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We learn faster when we aren’t told what choices to make (scientificamerican.com)
496 points by headalgorithm 25 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 167 comments



This is actually something that has really, really annoyed me on the job lately.

A company I worked for had what I will call a “monkeys at typewriters” attitude. That, given requirements and (a ton of) restraints, their idiot monkeys could produce the code equivalent of Shakespeare. Perhaps not surprisingly, they never accomplished anything, despite having dozens of developers making a lot of money, and are now out of business.

Now we could argue all day about markets and business moves, but I will practically guarantee you that the real reason is this attitude towards employees (and not just in IT - CSRs had to schedule their bathroom breaks, which I see as the non-tech equivalent). When you provide that many restrictions on people they rise to exactly that lowest common denominator and never, ever, any further. If by chance they learn a new skill, they immediately leave for a better job that at least let’s them wield that new skill.

On the other hand, if you give employees something to try and accomplish, along with the freedom to ask questions, make mistakes, and ask for a review from a senior... yes, they F up from time to time, but they also grow and learn. In the end you have a better employee who is more able to handle any situation thrown at them, rather than simply being able to take Tab A and insert it into Slot B.

This is equivalent to university professors getting the tenure track to me. Aside from the whole “never get fired” part, tenure is supposedly about giving them freedom to move, explore, learn, and yes, eventually teach others what they have learned.


I am fighting this. I was given requirements to implement fraud and I said no. They gave it to a contractor. I said roll it back. They said no. I reported it up. They constructively dismissed me. I continued to report it up to the most sr. lawyer in the organization. They retaliated.

So I reported it to government agencies and am waiting on a response.

We are the ones who are doing these things. Us. The engineers. We have a responsibility to the people.

We are derelict in our duty.

We have to stop writing the code that is destroying the world. We have to hold our employers accountable.

We are the only ones who can stop this.

Sit. on. your. hands.

Stop destroying people's minds and lives with your code.

YOU are doing it.

YOU. The people who work at facebook and google and ad networks and content farms and high frequency traders and weapons manufacturers and climate changing organizations.

It's us. We are the engineers. We are the ones with the power.

It's up to us. The world is dying because of us.

It's not the business people making the profits. They aren't doing it. WE are.


In this regard, I often think this is where a union or guild or something along those lines would be helpful. I've studied labor history extensively so I'm familiar with all of the downsides to a union. Some sort of collectivisation is needed to have support and collective input in cases such as this. The ones building it should have a voice.

A single engineer putting their foot down is brave, but thousands putting their collective feet down can change the world.


How often are unions used to enforce political/ethical stances about management’s treatment of third parties, rather than workers? I hadn’t really considered altruistic uses of collective bargaining power.


Look at professional guilds like the American Medical Association or the Bar Associations. They both major focuses on professional ethics and use their power to enforce those ethics, both by being able to bargain with corporations or the government and by holding power over their members. Getting disbarred is the end of your career as a lawyer, and so it behooves you to comply with their ethical standards even if you don't personally care about them.

It's a little harder for programmers because the ethical bar is less agreed-upon. "Doctors should help people" and "lawyers shouldn't steal their client's money" are pretty nearly 100% agreed-upon by the professionals, but there's still a lot of disagreement on what is and isn't ethical for a programmer to do.


Unfortunately exponentially rising health care costs and excessive litigation may be the two to the largest problems with society in the US at the moment. Whether those guilds help mitigate these problems or amplify them is hard to determine.


It appears to me that law and medical licensing bodies are advocates for the public against the professions. It may be incidentally beneficial to the professions in some ways (trust, etc) but the same can be said of environmental and safety regulators (accidents cost time, etc).

In what sense are they unions?

"Software engineers need to be protected from the employers" and "the public needs to be protected from software engineers" seem like very different positions, in fact I can imagine both organizations existing in a sometimes-adversarial relationship.


They are unions in the sense that they draw their funding from membership fees, set high entry standards that keep competition in check for existing members (obviously there are altruistic reasons for this too, but one impact of requiring a long, expensive degree is low competition). The union structures in medicine and law and piloting tends to favor established members over new ones.

IMO setting high standards is a quality shared by any healthy industry, because permitting shoddy work means every consumer needs to learn the details of the task in order to judge their provider.


In the context of this thread, it seems very much to be the case of "the public needs to be protected from software engineers." The N'th ancestor post very explicitly says that "we" are causing this problem.

The idea being, if professional strictures were imposed upon us, that would give us a stronger ability to push back against those who set tasks in conflict with those strictures.


Yeah, it's great when police unions fight against reducing sentences.

We are in positions of privilege; we should build funds/organizations to protect and help whistleblowers; help them find jobs, have a fund to support them -- we don't need a union for this.


Well, here I am. Whistleblowing. Unemployed. Nothing and no one to support me. Suffering from C-PTSD every day. Unable to sleep at night, because I may be murdered for reporting a potential billion-dollar money laundering scheme. Fearing to even write this, but I feel compelled to, because I have nothing else.

I've gone days without sleep. Woken up afraid for my life. My future. Knowing I may never work again. I may never be employed again. I may be on the street. Homeless. Unable to trust anyone ever again.

There's no one.

No one.

Do you understand that?

I'd happily have a union to protect me right now. My life may be over because there isn't one.

What about people who want to do the right thing and so they are crushed by evil?

Do you know how much literature there is out there about blowing the whistle? Do you know how many people are in prison right now for it? Being tortured every day. Julian Assange. Chelsea Manning. Karen Silkwood was poisoned and probably murdered and she was a leader in a union.

What about them? Who is protecting them? Who protected them? No one. They are going to live a life of torture and die in prison because of the truth.

Who is protecting the truth? Who is enabling the truth to exist?

I spoke up and had to do it, I had to, I couldn't not do it, despite the very real threat that I might be murdered in my sleep. I can't stand to see this happening around me every day. I can't do it anymore.

I don't think people really know. I don't think you really know. This isn't a movie to me.


I don't know your situation but I imagine if I was in such I would try to contact as many left of center media outlets to get the story out. Also seek help from American Civil Liberties Union, whistle-blowing is a civil liberty.


You might consider setting up a dead man's switch to do an automatic document dump if the worst happens, but don't tell anyone about it. A notarized affadavid stating the situation and your concerns for your safety might be appropriate to include. Your lawyer could also do the equivalent for you. Publicity might offer some protection. Try to make your demise a poor business proposition for the criminals.

Thank you for doing the right thing. It's heartening to hear that there are still people out there who live with integrity.


Sacrificing oneself for a chance at exposing a story may not be worth the risk? We hear of anonymous sources all the time that make it, don't we? Perhaps there are other ways to bring on change.

I hope whomever you denounced doesn't consider you a threat anymore.

I hope you manage to overcome the PTSD. Seek help if you can, if you haven't already.


Find an attorney? occrp.org?

And find a way that you can feel enough at peace that you can get some sleep. This writing (though it may be real) is setting off my BS meter.


(3 minutes later, at the ungodly hour of almost 1am EDT, our attention swivels to the president (Trump) as he announces the results of his&wife's COVID test results...)


What sort of fraud was it? You don't need to name the company or anything, just interested in the general nature.


I agree with what you're encouraging people to do, and I admire people who do the right thing, even when there's a cost.

However, I believe that you're calling on engineers to act as professionals without the professional standing that empowers workers to act like a professional. For instance, consider this:

https://www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibili...

(d) A lawyer shall not practice with or in the form of a professional corporation or association authorized to practice law for a profit, if: (3) a nonlawyer has the right to direct or control the professional judgment of a lawyer.

