What you know that ain't so

post by NancyLebovitz · 2015-03-23T18:24:58.730Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 22 comments

This is an analysis of the Yom Kippur war (Egypt vs. Israel, 1973)-- the Israelis were interested in how Egypt managed a surprise attack, and it turned out that too many Israelis believed that the Egyptians would only attack if they had rockets which could reach deep into Israel. The Egyptians didn't have those rockets, so the Israeli government ignored evidence that the Egyptians were massing military forces on the border.

The rest of the article is analysis of the recent Israeli election, but to put it mildly, an election has much less in the way of well-defined factors than a surprise military attack, so it's much harder to say whether any explanation is correct. 

I'm sure there are many examples of plausible theories keeping people from getting to the correct explanation for a long time. Any suggestions? Also, is there a standard name for this mistake?

22 comments

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comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-23T20:32:15.115Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

For clarity, let me point out that the title of this post refers to a Mark Twain quote: "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

comment by FewerErrors · 2015-03-24T12:02:42.321Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This phenomenon sounds to me like what makes the setup for a financial bubble. People are so sure that one (or more) assumptions hold that they ignore all the signs that they're wrong. Maybe "The Semmelweiss Effect" is what you had in mind regarding a standard name? From Wikipedia: The Semmelweis reflex or "Semmelweis effect" is a metaphor for the reflex-like tendency to reject new evidence or new knowledge because it contradicts established norms, beliefs or paradigms.

comment by knb · 2015-03-23T19:50:01.221Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This is an analysis of the Six Day War (Egypt vs. Israel, 1967)-- the Israelis were interested in how Egypt managed a surprise attack, and it turned out that too many Israelis believed that the Egyptians would only attack if they had rockets which could reach deep into Israel.

I believe they are actually talking about the Yom Kippur War of 1973. The Six Day War was a (highly successful) Israeli strike.

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2015-03-23T20:21:44.601Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The Six Day War is also an interesting example of a first strike. The Egyptians had hundreds of expensive fighters but did not spend the money to build bombproof hangers, which I can only assume would have been comparitivly very cheap, needing only concrete. As a result, they took >99% losses within half an hour.

Is not spending a small amount of resources on something mundane but vital a specific cognative bias?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-03-24T16:47:15.307Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's hard to say. There might be a lot of precautions which are plausible and individually cheap, but all of them together are expensive. Some of the precautions might even be incompatible with each other.

I think that you'd need to have ways to know in advance which precautions are most important.

This being said, I really wish US airlines had reinforced cockpit doors before 9/11.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-03-24T17:19:23.633Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I really wish US airlines had reinforced cockpit doors before 9/11

Wouldn't have helped. Before 9/11 the standard operating procedure -- that is, officially approved strategy taught to pilots -- was to cooperate with the hijackers, get the plane on the ground, negotiate from there.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-03-23T20:21:37.456Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Corrected. Thanks.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2015-03-24T00:01:44.256Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

From the article:

the failure to look rightward and see rational people.

This effect was reproduced in studies by Jonathan Haidt. Liberals don't mimic conservative ideology as well as conservatives can mimic liberal arguments. They just can't see the reasons, and tend to attribute differences to malice.

comment by fortyeridania · 2015-03-24T17:36:33.976Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is related to the ideological Turing Test, as well as the LW post Are Your Enemies Innately Evil.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2015-03-24T19:41:01.959Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The ideological Turing Test probably suffers from differences in language usage and style. It's the difference between understanding the theory, and being able to impersonate a style convincingly.

As for EY's article, I think he needs to update on the evidence for bedrock differences in people's values. Just because someone is a hero in their own story, doesn't mean they're not evil in mine. And certainly, vice versa.

So let's come right out and say it—the 9/11 hijackers weren't evil mutants. They did not hate freedom.

