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Social Dialog with Analysis

Communications and actions have two main interpretations: social and objective.

Objective interpretations look at the literal meaning. They use rational and scientific analysis. They try to avoid logical errors. They aim to account for all the evidence and contradict none. They don’t judge the truth of ideas by the attributes of the person who thought of or communicated the idea.

Social interpretations consider the speaker or actor in relation to other people. What is he trying to do to or get from others? How does the action/communication affect the status of the actor and others? Is someone being needy or reactive? Is someone showing weakness? Is someone socially attacking someone else? Is someone becoming more or less connected with something high or low status (e.g. tribe allegiance signals).

Social interpretations are allowed to focus on some evidence and ignore or contradict other evidence. They can be illogical and unscientific. Some evidence is impolite to use or mention. Some conclusions are jumped to on a basis like “since the social meaning of that action/communication is so strong and obvious, you must have done it intentionally and chosen that social meaning on purpose, no matter what you say about a misunderstanding or that you were focusing on an objective goal.”

Example (try to read hyper literally, and look at this really logically, in order to understand Sue’s perspective):

Joe: I don’t understand what you said.
Sue: What are you planning to do about that?
Joe: I just asked you to explain.
Sue: You didn’t make a request or ask a question.
Joe: I just did. wtf!

Joe is focused on the social world while Sue is in objective, logical mode. Joe expects that, when he speaks, Sue will guess what he wants from her and why he said it. Joe takes this for granted so much that he doesn’t notice the difference between him asking for something explicitly or via hints – he uses hints and thinks he asked. Sue thinks Joe’s statements provide information and that it isn’t her job to read Joe’s mind. Mind reading always runs into a bunch of ambiguity that’s hard to make guesses about, and the whole point of a conversation is for people to communicate their ideas themselves.

The conversation can easily get worse. Let’s continue it:

Sue: Quote?
Joe: “I don’t understand what you said.”

This is actually somewhat unrealistic. People like Joe often won’t quote at all or will misquote. Often they ambiguously explain which message like “the statement we’re talking about” or “the message that starts with ‘I’”. Sometimes they say that asking for quotes is unreasonable or unnecessary, or they stop replying. But let’s not get distracted by those problems.

Sue: Is that an imperative or interrogative sentence?
Joe: No.
Sue: What are the verb and grammatical subject?
Joe: “do understand” and “I”.

These are atypically accurate and patient grammar answers by Joe. Things could have gotten a lot worse here. They’re atypical because they’re objective-mode answers, not social-mode answers.

The social-mode meaning of “Is that an imperative or interrogative sentence?” is that Sue is acting like a teacher and putting Joe in an inferior student role. Sue asks the questions and Joe has the role of being questioned. Sue can initiate things of her choice and Joe has to react to Sue’s whims. She’s pushing this kind of framing on the situation. So typically someone like Joe will avoid answering the question in order to deny and push back against that framing. He’ll try to get Sue answering his questions or otherwise establish social power over her. He’ll avoid compliance on purpose. He might say something especially sophisticated to try to prove how grown up he is. He’ll think Sue is calling him dumb by asking him a fairly basic grammar question about the sort of thing he was supposed to have learned in school over 10 years ago.

Sue: So isn’t it a declarative statement about yourself?
Joe: You knew what I meant.

This doesn’t answer Sue’s question. It’s also asking for mind reading. It’s the sort of thing that only works with similar people. It’s a reasonable guess about most people from Joe’s subculture (they knew what he wanted and are being difficult on purpose), though there’s evidence throughout that Sue has a pretty different perspective on the world than Joe and genuinely found it problematic to assume instead of relying on communication. Joe’s attitude makes conversation very hard with people very different from himself. It’s bad at engaging with other frameworks or points of view.

Asking multiple questions in a row amplifies the teacher/student dynamic. That increases the pressure on Joe to break out of it. Sue isn’t thinking about the social meaning of what she says, so she doesn’t control it, but Joe keeps looking for it and reacting to it. If Sue were to consider the social meaning of each of her statements before saying it, she’d find it much harder to converse. Like if asking clarifying questions is socially aggressive (both in a “you answer to me” sense and a “you were unclear” accusation sense), what should she do to fix it? You can’t just skip clarifying questions in general. And how many are needed is out of her control. Sue can try to minimize the number of clarifying questions Joe needs to ask her, but it’s up to Joe to minimize how many Sue needs to ask him.

