This article is a deliberate meta-troll. To be successful I need your trolling cooperation. Now hear me out.

In The Strangest Thing An AI Could Tell You Eliezer talks about asognostics, who have one of their arm paralyzed, and what's most interesting are in absolute denial of this - in spite of overwhelming evidence that their arm is paralyzed they will just come with new and new rationalizations proving it's not.

Doesn't it sound like someone else we know? Yes, religious people! In spite of heaps of empirical evidence against existence of their particular flavour of the supernatural, internal inconsistency of their beliefs, and perfectly plausible alternative explanations being well known, something between 90% and 98% of humans believe in the supernatural world, and is in a state of absolute denial not too dissimilar to one of asognostics. Perhaps as many as billions of people in history have even been willing to die for their absurd beliefs.

We are mostly atheists here - we happen not to share this particular delusion. But please consider an outside view for a moment - how likely is it that unlike almost everyone else we don't have any other such delusions, for which we're in absolute denial of truth in spite of mounting heaps of evidence?

If the delusion is of the kind that all of us share it, we won't be able to find it without building an AI. We might have some of those - it's not too unlikely as we're a small and self-selected group.

What I want you to do is try to trigger absolute denial macro in your fellow rationalists! Is there anything that you consider proven beyond any possibility of doubt by both empirical evidence and pure logic, and yet saying it triggers automatic stream of rationalizations in other people? Yes, I pretty much ask you to troll, but it's a good kind of trolling, and I cannot think of any other way to find our delusions.

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You probably shouldn't drive. It's dangerous, expensive, and should be left to professionals. Take the bus or ride a bike.

More widely, we should support policies that make individual car use prohibitively expensive, but public transit easy and cheap. Generally the only cars on the road should be service related (Ambulances, Fire, Police, Utilities,Buses, Delivery/shipping trucks, Taxi's, Limo's etc.)

This would save lots of money and energy, and tens of thousands of lives per year.

It's dangerous, expensive, and therefore absolutely awesome. You're just jealous of all the normal people with cool cars, and that they don't let you drive due to your left arm paralysis.

Well... I can drive, but I still try to do it as little as possible.
I'd agree with all of that, except for the "ride a bike" part. If you think piloting a car in city traffic is dangerous, think about piloting a completely unprotected, human-powered device with a very narrow silhouette.
With proper bike-friendly infrastructure, it's far safer. Don't think of "riding alongside car traffic" - instead think of what Europe does with entirely separate bike "roads" separated from the car-traffic by median strips.
Where did you get the impression that European countries do this on a large enough scale to matter*? There are separate bike roads in some cities, but they tend to end abruptly and lead straight into traffic at places where nobody expects cyclists to appear or show similar acts of genius in their design. If you photograph just the right sections, they definitely look neat. But integrating car and bike traffic in a crowded city is a non-trivial problem; especially in Europe where roads tend to follow winding goat paths from the Dark Ages and are way too narrow for today's traffic levels already. While the plural of anecdote is not data, two of my friends suffered serious head trauma in a bicycle accident they never fully recovered from (without a helmet, they'd likely be dead), while nobody I know personally ever was in a severe car accident. And quick search also seems to indicate that cycling is about as dangerous as driving (with both of them paling by comparison to motorcycles...). *with the possible exception of the Netherlands, but even for them I'm not sure.
Where did you get the impression that by "it's far safer" that I meant "it's far safer... than driving"? i am completely ignoring your anecdotes - they cannot be taken for actual data. I have friends that have been in extremely dangerous car accidents. I have a friend who was killed in a car crash. Anecdotes are a bad idea on this. I'd be happy with real data on the actual base rates of this stuff, and yes, perhaps the bike lanes are not sufficient to overcome the danger of riding off the bike lane. But I don't think it's quite as bad as you're making out. It definitely depends on where you need to get to by bike... but my experience with riding in Perth was that I could ride from the outer suburbs to the city without going through traffic. The same for large portions of Sydney (once you hit the main bike routes along the freeways). If you're riding into the CBD, but get off your bike before hitting the main CBD streets themselves (ie choose your route carefully), then you can get to a goodly portion of the city without hitting the (I agree) utterly ridiculous bad bike lanes ...and that's before even considering Europe. But yeah, if you have some real data, I'm happy to change my mind.
I actually do avoid driving whenever possible. But then I live in an urban area, and can do that.
My commute to school is about 30 miles, or 50 minutes. If I rode the bike to the nearest bus stop (10 miles, 50 minutes) and rode the buses to school (75 minutes, including 20 of walking and waiting), my commute would take two and a half times as long. It would also be free instead of costing $5.50 in gas each way, and I would burn an extra thousand Calories per day.
Try hundreds of thousands per year from just accidents, before even counting health benefits of reduced emissions and smog saving more lives.
As a cyclist, I think biking is probably more dangerous than driving...
But... have you framed "danger" apprppriately? "According to a study by the British Medical Association, the average gain in "life years" through improved fitness from cycling exceeds the average loss in “life years” through cycling fatalities by a factor of 20 to 1." From
That's an interesting quote. There are probably other ways to achieve the same fitness benefits though.
Yes... in countries where the infrastructure is so poor as to require cyclists to ride in traffic (or in the door zone). In places where this is not the case (see Europe) I'd be interested in seeing if those stats are the same.
Even in Europe, places where you don't have to drive in traffic / door zone are incredibly rare. Bike paths are cool, but as currently implemented they mostly serve to annoy both drivers and pedestrians alike, and there is still a default assumption that where there is no bike path, you'll be driving with traffic.
While the first part is borne out by statistics, the second is not. To make a professionals-only drivng regimen feasible, you'd need a massive reorganization of urbanities. Suburbs would no longer be quite so desirable, etc etc. Take your politics out of rationality.

Take your politics out of rationality.

Yikes! can you explain how something that's a good idea for rationalists on lesswrong is bad for society? Should we keep our good ideas secret because if everyone did it the suburbs would be undesirable?

I'll give you the benefit of the doubt but so far this seems more like denial than reason.

Well it certainly isn't denial. As proof I'd offer up my lack of any kind of driving license or vehincle ownership throughout my life. The idea itself is not what is bad for society. The badness here is the political-ish applying of an idea without thinking through the consequences and dealing with them. I would certainly not encourage keeping any ideas secret, for then how would the corollaries be resolved?

Okay, now for my attempt to actually answer the prompt:

Your supposed "taste" for alcoholic beverages is a lie.

Summary: I've never enjoyed the actual process of drinking alcohol in the way that I e.g. enjoy ice cream. (The effects on my mind are a different story, of course.)

So for a long time I thought that, hey, I just have weird taste buds. Other people really like beer/wine/etc., I don't. No biggie.

But then as time went by I saw all the data about how wine-tasting "experts" can't even agree on which is the best, the moment you start using scientific controls. And then I started asking people about the particulars of why they like alcohol. It turns out that when it comes any implications of "I like alcohol", I have the exact same characterstics as those who claim to like alcohol.

For example, there are people who insist that, yes, I must like alcohol, because, well, what about Drink X which has low alcohol content and is heavily loaded with flavoring I'd like anyway? And wine experts would tell me that, on taste alone, ice cream wins. And defenses of drinking one's favorite beverage always morph into "well, it helps to relax..."

So, I ... (read more)

I will agree with you that a lot of alcohol is like that, in particular beer. But you can't say that acquiring a taste means forcing yourself to like something; we have to acquire almost all tastes. A kid who isn't fed a variety of foods will never like a variety of foods. There are people out there who don't like FRUIT, I mean, really. Not just like there's a fruit they don't particularly enjoy, they don't like any fruit.

But there are some alcoholic drinks that ARE delicious. I don't mean anything regular. My favourite drink has no substitute: mead. Honey wine. It's a beverage made from honey, and delectable (well, unless it's a dry wine). I don't like any dry wines, just sweet ones. Fuki plum wine is another favourite of mine, and again, there is no similar substitute. I would be careful of saying you don't like alcohol at all, because it's possible you've just had bad stuff (and each kind of alcohol is different, too). I've never liked eggplant, bleach--until someone actually cooked it properly for me, using the right gender pod. (For the record of anecdotal proof, my sister hates alcohol, but even she likes Fuki.)

And the "other" effects of alcohol have no bearing on m... (read more)

