11/2/12

Survey on the Good and Meaningful Life

In the class I'm teaching, we're doing a bit of "X-Phi" on issues having to do with the good life and the meaningful life.  It would be wonderful if you would take our survey AND spread the word, wherever you hang out -- Facebook, Twitter, your own blog, whatever. Here's the link-- https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/moljk

THANK YOU!

Update 5:21 -- The comments here, at Pharyngula, and at Twitter are tricky to respond to, because I don't want to explain the point of this survey until it's closed. Many think there should be more answer options and find the array of questions strange. I will just say: the goal is not to get detailed, nuanced information about the way people look at the good and meaningful life. We are trying to do something else.  I believe limiting the options makes sense, given our goals.  I'll write a follow-up post on what the survey is about once it closes, which won't be for several weeks. Meanwhile (if you haven't taken the poll yet)--just choose the option that comes closest to your attitude.  Rest assured the idea is not to measure your philosophical aptitude or consistency, so just go with your gut reaction, whatever it may be. You can skip questions without getting an error message, but it would be better to answer than not, if you at least lean toward one of the answers.

Update 11/4 -- I'll explain what the survey is about, and the results, on 12/1.  We'll be gathering data throughout November.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

If I am plugged into the Life Experience Machine while taking this survey, do any of my answers have any meaning when the machine is switched off? Does it matter whether I am living a good life while I'm plugged in? If I am offered the choice between unplugging and remaining plugged in, how will I know whether my decision is based on my own free will, instead of prompting by the machine?

Anonymous said...

Many of the questions leave out details that would help to answer them, such as quality of life of the subject. Pain and spacial awareness are not the only factors I would take into account in determining whether someone's pain medication would be adjusted, for instance. On the gambling question, the answer would need to take into account whether the gambling was putting the subject or her family in financial straits. Overall, I found the questions to be horribly oversimplified.

Jean Kazez said...

Anon, I think you're not reading these scenarios in the right spirit. The implicit idea is that you're being given all the facts that are relevant. If Maggie's Gambling was hurting her family, you would be told so. You weren't told so, therefore you should assume they aren't being hurt. Likewise in the pain case, if the reduction in pain medication would hasten the patient's death (for example) you would be told so. Given that you weren't told so, you should assume that's not the case. The reason you aren't given longer stories is because the longer the story, the more people will skim then. Then they will not have the crucial information we want them to have.

In any event--there's nothing in the survey that explains why we are asking these questions--what exactly we are after. You cannot really assess whether we've set up the survey in the right way without knowing that.

But anyway--I do appreciate your taking the time to respond and leave feedback here.

Anonymous said...

I never liked or understood forced choice questions. Would you rather read a book or watch a movie? Well, depends on the book and movie. I absolutely do not have a generic preference. In the case of this set of questions my answer is often neither of the above, either because their is a third better answer, or because the choices provided make no sense, or the scenario provided is nonsensical, so cannot be answered.

fatpie42 said...

During the Sisyphus questions the multiple choice answers suddenly change from asking about "meaningfulness" to asking to judge whether Sisyphus would have "a good life". I presumed that I wasn't supposed to take these as equivalent.

The meaning of "meaningfulness" of life is, of course, very subjective. So is "what would count as a good life" mind you, but then it seems more clear that it is MY opinion that is being requested, whereas "meaningfulness" seems more personal.

Just some feedback for you. :)

Mr. Lynne said...

I think I dispute that I got all the relevant facts for the questions about pain and drugs that reduce it. The reductions were expressed in percentages - but percentage of what? Only knowing there would be a reduction but not knowing more about the 'amount' of that reduction makes it impossible to weigh the relative value of diminished awareness and diminished pain.

Also, the religion being important - not sure how you intend an atheist to answer.

Wolja said...

If this is a good example of philosophy I thank the great atheist that I am no philosopher.

Internally inconsistent and externally irrelevant. Good tag for Philosophy

Brian said...

Question 16 cannot be answered if one does not think that either approach is superior. There needs to be an option that allows for both approaches being just as good. In the first few questions, the options were split between "definitely bad" and "possibly good." That attitude needs to be replicated here. Because the details of the life were so vague, one can reasonably claim that no distinction can be drawn. Thus, forcing a choice necessarily leads to a dishonest answer which will invalidate your results.

Jean Kazez said...

