Thursday, February 20, 2014

I Just Got Dunning-Krugeeeeerd!!!

So there’s this interesting study that reveals something that most people know in their guts already.  I think it’s where the “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” phrase comes from.  People who nit-pick a football coach’s decisions from the night before can inflate their own sense of competence and start to believe that if THEY were the coach they’d do a far better job of it. (Even though they don't have the experience or have any clue as to all the considerations a coach has to have) I see this first hand on the forums for the game I work on as well.  People thinking if we “just” tweaked this one element or another, “simply” changed some code, or “finally” started listening to the players and stopped lying and cheating and all the other dastardly things us developers do, our game could finally stop being such a giant bag of crap.  On a side note our Studio Design Director (Who I’ve come to respect quite a lot recently) started an initiative on our forums specifically for engaging with players and helping to get our various leads communicating with them on a regular basis, articulating our design fundamentals and aesthetics and trying to incorporate what we can from the community into our design.  So he shares my community philosophy, which is neat.  

But back to Dunning-Kruger.  From the Wiki page on it:

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude.[1] Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.”

Now just because I’m regularly victimized by this cognitive bias doesn't mean I can’t make the same mistake.  And boy did I ever. To be fair, it wasn't ONLY Dunning-Kruger, but my old friend Planning Fallacy too.  But that one is my constant companion and not worth further comment at this time.

The reason I’m calling D-K on myself is because I did not expect it at all.  Here’s what happened.  I’m in a marketing meeting for a content release I’m coordinating.  This content features a giant monster Wurm boss, and someone mentions giant gummy worms.  Sometimes our marketing team likes to send funny things to the press for publicity, and this ideas was floated for that.  I pipe up and say I could sculpt a giant gummy worm that actually looks like our game monster, not just a generic tube shaped worm.  I said I’d do a little research and see what it would take.  I do my little bit of research and determine that the mold making material would be around $300.  Our marketing guy says that’s reasonable.  I was going to do this project at home, make a bunch of cool giant gummy wurms to ship to various press outlets, and then bask in the hilarious coverage we’d get.  I didn’t have a particular number of hours of homework guestimated, but I had over a month to do it, so I wasn’t worried.  Oh, but I should have been!

I decided to log the hours I spent on this project at the end of each day in case I could be compensated for my time, I’d have billable hours.  (HA!)  Now, I’ve made my share of sculptures, molds and castings.  Been doing it for over ten years.  I’m familiar with all the elements.  Here’s what was new: the size of the sculpt/mold, and casting gelatin.  Didn't seem particularly out of scope to learn those things as I went.  In fact, I was so confident I decided I might as well film the process and make a fun video tutorial.  FUN!  

I started the project on December 13th.  Three weeks later and about $400 in, I was at my wits end.  I had put in 68 hours, made the sculpture, poured a nice 4-part mold with a cool $230 worth of silicone, and then it leaked.  If a mold leaks you can’t cast anything in it.  I had tried to patch the mold with a variety of desperate measures.  (For the record, I don’t think there’s a way to patch platinum based silicone.  If anyone knows of one please tell me!)  Having put in far more time and money than I had anticipated, (not to mention the psychic pressure both given and received from my family) I was in a foul mood.  My brain was just running over and over how I could salvage the project AND the video tutorial.  I had already filmed several variant methods and kept having to re-evaluate how I would edit it all together to make it both useful, and make me look like a non-idiot.  If I had just dropped the tutorial aspect of the project I could have been far less stressed.  But at that point the Sunk Cost Fallacy had me firmly by the neck.  I felt like I HAD to have this video as my consolation prize for how hard this was becoming.  

Over the next week I climbed to 84 hours and another hundred or so dollars.  And I found myself losing my temper.  I was NOT nice to be around.  At that point I realized I was having a moral failure.  So I took a step back and forced myself to re-evaluate.  No silly project is worth making my family sad and stressed.  My self analysis revealed that the reason I was so stressed was not the time or money spent, or how the deadline was fast approaching. (although those factors didn’t help.)  It was that all the video editing strategies I was concocting where dishonest.  I was feeling so much pressure to produce this tutorial that I had lost the POINT of a tutorial, which is to deliver accurate and useful information.  All my crazy editing schemes designed to save my progress would have portrayed a reality that had not existed.  It was my ethical intuition jabbing my soul that was making me feel and act so terribly.  

But, the only way to salvage the project was not to salvage it, but to scrap it and start all over.  This meant at least another 84 hours and several hundred dollars.  However, I found that when I came to an understanding with my conscience, any price is worth it.  I figured there was a good chance that I would not be reimbursed at this point since I’d gone so far over what I had said it would cost, but that I would consider that a stiff fine to remind me of my foolish lack of forethought and the price of hubris blinding me to the unknown realities.  So on January 13th, one month in, I decided to start over.  Even though the amount of rework was daunting, I felt so much better about everything.  I re-sculpted, re-molded and re-shot the tutorial, incorporating my new experience to make sure my tutorial was actually valid, accurate, and honest.  