Sue: I thought I did. I thought you were providing information about the state of your understanding.
Joe: I was asking for help.
Sue: But that isn’t what your words mean. Why don’t you use standard English to say what you mean?

Joe feels highly insulted. But from an objective perspective, it’s a reasonable thing to be wondering and talking about. Joe literally says X and then acts like he’d communicated Y. Why not just say what he means?

Joe: Why don’t you just put two and two together?

Joe doesn’t ask the question, asks a counter-question that’s socially insulting to Sue (it implies she’s being dumber than like a 4 year old who can’t add 2+2 correctly)

Sue: There are dozens of reasonable ways to proceed given the information you provided. That’s why I asked which one you were planning.

Even with such an insulting question that wasn’t meant to be answered, Sue still takes it at face value and tries to explain the answer.

Joe: Why won’t you just tell me what you meant?
Sue: You haven’t asked me to.

Again Sue immediately answers Joe’s question. She’s responsive and still operating with good will. She doesn’t care about who is reacting to who and how it looks for social power. And Joe’s tilted (since Sue’s first or second message in the example dialog) but Sue isn’t.

Joe: I just did.
Sue: When?
Joe: Right now. I just asked.
Sue: Quote?
Joe: “Why won’t you just tell me what you meant?”
Sue: I answered that question.

This is similar to how the dialog started. Things haven’t been sorted out. Even though Sue explained her perspective earlier, Joe still isn’t taking it into account and adjusting his communications and expectations. Sue, meanwhile, doesn’t know what to change to make things work better. She knows she’s logically right. She thinks Joe ought to try discussing in a way that isn’t logically wrong and that it’s easier to have conversations which build on that foundation. If Joe doesn’t have the skill to do that, he should try to learn it and ask for help instead of trying to have a conversation he’s incapable of handling productively.

Joe: After all this, I can’t get any answers out of you. Goodbye forever.

Objectively, Sue did answer all of Joe’s questions and was responsive to all direct, explicit requests. But Sue kept ignoring the social world meanings of both Joe’s and her own words.

In the social world, direct requests are often too pushy. People often phrase statements as questions to weaken them (“That is a dog?” which is expressing some uncertainty and making it easier for the person to disagree or confirm) and questions as statements (“I wonder if that’s a dog.” which is asking if the other person thinks it’s a dog).

Sue: I don’t understand why people come to discussion forums when they clearly don’t have a basic grasp of English and logic, and they also aren’t aiming to learn those things. What they’re doing will never work.
Joe: wtf! Leave me alone.
Sue: I did. I didn’t expect you to return. I’m just post morteming my discussion and hoping someone else may have insight. This has nothing to do with you.
Joe: You’re flaming me and attacking my reputation.
Sue: I’m just analyzing public evidence. If I made an error you can point it out. I’m not trying to flame; I’m aiming for accuracy. If you don’t want people to think about what you say, don’t post it. If you want to look good when analyzed, improve your skill level. Now leave me in peace. I’ve got several more thoughts to post.
Joe: You have no right! I didn’t sign up to be treated this way!
Sue: People thinking about and discussing things you said is exactly what you signed up for when you posted them.
Joe: [Leaves and holds a long-lasting grudge.]
Sue: When he said “You knew what I meant.” I was tolerant, lenient and generous by letting him change topics in the middle of my grammar point. Right as I was getting to a conclusion he ignored my question, seemingly because he knew he was about to lose the debate. I wasn’t rewarded for being so helpful. He didn’t reciprocate with good will towards me. Maybe I would have been better off repeating my question until he answered it, or pointing out that he wasn’t answering.
Sue: I don’t understand how, after a long conversation about how he hadn’t made a particular request, he still didn’t get it enough to realize he still hadn’t actually made that request. Which new statement did he think constituted a request to explain something to him?
Sue: Does anyone understand why most people are like this? I have such good will but it never seems to be enough. On my initiative, I asked about his plans, thinking perhaps to help with them. My reward was that he derailed the conversation. And as usual he doesn’t want to discuss what went wrong. He did begin the process of clearing up misunderstandings, but he was creating new misunderstandings faster than we could resolve stuff. Why won’t people just calm down and use English in a simple, correct way? Why do they rush through conversations and make huge messes and then give up?
Sue: What is life like for such a person? Do none of his conversations work? What happens when two Joes talk? Is it pure chaos or does it seem to work, somehow? Maybe if they both say and want sufficiently stereotyped things they can stay on the same page with almost no communication, merely by assuming stereotypes.
Sue: Why is no one else talking? Is this a dead forum? Does no one here care about trying to understand how to have rational conversations with typical people? Don’t you guys run into problems like these and want to figure out what to do about them? Or are you all similar to Joe and hiding it with your silence?
Joe: [Reads all this and intensifies his grudge.]