Mr Lynne, We are doing an experiment here, essentially, and doing it right prevents me from telling you exactly why we phrased questions as we did.

Jean Kazez said...

Mr Lynne, We are doing an experiment here, essentially, and doing it right prevents me from telling you exactly why we phrased questions as we did.

Jean Kazez said...

Brian, Tricky issue. The way I see it, if I allow "tie" as an answer, two groups of people will opt for it. (1) People who find it attractive because it's non-comittal and quick and (2) people who, after serious reflection, really think "tie". I think there are vastly more people in the first category than in the second. So having "tie" as an option will reduce the amount of information I can collect, overall. It's too bad for anyone to be forced into a dishonest answer, but better than for a lot of people to give, essentially, a non-answer. Anyway, you actually could skip questions in the survey, so there was an escape hatch from dishonesty.

Woo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
nerdypants said...

This was such an interesting quiz, thank you for writing it. I'll definitely bookmark and check back later for the "reveal" and to find out what the research question was all about.

Anonymous said...

to most of the questions, I want to ask a counter-question:

in the eyes of who? the person the little story is about? everyone else? me? 'philosophers'?

Jean Kazez said...

nerdypants, thank you!

Everyone--please read the comment policy before leaving a comment. Also, read previous comments and my replies.

Unknown said...

Despite Miles Monroe's enthusiastic support of the Orgasmatron in Sleeper, I've seen The Matrix. The Experience Machine is definitely not a good thing!

DanDare said...

When can we see the result and know what conclusions you draw?

Jean Kazez said...

Unknown, Darn, wish we'd included an orgasmatron question!

DanDare, The survey will be "open" for the whole month of November. I should have a post here about it on December 1.

Anonymous said...

There was relevant-to-me information missing in some of the questions, particularly the one about Angela and pain medication. Maybe you are trying to study what kinds of answers people give when they are irritated by being forced to answer questions without all the essential information and reminded that "hey, society doesn't give a fuck about women's consent most of the time anyway", but if that's not your research agenda then I confess I'm at a complete loss.

Maybe it doesn't matter to the _survey writers_ when precisely during her recovery her pain meds make her think she's on Mars, or what she currently thinks of the trade-off, or what her past opinions on pain vs reality are, or doesn't know where she is, but for some of us these things are the _most_ important. Failing to provide what opinion (or lack thereof) Angela has is troublesome -- it's really socially unhealthy to expect us us to infer consent or ambivalence in such a context. Seriously, women get their opinions and consent devalued all the time in real life, it's pretty annoying to be told to do it in a philosophy study.

And failing to tell the reader how long she will need to be on pain meds and at what stage of her recovery she still thinks she's on Mars... well, there's absolutely no way to read that and infer some sort of neutral status. If she thinks she's on mars in the first five minutes after waking up? That's fine. If it's after a month? That's very different.

Brian said...

@Jean: But that's just it: You don't know who is answering legitimately and who is answering falsely due to being forced to make a choice, especially since you specifically said to *not* skip any questions. Thus, the entire question's results are suspect since there is no way to distinguish between honest and dishonest answers. It makes me want to retract my entire submission since, to be honest, I am now questioning your motives.

Eric said...

@Brian: Survey answers are *always* suspect, since as Jean explained above allowing a non-commital option would also introduce 'dishonest' answers.
Forced choice is a common concept in surveys and there's plenty of literature available on the advantages and disadvantages of using forced choice answer categories. To suggest that a researcher may be acting dishonest or unethical because they went for the forced choice option is ludicrous.

nerdypants said...

Jesus Brian, you're "now questioning her motives"? What the hell kind of diabolical plot is it to write an online survey for an undergrad class with less-than-perfect questions?

"Mwa ha ha!", laughed Prof. Jean maniacally, "Now these results will be Somewhat Ambiguous!".

And the rest of you, seriously, why's everyone so freaking up-tight around here? Did this get linked from the 'Forum for People Who Struggle to Keep Shit in Perspective'? It's just an internet quiz. Relax. You won't be graded at the end. And if the questions piss you off, maybe there's an interesting philosophical reason for that and you can go away and think about it some more.

Jean Kazez said...

Eric, Nerdypants, Thank you! Everyone needs to just come back later and see what the point was. Only then can we have a discussion about whether the questions and answers were well-stated.

Gus Snarp said...