In general, this means that 1) lawyers don't report to non-lawyers, and 2) non-lawyers can be imprisoned for practicing law without a license. That gives lawyers both a professional obligation and a professional power to meet that obligation.

Now, I have misgivings about the kind of cartel-building we often see in the ABA, AMA, and so forth. But the truth is, engineers, in the way you're using the term (unlicensed software engineers) don't have any particular standing as professionals. There are benefits to this, in that we can be considered mere employees if our employers do something dastardly and we went along with it - there are limits to what a mere employee can go along with under the defense of following orders, but there's no malpractice. But the flip side is that we aren't empowered to hold the line the way licensed professionals are.

That makes your willingness to stand up all the more impressive and commendable, but I can't really agree that software "engineers" have the kind of power you're describing, and it's built into the system that way (I put "engineers" that in quotes because in the context of this discussion, licensed PE holders do have more power, but not in the world of software).


How did these lawyer 'standards' hold John Yoo to account? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Yoo

These are merely cartels to restrict competition.


John Yoo is somewhat an unusual case, and he was held to account to some degree. If you read the Office of Professional Responsibility Report section in that wikipage https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Yoo#Office_of_Professiona... you'll see that he had to go through debarment hearings and was almost disbarred.

A better example of these legal standards holding lawyers to account is Prenda Law: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prenda_Law


Honestly, I'm not sure they do a whole lot of good.


That sounds good in theory, but in practice, at least in my case, it doesn't work out like that. Lawyers for corporations do not care about their obligations under the law. They blatantly abuse it.

I am not an attorney and when lawyers, 3 teams of them from the corporation and 2 separate firms come after you with 50 page legal memorandum, it doesn't matter if you quote the law to them. It doesn't matter if what they are doing is illegal. It's the most intimidating thing I've ever done. They lie, gaslight, ... and I don't even know what is what.

They can absolutely ruin people, but I feel strong in my case and I have more to file.

I went to an attorney about this and they said I absolutely do have a case and it was even bigger than I realized. The attorney told me I should take this case myself. Several steps I can take alone. Yes, that's right. They said I should represent myself. If I got an attorney the corporation would financially ruin me. All communication would go through legal firms and at hundreds of dollars an hour, I would be in debt for the rest of my life.

Not only would I be emotionally ruined, but I would be financially ruined too.

So I'm fighting this through the legal system myself.

I've researche the law. Read hundreds of cases. I have handled my own correspondences. At one point, I quoted the law back to them, as you have done here to me, and ordered them to stop the illegal activity. They asked who my legal counsel was so they could direct communications through them and I was so proud in that moment, because I listened to the other attorneys' advice and thwarted that attack. When they stonewalled me, I proceeded through the legal system. I have even questioned their witnesses under oath in a hearing. It has been an intense journey and I am still waiting for justice.

As it turns out, I actually have even more power than I initially thought by representing myself, because an attorney in a position of power abusing that power the way they have toward me was a big mistake on their part. The courts don't look kindly on professional attorneys bullying former employees going pro se.

Every day is a roller coaster. I support myself as an underdog going up against this behemoth.

When I can get my head above water and breathe for a bit, like right now, I feel proud of what I am doing. I am resigned to the idea that if I die because of this pursuit for justice, then it's a world I don't want to be in anyway.

I'm not asking other engineers to go this far. I have nothing to lose but my mind and my future. I am in a unique position to do it. Most people do not have the liberty I do.

All I am suggesting is that when in a position to implement functionality that you know will make the world around you worse, just don't do it.

Don't do it for money. Don't do it so you won't get fired. Just don't do it. Don't do it because if you don't, someone else will. If they fire you, sue them, or just get another job. There are plenty out there. They can't tell everyone what a horrible employee you are like they said they would to me so I would just quit and sweep all this under the rug.

You have the power to say no to evil. Just don't do it. Stop sacrificing your integrity for money.

Look around at the world around us. We built this. It doesn't matter if we have PE licenses and wet stamp documents. We have the power to write code or not write that code.

I don't have a job anymore. But I have integrity. I have my honor. I feel good. I'm scared. Of course. I'm in way over my head.

But I'm righteous!

If I have to suffer for it. Fine.

I'm not asking anyone to take it this far. Just don't write code that hurts society anymore.

And don't be afraid not to. There are other jobs. Let evil corporations fill up with crappy engineers and bloated salaries. All the good ones will migrate to the good companies. Or, look at me. I'm simply not implementing fraud that helps criminals wash their money.

I feel real good about that. I'm also learning a lot about the legal system. Maybe I'll come out of all this and work for a good law firm or the justice system. I'm learning a lot and it's very interesting. The law is like computer code, but written to control human beings. I didn't even know what prima facie meant before all this started, but I referred to precedent and I think I established my prima facie case!

All I need to do right now is survive until it's over so I can think about anything else at all and I can't wait for that day. One thing I've learned about the legal system is that it is very, very slow.


Wow. That's an incredible story.

I wonder if this thread might have gone differently if I'd used dentists or physicians as an example. Still plenty of corruption and cartel building in the AMA.

My point about lawyers is that when you demand that software engineers act "like professionals", you're demanding that they behave as if they have a professional status that they actually don't have. That doesn't mean software developers shouldn't take that stand - all employees should - but we're just employees. If we attempt to behave as professions bound by a code of ethics that goes beyond "ordinary employee", this does mean we're taking on the obligations without the benefits.

But that aside... if I point out that lawyers can not report to non-lawyers and can bar those who do from practice, and that this is a component of what help lawyers do the right thing... well, I can't really claim that the conversation has taken a tangent when people respond with are you kidding me. Sometimes it's fair enough that the analogy overwhelms point.

People might (reasonably) take this line if I'd used physicians as an example, but I do think it probably would have been a better choice that distracted less from the point I was trying to make.


Every once in a very great while, I see a reason for hope.

Thank you anonymous stranger for being one of those great whiles.


cheers! I've been saying this for a decade. What's really really hard is getting people to put ethics ahead of self, ahead of their paycheck and livelihood. Like the OP mentions, they likely just give it to a contractor (or outsource the entire project). We should be making technology for the betterment of man. Even reinventing the wheel to tackle shortcomings in markets and fixing fraud, not creating it. If there's an unfair advantage, we, engineers, need to make it fair.

I learned to code because the grandfathers of the web decided to share their knowledge for free.

I landed my first job because someone decided to take me under their wing and teach me more.

I too, was asked to design and build a high frequency trading system that was designed to be fraudulent by default. I decided to walk away. I focus my career on solving mankind problems. Whether it's travel waste, roofing waste, energy waste or optimizations, solutions for reducing energy consumption via optimal cloud architectures, and designing scale system on as little footprint (carbon included) as possible. I'm against cryptocurrencies requiring so much energy to mine. It's killing our planet. We need to find a better way. Time based auto-token so long as you are able to capture the packet? I don't know... But we, humans, need to find sustainable ways to keep our machines and our society moving forward.

I will never write code that gives an organization an unfair advantage over others or is fraud or "shady". I have no problem walking away, conscience clean. I can always get another job. Yes, some may end up implementing it anyway. Some would say "What about patents?" etc etc. A free market should be a fair market, otherwise it isn't free.


Bravo. Welcome. Keep up the good work, brother.


Thank you. It means more than you know. Everyone here, thank you.


Thank you, good man. These are the actions that make true real life heroes. It's an honor to be surfing these bytes today, thank you.


You did good, and I am proud of you.

We must begin to treat our profession with the care due to it - recognizing the negative impact it can have on human lives, justice, and freedom when it is used with harmful or careless intent.

