The mystery of stepping stone theory.

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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by magin »

SepiaOfficinalis wrote:To summarize what I said above, my main point is that the people most invested in quizbowl have unique blind spots in judging what makes quizbowl better. I wasn't positing that these are conscious motives or biases, but that doesn't make them less real. I think we will generally agree that we play quizbowl because we enjoy learning or whatnot but that this has very little bearing on why it actually is that we enjoy quizbowl. I put out that we enjoy it because of social hierarchy effects that are pretty well established as contributing to well being and low stress, but that's freeform speculation.
Can you explain this? I am very confused about what you mean here, and I'd like to understand.
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by SepiaOfficinalis »

Coral Gardens and Their Magin wrote: Can you explain this? I am very confused about what you mean here, and I'd like to understand.
I mean that at some level the explanation for every action must be reducible to the form that the preconditions for its manifestations must have tended to enhance the reproduction of the actor's ancestors. There's gotta be some reason that people think quizbowl is fun, and while if you ask me I'll say a whole lot of stuff about liking understanding or whatever else sounds right, those statements (and essentially every other naive statement of our reasons for choosing or doing things) have minimal explanatory value. Something is kicking up some dopamine, and as I find playing with other people much more fun than reading packets alone, I think the answer lies there. I also hold that our beliefs about quizbowl will tend towards whatever serves that enjoyment. People may not ever think "quizbowl should be like this so I do well," but they will think "Oh, this type of question is better at rewarding knowledge" or "I find this argument about pyramidality plausible" in ways that serve the same underlying purpose. I don't know if that's really responsive to your question, but whatever.
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

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I contend that knowing the date of birth of an author or what is commonly held as "almanac knowledge" is less academic than plot clues about what he wrote. Does the fact that I say it--and know a whole lot about the latter and zilch about the former--mean there's any less an independently existing reason to call the latter more academic? Sure, it's possible that I'm saying it because I'm trying to create a game I can win (or one I want to win), but does that preclude the existence of a real reason that this game is better?
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by Captain Sinico »

SepiaOfficinalis wrote:To summarize what I said above, my main point is that the people most invested in quizbowl have unique blind spots in judging what makes quizbowl better. I wasn't positing that these are conscious motives or biases, but that doesn't make them less real. I think we will generally agree that we play quizbowl because we enjoy learning or whatnot but that this has very little bearing on why it actually is that we enjoy quizbowl. I put out that we enjoy it because of social hierarchy effects that are pretty well established as contributing to well being and low stress, but that's freeform speculation.

I'm surprised that there would be any good quizbowlers in our post-postmodern era who think that there's something else to knowledge than our efforts to reproduce and reinterpret the social power structures of today and yesterday, I mean, we're pretty much the cult of the "noted" and the "famous," not exactly examples of ahistorical objectivities.
However, your objections taken as valid for a moment, we still face the problem of directing the game. Therefore, I ask you: who, pray tell, would do a better job of judging what makes quizbowl better than the ostensibly blind pilots of our own day? Your previous points seem to indicate that you'd put yourself forth as such a person. Yet, at least for me, trust that you have the best interests of the game as I seem them at heart and are capable of effecting them is not gained by fiat (on your part for yourself or on anyone else's part for anyone else.) I'd ask what results you've produced, or what results whoever else you'd put forth to direct the game has produced. If you can show me nothing, I refuse to trust you.
Also, given the diversity of people involved even at the highest levels, don't you think that an efficient system of bargaining about what comes up should yield something reasonable, even if every party involved is biased in the way you suggest? I claim such a system exists, is operational, and yields precisely such results.
More generally, I'll add that you have done nothing to establish that biases of the kind you claim actually exist or are meaningful. The mere appearance to you of a conflict of interest is far from a compelling argument to me.
Finally, I'd like to say two things about the way you're communicating here. First of all, I'm hardly alone in finding it difficult to take you seriously with all the half-baked psychology and platitudes about "post-postmodern" worlds you're throwing out. Maybe lay off that? Secondly, it seems incongruous for you to clamor against the domination of one idea about this game by propounding a non-unique theory of knowledge ("our efforts to reproduce and reinterpret the social power structures of today and yesterday") as you have, i.e. to the point where you've expressed surprise that any differing theory even exists. That rather seems like precisely the brand of biased intolerance you're purporting to rail against, but in a much more important venue. Thus, I hope you're reconsider that position.

