Greedy Goblin

Friday, January 21, 2011


Imagine that you are on an eye test. On the wall there are two tables, just like these on the picture. The doctor asks if A, B or C is equal to the line one on the left table?

Not a hard question isn't it? Could you imagine that 75% of the people would give wrong answer? Of course not, unless the test is made in the mental hospital. Notice that being blind does not explain this result, if you randomly say a letter you should still miss just 67%.

These tables were used by the American psychologist Solomon Asch. His trick was that the test person was not alone. He entered the room with other people. He believed that they are test participants too, but they were the assistants of Asch.

The doctor asked the others first and they gave the same wrong answer without any doubt. The real test person shown signs of stress, he blushed, stepped from one foot to another, hesitated before answering and than mostly gave the same wrong answer as the assistants.

The test was repeated lot of times since the '50-s. While the results improved during the decades, still lot of people give wrong answers. In the most recent experiment I know (Neto F., 1995) the lines were more similar, so 3.3% of the people made at least 3 mistakes alone (most probably bad eye), but in a group this number jumped to 28%.

What happened? Have they gone insane? If you ask me yes, but the official answer is that they were the victims of the group-conformity. This mental system is the remnant of pre-historian ages. Back then people were barely more than animals, unable to think logically. Their ideas, just like the "ideas" of animals, were evolutionary developed schemes hardwired into their brain.

No one has to teach the cat to wash his paws with his tongue, he just "knows" it. This behavior is a mental subroutine born with him. The reason for its existence is evolution. One cat once upon a time got a new connection between his brain cells as a mutation. This new mental connection compelled him to wash himself. Since it had a positive effect on his life (cleanness = less infection) his chance to have children increased. His children inherited the "washing-subroutine". They were more successful than non-washing cats, so they multiplied more. After several generations all cats had the "washing-subroutine".

Once upon a time an ape got a new mental connection compelling him to follow other apes. Obviously he could only follow alive apes, so the "follower"-ape could not follow really dumb apes who got themselves killed. So having the "follower-subroutine" let him act like the surviving smart apes without being smart himself. Since this is a great advantage, this subroutine multiplied and spread among all apes during the generations.

One of the ape clans decided to climb down the trees and start walking mostly on their back legs. The evolution of humans began. Yet the "follower-subroutine" was still in their head, inherited to their children, up to us.

This is the reason why we feel uneasy when we don't fit in and feel good when we are one of many. That's why the people automatically assume that a populated server is good, while a low population one is just a "half-dead backwater server, despite the exact opposite is true.

We are not apes in the jungle anymore. Our life became complicated and driven by logical reasons. To be successful, we have to make our own decisions, based on facts and not beliefs or feelings. Never follow people assuming they are right. You shall ask them why do they do what they do, and if they are logically right, join them. But assuming that their way is right just because they are many is the " flies can't be wrong, eat dung" thinking. Don't be a sheep!

Start acting! If you are on a high population server, and not in a good guild (meaning bosses killed and you have spot to raids), abandon the M&S infested, laggy, mobcamping high population server and find a well progressed low population server. Your chances of finding a good guild that actually needs you increase a lot. We are recruiting by the way!

PS: before you comment "you should conform to people, even if they are wrong, or they punish you", I've already wrote about this and you are wrong. A sheep don't just conform to the others, the sheep believes it!


Hyperiom said...

This is the second time I want to direct you to
...which was always my problem with objectivism. Word of mouth is always going to be the most powerful tool in advertising, cause it works. It's always gonna work. Guess what? We ARE social creatures. You follow group conformity too, Gevlon. As I recall, you have friends and a girlfriend; quite possibly a job and such. You do not eschew social niceties.
Yeah, there are some people who are really stupid, and very much 'sheeple', but the majority are NOT qq-arthasdklol. The minority is just very loud and annoying. So continuing to write posts about sheeple to people who are not... serves no purpose. Someone, at some point, has considered every one of us conformist. You, for example, could be considered a drone of Ayn Rand. Which isn't necessarily bad, but the whole 'other people are sheep!' mentality is stupid from the get-go.

Samus said...