OK, I accepted that this was the kind of forced choice survey that I hate and went ahead with it, hoping it will help you with your project, and I tried to answer the best I could, even when I had huge problems with the questions and the answers. Then I read your response to a commenter saying they were reading it in the wrong spirit. That, to me, is a huge problem. If you wanted us to make the assumption that we had all the needed information in that way, you needed to tell us up front. It's a mistake to tell the survey participant they read the question in the wrong spirit, that's not possible, they're the participant, there's no "wrong spirit", if you want it read a certain way you have to make sure it is read that way.

So the gambling question, for example, I have to assume from what I know of the real world and of gambling that someone who is gambling obsessively once a week has a control problem with gambling and is almost certainly hurting her family by losing all that money. If you wanted me not to make the real world assumption, you needed to make that clear.

As for the pain medication leading to death, that might be reading too much into the question, but again, the onus is on the researcher to make the question clear on assumptions that the researcher wants the participant to make or not make. Otherwise your participants will all be making different and contradictory assumptions. For example, my assumption about the gambling question, or my assumption about the pain questions (namely, that the doctors and the patient would mutually assess the level of pain and that the increase in pain wouldn't be bad enough to justify the loss of reality). Only if the assumptions are really meaningless can you leave them to chance.

Jean Kazez said...

Gus, I beg to differ. I think what I'm asking the participant to do is just follow the normal rules of communication. If someone tells you a brief anecdote, it's simply a normal communicative rule that key relevant elements are to be included, so absence of an element means it wasn't there. If I tell you a little story about an incident at a Starbucks, and I don't mention the cobra that bit the barista, well, there wasn't a cobra that bit the barista. In the gambling question you are told that Maggie is happy and successful in many ways. If she were happy and successful despite harming her family with gambling, that would be amazing.The fact that it's not mentioned means it's not true. That's just normal communication, not a special rule of interpretation I'm expecting responders to understand here. Same with the question about Angela's pain medication. If it would speed her death, that would be highly salient and relevant. The fact that such a thing is omitted means it's not true--again, completely standard rules of communication.

Anonymous said...

I'll say that my answers on the various "X's life can't be going entirely well" vs "It's quite possible X's life is going very well" were biased against the "Impossible" vs "Probable" separation, which may have been intentional (ie a probability of 0 is infinitely less likely to occur in reality than a probability of 0.9, even if I'd actually rank the probability of an event as 0.1 or 0.2).

I'm assuming with the wording chosen as it was, that was intentional, but it seems to have strongly biased my answers to the point of discarding nearly all other information in the situation, since there was a lack of a direct contradiction in the scenarios.

With the Sisyphus questions:

The "allowing him to gaze upon the castle for years" seems to imply (but doesn't directly state) that "looking at something beautiful" is something that he would desire, whereas it seems equally likely that being forced to sit and stare at something pretty (and do nothing else) for years could easily be just as undesirable/meaningless as pushing a rock up a hill without any desire to do so.

Additionally, the wording of "He doesn't identify with that desire or want to have that desire" was ambiguous to me - did that mean that he doesn't actively want the desire (but could be indifferent) or he actively doesn't want the desire (and thus isn't indifferent about it). The answer in (b) seems to imply the former, but it was difficult to tell.

As was previously mentioned, #16 elicited a false response from me due to not seeing a fundamental difference between the two options.

The experience machine questions seemed to leave out a potential altruistic component of interaction from others - ie if I'm hooked up, I may not subjectively be able to tell the difference between me having a conversation with my friend and me having a simulated conversation with my friend, but my friend would objectively have a different subjective experience due to not having that conversation with me. Is this an intentional aspect, or overlooked?

Additionally, I'd be concerned about the level of "accuracy" of the experience machine. If the simulated "people" in the machine are complete models of actual people in reality, then I'd argue that they should possibly be considered to *be* real people, in which case, forcing their entire existence to revolve around one person would literally be slavery.

(An interesting offshoot of this was that it spawned a discussion on whether forcibly hooking up a convicted criminal to an experience machine to remove them from society, rather than the death penalty/jail.)

Jean Kazez said...

Thanks for all the comments and for participating in the survey. I'm closing comments now because I really do think it's pointless discussing the methodology of a survey if you don't know what its goal was or how it was constructed. As I said in the update, I will explain in a few weeks.