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Confidence Explained: Bravado in Binary September 27, 2007

Posted by olywood in psychology.
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It’s the stuff that girls like in buckets, it’s the surreptitious appeal in that new jacket you just bought, it’s what talent show contestants never seem to leave home without (save for any actual talent of course).

Confidence’s never really gone out of fashion, maintaining a steady position somewhere between intelligence and beauty in nature’s global marketplace.
No one seems to know much about it either – how it works, or even why it eludes some of us yet can’t keep it’s hands off those lucky few.
Beyond the one-way determinist arguments of genetics and environment, I’ll try and address the former (and conveniently far easier) question of ‘how’.

For the purpose of this article I’m going to take confidence as a quality of behaviour and divvy it up into two separate camps.
One I’m going to call ‘faith-based confidence’ and the other I’m going to call ‘experience-based confidence’.
For brevity’s sake, I’m going to refer to people who have faith-based confidence as ‘fbs’ and those that have experience-based confidence ‘ebs’.

Of Bluff and Bluster

Confidence is the full-beam projection of self, not necessarily the ‘truest’ reflection of self or even the most deceitful. But the self in full-engagement with, and in command of its audience.
When self-doubt is extracted from the mind, confidence can be romantically thought of as the hide-tide scum left around the edges of the human psyche.

Where the confident tend to diverge (hence my binary categorisation) is in the way in which they acquire and distribute their sense of self.
The fbs (as their name suggests) are those beings that walk among us who seem to radiate natural confidence, confidence itself is an article of faith for the fbs.
Their ever-present conviction projects an unshifting belief in their ability to preform, remain calm, and cope regardless of the situation or circumstance – they have ‘faith based confidence’.

The ebs on the other hand base their self-assurity on experience.
Their confidence isn’t so much a natural ‘state of mind’ as with the fbs. Rather it’s an intellectual position held about their own abilities and successes which their personality then submits in to others as a carefully regulated mixture of doubt & conviction – they have ‘experience based confidence’.

To those with eb confidence of course, the fbs are one of nature’s most strange and puzzling enigmas.
If you have eb confidence, you’ll know by the way because you will at some point or another have experienced that rising sense of confusion and disbelief upon encountering a child or teenager with more apparent confidence than yourself.

For an eb this just doesn’t make sense – the child hasn’t had to endure, hasn’t had to pass those essential rites of passages necessary to claim true personhood, probably haven’t even been in a fight or seen any serious action (not that you have either but that’s besides the point).
If experience dictates confidence then by rights it shouldn’t be physically possible for a child to have more confidence than that of an (eb) adult.

However fbs don’t work like that, confidence for them isnt something attained by continually subjecting themselves to an endless stream of situations which promise to either validate or invalidate their sense of worth and human capabilities.
Whether you or I like it or not, the fb simply doesn’t need social permission to feel good about themselves.

And as long as the fb never questions the proportionality of their own confidence, they can remain firmly confident even in situations in which they realistically, have no real reason to assume a sense of self-assurity at all.
This of course is both a good and bad thing – never addressing your own capabilities can output a startling level of self-belief which can propel you to some seriously lofty positions of power and authority that most only get to dream of.
Fbs are able to pull off these feats of superhuman inner-conviction simply because they never base their actions upon empirical evidence.
And in the lack of any evidence either way they seem to have a pretty consistent habit of defaulting to the assumption that they will be ‘absolutely fine’ what ever the situation.
(You can read that as either profound optimism or total lunacy at your own discretion.)

As with any sort of faith-based lifestyle, delusion has to at the very least be ear-marked as a potential suspect in belief ‘s fearless escapades.
Delusion in fact is hinted at quite strongly in the behaviour of the fb. In practice this can equate to the fb vastly over-estimating their own abilities in either physically dangerous or socially critical situations.
In the very worst case scenario; where the fb partakes in sports or athletic pursuits far beyond their actual abilities, this can lead to lifelong physical injury or even death.

Even when not directly threatening their physical livelihood the fb can seriously threaten their mental livelihood – risking exclusion and derision by thrusting themselves into highly skilled social situations where braggadocio and a abit of can-do-swagger just won’t cut it alone.

The faith-based confidence of the ‘fbs’ isn’t always completely without foundation however.
A lot of fbs are of course highly dynamic, capable and intelligent people.
Although the central point to remember is that the fb doest derive their confidence from these qualities themselves, they aren’t the direct source of their huff and bluff.

Unlike the eb the fb is confident in spite of their talents, not because of them – evidenced by the fact that fbs make just as confident (and incapable) small children as they do fully grown (and largely capable) adults.

In comparison confidence for the ebs is a far less guttural affair, for the eb confidence presents an eternal measurement problem that never seems to resolve itself.
The eb methodically measures confidence against experience after experience in every social situation imaginable, with the appropriate degree of confidence then tailored to the situation accordingly.