I would say even through most of the history of human civilization, believers/followers have routinely wiped out the none-believers/outsiders. It could be argued that our species has "selected" for this behavior since your chances of survival were much higher if you gave the same wrong answer as everyone else.

Nathan said...

First, Hyperiom. You are right that at some point in our lives every one of us as been a conformist, and probably not in the most beneficial way. That's exactly why "preaching to the choir" as it may be is still worth while. Since these instincts do exist in all of us, it's constantly useful to be reminded to exercise our independent thought and not get caught up in acting without critical analysis.

Also, to Grevlon. One slight problem I have with the "ape sub routines" is that many of the evolutionary traits you talk about get immediately tied into stupid people. This one is a perfect example. The trait, in your estimation, enables the stupid to survive and leech off the strong. However, the evolutionary basis could have been slightly different. Richard Dawkins wrote in the God Complex that many of the follow the leader traits we have (like the experiment you showed and in his view religion) could have come from any variety of functions. He says that it was most likely a survival trait for children. When things were more dangerous, if your elder said don't eat the red berries you'll die, the ones who survived were the ones who didn't need objective data, they trusted their society and survived.

The important thing to note is that while this is a stupid benefiting off the strong, we have developed other traits that naturally combat it as adults. When you are two it's probably in your best interest to blindly follow parents. You'll stand a statistically higher rate of living to be an adult if you do. We start to rebel against even this as teens however.

The point is, the trait could have come at many points in our evolutionary history. It's also not a negative trait to have. It helps us, and our offspring, survive no matter how intelligent we may be. However, it is also our instinct to rebel against this blind following. I for one appreciate the reminder every now and again.

As a final thought, I'm reading a book by Dr. Frank Luntz called What Americans REally want...really. In there he presents some data on how Americans perceive themselves. I found it funny that 90% of the American population thinks they are smarter than the average American. Make of that what you will, but it made me smile...and question where I truly fall on the curve.

Olga said...

I've played on more populated and less populated servers, and i disagree. You don't need more raiders than morons, cause you have nothing to do with some people with wrong enchanted gear failing in heroics. What you may need from a server population is enough people to fill your pug, or enough good pugs to join. Yes, on less populated server there may be better raider:slacker ratio, but there are less raiders overall and as a result less people available to pug. Cause you don't pug morons, you pug people that raid regularly, but due to various reasons they are not in their usual team for that week\day. So important thing here is the size or a raider population, not raider:slacker ratio. It doesn't harm to say "no" to 5 ppl that are not good enough to come with you as a healer for BWD, but it harms to have no good enough people willing to come at all, cause there are 10 healers on that server, 5 of them are saved, 3 offline and 2 busy.
Not to mention that things change and you always could face a need to find a new guild. Your old guild may die, or your schedule may change, or something else may happen, and it's more chance to pick suitable guild from 10, than from 1.

Ðesolate said...

As Hyperiom said almost every one can be considered a sheep from a different point of view.

But as I think that's not the core of your post. It is simply "get out of the crowd" taken to wow.

The negative part about a well progressed small server is that everyone will know you quite fast. If you have some issues as a diva syndrom or beeing choleric, you will be known by that quite fast. You have less space to cover your faults and everyone will know them quite fast. And whoever claims he has no issues is quite ignorant.

I personally prefer my small to mid sized home server. I know every progress guild most of their guldmasters and member. I also know all who are to be abandoned by beeing ninjas slackers or morons. New ones come every day, but they are very simple to spot since our server has some inside-jokes etc.
By this I can confirm that it is comfortable to be on a less populated server unless you have some real nasty habits.

Anonymous said...

Full servers are so much better to play on Gevlon. More stuff at the AH, more people to play with, much higher activity in TB.

105 guilds on my server have killed at least 1/12 raid bosses, 48 have 8/12, 14 12/12 and 6 have 1 or more hardmodes down.

This means that the AH is always stocked with BoE epics, flasks, potions and enchanting mats. Got three boe epics (2 raid trash drops) for one char for 17k. Got the crafted legs/waist for another char for 6k.
It makes pugging BH on my alts a trivial thing - pugged it 3 times this week with no wipes. It means that our 10man alt run can always happen, we pugged a tank and 2 healers last friday for it and downed 6/12.

