16 Surprising Psychology Truths – Gurwinder Bhogal | Modern Wisdom Podcast with Chris Williamson (#516)

Key Takeaways

  • “The need to have an opinion compels people to take a stance on things that they don’t know anything about.”Gurwinder Bhogal
    • People are existentially connected to their opinions more than ever; letting go of the opinion would be tantamount to their destruction
  • The fading affect bias – the goodness and badness of memories fade over time but the badness fades faster
  • Why does pain fade faster? Rationalization, downplay, distance, distract (emotional antibodies)
  • Naval’s Razor: if you have 2 choices to make and it’s 50/50, take the path that’s more painful in the short term
  • “It’s now impossible to distinguish trolling from sincerity online, partly because shitposts have become so lifelike, and partly because life has become so shitpost like.”Gurwinder Bhogal
  • Rogan’s difficulty and value conflation
    • Attaining something worthwhile is likely to be difficult, but just because something is difficult doesn’t mean its worthwhile
  • Nova Effect: “You may think losing your job is bad, but what if staying at your job would’ve led to you dying in a fire?” – Gurwinder Bhogal
  • Circumstances can sometimes drive us to be better than we are; this is how negative effects in your life can be turned into your fortune
  • Amor fati – it’s not about surrendering to fate, it’s about understanding the difference between what you can and can’t control
  • If you are easily outraged, you are easily manipulated
    • “Any person capable of angering you becomes your master; he can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by him.”Epictetus
  • The 10–10–10 strategy makes long-term thinking easy and practical
    • We can stop ourselves from engaging in behaviors that we might regret if we think about how we would react to those behaviors in 10 minutes, 10 months, 10 years
  • “The common feeling that your life has not begun, that your present reality is a mere prelude to some idyllic future. This idyll is a mirage that’ll fade as you approach, revealing that the prelude you rushed through was in fact the one to your death.”Gurwinder Bhogal
  • Most debates (especially online) are not fact-finding exercises, they are power struggles
    • Their purpose is not mutual understanding or finding the truth, it’s to dominate your opponent

Intro

  • Gurwinder Bhogal (@G_S_Bhogal) is a programmer and writer. His fields of interest include cognitive biases, mental models, status games, and social media
    • Expect to learn how ideologies make wise people stupid, why tragedy + time = comedy, why loot boxes in Diablo 3 are evil and manipulative, the biggest lesson Chris learned from Joe Rogan, why beauty causes prejudice, and much more.
  • Read Gurwinder’s megathread about 40 useful concepts you should know 
  • Host: Chris Williamson (@ChrisWillx)

Gurwinder’s Theory of Bespoke Bullshit

  • In the age of social media, opinions are more important than deeds
    • Everybody wants to have an opinion on everything, but they can’t do the research to back them up. So they make things up
    • It makes them feel connected and like they’re part of the conversation
    • It’s something that people do to strengthen their status
    • “The need to have an opinion compels people to take a stance on things that they don’t know anything about.”Gurwinder Bhogal
    • This kind of mindset pollutes the global conversation with ill-thought-out opinions
  • People are existentially connected to their opinions more than ever; letting go of the opinion would be tantamount to their destruction
    • Once people speak an opinion in public (even if it’s a poorly thought out opinion), they feel the need to defend that opinion
    • If they don’t, then they’re going to look inconsistent; they think they’re gonna be perceived as weak or stupid
    • Their egos compel them to defend even the worst opinion because they want to remain consistent
  • The blockchain of opinion errors
    • Before the internet, people quietly changed their opinions and hoped that nobody would notice
    • Nowadays, because there is a public record of everything, we are compelled to defend even the worst of opinions

Ideology Makes Wise People Stupid

  • “A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance if the need for illusion is high.”Saul Bellow
    • When intelligent people affiliate themselves with ideologies they become more dangerous than stupid people
    • They can make rationalizations and clever arguments that support ridiculous positions
  • If your mind is blinded by ideology or tribalism, your intellect will always end up in the service of foolish ends
    • The danger of intelligent people is that they can convince themselves of stupid arguments

The Fading Affect Bias (Adam Mastroianni)

  • The fading affect bias – the goodness and badness of memories fade over time but the badness fades faster
    • Some bad memories can become good memories, but good memories rarely become bad
    • Why does pain fade faster? Rationalization, downplay, distance, distract (emotional antibodies)
  • Negativity bias – a tendency for people to focus and remember bad news over good news
    • It feels your head up with bad memories and traumatic events
  • How to stop the ever-increasing intensity of negative experiences?
    • Fading effect bias acts as a kind of safety valve; releasing negative energy and retaining a sense of hope and motivation
    • It’s like a psychological defense mechanism
    • Bad things fade and become less bad and even can become a perverse source of joy
  • Tragedy + time = comedy
    • The memories will fade and won’t feel as intense and can even become a source of something valuable or at least funny
  • Regret is a sign of progress
    • If you experienced a bad event and learned from it, then there is no more need to feel any pain
    • Lingering feelings of regret can inform you if there is still something that you need to work on

