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Quick and dirty conceptual post

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CyborgJesusPosted: Jun 15, 2013 - 17:02

Level: 6
CS Original
I've been playing a bit of poker lately. A strategic theme I've found interesting is that of leveling, or multi-level-thinking. It looks like this:

Level 0: Drunk, will play anything
Level 1: Will play his hand
Level 2: Will guess your hand and play accordingly
Level 3: Will expect you to guess his hand and counterplay
Level 4: Will expect you to counterplay and adjust

As players move up in level, they discover that each level is only effective against the one directly beneath it. Semi-skilled players who don't make this realization regularly give away their chips through fancy plays against opponents who can't decipher their traps, and therefore don't fall for them. This is referred to as leveling yourself.

Society in general seems a little to keen to interpret needlessly complex plans as the result of high intelligence. Movie villains regularly play out high-level schemes that would result in instant failure if the protagonist didn't trigger the first 1-3 layers of traps (think Die Hard 3). Sun Tzu's (strangely overrated) Art of War speaks of "unfathomable plans", when in fact most people rarely venture beyond level 2 thinking*.

It seems to me that conspiracy theorizing comes down in large parts to leveling. Phrases like "that's what they want you to think" presume that there's a strong opposing intelligence you need to outsmart, even when there's no evidence to imply it.

"You're leveling yourself" probably won't do much to convince any true believer, but I think it's a valuable tool to assess metacognition, just like our standard lists of biases and cognitive fallacies.

Have fun with it.

*Experiments with the Keynesian Beauty Contest showed that even among economists and executives, most players will adopt level 1, followed by 2, 0, and a minor amount of level 3 play. (Play will converge to Nash Equilibrium very slowly over many rounds)
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