yields victory. Local superiority in strength at a decisive point is neither constant nor guaranteed: it is only guaranteed to not be constant. So the mind must stay on target: it earns its keep by concentrating for victory, not emptying for truth.

This explains why what humans experience as “me” is a social loop: it is a argument simulator for forging chatter into weapons through endless drill of imagined conversations. It’s a display device, not a thinking machine. The thinking machine lies deep in the mind: real thought emerges from offline processing, especially during sleep. Conscious “me” is suited to rehearsing if small variations in action lead to opportunity through asymmetry. These variations are what gets flung at others as weaponized chatter. Some variations stick, leading to victory. Some miss, leading to defeat. Some should only be flung if clearly labelled FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY.

Truth emerges from accumulations of such victories piled on mass burials of such defeats. It is an unintended byproduct, not an intended end product. But its emergence reaches back to shape its source. Generation by generation, the mind is doomed to more and more bias in favor of weaponized thought measured in victories confirmed, always subject to how well they fit, however haltingly, what is true.

So things change while beliefs don’t. Confirmed truth is biased toward victory and victory is biased toward agreements with friends to win something with something rather than lonely pursuit of nothing through nothing.

See the argumentative theory of reason for more background on this framework.

Some good news aka gospel

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — the Greek word for gospel, euangelion, literally means good news — these news items from the last month or so are good ]


  • Times of Israel, Hard to deny a Holocaust your father saved Jews from
  • Ha’Aretz, In one hard-knock British city, a secret Muslim donor helps save a synagogue
  • Playing a double game

    Monday, November 19th, 2012

    [ by Charles Cameron — a chess variant exploring the twinned human drives for competition and collaboration ]

    I posted a neat piece of math the other day, showing how dogs might respond to conditions of combined fear and rage in terms of a catastrophe theory diagram, and Larry Dunbar pointed out in a comment that humans might respond differently in equivalent circumstances depending on whether they had a strategy going into the situation or not…


    The idea that humans can have an override on such instinctive drives as fear and rage is obviously an important one, and Larry’s comment reminded me of a post I’ve been meaning to make about another “dualism” we humans are subject to…


    Humans are not IBM machines: they have dual drives, responding to a greater or lesser extent at all times to competitive and collaborative motivations.

    I was attempting to capture something of that essential dualism in the simplest possible game format when I devised my story-telling chess variant for Ruth Catlow‘s Rethinking Wargames blog:

    My own chess variant, which would require two fairly accomplished story-tellers of roughly equal chess strength to play it, is one in which the game is played as in any chess game, following the usual rules, with the added proviso that at each move, the player should write a fictionalized account of the move, such that the combined narratives of the two players taken together in sequence of moves constitutes a story for publication.

    The point is that each player then has two motives in making each move — a chess-winning-motive, and a storytelling-collaborative-motive — and the way they play will thus reflect something that parallels human motivation, with its characteristic mix of survival drive and quest for selfactualization / spirituality.

    I’m neither a decent chess-player not a decent writer of fiction, but I believe I’m a first rate conceptual game designer, and that this game concept captures something essential about the human condition in simple form. I offer it as a thought-experiment with “live” game potential.


    One last thought:

    I suspect that this game is in effect a game for exploring the intersection of zero-sum with non-zero-sum games, so playing with the interactions of collaboration and competition should also offer us insight into the interactions of quality and quantity.


    For more on Ruth Catlow’s work, see her book Artists Re: thinking Games.

    New Release: Creating a Lean R&D System, by Terry Barnhart—a preliminary review

    Thursday, October 18th, 2012

    [by J. Scott Shipman]

    Creating a Lean R&D System, by Terry Barnhart

    Friend of this blog, and friend, Terry Barnhart’s new book is available on Amazon. Terry is one of the leading thinkers among those who admire John Boyd’s work.

    Terry has spoken at the last three Boyd and Beyond events, and much of the substance of those talks are reflected in this book. I’ve read most of it, and believe it will have wide applicability outside the “lean” community. His sections on the use of A3’s (the subject of his talks at B&B this year) for problem identification/solution and rapid learning have potential at the personal and the organizational level. At the core, Terry is advocating a culture of innovation and providing tools he has proven in practice.


    A version is cross posted at To Be or To Do.

    Strategy and Creativity: Part I.

    Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

    “War is more than a true chameleon that slightly adapts its characteristics to the given case. As a total phenomenon its dominant tendencies always make war a remarkable trinity–composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone.”
                                                                                                    -Carl von Clausewitz, On War

    “Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities….Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field. With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete. This is the method of attacking by stratagem.”
                                                                                                 – Sun Tzu, The Art of War 

    This blog is read by many people with a deep interest in strategy coming from different philosophical and professional perspectives. While I have my own speculations  based on years of study, I would like to begin by first posing a few questions to the readership:

    • What is the relationship between strategy and creativity?
    • Or between strategic thinking and creative thinking?
    • Is “doing strategy” primarily an act of planning, calculation and rational problem-solving or is it also a profoundly creative and intuitive enterprise?
    • If we get better at thinking creatively, do we become better, more effective strategists? The reverse?
    • Is creativity more useful in “grand strategy” (or “statecraft”, if you prefer) and policy than in straightforward “military strategy”?

    The floor is yours, strong argument is welcomed.

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