Friday, June 27, 2003

On Roleplaying

Dear reader,

I've recorded here a few thoughts about roleplaying. I think it's an interesting and under appreciated subject. I hope you will soon come to agree with me.

The essence of roleplaying is to create an interactive model of another person. This makes it much closer, as an activity, to things like conversation and philosophy than it is to other types of game such as chess or video games. This is commonly obscured because explicit roleplaying is generally coupled with another game.

For example, Dungeons and Dragons is a roleplaying game. It combines creating and roleplaying a character with a set of rules about character statistics, attacks, treasure, and magic. In combat, most players make decisions with almost no roleplaying; they simply try to play the game well by killing the monsters without being hurt much. In contrast, when their characters must talk, players cannot rely on the rules and must roleplay.

If we separate the roleplaying from the game rules, what's left is creating a personality for our character, and then during play, making decisions as if we were the character in question. How can we do this? How can we choose like someone we are not? Well, we must have a model of that person's mind. Of course, we cannot fit two entire people in our one mind, but a partial model is entirely possible.

There are a number of approaches to creating a partial model of a mind. One is to take most of one's self, or a stereotype, and use that, perhaps slightly altered. Another is to make a list of a few definitive statements, and use those as a guideline. Although both stereotypes and a list of statements cannot resolve every situation imaginable, they can cover many. Better roleplayers are able to stray further from stereotypes and further from themselves, while still acting on a fairly consistent model. A sufficiently well roleplayed character would be indistinguishable from a person in its own right.

Although many people are unaware, roleplaying is used for things besides roleplaying games. For example, if we wish to explain something to a friend, we must create a partial model of our friend's problem situation, and then examine what answer will help that problem situation progress. Rather than trying explanations on our friend blindly, we should first test them on our model and see how it reacts. If we do not do this, the only way we can possibly be helpful is by pure luck or by giving an answer guided by our general knowledge of what problem situations are common in our culture (which amounts to using a general model instead of a personal one, and is still roleplaying).

In arguing too, roleplaying is a necessary skill. To convince our partner, we must understand him sufficiently to see what explanation he needs to hear to change his view. In other words, we must form a model of him, and then try various explanations on the model to see how it reacts. Only when we have some model and an explanation that works with it, can we possibly expect a statement to make progress in the argument in advance of trying it out.

Next time you have a discussion, try to keep this in mind and you may be more persuasive, or next time you are called upon to give advice, you may be more helpful. Although we all do this inexplicitly every time we talk to anyone, we could all be better at it, and an explicit focus on these points will help towards that end. I wish you the utmost success in this endeavor.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Commentary On Curiosity, Part II

Dear reader,

I now return to my commentary on Curiosity.

Today's first post is the point that acting and being trustworthy are different, and Elliot rightly disapproves of the first as a strategy for winning people's confidence and getting them to do things they otherwise would not. One thing you may not have noticed is the link goes to a google cache page from a search for "cruel intentions" analysis, which Elliot could have hidden had he bothered. Additionally, the link no longer works, but that's not Elliot's fault.

The second post is a good one. Elliot often harps on the point that we can change what we want, and he is right to. Sadly, it is a very difficult thing to do intentionally, and people who try often find themselves coerced. For this reason, many people are skeptical that changing one's wants works at all. One piece of advice that may help is: a significant part of being moral involves aligning one's inexplicit theories, especially emotions, with one's intellectual worldview. People who have success at minimising the conflicts between the two, at unifying their own personality, (which is a worthy goal in its own right) will find changing their wants much easier.

The third post is a political link with a descriptive description of what it links to.

The fourth post is a quote of Rachel Lucas, who thinks that dogs smile. I agree with Elliot that smiling has human connotations, like pleasure, rather than simply meaning a mouth curved down like a 'u'. I don't agree that scientism (as Elliot labels this) is an accurate criticism. Rachel may think that dogs smile for scientistic reasons, or she may not, we don't know.

The fifth post complains about the qualification requirement (a Bachelor's degree) to be a tutor for Tutor America. My take is that few people without a degree, and without skills, would want to apply for a tutoring job, but some with no degree and the appropriate skills might. On the other hand, having a degree is absolutely no guarantee of expertise. I share with Elliot a very low opinion of colleges, and would like to see less pressure on young people to get a degree.

The sixth post is a link to a story with a moral. An explanation accompanies the story itself, so it's fine Elliot didn't put one. However, his description of the link, "Goat Story," is poor. While the story has a goat in it, and Elliot does seem to find animals amusing, it's really a morality story.

