Psychopaths, Mind-reading, and game theory

So I figured I might as well just get all my self-congratulations out of the way (and perhaps give you something interesting to think about as well).

I’m reading a book called The Second Person Standpoint by Stephen Darwall, and there’s a lot of really interesting philosophy stuff in there.  He’s trying to defend Kantianism via the “second person perspective” which I’m not sure has nearly the significance he takes it to have. I’m also not sure if he doesn’t just dogmatically assume its robust importance for most of the book.

By far the most interesting philosophical claim that I have found is his belief that desires are “state of the world regarding” meaning that a desire takes some state of the world as its SATISFACTION conditions. Like my desire to climb mt. everest is a desire that a certain state of the world be realized — that I am atop mountain everest after climbing up it. He then claims though that practical norms or practical reasons have a different structure, because they do not have the world as their satisfaction conditions or object, but actions —  pure and simple. He then uses this point to do a bunch of things. I have a feeling this is wrong, but it’s probably going to take me a while for me to put my finger on why.

Anyway, there are more interesting things afoot to the non-philosopher, one of which are some SHOCKING findings about the ability for humans to read each other. The findings are old, but I’m just now getting to them (as with everything else).

I have said time and time again in this blog, that humans are really good at seeing through each other’s motives and beliefs, and that it’s really pretty hard to lie to people to their face and get away with it. Psychopaths can deceive lie detector tests because in their warped minds, they actually BELIEVE what they are saying. So for normal people, the best way to get someone to believe what you are saying it to believe it yourself. That’s why when you talk to girls (guys who are reading this) you can’t really get away with much faking. The funny thing though is that you meet people who have deceived themselves so thoroughly and so completely about who they are, that they actually become confident by repeatedly telling themselves they are. These people “fake it till they make it.” They are so willing to do things they are not confident doing that they have “de facto” confidence.

Here are some of the results though. In Frank (1988) two people are put in a room and are told to have a conversation about whether they will cooperate in an upcoming prisoner’s dilemma. The result, people could, to a startling degree, predict who would defect or cooperate with them JUST based on a conversation about whether they would or not.

There’s more. Other studies show that JUST CONVERSING about whether to cooperate, raises the rate of cooperation in prisoner’s dilemma situations.

Darwall thinks the first result, about predictions based on conversations, comes from the idea that someone who is going to cheat has no incentive to learn about the motivations of the other person. A defector will of course get his opponent to try and cheat, but he’s not interested in trying to decide what the other person will do, since his strategy is completely dependent on the parameters of the game and not the move of his opponent. Darwall’s big picture point then is that we know when someone is trying to learn about our motives and where we’re coming from. When we don’t detect that the other person cares about “where we’re coming from”, then we rightly get suspicious that they are a selfish bastard.

There is truth to this, because even at a party or in casual conversation, we pick up on it when a conversational person doesn’t  ask us anything about our own lives. Such a person is, in Darwall’s terms, not interested in what we are going to think and so consequently do, because their intention is to screw us no matter what.

I don’t think this really explains the results that well though, because very few people reason explicitly in game theoretical situations. In other words, I think most people are defecting because they believed the other person is a sucker and is going to cooperate. They believe not that defecting is best regardless of their opponent’s move, but that they have convinced their opponent to cooperate and so feel confident in defecting for the bigger prize.

If this is right, then people are not noticing the disinterest of others as much as their malice or their rampant self-interest. the downside of my explanation is that it makes people out to be very cold-hearted, and more so than Darwall, because on my view, people cheat even when they think they could cooperate to still get a substantial payoff. I think this is a cost of what I’m saying, especially since I’m not that cynical about “human nature” writ large. Still though, in this case, I think it’s appropriate because it just seems more natural to think that people don’t commit to a strategy at the outset of a prisoner’s dilemma situation and then follow through (most people don’t understand prisoner dilemma’s situations), but rather make a decision AFTER having the conversation, or perhaps after conversing for a while and then making the realization that they should defect no matter what. If that’s the case, then Darwall’s explanation would not apply, but mine still would.

Second, these studies say to me that conversation, one of my favorite things to do (besides joking around which you’ll notice is another theme on this blog) and something I suspect is tied deeply to some of the things in human life (I know that’s dogmatic, but just listen), is related to BEHAVING MORE COOPERATIVELY . I would have to look at the study, but it sounds like conversing with someone makes you more sensitive to them in a way beyond just KNOWING more about them. It seems to have the effect of tuning you more closely to their frequency and to make you more sensitive to their situation and I guess ultimately, their problems.

As I’ve said many-a-time, conversation is a skill, and like a dancing together or building something with another person, it moves you imperceptibly closer to the person you’re speaking to you and intertwines you into their world. You might say it unifies you both to some degree. Will be able to continue tapping the power of conversation in a computerized and facebookized world? Is our willingness to put electronic barriers between us and the people we communicate with exposing our society to a return of brutality and callousness. We’ll find out I guess.



1 Response to “Psychopaths, Mind-reading, and game theory”

  1. 1 Frequency
    April 6, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    That’s interesting, I arrived at it through a search,- How to deal with a psychopath. I just wish I knew exactly what a “Prisoner’s Dilemma” is though. Other than that, this article seems relevant to a situation I’m in at the moment, where I don’t know whom to trust. Thus far, in my life, I’ve not shown fantastic intuition about people. Finally, tonight, someone in this situation has told me, (I think) their genuine motives, the result is, via my son’s help, that I feel a lot more empathy towards them now they have been more honest. Interestingly enough, my situation is about a prisoner. What I want (mostly)is to see ethics shown by all parties. Needless to say money is involved in this too. This is a legal situation. My brother describes it as a game of chess. As a child I was quite good at chess, but got worse. Now I seem to be downright useless at seeing another persons’ motives and what they are going to do! If you have a moment to give me, I would like to discuss this with you, and be very grateful too.

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