Multi-Factor Decision Making Math [CF Article]

I did some editing to try to make that part easier to understand:

What do people do about that? They multiply by weighting factors that get results they think are reasonable. But that isn’t actually a way of making decisions. How do they know what’s reasonable? They must be using their intuition, common sense or something else other than weighted factor summing. So the weighted factor summing method doesn’t work as a self-contained solution to decision making. It relies on pre-existing opinions reached some other way. People often make the math (or non-numerical estimate) come out to fit what they already think (without realizing they’re doing it). For example, college rankings often start with the pre-existing idea that Harvard is good and then give high weightings to whatever factors Harvard is good at so that Harvard-like schools come out on top, which seems like a reasonable conclusion to people who already believed that Harvard is one of the best schools.

Any method involving arbitrary choices (like what unit conversions or weights to make up) runs into a major problem: You have no good way to make an arbitrary choice unless you have pre-existing knowledge of what a good answer is.

This reminds me of the point expressed here (and I’m sure other places) about how induction doesn’t work as an explanation of how people think.

So we have this graph and we’re connecting the dots. Induction says: connect the dots and what you get is supported, it’s a good theory. How do I connect them? It doesn’t say. How do people do it? They will draw a straight line, or something close to that, or make it so you get a picture of a cow, or whatever else seems intuitive or obvious to them. They will use common sense or something – and never figure out the details of how that works and whether they are philosophically defensible and so on.

People will just draw using unstated theories about which types of lines to prefer. That’s not a method of thinking, it’s a method of not thinking.

They will rationalize it. They may say they drew the most “simple” line and that’s Occam’s razor. When confronted with the fact that other people have different intuitions about what lines look simple, they will evade or attack those people. But they’ve forgotten that we’re trying to explain how to think in the first place. If understanding Occam’s razor and simplicity and stuff is a part of induction and thinking, then it has to be done without induction. So all this understanding and stuff has to come prior to induction. So really the conclusion is we don’t think by induction, we have a whole method of thinking which works and is a prerequisite for induction. Induction wouldn’t solve epistemology, it’d presuppose epistemology.

So the connection I have in mind is this: weighing factors according to reasonableness doesn’t work as a self-contained general purpose solution to making decisions, since it’s relying on some pre-existing opinions reached by means outside the weighing factors decision-making method. Induction doesn’t work as a complete/general purpose explanation of how knowledge is created, since it apparently has to rely on ideas about simplicity and Occam’s razor and other ideas that need to be created without induction.

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The arguments in this article seem to refute judicial balancing tests!

One balancing test from American administrative procedure law applies to the question of due process of law, a consideration arising from the Fifth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendments to the constitution. Due process questions concern what type of procedures are appropriate when the government takes away property or a privilege from an individual; the individual would argue that the government should have, for example, given them a hearing before taking away their driver’s license or cutting off their Social Security benefits. This balancing test, of which it weighs considerations:

  1. Private interest affected by an official action taken by a government agency, official or non-governmental entity (company) acting as a governmental agency. (i.e., how important is the property or privilege that is being withheld or confiscated?)
  2. The risk of some deprivation being erroneously inflicted on the respondent through the process used or if no process is used. (i.e., does giving the person a hearing or whatever else they asked for actually make it less likely that the government will make some sort of error by giving the individual an opportunity to point out the government’s mistake?)
  3. The government’s interest in a specific outcome (for example, the government may say that giving a hearing is too expensive).

There’s no way to convert Importance of Private Interest Affected and Risk of Deprivation and Importance of Government’s Interest into some common factor. So the result IRL is that judges are just gonna go according to their intuition of what’s fair and right - so the supposed “test” isn’t doing much except maybe serving as a reminder list of things to consider when using their intuition.

If for factor 1 you had “Affects an important private interest?” and important private interest were defined in some reasonably objective and clear way, and then you did the same things with 2 and 3 (basically convert them to binary factors), then i think you could maybe have something inspired by the above test that could perhaps be applied in some reasonable and consistent way. But not as it stands.

