Archive for the ‘conjecture’ Category

Optimism, pessism: What is the synthesis?

January 8, 2012







Both Anthony Robbins and Alain de Botton explore how we can maintain emotional stability. Robbins stresses the importance of a positive vision, of instrumental optimism. De Botton stresses the importance of managing expectations, of instrumental pessimism. Both arguments ring true. But this insight begs the question of when to use each.

What’s the synthesis?

Stop trading state and status

April 24, 2011

Someone told me, a good game of billiards consists in a series of easy moves.
This is an important insight, I think.

It means that in choosing each move, you should consider not only the immediate gains, but also the resulting state of the game. A good move is good at all time-scales: it may bring an immediate gain, but it also ensures that the resulting situation allows for further gains. We must resist the temptation of immediate gains that are smaller than the associated long-term costs.

The longer time-scale is harder to predict directly, but there are certain rules of style, or principles of action, that tend to prevent compromising the state of the game.

This insight is relevant beyond the game of billiards. For example, good interpersonal style ensures that we don’t compromise trust and long-term cooperation for short-term gain. Similarly, good programming style ensures that we will never run into confusion about our own code.

These are perhaps widely appreciated truths. But how does all of this relate to “state” and “status”?

By “state” I mean our psychological state, which has a cognitive and an emotional component. In choosing each move within our minds and in the world, we must ensure that we do not steer ourselves into confusion (cognitive cost) or into a negative, demotivated state (emotional cost).

One style of operation is to ignore the cognitive and emotional consequences of our thoughts and actions. If our priority is to understand the world or to get some task done, considering emotion can seem a hindrance. If we are to avoid the negative, we might ask, how can we see the world clearly or get the task done? Won’t we bias our perception of the world? Won’t we paint a rosy picture that will ultimately deceive us?

Yes, if we compulsively avoid negative thoughts and perceptions, we limit our ability to appreciate the world for what it is. This is known as “avoidance behavior” and its internal equivalent is “repression”. Avoidance and repression are central to the models of psychological disorder of behavioral therapy and psychoanalysis, respectively.

If we compulsively avoid something whose consideration promises insight or growth, we might have a problem. However, there is no objective rule that tells us just how much attention a negative thought deserves. What is the right balance between positive and negative?

If we choose to spend a sunny day in the garden, are we avoiding our dark, dusty basement? Are we repressing what’s in the basement? Of course not. As long as we know what’s down there, why dwell on it unproductively. We can prove that we are not avoiding the negative, by spending the sunny day breathing the dust in the basement. But this is not healthy behavior.

Avoidance and repression refer to unhealthy tendencies of turning away from the negative. However, we also harbor potentially unhealthy tendencies to turn toward the negative. This is known as “negativity bias” in the psychological literature.

Negativity bias refers to the fact that we tend to prioritize consideration of risks and losses over consideration of opportunities and wins. If an option is associated with both 50% risk of losing $10 and a 50% chance of winning $10, human subjects tend to decline the option. Similarly, perceived or imagined dangers command our attention more strongly than opportunities. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Dangers require attention. If all is well, we can relax instead.

In the present-day western world, however, physical threats are much reduced. The cost of trading the quality of our state in order to consider a potential threat or get a task done might often not be justified. The cost of constant fretting might be higher than the cost of missing a threat. Or, conversely, the benefit of fretting might be smaller than the benefit of seeing opportunity everywhere, inspiring others with our ideas, and infecting them with our positive and expansive emotional state.

Slipping into a negative state is the psychological equivalent of bad posture. Bad posture can result from overreaching: We might want to reach further than is healthy without first adjusting our posture. As a result, we act clumsily.

How do these considerations relate to status? By “status”, for now, I mean our momentary social status in any given interaction. Status can be considered at different time-scales and in different societal contexts. Here I am interested in the micro-scale of moment-to-moment social interaction, where each participant’s status is constantly in flux.

Every interaction can be seen from the perspective of what it says about status. In his excellent book “Impro” on improvisational theater, Keith Johnstone argues that scenes appear natural and interesting to audiences to the extent that they express status relationships and status struggles.

We may not like the status perspective. Wouldn’t it be nicer if we could just agree to be equals? Certainly. This widely held view is sweet and seductive. And we can strive for equality in our interactions. However, ignoring status doesn’t make it less of a reality.

Status is an aspect of any interaction and to the extent that we ignore or blind ourselves to it, we are socially impaired. No matter how much we try to ignore status, we feel it distinctly when our status rises or falls and this affects our unconscious responses. We might offend people by disrespecting the status they claim. Conversely, we might slip into an unconscious habit of lowering our own status, as this elevates the other party and makes us instantly unthreatening, and perhaps likable – for the cheap validation we provide. This is trading of status for a short-term gain.

When we trade status, we withdraw a little from the scene of improvisation, from the social scene. Perhaps we consider status worthless and thus fool ourselves that there is no cost to giving it up. Perhaps we are uncomfortable with the competitive aspect of social exchange, and feel that we need to soften the interaction.

