Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Belief and Outcomes

This  is not really related to gaming, but is something I've been contemplating lately.

Let's say that there is a statement X. You do not believe that X is true. You think it is wrong, that it does not describe the reality of the world.

There are other people out there who do believe in statement X. Who believe wholeheartedly, who believe that X describes a truth of the world. And because they believe in X, they act in a certain manner.

The issue is that because of the way they act, these people accomplish more than your group. They never prove X, and it is entirely probable that you are right about X. But still, in pursuit of X they do more, even make the world a better place, than your group does.

Should you join this other group, even if you don't believe in the fundamental principle which they do?

Perhaps believing X to be true might lead them down a wrong path someday in the future. But so far, other people believing in X has just resulted in outcomes which you like.


  1. Can you cite an actual real world example of where this might occur?

    1. Tirions believe in the light allowing him to shatter the ice even thought I, as a warlock, do not believe in the light.

      Oh... you meant the other real world?

    2. How about religiously motivated groups that are active in social work (salvation army is one example, although they chose a terrible name for themselves).
      They do a lot of social activities around here to help minority groups or gather clothes to send to poorer countries etc. - you can certainly support many of their actions but you can't really join unless you profess to Christian faith.

      Personally my answer is no, I wouldn't join them. I don't really understand why you wouldn't be able to produce similar results without factor X tho, if you wanted to - I would need Rohan to give an example that proves direct cause between belief system and outcome, rather than just correlation.

    3. Perhaps I should have phrased it as "you believe X is highly improbable, so improbable that it is effectively not true."

      A trivial example, and one which skips the whole "improving the world" bit, as well as the effort involved, is a lottery.

      You do not believe that you will win the lottery. In accordance with that belief, you don't buy lottery tickets. But that guarantees that you won't win the lottery. Lotteries are won by people who at least buy tickets. Should you join the group of people who buy lottery tickets?

    4. Like Syl, my first thought was religion, but that doesn't really work because there is no obvious correlation between any kind of religion and accomplishment. Some religious people are motivated to do good, some aren't, and the same is true for non-religious people.

      The lottery example is a bit too self-centred. Would I do something that I consider foolish on the off chance that I might get lucky? No.

      I actually liked the raider example given in a comment below more, but again it is kind of self-centred. Frank having better runs than John doesn't make the world a better place.

      I just have trouble imagining a scenario where everyone benefits from people doing something that I would consider wrong. If what they do is really that good, they must be doing something right. Otherwise there's bound to be some downside, some catch, or else why would I object to it?

    5. The action isn't wrong. The reasoning behind the action is wrong. Someone who buys a lottery ticket thinking she has a good chance to win is wrong. However, she's also taking the only action which will allow her to potentially win the lottery.

      To be honest, this doesn't necessarily involve morality. The reason can be just incorrect, and not immoral.

  2. Hmmmm, hard question. Please, ignore the poster above and DO NOT provide a real-world example until people have answered, otherwise it's too easy :)

    My answer: I don't think I would join the group. I believe in method more than in statements, and I have trouble with people who "believe in X" without even attempting to make sure it's right. Even if they are right. I'd say even MORE if they are right, since proving a right statement is certainly easier than to prove a false one....
    I worry about the method because a group which operates in such a way may be doing good today, but it's intrinsically vulnerable to manipulation: tomorrow a charismatic leader shows up saying Y and they may end up believing and acting on Y, even if it's very very bad. Questioning your beliefs is the process which guarantees long-term progress. So I may end up collaborating with them in the short term, since they are doing good, but I would not join them.

    1. The thing is that the "methods" the other group uses are what makes the world better. The belief causes them to act a certain way, and those actions are what improve the world.

      So you agree with their actions, but not the belief which motivates those actions. And the people who agree with you do end up taking different actions which are not as good.

  3. <satire>

    Frank and John are two raiders with identical skillset and gear. Frank believes running with a cookie-cutter spec is a proof of competence, while John doesn't think so. Frank does higher DPS.

    Frank wholeheartedly believes that cookie-cutter spec as a proof of competence is a truth of the world, and he accomplishes more than John. Should John join him even if he doesn't believe in the principle?

    The opportunist would join Frank's group while the person of principle would not. And we all know who fares better in today's world.


    Sorry, I couldn't resist. :)

    1. Well, it's good satire and maybe not that much satire as you think :)
      The only problem is that Rohan talks about "believing"... DPS is not a belief, you can measure it. If you get trounced on recount you can believe what you want, you're still wrong :P

    2. A slightly better example along these lines might be:

      Frank and John are two PuG raid leaders who each run a separate weekly pug. Frank believes that people who don't have cookie-cutter specs are "morons & slackers" (to use Gevlon's terminology). Thus Frank requires cookie-cutter specs for his raid.

      John does not believe this, and accordingly does not require cookie-cutter specs for his raid.

      Frank's raid is more successful than John's raid. Should John switch to requiring cookie-cutter specs?