I find the idea that people don't like being intoxicated suspicious. Experiencing euphoria from intoxication has a lot do with with brain chemistry, and it would be very odd if some humans recieved this effect and others did not. Now, I can understand the intellectual response of "I don't like being intoxicated" as "I don't like the (loss of control/mental sluggishness/depressive effects) that accompanies intoxication." After all, those could easily go against your personal values. But in terms of enjoying something, I don't think that those concerns are paramount. I enjoy the taste of foods that I consciously know are bad for me: eating them goes against my personal values (live a long life, have energy for the next task, etc.) but I still experience pleasure upon eating them. And it strikes me that it is quite possible to consciously find something distasteful while non-consciously finding it enjoyable. In other words, your conscious brain might say "I don't enjoy the other effects of alcohol, only the taste" while your tongue tells your subconscious "Hey! This is the stuff that gives us the happy feeling!" The only real test, I suppose, would be to find two drinks that were, taste-wise, indistinguishable with one producing the "other" effects of alcohol while the other doesn't. Then, see if there was a stronger "liking" associated with the prior substance over time, particularly with people who self-report not enjoying those effects in alcohol while otherwise enjoying its flavor. I have a strong suspicion that the test would show that even if little enough of it was served that neither group felt outward signs of intoxication that the group that got the alcoholic batch would show stronger liking over time. (In fact, the less the "I don't enjoy intoxication" batch consciously know that they are being given alcohol, the better for their self-reporting.)
Drug effects can be heavily culturally mediated; Hanson has posted some material on alcohol in particular. (Another n=1: I was surprised and dismayed the first time I had enough alcohol to qualify as even partially drunk, and realized that I felt incredibly depressed. This happened twice more, and I eventually gave up alcohol as a bad job. This is annoying because it limits my mead consumption, even though it also means I never need to worry about alcoholism.)
I know a number of people who frequently become extremely sad while drunk. Back when I drank, that wasn't an uncommon condition for me as well. Also, there were a number of enjoyable activities I found myself less able to successfully engage in while drunk... sex, in particular, was significantly less satisfying that way. In general I found several other intoxicants far superior if what I wanted was to be intoxicated.
Well, that makes some amount of sense. Alcohol is a seratonin inhibitor, so it would block some of the natural rush you would expect to get from sexual activity. That, and it inhibits testosterone, which is critical for sexual activity in men.
By what mechanism does alcohol - a central nervous system depressant - cause euphoria? And how intense is this euphoria? I ask because I've been to board game nights with my friends both with and without drinking involved, and I can recall no significant difference in pleasure between the two.
Admittedly, reporting on the euphoria from alcohol largely comes from anecdotal experiences from myself and my friends and family, however, the wikipedia entry on intoxication is a good starting point for answering this question. However, asking the question did prompt me to investigate. The short answer is that alcohol intoxication often produces euphoria at about 20-99 mg/dL and that this state may continue at higher concentrations. The mechanism appears to be due to the fact that, in addition to being a central nervous system depressant, alcohol is also a seratonin inhibitor and that it interferes with seratonin binding and seratonin transporters in a manner which causes excessive stimulation in serotonergic neurons. That said, the specifics are unclear. It seems that we don't have direct ways of checking seratonin in human or animal brains yet. That said, indirect tests, self-report, and observed euphoric effects of alcohol intoxication all contribute to the current theory on the effects of alcohol on the seratonin receptors.
Gotcha! I had asked because the absence of a known pharmacological mechanism would have suggested that the primary factor was an association effect - people drink at parties with their friends, and therefore associate intoxication with their enjoyment of the party.
I drink to make parties with friends tolerable because after an hour there is usually an infinite amount of things I'd rather be doing...
Another n=1: I like the way intoxication feels when I'm intoxicated, but over last couple of months I've gone from wanting to enter that state often to avoiding all alcohol on purpose. What changed was realizing on an emotional level that I have tons of interesting (or necessary) things to do and alcohol limits that by taking away evening (to drink) and the next day (I feel cognitively worse 'till next afternoon, even if I didn't have a hangover). At some point the prospect of drinking became anxiety-inducing for me.
I think the wealth-signaling effects of some product are mostly due to awkwardness in mass production. Once ice cream became easier to create in bulk, rich people stopped eating it. Same with chocolate. It doesn't seem to correlate with taste.
Rich people stopped eating ice cream and chocolate? Hmm...
I completely agree with your assertion. As an avid drinker, I find that I don't like drinks that taste nice nearly as much as ones that don't. The taste seems to me to be a signal of alcoholic effect; alcopops (sweet and alcoholic) get it wrong one way, and <1% alcohol beer gets it wrong the other way. That said, I do like some beers better than others. Hoppy rather than fruity is good, for instance. I recall reading somewhere on LessWrong that a highly effective way to stop eating chocolate is to get a pound of M&Ms and put them in your mouth and chew them up and taste them, then spit them out, and after a while chocolate will taste awful. This would suggest there's a lot more to liking foods than just what your taste buds (and sense of smell) say. Edit: And how could I forget coffee. Tastes terrible in itself - decaf is utterly missing the point - but taste+buzz is something one can have strong and even discussable personal preferences on, and I just had my morning cup of something awful and went "mmmm, coffee."
I wouldn't ever wanna stop eating chocolate, at least delicious 80+ percent cocoa chocolate. It has little sugar but plenty of quality fats and cardioprotective and anti-inflammatory polyphenols. It's still a bit addictive for some reason (flavor? phenylethylamine? theobromine? ) but if you eat quality chocolate daily, well, if you don't go really overboard I imagine it'd do you no harm.
It's a YMMV, sure. But I can see people who need to give the stuff up - though my internal model of other humans tells me they'd be horrified at the idea of doing something that would actually work to cut them off from chocolate.
Interesting. Btw, why did my old comment suddenly get two replies?
Well, I've been systematically (if desultorily) reading all of LW from the beginning. So I got to your comment and, given the local norm that it's just fine to respond to a comment or post from years ago, responded to it. I presume bcoburn saw my comment in "Recent Comments", went to your original and felt like responding too.
Is that part of what you have referred to as "internet as television", David?
Yep! Things to read while waiting for Tomcat to finish restarting ... if I'm going to use the Internet as a television, I want at least to be watching something good. I got through the Sequences, and it occurred to me that I didn't really understand the history of the culture of LessWrong, let alone the history of the history. So I thought reading the lot would be a nice way to approximate that. And I'm finding some fantastic posts I would never have seen without doing this.
This is, indeed, exactly what happened.
I'm eagerly awaiting years-later responses to my own early comments :-D
I am doing the same right now, BTW.
In my observation the 'lie' operates to a significant extent on the other side of that 'taste' line. Sure rationalizations play a part too but to some extent 'acquired taste' is literally accurate. The 'taste - status reward' pairing actually does change what tastes good.
There really is a variety of experience in alcoholic beverages that one cannot get anywhere else. The argument that one would prefer a milkshake over wine is a weak one; even if that is universally the case, that doesn't entail that people really don't like wine. Go ahead, try it with any two things. "Would you rather have an X or a Y? Oh, you'd rather have an X? Then why do you ever have Y? You must do it just for signaling, not because you really enjoy it". Say, "Watching Heroes" versus "Watching Battlestar Galctica". Or "Eating a cheeseburger" versus "Eating potato skins". Or "vacationing at Hakone" versus "vacationing in Gaeta". Developing a taste for wine opens one up to a variety of experience not unlike developing an entirely new sense. Similarly for enjoying good beer. I admit that I first developed a taste for beer simply because no philosopher worth his salt doesn't enjoy beer, but it's now very enjoyable being able to distinguish between various craft styles.
I guess I forgot to mention the other premise the argument uses: Y is a lot more expensive (per unit mass or volume). Given that alcoholic drinks cost a lot more, you would think that people would only pay the premium if they thought there were something better about it. I claim that it cannot be the taste, because the taste is clearly dominated by cheaper alternatives Except that my other issue with alcohol is that, within a given drink class, I can't distinguish the taste very much. All beers, for example, taste to me like sourness and bitterness that stings as it goes down. To the extent that I do discern a difference, it's that some aren't as painful or gross to drink. And what really perplexes me is that the least bad, most tolerable beer I've found is ... Guiness. Over the years, I have not noticed these wonderful subtleties. There are differences, sure, but the overwhelming bitterness and sting dominates them. (ETA: The sting of carbonated beverages also dominated my experience when I first tried them out, which is why I didn't regularly want them until I was about 10 and found one with enough of the right sweetness to outweigh the pain. Today, I still experience that sting.) By the way, if want to give yourself a sixth sense, I would recommend echolocation or magnetism, which humans have been able to pick up, and which seem to have a lot more practical use. And you prove my point. I think what happened is that you recongized a social benefit to voicing appreciation for beer, and learned all the right code words to use, and now can pattern-match beers to the right description well enough for social purposes.
The 'deli' down the hall from where I work sells single-serving pizzas. Crappy pizzas - nowhere near as tasty as the burritos from the co-op two blocks away, and more than twice the price. And yet, sometimes I buy them, even when the walk is not a concern. I think you underestimate the desire for variety.
Variety would explain different drinks. It would not explain significantly-more-expensive, bad-tasting drinks. But yes, there are many factors that go into a decision. My claim is just that the one typically given -- that people like the taste of alcoholic drinks -- cannot be correct.
Except that they don't taste bad. All the milkshake question shows is that they don't taste as good as milkshakes. Your insistence on this is puzzling. It seems like the simplest hypothesis here is that people who claim to like the taste of alcoholic drinks are for the most part doing so because they like the taste of alcoholic drinks. I like pepsi more than beer, and drink more pepsi than beer. I also like chicken mcnuggets more than snackwraps, and buy mcnuggets more often than snackwraps. But I still get snackwraps sometimes, even though they're more expensive. Does it make more sense to chalk that up to signaling, or liking variety?
But my point was, this can't account for how I describe my liking of alcohol the same way as other people, except that I conclude I don't like the taste of alcohol, while others conclude it means they like the taste. In other words, other people AND I meet the following characteristics: -Think milkshakes are better tasting than the best alcoholic drink. -Enjoy the taste of alcoholic drinks when it is drowned out with some other flavor. -Believe it changes our mental states in a good way. -Could not comfortably chug down a alcoholic drink the way we might a milkshake. I classify all of that as "not liking the taste of alcohol, but liking to consume it anyway". Other people classify all of that as "liking alcohol, including its taste". Hence the dilemma. All that your variety examples show is that if you have too much of one thing, you'll "tire" of it temporarily and want something else. But that's not what people claim makes them want alcohol. They really claim it's the taste. They really claim they spend lots of money to get that taste (think about how expensive some wines/liquors are). And they claim it can't match the taste of milkshakes, which, contrary to your example, people don't regularly have and aren't tired of. People could have all the variety they wanted, and still alcohol wouldn't be in the top 30 drinks by taste, and people still claim they like the taste. This doesn't make sense.
Just to add another counterexample: I do not share this characteristic. I've learned to tolerate ethanol in order to appreciate unique flavors in the alcohol itself. I dislike all the mental effects of alcohol and would drink it more often if it lacked these effects. Agreed, only insofar as this is a point against milkshakes. If I am drinking something for the flavor, I wish to savor it slowly; otherwise, I am drinking it for sustenance in which case if I'm drinking alcohol or milkshakes something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
I'm pretty sure some alcoholic drinks would make it into my top 30, actually. And yes, even if alcohol doesn't make it into the top 30, it still makes sense. It's entirely possible to like more than 30 things. Something not making it into my 'top 30' (or 'top X' for whatever X) doesn't mean I don't like it. Also, I don't see your list above logically implying not liking alcoholic drinks (though I couldn't 'chug' a milkshake, so that might be relevant). If you add 'I like the taste of alcoholic drinks' I don't see any contradiction, or even a tension, with the things you list.
Given the variety of counterarguments you have been exposed to, I would think that re-examining the claim with stricter scientific controls would be appropriate.
Really? The quality of the counterarguments doesn't matter, just their variety? I'm going to refer back to Science isn't Strict Enough. The observations I've made simply shouldn't happen if the predominant theory, ("People accurately describe how much they like the taste of alcohol") were true. The fact that I didn't set up scientific controls doesn't change this. If wine were really so great tasting, worth analyzing all the subtle nuances, worth paying obscene amounts for the best wines, there simply shouldn't be a wine expert who prefers the taste of milkshakes to the taste of the best wine. That observation forces an huge update in beliefs, even before an official experiement. If anything, the ones who should be updating are those who are suprised to see people coming out of the woodwork and admitting they actually don't like the taste of alcohol.
*sighs* Something which is true is true whichever way you approach it. The variety of counterarguments - all of which are good arguments, I would not cite them otherwise - shows that many angles of approach to your claim show contrary evidence. So far as I have been informed, your personal evidence is not so overwhelming as to require our contrary evidence to be explained by other means. While it is interesting that your peers predominantly prefer the flavor of milkshakes to their favorite alcoholic beverages, more than that is needed to show that millions of people are deluding themselves.
I can't believe you're still making this case. While I don't personally much value the opinions of 'wine experts', I see no contradiction in: 1. Wine is great-tasting and worth spending lots of money on. 2. Some wine experts like the taste of milkshakes better than the taste of wine. In fact, I would be surprised if there were no wine experts who preferred the taste of milkshakes, even if it were the case that most people prefer the taste of wine. People like many things, all at the same time, to different degrees. I so far haven't observed anyone acting surprised that there are people who don't like the taste of alcohol. Straw man?
I guess you haven't met anyone I've talked to in person about this... Well, this is where we disagree. I can't imagine there being something with such exquisite taste that I'd be willing to pay $100 just to experience that taste, when it's not even better than a milkshake. (I have paid more than $100 for food/drinks before, I'm sure, but obviously the scenario gave me more than the taste of something delicious.)
Well clearly alcohol also gives you something more than the taste of something delicious. But your claim is that practically no one likes the taste of alcohol, and I don't think you really have enough evidence to support that. And yes, that is clearly where we differ. I've in the past paid hundreds or thousands of dollars mostly just for particular sensory experiences, and could see much wealthier people being willing to pay a lot more. ETA: Also, I'm skeptical of a monocausal explanation of anything. It seems much more likely to me that people like both the taste and intoxicating effects of alcohol, than that they just like the effects and erroneously report liking the taste.