The eb just can never be completely sure what degree of situational experience is required for them to finally permit themselves to feel (and behave) confident within the situation they find themselves in.
Even when talking about a subject which he or she is practically an expert on – lets say late 80s Detroit house.
An eb will still feel wary speaking freely on the subject with another individual who also has a similar degree of knowledge about their pet topic.
This rule still holds even when it’s obviously apparent that the other person doesn’t have anywhere close to his or her own expertise in the given subject, the eb will still be prone to feelings of being a ‘fraud’ or of being ‘found out’.
To cover themselves the eb will usually only discuss a topic with unguarded self-confidence once they’ve sufficiently measured the breadth of their knowledge against that of those in their company; and subsequently assessed the likelihood of them being publicly contradicted as quite minimal.

This year’s confidence projections are…

If the fb’s danger is in getting themselves into situations they’re not really prepared for. The eb is in danger of over-preparation by constantly re-repeating the same well worn experiences over and over again to the point of psychic over-saturation.

The eb has to attain complete and total familiarity with a subject or situation for them to even begin to feel they have the ‘right’ to assume a confident disposition.
This could mean that as a public speaker, an eb would have to take part in dozens of public speeches in order to judge crowd response and their own perceived abilities against fellow public speakers.
Only upon satisfying their own standards would the eb then allow the full extent of their confidence to take the stage.

This could of course be seen as simple insecurity on the eb’s part, but on the other hand ebs could just have a peculiar sense of honesty when it comes to their self-presentation.

By direct contrast this can make the fb appear seemingly dishonest in their own form of self-presentation.
Although we shouldn’t be overly hard on the fbs; they don’t in practice have any sort of methodology to regulate their own confidence anyway.
Their confidence isn’t so much a conscious statement of their abilities as with the ebs, it’s a spontaneous transmission of their inner faith in who they are and what they can do.
It’s not measured or cross-referenced to anything, the only thing it communicates is their own self-belief, and it does this with 100% accuracy.
Both the eb and the fb are in fact as true to their methods and non-methods as each other.

As i said when I started out, the ‘how’ isn’t really that difficult, the ‘why’ however certainly is far more tricky a prospect-throwing up the old nature/nurture debate and bringing us back into the close-quarters arena of determinism and free-will again.

Although the ‘how’ still leaves room alot more room for discussion in its own right i think.
Are people who are shy simply located at the extreme end of the eb spectrum?
Are people who are arrogant just as likely to be extreme-end fbs?
Do my definitions count for anything outside my own head?

Well if you made it this far (and well done btw if you did, no really there’s a special badge for you on it’s way) then leave me a comment and let me know. = )


Hijacking Experience September 25, 2007

Posted by olywood in psychology.
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Without experience, you’re quite literally nowt – ‘I think therefore I am’.
Experience allows us to function as the dogged survivors we like to romantically think of ourselves as.
We use our experience to synthesise reality into a chronologically driven survival-matrix, converting raw reality into a huge smelly, noisy, blinding phenomenal-factory of potential resources.

In fact if evolutional psychologists are to be believed the only reason we even have consciousness and phenomenal experiences in the first place is so we can effectively recognise and exploit the natural resources around us.
These days however (unless your name is Ray Mears) instead of using experience to exploit the available natural resources, we now spend the majority of our public and private lives plumbing the available artificial resources of tabulated and archived information – lacing daily experience with information we believe will give us the edge tomorrow.

As a species now forever hooked on perverting and stretching the capabilities of our own minds. We’re probably no different from the programmer ‘hacking’ the software or the musician ‘circuit-bending’ the instrument in order to realise new possibilities beyond the intended purpose.

The pioneer circuit bender Reed Ghazala’s philosophy of circuit bending can in fact be applied just as easily to our periodic data-mining as it can to the fringe art of diode and transistor swapping.
“The role of hardware hacking in EM is – evolution. It is the force of speculation upon constants, a survival tactic as well as a special poetry. Bending the norm equals progress, and that is life.”

In other words – he who sees the new possibility in the hardware takes the next leap in evolution.
And as a species we’ve been riding the momentum of that high-jump ever since we first learnt to use our vocal chords to express ideas.
The discovery that those same ideas didn’t even need to be orally passed on, but could simply be recorded and preserved in natural materials that we would have previously only thought to use for shelter or warmth, was a further leap into that evolutionary ascent.

In preserving our concepts and ideas we’ve in fact managed to turn a ‘natural’ physical resource into a psychic ‘artified’ one.
The resourcefulness of an inscribed stone tablet doesn’t lie in the material itself – as it once would have done. It lies in the codified information inscribed upon it.

The power rests in the words, or rather in your ability to re-encode those words onto the medium of raw human experience, this is the essence of ‘experience hijacking’.