Realizing the ideal of equality requires constant adjustment of relative status from both sides. Lowering our own status might be appropriate when the other party currently lacks status, and we wish to create a sense of equality. Lowering our own status can also be a playful way to highlight a larger social reality of our solid high status. This is the charm of self-deprecating humor from a powerful person. It can be the small weakness that highlights the overall picture of strength. It can make a star approachable and further heighten his glamour.

In any other situation, lowering our own status is inappropriate. When we make ourselves unthreatening, we might expect the other party to reciprocate to maintain equality. However, the other might not play that particular game and prefer to accept the superior position we have assigned them.

Thanking someone slightly lowers your status. Apologizing lowers it more substantially. We should thank when appropriate and apologize when it is really necessary. Thanking is appropriate when the other party has given us something good that we cannot just take without excessively lowering their status. Apologizing is appropriate when we seriously intend to keep the implicit promise to not repeat the behavior in question.

The key thing is to realize that these behaviors lower our status and that this has real consequences. If our status is fragile, these behaviors make it easier for the other party to dominate us.

Trading state and status are the psychological and social equivalents, respectively, of assuming a bad posture. And bad posture can be the physiological expression of these behaviors.

Loving asshole

September 5, 2010

When a woman calls you an “asshole”, there is always an undertone of desire. And when a woman calls you “loving”, it often means that she is less sexually attracted to you and, thus, less in love with you. It’s fucked up, but that’s how it is.

We tend to think of lovingness and assholery as polar opposites.

This one-dimensional conception is useful as a rough first approximation. A man’s place on this continuum allows us to predict with surprising statistical accuracy the collective female sexual response he elicits. I suspect that the amount of behavioral variance this naive theory predicts is greater than for most textbook psychological theories.

However, lovingness and assholery are not actually opposite poles, but independent dimensions. And a man’s lovingness is by no means necessarily sexually repulsive to women.

The main problem with lovingness is that it tends to reduce dominance and to place excessive power in her hands. It is really these consequences that are deeply unsexy, not lovingness per se. If you can be loving without being a pushover, active sexual repulsion will be prevented. If you can be loving in a dominant way and on your own terms, it is actually attractive.

The ideal seducer is the loving asshole; he is simultaneously very loving and very asshole.

Mere mortal men struggle to combine these qualities. They simply cannot fathom how to amp up the assholery without losing their lovingness or vice versa. We will need to explore in depth how to achieve this later on. For inspiration, consider loving acts performed unexpectedly or against her will, combined with a gruff refusal to follow her explicit wishes. In conversation, an attitude of loving condescension is quite magical in its effect on women.

There is a class of shittest, in which the woman presents you with an apparently binary choice between loving and asshole. Choose loving, and you will have cut the sexual tension like a taut rubberband. You will feel it in her very next response. The goto solution is to choose asshole. She will be mad, but – though she will try to pretend otherwise – the game is on.

It takes genius to parry such shittests as a true loving asshole. It must not be just a playful response: A joke would be too weak. And it must be a single act of loving assholery, not one act of each: An asshole act followed by a loving act, or vice versa, is even worse than just a loving act. Not only will the sexual tension be out the window, but her respect for you as well.

The assholery must be a fart in her face, truly offensive, with the lovingness felt in its wake, as she comes to her senses and appreciates what has just happened.

Nobody said it was easy.

As a working hypothesis, I propose that how much you get laid follows this function of your lovingness and your assholery.

If lovingness is not inherently unsexy, we can ask whether assholery is inherently sexy. It might be just the consequences or concomitants of assholery – such as dominance, excitement, and sexual escalation – that cause the female sexual response. However, I like the concept of assholery, because it captures, without extenuation, the tendency to recklessly impose one’s will. This tendency springs from a combination of a strong will and a callous disregard for the other’s preferences. There is something uniquely delicious about this to the sexual beast inside her.

Embrace the situation

August 25, 2010

Embrace the situation in its full complexity. Feel: the ambiguity intrigues me. When you see an interesting woman, embrace everything within you that attracts you to her and everything that deters you and at the same time perceive the social scene as a whole. If you then gravitate toward her, fully conscious and open to the complexity within and without you, you will be humble, free, and confident. The hubris of pretending that the dynamics can be predicted or controlled will fade from your mind. Let go of that control. Let prediction wither as perception blooms. Entrust yourself to the dynamics and let your boundary become permeable, to the inflow (prediction withering as perception blooms) and to the outflow of information (conscious control withering as spontaneous expression blooms). Breaking these barriers will put a twinkle in your eye. She will not be able to resist you.

Game is a gift to women

August 9, 2010

Is game fake and manipulation? Yes. We’re cheating God, who wants assholes and abusers to rule women’s sexual fantasies. We’re tricking women into desiring us, even as we are caring and loving at heart (in secret, as she wouldn’t respond well to such knowledge). We do this because we enjoy sex and sexual power. As a side effect, it saves women from their own immutable biological program of sexual preference. A man with game will give a woman the exact amount of domination, degradation, and abuse she sexually needs. But unlike the true asshole and the true psychopath, he can control the dosage.