I prefer the taste of wine to the taste of milkshakes. I would much rather drink wine than (sickly sweet) milkshakes if given the choice between them. If only one were on offer, though, I would drink whichever was on offer. But if I had the option to choose to pay for one or the other - I would choose to pay for wine... even if it were more expensive. I'd do this even if there were no alcohol. Even if there were no other people around to show off my status to. because it tastes better (to me) ie - it ranks higher in my preference ordering purely on taste. It doesn't matter how many people you find that have a different preference ordering to mine... the fact that even just one person has their preference ordering this way around says that your theory is incorrect.
I drink mostly water and sometimes fruit juice. On occasion, I buy atypically expensive alcoholic beverages, indistinguishable from other beverages of the type except in flavor and price, because I like their taste. How do you explain that? Ethanol is not pleasant to drink. It doesn't even have a flavor, per se, just a sharpness and the burning or stinging sensation. To appreciate the flavor of an alcoholic beverage, you must first acclimate yourself to being able to ignore the ethanol itself. Your experiences suggest that you are unable, or able only with difficulty, to become acclimated to this, and thus will likely never be able to perceive what other people are talking about. The reason why it is worthwhile is twofold: the process of fermentation produces many complex flavors, and many flavors are far more soluble in alcohol than in water. The former provides, for instance, the complex malt flavor of dark beers, while the latter allows things like the woody flavors of a barrel-aged whiskey. In both cases these flavors could be recreated chemically, but at great difficulty and expense, and the intersection of "people who enjoy experiencing complex, interesting flavors" and "people who actively prefer non-alcoholic beverages" is too small of a market to attract much attention. As an aside, the vast majority of the market does drink alcohol primarily for intoxication or status, and cares little for flavor, so (at least in the USA) mass-market mainstream alcohols will always be designed to be boring and inoffensive, in order to maximize the market, thus tasting of little other than the ethanol that bothers you so. If you want to give the whole thing another chance, I suggest finding a liquor store that caters to the beer nerd / microbrew enthusiast market and look for one of the following varieties: Belgian-style fruit lambic, Russian imperial stout, or American-style triple IPA. You probably still won't like them, but all three tend to be so strongly flavored
I hate almost all beer. I can discern the differences between them, and there are some beers that, on some days are drinkable - and some I even get to the point of liking - but I would never pay money for beer when other alternatives are available. Beer is low in my preference ordering. I like wine. i can distinguish between many different kinds and i can distinguish a preference ordering that I would consider to be correlated with the "quality" of wine. There is no other way to get the flavours of wine apart from... actually drinking wine. you can't buy an equivalent pleasure because there isn't one. I am willing to pay for that particular pleasure. wine is reasonably high in my preference ordering> so is cider and mead. but sometimes I prefer cider over wine, sometimes I prefer mead over cider, and a lot of times I prefer coffee over all of them. preferences for taste change on a daily and even hourly basis. Just like with food. Sometimes you want to go for something sweet, sometimes salty, sometimes umami... thus it goes with drinks. I rarely go for sweet - I usually prefer tangy flavours or complex interesting flavours such as that of fruit juices or red wine. There is no way you can say that I gain no pleasure from alcoholic drinks apart from the taste. and sometimes - I gain more (temporary) pleasure from a higher-priced glass of wine than all the non-alcoholic drinks in the world... because I like the taste, and it's exactly what I want right then at that time.
How about this: When I was a little kid, too young to know about or process the idea that alcohol gets you high, my mom and dad drank beer. Cheap beer no less. I asked for a taste and they gave me one, thinking I wouldn't like it. I liked it. I remember it tasted interesting, and dazzling, like soda.
Rationalizing is still a big possibility - you wanted to drink what your parents drink.
I do not like the feeling of being intoxicated. I very much like some wines, many beers, and a few harder liquors (rum, bailey's, mainly). I used to think I disliked all beers, but then I tried some again (out of politeness) and discovered the problem wasn't that I didn't like beer, it was that I didn't like bad beer. I would drink one beer with pizza whether alone or with others (though I would refrain in the presence of some people if I thought it would offend them). I hate bars. Perhaps I'm subconsciously signaling "I am snobby," but I think that is inconsistent with the rest of my behavior (just ask my wife what she thinks of how I dress). Do you find this convincing?
Just a general clarification: when I refer to the mind-altering effects of alcohol, I don't just mean intoxication, but also the relaxation effect, which usually kicks in even after just one drink. Your situation definitely sounds more convincing, but then, you're not in the set of people who needs to find a fake reason to drink alcohol, since you don't seem like you'd miss much if you weren't allowed to drink. Are you sure your insistence on drinking one beer with pizza isn't just force of habit though?
If all sources of alcohol spontaneously vanished, I would miss a good dark beer in much the same way I would miss any other food I enjoy. That said I would probably deal with such a hypothetical situation with less dismay than most people who like alcohol. Just to be clear, if no beer is available (e.g., I haven't bought any recently (at the moment there is none in my fridge and I've been out of it for like a month)), and I make pizza, I won't be TOO distraught. :) It's also something I've picked up fairly recently; I read somewhere that beer went well with pizza, tried it, and found that beer goes very well with pizza. :) To elaborate a little more, my parents rarely drank (rarely = maybe twice in my lifetime), I didn't try any alcohol until in my 20's, and did not like the first alcohol I tried. I definitely agree that wine and beer are acquired tastes, much like coffee. I would rather drink beer than a milkshake most of the time, but that might say more about what I think of milkshakes than what I think of beer. EDIT: I forgot to add: I do not personally drink alcohol for the relaxation effect. Perhaps if I were in a stressful social situation I would, but I can't say I've done so to date. I find the feeling of a buzz weird and interesting and do not particularly enjoy it. My skills in nearly everything I like to do are adversely affected by mental impairment, so I do not like to drink enough to cause one. Exception: if I'm with a group of friends I will drink more than I would on my own, as I know I won't be doing anything mentally demanding.
A relatively simple way to test whether you actually like the taste of alcohol specifically: take a reasonable quantity of your favorite alcoholic beverage, beer/wine/mixed drink/whatever, and split it into two containers. Close one, and heat the other slightly to evaporate off most of the actual ethanol. Then just do a blind taste test. This does still require not lying to yourself about which you prefer, but it removes most of the other things that make knowing whether you like the taste hard. I personally don't care enough to try this, but just the habit of thinking "how could I test this?" is good.
How do I know that the heating doesn't evaporate or otherwise affect stuff other than ethanol?
I don't know for sure either way, and can't think of an experimental way to check off hand. I don't think that heating is likely to do anything to the other components of most drinks, and you might be able to make a better guess with domain knowledge I don't have. I think ethanol will generally evaporate more quickly than water, so you might also be able to get a similar test by simply closing one portion into a container with only a little air, and leaving another open for a long enough time, overnight maybe. will still lose some water, which is I guess a more real problem with heating as well. shrug, the details weren't really the point, just wanted to emphasize the idea of thinking of ways to test whatever you're interested in physically instead of just reasoning about it.
AFAIK, it will utterly destroy many of the volatile components of wine that make it taste so complex and interesting. That's why alcohol-free wine tends to be so bland and uninteresting. I'd be willing to do a taste-test on alcohol-free wine vs wine that I already know that I like... If you hide the non-alcoholic one in sufficient number of normal ones I probably wouldn't guess which one it was (I'm not good enough at telling which wine is which that I'd spot a particular wine by taste, just whether I like them or not).
Maybe you could try adding a little more ethanol to one of the two glasses.
I enjoy a wide range of alcoholic beverages, especially beer, wine, rye whisky and spiced rum. When it comes to wine, my preference is red, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec from Chile and Argentina. I like to drink red wine when I'm eating steak. They are perfect complements; I would not want to drink a milkshake with a steak, or a coffee, or a can of Coke. Often, when I have steak, I only drink a glass or two of wine, not enough to produce a significant alcoholic effect. Why drink, then? Well, as I said, wine is a perfect complement to the meal. It isn't sweet, and it can be bitter, but then steak isn't a donut, either. They both have complex flavours that light up my pleasure centres in different ways. The smell, taste, and texture all contribute to what I call "enjoyment". I can even take pleasure in the flavours that some people consider unpleasant. I like my steak bloody, while others won't touch meat that isn't charred. The thing is, lots of people like things that other people consider negative. BDSM springs to mind; some people can't get pleasure unless they're being whipped, while others would actually consider it torture. Those others might say, "You don't actually enjoy being whipped, you just enjoy the endorphin release and elevated serotonin it causes." Well... isn't that the same thing? I get more pleasure than simply the effect of alcohol from drinking wine, even if there are aspects to wine which may be considered unpleasant. Do I enjoy wine or just the effects of wine? I don't see that as any different from asking whether I enjoy candy or the effects of candy, or ice cream or the effects of ice cream.
"Near-beer" is a immensely successful product. Under your theory, it would not be.
Sales of near-beer are not immense compared to regular beer, so it doesn't pose much trouble for my theory. And certainly the theory allows for cases of people partaking in the form of alcohol consumption without the substance, once society (or their own past history) has given them a positive affect toward beer. For example, if someone likes hanging out in bars but wants to quit drinking, bars oblige such people with drinks that resemble alcoholic drinks as much as possible without them being alcoholic. Likewise, if you've associated the gross taste of beer with previous good experiences, but didn't want to get drunk, you might still want to drink alcohol, even despite the taste. The point is that it's not the taste, but something else, that is making people drink alcohol.
You claim that "experts" have been proven not to know the difference between expensive wine and non... but I sure can tell the difference between "wine I like" and "wine I would rather pour down the sink", and that distinction is all that matters when it comes to me choosing wine to drink (or not). I also second InfinitelyThirsting - if it could come without the buzz (or even just at minimal buzz) I'd prefer it. The buzz (and I would not characterise it as euphoria for me) isn't the part that's fun for me. Also - yay mead (I make mead) :)
2David_Gerard - the loved one's mead blog, which I wrote the last two posts on.
Looks cool. My main post for mead is this one: which covers only basic mead-making... but fairly in-depth. I've been expanding the FAQs
First of all, I like to get drugged by alcohol, and feel no need to deny this fact. That said, hard hot chocolate is tasty. Raspberry juice with creme de cacao is excellent. Champagne's an acquired taste, but I'm fond of it -- I rather suspect this could just be my brain coming to associate the pleasurable effects of the drug with the taste of champagne though.
Pleasure is pleasure, whether it comes from a taste you naturally enjoy or from your brain associating alcohol intoxication with Champagne drinking. I think much of my taste for wine (preferably red and "dry") also comes from the knowledge that I'm putting some alcohol into my system, but it tastes decent and it's a pleasant experience for me, so what of it?
I think you are not aware of research in acquired taste. It turns out that the effect of particular foods and drinks on psychological states create some deep subconscious associations. Take this as a clear and striking example: "A study that investigated the effect of adding caffeine and theobromine (active compounds in chocolate) vs. a placebo to identically-flavored drinks that participants tasted several times, yielded the development of a strong preference for the drink with the compounds.[3]" I think that's why I do enjoy beer now, even though I thought exactly as you did several years ago. I thought it was a huge collective rationalization. Which I still think is a big part of it, specially among teenagers and young adults who like to boast about being strong drinkers and how oh-dear they love alcohol so very much. But grown up people do drink, say, one beer alone and seem to enjoy it quite a bit. But without the pleasant relaxation that usually follows, though, the taste would not be agreeable. So we see a deep neurological change in the way we process taste.
As a young man raised on gourmet foods and interesting tastes, as well as reasonably sound in my general understanding of human evo-biology let's make two things clear: * Pleasant Taste is within reasonable limits an exact science. * Everything else is mood and "acquired taste," I.E. pleasure center training. Barring that, I like whisky. It has an interesting taste composition and the immediate kick and feel of the alcohol content is likewise momentarily envograting. That I afterwards get pleasantly intoxicated is merely a nice bonus.
But everyone has had some kind of pleasure centre training, so how do you tell the two things apart? Two friends of mine who were raised as vegetarians once decided to try meat (when they were in their teens), and didn't like it.
This feels like a wrong question. Is there even such a thing as "natural good taste?" or are there only the pleasure center configuration that newborns start out with? I can attest to knowing several people who don't like sweet candy or sweet things in general, even though that should be one of the "natural" preferences, and I don't think one would have to look that much for someone who wouldn't eat pure blubber, even though that is also one of these evolutinary encoded thingies.
So what did you mean by “Pleasant Taste is within reasonable limits an exact science”?
That statement comes from my experience in cooking. The interesting thing in gastronomy is that the spices don't really matter as long as you don't use too many of them. In my own vocabulary I like to distinguish the concepts "taste" and "aroma" as pertaining to "tastebuds" and "olfactory bulb" respectively. Indeed when people say "this tastes like garlic" they mean "this smells like garlic." This is also why unpleasant tasting things taste less unpleasant when you block your nasal passages by some means. There are five different types of taste buds: * One kind reacts to alcohol groups on small organic molecules, i.e. fructose, glucose, aspartame, sorbitol ans so on, "sweet taste." * One kind reacts to hydronium ions (or rather contains a direct protone channel,) "sour taste." * One kind reacts to sodium Ions, "salt taste." * One kind reacts to many amino acids, "savory taste." * One kind reacts to a variety of manily toxic and some non-toxic compounds, "bitter taste." The interesting thing is this: If two or more of the above are balanced, the overall sensory stimulous is percieved as "pleasant." This is why soda has acid as well as sugar content, this is why kitchen salt is almost universally used (especially many kinds of meat which usually only needs salt), this is why coffee goes well with sugar and milk (milk neutralizes some of the otherwise high acid content). Once your dish has the five basic tastes in balance you can literally add any aromas to it and it will still taste "pleasant."