It could easily go worse than this more quickly. But I wanted to draw it out a bit and show the ongoing perspective clashes.

The other people on the forum are more attuned to the social world than Sue.

Sue doesn’t think that attuning to the social world more herself will actually result in intellectual progress on topics like science, epistemology, AGI, etc. People need to think objectively to contribute to those topics anyway.

Routinely, people’s social status is inaccurate in some way. Then the truth threatens the status. What could Sue do when talking to people who need to admit weakness and try to learn some stuff but who prefer to dishonestly pretend to be better than they are and who don’t want Sue to speak the truth? What’s to be done with such people besides detecting and ignoring them (and maybe criticizing them if they’re public figures)?

Lots of people try to debate sorta like Sue but they aren’t actually very good at logic themselves. Joe has experience with that. He’s dealt with people who are mostly focused on social, and screw up logic, but they do some Sue stuff as an act. He assumes Sue is like that too. He doesn’t actually have the skill to judge whether Sue got anything wrong or not. But Joe thinks he does. So what happens is Joe will misunderstand something, think Sue made a mistake, and conclude that Sue isn’t as logical as she thinks she is. From Joe’s pov, Sue seems to be about as good at logic as Joe or worse – because whenever she uses superior skill there’s a good chance that Joe doesn’t get it, and when Joe doesn’t get it there’s a good chance that he attributes the error to Sue. (These things are not a matter of random chance. But if you look at many similar events, you’ll find sometimes it goes one way and sometimes the other. And it’s too hard to analyze the detailed causality.)

Most real discussions have a lot of intentional social by both parties. This is a stylized example that turns up the contrast between characters. Actually what sort of social counts as “intentional” is a tricky question. Most of it is automated in childhood. Most social by adults is done without conscious intention at the time they do it. So “I wasn’t trying to social you” is no defense – in the past you learned how to do that kind of social to people and practiced it until it was second nature. You’re responsible for that! This explains part of why people have trouble turning it off. And it explains why people assume that most social is intentional in the sense of there was an intent in the past when the person learned to do it. They aren’t doing it now randomly or accidentally. The main excuse is “autism” which is the most standard term for a person who didn’t learn, practice and automate a bunch of social dynamics (or somehow managed to stop and change), so then they might actually honestly not be playing the social game.

This is all complicated by the social rules of evidence. Lots of social dynamics are deniable even when everyone knows they were done on purpose. You did them right and people approve, so you’re allowed to get away with them rather than be called out for the social manipulations (if the call out is sufficiently socially savvy it can often work, but just a blunt, direct logic-focused callout doesn’t work). So it’s common that everyone knows social happened and it wasn’t an accident, but everyone pretends not to know.


Elliot Temple on August 30, 2020

Messages (23)

Does someone as incompetent as Sue really exist?

How could a person like this navigate any unexplored territory?

Think about it this way, there are infinite potentials, and we are quite adept at extracting what is relevant to navigate these potentials. Often failing and dying. Some better than others, imagine someone this bad though. They could not navigate novelty successfully.

This "logical" mode she appears to be on would only work if you have a predetermined outcome, or explored territory. To be that literal and unable to understand simple interactions could feasibly lead to what? Some sort of boxed way of thinking and the generation of a private language of some kind, that would inevitably lead to static and 0 progress. (Can't progress if you can't navigate unexplored territory)

However, if someone this socially inept existed, they would likely have trouble cooperating with others. If the outcome is predetermined maybe Sue "wins" this argument. But the goal is to get invited to play other iterations of games, this attitude, or ineptitude (I honestly can't tell) by Sue would keep her from participating in other iterations.

