Experiment: Psychoanalyze Me

post by Wei_Dai · 2011-07-17T07:54:10.162Z · score: 8 (11 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 12 comments

From Yvain's latest post:

These studies suggest that people do not have introspective awareness to the processes that generate their behavior. They guess their preferences, justifications, and beliefs by inferring the most plausible rationale for their observed behavior, but are unable to make these guesses qualitatively better than outside observers.

I guess this probably applies to beliefs as well as behavior. That is, the reasons people give for their beliefs are probably not based on real introspection either, which would explain why it's often so hard to find one's true rejection.

If I do not have highly privileged access to my own reasoning and decision making processes, it stands to reason that other people should sometimes be able to tell me things about my goals or beliefs that I myself have missed. But apparently it's not that simple. In the True Rejection post, Eliezer wrote

However, attempts to directly, publicly psychoanalyze the Other may cause the conversation to degenerate very fast, in my observation.

This seems important enough to gather more data on. How and why do such conversations degenerate? Can we do something to prevent degeneration while still providing useful psychological insights to each other? So, as a first step, I hereby extend an open invitation to LW: tell me, whenever my stated goals and/or reasons do not seem to match up with my actual goals/reasons, what you think they really are.

(Presumably, the degeneration has to do with status and offense. But perhaps in our community, one can gain status by conspicuously not taking offense to such analyses, and instead taking them seriously?)

12 comments

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comment by J_Taylor · 2011-07-17T23:32:25.433Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I am not sure if this attempt at humor is desired. Nonetheless, does this describe you?

You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2011-07-18T02:19:08.475Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

For a moment you got me worried that I was sending out some rather unintended signals. But it sounded wrong enough that I started thinking it might be the output of some sort of personality prediction / horoscope / fortune cookie generator. Googling the first sentence... (you can guess the rest :)

comment by J_Taylor · 2011-07-18T09:11:40.651Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed. However, I must confess a certain degree of curiosity. When you state that the description sounded wrong, what did you mean? Did you mean that the description was so common as to be useless, or did you mean that the description did not apply to you? If the former case, this matter is of no interest. If the latter case, something interesting could possibly be derived, depending on which parts of the paragraph failed to describe you.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2011-07-18T22:17:43.311Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If the latter case, something interesting could possibly be derived, depending on which parts of the paragraph failed to describe you.

I'm failing to see how, since any disagreements I have about the description would be based on my own understanding of myself, whereas my OP was asking others to provide me with their insights (and, implicitly, any explanations needed for me to see the insight myself). Also, the kind of "psychoanalysis" I had in mind was in the context of an argument, where the reasons I give for my beliefs may not be the actual reasons I have for my beliefs, not this kind of general description of personality.

comment by Bongo · 2011-07-19T09:56:51.138Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

You made this thread at least partly to flaunt your status as someone who can get away with making a thread all about themselves (on the main LW no less).

comment by Wei_Dai · 2011-07-19T16:01:12.128Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

(What did you mean by "main LW"? Do you mean as opposed to discussion? It looks like the post is in discussion to me...)

I was going to point out that I already mentioned the status motivation in the parenthetical remark at the end of my post, but then I realized that you're talking about a different, additional status motivation. I tend to think of myself as someone who doesn't like to flaunt, or at least has their flaunting instincts well suppressed out of desire to not be seen as flaunting by others. But now I wonder... perhaps almost everyone thinks that about themselves, and I'm actually worse than average?

comment by Rain · 2011-07-17T13:20:06.103Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It takes me 30 minutes to several hours of back and forth question and answer to do this with someone I've already trained to accept my questions as true questions and not statements or implications. My experience is that a text medium is very unsuited to the task.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2011-07-17T18:15:19.919Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

There seems to be at least one successful attempt on LW, but in general I agree it's very hard to do in a text medium. So what I'm saying is that if someone happens to have some insight about my thought processes that I'm missing, which ought to happen occasionally even if it's rare, then I'd like them to point it out, instead of hiding it out of concern for causing the conversation to degenerate.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2011-07-17T11:36:33.988Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I agree, we should assume less ownership over our stated goals or stated beliefs. It doesn't matter who finds the correct answer, or an error, whatever the nature of the question. If someone points out that you probably don't believe what you believe you believe, or don't pursue a goal you believe (and told others) you pursue, this should be taken as a potentially valid concern, not a personal attack.

Although LW generally tolerates such questions better than people do on average, raising these questions still feels like an accusation, and even if the conversation doesn't derail, it rarely goes anywhere, for it takes genuine cooperation to figure out someone's thoughts in more detail.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2011-07-17T09:29:23.536Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Describe in single words only the good things that come into your mind about... your mother.

comment by DanArmak · 2011-07-19T15:31:14.942Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I hereby extend an open invitation to LW: tell me, whenever my stated goals and/or reasons do not seem to match up with my actual goals/reasons, what you think they really are.

I extend the same invitation for myself. I'm always curious as to how others see me.

Unfortunately, I'm not nearly as prolific or insightful a poster as Wei Dai, so the opportunity for others to analyze me is much more limited.

comment by thre3e · 2011-07-17T20:17:18.430Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I take it as a near certainty that all human behavior has a fountainhead that is greater than one is able to access consciously. Introspection is an art, and as in all art, some are more gifted than others, but most likely no human has the capacity of 100% insight. Further, and along the same line of reasoning, we humans have an interesting ability to assess another's siruation, (I see where you're at), and supply useful information to another regarding the other's behavior path. This latter ability seems also to be an art, and people have varied gifts in this also.