Having played both low and high pop I have no hesitation in saying that the advantages of a large playerbase far outweigh any costs.

Azuriel said...

Generally speaking, logic has just as good chance of getting you killed than not. Logic may stop you from eating the red berry that Ograk just ate and died seconds later to, but disagreeing with the elder could lead to ostracization and death by starvation/etc.

In this sense, "logic" is a somewhat meaningless word without context. Is saying "A=A" logical? Yes. Is saying "A=A" logical when a guy with a gun to your head tells you NOT to say it? Some people would actually still say "A=A" in that situation and die.

Gevlon said...

I added a PS:

before you comment "you should conform to people, even if they are wrong, or they punish you", I've already wrote about this and you are wrong. A sheep don't just conform to the others, the sheep believes it!

It is also an answer to Hyperiom's comic. I'm not a sheep when I sit on the same tram as the sheep, simply because I'm aware that I'm doing something pointless and do it only for rewards. I've CHOOSEN to obey a stupid rule to gain rewards/avoid punishment and do so only as long as the reward/punishment exist and cannot be cheated.

William said...

If anyone wanted to move to a server just for its raiding population, server size is irrelevant. Just take a look at list at top 100 servers and take your pick from the top to see most progressed. On the other hand, high pop servers are better than low pop servers in almost every way, except the queues and maybe bit of lag.

Ðesolate said...

We talked about "objectivism" about beeing seen as a sheep. What you really think or when you break up with it is something nobody can take into consideration unless he can read your brain.

And when it is still profitable for you to follow the "sheepherd" others may already rate it as beeing unprofitable.

Many "sheeps" think they choose their way. And many more think they get rewards or evade punishing.

In the example test you've given, maybe some of them choose to give the wrong answer because they were lazy or wanted to maximise their gain/efford (gaining the payment for joining the study and not even thinking when taking a part).

I'm may be considered a sheep by reading your posts same by joining up the PuG. But do I choose to follow or do I simply take up relevant data and bugger off when I'm done? Or may I even stay because I think its the place where I have not to be anyones "sheep"?
Different people may judge this different and it would be sad if not.

Grim said...

Everyone thinks he's "aware" and individual in a world of sheep. Everyone thinks that they only conform as long as they can't cheat the system.
Everyone thinks that they are better than others.

That is the point of the comic and not that riding in the same tram somehow would make you into a sheep.

As for the experiments - you simplify what they actually mean.
Consensus is a very important part of deciding what to believe and for a good reason. One cannot be an expert on original research in every field. If your original research contradicts the consensus - start with double-checking your own method. Most of the time for most of the people the mistake will be in their research and not the consensus. That is a direct result of what a consensus actually is, but every human just knows it instinctively: "Most of the time the majority is right"

Ignoring this fact completely would be neither logical nor rational.
So it is not just about "fitting in"

Once the human mind has decided what it is going to believe, it instinctively tries to defend that belief. By dreaming up all sorts of justifications if necessary. That is why in post-experiment interviews they defended their decision.

All in all the forming of beliefs is a very complicated process that the experiment gives some insight to, but not enough to make any sweeping statements. In fact, any sweeping statements on the subject are most likely gross generalizations at best.

Gevlon said...

@Grim: if everyone just obeys disgruntedly to the system, who is the system? The truth is that majority are sheep and your comment of "defend that belief" refers to exactly BELIEVING in the system. I had many cases when I went with the sheep. But never believing them.

It is possible to create an Asch-like experiment, where I conform. But in the post-experiment interview my answer would be simply "I lied". The sheep not just obeys the system, but believes it and later defend it, making others obey.

Anonymous said...

It's funny how the sheeple pretend everyone is equally subjective.

Here's one: Galileo was objective, millions of sheeple churchgoers were subjective and wrong. Shockingly to the sheeple, being the majority didn't make them right.

Grim said...

"The system" is not uniform. It is the average of everyone in it. Only the perfectly average human of the system in question truly belongs to it.

However - everyone truly believes most of what makes up the system. These things are so natural, that people don't even notice them.
Its things like wearing clothes in weather that does not require it. Covering your mouth, when you sneeze. Going to college even if you don't want the knowledge.