A few things: 1. The working of taste buds varies from person to person, too: IIRC there's a substance which tastes extremely sweet to some people but nearly flavourless to others. 2. There are other sensations in the mouth than the five basic tastes, e.g. the hotness of ethanol and capsaicin and the coldness of mint. 3. What “balanced” means depends on what you're used to, to some extent: if I get used to put lots of salt on everything, when I don't anything tastes insipid, and conversely if I get used to use very little salt, the reverse happens. (Hell, even if I get used to drinking high-mineral bottled water then low-mineral tap water will taste bitter to me, and conversely now that I usually drink tap water, some bottled water tastes salty to me.)
In as far as I have ever heard that is only the case with bitter taste which is a far more compound tastebud. I would like to see any studies on a supertaster in terms of sweetness. These are triggerings of of the cold, heat and pain receptors which are completely different from taste receptors. If you want to argue that you have to argue consistency and texture of the foodstufss as well. I am presenting a simplified view, akin to if you just sprayed flavoured liquid onto the tongue and measured neural activity in the olfactory bulb and taste buds. If you aren't used to eating capsaicin the heat and pain sensations completely overpower the tastes and aromas, if you are used to it, we are again reduced to balancing the five basic taste sensation. Yes, but that is returning to neural artifacts of individuals, is it not?
Sure, so long as you acknowledge that neural artifacts of the same individual can change with time.
You apparently replied to one of my retracted posts. I no longer agree with the opinion stated by my past self; though good point.
1. I'm sure that culture/status/history of (especially) wine (but also whisk(e)ys and, increasingly beers) do play a significant role in the enjoyment thereof. This is plainly true if you look at wine bottle closures: even though a screwcap provides superior taste in many cases, a lot of people say they just prefer the ritual of uncorking. 2. Until we develop a drug that blocks the psychoactive effects of ethanol, I think it will be nigh impossible to convince you that wine is superior to milkshakes on taste alone in some cases. (Incidentally, teetotaler Penn Jillette agrees with you 100%: his quote is "wine will never taste as good as a Coke".) 3. That said, I could give you* a white wine and goat cheese pairing that I laugh at the ability of any milkshake to rival in sheer sensual pleasure. *I don't mention it here only because it would take a bit of digging for me to find out what it was; upon request I will, though.
I can't believe no one has asked for this yet. Please?
Isn't a lot of the appeal of Coke due to the caffeine? The fact that it's mostly drunk cold or with ice could suggest that the inherent flavor isn't ideal.
This doesn't explain why people drink beer. To me beer tastes and smells Terrible. I'd rather have hard lemonade, or vodka mixed with almost anything but beer. But up until a couple of years ago I also didn't like coffee. So I think that both beer and coffee are an acquired taste. (um, yeah and coffee isn't a drug at all...) The taste of certain wines reminds me pleasantly of my catholic childhood. But yeah, people like the taste of other things they use to mask and dilute the alcohol, otherwise they'd just take shots of high-proof vodka. Possible counterpoint to that: Any flavoring would be nasty when concentrated. Perhaps water with a small amount of alcohol would have a noticeable pleasant flavor. (but be useless for intoxication)
Indeed. There's a drink called a "White Rain" some friends of mine invented in college: It's pretty good, and tastes mostly like really refreshing water. Note: the measurements above are best guesses, as the original recipe is based on the cups at Conn Hall at SCSU. If it tastes like cough syurp, you did something wrong.
2Gordon Seidoh Worley
Couple of thoughts upon reading this thread. I, too, do not like the taste of alcohol and feel no real desire to seek it out as a tasty food. I'll admit, though, that I also don't like to consume things that reduce cognitive function, so it's possible I don't like the taste as a side effect, but I rather doubt it. Now, I do like champagne, but usually only the stuff that costs $150 a bottle. I say this having found out the prices only after I tried the champagne and liked it: since I like it, I want to know what it is. There are probably also expensive champagnes that don't taste as good, I've just never looked for them, but high price does seem to be a necessary condition for good champagne. To be fair to the post's original request, though, I have to admit that I like these champagnes because they are "smooth": they have no alcohol burn and don't smell or taste like they have alcohol in them, so I might as well have sparkling cider. Finally, note that until the 20th century people drank much larger quantities of alcohol than today because it was needed to make water safer to drink. If you could afford it, adding a little wine or grain alcohol to the water would go a long way towards reducing the chance of infection from water-borne illnesses. So in those times people probably enjoyed the taste because they became accustomed to it early in life, much the way Americans love tomato ketchup and coke although adults from other parts of the world, when introduced to these flavors, often do not.* *I can't find a source for this, but I know I've heard it several places. Maybe it's just a modern myth?
This leads to one inescapable conclusion: for the vast proportion of human history, everyone in the world was completely hammered pretty much all the time. When you think about it in that light, most of history suddenly makes a great deal more sense.
A lot of the beer they drank throughout the day was 'small beer" - made from a second run of water through the mash... it was about as alcoholic as modern-day ginger beer. So - yeah, they did spend a lot of their time more intoxicated than us... but not totally smashed all the time.
I've taken lately to the sort of pub that has 2% mild, so I can sop up extravagant quantities of it without getting plastered.
Small beer goes down quite nicely (even for somebody that doesn't like beer like me). It's kind of like cordial - but without being sickly sweet. I also made "small currant wine"once- which was also nice, but not as good as straight currant wine... but does let you drink a whole lot more of it during a hot day.
I also don't have sources to hand, but I'm informed by my brewing+chemist friends that the amount of alcohol in beer is not sufficient to sterilise the liquid. however the people of ancient times weren't wrong... beer is sterilised (and thus safe to drink) - it's because to make beer, you have to boil the mash. The boiling sterilises it quite effectively.
To me, alcohol has neither taste or smell, but does have a definite tactile experience in the mouth; I like beer; the first glass of wine is ok but after the second it all tastes to me like bad wine; vanilla is *V*A*N*I*L*L*A*, not plain at all; I don't seek out ferociously hot curries. Now cheese, that's gross. Conclusion: people vary. And of course people use alcohol to get high. What they put up with is not the taste, but the hangover the next day. And, er, this.
I like sour and bitter drinks, so I would drink Strongbow (hard apple cider) even if it contained no alcohol. In fact, I'd rather it contained no alcohol (ETA: but tasted the same) -- I would drink more of it at one sitting. (I also like tonic water straight up, beer, and de-alcoholized beer.)
Two questions: 1) Why do you think the taste of Strongbow is so hard to mimic in a non-alcoholic version? Is it a hard problem for chemistry, or something no one wants to try? 2) Would you be able to distinguish alcoholic vs. non-alcoholic versions in a blind test?
1) I don't know if the taste is hard to mimic in a non-alcoholic version. I think the most likely reason no non-alcoholic version is available is because it wouldn't make enough money. 2) It's hard to say, but I'd put my chances at better than 50%. I base this on my strong confidence that I can tell beer and de-alcoholized beer apart.
1) Bingo. People don't see the alcohol as a downside the way they see fat/sugar/carbs as a downside, so there's no multibillion dollar industry trying to find the perfect mimic, because that fundamentally misunderstands people's motivations in drinking alcohol. 2) As per 1), your experience has only been with meager attempts to create the perfect mimic. I'd be interested in hearing the results of you doing a blind test. But just to clarify: as in all cases dealing with large populations, certainly a non-trivial fraction of people really does enjoy the taste, in and of itself, and you could be one of them. It's just that people who genuinely enjoy the taste per se cannot be common enough to generate the observed data.
There's a major confounder here: the hardest, least flavorful drinks are also often the lowest-status (ie: cheap vodka and gin are viewed as poison for inveterate alcoholics). But I'll answer anyway: I enjoy the almost honey-like taste of a really smooth, high-quality Scotch on the rocks. Yes, you have to put the ice cubes in, otherwise you won't water it down enough to release the flavor and you'll just taste alcohol and alcohol fumes. And it has to be good Scotch. Other alcoholic drinks I enjoy: full-bodied, unacidic wines; fruity wines (Gerwurtzterminer and Riesling are favorites... yes I know white wine is low-status for men, shut up jerk); porters, especially coffee-flavored porters, red ales, and even the occasional blond ale. Hot wine, especially hot mulled wine, is really excellent once you learn how to avoid breathing in the fumes and instead taste the flavor released by the heating. Lager is drinkable but mostly just "carbohydrate-flavored" to me, and I consider vodka, arak, and brandy godawful. Oh, and hard ciders are excellent, not only because the well-made ones pack plenty of flavor from the fruit and spices, but because they're sufficiently nonalcoholic that they offend the taste-buds and dull the mind even less than beer. For reference, I also enjoy massively spicy food, to the point that my flatmates often urge me to open the kitchen window after cooking a curry. I figure, if someone likes spicy food, and also likes drinks that burn while getting you a bit intoxicated, that's not actually too incongruous. I do think your thesis holds mostly true for heavy drinking of cheap, flavorless beverages with the purpose of getting drunk, as I myself am completely baffled why some cultures or subcultures have social norms in favor of reaching for drunkenness levels I've never seen anyone actually enjoy. It mostly seems to be an excuse for bad behavior they're too inhibited to engage in without alcohol as an excuse, an effect that shows up when you give th
Convincing people over internet in matters of taste is a lost cause X-D but I think I can unpack some of my alcohol preferences. I'll leave all the psychoactive effects outside of this little exposition. I drink a variety of alcohol -- mostly wine and beer, sometimes hard liquor, rarely cocktails -- and I rather doubt I do it for status signalling reasons since the majority of my drinking happens inside my home. I drink it for the taste. Mostly I drink with food and that's a large part the taste synergy. Let me give specific examples. I prefer high-tannin high-acidity red wines with grilled meat. I find that this pairing works very well (note that my red wine varies but usually costs around $10/bottle, so it's not anything hoity-toity). In the summer I like green vine (vinho verde) from Portugal which is light and very acidic. It is precisely this high acidity that I want from it and it delivers. My taste in beers changes over time. Some time ago I really liked double bocks and Belgian dubbels. Then they started to taste too sickly sweet to me, so I changed to IPAs for a bit. But then they became too hoppy and I went to English and Scottish ales. At the moment I am kinda in-between stages and mostly drink porters. Do note that as far as I can see, all this is driven by taste -- I drink mostly at home and I have no idea what beer might or might not be in fashion at the moment (so no status signaling) and I don't care about alcohol content of the beer. All in all, averaging over different situations, I probably drink 70% for the taste, 25% for the psychoactive effects, and 5% for status (I will decline all offers of Bud Light and such and may roll my eyes at the offer X-D)
How should I do that? Will you fMRI my brain while I'm drinking it? (Also the "that happens to also signal your social status" part doesn't apply to me. I don't like most spirits, I don't think I would be able to tell vodka from a mixture of pure water and ethanol in a blind test, but there are quite a few relatively cheap wines and beers I do like, as well as some expensive wines I hate.)
I'm still disappointed that wine doesn't taste like sparkling cider, a drink that's designed to look like wine but taste good.
This is all just pure speculation on my part, but it seems likely to me that drinking alcoholic beverages conditions us to like the taste after we've learned to associate the taste with the relaxation/intoxication effect. After a long enough learning period, we do come to like the taste, but the underlying reason would be the taste-effect link. In fact, there's a much better example of a similar process, namely smoking cigarettes. I think it's pretty much undeniable that objectively the taste of cigarette smoke is bad. Almost every smoker remembers that the taste of cigarette was awful at the beginning. And certainly all non-smokers who have tasted cigarette can attest to this. Also, those that have quit smoking and started it again, almost always report that smoking tastes bad for a while. But smokers eventually learn to like the taste of cigarette and it's very likely that this is only because our brains learn to associate the taste with the quick and effective rush that the nicotine gives. I would suggest that similar learning process is going on with drinking alcohol. The learning isn't quite as effective as it is with smoking, because the effect isn't so fast, but it's effectively the same mechanism. There's also the hypothesis that something similar is going on with learning to like flavors in food. An idea that is put forward at least by Seth Roberts. We learn to like flavors because of their association with calories they give. (With sugar being the odd exception that tastes good to us without any learning process.) If all this is true --that you learn to like the taste of alcohol because of this type of (unconscious!) associative learning-- I don't know what it implies about SilasBarta's claim. Because in a way, the taste will become good given that you've trained your brains to like it. But for anyone tasting a certain flavor of alcohol for first time, the taste will certainly be dominantly bad. (Unless it's some sort of candy drink, that mostly hides
I would drink white russians if they were non-alcoholic. I almost never have more than one because I don't actually want to feel any of the effects of alcohol, I just want a white russian. I also drink them alone.
I have to agree! For a while, I was also puzzled by the same thing. I thought alcohol tastes gross, so why are so many people into it? That its other effects could be such a big deal I came to realize much later.
I rather enjoy the taste of a Brown Cow, which is Creme de Cacoa in Milk. Then again, I'm sure I'd prefer a proper milkshake. Generally, if I drink an alcoholic beverage its for the side effects.
I tried for a long time to find an alcoholic drink I like in the assumption that I was missing out on something everyone else was privy too. While I did find some drinks I liked, I decided that it was the high sugar or fat content (rum & coke or a white russian) that I liked, and not the alcohol. Since that is the only part I like, it is much cheaper and healthier to achieve the same taste with non-alcoholic drinks and artificial sweeteners.
I have a theory about alcohol consumption; I call people who like (or don't mind) the taste "tongue blind." My theory is that these people have such poor taste receptors that they need an overly strong stimulus to register anything other than bland. Under this theory, I would expect people that like alcohol to also like very spicy food, to put extra salt most things they eat, and to think that vanilla is a synonym for plain.
1. Vanilla is a synonym for "plain" when it's artificial (i.e. the vanillin molecule and nothing else). Actual vanilla is obviously a whole different beast. 2. If people who liked wine had such dead tastes buds or (more realistically) noses, why would they bother to make up such elaborate flavors? (In particular, if it were only about status-signaling, the move from old-style wine description ("insouciant but never trite") to the new style ("cassis, clove and cinnamon with a whiff of tobacco and old leather") seems very strange.) 3. My personal experience in general doesn't jive with your theory, except for one point: people who like alcohol tend to have a high tolerance for bitter things, and therefore also like very dark chocolate (I personally am an exception to this, however). 4. ETA: the software converted my 0-indexed list to a 1-indexing. How sad.
You seem to have stumbled onto the existence of supertasters. As a supertaster myself, I find tonic water extremely bitter, must overly sweeten my coffee and can't stand grapefruit juice or spinach. I delight in the sharp sting of a good beer, though. Conversely, there are "nontasters" who have a greater tolerance for strong tastes.
I'm afraid that doesn't mesh well with my experiences. I would actually suspect the opposite; it seems like people who "don't like wine" are missing the nuances between different wine flavors and so I would have guessed they have a worse sense of taste. For reference, I like some alcohol, do not like lots of salt, and sometimes take violent offense to calling vanilla 'plain'.