The ACM Code of Ethics is the closest thing we have to our own Hippocratic Oath, and I encourage all engineers to read and take the serious obligations we are charged with to heart.


Thank you. If the engineers at Facebook and Twitter acted the same way, the social dilemma would be a sci-fi movie :)

I’ll use this opportunity to recommend Ruined by Design, a book which deals with the moral responsibility of designers and engineers.

https://www.ruinedby.design/sample-chapter


My favorite concept on this topic is CAR (Competence, Autonomy, Relatedness) from Self-determination theory [0]

Giving people these at their job provides great satisfaction and better performance:

- Competence: using your abilities at a task, experiencing mastery

- Autonomy: having the ability to make decisions about the task

- Relatedness: understanding how the task relates to something bigger that helps others

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-determination_theory


The book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (2003), based on studies done at MIT and other universities, argues that human motivation is largely intrinsic - meaning, beyond external rewards - and is characterized by:

- Autonomy — Our desire to be self directed.

- Mastery — The urge to get better skills.

- Purpose — The desire to do something that has meaning and is important.

They seem to map one-for-one with your list above.


This was exactly why I left my lucrative property and casualty insurance CSR job a few years ago despite making 26.00/ an hour. I was a CSR who while newly licensed, was also forced to do rote busy work for my superior instead of stretching my legs with billings and developing my own book of business, and really getting to know the claims process on my end.

I was expected to sit all day at my desk sans bathroom / coffee breaks, and never deviate from the set list of tasks to deal with re: mailing, endorsements to policies, follow-ups on mortgagee changes, etc. But when they finally let me attempt to do billings, I didn't truly understand the process after months of being forced to do mindless shit work, and of course messed something up.

And then when you fail one time, they justified further restricting you despite the "issue" being A.) instantly fixable, B.) not dealing with much money in policies (such as misc. articles), and C.) Never being pushed or expected to perform on your own by your own boss, who at this point was more interested in me organizing their decades old folders of policies to be digitally scanned.

When I was told I would need another designation (CISR) to be "taken seriously", which would've involved another year of classes in addition to busy work, I said fuck all of that and went back to college within a years time.


With a just a few years of experience I consider myself a bit of a noob developer in a small shop.

I'm given the opportunity to say "I'm trying something new, but dorked up and this will take longer". It's not limitless and sometimes I end up playing catch up... but IMO it has paid off a lot in my confidence and skills.

It has been a great experience. Being able to make a real change that actually impacts the product lets me see the results, good and bad.

The real power is rewriting something, finding out why things are the way they are, failing to make it better ... and then that combo really informs the final result that is almost always way better.

I'm a college football fan and a head coach PJ Fleck talks a lot about failure and how he wants his guys to go out on the field, try, and fail. Making choices and failure to him is 100% a part of the process to getting better, not just as a part of "that's what happens" but it is both expected and embraced.

It also reminds me of when I used to have interns sit next to me. The vast majority we'd give simple tasks to and the outcomes I didn't really care about as much as the effort. Most folks really floundered without being told what exactly to do, it was disappointing.

One day a high achiever intern comes in along with a guy who was "a problem" according to the professor.

Both did great, and IMO difference between everyone else and those two wasn't any technical skills or etc... they were fearless. They tried things others wouldn't, they'd dork it up, but they also (to some extent) didn't worry about the results and thus learned super fast. In the end they were the only two we ever actually offered jobs to.


> When you provide that many restrictions on people they rise to exactly that lowest common denominator and never, ever, any further. If by chance they learn a new skill, they immediately leave for a better job that at least let’s them wield that new skill.

After spending more than half of my life living in Singapore & China, I believe what you have described in a more general sense applies to populations under authoritarian regime too.


Oh I wish I had more points for this...


This effect is obvious for anyone who navigated before and after the age of personal GPS.

When you engage in the decision-making process, you learn. When you rely on something to make choices for you, you don't learn.


I'm really tired of people who claim the result of a psychological study is "obvious".

No, it isn't obvious at all and your example doesn't even correspond to the paper in any way. [1]

With GPS, it's easy to simply not pay attention. And if you're not even paying equal attention, then you're not even trying to learn. But that's not even what the study's about.

The study is about people actively trying to learn, first of all. It's about the rates of people who are trying to solve something from trial and error, not people trying to memorize a route they research or look up or are told.

But the study is specifically about discovering that choice confirmation bias appears to lead to higher learning rates, which is entirely non-obvious. In layman's terms, why would "assuming I'm right" lead to better learning outcomes? Traditionally, common sense tells us that prejudice or bias leads to worse learning outcomes.

So this is actually a quite interesting, non-obvious result.

[1] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-020-0919-5


At the same time, in a big enough forum, there will always be many people who have already intuited what most psychological scientific studies are about, and had it confirmed by their own experience many times over.

I’m equally irritated when people label an idea invalid until it’s been scientifically confirmed and peer reviewed. Science is often about confirmation, not about creation. Many people are likely to have realized something long before a team of scientists got funded, figured out how to test the idea, analyzed results, wrote papers, published, and officially confirmed it.


You're right, for some things people will have already intuited it, and in a large enough group someone will have intuited pretty much everything. But many people will also have the wrong intuition.

The danger here is if we find data that goes against our common sense, we have to really consider that data, not reject it and rely on our common sense only. Sometimes it's right, sometimes it's wrong. Having a study prove something by no means makes it definitive, but it does provide better evidence and lets us better know if our intuition aligns with reality.


Often people will learn something and then that thing will become intuitive even though it wasn't before. As an example, we've all had that calculus teacher that thought everything was obvious and students were dumb (or programming). Most of us struggle and THEN it becomes obvious. In fact, on a forum like this you might see people respond that they didn't struggle and it was intuitive and we won't know if that's real or if they struggled and just forgot (which our brain does a lot).


Sure. But it's often that people "know" something that is false. The expression "like pulling a band-aid" is a great example. It's what doctors and nurses believe to the degree that they willingly torture their patients because they believe honestly they are reducing total suffering. But they are wrong.

Source: the work of Dan Ariely. His Ted talk is a good introduction.


Sure. But you won’t see anyone commenting about that. I’m only saying some people will in fact intuit a thing and be right, and we should hardly admonish them for doing so.

The higher rated their comment is, the more other people likely intuited the same.

It’s almost a decent measure of how obvious the thing being proven actually was — assuming you could baseline it and compare it to others in a meaningful way.


Some people who accumulated various good intuitions over decades created a bow, an iron plow and knew planets from stars.

Some people who started validating their intuitions with real measurements gave us steel ships, cantilever bridges and moon rockets.

These achievements were not a result of majority of people having the same intuition.


>Many people are likely to have realized something long before a team of scientists got funded, figured out how to test the idea, analyzed results, wrote papers, published, and officially confirmed it.

Can you expand on that? Who are these many people? Any examples? Lay people who have nothing to do with the field, simply intuiting results without doing the work to carefully rule out external factors? Or people without scientific training performing science without realizing that what they're doing is science ?


"I'm really tired of people who claim the result of a psychological study is "obvious".

Thank you crazygringo2 for saying this.

"Obvious" is my most disliked word. Its reserved for 'expert' people (gatekeepers) who forgot what its like to be a beginner.

"People aren't dumb, its just that the world is a complicated place." -Professor Richard Thaler, thought leader of Behavioral Economics, 2017 Nobel Prize winner


Colloquially, "this will be obvious to anyone who X" means "you will already have strong belief values for this based on evidence gained through X". I wouldn't sweat it.

