I'm starting the process of looking for a house to buy.  The first thing every real estate agent says you need to do is to sign an exclusive contract with a real estate agent before they take you to look at houses.

I spoke to some co-workers, and none of them signed the contracts.  I didn't understand:  How can you avoid signing a contract, when the real estate agent, whom you must work with for months, will begin every meeting by telling you that the first thing to do is to sign the contract?

My boss told me that she distracted her agent.  Whenever he brought the subject up, she questioned him about details, which led on to other details, until they were in the car and driving to a showing and talking about something else completely.

This would be a useful skill.  And I can't imagine myself pulling it off.  Something in my gut would twist, and I would choke on my own words, if I tried to use conversation not to communicate information, but to entrap someone into doing something they didn't want to do by ensuring that they would have to violate social conventions to get out of it.

(I asked my boss if she'd ever done that to me.  She smiled very sweetly and said, "Never!")

And even if I could get over the choking, stuttering, and turning red, I don't think I could keep the game up for an entire hour.  I'm inclined to do search, not dynamic control optimization - to play chess (okay, Freecell), not to juggle or do magic tricks.

Somebody who did have the power to do that would be able to do awesome Jedi mind tricks.  (Like, say, pick up women.  Is it a coincidence that some pickup artists are also magicians?)

Are you like me in that way?  Are most of us left-brained Spocks who can't even try to lie or manipulate people?  I've met a lot of you, and I think the answer is "yes", but I really want to see your answers.  If so, is it because you choose to be that way, or because you have no choice?  What is this personality trait that we don't even have a name for, why is rationality so highly-correlated with it, and what else correlates with it?

If you think we're being rational to be so rational, say that, too.

At Wolf Park in Indiana, the biologists, who probably have at least a bit of the nerdy rationalist about them, have developed a technique for dealing with wolves when they're in the enclosure with them.  The wolves interact using dominance displays.  When humans go into the enclosure, and the wolves realize these same people keep coming back (they ignore visitors), the wolves want to establish the places of these humans in the dominance ladder (pedantic note: ladder, not hierarchy).  So they repeatedly try to engage the humans in dominance contests.

The thing about a dominance contest is that quitting equals losing.  You can't opt out of one once it's started (unless you have super Jedi mind skills).  Old-school wolf-handling was to become dominant; the problem with that is that, if you ever go into the wolf enclosure on a day when you have a cold, or are depressed, or just not focused on the task at hand, the nice beta wolf you have regarded as your friend for years may leap on your throat and (at best) throw you to the ground.  Even if you survive, you would be ill-advised to ever go back into the wolf pen; an alpha, once overthrown, moves (strangely) to the very bottom of the dominance ladder, and is fair game for every wolf in the pack.  The no-teaming-up rule which seems to apply to wolf dominance fights (doesn't to primates or felines, BTW) no longer applies.

It's better to leave the question of dominance unsettled.  Just like in the schoolyard, a person with an unknown rank has more leeway than one who is ranked; yet isn't constantly watched for signs of weakness the way an alpha is.  (An alpha wolf at Wolf Park once had a lower spinal injury.  He must have been in agony, but stayed where he was without whining or moving for 2 days before the humans rescued him - not because he couldn't move, but (we think) to keep the other wolves from noticing anything funny about his movements.)  Also, having the alphas be humans disrupts the pack dynamics that the biologists are studying.  So the biologists have developed a strategy of distracting the wolves before they can bring up the question of dominance.  One person does whatever it is they need to go into the enclosure to do; while the rest of them use toys, food, head-skritching, and tag-team techniques to keep any one wolf from focusing on any one human for long.

This is a use of the same technique that my boss used, that is practical and ethically laudable.  Could you do that?  If so, what makes it different?

I still don't think I could do it.  The cognitive load of trying to observe wolves and continually come up with novel distractions would be too great.  I don't think I could do it on the fly - at least, not well enough to ask people to bet their lives on it.  My mind operates with a long clock cycle.  I am CISC, not RISC.  Is that what makes nerds so famously poor at social interaction - that our minds are GOFAI, not cybernetics?

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