If you, like most of the western culture readily accept that clothes must be worn, mouth must be covered, and at least a B.A. is a must, you do not figure these things in when you think about whether or not you are part of the system.

You concentrate on the things that you would do differently and feel like the system is oppressing you. Meanwhile everyone else seems to be fine with that and it seems that they would not understand your problem with it. So you act along... just like many of the others.

And there are so many different things making up the system, that everyone is simultaneously part of the system, playing along, a sheep and a rebel.

The things that you readily accept make you part of the system. You mostly do not notice them.

The things that you don't like but do anyway because they are necessary for another goal that you are interested in, make you one of those who play along. You notice these things, you hate them and your conscious, though hidden opposition towards them makes you one of the people in the comic.

The things that you accept because others accept them make you a sheep. You don't notice these things because you believe in them and cannot identify that you wouldn't believe if others wouldn't. Occasionally you may be alerted to one of these things and then they cross over to "playing along" or "rebel". But with the sheer number of things that make up the system, there is not enough time in your life to think properly about everything. Nothing truly important to you is in this category, but it is never empty.

Finally, the things that you reject make you a rebel. When it is possible to not conform to something you don't want to accept you just don't and feel good and proud about it.

So this is why we generally should not dismiss people we don't know as mindless sheep - they probably simply do not care enough about the issue to get out of sheepdom. And all the while they consider you to be a sheep because of something that you don't even give a damn about.

Grim said...

Millions of churchgoers had no data, nor the information required to interpret it.

A few church leaders had deeply vested interest (both in power and money) in keeping the churchgoers clueless.

Try again, Mr. Unique and objective.

Tonus said...

I think that conformism has a lot to do with it, but remember that people tend to be either leaders or followers. This is likely to be true throughout human history, as it forms the basis for human communities. People rally around leaders for any number of reasons, including as a way to escape from making decisions and taking responsibility for them.

I suspect that if you tried the experiment with a room that was half full of people in on the test and half not aware, the percentage of people who would select the correct option would depend greatly on how soon a leader-type gave the correct answer (as he would not be inclined to agree with those who were giving the wrong one, unlike a follower type).

This is indeed an example of an "ape subroutine." Even today, many social animals determine their group hierarchy when leaders step forward, and the rest of the group follows. It is usually a survival strategy; the leader is determined via confrontations (mostly physical) and he is the one who breeds with the females in the pack, thus guaranteeing that the best genes are passed on.

Campitor said...

Anonymous said...
It's funny how the sheeple pretend everyone is equally subjective.

Here's one: Galileo was objective, millions of sheeple churchgoers were subjective and wrong. Shockingly to the sheeple, being the majority didn't make them right.

But being right didn't do Galileo any favors either. He was charged with heresy, forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Sometimes you know you are right but you have to learn how to pick and choose your battles and when and where to say the "right" thing. I'm sure if Galileo had been more politcally savy he could have spread his ideas more openly and probably not have spent the rest of his life under house arrest. It is very possible to have a sharp scientific mind but yet be 100% socially and politically inept.

Gevlon said...

@Grim: your description is true, however it also gives a chance to separate the sheep from those who consciously play along: What would he do if someone else rebels?

Do I wear swimming-pants on the beach? Yes I do. Am I like everyone else? Yes I am, so I can be a sheep or a conscious play-along.

However if a naturist (someone who refuses to wear swimsuit and insist on swimming and sunbathing naked) arrive? I ignore him. However the sheep will blush and cover their children's eyes and shout for police.

Sheep upkeep the system by trying to punish the rebels while play-alongs don't. (There is a group of conscious supporters too, but you can argue with them and they are usually less punitive than the sheep).

Grim said...

I just thought of one very important problem we have here - we have not agreed on a definition of sheep.

I loosely established that people are sheep about things where they accept the consensus without questioning it at all.

That is not actually what happened in the experiment. The people you classified as sheep fall into the system by my classification.

Here's why: they did not accept the wrong answer mindlessly. They were convinced of it. Think of what they were presented with:
1) A completely new problem, they have not dealt with before
2) Their own judgement of it
3) A lot of contrary judgments

All these people had a past of making judgments and then either having them confirmed or realizing they were false. Various people have various belief in their own judgement from these previous experiences. Apparently 28% of people just more readily accept that they are wrong than others.

