On stylistical complexity

A reader of this blog commented on the lack of discipline in structuring my ideas, that the message can be conveyed through a much simpler presentation. I wholeheartedly agree with this judgement, and it is my conclusion that my writing structure is overly complex for a number of reason which I detail below.

I wanted to pursue some form of short-form writing for a very long time, but have always found that I spent a long time trying to structure my thoughts and ideas; in particular a long enough time to curtail my flow of creative ideas and interest. I decided to start this blog by writing what comes to mind as it comes, at least roughly: if a structure for my ideas is within immediate grasp then I will not ignore it. This strategy seems to be working well so far.

To be frank, I find this complex style of writing to be fun and satisfying, and as this platform mainly serves a creative outlet, I should not deny myself this guilty pleasure. Superfluous sophistication in grammatical structure and vocabulary, in vein of the “Archaic Rap” meme, appeals to me. I do not wish to neglect this niche art form.

In addition to this, I also find that I sometimes attempt to understand concepts using too complicated a mental model or construction, which some may refer to as bending over backwards, or performing mental gymnastics. I have learned to rethink a concept if I catch myself building too intricate a mental model for it, though this does go by unnoticed on occasion.

This discussion reminds me of how significantly, stylistically speaking, oral and written language differ; at least in non-chatty writing. The style of texts and instant messaging resembles the oral form much more closely, though it also exhibits its own set of quirks and nuances. Self perpetuance is definitely a factor, we write in a similar style to what we read, but I do not believe it to be the root cause. The non-interactivity of writing is a big factor, and the fact that instant messaging type writing resembles speech very closely agrees with this. An example of non-interactivity in oral language is the lecture or the speech or the sermon. As we would expect, these tend to be more formal in their presentation.

Going off on somewhat of a tangent (as we do), it occurs to me that these two language modes are treated very differently by the human species. Great orators are often celebrated for their capacity to evoke an emotional response, much more than the quality of information conveyed. Similar behaviour is prevalent with great authors, but the inattention to information quality is much less pronounced. It would seem that the interactive nature of oratory makes it more susceptible to emotional capture, whereas writing can be more detached.

I would like to think that I am presenting intelligent, albeit futile, discussions with an emotionally manipulative cloak of emotive diction. What is more likely is that I paint a collage of pretty words, cloaked with a veil of apparent intelligence.

The Phobia of Manipulation

What is it about manipulation that we fear? Is it the loss of control, or the high uncertainty surrounding it, or something else?

In general we have a probability distribution over events that have happened, or those that we anticipate will happen. This probability distribution forms what we call our beliefs and expectations about the world and, crucially, our expectations about the behavior of other agents. The moment that we begin doubting our own belief facility beyond some threshold, we go nuts! If your brain cannot trust its most intimate core, then what can it trust, to any level of certainty.
The fundamental problem with manipulation is that it systematically takes advantage of our internal probability distribution. A determined manipulator will, almost by definition, attack you where you least suspect it. The problem therein lies. If we assume that to be so, then the event which we least suspected becomes our prime suspect. But perhaps the manipulator considers this, and decides to exploit yet another unsuspecting event. This exercise may be iterated several times. All that your mind is left with is the sounding of alarm, cries of panic, and deep scathing paranoia.

With every indecision a puppy dies

I came across a poster baring the words: “Will you rescue animals like Rolo from cruel puppy traders?” This initially struck me as a seemingly straightforward charity campaign. It then continued: “Text RESCUE to 70007 to give £3 and help rescue an animal from cruelty this Christmas.”

It was at this moment that it hit me, where is this money ultimately going? Presumably to the cruel puppy trader,  in order to buy these poor puppies living under cruel conditions. We are not only rewarding these cruel traders, we are actively prioritising trade with them (I would naturally assume) over kind and responsible pet owners. It is an awful economic dynamic. On the one hand we are rescuing helpless creatures from terrible conditions, but on the other we are profiting and encouraging the continued business of these puppy traders. It is an awful decision to have to make.

You could play this on the basis of future predictions. If you assume that cruel puppy trading activity will continue regardless of our efforts as a society, or that no such efforts will be expended at all, then all you are left with is the ability to save some puppies by taking part in this industry. You may be inclined to act similarly if you believe that alternative measures will be taken to stop this from happening. You may think otherwise and choose to not pay money to these puppy traders, if you assume that sacrificing puppies in the short term will stop or severely curtail the industry in the long term.

Even given perfect information I find this decision to be a cruel one to make. It is a realistic, more complex version, of the runway cart problem in ethics. It is a heavily discussed and debated problem, but I am yet unable to reach a conclusion. Unfortunately I am acutely well aware that indecision is in itself a decision in some sense; it may differ in its intentions, but its results are no different.

A system of accountability credits

How accountable are companies, government agencies, and other service providers? My train is late again, but unless I am “severely delayed” then this is the end of the story. Call me a whiner, but this happens much too frequently for my tolerance level. This and other small transgressions, call them micro transgressions, are a non-issue when they are sparse and uncommon. The problem is when they accumulate.

Imagine a system which accumulates accountability points payable to you, every minute lost in train delays, or every minute spent forwarding you to another person to assist you. This achieves two important goals. The first is receiving compensation for non-major transgressions. The second is highlighting to companies, via financial losses, some important customer pain points, those which typically slip by unnoticed. This incentives different services to optimise for improving the average level of service provided, rather than lingering just above the minimum service level agreement. This may even spur interest in considering analytics more seriously, so as to dispute false accountability claims. Improving customer relations and interactions is then only one step away.