As you can imagine, sometimes this ends up declaring the obviousness of things that are untrue.

For instance, it's obvious to anyone who has walked in a stiff breeze that it is impossible to sail faster than the wind :)


Haven't finished reading the paper yet, but it is not entirely obvious that when participants are being directed on how to choose, they are paying as much attention as when they have to choose for themselves. That seems like a possible confound.

And the GPS analogy also suggested itself to me.

In fact, when the GPS gives me bad advice and I turn the wrong way, I seemed to have learned more from that too...


I'm really tired of people who claim the result of a psychological study is "obvious".

Personally, I don't get too wound up on people's opinions on psychological studies. They're fun little conversation filler, but psychology isn't a science.[1]

Plus, you make assumptions about what I'm saying is obvious and what the study actually showed. At first when I got a GPS, I even noticed the effect of not knowing where I was, so I even tried to pay attention in case I didn't want to use the GPS later. I noticed that even paying attention, trying to learn, you just don't engage the full set of neurons that you do when you're struggling to do something yourself. I still felt lost in situations where prior to a GPS I would have felt confident in my ability to navigate.

How could the study show that people were trying to learn when they were being told what to do? You can't control for that or see into their heads to see if they're making the same efforts in the same ways.

This study makes the same mistake of tons of psychological studies. It attempts to simplify mental processes or abstract them and then pretend that the simplification or abstraction stands in for some other mental process result.

[1] https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/08/27/6422183...


It's weirdly ironic that you cited an article that doesn't support what you're asserting in response to a comment complaining about, among other things, your giving an irrelevant example that does not address the original paper.


There are also a group of people who take a simple study model, and apply it to anything and everything in their lives - that's about as anti-science as you can get. Maybe I'm more sensitive to this behavior since I spend a lot of time evaluating research papers for work, whereas the average person might just read a headline or two in a journal.

I'm sure folks mean well but it stems from this thinking that science is some kind of truth generator. It simply isn't, its a method of investigating the natural world. Only when enough people independently verify your result, will you get _closer_ to what could be defined as objectively true. And even after verification, there could still be huge gaps in our understanding of a natural phenomenon. There is no guarantee that one group of researchers is going to present a complete picture. It may take many researchers studying the same topic over many decades to reach a scientific consensus. Until then, its simply an idea/ideas - which could be interesting to think about by itself - but its not incontrovertible truth.


Assuming you’re right lets you shoot yourself in the foot and learn. Without assuming you ask for guidance and do the right thing.

And you lack the visceral experience why it’s the right choice.

A kid that grabs a hot stove will never try again. A kid who listens to their mom will.


If you're right, you already have mental systems in place to produce the right answer. If you're wrong, the feedback will help your systems self-correct.

If you ask for help, you're using someone else's systems, and whether they're right or wrong carries very little weight about how you should be approaching things. You're not producing a system, you're adding an item to a lookup table that you might someday use to build a coherent approach.

'Fire is hot' is a good entry for a lookup table, but you also need to develop a general model of where potential dangers are and that you should approach them with caution. There is no number of entries that equal that system.


It’s an example of hindsight bias in action.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindsight_bias


Thank you for this comment. I see "its obvious" here and on reddit all the time with scientific papers and you eloquently addressed why its so wrong to say.


If you have strong prior belief about outcome of your action, if it doesn't go as you planned. You have a way better signal to update your internal model.


Maybe you should learn more. Then you will find mundane things obvious more often and you will be less annoyed by people who know more than you


This is very relevant to my personal experience.

I've always had a very, very poor sense of direction. Even if I I've been down a road countless times, if I approach it from a different direction I can easily become lost and turned around, so I've just relied on my gps to get me anywhere.

This is something I always figured must be due to something with how my brain is structured. Just a reality of how I've developed.

Then one day I travelled to cuba on a whim. Spent a week there with no phone service. Within just a few days, I had most of Havana memorized and could easily navigate it without a map, even intuit where I was by the position of the sun. It's like I unlocked a new super power I never had.

Then it hit me... the reason my sense of direction has always been so poor is because I offload that part of my brain onto machines.


Similarly, if I go to some new place with a friend or a group where I'm not the one leading, I would never remember the road. Even after multiple trips.

If I go by myself even once, I will always remember how to get there.

This phenomen is quite common and pretty straightforward if you think about it.


This particular GPS example is slightly flawed. If you MRI cab drivers their brains are slightly different. Evolutionarily it makes sense why direction would be particularly important.

My dad drove a cab in grad school to pay the bills, and even now his sense of direction (which should be relatively close since we share genetics) is relatively absurd; stuff like “I drove past this place 7 years ago I remembered it was a left turn here”.

So we might be slightly off track with the GPS example.


Do we have MRIs of cab drivers before they became a driver? We need to decouple if that's a learned skill or not. Certainly there is some spectrum in native ability but it would make sense for the vast majority of people to have the basic ability but that they never hone the skill. There are people that are never about to write, but for practical purposes we expect everyone to be able to do it (after being taught).

I think a lot of people attribute to "natural ability" what is often learned because many times it isn't obvious how those skills were learned. It's obvious everyone went to school to learn to read and write, it's not obvious a child learned navigation because their favorite game growing up was hide and seek.


It's a learned skill.

London cab drivers are famed for "The Knowledge". You can see the physical change in the hippocampus from the MRIs. However, the physical changes also seems to negatively impact some of their cognitive skills, so there's tradeoff.


Source? What cognitive skills are impacted?


On top of what texasbigdata said, try searching for "london" "the knowledge". The non-linear way London's street system has evolved over the centuries has lent to some very unusual ways of getting around town that Uber/Lyft/GPS haven't really been able to supplant yet. The guys who test for "The Knowledge" have to do years of research, physically driving the best routes from major locations in great detail.

This research, whether they pass or not, results in marked growth in temporal and visuo-spatial parts of the brain.

It's one of my favorite subjects being a bit of a geography geek myself.


The first result on google for “London cab mri” is a paper with 922 citations....this is not witchcraft.


https://www.pnas.org/content/97/8/4398

I think they also studied former cab drivers and found the structures to have shrunken compared to current cab drivers but still more pronounced vs non can drivers. I can't seem to find the source but I seem to recall this from a Stan Dehaene book


Totally agree with the premise, but to be specific: you don't learn about navigation.

This does mean you have headspace to perhaps enjoy the scenery, or learn about other subjects via audiobook. IMO it winds up being a trade-off instead of a net loss.


Not really because what you would have learned is that it's better to plot your route beforehand thus freeing your mind to listen to your audiobook.


When you engage in the decision-making process, you learn, and sometimes get completely lost.

When you rely on something to make choices for you, you don't learn but you are never lost.

I'm not disagreeing, just wondering which outcome people prefer.


> When you rely on something to make choices for you, you don't learn but you are never lost.

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_by_GPS

* https://www.theregister.com/2012/12/12/another_apple_maps_me...

Following the GPS will not get you lost in the vast majority of situations, unless you then lose signal or your GPS encounters a technical problem. However if it does get you lost, you will be substantially more lost than if you had not relied on it.

N.B. I'm only objecting to the finality of the statement, I don't think you're going to get lost in most cases with a GPS.


> When you rely on something to make choices for you, you don't learn but you are never lost.

Unless of course suddenly whatever you're relying on turns out to be unreliable.


I'm not entirely sure if having something or someone else manage the decision making process avoids getting lost. You may pass some responsibility for your journey (literally or metaphorically) off to something/someone else (the decision maker), but you absolutely can still get lost.