Is there anything that you consider proven beyond any possibility of doubt by both empirical evidence and pure logic, and yet saying it triggers automatic stream of rationalizations in other people?

  • Hitler had a number of top-level skills, and we could learn (some) positive lessons from his example(s).

  • Eugenics would improve the human race (genepool).

  • Human "racial" groups may have differing average attributes (like IQ), and these may contribute to the explanation of historical outcomes of those groups.

(Perhaps these aren't exactly topics that Less Wrong readers (in particular) would run away from. I was attempting to answer the question by riffing off Paul Graham's idea of taboos. What is it "not appropriate" to talk about in ordinary society? Politeness might trigger the rationalization response...)

Those are excellent points, particularly the first. Adolf Hitler was one of the most effective rhetoricians in human history - his public speaking skills were simply astounding. Even the people who hated his message were stunned after attending rallies in which Hitler exercised his crowd-manipulation skills.

It struck me that "top-level" is ambiguous. Do you mean high quality or general-purpose? I don't think that it is taboo to say that Hitler was a good orator or that he was good at mass psychology. But people don't admit to desiring to manipulate crowds; I don't think Hitler has to do with that. I've heard it suggested that a lot of people have the skills to be cult leaders, but they just don't want to be. Film makers do study Leni Riefenstahl.
1st one: Nope, don't think anyone here would dispute that, except on the grounds that it's rather nonspecific. 2nd one: Only if it were in the form of encouraging particularly valuable individuals to reproduce more. Removing even the bottom 50% would have fairly negligible effects compared to doubling the top 1%. Several countries already implement programs to encourage the most valuable members to reproduce more (with mixed success). 3rd one: I find it nearly impossible to find any good data on that either way. Pending evidence, it looks like most of the quality of life and education effects can basically be explained by looking at who got the industrial revolution first. Unless very large effect sizes were found, however, the policy implications would be minimal or nonexistent.
First one's just plain true. Second one is probably true. The issue with eugenics isn't that it wouldn't work, it's that it would be unethical to try. Third one seems to fail the evidence test. It's proposing a significant deficit in a measurable quantity that has not been observed to exist (after correcting for socio-economic status).
Related to: Mind-killer.
Surely few would argue with that. The more controversial issue is the claim that such differences are genetic.
From Paul Graham's essay: Maybe there is something I am missing, but I don't understand his last sentence. How do you take two people, and "subtract one from the other" ?
I think it roughly means to subtract the teenage girl's model for how the world works from the streetsmart guy's model for how the world works. You expect to get the subset of experience a sheltered upbringing would shelter people from.
I'll grant you that they're all taboo, but they're not really useful, either. (I mean, some people claim these are true to justify their prejudices, but that's not what we're talking about.) In particular, the statement about Hitler is too vague to suggest what ought to be imitated, and the statement about racial groups focuses on an effect which is almost entirely obscured by historical facts about the distribution of resources. That said, regarding eugenics: have you read any of David Brin's Uplift books?

You are not living as much on the edge as you should optimally.

I estimate that most LW Readers are relatively young (i.e. < 40y old). The repair mechanism of your bodies can deal with a lot more than they currently have to handle. To increase your effectiveness multiple routes exist:

  • move faster, run instead of walk
  • employ polyphasic sleep
  • take more stimulants

This reminded me of Umeshisms: "If you’ve never missed a flight, you’re spending too much time in airports."