A question that comes to mind is whether this is the type of culture we want to live in. So long as this system remains largely isolated from interpersonal interactions and lawsuits, I believe that this can work. As a fairly imperfect analogy, consider car accident insurance, a system which helps alleviate a lot of conflict in these areas. Personal conflict between the participants in an accident is less likely, or typically less aggravated than it would be otherwise. The likelihood of lawsuits is similarly reduced, especially when monetary compensation is the chief concern, rather than vengeance or pride.

Root value analysis

When having a debate or an argument, there are hopefully some outcomes that are reached by the end. A debater may better appreciate the positions of their opponent, and why they have arrived (erroneously or otherwise) at their conclusions. A proponent of abortion may hold that position for many reasons, some or all of which may be considered to be wrong reasons by an opposing party. For example, they may believe (i.e. hold the value) that a woman has the right to her body, above and beyond the right to life that the fetus might have. Alternatively they may believe that a fetus is in fact not alive at all, and hence the question of the right to an abortion becomes moot.

These so called values may be basic root values, or they may be derived values, built upon inputs from other values. We can think of them as forming a directed graph, one which I initially attempted to call acyclic, but I dare not make such an assumption. It is important to note that derived values may not follow logically from their “parent” values, due to inevitable contradictions between values. Hence derived values are often compromises rather than the consequent of a logical syllogism. For instance take the value “all humans have an inalienable right to freedom”, whose logical consequents include “Bob has the right to free speech” and “Jane has the right to physically attack people on the street”.

What is interesting about the process of debate is that it forces you to break down your rooted values in terms of derived values. It allows you to better understand your own position, as well as allowing you to amend some values, which may have been initially miscalculated or simply failed to update in relation to changes in your value graph.

Of course this account of value propagation gives more credit than is often the case to a purely rational thought process. Needless to say people often refuse to update their outdated values for reasons typically to do with emotions, I would suspect. I do not advocate for the removal of emotion from the equation, and indeed one is not obliged to follow the “rational choice”. However I feel that it is important to be able to break down the emotional forces behind our values and choices, à la Fourier analysis, and that shielding oneself from having this discussion makes one susceptible to value manipulation.

Bad luck comes in threes

I’m not a believer in superstition. Actually that is too weak a statement – unfounded superstitions are by definition not true, and are grounded in unscientific tales and hearsay passed over generations.

I say this because I have just encountered the so called “bad luck comes in threes” streak. Yesterday evening the fridge greeted me with a healthy serving of single cream, received kindly by the floor and my jeans. I had been contemplating going out somewhere, but I opted to stay home and get those cleaned.

Today, as I walked towards the station, my jacket was greeted by a friendly bird’s feces. Luckily the streak went clean along the sleeves, which were waterproof, and I was able to make use of the station facilities to get that cleaned up.

Following this mild inconvenience, I enter the train and pop on my headphones to listen to a podcast. Turns out that one of the ears no longer works. This is the first time my headphones malfunction randomly (typically they break due to careless cable-related violence on my part), and so I wonder if that bird had anything to do with it – of course it doesn’t, at least not directly.

The funny conclusion to this story is that the train I’m on was delayed slightly as I write these words. I am hesitant to classify this as a bad luck event proper. My brain rationalised this by saying that minor train delays occur much too frequently for them to be considered bad luck, in isolation or otherwise (they tend to be independent with respect to personal bad luck events). It also sees the train delay as a blessing in disguise, allowing me to complete this piece before reaching my final destination; that still was not enough time. However, my theory is that my brain is attempting to shadow its participation in confirmation bias, since, as we all know, bad luck comes in threes not fours!

Quantum theory of temperament radiation

How much of human behaviour and expression is directly externally effectual? If a person is in a bad mood, in what ways does their bad mood impact the external world, including other people, in a direct way? In most cases I imagine that there is very little in terms of direct effects, that the majority of cases only affect the internal state of the mind. I think of the internal state as a buffer, or to use the more colloquial term, a sponge, that accumulates data without emitting it directly. Only after some threshold of accumulation is it manifested externally; it thus operates in bursts. Different affecters of the internal state may have different half lives, that is the time until their impact will be emitted externally; I think of it working similarly to the absorption and emission of photons in atoms, with direct affecters being analogous to photons that are immediately reflected, and possibly partially absorbed too.

Following this model, we can attribute different forms (frequencies in wave lingo) of human behaviour, that is the internal state actuating external change, to different affecters of varying amplitudes and latencies. That is to say, behaviour is due to a combination of mostly historical and some immediate affecters.

This model can be used to explain emergent behaviour, from molecules forming larger structures to humans forming tribes and societies. If we simply examine the external bursts emitted by people, ignoring their internal state, then I suspect that we can derive a fairly good macro-model for emergent behaviour, applicable to such areas as economics or sociology.

More interestingly, this suggests that if you can predict how a global action, such as a policy or law, will impact the behaviour bursts produced, then you can reliably predict the macro-societal behaviour it would yield. This by definition completely ignores the impact of said policy on the internal states of people, which we do care about, being human (unlike the internal states of individual molecules, say). I think that this is a key point that is ignored, or at least grossly undervalued, by many societal systems (by societal systems I mean systems designed to run societies, including economic systems, social systems, etc). I don’t have any good ideas as to how this problem can be addressed. I find the reverse problem of defining an individual-centric model, potentially at the expense of society, to be even more difficult to work with.