For the GPS example, it's completely possible depending on the system to drift into an area without data access or precached maps. Your device you're reliant on could break. Addresses could be correct or mapping could be incorrect. Your device could lose power. You followed the directions from the decision and its "not your fault" but you are none-the-less, lost. Often in our society, when the decision maker is at fault, its those executing the decision who still takes responsibility and ultimately have to fix or deal with the decision, regardless of the quality of the decision.

I conclude, it's far better to be part of the decision making process, even if you're just executing the result. Not only do you often have more context to better inform the decision making process, as the one executing the decision, you also have some say in the direction of your future.


I have a friend who always relies on not just phone maps, but also phone directions (turn left now), and gets helplessly lost downtown where GPS is unreliable. It's less binary than your breakdown.


I used to use google maps as just a GPS rather than navigation instructions. I've since found it is most helpful to use navigation in major cities because the directions are so much more complicated and the consequences for a single wrong turn can be huge time in traffic.


I disagree. I can generally drive a moderately long route (100 km) by myself after 3-5 times with GPS. I might never learn it without a GPS that I can see during the way.


Agreed, I can navigate to anywhere in my town without an issue, I haven't used a GPS to navigate within town in years (basically, since I moved here). When I first moved here I used GPS to get around because I moved here by myself and had never been here before. If I "wasn't learning" when using the GPS then I'd still need it to get around, but I found I only really needed it for a week or so.

Of course, many people use GPS when they don't care about learning how to get somewhere, they just wanna get there, thus the use case is different.


To play devils advocate, have you ever tried pulling out a map, planning your route, and then driving it?

I'm going to assume not based on your response since you'd likely learn the route after 1 or occasionally 2 times of doing that.

I say that because I work in an area where GPS directions are usually useless and often have to find my way to a new location based on directions, or by planning my route ahead of time. It works really well.


I didn't really, because I can't remember half the route that way. Usually not even a few turns, and I frequently zone out with no idea where I am. Google Maps were a lifesaver for me.


How many turns / complexity is there’s though? Arguably 2 miles in London is harder than 100 miles in Arkansas due to the sheer cognitive load.


That's true. I am talking about routes with around 20-30 turns (based on Gmaps report).


This is very true and now I sometimes force myself to do things manually just so I can learn.

I lived in Bombay for 10 years and I know the nook and corners, all the way from the sub-urban to the tip of the city. I'm super comfortable at anywhere in that city and know my bearing, stores, etc.

Unfortunately, even thought I have been in Bangalore for an equal amount of time, I'm lost beyond my periphery. Even in places I know, I rely on the GPS just so I don't have to take judgement on the better route.


This isn't obvious for those of us from a pre-device era.

Particularly the device isn't something you bought, but instead built a "device internally", whether that's a fast-lookup or a turn by turn reckoning.

> When you rely on something to make choices for you, you don't learn.

My entire history with Calculus is basically "Here's a bunch of random formulae to memorize" and I could do that very very efficiently.

The goal was speed of solving a problem when learning Mathematics, but then you get to Physics classes full of problems without actual equations provided and then your memory just gives up throwing possibilities.

But once a crutch works, it works again. Unfortunately, the crutch only takes you to the bottom of the hill, no more.

And then suddenly, you're in a crowd of people who have made mistakes, recognize mistakes made and correct mistakes instead without an instructor. Sort of like swimming out to the ocean with water wings on and suddenly they start to deflate.

That's when this starts to look like a fatal error rather than an easily recoverable one & even if you survive it, you're stuck with a permanent impostor syndrome.


However, it's important to remember just how often people got lost in the age before Satellite Navigation. All the damn time they got turned around and lost. Even people who should have been professional navigators got lost. Kids today don't get the experience of missing the exit or making a wrong turn and discovering that your directions are suddenly useless.

Are they dumber because they don't learn how to navigate by the seat of their pants? Maybe, but it's kind of like asking if they're dumber because they don't learn how to saddle their horse. The skillset is semi-obsolete in the modern world. They can save that space in their brain for something novel to the modern era, like which Roblox maps are the best or something.


I've been driving for around 2.5 years now, and whether I'm using GPS or not I could never tell you a single road I drove on or even the general direction I'm going. I just turn the wheel some number of times. If I've driven the same route a hundred times and today one road is closed, I'm totally lost and need to pull over.

But when I bike or walk somewhere it makes so much more sense, I can actually navigate in real time and think about shortcuts or plan a route without having done it before. It's one of many, many reasons why I hate driving.


A lot of “obvious” psychological results have proven very hard to replicate.


One better, autocorrect.


This is something I learned in my on and off side career as a sailing instructor.

I used to start off as a navigator and walk people through a course, telling them exactly where to tack for an ideal path. Then I started setting buoys and letting them figure it out for themselves. Buoys start out perpendicular to the wind, which is not terribly challenging. When students do well enough and gained enough confidence I set them in line with the wind, which is incredibly difficult for someone new.

I give them hints pointers, but I never make the decisions for them. Without fail, everyone screws up the upwind and downwind buoys on the first lap but they eventually make it around. Gradually they screw up less and less and start to get it.


The secret to teaching well isn't to tell students what they should know, but to create an environment where students can't help but to learn what they should know. This is a perfect example.


I'm not a psychologist, and this is anecdata so take what I say with a huge grain of salt, but I kind of feel like my life is sort of a testament to this.

I'm just old enough to where my high school didn't have any kind of computer-science course, but I learned programming on my own as a kid because I thought it was fun. At that time, it always was a quick way to get most adults to think you're some kind genius :). I dropped out of college after ~2 years, in no small part because I've never liked being told what I need to learn, but because I had already taught myself programming, I was able to find work.

I've tried to keep this mentality up throughout my all my life. It drives my wife crazy, but I'm constantly buying compsci or math books to try and learn a bit more and get just a little better at the theory of compsci, and hopefully becoming a better engineer in the process. I have no idea if I'm better than the "average" programmer, whatever that means, but I have managed to get good enough to where people ask me compsci theory questions at work, which is somewhat validating.


> To help individuals with delusions, the current findings suggest, it may be more effective to examine their sense of control and choices than to try to convince them with contradictory evidence—which, over and over, has not been shown to work.

Oh god. If that's true, you can't possibly do this at scale like you'd need for coronavirus things or global warming. I'm sure we all have delusions about something at some level. That's why trust in public institutions is critical and those institutions need to be above reproach in their conduct. That doesn't mean no bad conduct but an evidence-based belief that bad conduct is identified and punished. That could explain why American society has been crumbling. It's taken a beating on the trust aspect by abuses from those in power for a long time. More importantly there haven't really been meaningful reforms to address that abuse which has eroded the trust that was built up for so long. The "small government" movement has taken a long time but it's finally winning in America because it identified trust as the weak point & systematically kept attacking it & used media to amplify the fight. A countermovement did not form in time so here we are with so many decades of damage. I'm not sure if it's possible to rebuild that at this point.


> The "small government" movement has taken a long time but it's finally winning in America

From the outside looking in, it's either:

* the "small government" movement, which only wants to keep big government small if it's filled by the other side of the aisle and grow it otherwise, or

* the "less regulation is more profits" movement

Both variants are ultimately corrupt to the bone.

Real small government voices don't seem to be present or growing in Washington. Then again, I don't follow your news as closely as you might.


Small government is nearly impossible to get from big government because the only way to change government is to get into it, and once you are in it big government is good for you.

The best we can hope for is a revolution followed by a small government that grows slowly.


How are you defining "grows slowly vs grows quickly"?. What is the ideal rate of growth?