Rubbing up against your manhood: a slightly different perspective on female shittesting

August 7, 2010

Sexual girls will test you from the very first moment. For example, she may look you in the eye and keep eye contact in order to try and make you uncomfortable. Look away first, and you’ve failed the test.

Alternatively, she may ask you an innocent-seeming question. Answer her seriously (whatever your answer may be), and you’ve failed the test.

Naive men are surprised and confused by this over and over again. Why is she doing this?

One accurate answer is: to test your masculine mettle. It’s called a shittest. If you’ve looked away first or naively answered her question, she is done with you.

Why is looking away bad? Because it suggests that you are more nervous than her. This means you are weaker than her, and hence you are sexually repulsive to her.

Why is answering her question bad? And doesn’t it depend on the answer?

Check here at 2 min 10 s, for an example:

Should he have given a different answer (truthful or not), so as to impress her?

No. Whatever answer he gives, he’s failed her shittest. Whether his answer is honest or not is beside the point. Whether his answer is impressive or not is also beside the point. The fact that she asks and he answers establishes that he will let himself be led by her. This means he is weaker than her, and hence sexually repulsive to her.

How to pass the test? Don’t answer. Dominate by silence. Change the subject. Mock her. Ask a different question. Just don’t jump through her hoop.

It may be hard to believe, but how you handle her shittests is de facto more important to her than all your objective qualities. Your personality, your work, your brilliance, your looks, your social connections, your societal status, your wealth: all these things matter to women to some extent. And some of them, like status, matter more than others, like looks. However, failing her shittests will render all your objective qualities irrelevant by comparison.

Disentangling the contributions of different factors to her sexual response is complicated by the fact that the factors are dependent. For example, to the extent that your looks lend you status and confidence, they do (indirectly) make you attractive. Another example: your passing or failing of her shittests may reflect your general level of confidence; so one could argue that the tests are effective at probing a deeper quality.

However, female sexual preference is fundamentally superficial, and arguably more so than the male sexual preference for beauty. A confident man with excellent genes, good looks, high intelligence, and high societal status, may fail shittests simply because he is too honest and trustworthy. And this weakness will trump all of his deeper strengths. He will not get laid, let alone loved by her. Similarly, a careful man of solid judgment will tend to project less confidence than a bold man who, like George W Bush, will judge incorrectly and then refuse to admit his error. And the latter will get laid and loved.

Feeling your manhood: testing versus just enjoying

The concept of shittest suggests a probing and information-gathering function. Once you’ve passed a sequence of such tests, your manhood should be accepted (or rejected), and the shittesting should end. However, to the extent that the relationship remains sexual in nature, her shittesting, though it might become milder, may never end.

This is because what we call a shittest is not just a test. It is rubbing up against your manhood, and it serves not only to test but also to feel and just enjoy your manhood.

Just like squeezing a new girl’s tits and ass is equal parts testing and enjoying their physical quality, her shittesting is equal parts testing and enjoying your manhood. And both activities are equally objectifying in a sexual way.

Do you stop squeezing her tits, once you know they are good? Not entirely: because you just enjoy it. And so she will not entirely stop shittesting, even when she knows who you are: because she just enjoys feeling your manhood.

Recall that porn is about physical encounters that reveal the female object’s physical beauty. And romance novels, the female equivalent of porn, are about story, dialogue, emotion, in short: dramatic interactions that reveal the male object’s dominance and power.

Similarly, the female equivalent of rubbing up against your sex is not touching your prick, but creating dramatic interactions that reveal your dominance and power.

Being rubbed up against without one’s consent can be an unsettling and degrading experience, whether it is the physical (male) or psychological (female) variant.

Either type of rubbing up against the other sex is a natural sexual response. However, the male variant is shamed (in the absence of consent), while the female variant is widely accepted. This seems all the more unfair when we consider that manhandling a woman is generally unharmful to the woman’s health, while the stress that female shittesting creates for men over their lifespan is substantial and likely contributes to men’s lower life expectancy.

However, a few of us learn to enjoy the abuse, like a massage, and to playfully assert the dominance she so craves to feel.

Equality: the 0 on the scale of female-to-male sexual attraction

July 24, 2010

She is never sexually attracted to a man whom she perceives as merely equal to her. She is attracted to the degree that she perceives him to be superior — in some way that she can get fired up about. Equality, thus, defines the 0 point on her scale of attraction.

What kind of male superiority can she get fired up about? That depends on her particular preferences, predicaments, and values. Psychosocial dominance most often does the trick. Intellectual or artistic dominance can do the trick in a domain that defines her own life. Physical superiority is rarely a strong factor because it matters less in modern life and because many men have it.

Priceless advice: refrigerator game

July 13, 2010

Equally valued?

July 1, 2010

Good question. What are the latest data on the gender pay gap? Equal work certainly should be valued the same.
But we may be missing a bigger question…

This is not easily answered. It should be studied empirically in the social sciences using a variety of indices of value. I suspect the answer would be…

I’ve posted a related argument here.

Dating dynamics

May 31, 2010

This appallingly simple algorithm accounts for a surprisingly large portion of the variance of dating developments.