That took me until the end of January.  Here’s a fun sample of my time:  Friday night the 17th, I come home at around 7pm and worked for 7 hours on the Wurm.  Collapse.  Wake up Saturday and take it easy, only working 4 hours.  Sunday I realize I’m not going to make it at this rate and work on it for 12 hours.  Seriously.  The next week is Mon: 2 hours, Tues: 4 hours, Wed: 5 hours, Thurs: 4 hours, Friday HAD TO TAKE A BREAK!, Sat: 8 hours, Sun: 6 hours.  The next weekend of Feb 1st and 2nd I put in 20 hours.  And so on and so forth until I finally finished in the nick of time to get the Wurms out for Valentine’s Day.  On Feb 13th, the Wednesday before I had to have the video out, I came home from work and did a 14 hour editing session through the night.  

Grand total: 135 hours of my free time over the course of 8 weeks, and a little under quadruple what I had initially thought it would cost.  (the price is obviously inflated due to having to do the whole thing twice.)

So in this postmortem I’m looking back over the numbers, recounting the mistakes and hopefully learning from them.  It’s kind of a weird thing.  You know how you can feel like Murphy's Law is ruining your plans?  The adage goes: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”  And it’s always an exaggeration.  Except on this project it was not an exaggeration.  I literally went through a list of every step I did and every single one had to be done twice, and several of them required over 4 repeats.  (I had to figure out how to cook the green jello without burning it 6 times!)  Oven stopped working, stores ran out of plaster, bulk gelatin supplier took 2 weeks to get me the package, mold leaked, mother mold broke 3 times, ran out of cooking supplies in the middle of a cook… 3 times!  and on and on.  So, it is not with any great pride, but great relief that I finally presented my video tutorial.  And it was a big hit!  Everyone loved it.  (Except for that one guy who said I was a fat emo hipster.)  ArenaNet put it on their facebook page and now it’s got over 13,000 views.  (About 20 times more than any other video I’ve put up.)  

And I sit back and wonder… WILL I actually learn anything from this?  CAN I defeat the combined forces of Dunning-Kruger, Murphy, Sunk Cost and Planning Fallacies, and my own hubris?  Time will tell.  One procedural thing I KNOW I will take away from this is recording my time spent on projects.  It’s much easier to lie to myself about how long something will take if there’s only foggy recollections of previous projects to go on, rather than the cold, sobering data that a written record provides.  

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Preservation of my Religious Hopes

I haven’t written much about my religious ideas in quite a while.  I think that’s because I had my several years of cognitive dissonance where I wrestled with my inherited doctrines attempting to reconcile them with my new life experiences and increased knowledge.  In other words: owning my faith.  Now I’m at peace with my beliefs, mostly because I stopped believing things.  I changed my epistemological stance, and now I simply say I have hopes.  Well, ‘simply’ isn’t quite the right word because I’m thinking and writing in a language built upon the precepts of a different epistemology.  One where common sense dictates that people know things, so our words are always bending my thoughts and writing toward a knowing-based way of communication.  I have to fight all the inclinations of our shared language to explain my stance, bending it another direction.  When I say “I don’t believe in God.” (which is true) everyone will say, “Ok, so you are an atheist.”  But I’m not.  I’m speaking from a different epistemological framework.  That statement is not about God, it’s about my lack of credentials when it comes to discerning reality.  I also don’t believe in physical reality, and love, and math and morals.  Not because I’m crazy, but because I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and can’t escape the conclusion that I’m an incredibly limited thing (I THINK I’m a thing) making my best educated guesses with a bunch of other incredibly limited things (I THINK you’re a thing) making their best educated guesses.  I’ve found that the more you define your terms the less you are able to resolve or universalize anything.  But I still live my life as if there’s a physical world and love, morals and math.  Because I hope they do exist, (well, maybe not math… me and math don’t get along so well.) and that’s what works out best for me.  I’ve already spilled far too much digital ink on my epistemological shift in previous posts, so I’m not going to go any deeper.  I just need to establish this strange worldview that I have in order to fully explain this new point I want to make.  To sum up: when I say I don’t believe in something, I am not saying that I think that thing does not exist.  I’m only saying that I can’t justify myself believing that it does because I’ve discovered how wrong my beliefs can be.  

When I survey the intellectual and spiritual journey I’m on I can’t help but notice those around me who have been on similar paths. It’s interesting to me how we are similar and how we differ.  I e-know several people pretty well who went through the process I did of cognitive dissonance with our evangelical Christian heritage, digging deep into literature, learning the history of our doctrines, holy book, comparative religion, etc.  Some of them flipped to atheism.  I think those are the ones who didn’t let the process shake the foundations of their epistemology.  So they went from KNOWING there was a God to KNOWING there’s not.  Some drifted into the misty haze of spiritual-but-not-religious.  These guys, like me, found the process of changing beliefs that they were so absolutely sure about to be disconcerting enough to rattle their epistemology, and so they are far more tentative when it comes to fully embracing any new or different doctrines.   And I know one guy who I’m not sure if he dug as deeply as us, and stayed doctrinally pure.