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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by Auroni »

SepiaOfficinalis wrote:
Coral Gardens and Their Magin wrote: Can you explain this? I am very confused about what you mean here, and I'd like to understand.
I mean that at some level the explanation for every action must be reducible to the form that the preconditions for its manifestations must have tended to enhance the reproduction of the actor's ancestors. There's gotta be some reason that people think quizbowl is fun, and while if you ask me I'll say a whole lot of stuff about liking understanding or whatever else sounds right, those statements (and essentially every other naive statement of our reasons for choosing or doing things) have minimal explanatory value. Something is kicking up some dopamine, and as I find playing with other people much more fun than reading packets alone, I think the answer lies there. I also hold that our beliefs about quizbowl will tend towards whatever serves that enjoyment. People may not ever think "quizbowl should be like this so I do well," but they will think "Oh, this type of question is better at rewarding knowledge" or "I find this argument about pyramidality plausible" in ways that serve the same underlying purpose. I don't know if that's really responsive to your question, but whatever.
I think you misunderstood Magin, he wants you to simplify, not further obfuscate, your position.
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

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SepiaOfficinalis wrote:I mean that at some level the explanation for every action must be reducible to the form that the preconditions for its manifestations must have tended to enhance the reproduction of the actor's ancestors.
The entire ground of your argument is a gross misunderstanding of natural selection, apparently. Even if we accept your misunderstanding as fact, the lynchpin of your argument is then:
SephiaOfficialis wrote:People may not ever think "quizbowl should be like this so I do well," but they will think "Oh, this type of question is better at rewarding knowledge" or "I find this argument about pyramidality plausible" in ways that serve the same underlying purpose.
which, again, is hardly a unique or very useful model of human motivation. Nor, in this case, is it one that bears out either the facts or the logical consequence of your previous flawed premise.
For example, supposing you're right that we're using quizbowl as some kind of sub-fatal survival fitness contest and we like it because victory indicates fitness. It is then in our interest as players to have questions that aren't designed to let us win irregardless of their measurement of fitness: we'd get no payoff in that case. Rather, we'd only feel good if we were winning on questions that we feel measure our fitness. Thus, your theory requires me to believe that everyone's idea of fitness-measuring questions is more or less exactly coincident with both the questions they're good at (so that's what they're asking for) and the questions that actually do come up (since otherwise they wouldn't be playing.) I see no compelling reason in what you're saying to believe either of those things.
In short, your argument is no good. Please try again!

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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by Mechanical Beasts »

Captain Scipio wrote:
SepiaOfficinalis wrote:I mean that at some level the explanation for every action must be reducible to the form that the preconditions for its manifestations must have tended to enhance the reproduction of the actor's ancestors.
The entire ground of your argument is a gross misunderstanding of natural selection, apparently. Please try again!
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by SepiaOfficinalis »

If you see some problem with my notion of natural selection and its relevance to psychology, I would be terrifically interested to hear about it (way, way more interested than I am in any of the topics relevant to this thread, as I'm sure my "clarifications" have shown.) It sounds to me like you've misunderstood what I'm saying, since it has nothing to do with the effects of quizbowl on fitness, just the effects of past selection on our brains making things like social approval and status enjoyable, which have become attached through derivative social mechanisms to things like understanding and breadth of knowledge. I'm really not proposing any alternatives, and I don't think there's any way to determine what's best for quizbowl. I feel that changes which retrospectively produced increased participation and interest, ceteris paribus, can be said to have been good ones, but this is by no means the real truth. On the other hand, it seems the "good quizbowl consensus" on this board appears very driven from the top of the field at every level, and that this makes it particularly suspect, if not identifiably wrong.
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by magin »

SepiaOfficinalis wrote:I'm really not proposing any alternatives, and I don't think there's any way to determine what's best for quizbowl. I feel that changes which retrospectively produced increased participation and interest, ceteris paribus, can be said to have been good ones, but this is by no means the real truth. On the other hand, it seems the "good quizbowl consensus" on this board appears very driven from the top of the field at every level, and that this makes it particularly suspect, if not identifiably wrong.
Well, I'm still confused as to what you're arguing is suspect in quizbowl. If you identify problems, we can debate their existence and ways to address them, but it seems to me that you haven't clearly identified any problems yet. If quizbowl can be improved, I'd like to hear about it; if not, I'm not sure why you're making the points you're making.
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed »

Coral Gardens and Their Magin wrote:
SepiaOfficinalis wrote:If quizbowl can be improved, I'd like to hear about it; if not, I'm not sure why you're making the points you're making.
Quizbowl critical theory?
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