The executive branch by itself has grown from 699 to 2079 since 1940 to 2014 [1]. That's a growth of just under 3x. By comparison, US population has grown from 132 million to 318 million in that time period according to Google. A growth of ~2.5x. The US GDP has grown by 14x in that time period [2]. Just to imagine that size, the US economy today is larger than the world economy in 1940 (now sure there's some inflation along with that so the numbers aren't strictly comparable.

However, if you look at the total federal government size itself, it appears to haven't really changed since 1984 [3] so this growth in the executive branch is just shifting employees around. The government hasn't been growing since the 80s.

So I'll reask my question. What level of growth is acceptable? Why has 0 growth in 40 years still not been enough to achieve the "ideal" "small government size"?

[1] https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/data-analysis-docu... [2] https://www.thebalance.com/us-gdp-by-year-3305543 [3] https://www.volckeralliance.org/true-size-government


The numbers you're sharing here are not making your argument for you. The number of people employed by federal executive departments is in the millions.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_federal_executiv...


That's not really addressing the questions posed. What is the point in time at which the government had ever been "small enough"? What is the size that's "small enough" for you?


Now do government spending.


Great. So you have the same number of people managing extremely more money & supporting a larger population. Government has shrunk. Government is either more productive or severely under performing things they need to do (assuming they're even working on the right things).

If "small government" means reduce US government spending, that's interesting because the only different between Democrats & "small government Republicans" is that the latter also cut taxes while increasing spending. Democrats don't go out of their way to advertise they need to increase taxes, but at least they're not outright lying & ignoring the problem.

Unless by small government the movement really means "no government". It's interesting to me that government abolishing is associated with anarchists on the left and "small government" movement is on the right but the "small government" movement is so poorly defined on what goal it's trying to achieve that in practice there's actually no difference in the outcome being achieved.


Also the basic premise of the argument doesn't even hold AFAICT. The size of government since 1984 has shrunk from 9.7 million to 9.1 million in 2015. So the government has shrunk despite supposedly being in the era of big government. This is despite a growth of nearly 100 million people in the US.


> To help individuals with delusions, the current findings suggest, it may be more effective to examine their sense of control and choices than to try to convince them with contradictory evidence—which, over and over, has not been shown to work.

The psychiatrist Milton Ericsson, when treating a delusional patient who thought he was Jesus, said 'your a carpenter right? Could you make me some furniture?'


Funny joke but Jesus wants actually known for his carpentry ability. He seems to have abandoned that career for godhood.


The patient actually started work as a carpenter


"For example, maybe voluntary mask-wearing should be encouraged and coupled with rewards for choosing to put on a face covering and occasional punishments for not doing so."

We have seen mask non-compliance fines go into effect, but perhaps there needs to be mask compliance rewards. I frequent a coffee shop that has been providing a mask-discount since March.


These days I tell confrontational anti-mask people, in this order

"My mask is for just in case I need to go into a shop"

"I like the fashion accessory, this mask was personalized"

"yeah you got me, I don't actually care about these rights being curbed, go away"


Maybe we just need more masks that stop viruses but let the coffee get through.


I think Trump and the divisions in the US are a symptom of the wokeness that sprung up in the mid 2010s, and that wokeness came from the humanities departments in US colleges who proselytized to and converted a large swathe of millennial graduates. Now a large proportion of the population doesn't care who they elect as long as they aren't towing the politically correct line which is being forced upon them by US cultural institutions (primarily media and entertainment, who were capture by recent woke graduates)

Source: (1) people I know who are Republicans, (2) check out any right media outlet and the primary outrage is wokeness.


Small government is winning because big government is filled with crooks


So now the crooks are out of government swindling you through the market in a way you don't even see? Or are you saying people's propensity for taking advantage & criminality only happens in the context of government? Or are you saying that government crooks are more efficient at swindling larger amounts than the private market offers?


Trillions are at stake over who controls the federal government, or even pieces of it. There's a reason why nobody spends $100 million a year to lobby Google but they do the government. The biggest crooks go where the biggest opportunity is, that's all.


If I gave you $10 you could manage it just fine I presume by yourself. If I gave you $100 trillion, wouldn't you hire people to manage it for you & make sure it didn't get stolen from you? At a minimum, you'd pay for some physical security from anyone trying to take your riches, right?


Is that true? Google is never approached by sales people? Never threatened by lawyers? Never protested by activists? Never receives petitions or gets unsolicited advice from thinktanks?

I don't know about $100 million but they get their fair share of what is essentially lobbying I'm sure.


Small government and big government are both filled with crooks and self-serving bureaucrats. The main difference is that a small government can do less damage and extracts less from the economy.


> trust in public institutions is critical

Distrust in public institutions is why we no longer live under despots. You need a balance.


Under despots, states are not public institutions, but rather private.


> Distrust in public institutions is why we no longer live under despots. You need a balance.

People don't mainly trust despots, rather they fear them. Though they may foolishly trust the "image" of the despot when they simultaneously fear the actual apparatus that he created to maintain control.


A fraction of people still blindly trust despots. The larger that fraction is the harder it is to topple the despot. If everyone was like that then the despot would never get toppled.


To add, Democracy is more or less built around having half of all politicians actively working to reduce trust in the current government. That is intended.

I think the problem in USA has more to do with how easily people are swayed by emotional arguments. It is so easy for politicians there to cause people to lose trust in a candidate just by attacking unrelated things about them.


> I think the problem in USA has more to do with how easily people are swayed by emotional arguments. It is so easy for politicians there to cause people to lose trust in a candidate just by attacking unrelated things about them.

In my personal opinion as an American, I feel we've backslid a bit since ~2010. At that point, it seemed like any nearly argument could be won by invoking science (even where it wasn't applicable, such as metaphysical arguments about religion), and now science is merely one of "many Ways of Knowing" and perhaps a racist one at that. We've never had a complete trust in science, mind you, but even on the far right people wouldn't attack the very idea of science and objectivity (even if they had paranoid ideas about conspiracies in the science community and so on). I'm not sure the cause, but it concerns me deeply.


The headline seems like the most obvious thing in the world to me. I'm glad it's proved by science, but I have never been able to find my way home without Google, if Google told me how to get here, or if my friend in the passenger seat did the navigating.

As a parent, if I only do things for my kids instead of watching them do it themselves, then I will always be the one doing.


> if I only do things for my kids instead of watching them do it themselves, then I will always be the one doing.

Honestly, if I had a dollar for every time a student (this is a college) who was unable to function in a classroom or public space, because their parents either bulldozed every obstacle, or (and this happens more than you'd think) did their actual homework for them starting at an early age, I'd have like $200.

I know it doesn't sound like a lot.

But, there are a number of parents who prescribe to the parenting tradition of - the child should never meet an obstacle, for fear of their self-esteem. This includes homework, negative feedback, or any extra-curricular the child is not immediately amazing at.

By the time these kids get to me, they are literally unable to function as adults in a public space.


> the child should never meet an obstacle, for fear of their self-esteem

Right, and this does exactly the opposite! Self-esteem is built ONLY by meeting obstacles and overcoming them.


> I have never been able to find my way home without Google, if Google told me how to get here, or if my friend in the passenger seat did the navigating.

Are you able to say "I came from the west, I'm going to go west until I find a road I'm familiar with, and then follow that to an area I'm familiar with, and then get home from there"?

I can understand not being able to find a place you've been before if you weren't navigating the first time, but to find it difficult to get back home seems very alien to me. But then I don't use a GPS very often.


