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The Ideological Turing Test: How to Be Less Wrong

Posted by on | July 30, 2018 | Comments Off

If you plotted my “certainty” curve over time, it probably hit a low point in high school, climbed to peaks during college and just afterwards, slid over time as my face got pressed up against the glass of the real world, and dropped even lower when I discovered RSS readers and put a wide variety of feeds into it.  That is not to say I am not confident — at least as long as we are talking about intellectual and not social skills — but I am more open to being wrong than I have been since I was about 18.  I am fairly sure I still greatly overestimate my own correctness.

I was thinking a while back about why I perceived myself to have had this period in high school when I was less certain of my infallibility.  One reason had to be my finally coming to terms with nagging questions about the religion I grew up with.  Another was probably due to high school debate, where after vociferously defending a policy position for an hour one immediately had to walk into another room and defend the opposite side.  Even then high school debate was becoming broken, but being forced to argue both sides of every issue was a great experience.

All this is an introduction to a nice work by Charles Chu called “The Ideological Turing Test: How to Be Less Wrong.”  It is hard to excerpt, because it covers a lot of ground, but I wish in retrospect my high school had printed something like this on my locker door.  If I had a billion dollars and wanted to found a new university**, I would make the ideological Turing test the core of the educational philosophy.  Think of what goes on in colleges nowadays and being a professor and saying “OK, class half over.  Nice discussion.  Now everyone switch sides.”***


** Name a major private university with a national reputation or that your friends’ kids have considered attending that was founded after 1900.  I can come up with only a couple: Rice University in Houston and several of the Claremont Colleges (e.g. Claremont-McKenna) in California.  Only one school in the Ivy League is less than 250 years old. Most folks can perhaps name one in their local city (ie Grand Canyon University here in Phoenix) that is newer but does not have a national reputation.  I guess that it could take a while to develop a national reputation, but 100 years?  Really?  In the art school world (which aren’t generally considered universities) I can name at least 4 schools with a national reputation (at least in the art world) that were founded much more recently, several in my lifetime (SCAD, Ringling, Art Center, Cal Arts).

*** I did very well at Harvard Business School, better than I have done at anything else in my life (they did not have class ranks but I was pretty damn close to #1 out of 900, after being literally the last person they let in off the waiting list).  It helped that I love the format and loved the subject matter.  Also, to be honest it helped that I could do math (which held back half the class but led to my marrying someone I was tutoring) and that English was my first language (I had great respect for foreign students who even attempted to survive the case method in a second language).  But the real trick to success was to shine in the discussions, which were 70% or so of the grade.  And I did so with a simple trick.  I watched the discussion, and jumped in on whatever side was losing or had the fewest supporters, irregardless of what I might believe.  Not only was this a ton of fun, but it was appreciated by the professors — they did not want to intervene in a discussion but felt like they had to if the argument got too unbalanced.  I took all kinds of positions against my true beliefs.  I argued that the only mistake “neutron” Jack Welch made at GE was not firing more people.  I slammed Steinway for ignoring new technology and fetishizing hand craftsmanship.  And I convinced everyone I must hate Canada when I opened a rant on the nation with “Canada is like a whole other state,” riffing off the then-current Texas travel ad that said “Texas: It’s Like A Whole Other Country.”  I am not sure how one would do such a thing today when comments in class are seen more as virtue-signalling to your crowd than they are thought-out policy positions, and when taking the “wrong” side, even as an intellectual exercise, can lead to nationwide social media shaming.  By the way, my keys to succeeding at HBS are embedded in my novel BMOC, currently free on Kindle.

 The Ideological Turing Test: How to Be Less Wrong  The Ideological Turing Test: How to Be Less Wrong  The Ideological Turing Test: How to Be Less Wrong

 The Ideological Turing Test: How to Be Less Wrong

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