theinexactsciences.github.io

[6:10 PM] Natural Hazard: So, language games. I see it as a framework that does a great job of breaking out of a previous bad frame that was stifling progress (“all words mean particular things, in a consistent way”), and also punts a lot of the interesting work to the future.

[6:15 PM] Natural Hazard: There’s plenty of “problems” that language games as a concept “resolves”. What does “How’s it going?” mean? There’s a language game that governs greetings, and “How’s it going?” is a move in that game, and not generally a request for the state of your goings.

[6:17 PM] Natural Hazard: I put “resolves” in quotes, because the concept of language games hasn’t actually told you how the greeting game works. You’ve gotta do field work and figure it out. What it does resolve is the tension/confusion generated by a presupposition that all language must be denotative or literal or something. Two rational minds sharing information in pursuit of the greater good, or something.

[6:19 PM] Natural Hazard: k, that’s the rant on lg

[6:19 PM] Natural Hazard: the primary thing on my mind was exploring the tensions between language games

[6:21 PM] Natural Hazard: i think @snav phrased something like people trying to look like they’re playing a “truth” game while primarily playing a “dominance” game. That’s a first approx of something I’m looking at

[6:29 PM] Natural Hazard: More specific. I’m imagining the various aimless arguments my friends and I might have had in uni. There was an “argument” game that’s v diff from idealized truth seeking. And that game had sway. Any time I’ve ever said “you can’t just win an argument by doing [shitty/dumb move X]!” was me acknowledging that [shitty/dumb move X] sorta does “win” within the “argument” game, and I’m annoyed by that, but also want to keep playing, and so I’m either trying to make a bid on shifting the boundaries of the rules, or I’m trying to bump us out of the “argument” game and into a “truth” game.

[6:40 PM] Natural Hazard: Thing that makes me curious: why does the “argument” game look anything like the “truth” game?

[6:43 PM] Natural Hazard: To me, it smells like many selfish/anti-social/zero-sum games sometimes try to disguise themselves as “truth” games. Why? Is this just to make them easier to legitimate? But if people weren’t already playing and valuing the “truth” game, why would looking similar to the “truth” game have any legitimizing effect? Why would anyone care?

[6:49 PM] Natural Hazard: My current guess is has something to do with common knowledge and coordinating against people with schelling memes. Through lots of [history that I don’t know much of] enlightenment/truth/sciency memes seem to have reached a bulk of people. The meaty useful content might not have, but the images symbols and general aesthetic seems to be everywhere.

[6:52 PM] Natural Hazard: So now, even if noone cares about The Actual Truth or Actual Best Effort Science, because of memetic saturation, if your dominance games stray to far away in appearance from truth games, you become easier to coordinate an attack against. Worth noting that this is v different from “we’ve got a minimum standard of truth seeking, if you violate it, you get booted”. It’s more “there’s a minimum amount of looking like truth seeking that you have to do to not make yourself easy to coordinate against”

[6:53 PM] Natural Hazard: Zvi’s “Everybody knows” feels v connected:

When someone claims that everyone knows something, either they are short-cutting and specifically mean ‘everyone in this well-defined small group where complex common knowledge of this particular thing is something we have invested in,’ they are very wrong about how the world works, or much more commonly, they are flat out lying.

Saying that everybody knows is almost never a mistake. The statement isn’t sloppy reasoning. It’s a strategy that aims to cut off discussion or objection, to justify fraud and deception, and to establish truth without evidence.

[6:56 PM] Natural Hazard: k, so that’s a bulk of the setting described. I guess one thing I’m now feeling is I want to test this story by doing some case studies on various recorded conversations. I’d want to look at ones that seem to involve mixed games. I’d want to see how well it matches with what I’m thinking.

[7:15 PM] suspended reason: The other nice thing about the “language game” frame is that implies optimization, strategy, etc.

[8:38 PM] thechickenman: I just picked up Daston and Galison’s Objectivity trying to approach something like this question. They approach the history of objectivity, might be of interest and will report back when I get to it.