Regarding polyphasic sleep: if you're under, say, 18, don't. The effects it has on the body's developmental processes are not known.
I see no reason for someone to take this advice. Polyphasic sleep has been the norm in many cultures and periods of history, and one might be more inclined to advise, "Regarding monophasic sleep: if you're under, say, 18, don't. The effects it has on the body's developmental processes are not known"
I have not heard this before, even on web sites touting it. Reference? A quick Google only turned up sceptical comments, and "segmented sleep", which isn't what I've understood by "polyphasic sleep".
Well I don't have a reference handy, but the page you just linked to identified "segmented sleep" as a synonym for "polyphasic sleep". It seems to be along the lines I was thinking.
What I understood by polyphasic sleep is the practice of "ultra-short napping to achieve more time awake each day", the point being to get more productive hours per day. There's no suggestion that segmented sleep involves sleeping fewer hours than normal, but it might increase the quality of the waking hours. From La Wik on segmented sleep: "Peasant couples were often too tired after a long day's work to do much more than eat and go to sleep". I sometimes have days like that, whereupon I'm likely to wake once or more through the night. Maybe I should get up and meditate or something, instead of turning over and falling asleep again.
Well, yes; biphasic sleep (noon siesta) is the natural sleeping pattern beyond infanthood. For extreme schedules like Uberman's, though, there have been lots of reports on odd cravings and the like — such as grape juice — that, e.g. contain elements the body would normally generate itself during sleep. (Are you really saying that we don't know the effects of monophasic sleep?)
Yes, we really don't know the effects of monophasic sleep compared to polyphasic sleep.
I don't understand how that makes sense in context of your original comment.
I only made one comment; saying "yes" probably suggested more coherence with Thom Blake than there really was. My complaint is naturalistic fallacy.
Erm, yeah, what Douglas_Knight said.
physically maybe but with all the distractions dramas and bad language on the internets im overloaded to the point of periodic anxiety and depression

You're wrong about the religious issue. As I've stated many times, including in that discussion, the problem is that there are two meanings of "believe" and people unhelpfully equivocate between them. Here they are:

1) "I believe X" = "My internal predictive model of reality includes X."

2) "I believe X" = "I affiliate with people who profess, 'I believe X' " (no, it's not as circular as it looks)

Put simply, most people DO NOT believe(1) in the absurd claims of religions, they just believe(2) them. Or at least, they act very suspiciously like they believe(2) rather than believe(1). If they believed(1), they would spend every waking moment exactly as their religion instructs.

1) "I'm a rationalist" = "I honestly apply the art of rationality every waking moment"

2) "I'm a rationalist" = "I make comments on Less Wrong and think Eliezer Yudkowsky is pretty cool"

I'd be a pretty sucky rationalist if I didn't get an itchy feeling when I hear a false dichotomy. Therefore, let's try some other options:

3) "I'm a rationalist" = "I earnestly try to be more rational than I would otherwise be."

4) "I'm a rationalist" = "I think that syllogisms are pretty neat, and I'm really good at proving that Socrates is mortal. ;-)"

Dude's dead. QED.

No, dude, the correct answer is "because he is a man!"
As a transhumanist, that does not follow.
I'm pretty sure I'm a rationalist(4). I am really good at that.
I'm a rationalist(2). I'm just here because it's fun. ;)
You win rationality(1) points for being honest with yourself :).
3) I put a lot of effort into number-crunching optimal ways of realising my values, and very little into worrying wether they are the right ones.

If they believed(1), they would spend every waking moment exactly as their religion instructs.

That's too strong a claim and doesn't factor akrasia in; you might as well say that you don't really believe in the seriousness of existential risks if you don't spend every waking moment working against them.

You can, however, make distinctions between people who will make decisions that they know would be extremely suboptimal if their professed belief was false, and people who only do just enough to signal their belief.

It's going to be a continuum from belief(1) to belief(2), not a binary attribute; but it's still a very important concept and not yet one that the English language groks.

Okay, fair point. My claim was too strong and I accept your modification. Still, existential risks still permit me finite remaining life, which still keeps its utility very very far from that of eternal torture espoused by some religions.
having achieved [at least a semblance of] fluency only in English thus far, I am at this moment very curious as to any assessment of what language(s) do(es) grok such a concept?
Dunno, but note that whereas "I believe X" can mean either, "I think that X" seldom means 2.
A related phenomenon - one which often motivates belief(2) - is belief in belief.
(4) I behave like Sheldon Lee Cooper, sharing all his tastes and values.

It's very likely that your parents were abusive while you were growing up.

Also, there is no scientific method.

Does circumcision count?
Yes, as a vestige from instrusive and early infanticidal childrearing modes.
Do you have evidence on that?
Day-um, that was sharp! With regards to child abuse: would a comparison to hazing be appropriate at this juncture? Were the hypothesis correct, it would have a certain surface similarity.
I'm not sure I understand what kind of comparison you're suggesting. I've heard numerous attempts to rationalize child abuse by analogy to hazing, I've even heard arguments by abusers to the effect that children are "weak" today because kids don't undergo the same "hazing" that their parents put them through. "It's nothing my parents didn't do to me," etc... Or were you getting at something else?
...hmm, I see a cultural divide, here. I disapprove of hazing, and consider it to be perpetuated because the victims feel like they've earned the right to revenge - even though said revenge is enacted on the wrong parties (the next incoming group, rather than the previous group that abused them). Therefore - ironically, as it happens - I made the analogy to hazing to indicate a possible pattern in the rationalizations.
In my high school, one of my classmates offered pretty much this exact justification for hazing freshmen.
Yes, I was abused, but it was mental/developmental and unintentional; namely my parents utterly destroyed my self-motivation. I am fairly certain I can point at the scientific method and go "yes, it's right there." What exactly do you mean?
If you're willing to explain what went wrong, I'm interested in what went wrong. I've come to believe that a lot of went wrong in my case wasn't so much the moderate level of emotional abuse as the lack of positive relationship.
I have always been reasonably intelligent (my current IQ (not from internet tests) hovers somewhere around mensa levels) and I have always been incredibly curious. These two traits has led me to always figgure out on my own, all the things I was supposed to learn in shcool in advance; I have always been at least a year ahead in mathematics and natural sciences, and I still am. This does of course pose a slight problem when I have not been the same way in many, many other areas, and the kicker is that my parents never ever have heard of motivational psychology. This has, as of my current analysis, led me to in my childhood and early teens believe that I was a lazy no good slob who was somehow broken in the "free will" department. Not that these beliefs ever were overt, it seems that it makes a lot of sense in hindsight as I have always been prone to dips in my self esteem. It is only in the recent few months of discovering LW that I have found out: "Hey, I'm not broken, just ignorant." And fortunately ignorance has a cure. If my parents had raised me to have a work ethic instead of not having one, I would probably have been in substantially better standing by now. I am a so far a nigh genius who can only barely coerce himself to work with anything not immediately interesting. A waste? probably. Are there still hope for me? definitely. Much of it is mitigated by the fact that I am 19 years old and my parents truly are loving and caring, but none the less they raised me suboptimally.
Also, if your parents thought that your being intelligent was extremely important, you may have concluded that you'd only get praise for what you could do easily.
That is a very good hypothesis.
I don't have a source handy, but it's kind of a cliche in current popular psychology, followed by a recommendation to only praise children for effort, not talent. It seems to me that praising for talent and praising for effort both are risks for Goodhart's law (any measure which is used to guide policy will become corrupt).
I am nowhere near introspective enough, nor do I know enough psychology. The only thing I know is that it is fixable.
Does your support for the first hinge on a strict definition of abuse, some generous interpretation of "very likely", or something else?
What I mean, roughly, is that if you raised in Western or Eastern Europe, any of the Americas, the Middle East, Asia or Africa, then you probably grew up under some abusive mode of childrearing (childrearing is much more advanced in the Nordic countries). The socializing mode is the most popular these days, although intrusive parenting can also be fairly common too depending on the region. Try The History of Child Abuse if you're interested. Read up on the basic archetypal childrearing modes (infanticidal, abandoning, ambivalent, intrusive, socializing, and helping) for a better idea of what I mean by abuse. You can find information about them in the above link, and even the wikipedia article isn't too bad.
I'd been operating under the assumption that when you phrased the original claim in the second person, you meant to make a statement about the readers of Less Wrong, who are not from the Middle Ages and most of whom are from developed Western countries, as opposed to the crosscultural, broadly historical swath of parenting strategies mentioned in your link. Even if I go by that (profoundly, deeply disturbing, gee thanks) article, the background common to most visitors to this site marks most of us as recipients of a "socializing" parenting style, and it's not obvious to me that that includes unambiguous abuse by the parents, although apparently it's supposed to involve turning a blind eye to abuse elsewhere by authority figures and peers. It causes me to raise an eyebrow that all of the bibliographical citations are outsourced, so to speak, to four publications all by the same person. It makes it just a little too difficult for me to track down his primary sources (referenced in "over 600" footnotes.) Edit: I see in another branch of the thread that you count circumcision, in which case unless I outright challenge your inclusion (I'm disinclined to do so) I haven't a leg to stand on: it's very common indeed, and most of the people here are male.
What would you consider the minimum threshold for 'unambiguous abuse'?
Deliberately or negligently injurious corporal punishment (e.g. anything that you can still see evidence of five minutes later that was intended to be that hard, or, after several occasions of "unintentionally" being that hard, is continued with no extra safeguards), sexual contact, protracted neglect (of physical needs like food, cultural needs like clothing, safety in the environment like not harboring a dangerous pet or leaving exposed electrical wires around, education [home or non], or of opportunities for social interaction), regular emotional/verbal abuse (I say "regular" because I wouldn't want to call parents abusive for merely being human and occasionally stooping to yelling or insults), or any combination of the above. I may have forgotten something.
I think only the last item (regular emotional abuse) should really count. But to some extent even that, and certainly everything else (battery of the child, molestation/rape, and neglecting to feed/protect/raise the child) goes way beyond the minimum threshold for abuse and into the territory of strictly evil and even savage parenting. Corporal punishment is legal in all states. It's illegal to hit an adult, but it's legal to strike a child. Spanking, in particular is prevalent and has been linked to anxiety, depression, and other psychiatric disorders. And, basically, inducing that in a child is evil and abusive. The prevalence of spanking has been absurdly high throughout the 20th century - it obviously varies by region, but in the U.S. it was as high as 80-90% at times. So the prevalence of spanking was certainly above 50% throughout the 20th century. And that's just spanking - it's fairly easy to find the other saddening statistics concerning the other forms of corporal punishment and physical abuse and their prevalence. Same goes for the disturbing frequency of sexual abuse. As for emotional abuse, if your parents were socializing it's likely that you received it. The socializing parent will often withhold love and support for their child if he or she does not conform to their wants/wishes. The love is conditional upon their children reaching prescribed goals (e.g. grades, college, homosexuality, performance in sports, etc.) and that counts as abuse in my book because it diminishes free will, integrity and self esteem. Most children are abused. And you don't have to think or know that you've been abused to actually have been abused, so just because most people who suffer this kind of abuse won't come out and admit it doesn't mean it wasn't really abuse.
Spanking is typically not injurious by the definition I gave. Non-injurious corporal punishment doesn't exactly make me want to award the offending parent stickers and Snickers, but I don't think it's "unambiguous abuse", which is what you asked me to define. I'm willing to believe that unambiguous child abuse is sickeningly common - it would not be the first time I've been gravely disappointed in my species - but it's not down to you to define child abuse into the majority. "Withholding love and support" contingent on the failure to achieve certain desiderata isn't stellar parenting either, but just what are you expecting here? I think I'll be a great mother and I'm sure that there are things my kids could get up to that would grievously injure our relationship. Which things it's okay to react badly to and which things must be taken as neutral and effect-free with respect to the parent-child interactions is a very gray area... it's hard to label much in that department "unambiguous abuse".
You're right, it's very hard to raise a child completely abuse free. I'm not calling all parents evil (or didn't intend to anyway). What I'm saying is that we should recognize these practices as abusive maltreatment of children. A crucial part of that is coming to terms with the fact that they were abusive when they were done to you too. Inevitably an argument over something like this will come to "my parents spanked me" or "my father hit me, and..." It's already happened in this thread. These people can't accept the fact that when their parents hit them, it was abuse (talk about absolute denial macro). The point is to turn it off. It's not a contradiction to love your parents while also acknowledging the bad things they did, even calling it abuse. If they wielded their power as caregivers in anything less than a helpful way, then it was basically an instance of abusive parenting. That doesn't imply that in every case they were horrible people or that you can't love them. It just means you acknowledge it as an abusive practice, harmful to the development of the child. Studies show a linear correlation between the frequency with which a child is spanked and the occurrence of several psychiatric disorders. Also, one in three parents who begin with legal corporal punishment (e.g. spanking) end up crossing the line into criminal abuse (e.g. battery). The evidence shows that spanking is injurious. You can't just redefine the word.