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SepiaOfficinalis wrote:If you see some problem with my notion of natural selection and its relevance to psychology, I would be terrifically interested to hear about it (way, way more interested than I am in any of the topics relevant to this thread, as I'm sure my "clarifications" have shown.) It sounds to me like you've misunderstood what I'm saying, since it has nothing to do with the effects of quizbowl on fitness, just the effects of past selection on our brains making things like social approval and status enjoyable, which have become attached through derivative social mechanisms to things like understanding and breadth of knowledge. I'm really not proposing any alternatives, and I don't think there's any way to determine what's best for quizbowl. I feel that changes which retrospectively produced increased participation and interest, ceteris paribus, can be said to have been good ones, but this is by no means the real truth. On the other hand, it seems the "good quizbowl consensus" on this board appears very driven from the top of the field at every level, and that this makes it particularly suspect, if not identifiably wrong.
I think what Tom is trying to say here is that the reason we enjoy quizbowl the way it is right now is not because we learn from it, not because we enjoy winning for being smart, but that we enjoy it because it gives us satisfaction of knowing we are "better" than someone else based on some arbitrary metric that we create. He is arguing that not only is it a shallow social activity that makes us feel better by our own standards but that the standard itself is flawed since it doesn't represent what is really "important" or "relevant."

Really, Tom, if you want to critique quizbowl, don't get all falsely philosophical about it and try and obscure your point behind fancy phrasing in order to impress us. Use your words, state that you think the knowledge we test is too esoteric and not fun enough, and move on to some activity you find more enjoyable. If you don't prefer non-NAQT quizbowl, as you have stated to me many times, either intelligently critique it and propose an alternative, or don't play it. Don't present yourself as the Great Reformer if all you do is spew metaphysical phrases like "social mechanisms" and "real truth;" get off of your Abelardian ass and do something about it. Quizbowl isn't some giant collective of intellectuals scheming together to devise some cruel and twisted way of life that is meant to sucker someone into recognizing a truth. It is a game, just as you like it.
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

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Yeah, look, we all know that I enjoy making philosophical arguments in thin air as much as anyone. But, this one just doesn't make any sense.

The only thing you're succeeding at doing is criticizing the motives and standards of anyone who creates anything. Apparently, in your universe, nothing can be said to have any value or be "better" than anything else, because everything is inherently tainted by the sinister and perverse motives (conscious motives or not) of whoever created it. We're all just stuck in some infinite loop where we delude ourselves into believing that we're happy by creating things which reinforce that belief. I suppose the only alternative is for us to create nothing and have no standards - let us sit in a box continually reciting to ourselves "nothing is real, I do not feel what I seem to feel, it's all just a trick I'm playing on myself!" - but then, what if doing that gives you that same dreaded dopamine surge! I suppose suicide is the only answer, that'll put an end to this cycle of self-delusion once and for all!
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

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William Afham wrote:Quizbowl isn't some giant collective of intellectuals scheming together to devise some cruel and twisted way of life that is meant to sucker someone into recognizing a truth. It is a game, just as you like it.
Despite the awesome acrimoniousness, I think this statement has more insight (at least for me) than perhaps was originally intended. I think Tom is trying to launch some vaguely Foucauldian critique of QB, something that I am not necessarily against prima facie, but Bernadette is absolutely right-this message board is not some conspiratorial cabal, or even a perfect recapitulation of the power-knowledge mechanisms that operate in society writ small. Of course, any formal activity has its leaders and its figureheads, and indeed any claims made by the supposed "top level" (though you have failed to elucidate who you think this includes) are suspect but as evidenced by this quizbowl message board this activity is notoriously acephalic given the fractious nature of debate on this board. Sure man, Consensus is terror but there is legitimate and intelligible disagreement about what is going to count as good quizbowl: consider the recent Science distribution discussion. Moreover, organizations that seek to establish some kind of authority: CBI, NAQT etc. are roundly excoriated here, thus suggesting that most here share your natural suspicion of top-down hierarchy. But you cannot suggest that there are identifiable problems without actually identifying problems. The fact that there are people who are better than others that happen to voice their arguments about how the game should continue to develop does not constitute a sufficiently robust criticism. Finally, this conspiratorial top level is really just constituted of students and players, people who despite their sometimes onerous online presences are rather amicable people and are NOT out to get you or most anyone else.
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by naturalistic phallacy »