[8:42 PM] thechickenman: C Thi Nguyen thread related to domination tactics I’ve had on my mind:

If a certain kind of messaging is cheap to create but costly for your opposition to deal with, then you have a strategic reason to put out tons of it. My version of this is filed as “mental spam”.

[8:50 PM] thechickenman: Khaldun’s opening in The Muqaddimah, Smith’s treatment of “superstition” in Wealth of Nations, and Mill’s description of people arguing without understanding the grounds of their position in On Liberty are decent classical takes on memes.

[12:00 PM] suspended reason: This is “the spread” in Ben Lerner’s frame. His Topeka School is about the culture of debate in American high school, how it claims to be about developing critical thought, understanding contemporary issues, exploring policy—but in reality is pure performance, teenagers bullshitting their way to Natl Champs. “The spread” is a relatively recent innovation—a “hack” or “degenerate tactic” in the sense of violating the game’s spirit while obeying/exploiting its letter—whereby debaters speak so rapidly, and bring up so many points, in their allotted minutes that it is physically impossible for their opponents to respond in time.

Extemp was officially about developing such a command of current affairs that one could speak confidently on a range of topics, but it was of course as much about the opposite: how a teenager in an ill-fitting suit could speak as if he had a handle on the crisis in Kashmir, how polish could compensate for substance as one determined the viability of a two-state solution. One learned to stud a speech with sources the way a politician reaches for statistics—to provide the affect of authority more than to illuminate an issue or settle a point of fact.

It’s all in there—acting “as if,” the stacked language games, surface vs. substance and surrogation.

[12:09 PM] suspended reason: Worth noting that in Topeka School, the pre-spread mode of debate is seen as “a more human scale” compared to the robotic, “economic” spread

[12:11 PM] suspended reason: Again, I think this is a somewhat false division or romantic view akin to splitting the natural and the artificial—pre-spread debate was just as full of degeneracy, and degenerating play is a human (read: intelligent) mode

[12:12 PM] suspended reason: But I do think it plays into @Natural Hazard’s taste vs test frame—the spread is clearly an exploit of a test regime, it works because there’s a hard-coded scoring system—the “letter” of the game—that exists separate from, and replaces as the default evaluative tool—the “soul” of the game, with whom compliance can only be measured via (“non-objective” and thus difficult to justify) “taste”

[6:37 AM] snav: Remember that Lyotard defines institutions precisely as language games, so playing a game in a certain way can be seen as a bid for institutional authority.

[1:12 PM] suspended reason: Hazard, you write, To me, it smells like many selfish/anti-social/zero-sum games sometimes try to disguise themselves as “truth” games. I might generalize that to, “disguise themselves as selfless/pro-social/positive-sum games.”

[1:13 PM] suspended reason: Schelling is definitely important here, and I’d argue that much of what humans are “up to” has to do with self-representing future states (and predicting others’ future states)

[1:14 PM] suspended reason: This is also directly relevant to Friston’s ideas in “A Duet for One” and “Narrative as Active Inference,” which I’ve been reading with @ragged —how people synchronize and mirror one another’s interactional narratives

…our sensations are largely generated by other agents like ourselves. This means, we are trying to infer how our sensations are caused by others, while they are trying to infer our behaviour: for example, in the dialogue between two speakers. We suggest that the infinite regress induced by modelling another agent – who is modelling you – can be finessed if you both possess the same model. In other words, the sensations caused by others and oneself are generated by the same process.

[1:15 PM] suspended reason: (Sometimes his papers annoy me but there’s something subtly radical about the worldview)

[1:16 PM] suspended reason: This flows from the premise that intelligence is an entity’s ability to optimize the future 1) according to its preferences 2) within the bounds of its physical agency—where optimization is built atop prediction. I’ve heard this compressed as “computationally-frugal cross-domain future-steering.”

[1:17 PM] suspended reason: If we’re constantly trying to predict and optimize for the future, and much of that future is socially constituted, we naturally end up with the thesis that much of human life is about strategy, in the Schelling sense: mutual, dynamic modeling and anticipation. I need to anticipate what you’ll do in order to optimally set up in that future world, by preparing for that eventuality.