That's just silly. They do hate freedom - by what I mean by freedom, and by what EY means by freedom.

comment by passive_fist · 2015-03-23T20:39:01.384Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"Politics is the mind-killer" is still true as ever, and I fear that the linked article may be suffering from this. For instance, breathless statements like:

After replacing condescension with conversation, the left could then present a plan that was actionable and concrete. Instead of trying to square the circle by promising to keep the settlements and bring peace and maintain security and foster goodwill all at the same time, it should be blunt about what it really believes.

seem to imply a kind of 'us vs. them' mentality where the left is a coherent body with a uniform set of beliefs. And statements lacking evidence, like:

They remain unconvinced because they see those ghoulish ISIL videos and they know that it’s only a matter of time before the turmoil spreading everywhere from Libya to Syria knocks at their door.

presume voter intentions and have no basis in what is known about ISIS. The article is mostly statements like this, so I won't bother quoting all of them.

There are plenty of good, rational, evidence-based articles on movements of public opinion. I'm curious as to why you decided to link this one instead.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-03-24T00:13:58.566Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's why I recommended the first bit, but not the part about current politics-- I should have been more emphatic.

comment by JoshuaFox · 2015-03-23T19:46:08.473Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's not about the Six Day War. It talks about the Yom Kippur War (1973).

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-03-23T20:21:31.479Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Corrected. Thanks.

comment by gedymin · 2015-03-24T12:29:09.534Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sounds like a form of abduction, or, more precisely, failure to consider alternative hypotheses.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-24T08:52:33.498Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I tried to answer the title and realized I have hardly any fixed beliefs, because I flip-flopped all over the terrain, went left from right and halfway back, atheist, spiritual, better atheist, intellectual, intellectual-hating masculinist, halfway back, and so on.

This may sound like an awesome accidental rationalist virtue but I can tell you, it takes a toil on well-being. No fixed beliefs means no strong emotions and no values and no goals. Depressing.

At this point I would be glad to have any wrong faulty biased fixed belief just to have that feeling when people chase something shiny. Or fight against something they hate. At any rate it energizes them, while lacking it is enervating.

comment by Xerographica · 2015-03-23T19:53:40.686Z · score: -7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Given enough eyeballs, all Easter Eggs are exposed (Linus's Law). A correct explanation is like an Easter Egg. What prevents Easter Eggs from being found for a long time? You have too few kids looking for them.

The Israeli government did not and still does not allow its citizens to shop in the public sector. This means that there are very few eyes on the lookout for Easter Eggs. It stands to reason that Israel would increase its chances of finding Easter Eggs by allowing all its citizens to shop for themselves in the public sector. But there are Jews all over the world. So Israel should allow everybody and anybody to shop in its public sector.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-03-23T20:22:14.244Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The Israeli government did not and still does not allow its citizens to shop in the public sector

What do you mean?

comment by Xerographica · 2015-03-23T20:30:02.291Z · score: -5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Israeli citizens can't choose where their taxes go. This leads to rational ignorance.

comment by is4junk · 2015-03-23T21:18:50.112Z · score: -8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Cthulhu may swim slowly. But he only swims left.

I assume the mistake was assuming Cthulhu was swimming faster. AFAIK no one disputes the only swims left part.

comment by shminux · 2015-03-23T21:28:13.637Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

AFAIK no one disputes the only swims left part.

From the North Pole every direction is South. Consider being less NRxic.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2015-03-24T16:21:01.464Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for your political applause light. You just posted it on a wrong website.

Speaking for myself, I cannot really dispute whether "Cthulhu swims left" before I see a meaningful explanation of what that means.

My attempt to steelman this could be something like: "when people advance economically, they usually move from farmer values to forager values; and in the recent centuries most of the planet is improving economically". But I feel this translation is unsatisfactory, because it does not contain all those connotations of the original version -- all the feelings of evil conspiracy and the heroic resistance against the inevitable doom -- in other words, what gets lost in the translation is exactly the part that makes it so emotionally meaningful for some people.

I could give you an example about how Eastern Europe once used to be full of communist regimes, and then suddenly it was not. But I am sure you can redefine "Cthulhu" to make this example irrelevant, or find some other excuse.