Naval’s Razor

  • If you have 2 choices to make and it’s 50/50, take the path that’s more painful in the short term
    • We tend to underestimate problems and rewards in the future and overestimate problems and rewards in the present. This is why we procrastinate
  • What’s happening now is not always more important than what’s happening in the future
    • “Postponing a problem extends it.”Gurwinder Bhogal

Poe’s Law

  • “It’s now impossible to distinguish trolling from sincerity online, partly because shitposts have become so lifelike, and partly because life has become so shitpost like.”Gurwinder Bhogal
    • Because of the “short” format of social media, we never get context (the motivation or intent behind it)
    • Most of the information is anonymous, coming from people you don’t know anything about or what their intentions are
    • Massive amounts of trolling and manipulating only make things worse (troll farms, marketers, culture warriors, etc.)

Chris’s Biggest Insight from Rogan

  • Rogan’s difficulty and value conflation
    • There is a big difference between what is valuable and what is just difficult to get
    • Attaining something worthwhile is likely to be difficult, but just because something is difficult doesn’t mean its worthwhile
    • Beware the difficult things masquerading as valuable ones
  • E.g. Diablo 3 – the game designers made loot boxes difficult to get to make them valuable
    • You get a rare sword, even though it’s just a piece of crap
    • Loot boxes in video games are a very manipulative practice
    • E.g. social media, it’s not that special to have a large number of followers, but most of the time it’s hard to get the numbers

The Nova Effect & Modern Complacency

  • Fortune can lead to misfortune and vice versa, so no outcome is ever really good or bad
  • Don’t be quick to judge the cards you’re dealt
    • Nova Effect: “You may think losing your job is bad, but what if staying at your job would’ve led to you dying in a fire?” – Gurwinder Bhogal
    • Outcomes never end, every outcome has another outcome
    • All of us are quick to judge something as good or bad, but when we take a longer-term view of things we realize that there is always an oscillation of good and bad moments 
  • The “meant to be” force
    • Something bad occurs; is it meant to be?
    • Chris doesn’t like that type of narrative because it’s dismissing the agency of the individual to take a bad situation and turn it good
    • It’s like the nova effect, but in reverse
  • The concept of the region beta paradox (Adam Mastroianni)
    • Circumstances can sometimes drive us to be better than we are; this is how negative effects in your life can be turned into your fortune
    • If you are in discomfort, that can drive you to be better and do things that you want to do
    • The discomforts in our lives make us stronger overall; make us go out there and do things, and think outside the box
    • When bad things happen, you can either give up or try to solve the problem. When you solve the problem you benefit from the bad event – it’s like psychological alchemy (you turn the led that would weigh you down into gold)
  • Amor fati – it’s not about surrendering to fate, it’s about understanding the difference between what you can and can’t control
    • If you don’t accept the things that you can’t control, you can’t focus on the things that you can control (you are not living optimally)
    • You can’t control the tide, but you can control how you surf (your balance, positioning, your actions)
    • Your actions are the things that ultimately determine your fate
  • Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch
    • When you put yourself in situations where you’re not comfortable that’s when you begin to feel alive
    • One of the dangers of the world that we are living in at the moment is that everything is just so easy compared to how it used to be
  • We are going out of our way to artificially inject difficulty into our lives
    • Artificial struggles (sports, culture wars, politics, etc.) 
  • Our brain is the problem-solving machine; when it finds itself without problems it invents the problem
    • People feel the need to have this struggle, to rage against something, even if it’s a self-created enemy
    • If the brain has no problems to solve, you get bored

Apatheia

  • Often, fear is more crippling than that which is feared 
    • “Few foes crush us more than our emotions, so a victory over our enemies requires victory over our feelings about them.”Gurwinder Bhogal
  • We are overstimulated in the digital age, the stimuli are designed to make us feel a whole plethora of emotions
    • The way we act because of our emotions is beneficial to the people that are bombarding us with stimuli
    • The whole social media system is set up in a way to make us chase social approval (dopamine rush, we want more followers, more engagement with our posts, etc.)
    • This is true for every emotion that we can feel (anxiety, anger, desire, happiness, etc.)
  • If you are easily outraged, you are easily manipulated
    • “Any person capable of angering you becomes your master; he can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by him.”Epictetus
  • News makes us anxious because they want us to be fearful, if we are fearful we are going to want to read more about the things that scare us
    • Fear about terrorism makes us want to read more about terrorism (more page views, more income)
  • Scissor statements (Scott Alexander)
    • Statements that are supposed to make people angry and take a strong stance on, e.g. “trans women are women”
    • When you post that you know it’s going to set fireworks because some people are going to agree and disagree with it very strongly
    • The two groups are going to fight with each other and spread the idea across all domains; it’s the things that divide people that are going to spread the furthest
    • “The ideas that unite people don’t spread as far as ideas that divide people.”Gurwinder Bhogal
  • What does it mean when someone angers you?
    • Going back to evolutionary history, we needed a way to enforce personal boundaries before we had police and legal systems and anger was a way to do that
    • It’s impossible to not feel emotions, but you can develop some sort of distance between you and your emotions, a gate between the stimuli and response. Use emotions as information or advisors and choose what you want to believe in