Ahmad, you are right. There is nothing wrong with examining power structures within any sort of organization, but you can't just pull a Derrida and apply theories to things where they obviously don't fit.
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by SepiaOfficinalis »

William Afham wrote: I think what Tom is trying to say here is that the reason we enjoy quizbowl the way it is right now is not because we learn from it, not because we enjoy winning for being smart, but that we enjoy it because it gives us satisfaction of knowing we are "better" than someone else based on some arbitrary metric that we create. He is arguing that not only is it a shallow social activity that makes us feel better by our own standards but that the standard itself is flawed since it doesn't represent what is really "important" or "relevant."
Umm...No, none of that. I think we enjoy being smart and value learning because it makes us feel better about ourselves, it helps us to become closer to what we aspire to. That's about as deep and relevant as any activity can get. It's only that our values and aspirations have no special status, they are products and participants in the same damnable physical history in which we are no better or worse than the bacteria that gave us birth or the radiation-resistant bacteria for whom we are preparing the future.
Really, Tom, if you want to critique quizbowl, don't get all falsely philosophical about it and try and obscure your point behind fancy phrasing in order to impress us. Use your words, state that you think the knowledge we test is too esoteric and not fun enough, and move on to some activity you find more enjoyable. If you don't prefer non-NAQT quizbowl, as you have stated to me many times, either intelligently critique it and propose an alternative, or don't play it. Don't present yourself as the Great Reformer if all you do is spew metaphysical phrases like "social mechanisms" and "real truth;" get off of your Abelardian ass and do something about it. Quizbowl isn't some giant collective of intellectuals scheming together to devise some cruel and twisted way of life that is meant to sucker someone into recognizing a truth. It is a game, just as you like it.
I haven't presented myself as a great anything anywhere in this thread, it's just that people have taken my vague and undirected critical musings as constitutive of an endorsement of whatever quizbowl bogeyman they think the principles of "good quizbowl" are staving off. I think that all the NAQT sets I've played have been good quizbowl, I think every ACF set I've played has been good quizbowl. But I don't think quizbowl has anything resembling an ideal form that any of the arguments about it can appeal to. Basically if somebody comes up with a question about something that they defensibly believe is important and which rewards general knowledge and understanding of the world around us, then I think it's fine quizbowl. It seems like all questions of pyramidality or clue space or uniqueness of clues or "frauding" questions wash out to insignificance in the long run. Like that Aeneas question that somebody posted as an NAQT parody, that seems perfectly fine to me: so somebody wanted to ask a question about the lineage of Aeneas, that seems like a good, nontrivial subject. It's a question that may award points for quick thinking over having the absolute most knowledge of the Aeneid, but that seems like it keeps the excitement of the game more constant. Thus the reason I equivocate is because I really don't care, but because I don't buy anything I've read in the stickied theory threads about how to hew to this ideal of "distinguishing greatest knowledge," it irritates me when teams or potential teams are put down on the basis of not playing according to these principles. That I don't really have a particular position I want people to agree with is also why I've wound up putting everything in extremely abstract terms, I'm just trying to say what's true and not to persuade.
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by Auks Ran Ova »

SepiaOfficinalis wrote:I'm just trying to say what's true
Try again!
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by Mechanical Beasts »

SepiaOfficinalis wrote:Basically if somebody comes up with a question about something that they defensibly believe is important and which rewards general knowledge and understanding of the world around us, then I think it's fine quizbowl. It seems like all questions of pyramidality or clue space or uniqueness of clues or "frauding" questions wash out to insignificance in the long run. Like that Aeneas question that somebody posted as an NAQT parody, that seems perfectly fine to me: so somebody wanted to ask a question about the lineage of Aeneas, that seems like a good, nontrivial subject. It's a question that may award points for quick thinking over having the absolute most knowledge of the Aeneid, but that seems like it keeps the excitement of the game more constant. Thus the reason I equivocate is because I really don't care, but because I don't buy anything I've read in the stickied theory threads about how to hew to this ideal of "distinguishing greatest knowledge," it irritates me when teams or potential teams are put down on the basis of not playing according to these principles. That I don't really have a particular position I want people to agree with is also why I've wound up putting everything in extremely abstract terms, I'm just trying to say what's true and not to persuade.
If you think that the aim of this activity is something other than promoting knowledge--speed, to use the example that you gave--then I don't know if it's possible to argue with you meaningfully. Obviously our idea of good tossups are terrible at testing buzzer speed, since someone might buzz based on greater knowledge. So let's have different activities: you can take a reflex test and, when you're in the mood, play quizbowl, too.
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by naturalistic phallacy »