These navigating skills are something you typically develop when either navigating yourself or using a static/printed map. You learn how things are relatively positioned to one another and spatial relations, relative directions, absolute directions and so forth. These are sometimes referred to as 'cognitive artifacts' -- skills you've developed or inherited from some device where the information/knowledge and techniques somewhat been embedded in the system and your brain sort of develops these as base skills. Those devices often instill many years of knowledge and evolved over time give you the best ways of navigating yourself, from generations of other navigators.

When you use a modern GPS navigation system does all of these processes for you (albeit a bit differently because computer mapping typically navigates a bit differently than your brain would navigate). I now have literal verbal directions when I should turn left. I have no idea what's around me or what I should expect to see in terms of global landmarks or reference points. I rarely even pay attention to the position of the sun. I have no relative or absolute orientations I'm keeping track of, I only have decision points on a network where something tells me which branch to take when I come upon it--highly localized. Much of the useful cognitive artifacts from a standard map are completely lost in these contexts. You never needed to develop the skills and therefor never did.


I grew up well before the GPS age so it also seems foreign to me that there are people who can't navigate without one. I generally know to a pretty good degree of accuracy the cardinal directions (N,S,E,W) and if I've been somewhere once I can generally find it again. It would be interesting to do brain scans on people of different ages while they're doing spatial navigation to see the differences in the brains of those who grew up with GPS vs those who didn't.


Not the OP, but I grew up in a mountainous Appalachian town. I always thought I was terrible at navigating, until I moved to a Midwestern town with a grid layout. Suddenly, I'm pretty good!

In my hometown, it was incredibly difficult for me to make a mental map—a westward turn on an unknown road could very easily have you going East! The road layouts were haphazard and organic, something I love when walking, but much more stressful when driving across the rural sprawl. I basically only drove between places that I'd already been, and relied on a GPS for anything else.


Thank you, that's exactly the kind of perspective I was hoping to receive.

That makes a lot of sense.


What if you go west and the road bends north and you don't see a familiar road?

At some point you may go too far west and then going west makes your situation worse.


No I'm not saying to blindly go where no man has gone before.

Just... just give it a try. I think you'll surprise yourself. Besides, having a GPS in your pocket at all times makes it safer to get lost than it was in the Rand McNally days.


I don't understand your point. I never use a GPS to navigate, and I've gotten plenty lost. Six months ago, while aimlessly exploring westward on my motorcycle to get some air at the beginning of quarantine I went down a road I was familiar with a different segment of. I did not realize the road went through some strange twists (with no exit) where I got on it this time, and by the time I was able to get off of it, I was completely disoriented. My attempts to correct got me even more disoriented, to the point where I was relying on the sun so I would at least know the cardinal direction I was heading in. My original thinking that getting my bearings would be trivial caused me to make quick decisions that left me so confused that I couldn't even retrace my route back to the road that originally discombobulated me. I didn't want to ask for directions because I was afraid of the virus. I ended up pulling into a hardware store's parking lot, and calling my mother who lives in a different state asking her to google map the hardware store by name so she could point me back in the direction of the city where I live. I had managed to get over an hour away from my house, meaning that almost every decision I made was wrong.

I can't say it wasn't a nice ride, though. But my point is that people are not homing pigeons. I'm very good at navigating generally, but a couple of bad decisions can compound. That's how people get lost in the woods. If your commute is complicated, the way you actually end up memorizing it is by screwing it up a bunch of times.


For your original question, I guess it's a little bit hyperbolic to say that I can't find my way home. I like to think that my sense of direction is fine. It would be more accurate to say that I can't find my way to an unfamiliar place a second time, if I didn't manage my own navigation the first time.


Yeah, that I totally get. I just wasn't sure if you were being literal about the other part, which would seem really weird to me.


Totally. Just recently I started showing my kid how to get somewhere they goes often. I lead the way the first 5 times and the 6th made them lead. They had no clue where to go, so instead I made them guess and if they were wrong I would correct them. 7th day they took me on their own without any assistance.

I only did this because of what you said; anytime I rely on Google Maps to get me somewhere, I never really know where to go until I find my own way there.

I think it’s similar to how teaching something makes you understand it better.


You can get the same effect much less painfully by having your kid go there themselves, without you.

When I was learning to drive, my dad was remarkably disturbed that, despite never having had to go anywhere myself, I didn't know how to go anywhere. So he made me try to find my way home while he sat in the passenger seat watching. In a totally predictable development, I ran a red light under stress and got a ticket, months before even getting a driver's license.


Hated school until I decided to go back. When that happened, I started getting straight As


People have to understand the "why" behind the education before they can be fully engaged with the material that others have constructed in the aid of learning.

I believe education should be a life-long thing. Citizens should be allowed, and even encouraged to seek out educational programs when they feel like they need it, instead of society telling everyone when and where they must complete which programs before they are "certified". To take it one step further, I believe this type of forced certification process only helps create the ever-expanding footprint of idiocy we see in our world today.


Poverty can be a very strong incentive


Totally agreed. What I said does not stand in conflict with poverty-motivated education.

I believe everyone should get as much education as possible whenever they want.


Given the replication crisis, these are the kind of results that I reflexively don't believe anymore.

Has anyone read any of the studies? What are n and p for these results? What's the effect size?


Same here. Statistically we have the odds in our favor.

This study also has a lot of the particulars that went wrong with most studies, like having a lot of conditionals. Generally this means that this is an aggregation of several smaller studies.

I will check the small print on this one before going with the “obvious” crowd.


"For example, when freely choosing between the two options, people learned more quickly from the symbols associated with greater reward than those associated with punishment, which removed points. Though that finding resembled a positivity bias, this interpretation was ruled out by trials that demonstrated participants could also learn from negative outcomes."

So, a positivity bias implies that one cannot learn from negative outcomes?

"But there was more to it. The experiments also included “forced choice” trials in which the computer told participants which option to select. Here, though the subjects still pressed keys to make the instructed choices, confirmation bias disappeared, with both positive and negative outcomes weighted equally during learning."

Yes, confirmation bias disappears when it's not your decision that is being confirmed.


Here's how I want to learn something new: Give me a pre-made path to completion, allow me to experience the destination. Be available to answer questions about changes I might want to make; be knowledgeable enough to answer honestly about how my new choices might cause me problems later, and be willing to allow me to experience those problems first hand.

How many times have I attempted to do something with web frontend that starts as a pre-made path, but then when I deviate slightly and break something, no one understands the breakage. I got off The One Path and now it's my problem. Very simple things like "I chose $TOOL to solve $PROBLEM because $TECHNICAL_REASON_OR_PERSONAL_PREFERENCE" would go a long way.


I've thought that wiki-style tutorials where you can branch and ask questions at specific decision points solve this.

Lot's of effort goes into one-off tutorials. This is great but those go stale and are scattered throughout the internet.

A wiki-style site to aggregate those that allows the community to maintain them and enrich them with Q&A and alternative implementations would be amazing.


How much are you willing to pay for those answers? What you're describing sounds similar to interactive courses and 1:1 couching.


I actually disagree with this headline.

It depends on the type of work. For example, learning 2+2=4, would be difficult to figure out on your own. Learning how to install plumbing into a building....umm...no.

For certain fundamental concepts, this is not the way to learn. It might be the way to internalize ideas but not have the correct framework for a given task.

As one becomes a highly skilled worker, creativity becomes paramount and it's through experimentation that one, whom has mastery, can decide what solution works best or not. This can't be taught in an explicit education but through a level of competence.

Maybe the article qualifies this but...I suspect not in a clear way (click bait and...laziness).