Once again I feel that the issue we are trying to tackle here is just too big for the format of discussion.

Here's a thought:
Dumber people are more used to being wrong, so they are convinced more easily. Also dumber people think less in general. Hence there is a correlation between low intelligence and sheeplike behaviour (in both our definitions). Therefore people who are the greatest sheep are also most likely to accept ideas forced on them as their own and then propagate them further.


T. said...

"It is possible to create an Asch-like experiment, where I conform. But in the post-experiment interview my answer would be simply "I lied". The sheep not just obeys the system, but believes it and later defend it, making others obey."


This is actually what happened to most in the Asch experiment. When they were interviewed after the experiment, most of them said that they did not really believe their conforming answers, but had gone along with the group for fear of being ridiculed or thought peculiar.

Alrenous said...

For most, following is still the good strategy. Yes, some few can do better, but I honestly think most can't.

"There is a group of conscious supporters too, but you can argue with them and they are usually less punitive than the sheep"

This is a fascinating point. Since the sheep is a conformity engine, the appearance of dissidents, of different behaviour, actually threatens to change their mind.

So part of the un-sheep-like violent urges that dissidents evoke is due to cognitive dissonance. Seeing a dissident means risking aping that dissident...whereas the asocials and conscious play-alongs don't see any issue.

Instead we just see freaky pod people who, if enough dissidents show up, will change their mind Orwell style, and claim they always thought going swimming naked is the proper way to swim.

I wrote above that most can't escape this Orwellian, self-imposed mind control. It might even be precisely because they have this Orwellian conformity machine. It's self-reinforcing - they see conformity and therefore ape conformity.

But that means there's an interesting hack. If they were dropped into an environment dominated by rational thought, they'd attempt to ape rational thought.

The only question is whether they could do it.

Would rationality even be recognizable? If there's a Nash equilibrium, rational conclusions look like conformity anyway, for example.

WoWMidas said...

Sheepness isn't either/or. It's a spectrum. We are all sheep in that there are some aspects of life we delegate to others.

We make assumptions about whether things work, whether situations are safe, whether people are to be trusted, etc. based on the decisions and behavior of others.

Following the crowd - involuntarily or voluntarily - can make sense as it is a shortcut, mental and/or physical, in many situations.

We want to puke (and sometimes do) when we see others puking because our evolution has favored individuals who disgorged poisonous food quickly.

Energy you don't spend checking whether your ISP is paying its employees and paying its electric bills (thus keeping your blog up 24/7) can be saved for sex. Not checking the road for cars when crossing train tracks in a group can be fatal.

The practical solution now is the same as it always has been: think for yourself in situations that call for it, and delegate when they don't.

Now, your example just shows that there are people who don't have the courage of their convictions even when they are being asked specifically to examine something and render an answer. Half the population is below average: do you expect everyone is going to / should disregard what everyone else is saying?

There are sets of questions where a crowd majority (or visible subset) could get a better score than individuals on their own (e.g., a set of trivia questions covering wildly obscure and disparate topics). People know that there is wisdom in crowds. They also know that there is danger in crowds.

The "below average" naturally places greater emphasis on crowd wisdom. Some "above averages" fail to grasp crowd wisdom. And some "above average" individuals get themselves ostracized by explicitly challenging the crowd (i.e., Ross Geller).


To bring things full circle with your server comment, as you have noted, the raiding population on most servers is a small subset of the overall population. If a player's objective isn't raiding, many aspects of the game are more effective on a crowded server: there is more price competition (better for players), more people willing to sell items and services and skills. More people to recruit to face game challenges. In sum, a more fulfilling game environment for many, whether they be full sheep or weak sheep who fancy themselves wolves.

Interdependence > Independence > Dependence


Comparative advantage

implies a better playing environment for most players on busy servers (poor raiders excluded).

Intuitively, the best raiders will naturally survive in a more competitive environment on *crowded servers.* Less competitive raiders will play second fiddle / populate lesser guilds, or go to low pop servers where their lesser abilities are valued.

This shouldn't be tough to check: just map guild progression by server population.

Jack said...