Where to begin, where to begin.
Tom wrote:I haven't presented myself as a great anything anywhere in this thread.
Yes, yes, you have.
Tom wrote:I'm just trying to say what's true.
Clearly, if everyone else possessed knowledge of this truth, then there would be no need for you to proclaim it.
Tom wrote:That I don't really have a particular position I want people to agree with.
Tom wrote:I think that all the NAQT sets I've played have been good quizbowl, I think every ACF set I've played has been good quizbowl. ... Basically if somebody comes up with a question about something that they defensibly believe is important and which rewards general knowledge and understanding of the world around us, then I think it's fine quizbowl.
I would tend to characterize those three sentences above as a "particular position," one that you have advocated for in my presence many times.
Tom wrote:...is also why I've wound up putting everything in extremely abstract terms.
Well, yes, beforehand you were using obscure abstractions before, but I do believe the quotes that I have excerpted above are a pretty concrete summary of your views on quizbowl. Thanks for using your words!
Tom wrote:It seems like all questions of pyramidality or clue space or uniqueness of clues or "frauding" questions wash out to insignificance in the long run.
I would implore you to explore your above use of words further and elaborate on this, since I see no evidence for this position from any quizbowl experience that I have ever encountered.
Tom wrote:Like that Aeneas question that somebody posted as an NAQT parody, that seems perfectly fine to me: so somebody wanted to ask a question about the lineage of Aeneas, that seems like a good, nontrivial subject.
How in the world is knowing Aeneas' lineage "non-trivial?" How is it possibly important in the study of the Aeneid? You seem to be operating with a very skewed view of "trivia." Trivia is a fact that is important because it is a fact. May I direct you towards this page for an explanation of what that word means within the context of quizbowl?
Also, that question was not a parody.
Tom wrote:It's a question that may award points for quick thinking over having the absolute most knowledge of the Aeneid, but that seems like it keeps the excitement of the game more constant.
I would disagree that the excitement of the game would be "more constant" if there were shorter tossups, including list tossups, simply because they lead to buzzer races and confusion, which leads to frustration, not fun.
Also, who says that longer, more clue-dense, questions aren't exciting? I believe that nearly everyone who isn't coerced into attending enjoys normal quizbowl tournaments quite a bit not despite but because of the longer more interesting questions. I understand that enjoyment might not be constant throughout an entire tournament or packet for an individual player based on their strengths, but the answer is not to call for list tossups; it is to tune in and learn more in order to increase your excitement. Excitement in the quizbowl community hinges on this reward of knowledge, not on hitting a buzzer or being on television, as you have previously wished for yourself. I am sorry you cannot "buy into that," but distinguishing knowledge is what quizbowl is all about.
Tom wrote:Thus the reason I equivocate is because I really don't care.
I don't believe for a second that you don't care, seeing as you've invested time into attempting to explain your views and refute ours, but really, if you claim to not care and you don't like what you see, start a league or activity of your own that contains questions that you like with community that buys into your relativistic views of good quizbowl and stop trying to argue the truth with us when you're clearly wrong.
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) »

Tom, you have truly comitted the greatest quizbowl sin there is, which is starting a dumb argument that wastes my time reading. Also, your posts are mostly incomprehensible.
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by QuizBowlRonin »

I thoroughly enjoyed this example of Knapp's Implementation of the Heidegger Method.
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by Auks Ran Ova »

QuizBowlRonin wrote:I thoroughly enjoyed this example of Knapp's Implementation of the Heidegger Method.
You wouldn't say those types of things if you knew what thoughts a certain person had about said events.
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by Mechanical Beasts »

Ukonvasara wrote:
QuizBowlRonin wrote:I thoroughly enjoyed this example of Knapp's Implementation of the Heidegger Method.
You wouldn't say those types of things if you knew what thoughts a certain person had about said events.
Especially since doing otherwise might cause people to take different actions regarding things we all think that about.
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by cvdwightw »

I really don't know where to begin here. I don't know squat about evolution, but at one point I had a pretty good idea about how the brain works and stuff like that (HEY EVERYONE LET'S GET RAY LUO IN ON THIS DISCUSSION!), and I'm pretty sure that the evolutionary psychology of quizbowl is not what we need in here.

