An Underappreciated Bias: Stories

by Luke Muehlhauser on December 17, 2011 in Rationality

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Dante December 17, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Offtopic: How did you manage to get that obsolete embed code? Please use the iframe one, that plays the video for us people without Flash installed.

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gwern December 17, 2011 at 2:24 pm
Stephen R. Diamond December 18, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Cowan’s argument would have been more persuasive had he shown, specifically, how stories describing the effects of biases themselves strengthen other biases (presumably, with the same net biasing effect). Why can’t readers use those stories the same way Cowan hopes they’ll use his—one story neutralizes another but isn’t, itself, necessarily retained?

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freddy December 18, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Well, when it comes to stories, this guy gives you a lot of bang for your buck in terms of the use of the terms “story” and “stories”. 100+ instances. Yet the talk is so empty – what a load.

The term “story” is commonly defined with many variations. Here, he seems to narrow and broaden his use as it serves his immediate need to convey negative connotations.

My life is a journey.
My life is a battle.
My life is a mess.

He says that “journey” and “battle” are kinds of stories, while he implies (although does not say) that “mess” is not a story.

He says:
51% (who said “journey”) wanted to turn his or her life into a story.
11% said “battle, again a kind of story.

I’d say that journey/battle/mess are all vague descriptions. All would equally serve as placeholders interchangeably, as they could all be simultaneously true – and only details would provide any real information. Why should we ascribe some sort of narrative creative motive in answering a multiple-choice survey question in this way? Whoever formulated the multiple choice question is forcing the answerer to condense their life description into a single pre-selected term. Who’s the narrator of the “story”?

He says “mess” would probably be the best answer, and I agree (especially in the case of this talk), but he doesn’t say why we should think that.

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