Turns out Spock is a little bad at logic


Julia Galef, host of the Speak rationally podcast and co-founder of the Center for Applied Rationality, isn’t impressed with the hyper-rational Vulcans of Star Trek.

“Spock is seen as that example of logic and reason and rationality, but he is erected, in my opinion, as an almost weak caricature – a straw man – of reason and rationality, because he keeps making all these mistakes. stupid, ”Galef said in episode 462 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy Podcast. “It’s the show’s way of proving that, ‘Aha! Logic, reason, and rationality aren’t really that great. ”

In the franchise, Spock makes confident predictions based on his superior Vulcan mind. Galef was curious to see exactly how often these predictions come true. “I went through every episode and every Star Trek movie – every transcript I could find – and looked for every instance where Spock uses the words ‘luck’, ‘probability’, ‘luck’. “,” certainly “. “Probably”, etc. “, she says. “I have cataloged all the instances in which Spock made a prediction and that prediction has or has not come true.”

The results, which appear in Galef’s new book The scout state of mind, are devastating. Not only does Spock have a terrible record – events he describes as “impossible” happen 83% of the time – but his level of trust is actually anti-correlated with reality. “The more he says he’s convinced that something is going to happen – that the ship is going to crash or that they will find survivors – the less likely that is to happen, and the less confident he is in something, the more he is is likely to happen. “Says Galef.

Spock’s biggest weakness is his inability to understand that others don’t always behave “logically”. He also doesn’t attempt to update his approach, even when his mistakes get his teammates killed.

“It’s not a spring chicken,” says Galef. “He’s interacted with non-Vulcans before, and so presumably he’s had a lot of chances to see that, in fact, a lot of people don’t behave the way he thinks they should – rationally – behave. And yet he fails to learn from these examples of failed predictions because instead he just shrugs and says, ‘Well, the world hasn’t behaved like it. should have.’

Listen to Julia Galef’s full interview in Episode 462 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Julia Galef on epistemic trust versus social trust:

“We tend to confuse two different things that we mean by the word ‘trust’. I call one of them “epistemic trust,” and that’s the degree of certainty you have in your beliefs. Are you 100% sure that your business will be successful, or are you only at 30%? … And then the other kind of trust is what I call ‘social trust’, and that’s about how confident you are. Do you have good posture? Do you speak in a confident voice? Do you go out and take charge and make things happen? Are you comfortable speaking in front of groups and expressing your ideas? And what I learned – both by reviewing the few academic studies that I thought were actually correct, and also reviewing real case studies, like Jeff Bezos… It’s that social trust is what matters in convincing people and getting them to admire and follow you. “

Julia Galef on the status quo bias:

“Some people will say, ‘No, it’s good that the human lifespan is only about 85 years. Even if we could find a way to expand this, we shouldn’t. And they have various reasons why that would be bad. “ If we lived longer we would be bored ” or “ If we lived longer the rate of change in society would be too slow, as social mores and new innovations change when older generations die and the new generations are taking their place. society.’ … To test to see if your motivation to defend the current lifespan is in part the result of a status quo bias, you can imagine that an 85-year lifespan was not the status quo, and that ‘instead, the status quo was 170 years. Would you then feel like it would be a good thing if that lifespan was cut in half – down to 85 – by a genetic mutation? Would you say, “Yes! Now society will start to change faster ”? Or would you say, “No, it’s such a tragedy that we’ve lived 170 years and now we’re only living 85”? So I think changing that can really change your hunches about the preferable lifetime. “

Julia Galef on the Outsider Test:

“The thought experiment involves imagining an alien that has just teleported into your body – into your position – and now finds itself in your life, confronted with those decisions, but without all the emotional baggage you have from the fact that you been doing this for years. So the alien is just wondering, “Here I am. I am faced with the decision now of two more years of graduate study in exchange for this degree, or to do something else. What do I think is the best? Imagine how that alien in your position would choose – or how the choice would seem to him – I think this can be a good way to shed all that baggage and see what seems like the best thing to do in the situation, putting aside from the fact that it’s me.

Julia Galef on the Batman TV show:

“I was 17 and I thought it was what people in the 60s thought of as serious adventure show, serious drama. So I just felt so much superior to them – “I can see how old-fashioned it is, because I’m sophisticated, but those people in the 60s were too simple to know how stupid this all is.” And I think I said that to some people – I mentioned how unsophisticated people in the 60s were – and at one point someone said to me, “You know, Julia , it has always been designed as a camp. Everyone watching in the 60s saw it the same way you saw it. … And after I explained that, it was obvious to me, and I was a little shaken that I assumed that people in the 60s could be so stupid, and that it didn’t come as a surprise to me, and I didn’t. didn’t question it. “


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