Basic Hebbian theory states that if neuron A causes neuron B to fire, then the association between neuron A and neuron B is strengthened. In other words, when I hear "son of a sailmaker" there is presumably some sequence of neurons that goes HEAR MORPHEMES -> TRANSLATE INTO SOMETHING I UNDERSTAND -> ASSOCIATE WITH OTHER THINGS -> BUZZ IN -> SAY ANSWER. After hearing the same clue 500 times, there is going to be a strong connection associating the last neuron in whatever area is processing "son of a sailmaker" with the first neuron telling me to buzz in with "Victor Grignard." This is reflex buzzing and it is not always good; when it is not good it is a type of fraud.

If we subscribe to Magin's Ladder Theory of Quizbowl, then the purpose of quizbowl is not to perform intellectual masturbation but rather to strengthen the Hebbian connections between neural pathways processing previously unrelated or unknown information (or, rather, if you will, BCM theory, which would better explain the shifting canon and the trickle-down theory of difficulty). Perhaps you are right that there is some heightened ability to strengthen these connections caused by competitive play; this is a hypothesis on which I would agree with you, though I will not conclusively state it to be true. However, winning the game is not the end through which the means (practicing, writing questions, etc.) is justified.

Those who are interested in learning new things and strengthening the cognitive map (both by strengthening the associations between pathways processing already-known information and by adding new, connected pathways introducing new information) find quizbowl fun, even if they are not very good at it, or only interested in one small subset of the wealth of facts presented during a quizbowl tournament (e.g. specialists and trash players).

In the standard game of quizbowl, pieces of information ("clues") must necessarily be arranged in order from most obscure to least obscure in order to reward the player who takes the fewest clues to synthesize that information - it does no one any good if "Mount Vernon" is in the first line of a George Washington question, since at least seven out of eight players will require no more than that single clue to buzz. Furthermore, hoses stand to weaken the synaptic connections between two facts that should be related, and vague clues cannot really strengthen any sort of synaptic connection; I find that for this reason hoses and then vague clues are the worst kinds of bad questions, outside of plain factual inaccuracies.

A good pyramidal question (and a progressive-difficulty bonus) will allow players to expand their cognitive maps by (hopefully) letting them associate previously-known facts with newly-acquired facts, and will strengthen those cognitive maps by strengthening the clue-answer connection (so that we don't just recognize Giants in the Earth as a book we've heard of, but that we associate it with being written by Ole Rolvaag and about Norwegians in the Midwest; even if you're like me and haven't read the book, at least that part of the cognitive map is in place, so if someone talks to me about that book or that author, I am able to build on top of that skeletal cognitive map without having to revisit necessary connections towards my understanding of what this person's talking about).

To give an example from Illinois Open, there was a tossup that mentioned National Suicide Day. Now, I know I'd heard this clue before, but being the crappy literature player that I am, I failed to associate it with any book. As a result, I was later beaten to the tossup by a player who probably knows less about literature than I do, but in this instance knew more about the book in question (by being able to recognize the book in fewer clues). Through being (fairly) beaten to this question, a question which I arguably should have gotten, I have linked that previously unrelated piece of information ("National Suicide Day") into my cognitive map (which had previously linked "Toni Morrison" and "Sula"). I still don't know squat about Sula, but now there is an additional cognitive link there - in that National Suicide Day must somehow be memorable enough to be picked out as part of an eight-line question on the book. Perhaps this information is ultimately useless out of a quizbowl context. However, should I actually one day pick up the book, I will have a larger cognitive map on which to build.

Is building, expanding, and strengthening a cognitive map worthwhile? Is there some better way to expand one's cognitive map within a controlled, competitive environment, such that those with a competitive advantage are rewarded and those with a competitive disadvantage are encouraged to get better; and if not, why is quizbowl the pinnacle of this process? If you truly insist on going down this path, then you have to ask yourself these questions.

In last year's SCT discussion Andrew Yaphe made an excellent point that NAQT and ACF fundamentally test two different, but arguably equally important, skills from a quizbowl perspective. The ACF game, with longer tossups filled with more clues, is concerned with determining which player or team has a deeper knowledge of a specific academic person/place/concept/action/etc. With shorter questions, heavier use of wordplay and other (arguably notorious NACuties), and a faster-paced game, the NAQT game is concerned with determining which player or team is able to synthesize the information quicker. In the ACF game, if it takes me until the end of the description of The Hairy Ape to realize that the answer's Eugene O'Neill, I'm going to beat anyone who hasn't heard of that work or any preceding clues. In the NAQT game, it does me no good to concentrate on remembering who wrote about Yank in The Hairy Ape when the question's already name-dropping the Tyrone family.