I agree and I feel it's due to the Paradox of Choice.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Paradox_of_Choice


Interesting connection. What are your thoughts on connecting these two together?


I thought you arrived at the same conclusion? With a very narrow and specific subject to focus your studying, it probably is easier left to your own devices to study. However if you’re studying a broader subject with many different paths as visible choices; you’ll most likely end up paralyzed and unable to progress until you start removing those choices one by one... slowing you down.

This is how I feel when trying to learn React vs Rails


It seems like you haven’t read the article at all. I recommend you do so, it goes in a different direction than you may have surmised from the headline


> key from article "Here, though the subjects still pressed keys to make the instructed choices, confirmation bias disappeared, with both positive and negative outcomes weighted equally during learning."

>> arolihas said: Here, though the subjects still pressed keys to make the instructed choices, confirmation bias disappeared, with both positive and negative outcomes weighted equally during learning.

I appreciate the recommend but...I'm still coming to the same conclusion. Humans are not robots. We need to have a full conceptual framework about ideas for them to scale and through the scientific method and trial/error we've learned quiet a deal on how to mentally model the world.

My conclusion lines up with this statement.

> ""Feeling as though you are the architect of the outcomes you experience is powerful and certainly would lead you to strengthen beliefs about those contingencies much more strongly"

To also add more meat to my initial argument, read below.

>"This insight could also help explain delusional thinking, in which false beliefs remain impenetrable to contrary evidence. An outsize feeling of control may contribute to an unflagging adherence to an erroneous belief."

This is also hinting at some disgusting thought processes in the author (not of the study but of the SA author). Assuming 'contrary evidence' is rigorous enough is a very deceptive thought; as author states, delusional. Sure, the desire of someone is a very important factor but...when 'truth' can't be reduced nor conceptually described, I say it's not really truth. It's a guess without evidence, re:Feynman. This typically is not a quick process.

If I have a poor (not scalable/error prone), then it was helpful at some point, to criticize my incorrect framework, without finding the ability to quantify aspects of it (as per the study, show benefits/punishments). Then how can one deduce that Newtonian physics is incorrect? The replacement framework needs to answer more questions than the previous one and help create similar factors to the situation in this study. Too much assumption is coming from the SA author.

Trusting a 'forced' choice is how we all learn but we're also given feedback on what the decisions mean (the two choices aren't equal choices like the study has). If I use a diffeq to describe the properties of a wave, I'm closer to truth. If I use a linear equation, I'm not correct. There is no in between. To get to the 'truth' one needs to have a correct framework. Rote is how we learn until we've reached the limits of the existing framework. Rewarding incentives help provide positive feedback loops. As for 'force' being something negative, this is a terrible conclusion to what was experimented.

Therefore, I stand firmly behind my initial claims. Laziness on their parts.

P.S. > SA author writes: when maybe something about choice or an inflated sense of control pushes people toward delusions.

It is so difficult to realize that their 'delusion' is helpful for their given individual purpose.

> would be how beliefs are updated in a person with delusions and whether this process differs when choices are forced or made freely.

Are they seriously asking this? Really. I'm dumbfounded at why people think in these terms. It's truly seeds of authoritarianism.

> The latter individuals’ sense of control, also called agency, was equally diminished in both free-choice and forced-choice situations.

Because confidence is a major factor in how humans make decisions.

> There’s this general sense that the rules don’t apply anymore, and that is really unmooring for people and can lead to unpredictable, irrational behavior, - Corlett

Umm. Y'all really need to stop watching the news. This is such a broad assumption that is surprising for a person talking about delusional thinking, to be saying.

> For example, maybe voluntary mask-wearing should be encouraged and coupled with rewards for choosing to put on a face covering and occasional punishments for not doing so.

Glimmer of hope here when people think about policy assuming the freedom of choice.

> “Even when the stakes are so high, you may think humans would behave rationally,” he says. “But that’s far from clear.”

Smh. Thanks for ending the article that confirms that even the scientist has a delusional thought process. Can we quantify rational? Seriously. I haven't seen much about this and if there is, you'd think the researcher would have some notes about it since it's critical to their framework and conclusion.


I'm wondering if this is the reason why when given assignments in class , if there are some directions on how to solve the problem (or some starter code), I usually have a harder time coming up with the solution.

It feels like I'm severely constrained into thinking through what the person who came up with the instructions/code was trying to do and work within those boundaries, as opposed to freely thinking about how I would solve it.


I always had this with math, we always needed to do algebra, whereas I was much more interested in trial and error solutions.

I mean I get it now, but at the same time, I think leaving 25 to 50% of all assignments to clever guesswork would've motivated me more, while still learning algebra.


>The experiments also included “forced choice” trials in which the computer told participants which option to select. Here, though the subjects still pressed keys to make the instructed choices

So was the choice forced? Or could they click another choice themselves? It's not quite clear from this wording. In the former case, there's no incentive to learn anything, since you can't change the outcome.


Every experienced old person ever trying to tell their teenagers about mistakes that could be made. It is quite difficult to get it through to the teenager.

Experience at life comes through living, and making the same mistakes others have made.


Sometimes people actually do learn from others. Not everyone needs to be told "Refrain from X" to be able to make the connection that X is a poor life choice.

We should be focusing on what factors set people apart in this way, rather than making blanket statements. That way we can learn from those who know how to learn.


When trying to teach somebody how to do X i always avoid telling what exactly to do. instead i try to hint at my reasoning without giving the conclusion. otherwise i would probably just teach them to ask me what to do.


Offensive Security (OSCP Certification) formed the phrase "Try harder!" which is essentially "try smarter", "try differently" and "try again". They give you an environment where you can learn to hack (among other things) but don't force you a special direction. It gives the student all chances to fail and to grow. This is also the reason their courses are so valuable.


Unfortunately OSCP/PWK is their only course that has that open lab environment to learn through failure.

In the other courses the lab is just a server or two running the vulnerable programs covered by the walk through in the course material.


This seems obvious to me - to learn something, you need to practice recalling it not storing it. You have to practice deciding which button to press to get the reward, not remembering which button to press to get the reward.

More generally reading and re-reading material isn't as effective as trying to remember the material using flashcards. It's the same technique used in language systems like DuoLingo.


I always find my biggest learning breakthroughs are when i'm left alone to do something. Whether it's the first time i've been left alone on a job or back when i was in school the first time working through something the first time after a lecture. The 'big learning moment' always came after i was to take something taught to me and work through a related problem by myself.


This is truly fascinating. I'm raising two kids right now and I'm constantly battling myself over how much to let them learn on their own or just do cause Dad says. Obviously some things they can't learn on their own (don't jump off the building just trust me), but in terms of following their own dreams or interests this is fascinating to think about.


“Choice tips the balance of learning: for the same action and outcome, the brain learns differently and more quickly from free choices than forced ones.”

This makes sense; you have to think through why you are making the choice you are making if it’s a free choice- if it’s a forced choice, you don’t. You could, but why expend the effort if you don’t have to?


Wouldn't teaching by socratic method - asking them questions - be a great solution to this concern? It's almost the opposite of telling people what to do. I say almost because the questions typically try to point in a specific direction.


slightly offtopic: I am looking for a term that describes problem based learning. So for example in a tutorial you get presented with a problem and then the tutorial shows you how to solve it. I can't find the article that talked about this on the internet anymore. "problem based learning" also doesn't yield the thing I am looking for. Anyone knows what I am looking for ?



Knowing this makes parenting a hell of a lot more fun.


The brain might have a specific mechanism for remembering decisions, and what decisions were made.


This article was really difficult to read.


kinda reminds me the policy gradidnt methods




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