Regret Minimisation

  • “Somewhere in the future, your older self is watching you through memories. Whether it’s with regret or nostalgia depends on what you do now. ” Gurwinder Bhogal
  • The 10–10–10 strategy makes long-term thinking easy and practical
    • We can stop ourselves from engaging in behaviors that we might regret if we think about how we would react to those behaviors in 10 minutes, 10 months, 10 years
  • Your future self is watching you through memories
    • Looking at the long view (what your future self would think of your deeds) helps put things into perspective and separate what matters vs what doesn’t matter
    • We are going to spend the rest of our lives in our future so we should care about that a lot; it’s more important than the present moment which is just gonna be gone
    • How we live our lives is not linear; we don’t live our lives straight through time. We are constantly darting between the future, the present, and the past
    • Even when we are enjoying the present, we are sometimes just enjoying memories of the past
  • If you are the kind of person that introspect a lot, you are going to be darting through time a lot more so the whole of your life is going to matter more than just the present moment
    • For extroverts, maybe it’s going to just be the present moment, party all the time
  • Does now even exist? How long does it last?
    • Even when you are enjoying the present moment, you are enjoying something in the immediate past and the continuation of that shortly after
  • You can’t consciously process something before it’s happened
  • We are anticipatory beings; our entire setup is designed to take us out of the present moment (we anticipate something before it happens, people enjoy experiences more in advance of them happening than during or after, and once something has happened you have the opportunity to reflect on it)

Howard Hughes Syndrome 

  • “Everyone always lies to the powerful, to curry favor or avoid punishment.”Gurwinder Bhogal
  • Looking at history, every authoritarian became crazier over time
    • Part of the reason for that is that people are so afraid of telling the truth so they tell them what they want to hear and inflate their ego
  • Stalin is the perfect example; when he was dying, nobody called the doctor because they were terrified of doing anything without his wishes
    • He was ruthless and known to kill people if they gave him the bad news
    • People didn’t want to tell him anything he didn’t want to hear
  • It’s not just authoritarians, it’s also people that are respected a lot, and even tech giants (we don’t want to displease Twitter to get banned)
    • It’s a limit on honesty

Deferred Happiness Syndrome

  • “The common feeling that your life has not begun, that your present reality is a mere prelude to some idyllic future. This idyll is a mirage that’ll fade as you approach, revealing that the prelude you rushed through was in fact the one to your death.”Gurwinder Bhogal
  • If I just do this, then I’ll be happy
    • We tend to escape our lack of happiness on some arbitrary thing/problem that we believe we need to resolve to become happy 
    • What happens is that the problems never end
    • Understand that your life is happening now (the space in which you can decide and act), not in your hopes and memories
  • If you are delegating your problems to your future self, you are creating a chain because your future self tends to act a lot like you. Sooner or later, you have to make a stand

Does Beauty Cause Prejudices?

  • Taleb’s Surgeons:
    • You’re considering 2 people for a job, one pretty, one ugly, but their achievements are equal. Who do you hire?
    • The ugly one accomplished just as much while having a bias against them
    • Always factor in other people’s prejudices
  • Pretty privilege
    • Pretty people get more privileges in life; more likely to get hired, get higher earnings, etc.
    • We hear all the time about how race or gender cause privilege, but not so much about attractiveness
    • Gurwinder believes that people on the left don’t want to admit there is such thing as pretty and ugly people
    • Beauty standards are affected by cultural standards to an extent but there is a core that remains the same over time
    • But it’s also hard to categorize, beauty is a lot more crowd-sourced than e.g. race or height

Alder’s Razor

  • “If something can’t be settled by experiment or observation, it’s probably not worthy of debate. This is because, without empirical evidence, there is just ‘your word against mine,’ and everyone wants the last word.”Gurwinder Bhogal
  • Most debates (especially online) are not fact-finding exercises, they are power struggles
    • Their purpose is not mutual understanding or finding the truth, it’s to dominate your opponent
  • People will do anything they can to avoid admitting they are wrong
    • It’s pointless to debate without hard evidence that can disprove them, even if you have the evidence it’s not worth debating (science vs flat earth)
  • What are you going to achieve by winning an online argument?
    • If you start to invest yourself emotionally, psychologically, and existentially to change someone’s mind online, you are just wasting time
    • Become more protective about your time, it’s your most precious resource
    • Also, it’s not just your time, it’s also taking away from your peace of mind because you will constantly be checking for new notifications from the person you are debating/arguing with
    • If you are constantly stressing about things in the outside world, you are not owning your well-being
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