[1:19 PM] suspended reason: And a crucial part of strategy is about self-representing, to other strategic actors, a future state which is most likely to cause them to act in the way most advantageous to you. This can also be called “manipulation,” in the sense of “All communication is manipulation; some manipulation is mutually advantageous”:

Say person A and person B are walking down the sidewalk in opposite directions, approaching each other on a narrow path. They’re definitely going run into each other soon if they keep walking forward. One strategy is to “perform obliviousness”, as Kenneth Liberman calls it. You basically act as if you don’t know or care I’m there, you’re not changing course; looking at your phone is a contemporary tactic to this end. If person A is performing obliviousness, then person B can say “You know what, I know what your path is. Let me just slip to the side and then we’re both fine, we won’t run into each other.” But as soon as you get into the more recursive modeling, e.g. Person A looks at Person B while they’re still thinking and thinks: “Wait, is Person B also performing obliviousness?” and decides to be more reactive, then you end-up in this weird side-to-side shuffle. For instance, you’re ten yards apart, you’re both going back and forth horizontally, getting in each others’ way. It’s in both your interests to get out of each others’s way, but it’s in each of your interest to not move or to move the least. Lot’s of reasons that might be—laziness, energy expenditure minimization, or even status games.

[1:23 PM] I think a lot of human behavior comes down to a self-legibilizing process akin to “performing obliviousness.” The way you dress, the way you behave, the patterns of conversation you engage in all assert this. We think of manipulation as distorting someone’s priors so they’ll act a certain way.

[1:26 PM] Problems emerge because, in many cases, humans can (and do) represent one way while acting another way. There’s nothing inherently binding about language, as “Parable of the Dagger” points out. But you can rig up situations that are more or less reliable, or binding, which allows coordination:

A similar example is playing “Chicken”. Let’s say you’re driving towards another car, betting on who’s going to turn away first. If you throw your steering wheel out the window or spray paint over your windshield in advance, there is no way to steer or react in time, respectively. You’ve self-bound to a course of action. Your opponent no longer has a choice, if they don’t turn away, the two cars will crash. You know that your opponent is a rational agent, or at least rational enough to want to live. So you’ve won. Your opponent has to get out of the way, because they know for a fact that you won’t. It’s better for them to lose face then run into you and die. You’ve established a single Schelling point, a single outcome the system will coordinate to if no further communication or changes can take place.

[1:25] This is an example of self-binding by making certain behaviors physically impossible, but more often self-binding occurs by making certain behaviors incredibly costly, e.g. a company staking its reputation on a charitable pledge, where the bad press from not donating as promised would far exceed the actual cost of donation. Indeed, “self-binding” can be seen as a variant of costly signalling—costly signalling cast into the future: It will _cost me greatly _if I decide to deviate from the advertised course of action. This costliness makes it reliable.

[1:48 PM] Natural Hazard: HELLA based. The bad acid trip I had in September largely centered around this

[1:53 PM] Natural Hazard: Like, if you’ve got the sorta optimization lens where you see everything as variants of constraint satisfaction problems, you can just miss out on a bulk of social things. With chicken like interactions, there’s rarely any grounding reality to “will they swerve or not?” And so even though all choices can in some sense be malleable, were all trying to reify them into immovable objects

[4:23 PM] suspended reason: re: the Berne book, yeah the level-K stuff that @thechickenman linked a bit back is definitely in play here

[4:23 PM] suspended reason: Friston calls it “the infinite regress” of mutual modeling and prediction (requisite shoutout to Phil Rochat’s Others in Mind)

[4:24 PM] suspended reason: He has a whole theory of how this infinite regress of levels is solved in practice

[4:24 PM] suspended reason: of which the tldr is: narrative and shared cultural schemas

[4:25 PM] suspended reason: amusingly, this is also when these ideas started brewing in my mind (shrooms)

[4:25 PM] suspended reason: Realized how much what I was up to, in a public space (Inwood Hill Park the first time, Ridgewood Reservoir the 2nd) was about making myself legible

[4:26 PM] suspended reason: Long story I could tell here about getting tangled up in the picket line of a big Dominican quinceanera, these gangsters thinking I was a cop (ambiguous dress/presence?)