Existence of friend zone is not falsifiable


Soon after I stopped blogging last year, I realized that I had a lot of things I wanted to say, just as before, and I had deprived myself of a channel for them. So I did the next best thing: I published notes on Facebook. For the first few days of this new blog’s life, I will simply cross-post those notes here, so if you’re already my friend on Facebook, you won’t be seeing any new material for a while; but I’m going to get through these one per day, so you won’t have long to wait.

This post is mostly for amusement.

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on my News Feed lately about the dreaded friend zone (FZ)*, so it seems that most men simply take its existence as a given. I have also heard the argument (mostly from women) that FZ is a complete myth, and that rejection is simply due to a lack of attraction, rather than some deleterious effect of friendship.

So, I started thinking to myself: the statement that FZ does not exist is more parsimonious than the statement that FZ exists, because the latter postulates some strange interaction between the feelings of “liking-as-a-friend” and “like-liking” (yes, the English language is horribly inadequate here), so by application of Occam’s razor, one ought to take “there is no FZ” as the null hypothesis, and accept the burden of proof for the alternative hypothesis that “FZ exists”.

Now then, how would one go about proving the existence of FZ? It’s not difficult to think about, at all, once you get past the terminology. The statement “FZ exists” means that it is possible that a man who gets rejected by a woman who is his close friend would not have been rejected if, ceteris paribus**, they were not close friends. In order to prove this statement, a man would have to ask out a woman who is his close friend, get rejected, and then go back in time to before they were close friends, ask her out again, and not get rejected.

Since the time travel step is (probably) impossible, and I cannot think of any other way to prove the alternative hypothesis that does not involve time travel in some form, I conclude that the statement “FZ exists” is not falsifiable, and thus ought to be discarded as unscientific.

* gratuitous and unnecessary abbreviation makes this look more like a scientific paper

** use of this particular Latin expression for “all other things being equal” is also quite unnecessary

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About Brian

Hi! I'm Brian Bi. As of November 2014 I live in Sunnyvale, California, USA and I'm a software engineer at Google. Besides code, I also like math, physics, chemistry, and some other miscellaneous things.
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9 Responses to Existence of friend zone is not falsifiable

  1. Sean says:

    Couldn’t a similar argument be applied to basically every experiment conducted in biology or psychology? I fail to see why you couldn’t do a similar thing (at least in principle): get 100 guys, randomize “strategy”, chi-square.

  2. Brian says:

    How exactly would that work? You tell the guy, “see that girl over there? You need to develop feelings for her, and then become one of her close friends, notwithstanding the fact that she might not want to get close to you”?

    I think the experimental difficulties would be insurmountable, in general.

  3. Sean says:

    Have them go after whichever girl they please, you just tell tell them which strategy to use (try to become their friend first vs. don’t). Of course there are issues with not controling who you’re going after – maybe the friend zone exists, but only for a small subset of girls. So you need to up the sample size to 5000 because the effect size is so small, I dunno.

    But no matter how challenging it would be to detect the effect, I just can’t see how it is fundamentally different from so many experiments in biology. If you want to, lets say, test whether type one diabetes presupposes someone to breast cancer, you face the same issues that you described above, and yet we would not declare it an unfalsifiable hypothesis. So at the very least I think the argument in the post is incomplete or just not explained well enough for me. =P

  4. Sean says:

    By “above” I mean in the post, not in your comment, since I guess it’s ambiguous. xD

  5. Brian says:

    If you tell the guy to use a particular technique, he will not apply it in precisely the same way as he would have if he had come to the decision himself, which may severely limit the validity of any results you obtain, because attraction may depend on very subtle behavioural cues.

  6. Sean says:

    Perhaps it isn’t a valid thing to say, but again I feel this is nitpicking and there still isn’t a fundamental enough difference to convince me that the “friend zone”‘ hypothesis is unfalsifiable

  7. Brian says:

    You might be right. This was a joke piece, anyway.

  8. Sean says:

    That is to say: whether or not I thought the argument was valid in the first place, I dont’ think there is a fundamental enough difference between this case and so many experiments in biology and psychology that the argument could apply to this case but not those.

  9. Sean says:

    Oops, I didn’t see your reply before I posted.

    Well, it was amusing, so that was a success either way. =P

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