I WAS on a low-pop server that had a great economy. Not necessarily great in the sense that there were so many buyers but that there was little competition for my goods and the prices stayed high almost all the time.
Things is, while I did amass nearly 800,000 gold, there was absolutely nothing to buy.
I started asking myself, yes, I'm now a "goblin" but why am I spending so much time getting all this wealth if there's no purpose to it all?
I have no interest in starting up a guild. Why buy stupid armor, mounts, or pets?
I decided to move to a high-pop server because there were actually things on the AH to blow my money on.

Anonymous said...

A simple explanation would be that it is not worth going against an opinion where there is nothing to be gained - had the experiment be framed such that the good answer would win you $10,000 I bet a lot of people would get it right.

In this experiment I might go along with "consensus" simply to be able to get out of there sooner - just as you say you don't give a damn about a naked man, I don't give a damn about making an incorrect statement if that actually benefits me in some way.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the point of evolution is that there are many mutations but predators kill off the ones that don't work. So, yeah, ideally the M&S would get removed from your population by predators but this is a MMO and Blizzard allows even the M&S to survive. Clearly there needs to be some means to remove M&S from the population pool, in your case.

Eaten by a Grue said...

The experiment with the vertical bars is actually a very poor example to use when criticising conformism. In the experiment, there are no unknowns. The subject has ALL the information required to make a decision - as he can see all the bars, and the height of the bars is the only thing relevant to the decision.

Real life, and wow, is often not that simple. For example, unless you have really studied a boss fight inside and out and have done it many times, if the other 9 people in the raid say you should do X, and you feel that you should do Y, well, probably the majority is right, and you are probably wise to try it their way first.

And this is just a wow boss fight, where information is actually pretty easily acquired. In real life, there are so many more unknowns and often there is so much more at stake, and it becomes much more wise to rely on the collective experience of society, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel at every juncture.

msgoldcup said...

I find this "sheep" tendency particularly annoying (sometimes entertaining) when I'm shopping.

For example: grocery stores.
I compare prices, often by cost to weight; I will pause for a minute, or so, while I scan the shelves. No matter WHAT items I stand in front of, in no time, people will cluster around.

Maybe all that squinting and scrutinizing makes me seem like a good person to follow.

It is possible, my imperfect brain highlights the annoying times people have done this. However, sometimes, I'll squint at ridiculous items just to see if a crowd will gather, and, yes, they do.

The real test, might be to see how many people I can move to put overpriced, poor quality, items that no one should buy in their carts.

Admin said...

- No one has to teach the cat to wash his paws with his tongue, he just "knows" it. This behavior is a mental subroutine born with him.

I disagree, the act of cleaning the paw is not a subroutine by birth it is nonsubconscious first; the cat learns it from his/her mother or the cat will learn it after his paw gets irritated/painfull/infected and it figures out that a moist and clean paw makes him a happy cat.

Sure the apes are smarter, because their ancestors learned more and more from their parents which lead to them evolving, leading to a brain capable of absorbing more abilities ( but an ape isolated at birth doesn't know how to get the fleas from his back unless he tries to rub his back on a tree and confirm it works )

On one hand you're saying we're hardwired with subroutines and on the other hand you're trying to have the socials break these evolutional wires by discontinuing their relationship with the M&S. I think you're seeing behaviour too black and white.

Socials can consciously break the ties with the M&S to stop being sheep. When they join the PuG; where they are essentially joining ranks with other ex-sheep that ran away from their moron herds. Albeit ruled by a smarter boss sheep, they will be sheep again. That would also make joining the PuG an ape subroutine.

The only times when we will truly not be sheep is

- when we can program our offspring to be at full conscience at birth (Being as smart as someone at average+ IQ)
and in full control of his/her own survival.

- Or in a chaotic world where everyone is living á la Battle Royale which wouldn't last long; until one clique is formed, so to survive the others will make cliques too, restarting the last 10-15k years from scratch.

I think that is something you should watch closely in The PuG, for it to survive you must not let cliques form. Your new 'reward the raid leader' idea is pretty fucking good. It can motivate and will prevent the leaders from burning out. The only way it can backfire is when raidleaders that fail could be seen as outcasts and get ridiculed or not let in other people's raids and this happening frequently could lead to loss of morale and some major drama.