Another way to think about it is, imagine running a simulation and trying to creatively explore ideas with NPCS. It doesn't work, there's no way an NPC can generate new ideas.

Sue is an NPC.

In this hypothetical you created, the only rational behavior is that of Joe's to want to leave a conversation with an NPC. Unless he found it fun to interact with this human NPC. Which admittedly is kind of interesting in its own right, how does one end up like that?

Communication goes beyond social signaling, if this was the case, we would have never built a civilization. Clearly knowledge is built up socially, and communication is key. You must be able to explore uknown territory *AND* play with others for multiple game iterations. Sue would fail these crucial tasks.

New knowledge and ideas...we know artists get there first, before anyone else. The process is clearly not logical or objective by any stretch of the imagination. At least not logical and objective as presented by this metaphorical NPC.


Anonymous at 10:26 PM on August 30, 2020 | #17686 | reply | quote

#17686 Would you like to share a criticism of a specific message Sue wrote? Talking in insulting generalities isn't going to change anyone's mind.


Anonymous at 10:34 PM on August 30, 2020 | #17688 | reply | quote

I did share my criticism...Read it carefully please.


Anonymous at 10:37 PM on August 30, 2020 | #17689 | reply | quote

> I did share my criticism...Read it carefully please.

Sue: Quote?

Joe: I already gave plenty of info. Try being a more careful thinker.

Real life is worse than the dialog in the blog post.


Anonymous at 11:03 PM on August 30, 2020 | #17691 | reply | quote

Real life is better

>Real life is worse than the dialog in the blog post.

Only if you're terribly incompetent, or trying to be a pedantic ass, genuinely don't know what is worse here. The latter probably.

Real life is actually wonderful and we have made tremendous progress a civilization at every level of analysis.

**You should question your nihilism. It does not fit the state of affairs, contra reality.**


Anonymous at 8:28 AM on August 31, 2020 | #17694 | reply | quote

> Talking in insulting generalities isn't going to change anyone's mind.

You're irrational. You're assuming what I said was meant to be insulting and did not have the intellectual curiosity to find out what the words written mean. "Incompetence" has a technical meaning in this post.

The multiple play iterations is a way for us to find the person at the top of the competence hierarchy.

My post has a lot of useful information but you didn't want to ask questions, or try to learn. You're not ready to do philosophy.

You're letting your **nihilism** keep you from being objective.


Anonymous at 8:36 AM on August 31, 2020 | #17695 | reply | quote

>> Talking in insulting generalities isn't going to change anyone's mind.

> You're irrational. You're assuming what I said was meant to be insulting and did not have the intellectual curiosity to find out what the words written mean. "Incompetence" has a technical meaning in this post.

> The multiple play iterations is a way for us to find the person at the top of the competence hierarchy.

> My post has a lot of useful information but you didn't want to ask questions, or try to learn. You're not ready to do philosophy.

> You're letting your **nihilism** keep you from being objective.

What do you think nihilism is?


Anonymous at 9:16 AM on August 31, 2020 | #17696 | reply | quote

> Sue thinks Joe’s statements provide information and that it isn’t her job to read Joe’s mind. Mind reading always runs into a bunch of ambiguity that’s hard to make guesses about, and the whole point of a conversation is for people to communicate their ideas themselves.

Joe has ideas and says some things he thinks communicate those ideas to Sue in hopes of eliciting a particular reaction from Sue.

If Sue cares to understand Joe's ideas then she has to guess what the ideas are. Sue must guess given certain evidence - including what Joe said and the shared context and background of the conversation. That's always the case, regardless of how objective/literal or social/vague Joe is being. So in an important sense Sue *is* always guessing and it *is* always Sue's job to read Joe's mind.

But Joe has choices about how to say things: language, word and phrase selection, grammar, what parts to say explicitly and what parts to assume will be understood by context.