The seventh post is some jokes on the same theme as a Setting The World To Rights post (link). I wonder if anyone else noticed that the initials for Gender Redistribution Program are GRP, not GDP as Elliot claimed.

The eighth post highlights the French asking Hamas to come out against terrorism, as if Hamas is not itself a terrorist organisation. The French statement is notable for being amazingly out of touch with reality.

The ninth post is a Dungeons & Dragons link. For Dungeons & Dragons players who've never seen it, it's great. For everyone else, it's useless. I doubt many Dungeons & Dragons players who've never seen it read Elliot's blog.

The tenth post is an IMAO quote saying that school is awful. Well spotted! Most references to children on IMAO are, in typical right-wing fashion, negative.

The next post is that last one that had been written when I began my commentary, so I will close with it. In it, Elliot dispels an urban myth that both The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler and Samizdata had fallen for. His choice to publicly laugh at them for their error is inelegant.

I think the bottom line about the Curiosity blog is: if you can manage to tune in to Elliot, it's well worth reading, but if not, he isn't likely to help you very much. Even so, he might amuse or creatively provoke you.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Dear Woty,

Thank you for your comment, I appreciate the feedback. For reference, I am reproducing your comment here:
What's wrong with any of those things, if the primary purpose of a blog is to have fun? These comments could prove very useful to Elliot if he wanted to explain his ideas more clearly and generate better discussion. However, these cristicisms are not clearly helpful for the purpose of Elliot having more fun with his blog. They also do not give any reasons why he ought to change his mind about the purpose of his blog.

Do you plan to address this in part two?
I do think Elliot has fun with his blog, so my answer to your first question is: nothing is wrong with his approach given that purpose. One possible exception is that he might find having more readers fun, especially ones who feel comfortable enough to leave comments. I don't want to take a position on whether Elliot should write for fun or more carefully, because it is not my place to say. But I do hope that Elliot will find my criticism helpful even if he chooses not to follow my advice.

I will try to keep your points in mind as I write part two. Perhaps some further answer will come to me then.

Dear Virtual Purity,

I would like to thank you for commenting. I am most gratified that you like my blog. Although it is not my entire focus, I do aim to please. I hope you will find my future entries equally enjoyable.

I also noticed your new blog, Virtual Purity (link). You are truly too kind. For the record, I want to clarify that I do plan to write about other blogs in the not too distant future. I look forward to your next entry!

Friday, June 20, 2003

Commentary On Curiosity, Part I

Dear reader,

As I indicated in my last post, I will be doing a commentary on the blog Curiosity, by Elliot Temple. I'm going to start from the oldest post still on the front page, from June 8th, and work my way to the present. I mean to do this in just two posts, but we'll see. This one is very lengthy, so please bear with me. I do think this analysis is worthwhile, and by the end I hope you will agree.

The first post simply states "idiots" with a link to a news story about a man who fed lobsters at a supermarket. Elliot is correct that this man was acting badly: as the news story explains, the man's actions were no help to the lobsters, and risked damaging the lobster storage equipment (quite aside from question of whether lobsters can suffer). However, Elliot's post fails to explain this, and to a casual reader, especially one who did not follow the link and read the story, or one who does not agree with him about environmentalism, his post would seem crass.

The second post is math. Elliot's math is spot on, but he does declare some readers WRONG in capital letters.

The third post is an interesting observation about pacifism in US and Japanese culture. But what I want to bring up now, and this applies to the previous posts as well, is that Elliot does not capitalise the first word in each sentence, uses a multitude of abbreviations, some arcane, and seems to use dice to determine where to place commas. While such stylistic concerns do not make his ideas wrong, for most people they detract from the experience of reading his blog. My understanding is that Elliot wants more readers and more feedback, but if he is serious about this, why won't he bother to make his blog presentable?

The fourth post is an alliterative story: each word begins with a 't'. It draws on Elliot's knowledge of math, and is fairly entertaining. The message in the story is against math tests, and this is well supported by the very confusing description of what the protagonists have to do to solve the math problems. If even reading about their task gives us a headache, what must it be like for the characters?

The fifth post links to a video game site. While there is nothing wrong with Elliot's interest in video games, I can't help but wonder if his blog is an appropriate place for it. A blog on epistemology and politics is one thing, a blog on video games quite another. It has to be confusing for his readers that Elliot refuses to differentiate the two, because they rarely know what to expect from him.