we should recognize these practices as abusive maltreatment of children.

I think one obstacle to having this conversation is that, as a society, we think that intervention is called for when a child is being abused. People are modus-tollensing away your declarations of abuse because they don't think the things you mention warrant bringing in Child Protective Services: if it's abuse, then it warrants calling CPS. It doesn't warrant calling CPS, therefore it is not abuse.

By your definitions, I think it would be next to impossible to find someone who was never once abused as a child. That means we have no information about any given sort of abuse relative to an absence of abuse altogether. We can only compare the results of abuse A with abuse B, or more of A with less of A, or A with both A and B, or whatever. There's no control group. That casts a shadow of a doubt over many of your claims.

I'm curious about how far your absolute intolerance of hitting kids goes. I was hit exactly once by each parent as I grew up. I don't remember the exact circumstances under which my mother struck me, but I know why my father did it: I was attacking my little sister over some childish upset. There was no way to get me off of her without causing me some pain; he smacked me and I was startled enough to stop. Would you consider that an act of abuse? Wouldn't letting me attack my sister be an act of abuse towards her?

I think this is correct. I personally find the current social model under which children are the chattel-slaves (i.e. the property) of their parents unless and until such time as the parents do something truly egregious*, or until the child turns 18, to be rather revolting. *That should really read "do something truly egregious, or try to extract economic value".
Nice. Tying the usage of words to inferences seems to be a generally useful strategy for moving semantic discussions forward.
No. Yes. It is also a very common form of abuse. Does that include spanking? Note that it is usually applied to toddlers and you might not remember.
I'm pretty sure I was never actually spanked by my parents, although my grandfather tried once before I escaped.
What she said.
Correlation is not causation. Have you read Judith Harris?
I am sceptical of some of the points in the linked text as well. The author mentions that there are cultures in which parents masturbate their children, but that isn't obviously harmful. Yes, an example was cited where the masturbation in question was done in a harmful and painful way, but that isn't to say that it must always be so. Young children have been documented to occasionaly masturbate even on their own, so why is it that adults helping is immeaditly abuse? And citing as an example of "abuse" is getting us into the ludicrous territory. Embracing your child is abuse! The author also makes pretty big leaps of correlation and causation: Of course, there are also plenty of valid points about real sexual abuse that does take place, or has historically taken place.
As you may have anticipated, I am... unimpressed, shall we say, by Lloyd deMause's writing; among other things, I simply don't believe some of his numbers. However, I will agree that, by his standards, I probably have endured at least some "child abuse". When, as a child, I would hit my father, he would "hit" back, and when I hit my mother, she would tried to immobilize me until I calmed down (which could take a long time, because being immobilized made me angry). I ended up hitting my father a lot less than I hit my mother. Incidentally, at the time, perhaps from watching too many cartoons, I believed that if I learned martial arts, I would be able to physically overpower my parents or teachers in a fight, so they couldn't drag me off to school or whatever.
Why are you putting child abuse in quotations? And hit? And how could I have anticipated your arrival in this thread, let alone your disapproval of my references?

When you take terms with vile connotations, like rape, murder, child abuse, and racism, and expand them beyond their conventional definition, people use scare quotes around them because they want to make it perfectly clear that they are unwilling to give your use of the term the really, really bad connotations that their use of the term carries. I'm willing to bet that's basically what's happening here: what you call "child abuse" is not actually bad enough in his mind to merit being called "child abuse."

Well, this is a thread on things people are not supposed to believe, isn't it? Also, for why child abuse is in scare quotes, see this.
I still don't understand, but alright... I'm thinking either you're somewhat deranged, or that I've been the victim of a gag of some sort.
Sorry. Anyway, "child abuse" is in quotes because I don't think "honest, justifiable actions that nevertheless cause harm" should count as abuse. To quote from what I linked to: ... Anyway, I don't think that the infrequent corporal punishment my father inflicted on me was, in the long run, particularly harmful (apart from the moments of pain I endured). It was also effective. I won't defend my overall upbringing as "not harmful", though; the special education school I ended up attending for many years was an awful place, and I learned very little there. The fault lies more with the school system than with my parents, though.
Well 62 years of research show that corporal punishment doesn't work and that your father was an evil man. But because we have people who personally believe that it worked on them, the physical abuse of children is still legal in all 50 states of this modern nation. If I may ask, what exactly do you think that it was "effective" at doing? Yeah because, hey, you love your parents.
It was effective at getting me to stop hitting my father. (I hit him far less than I hit anyone else.) I'm not claiming anything more than that. To quote one of your links: Seriously, though, if a 7-year-old attacks you in a furious rage, punching, kicking, and screaming, and continues to keep it up for hours at a time, what do you do? I don't know if I actually do love them, but I do respect them. Or, at least, I respect them now that I've grown up. I'm not saying they're blameless (good luck finding a single blameless individual anywhere over the age of one year) but, well, whatever you've heard about soul-destroying schooling, I had to live it. After not fitting in during elementary school (I threw a crayon at the principal once) I eventually wound up in special education. There were basically two kinds of children in the special education school I went to from third to seventh grade: those that were retards, and those that were evil. Guess which group I ended up hanging out with? My best friend was basically a young Hannibal Lecter. Once, we tried to kill our teacher with what we thought was a bomb. To be frank, the only shot I would have had at a decent educational experience would have been if my mother decided to homeschool me. This was way before homeschooling became acceptable, and as the school system seemed bound and determined to find a way to blame my parents for the way I acted (which you can probably blame on my being born with a non-standard brain) to the point where it was like they ought to be bringing a lawyer with them to every meeting with school officials, they really didn't want to do anything weird. Additionally, you might want to look into this.
This author makes me wish I had some way of making it clear my name was derived from Asimov and not something that seems so psuedo-scientific.
Yes. Frankly I think our standards for what constitutes child abuse are, in some areas at least, far too narrow.
These are excellent examples. I don't see why they're being voted down. The second, however, is much better than the first.
I'm blaming it having successfully triggered the "absolute denial macro" in at least a few people :D. Why's that?
Clarity. The first depends on the interpretation of "abuse", and as such I think it's very likely that many people will agree with it to some degree. The second is much more precise; although I think it is demonstrably untrue, I expect it will draw much reflexive denial.
I'm having trouble reconciling those two statements. I'm even having trouble trying to express just why they seem... inconsistent, or inharmonious? Could you elaborate a bit?
I think he means that it can be reliably argued (demonstrated) to not be true, but many denials will be by people who cannot adequately argue the point, it will just be reflexive for them.

I can't think of any particular issues that I'm convinced I know the truth of, yet most people will reflexively deny that truth completely.

I can, however, think of issues that I think are uncertain, but that the uncertainty of said issue is denied reflexively and completely. I suppose they would be meta-issues rather than issues themselves - it's a subtle point I'm not interested in pursuing.

Probably the most obvious one that comes to my mind is circumcision. I've never seen so many normally-intelligent people make such stupid and clearly incorrect arguments, nor so much uncomfortable humor, nor trying desperately to avoid thinking, for any other issue I've discussed with others, even things like abortion, religion, and politics.

Well, there's always at least one thing you can be sure of, according to Descartes :)
That uncertainty is just a lie by the people who are wrong. :)

If you read this site's definition of Epistemic Rationality, logically in order to achieve it you must pay attention to the reality which your map is intended to resemble. Meanwhile, there is ample research indicating that paying attention to people is a hugely powerful social tool for making friends, which translates to increasing the likelihood of finding, entering into, and maintaining romantic relationships (not to mention that paying attention to your significant others may be of some benefit too).

So perhaps the question isn't what should a rationalist be doing if their social / love life isn't so good, but rather are you really pursuing rationality effectively if you haven't seen some of these improvements as a matter of course?

Your rationality is just fine. You're just ugly. (Now watch yourself go "No I'm not!" "Society's standards are out of whack!" "The opposite gender can't see my true beauty!")
As a matter of fact, I am. I've done enough research on facial structure and body type to recognize subtleties that most people will miss consciously. Although I do have nice skin. But that comes from keeping hydrated and away from major sun damage, which may have something to do with rationality. And, here's the interesting part, I have found major benefits by being rational, in exactly the way I'm describing. On the other hand, if you want to treat other people as solved systems, and stop worrying about them, I suspect you are out of luck.
I'm thinking of someone I work with, who is quite definitely less good looking than just "plain". Aesthetically awful. However, she dresses and does her makeup immaculately, and then projects through personality. And this seems to work for attraction. And a short fat guy who is brilliantly witty and perceptive and dresses well will never be short of a girlfriend. MendelSchmiedekamp's message is one of hope: this stuff is reducible and many have reduced it before, so get learning.
I think I've got a pretty realistic view of my own attractiveness (probably an average rating on the scales of those around me of about a 6.5, but with a lot of variance, thank god).

Shakespeare isn't the greatest writer ever.

Granted, it's likely he may have been innovative back then, and he may have left a trace on society. So what? The guy picked low-hanging fruits.

Furthermore, I find it difficult to believe no one ever did better since then, especially if considering all cultures and writers, in a span of 400 years. Especially since people's taste in literature and stories vary.

Revering Shakespeare seems like a cached thought and an applause light more than anything. It's like saying the Bible is the greatest book ever written. Both could only become so successful because of the appalling lack of any serious competition.

