Heuristics for map-making in adversarial settings

In a previous post I argued that one is well advised in expecting some entities to have a vested interest in strategically deceiving ones’ map-creation efforts. Samo Burja has expressed a similar sentiment here. In this post I suggest 3 classes of heuristics aimed at counteracting these deceptive efforts.

These are heuristics in Simon’s sense (1): they will lead to better results with regards to internal criteria (in this case map making) by virtue of being applicable to the structure of the environment. If I was correct in describing the structure of the environment in the previous post – then these heuristics can be expected to be helpful.

I don’t claim these heuristics to be original – Hell, everything written thus far reads like a collage. They are in place already to some extent, being used by some. What is new is uniting them under this particular framework of “Map-making in adversarial settings”. Naming things seem to be powerful, having a community (like LW) self-reinforcing things’ names seems to be powerful, being able to point people to things and treat them as objects explicitly  is powerful. I don’t yet understand exactly what is going on there.


The tools

Heuristics for question dismissal

The first heuristic is to ask “What will I do with the answer to this question?”.  Attention is finite, and the fact that a question has insinuated itself to your attention is a necessary but not sufficient condition to think about it. It is a heuristic for dealing with privileged questions.

These come especially from the media or topics that the media is addressing, and what I referred to in the previous post when I said that “There’s an old saying in the public opinion business: we can’t tell people what to think, but we can tell them what to think about.” The fact that the heuristic is not in place explains the power of agenda-setting.

As Qiaochu made clear “[Y]ou can apply all of the epistemic rationality in the world to answering a question like “should Congress pass stricter gun control laws?” and never once ask yourself where that question came from and whether there are better questions you could be answering instead.”

There is a second topic in this constellation which is about the truthfulness of what is transmitted, within what the media transmits. I don’t want to open that particular can of worms now, but want to bring to awareness that if there are 3 sides to a story, and assuming one is truthful, the prior is against the possible world in which your particular side is the truthful one.


Heuristics for not engaging

Genetic Heuristic

There is an amazing post on this by Stefan Schubert here.

The key innovation is to overturn the idea that arguments should be addressed as such because this disregards information especially about the argument’s origin. “As mentioned in the first paragraph, those who only use direct arguments against P disregard some information – i.e. the information that Betty has uttered P. It’s a general principle in the philosophy of science and Bayesian reasoning that you should use all the available evidence and not disregard anything unless you have special reasons for doing so. Of course, there might be such reasons, but the burden of proof seems to be on those arguing that we should disregard it.”

As Stefan points out you can imagine that  Betty is not reliable with regards to P because a) she is 3 years old, b) we have knowledge of Betty being biased, c) we know that Betty overestimates her knowledge about the topic of P, d) Betty gets money by making people believe P, or conversely, that Betty is reliable because she is an expert at P. I investigate the two last cases in what follows.

Deserved Persuasiveness Heuristic

Whether an argument convinces you is a function of 1) how well it meshes with your other beliefs 2) if it is true (conditional on your ability to assess truth) 3) your ignorance about the field and 4) the persuasive ability of the arguer.

If these obtain then we can draw an “Deserved Persuasiveness” heuristic that is as follows: (If searching for the truth, then) if your interlocutor is an expert in the topic at hand, and so are you; engage. If neither is, don’t engage, the most persuasive one will just input his bad ideas into the mind of the other one. If the interlocutor is an expert and you are not, then just adopt their ideas, since they are very likely much better than yours. (2)

(The third result – Just accepting expert opinions, because they come from an expert – sounds terrible in an emotional sense for a lot of people. I wonder if this is because people see their ideas as part of themselves, and their idea generation processes as well and thus  would prefer to have “Wrong and mine” ideas over “Right and theirs” ideas.

Having said this, you are doing it all the time: Physics knowledge doesn’t live in a vacuum but in experts minds. They pour it into books and you buy it as the truth coming from the book of truths. The last psychiatrist says “No one thinks a 7th grade textbook is wrong. The results of a study may be questioned, but the Introduction section isn’t. What makes a statement in the Introduction true is that it is in the Introduction”. If anything this position is already unknowingly adopted. Better do it knowingly.)


Heuristics for seeing beyond words

Incentives heuristic

“Words deceive. Actions speak louder. So study the actions. And also, I would add, study the incentives that produce the actions” Actions speak louder than words, they reveal aliefs instead of official positions. Incentives show the process by which the aliefs came to be in the first place.

The Incentives heuristic encourages one to ask: “What is incentivising A to utter P?”. Its simplicity hides its power. I maintain that sane use of this heuristic will systematically produce more reliable beliefs about the likelihood of P being the case. Like Fermat I have truly marvellous ideas about the applicability of this heuristic, which the existing inferential distance doesn’t allow me to convey, now.


(1) – Simon, H. A. (1990). Invariants of human behavior. Annual review of psychology, 41(1), 1-20.
(2) – I think my treatment of this here is superficial, compared to how emotionally painful it is to accept. In a further post I’ll argue for it more extensive

  • Understand the power of naming things
  • http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1691952
  • The “marketplace of ideas” is a rationale for freedom of expression based on an analogy to the economic concept of a free market. The “marketplace of ideas” belief holds that the truth will emerge from the competition of ideas in free, transparent public discourse (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marketplace_of_ideas)
  • puas being banned, inquisition burning people, pinker’s model of societal change. conspiracy theory, defending these people. -> i’m possbily going to have ideas that defend or associate to this people this is problematic.
  • Is most people default epistemology a consensus theory of truth?
  • Aristotle on rhetorics “There are three bases of persuasion by the spoken word: the character of the speaker, the mood of the audience, and the argument (sound or spurious) of the speech itself. So the student of rhetoric must be able to reason logically, to evaluate character, and to understand the emotions.”
  •  The state engaging in various actions to create an image of itself as “a thing” (http://csip.asia/sites/default/files/Li_Tanya_Murray_Beyond_the_state_and_failed_schemes.pdf
  • “Adversarial strategy seems to be in the same category of information security. It is something you want to have before you need it. Ideally you would never need it, but you likely will. I think “enemy” is the wrong framing, and that “non-aligned strategic players” are a better one. If you believe that (1) there exist players that have power, (2) these players are strategic, (3) these players are misaligned; and (4) that you want to have an understanding of adversarial strategy before you need it; then it follows that you would desire to install adversarial strategy pieces.”

4 thoughts on “Heuristics for map-making in adversarial settings

    1. Hey Malcolm! Awesome that you found this! I got to those ideas through Loevinger’s work on ego development – Mark introduced me to it here. I saw your post at a latter time and found it a really clear exposition. I hope that what I’ll have to say will be useful to you! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s