The choices Joe makes about how to say things can make it significantly easier or harder for Sue to correctly guess the ideas he's trying to communicate. Unless Joe is being a mean asshole, he should try to say things in a way that makes it easier rather than harder for Sue to correctly guess the ideas Joe is trying to communicate.

I assume at least at the beginning of the example, where Joe says "I don’t understand what you said", Joe was not being a mean asshole.

A lot of what makes a particular way of saying things easier or harder for Sue to guess correctly and respond favorably about *depends on Sue*.

What language(s) does Sue speak? How many words in the language does Sue know well? How sophisticated and correct is her understanding of the language's grammar? What idioms and phrases is Sue familiar with? What contextual factors will she notice on her own vs. not noticing unless they're explicitly mentioned? How social is Sue? How will Sue react to a statement that lowers her perception of Joe's social status? Etc.

Since Joe cared about making it easier rather than harder for Sue at the beginning (he was not being a mean asshole yet), Joe needed to make guesses about Sue in advance of saying his ideas. In that sense it was Joe's job to read Sue's mind.

I assume this is Joe's 10,000th conversation rather than his first. So I assume most or all of Joe's guesses about Sue are automated policies rather than explicit evaluations. These automated policies were created in the context of lots of culturally normal conversations. So lots of Joe's guesses about Sue were little more than guesses that Sue is culturally normal.

Joe guessed that Sue was the type of person who would find "I don’t understand what you said" easy to guess the idea that an explanation was desired by Joe along with some other things. Other things including social, like that Sue should not lower her estimation of Joe's social status.

Joe guessed wrong about Sue. But only because Sue is very unusual. Sue is not culturally normal. So Joe's way of saying things made it harder rather than easier for Sue to guess Joe's ideas.


Andy Dufresne at 9:20 AM on August 31, 2020 | #17697 | reply | quote

#17697 Do you have a specific point, conclusion or goal for this post?


curi at 10:09 AM on August 31, 2020 | #17699 | reply | quote

#17696

> What do you think nihilism is?

Social Interpretation: This is indirectly using social posturing saying that I know what nihilism means but I don't think you do. I don't want to expose myself to criticism by revealing what I think nihilism means so I want to wait first so I can hedge.

This is not Objective. It evidently cares what other people think something means instead of trying to objectively find what the objective meaning is.

Socially it is signaling that I am an expert judge on what nihilism means, and I can look down upon you.

It ignores everything from the 2 responses to try to focus on something subjective so criticism is evaded.


Anonymous at 11:03 AM on August 31, 2020 | #17700 | reply | quote

#17699

I had two goals for my post:

1. Give my reaction to Sue's complaint about mind reading and ambiguity being hard to make guesses about.

2. Explain my understanding of some inexplicit details about how conversations work in general.


Andy Dufresne at 1:19 PM on August 31, 2020 | #17703 | reply | quote

#17703 I think your descriptions are generally good but there's a terminology issue re what "mind reading" means. It's used in a cultural context. It refers to having to guess stuff a reasonable person couldn't guess. There's too much missing info, that's too outside the norm of what educated members of our society are expected to know, so it's much harder to guess about than regular communications. A difficulty breakpoint was crossed.


curi at 1:30 PM on August 31, 2020 | #17704 | reply | quote

#17704

OK, I think you're saying: Sue's complaint about mind reading was that Joe's idea of wanting an explanation from Sue was too hard for a reasonable person / educated member of our society to guess from Joe's statement "I don’t understand what you said." Is that correct?

Assuming so: I think Sue is wrong. I think the idea that Joe wants Sue to explain is something a reasonable person / educated member of our society would not have trouble guessing. It's not much harder to guess than regular communications.


Andy Dufresne at 5:45 PM on August 31, 2020 | #17707 | reply | quote

#17707

Does Joe ever say "I don't understand that" and want a next step *other than* Sue explains it more? Is that reasonably common?

I think so. Joe might want to abort or change topics. He might think Sue is dumb and not wanna hear more from her. He might wanna look it up himself or think about it himself. Context effects which things are more realistic.


curi at 7:33 PM on August 31, 2020 | #17709 | reply | quote

> But Sue kept ignoring the social world meanings of both Joe’s and her own words.