Efficient Informers

As members of modern society we exploit our collectively constructed world of information in more or less the same way our ancestors did.
The only difference now of course is choice, or more specifically; the huge, seething, unrelenting amount of choice we now have at our frankly worn-out finger-tips.

Everyday we wake up and mentally call-up the phenomenal experience we managed to hijack the day before with  information we might have lifted from books, television, film or the internet.
We litter our own narrative past with clues to our potential future, always hoping we’ll be able to mentally locate the material in the years to come when a new problem presents itself and say – “i know what fits here!” And then masterfully select the appropriate ‘thought-shape’ from our psychic junkyard of tv-clips, magazine cuttings, and internet blog sites.
We’ve worked out the trick of experience and with the sort of adaptive ingenuity we love to boast about, managed to turn or ‘bend’ experience into a tool of our own specified learning.
We of course still have to play it natures way though – crowbaring knowledge into formats that our phenomenal experience will accept and digest as ‘reality’.

For instance, using the eye’s natural proclivity to dart around within a scene (microsaccades) we tend to place our invented symbols within (but rarely outside of) a shoulder’s width visual space – as you can see for yourself simply by opening the nearest magazine, comic, or book.
These carefully restricted parameters allow our eyes to comfortably move back and forth for extended periods of time without becoming tired or fatigued.
Similarly the pc monitor directly in front of you now, never usually any wider that the width of your shoulders; provides the dimensions most likely to transmit information to your neo-cortex without your mind or body rebelling against you or the artificial reality you present to it.

We always have to take into account our own physical and mental plumbing when engineering the format, like the circuit bender we only have a product of limited potential to tinker with, we can’t engineer from the ground up, at least not yet anyway.

We’ve conceived film & television in a similar fashion – taking into account the same constraints on experience that we had to acknowledge when inventing the parchment manuscript and more recent paper-back.
With film and television reality-scenes are recorded and played back at the frame rates and audible frequencies most likely for our brains to mistake for reality.
We can then use the tv’s talking heads as personal assistants to help us hijack our own databank of experience with useful (and admittedly sometimes useless) information.

The talking head is if anything a ‘format-translator’ – the presenter is plyed with information from the television producer in the form of the oldest sensory hoaxer – the written word.
The talking head then retro-engineers this information back to us in the even more familiar and ancient form of the human voice.

This translation of printed word into speech and non-verbal cues which goes right back in history to the Greek plays of Aeschylus. Id suspect is an unconscious admission that the information that carries itself most faithfully along the lines of ‘real experience’ is the information most likely to be digested and accepted.

For example, you don’t really remember the experience of reading a book, you only really remember the content you extracted from it.
While you can extract a hell of a lot of content from a book, you’re still relying on your own internalisation and visualisation of the words rather than an actual 3D experience, which incidently your brain is far more likely to adopt as a memorable ‘event’.
Books are still invaluable of course, it just comes down to how well you as individual can viscerally create those all important visual-scenes.

Being a better ‘bender’

J.Pryor knows all about subverting the visual mind, he’s discovered one of the most successful methods in recent times for tricking the senses into uptaking and recalling information.
Via a system called mnemonics it seems people can recall information much more effectively when using a process of ‘story line visualisation’ – i.e. memorising numbers in specific fonts and colours as opposed to simply memorising them as purely numeric, abstract entities – which our minds seem far less predisposed to.

While people like J. Pryor have created stark consensus-shifts in our cognitive understanding, its still very likely that we haven’t really explored the full limits of this class of knowledge.
For instance, associating an idea or ‘experiential scene’ with a smell might work wonders for our ability to recall; auto-association while we’re aware of it, is still a hugely untapped mental resource.
If we’re to evolve we need to continually seek and find new ways to spike our senses and piggy-bag information onto our daily experiences.

What ever the media or medium however we will always have to work within the limits that nature will allow, we can hijack her but we cant take the piss completely
I’ll give a perfect example of this.

The other day I over-ambitiously attempted to hijack my own experience – using my pc to play an audiobook on risk probability while coding a website amd while also chatting to a friend over msn.
Nature quickly let me know id reached the upper threshold limit of experience by giving me one of those sharp stabbing headaches behind the eyes that makes you want to swallow your own face.
Interestingly the audiobook i was listening to at the time re-counted the life of a scholar called Pierre Daniel Huet who was attempting his own (far more successful) experience-hijack.
Always aware of time and its constant procession away from his youth, he enlisted the help of a servant to follow him round during the day and read him extracts from the latest scholarly works while he performed mundane yet necessary tasks.
This way the chronic book-botherer could ‘read’ as many books as he felt his intellect required, even when the parts of his body usually quite necessary to reading were otherwise engaged.
For this academic, experience wasn’t just something to pepper with information from the human-well of knowledge. Experience was there to be brute-forced with as much data as the very laws of cosmos and social standing would allow.

I doff my hat to this true hijacker of experience, I wonder how he dealt with the headaches though