Sticky heuristics

by Suspended Reason

Heuristics are sticky just like prices.

Heuristics are always, definitionally fitted to an environment—or probability distribution of events”—over which they are effective. When that distribution inevitably drifts, the heuristic no longer fits, but players struggle to adequately revise and update previously adopted (learned) strategies; this becomes more difficult as neuroplasticity diminishes with aging. In other words, the burden of conditioning prevents contention with new development. Institutions are one strong and collectivized form of heuristic stickiness.

In psychology and psychoanalysis, this idea gets called trauma”. Snav comments:

[In ancestral environments,] these events were potentially cyclical: a tribesman might experience war repeatedly throughout their lives. However, the current state of modern war leaves veterans returning, psychologically prepared for another go at war at any time, but without any real likelihood that they’ll be sent back out in the field… the developed priors become useless, rather than necessary preparation for the next conflict. We can also consider how ancient tribes may have handled bad” prior formation by considering ritual experience. The sacred, the psychologically powerful, as a means of restoring a more normal” psychic equilibrium.

In military strategy, the sticky heuristics” idea gets referenced as You are always fighting the previous war.” Officers and soldiers train on & develop strategies optimized around yesterday’s conflict. But because all combatants do this, the strategic situation changes. (In other words, the game is anti-inductive.)

In Discursive Games, Discursive Warfare” I talked a bit about Bruno Latour’s idea that academics are always one war behind” in their theoretical battles.

In adversarial-dominant games, players will intentionally decouple the heuristics (“strategies”) used by their opponents. This is done by altering the expected distribution of events, such that the drift or decoupling which might otherwise occur slowly, and somewhat randomly, occurs quite rapidly and directionally. This can give rise to lemon market dynamics: Naturally,” or prior to players’ strategic interventions, lemons may be a relatively rare market occurrence. But when lemons blend in with non-lemons, they drive the price of non-lemons down, and thus begin to gain a larger and larger share of the market.