When Sue ignores social world meanings, what Joe sees is Sue doing mostly negative social things. Why doesn’t it turn out that Sue, when ignoring social world meanings, does what Joe sees as a mix of socially negative, positive and neutral things?


Anne B at 5:01 AM on September 1, 2020 | #17713 | reply | quote

#17709

Yes, it's possible Joe wanted something other than an explanation when he said "I don’t understand what you said." Depending on prior context, it might or might not be reasonably common.

I think possible alternative meanings are, as a class, reasonably common. I think people generally recognize that (at least inexplicitly) and have some level of tolerance and error correction capability for it. We see that in this example.

When Sue didn't respond to Joe's statement with an explanation, I think on an automated level Joe guessed that Sue's first guess at Joe's ideas was simply incorrect. Joe thought that was somewhat reasonable. Joe didn't (yet) think Sue was being a mean asshole. So Joe attempted to clarify his original intent by making his second statement, "I just asked you to explain." Joe made his second statement to help Sue error correct her guess about Joe's first statement.

Joe's second statement explicitly introduced a new error. Joe's first statement was not grammatically formulated as a request or question. So Sue is correct about Joe's second statement being an error.

However, when Sue doesn't update her guess about Joe's first statement and then proceed with an explanation despite the error, Joe decides Sue is being a mean asshole. So Joe starts being a mean asshole to Sue. Joe's goodwill for communication error correction was exhausted in this case after only two failed attempts.

Joe could have made his second statement explicitly correct by substituting a single word, "wanted" for "asked", as in: "I just wanted you to explain."

Why didn't Joe say that instead of what Joe said?

Some reasons I can guess:

- Joe's low standards for explicit precision. In this way Joe's mistake is similar to people who say "try and" when they mean "try to". They don't think that kind of error is important to avoid in the first place or to correct after the fact.

- Joe's focus on intent rather than content. Joe intended his first statement to be an ask for explanation. Joe's second statement was about that intent, not the explicit content of Joe's first statement. In terms of Joe's intent, Joe's second statement was not an error.

- Joe's social considerations. Sue's response to Joe's first statement, "What are you planning to do about that?", has strong social as well as objective meaning. Socially Sue's statement is worded like a common status challenge[1], where Joe is expected to either fight or back down and accept lower social status. The objectively correct "wanted" response could be interpreted socially as Joe choosing to back down / accept lower status. "Asked" is more aggressive, and implies Joe's response to Sue's challenge may be to fight if he doesn't get what he wants.

It wouldn't be normal to expect Sue to be able to do the analysis above explicitly. But it is normal to expect Sue to be able to do it inexplicitly, figure out that Joe's first statement meant that he wanted an explanation, and respond as if that's what Joe had explicitly asked for.

[1] For example, in a bar Guy A spills some of his drink on Girl B. Guy C says Guy A should apologize to Girl B. Guy A says "What are you gonna do about it?" to Guy C. This is a social challenge similar to Sue's wording.

At that point, Guy C is expected to either fight Guy A (verbally, and at least be prepared to do so physically if Guy A doesn't apologize to Girl B) or back down and say something that amounts to "nothing". But if Guy C backs down, he's accepting that he's lower social status than Guy A.


Andy Dufresne at 9:14 AM on September 1, 2020 | #17714 | reply | quote

#17714 There are lots of reasonable reasons to ask what someone wants/intends instead of assuming, even when you have a pretty good guess at what they mean.

Similar, real dialogs happen in which Sue's actions were much more blatantly reasonable and proper. I don't think these details you're discussing are very important to the point.

I wrote this dialog with a "good enough" type goal/attitude, not with careful design (also using intuition can help with realism over more intentionally controlled design, unless you do a really great job with the design).

> Sue's response to Joe's first statement, "What are you planning to do about that?", has strong social as well as objective meaning. Socially Sue's statement is worded like a common status challenge[1], where Joe is expected to either fight or back down and accept lower social status.

FWIW, that wasn't my intent when writing it. I wanted something that asked Joe about next steps. The point was to say kinda like "ok. the ball is still in your court. plz continue. (i'm saying this b/c i think you think you put the ball in my court)".


curi at 1:55 PM on September 4, 2020 | #17819 | reply | quote

#17819

> Similar, real dialogs happen in which Sue's actions were much more blatantly reasonable and proper. I don't think these details you're discussing are very important to the point.