I'm not arguing that one of these strategies is better than the other -far from that, like you, I love NAQT (most of the time), and I love ACF/mACF (most of the time). In fact, I see ACF as primarily expanding the cognitive map (through the introduction of new information at a rate that can be digested by the interested player) with strengthening pre-existing connections in the cognitive map as a secondary goal; I see NAQT as the converse - strengthening those pre-existing connections is more important to success in the NAQT game than expanding a cognitive map. But we are not debating the relative merits of NAQT vs. ACF here, nor are we debating the relative merits expanding vs. strengthening the cognitive map.

What we are arguing is the relative merits of NAQT IS sets vs. ACF Fall and similar novice sets as an introduction to the college game. The pros for NAQT IS sets include:
  • familiarity with the format in areas that play NAQT, which is more areas than play mACF
    better familiarity with the skill set involved when players make the transition from bad quizbowl to good quizbowl
    playing against players of a similar skill level
    playing on a smaller canon
    playing on a high amount of current events, popular culture, and general knowledge, all of which is largely taken outside of the standard academic canon that players may not yet be familiar with
The pros for ACF Fall and similar sets include:
  • becoming introduced or re-introduced to the main format of quizbowl at the college level
    building on a cognitive map whose associations have already been strengthened through the largely stimulus-response game of one-line questions
    playing against players of various skill levels
    playing on a smaller canon
    playing on a high amount of material in the standard academic canon, which allows players to more quickly familiarize themselves with the canon
The stepping-stone theory claims that NAQT IS sets prepare the new player for the rigors of the ACF game - it presupposes that players are not capable of making the jump from bad questions to good questions without going through this sort of "intermediate stage". This is an insult to both ACF/mACF - since it advances the time-honored "ACF IS IMPOSSIBLE" false doctrine - and to NAQT - since it claims that NAQT is somehow an "intermediate" or "inferior" form of quizbowl compared to that pinnacle of quizbowl, ACF.

As I have often stated, quizbowl is an elitist meritocracy, but this is because the "elite players" are the largest producers of quizbowl product. Therefore, they not only have a vested interest in producing questions that they would like to play on, but they also have an interest in producing questions that others (non-elites) would like to play on. If there was some inherent advantage that NAQT had that made it more appealing to a large segment of the quizbowl population than mACF, then we would see the quizbowl elites producing their self-congratulating fifteen-line questions on the Sunyaev-Zeldovich effect and a much larger section of quizbowl producing and consuming NAQT and NAQT-style questions. Since we do not, we must conclude that either the "quizbowl elite" is doing a better propaganda job than NAQT (which is not at all true) or there is something in the "elite's" product that makes it inherently at least as desirable as "less elite" NAQT. I argue that this "something" is ACF's appeal toward players interesting in expanding their cognitive map, not just strengthening it. And those players don't have to be the "quizbowl elite." Furthermore, the reason that NAQT continues at the college level (outside of its desire to provide a national collegiate champion) is that it provides a complementary service, allowing players to strengthen their cognitive maps by requiring quicker recall of previously learned information. Again, and I stress this, ACF and NAQT focus on fundamentally different but complementary skills, and both are able to do so in a way that is not antithetical to good quizbowl.

As the person largely behind convincing UCLA to give up this idea, I did not do so because I feel that running NAQT IS sets for college tournaments is inherently bad. I do feel, however, that since they are being marketed largely to high schools, the college audience is a secondary one for IS sets, and therefore the community would be better served through novice sets, whether NAQT-style or mACF, that primarily target the college audience, particularly because there are several topics (organic chemistry, philosophy, anthropology/sociology, particle/quantum physics) that come up difficulty-appropriate at the college novice level but are not well suited to high school. The West Coast, like most other circuits, is a thriving and expanding circuit with many established teams who know what good quizbowl is and a few new or rebuilding teams eager to learn. In my opinion, based on the empirical data gathered by others, there is the danger that NAQT is viewed not as a legitimate quizbowl competition but the legitimate quizbowl competition - we are seeing this possibly happening with the high school quizbowl circuit in some places.

