Theory of Mind Hacks

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Frazz for 9/24/2013:

One of the problems with the principles of cooperative communication is that those who don't adhere to them are generally able to manipulate those who do. I've never seen an account of how such principles endure in the face of rampant (and mostly unpunished) default, though I suppose that you could try to maintain a version in which the principles' effect depends only on a general pretense of trying to communicate cooperatively…

[Tip of the hat to Tim Leonard]

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19 Comments »

  1. Brian said,

    September 24, 2013 @ 8:34 pm

    I suppose the principle's resilience can be attributed to its status as a subset of a Hobbesian social contract: frequent violators implicitly surrender any right to reciprocal cooperation.

  2. Neal Goldfarb said,

    September 24, 2013 @ 8:45 pm

    [theory of mind][hacks] or [theory][of mind hacks]?

    Kinda works both ways.

  3. Neal Goldfarb said,

    September 24, 2013 @ 8:47 pm

    On second thought, after rereading what Mark wrote, take out the "kinda".

  4. Chris Potts said,

    September 24, 2013 @ 10:09 pm

    I would say that word and phrase meanings are not based purely on assumptions about cooperativity, but rather get elevated to the status of normative conventions, which means that one can't unilaterally defect from them the way that Caulfield does in the comic.

    This broadly Lewisian perspective is much like what Brian said above — except see Lewis's book Convention, §2.3, for comparisons with social contracts.

    I think some pragmatic inferences or patterns of inference get elevated to this status as well, which we see with deception by conversational implicature (see Solan & Tiersma's Speaking of Crime and this new paper by Asher and Lascarides).

  5. Alon Lischinsky said,

    September 25, 2013 @ 3:46 am

    I've never seen an account of how such principles endure in the face of rampant (and mostly unpunished) default

    The best work I know along those lines is that of Asher & Lascarides (2013), who work out a game-theoretic explanation of what they call ‘strategic’ (i.e., non-Gricean cooperative) conversation. They update the (quite considerable) literature on signalling games with a more sophisticated, contextually-defeasible model of inference, but more importantly, they distinguish several layers of cooperativity.

  6. Faldone said,

    September 25, 2013 @ 5:16 am

    Then there was the overheard conversation between a bartender and a customer about a mutual friend who had been skiing. It took them at least five minutes of a slowly derailing conversation before they realized that one of them had been assuming snow skiing when the other had been talking about water skiing.

    Meanwhile, "go placate the old pressure portal" is a normative convention?!

  7. Mr Punch said,

    September 25, 2013 @ 8:42 am

    "One of the problems with the principles of cooperative communication is that those who don't adhere to them are generally able to manipulate those who do." By denouncing them as "prescriptivist," for example.

  8. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    September 25, 2013 @ 9:08 am

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/10280244/Translation-table-explaining-the-truth-behind-British-politeness-becomes-internet-hit.html

    How about this? It might be off topic but I think it has some relevance.

    [(myl) More here.]

  9. Sili said,

    September 25, 2013 @ 10:41 am

    Was Grice Word-of-the-Day for cartoonists recently?

    http://www.nukees.com/d/20130920.html

  10. John said,

    September 25, 2013 @ 10:49 am

    Well, at least socially, people who say things obviously calculated to make others misunderstand them are simply considered "liars". Might not stand up in court in the kind of situation portrayed in the comic "I just spouted off a stream of gibberish, I'm not responsible for how it was interpreted", but most people would see it as lying.

  11. Joshua T said,

    September 25, 2013 @ 11:30 am

    Faldone, I don't think that that "go placate the old pressure portal" is a normative convention, but rather that

    "May I be excused? I have to [euphemism for using the toilet]."

    is the convention, and widespread enough that the teacher, even not recognizing the euphemism, assumes its meaning, and unintentionally grants the head start on recess.

  12. Bill Benzon said,

    September 25, 2013 @ 12:25 pm

    Well, one could gloss this cartoon as a comment on the origins of deconstruction.

  13. Chris Potts said,

    September 25, 2013 @ 5:43 pm

    From Faldone:

    Meanwhile, "go placate the old pressure portal" is a normative convention?!

    Caulfield assigns a meaning to that phrase that is well outside the norms for his community. That's the joke as I understand it. But Caulfield is wrong to think that he has this power. He's part of a speech community, and his behavior is deceptive or bizarre in that community.

  14. LCF said,

    September 25, 2013 @ 7:32 pm

    I misread the cartoon as "the orange portal".
    I was sorely disappointed such was not the case. However, I understood the euphemism.

  15. Chris Henrich said,

    September 25, 2013 @ 11:22 pm

    @Chris Potts: It seems to me that Caulfield is not assigning an abnormal meaning to a phrase so much as assigning an abnormal phrase to a meaning. That is, he is coining a fanciful new euphemism for "I need to urinate."

    Part of the humor of the strip is that his euphemism is, under the surface, somewhat indelicate. What exactly is "the old pressure portal?"

  16. Chris Potts said,

    September 25, 2013 @ 11:33 pm

    @Chris Henrich. I see what you mean. On that interpretation, though, Caulfield is just lying, whether we view it as production (meaning to form) or interpretation (form to meaning).

    It seems to me that the comic is more interesting if Caulfield knows the teacher will presume a "urinate" interpretation even as he privately intends (or acts as if he intends) another. I just think he's wrong to say that he can't be held responsible for her interpretation.

  17. Neal Goldfarb said,

    September 25, 2013 @ 11:39 pm

    @Chris Potts:

    Caulfield assigns a meaning to that phrase that is well outside the norms for his community. That's the joke as I understand it. But Caulfield is wrong to think that he has this power. He's part of a speech community, and his behavior is deceptive or bizarre in that community.

    I don't think Caulfield is under any illusions about the extent to which his statement fits in with the norms of his speech community.

  18. Neal Goldfarb said,

    September 25, 2013 @ 11:50 pm

    @Chris Potts again:

    I just think he's wrong to say that he can't be held responsible for her interpretation.

    (The above was posted while I was composing my previous post.)

    He's not really (by which i mean sincerely) trying to disclaim responsibility for her interpretation. He's laying on the innocence pretty thick… "Trick the teacher? Who, me?"

  19. David Morris said,

    September 27, 2013 @ 8:17 pm

    I think my eyesight is fading. I first read that as 'the ol' pleasure portal' and imagined that he meant masturbation.

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