I THINK…. think…. THINK, that I’m the one who went the deepest, past the culture, history, and philosophy and down into the nitty gritty of the epistemology.  I’ve tried to push these ideas to their total logical conclusion, so I stayed and sussed it out the longest.  (Not because I’m smarter or whatever, just because I found it more interesting than they.)  In my attempt to synthesize my experiences and research into the basis of knowledge and language, I came to the conclusion that I can’t believe or know things.  This meant I had to drop language about faith and knowing, and even belief, because they are not accurate to my thinking.  But I also don’t see a reason to actually reject a bunch of stuff out of hand.  In fact, I think a lot of my religious heritage is very good for me and my family.  This is where my hope-talk comes into play.  Besides hoping there is such a thing as justice and love, I HOPE there’s a benevolent creator God.  and since I can’t gather any data concerning the likeliness that such a being exists, I live as though one does.

But what happens when you try to pin me down on specific doctrines ABOUT that God I hope exists?  This is the point I’m trying to get to, that I think gets misunderstood by those in my religion.  When I first started down this road of heterodoxy I was looking into specific doctrinal issues that didn’t make sense to me.  How does a God of justice create beings that He knows will rebel and then choose to reject Him resulting in eternal torment?  How does a God who is perfect display characteristics (recorded in the Bible) that are, by normal definitions of the words used, LESS mature than myself?  Jealous, angry, vengeful… all things we are told not to be, and when we see other’s acting this way we see them as clearly immature.  So when I found alternate doctrines to address what I could only interpret as contradictions, (and yes, I assure you I’ve read every apologetics author, talked to a couple pastors, etc about these things) I went from believing one thing about God to believing a different thing about God.  But that process cracked the foundation of my justification for believing anything about anything.  At some point I realized how easy it was to reinterpret things.  Not just religious things in ancient texts, but everything.  Morals, law, relationships, etc.  

But my point is about the MOTIVE behind dropping specific doctrinal beliefs about God.  To those in my tradition there is generally one motive attributed to dropping them: a desire to rebel against God.  I’ve already talked about conflating what God is, with what our religious tradition says about God, so I won’t get into that distinction. My point is that after several years of letting the dust settle I have a clearer picture of my motives.  I’ve always denied that I’ve ever felt rebellious towards God.  In fact, I’ve ever only wanted to get closer to God.  My recent revelation about myself is that what I’ve been doing is attempting to save my respect for God.  I could not continue to respect the God presented in my inherited doctrines.  I wasn’t rejecting those doctrines about God because I thought I knew better than those guys, or was smart enough to interpret the Bible better.  I only knew I could not serve a God that is unjust, petty, or just in general less mature than I am!  When I first started my serious research I went in assuming that there were good answers to my confused questions.  When I found that the best answers out there didn’t satisfy me I was at a bit of a loss.  I knew I WANTED to find the answers satisfying, I knew I WANTED to get closer to God, I knew I WANTED my inherited doctrines to be true.  So imagine my confusion when I came up with different answers.  

One of the ways I worked REALLY hard to get my traditional doctrines to work was by bending the definitions of words like Love, Justice, Mercy, Jealousy, Omnipotence, etc.  I say ‘bending’ because that’s what I found it to be.  Most apologists appeal to this redefinition of words based on context, along with the ‘embrace both’ paradox approach.  I don’t have a philosophical problem with paradoxes, IF they are construed as based in human limitations or ignorance.  I don’t believe in paradoxes in an ultimate sense, but I could be wrong.  My problem with paradox as a tool in theology and apologetics is that it is of no REAL use for building a coherent and logical system IF you are hoping to establish Knowledge or belief, because any poor logic or silly contradiction can be swept away with the paradox maneuver.  

So without the rhetorical tool of paradox I found that I simply had to change my hopes about God in order to preserve my relationship to God.  So while it’s possible that there’s a God and He’s vengeful and jealous and feels like getting some souls to worship Him forever is totally worth billions of other souls suffering eternally, and it’s possible that that is totally justified in an ultimate sense that any person would agree with if they just knew all the facts.  But the problem for ME, personally, is that I simply cannot be a moral person and serve that God.  I’d have to choose one or the other.  That leaves me with two choices.  Assume that there is a God who matches Christian doctrines, and reject that God, or hope for a better God.  (Becoming an atheist is not an option because I can’t find a way to warrant that position, and yes, I’ve read and watched lectures by all the big hitter atheists and talked through all the issues with hundreds of atheists out there.)  So given my position, the answer to me is obvious.  I hope that God is better than the doctrines my religious tradition has presented.  I’m not making a god in my own image, because I’m not making any propositions about God.  I’m simply serving that which is greater than I.  And my UNDERSTANDING of the traditional Christian God is NOT greater than I, except in raw, brutal power.  Again.  My UNDERSTANDING.  I’ve tried everything I can think of to make my understanding fit the orthodox Christian tradition.  Even though I wanted to, I could not make my understanding conform.

This leads me to an ironic conclusion, which is that the hopes that took me away from orthodoxy are motivated by my desire to serve God, that is, to have “right thinking”. (the actual definition of orthodoxy)  It will be doubly ironic if I end up in hell for all eternity as a result!