Perhaps I don't understand the point.

I think the point is to compare objective communication with social communication, and to illustrate the problems that arise when people talk in a social way.

Do you think I misunderstand the point?

Or do you think I understand the point, but you also think I overestimate the importance of the things I mentioned to that point?


Andy Dufresne at 5:19 PM on September 4, 2020 | #17823 | reply | quote

#17819

> > Sue's response to Joe's first statement, "What are you planning to do about that?", has strong social as well as objective meaning. Socially Sue's statement is worded like a common status challenge[1], where Joe is expected to either fight or back down and accept lower social status.

>

> FWIW, that wasn't my intent when writing it. I wanted something that asked Joe about next steps. The point was to say kinda like "ok. the ball is still in your court. plz continue. (i'm saying this b/c i think you think you put the ball in my court)".

I didn't think hypothetical-Sue intended it as a status challenge. But I think someone interpreting communication socially, like Joe, would be likely to interpret it as at least a mild status challenge.

I thought that contrast between objective intention and social interpretation is part of what made it a good example. So I am surprised that part wasn't intentional.


Andy Dufresne at 5:19 PM on September 4, 2020 | #17824 | reply | quote

#17709 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQIpBVShZWE around 1:40

> Does Joe ever say "I don't understand that" and want a next step *other than* Sue explains it more?

The video had a statement, something like:

If only one reasonable interpretation is possible, then you can error correct the other person's statement. But if more than one reasonable interpretation is possible, then you need to ask a clarifying question.

That's not the protocol I think most social people like Joe use in discussions or expect others to use.

I think the protocol people like Joe use and expect of others is more like:

Try to interpret the intent of the other person's statement using intuition. Count the number of interpretations your intuition provides.

0: If you have zero interpretations, maybe say you didn't understand, ask for a clarification or a repeat. Or maybe just pretend you understood, say something noncommittal designed to elicit more statements from the other person, and hope subsequent statements will allow you to actually understand later in context. Whether to ask for clarification/repeat is primarily social (can you proceed without a big risk of looking bad while not actually understanding the last statement?)

As such, the context I assumed for Joe's first statement ("I don’t understand what you said.") was that Joe had zero interpretations for whatever Sue had said prior *and* Joe didn't think he could proceed while not understanding without a big risk looking bad.

1: If you have one interpretation, use it to proceed. Whether other interpretations are reasonably possible isn't your problem if your intuition didn't provide them relatively quickly.

More than 1: If you have more than one interpretation, try to figure out which interpretation is more desirable or advantageous to you, and use that one. Depending on the situation, that may or may not also be your best guess (between the available interpretations) of what the person actually meant. Only ask a clarifying question if one of the interpretations seems to indicate a minefield of some sort that you care about. Otherwise, just proceed with the interpretation that's most favorable to you. If it turns out to be an error, maybe the other person won't even correct you and you get away with a more favorable interpretation than they initially intended. And even if the other person does correct you, you still have the defense that your initial interpretation was reasonable. Just start using the new interpretation with as little discussion / post-mortem as you can get away with socially.

In this protocol, clarifying questions are rarer than if they're asked whenever there is more than one reasonable interpretation.


Andy Dufresne at 2:01 PM on September 5, 2020 | #17866 | reply | quote

> That's not the protocol I think most social people like Joe use in discussions or expect others to use.

I think your description of their protocol is reasonable (but there is considerable variance).

I think their way is harmful for discussion productivity. You didn't state an evaluation. I'm guessing you agree with me, and your message is meant to be descriptive not argumentative.


curi at 2:59 PM on September 5, 2020 | #17868 | reply | quote

#17868

You are correct that I didn't state an evaluation and that my message was meant to be descriptive not argumentative.

I'm neutral about whether the social protocol I described harms discussion productivity generally. I haven't looked into it enough.

But I do agree it is harmful for certain types of discussion productivity. For example, I think it'd be harmful for discussions where the goal is to figure out the truth about some disputed fact or theory.


Andy Dufresne at 7:01 PM on September 5, 2020 | #17870 | reply | quote

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