Yes. That is actually reasonable. There’s nothing wrong with “here are a few tips about stuff to keep in mind”. That does help people make better decisions and judgments. People sometimes forget key stuff or don’t know which factors merit major emphasis. The balancing test helps guide that.

The issue is when the tips are presented as an actual decision making method. It’s problematic when it’s like 30% complete – some guidance but the judge has to figure out the majority of the matter himself – but it’s seen as 90% complete.

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I like the new version.

I’ve thought about this most days since then, and I get a bit stuck. I have some ideas, though. I’m intending to make a linked post soon. (This reply is brief b/c of that getting-stuck-ness. It’s been a barrier to posting, tho, so I’m saying this in part to get past that)

I had an idea today about a convergence between a common thinking technique and the OP.

One of the ways I make ideas more manageable is to use a deliberately limited context – like say that 2 factors are equal, or some factor has no effect. That way, it’s easier to reason about fundamentals (and if you find a problem at that point then it’s probs generalizable). Like someone might say all else being equal, if x goes up then y goes down. I think this is a pretty common method.

If you do this with MFDMM (mutli-factor decision making math – I guess abbreviation-pending), there are two important changes that can happen:

  1. Two factors can be equal, i.e., their conversion constant is 1.[1] This is important when factors are multiplied or conversion usually matters. (nb: this includes ‘canceling out’ via division)
  2. A factor could be set to zero (i.e. has no effect), which makes a difference when things are being summed

Both cases can make some previously unanalyzable situation analyzable.

Anyway, this seemed like a notable convergence between an existing traditional method and MFDMM (which, AFAIK, didn’t have a good rule of thumb about when to do what, but MFDMM does).

  1. or they could be set to a fixed ratio, which is thus equal to the conversion constant. ↩︎

Seems like either:

  1. You’re evading. You don’t want to talk about it.


  1. You’re trying to jump straight to a conclusion instead of make incremental progress. You wanted to figure out a good answer by yourself instead of talk about it. If your goal for a reply was just to make one step forward you would have been able to say something, e.g. a piece of relevant info, a thought, or a question/issue you don’t know the answer to.

@Max bump

Thanks (I’d forgotten about this)

I think I’ve been doing both – using (2) as an excuse to do (1).


If your goal for a reply was just to make one step forward you would have been able to say something, e.g. a piece of relevant info, a thought, or a question/issue you don’t know the answer to.

I think @ingracke’s analysis was right. I don’t like the way I wrote this post – I think there’s a problem there, particularly:

So I was hostile and dishonest (particularly about the nature of the post and my motivations). I don’t like that, but I don’t know what to do – besides like reflecting on it and trying to figure out what ideas motivated that vs what ideas I want to motivate my posts/replies. That reflecting mostly seems like “[wanting] to figure out a good answer by [myself] instead of talk about it.” So while reflection is still important (or I think it will be, like to understand/align my ideas/priorities/etc), doing it the way I usually do isn’t the best way. (Note: I do think I make some progress this way, but how could it be anywhere close to efficient? IDK)

To sum up, I feel sorta like my post was me playing against my team or something. Like who’s side am I on? Why am I hostile? Why would I attack you – something that’s inconsistent with a lot of things I say!

I feel a bit lost trying to answer those questions.

Try using the bookmarks feature for setting reminders. (described under Forum Features->Bookmarks)

I’ve started to use this – but didn’t in this case (the MFDMM link at the top of screenshot is to Elliot’s bump).


I’ve been advising people about learning activities they can do, things to study, how to incrementally build up starting with small successes, etc. You and others don’t do it, and also don’t disagree/debate/criticize what I’m saying. Suggesting things you can work on and practice more was also one of the major themes of our tutoring sessions.

My serious, considered advice: Hire ingracke to help you. Something like 2 calls a month ongoing. You need both the advice and the consistency/regularity. Your intermittent CF posting isn’t effective.

I’ve been considering this. I haven’t asked her about it (yet), though.