Those of us who attack running college tournaments on questions marketed to high schoolers must not, and oftentimes do not, attack NAQT as somehow being "illegitimate" or "bad quizbowl" - because it's not. And, as I have noted, the "stepping stone theory" is offensive to both mACF and NAQT, and for that reason should be viewed by both ACF and NAQT as invalid. Rather, we need to focus on the real problems, namely (1) that colleges are a secondary audience for NAQT IS sets but colleges choose to use them anyway over sets that have college novices as their primary audience, (2) that CUT-style eligibility rules do nothing to prevent undergraduate trophy whores from smacking down inexperienced freshmen, even if there are four of them, and so the argument about people playing against "similar skill levels" is a load of mule excrement, and (3) the real or perceived threat that new college teams, whether through outright misdirection or misinformation from NAQT or through their own ignorance (my opinion is that the latter is much more likely than the former, but the anti-NAQT crowd will disagree with me), will regard NAQT as the legitimate format and will not seek out a complementary format - we've already been through this nonsense with CBI discounting the mainstream circuit as illegitimate.

In closing, if you want to go run a tournament with short, easy questions that have lots of pop culture and general knowledge and have new players competing against players of similar skills, go buy NAQT's IM sets and run an IM tournament - at least those are marketed to colleges. Stop running tournaments for which your target audience is not the primary audience, especially when tournaments that do primarily target your target audience exist; stop making fake eligibility rules that allow some of the best players in the game to thoroughly demoralize new players; stop convincing people that either ACF IS IMPOSSIBLE or NAQT IS NECESSARY FOR YOU TO STEP UP TO ACF.
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by theMoMA »

I can think of several interesting ways that poststructuralists would critique quizbowl, but I guess I'm not sure what the problem is.

I don't think poststructuralists would concentrate so much on the "circle jerk" argument. They'd be much happier having a field day on noted outdated concepts like classification and canon, and even those crazy Althusserians could go to town on the oh-so-interesting ideological apparatuses that control who does what. You can sidestep most of these criticisms by remembering that quizbowl has a stated material function, to test who knows more about academic stuff.

I don't think anyone is claiming that quizbowl as an institution is a means of intuiting meaning from the world. If quizbowl were some kind ideology in and of itself, this would be a different story. But it's not a philosophy one can apply to glean some truth. It's an actual thing, a quiz in bowl form. It explicitly tests knowledge, and in doing so, presupposes knowledge and the need to test it (the "knowledge is just reproducing power structures" thing may be true, but it doesn't matter. Quizbowl is a game that presupposes knowledge, notedness, canonicity, etc., and since it's a game and not something that needs to be consistent with an ideally constructed reality, it can do that). The testing part of quizbowl implies a need for constructs of fairness and consistency. Hence we have things like pyramidality, distribution, and the canon. Quizbowl doesn't state that these are needed concepts in understanding the world (or more correctly put, ideologically consistent concepts). In fact, it very consciously realizes that these are artificial (inconsistent, flawed, whatever) constructs that arise out of quizbowl's status as a game (which I would again point out is a thing with a conscious function, and not an idea).

Efforts to apply poststructuralist philosophy to quizbowl are as useless as applying poststructuralist philosophy to any system with necessary and admitted preconditions. To use another dreaded sports analogy, telling quizbowl that it's illegitimate because there is no inherent value of knowledge about John Dryden over knowledge about stapler manufacturers is just like telling baseball it's illegitimate because it uses a ball made of leather instead of wood. Quizbowl assumes that Dryden knowledge is important, just like baseball assumes that that thing you hit should be made of cowhide and tightly wound yarn instead of a sheep bladder or a Norway pine. If your big revelation is that there are a set of necessary assumptions inherent to quizbowl that don't correspond with necessary truths, move along, because it doesn't matter and everyone should have figured it out already.

The rest of your argument seems to boil down to "people like things that they like for [reasons that aren't relevant to the discussion], and if the things themselves were different, different people would like them." Again, whoop dee doo.
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by naturalistic phallacy »

Brilliant, Andrew.
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by Sir Thopas »

Just popping in to say that you seem to have missed the point of my Aeneid comparisons entirely: As I very clearly stated, the first one seems just plain-old more boring to me than the (admittedly lacking) longer one that I put up. It was a counter to the argument that shorter questions are automatically less boring.
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by Mechanical Beasts »

William Afham wrote:Brilliant, Andrew.
Seconded. Beautifully put.
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Re: The mystery of stepping stone theory.

Post by Matt Weiner »

For what it's worth: "Good players are dominating the discourse" is basically an ad-hominem and not really able to be discussed in a rational way (cf. Adelman's Quality Sieve), but lest anyone get the wrong idea, there are plenty of people who are considered good writers, good editors, or sources of good ideas about quizbowl who are not elite players by any means. Conversely, there are lots of decent to good players who write terrible questions and have terrible ideas about quizbowl.
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