The sixth post showcases one of Elliot's favorite motifs: the conversation. In a peculiar twist, most of the conversations Elliot posts seem to between himself and...himself. In this instance, Elliot and 'curi' (a nickname he uses for his blog and himself, and an abbreviation of 'curiosity') make a joke at Samizdata's expense, but a fair and funny one.

The seventh post is just a link labeled "*sweatdrop*", which goes to this Setting The World To Rights thread. Apparently Elliot was annoyed with some of the people he was talking to in that thread, but he doesn't bother to explain himself here. Perhaps he considers the link a sort of 'idiocy watch' service, but for that to be effective, he should spell out the idiocy and why it is idiocy.

The eighth post links to another Setting The World To Rights thread, with just the commentary that some of the posters in the conversation are "sociobiologists." What this means (Elliot does not tell us) is that they try to explain human behavior through biology, a practice Elliot is right to frown on.

The ninth post is an email Elliot sent to Glenn Reynolds. This is easily the best post yet, and plays to one of Elliot's strengths: recognising flaws in the present educational establishment that most people are blind to. The letter Elliot wrote is polite, and has nice form in addition to true content. He ought to write like this more often. If you are wondering what content I refer to, because Elliot phrased his point as a question, I will say that although Elliot's point is inexplicit, it is still there: through his question, his view on the matter is revealed. This view is that society in general does not try to reduce the suffering of those in school, and that this inaction reveals a great moral failing.

The tenth post is a somewhat amusing link to an eBay auction that sold literally nothing, but is a bit off-topic.

The eleventh post quotes from an article about the Israeli army having orders to "completely wipe out" Hamas. Elliot does not bother to explain what this means. However, it's difficult to fault him, because I am at present, not going to either. I will make a note, and possibly get back to it in the future.

The twelfth post is a link to a joke someone else wrote about Elliot. One notable feature of this post is that Elliot often uses symbols like ^^, which many of his readers may be unfamiliar with. It is an abbreviated, upright, happy face, with each ^ being an eye. It's from ^_^, in which _ is a mouth (a . can also be used as a mouth). The eyes are curved up to indicate happiness, as seen in n_n. Eyes curved down, like v_v and u_u, indicate sad faces. These smileys are popular with animé fans, and mimic expressions common in animé shows.

The thirteenth post is a joke at the European Union's expense, and a funny one. It does lack a source for the study it refers to. The face Elliot uses, -_-o, is another animé one, this time with each - a neutral eye, _ the mouth, and o a sweatdrop on its cheek. Sweatdrops have a myriad of meanings, usually along the lines of expressing discomfort. In this case, Elliot finds the study to prevent European Union money from going to Hamas to be too ridiculous for comment.

To recap, let me go over a few themes we've discovered:

- Few of the posts have much content, but some are very good.
- Elliot likes to post jokes, especially ones that contain arguments.
- Elliot extends posting jokes, to posting amusing, off-topic things.
- Elliot also posts other off-topic things he is interested in, even though his readers may not be.
- Elliot rarely bothers with the form of his blog. This is striking in his capitalisation and abbreviations, although, excepting words that are intentionally misspelled or abbreviated, his spelling is pretty good.
- Elliot often makes cryptic statements, or obscure references, with no explanation.
- Even Elliot's lucid views are sometimes found without explanation or argument.
- Almost all of Elliot's posts are short, and I get the impression he spends very little time on each.
- Elliot is sometimes offensive. Some of it is intentional; he likes to ridicule positions he deems worthy of such treatment. But some of it appears to be poor judgment.

I know this isn't a proper conclusion, and I promise to write one with a future installment of my analysis. I hope my comments thus far have been insightful and accurate, and perhaps they will help Elliot to become more virtuous.

Thursday, June 19, 2003


Dear reader,

I must admit to you that I am not entirely certain what purpose this blog shall have. I can, however, relate to you my intention to provide commentary on various blogs, starting with Curiosity, which is sometimes an interesting blog, but could be less esoteric.

I chose the title of this blog, Virtue Pure, because I want to be good. Some may think it simplisme, but I consider declaring my values important. I know good intentions are not enough, but how could I possibly act rightly without them?

As for me, this blog is anonymous partly because I value privacy, and partly for reasons that are private. I will still tell you a little though: I read Setting The World To Rights, I am familiar with Taking Children Seriously, and I do not believe in God. For now, that will have to suffice.

In closing, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that I have enabled a commenting system. I do not want this blog to be a lonely affair, so please take advantage of it. And should I ever be in error, I do hope you will be so kind as to correct me. You may also send email to me, virtuepure[at]yahoo[dot]com.