    3. Ahem, looking also at your answer to Azuriel, you are changing the original question....
      I have the same feeling as when I read Gevlon's answer: you're mixing truth and efficiency. If you think that X is bullshit, but it works much better than what you believe, then maybe you should revise your beliefs. But this has nothing to do with truth..... When you "measure" the value of a belief, you should also specify what you're measuring for: if you're looking at outcomes, it means you don't care for truth, you only want to know if it works, or at least if it works well enough.

      In your raid example: yes, if John aims at obtaining the same result as Fred, he should switch, because it's pretty much clear that, independently of being true or false, using cookie-cutters works better than not using them.

  4. This is a good philosophical question and I contemplated a lot on it. Here is my answer:

    - X has more than one alternatives, yet people who usually think in black and white simplify the world to X vs Y.
    - The fact that X-believers accomplish more than Y-believers proves that X is more true than Y.

    In this situation there are 3 solutions:
    - the moron one: Keep believing in Y against proof
    - the slacker one: Join X, despite you believe it's wrong
    - the hard and intelligent one: find Z which is true and form the "group of Z" which accomplishes more than "group of X"

    Real world example:
    - Germans strongly believe in anti-racism and equality of people (this is Y), so they invited Middle Eastern immigrants in
    - Hungarians are nationalist (this is X) and built a fence.
    - Germans spend a lot of money and in return got mass-raped, Hungarians kept their money and their safety. (X believers accomplished more)
    - Racist, nationalist parties in Europe are on the rise, Hungarian PM Victor Orbán became a hero (people join X)
    - My answer: rejecting people based on racism and nationalism are bad (X is wrong), but we should reject illiterates and those who have no useful profession. Since most of the immigrants are illiterates with no useful profession, rejecting all of them is better than accepting all of them (X accomplishes more). But the best would be treating all people equal: "accept all skillful and reject/evict all skilless"

    1. - The fact that X-believers accomplish more than Y-believers proves that X is more true than Y.

      "more true"? I'm not even sure I know what it means.
      Also, I'd like to hear the reasoning which brings you to this conclusion... I mean, threatening people with guns is definitely more effective than trying to convince them if you want them to do something, does this mean that X (i.e. using the gun) is "more true" than Y (i.e. convincing)?

      Truth and effectiveness are not quite the same thing.

      I also have some doubts on your comparison: Eurostat data (the most recent is 2012) puts Hungary ahead of Germany with +50% violent crime rate.

    2. We can't know the absolute truth, our ideas can be closer or further. This is "more" or "less" true.

      Convincing people with a gun will get you sooner than later killed, so it's definitely not an effective method.

      There weren't significant migration in 2012. It's a new thing, happening very rapidly. Like 200K/month new migrants swarming to Germany and they don't play nice.

    3. Sure, Gevlon, you might be able to fashion a personal rationale that encompasses X's actions but not X's reasoning.

      But let's say it comes down to an election. You can vote for Party X or Party Y. Which party do you vote for?

    4. X
      While X can be wrong, Y is more wrong.

      Also, I would consider starting Z party if an election is so important to me. Chances are that Z party already exists, just small and in dire need of donators and activists to grow.

  5. So, in other words, Group X is doing the right thing for the wrong reasons? ;)

    1. Yes, but as well, the people who have the right reasons are doing the wrong thing.

      So who should you support? Should you reconsider what are the "right" reasons? After all, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

    2. Actually, after thinking about it, this is not quite my issue.

      There is a potential future. I find this future desirable. However, the only possibility of this future occurring is through the actions of people who believe X.

      If the people who believe Y are in charge, the desirable future will not happen. I believe Y. Should I still support the people who believe X instead, for the sake of that potential future?

    3. In short: yes, of course.

      It is a bit of a tautology, but by describing a future as desirable, you kind of already conclude that the circumstances necessary to bring it about is worth the cost. So the given future is worth the belief X spreading; if the future wasn't worth it... then it isn't worth it, and thus undesirable.

      Me personally? I'm all for principles and being consistent. However, I'm not prepared to go full Kant and drive off a cliff just because of weird edge cases. If belief X results in future more aligned with your interests, go make that happen. And perhaps re-examine why belief Y isn't at a later date.

  6. Proper understanding is the most essential thing I can imagine. If I have a more complete understanding than the group holding X belief, then I can point out why and where they are wrong. Think of being a 'machiavellian' - lying to get into positions of power, completely ignoring real world issues (problem is easy to point out here). I would like to have influence but I would never praise someone who isn't worthy. So I would say no, I am unfortunately too honest by nature.

  7. Belief is irrelevant. Actions accomplish things. If group X is doing what you want done, then support them.

    Unless you're required to espouse their beliefs to support them. Then it's down to your own integrity versus a "better world". That's impossible to decide without more information.

    Or do you mean that group X is trying to accomplish some goal you disagree with and failing, coincidentally producing beneficial side effects? Then, no. I'm against short-term gain at the cost of long-term failure.