Seconded. I don't think you'll get too much disagreement in this community, interestingly enough. We're all neophiles. But say "modern writers are better than Shakespeare" to most English speakers and you won't even get an absolute denial macro, you'll get something more like , as though you'd claimed that apple > 6.
Well, I'd disagree. When I hear "greatest writer ever," literary merit is certainly a factor, but I also think of things associated with the "greatness" side of the phrase, like impact on culture, fame, and innovation. But I upvoted the post because I think there's a good point about this being such received wisdom.
So, if "greatest" is defined by trace on society... I agree there's the danger of a cached thought here, but I'm curious what experiment would differentiate between someone thinking Shakespeare is the greatest writer because they've been primed to do so and someone thinking that because Shakespeare was the greatest writer they've read.
For an experiment you could actually pull off without raising people in isolation from the rest of society, I'd take advantage of the fact that the average person doesn't actually know most of the works Shakespeare wrote, and separate out a control and experiment group where the control group reads and gives a rating of their perception of the literary quality of several works of short fiction, including some of Shakespeare's lesser known works, properly attributed, and the experiment group reads and rates the same stories with the works improperly attributed, crediting some nobody writer with a plausible renaissance-sounding name with Shakespeare's works.
Arguably, Shakespeare's primary contribution is in his best-known works, not his lesser-known works. Comparing Shakespeare's second-best to Jonson's second-best seems like a poor way to determine which is better- compare The Alchemist against A Midsummer Night's Dream. Similarly, comparing Ibsen and Shakespeare is a tough problem- in some sense, Ibsen is noteworthy only because his style was so different from Shakespeare's. As EE43026F points out, tastes vary- and there's no taste that seems like the natural judge for "greatest." Taking a random sample of humans alive today and having them decide which is better by majority vote seems like a poor judge, as is taking a random sample of theatre affectionados and having them decide by consensus. (I am curious, though, how people in the developing world would respond to, say, Shakespeare plays vs. Ibsen plays vs. Hansberry plays. Does Shakespeare win points for adapting so readily to Japan?)

One groups reaction to Hamlet.


Something like this is going on when we read Platonic dialogues.

In one of my anthropology classes, this was covered, but we didn't get a copy of the whole piece. Thanks.
3Eliezer Yudkowsky
This is awesome.
Huh. I wonder if their judgement of quality was a coincidence? It seems odd that they would judge it a good story, while reinterpreting the plot ... well, not all that comprehensively - not a lot of meaning gets changed... Anyway, it might be interesting to see if their judgement of story-quality is roughly randomized across Western literature, or if they remain parallel even when interpretations differ.
Not saying I would have done better in the moment, but the author's utter refusal to adapt to different lore and cultural expectations really irked me. Just say it was how the omen got interpreted rather than spoken words!
Everything adapts readily to Japan. It's what the culture is built on.
I'm interested. Just how is Japanese culture built on that?

Here is a quick gloss, in broad brush strokes (with a mixed metaphor or two thrown in for good measure). The Japanese have been smoothly appropriating and adopting parts of other cultures since at least the beginning of their recorded history. Their recorded history, of course, began when they adopted Chinese writing.

According to my Grand Theory of Japan, Japan is notable for always seeing itself how it is reflected in the eyes of others (a trait that is visible at all levels of abstraction, from culture to individual). Its name, in its own language, can be interpreted "land to the East" - it was given by the Chinese and happily adopted by the Japanese (in part because it could also be interpreted as "originating from the sun" and that tied in nicely with the Amaterasu (sun goddess) creation myth). Early Japanese people were very concerned with catching up to the level of civilization of China.

When Western powers arrived and started colonizing China, Japan quickly realized it had a new target and started emulating Britain and Germany. Huge changes to the organization of society and social customs swept through Japan with relatively little resistance. First... (read more)

I don't dispute most of this seriously (and am aware I am responding to an old post, so I don't mind if you don't respond) but how does the seclusion period, where they tried to severely limit contact with the west for a few hundred years, fit into your thinking on the subject?

it s there anything that you consider proven beyond any possibility of doubt by both empirical evidence and pure logic, and yet saying it triggers automatic stream of rationalizations in other people?

That making lots of money and becoming socially influential and powerful in the real world has a vast chance of massively increasing the extent of achievement of any goal that people here have - such as making scientific discoveries, saving the world or living forever, or a myriad of other goals that money is just really effective at achieving.

Yet, most people here are not millionaires, and are not actively taking extreme steps to change this because ultimately, they have weak personalities or fall into the "beta male" category of weak, nerdy men who are irrationally frightened of going out into the real world and standing up for themselves, and they don't have the requisite greedy, self-interested personality to motivate themselves to put in the necessary work. One of the main contributors to this is that most people here don't value social status enough and (especially the men) don't value having sex with extremely attractive women that money and status would get them. I... (read more)

they have weak personalities or fall into the "beta male" category of weak, nerdy men who [...] don't have the requisite greedy, self-interested [...] most people here don't value social status enough and (especially the men) don't value having sex with extremely attractive women that money and status would get them. [...] Essentially, too much Linux forums, not enough playboy is screwing you all over.

The utility function is not up for grabs. Why should we care about "success" if the price of "success" is being a greedy, self-interested asshole? You know, maybe some of us care about deep insights and meaningful, genuine relationships, which we value for their own sake. Maybe we don't want to spend our days plotting how to grind the other guy's face into the dust. Maybe we want the other guy to be happy and successful, because life is not a zero-sum game and our happiness does not have to come at the expense of anyone else. Tell us how to optimize for that. Don't tell us that we're nerds; we already knew that!

Rationalists should win, full stop and in full generality. Not "triumph over others in some zero-sum primate pissing contest," win.

ADDENDUM: See my clarification below.

Why should we assume that financial success requires being a greedy, self-interested asshole? Maybe some of us can do these things while still figuring out how to make ourselves sufficiently valuable to society to exchange those skills for significant wealth? Maybe economic wealth isn't a zero-sum game? Now I'm repeating myself. Maybe delivering sufficient value to society that society is willing to reward you richly for your contribution doesn't necessarily come at anyone else's expense? You're assuming wealth is a zero-sum game. Most of the time, its not.
Oh, dear, I'm afraid I haven't expressed myself clearly. I agree with you on all of these points! It is honorable to create goods or services that people want and then to make money selling them. Wealth is not a zero-sum game; I totally, totally agree. To clarify my intentions, I was not objecting to the suggestion that nerdy male LessWrongers should make money; I was objecting to the suggestion that they should relinquish their allegedly "weak" personalities to better seek power and status and sex. Sorry this wasn't clearer in my original comment.
Ok, I disagree. If you had power and status, you could actually change the world. Deciding not to change the world is actually rather evil, considering how much danger it is in, and how many people are dying per day, etc. ZM, I like you, but you are in denial ;-0
I wonder how much of your complaints should really be addressed to Roko (in the parent of Z. M. Davis's comment). Roko's claims: * greed and self-interest are preconditions for the motivation necessary to achieve financial success * another useful motivation is the desire for sex with extremely attractive women, which generates a desire for status * yet another useful motivation is an animosity towards society based on a desire to be seen as right Z. M. Davis's claim: * the attitude promulgated by Roko requires one to look on life as a zero-sum game Incidentally, while wealth acquisition is obviously not a zero-sum game, Robin Hanson has argued that status acquisition is in some sense a zero sum game: you can't have high status without there being someone having lower status than you. ETA: This post was made redundant while I was writing it. Darn it.
* greed and self-interest are preconditions for the motivation necessary to achieve financial success * another useful motivation is the desire for sex with extremely attractive women, which generates a desire for status * yet another useful motivation is an animosity towards society based on a desire to be seen as right Yes, I wholeheartedly endorse this summary of my position. The problem of whether it feels "somehow wrong" to adopt this kind of persona is logically independent from the likely effects it will have on reality.
I'm taking that proverb as "rationalists should win everything at everything everywhere all the time forever" lest I risk redefining success and deluding myself. Real life's lack of predefined win conditions is actually a bad thing.
0Mike Bishop
say more.
What more do you want to hear? "If at first you don't succeed, redefine success." goes the demotivator. The life's lack of preset win conditions allows you to define your current state as a win. That leads to complacency and boredom. Bad, bad, bad! So one should set his win condition as high as possible, so the journey has maximum amount of experience and fun.
Well, these things come in degrees, and the interesting case is when there's something you care about a lot more than just the intrinsic value of your own life, and you can turn yourself into something of which only a part is self-interested and the other part can use the extra success toward that thing that you care about. There are definitely important points in the direction of what Roko is saying. It's just that the more helpful versions would sound less like, hey, have you considered dying and reincarnating as a gorilla?, and more like, hey, here's how you as a human can work to gain some amazing gorilla powers while retaining a sense of smug amusement at the worse parts of gorilla mental life.
Maybe people say they like these things for the same reason they say they like alcohol.

Not buying the analogy. In a big world full of six billion people, all of whom have their own interests and desires, and a universe still larger than this, it's not even clear to me what it means to be high-status or significant. Think of all those precious moments in your life---every book and every insight and every song and every adventure. Is all of this to be considered as dust because someone somewhere in the depths of space and time has had more books, greater adventures?

Small is beautiful, if only because large is incomprehensible.

I feel a gut reaction to upvote your comment because it seems both right and profound, and yet I cannot relate what you're saying to the comment's parent.
The parent seemed to be suggesting that those who say they're living for insight are lying or self-deceiving in the same way that those who say they drink alcohol for the taste are conjectured to be lying or self-deceiving, so I put forth an argument for why it makes sense to live for insight. (I don't know why people drink alcohol.)
Well, one reason people drink alcohol is because it stops the internal dialog and you just do whatever comes to your mind, which sometimes results in arrest and disaster, and sometimes reward you with getting laid. It is remarkable how much more attractive the person of your fascination is when the bottle is empty. ;-)

don't value having sex with extremely attractive women that money and status would get them

I'm absolutely sure that at least some people here had sex with women more attractive than Melinda Gates and Monica Lewinsky.

I thought about this too, but both Bills were womanizers with attractive women as well.
I'm not going to argue about it, but I find it much more likely than not: E(quality and quantity of women you can get | you know just basic PUA techniques) > E(quality and quantity of women you can get | you're in top 1% rich and/or powerful) and definitely beyond any reasonable doubt: E(quality and quantity of women you can get | you know just basic PUA techniques) P(you can learn basic PUA techniques) >>> E(quality and quantity of women you can get | you're in top 1% rich and/or powerful) P(you can get into top 1% rich and/or powerful) It's even more drastic for percentiles narrower than top 1% - so even if you could get laid slightly more if you went that far, but your chances of getting that far are slim. Marginal laid-utility of money and power is very very small.
Here's another piece of data relevant to estimating the expected laid-utility of interventions designed to increase fame, wealth or power relative to the expected laid-utility of other interventions one might design. Actress Dana Delany told an interviewer from People magazine or similar magazine that if you want her to kiss you, owning a jet plane and a condo on Bon Air does not make up for having bad breath because of gum disease. That suggest that making a point of never getting so strapped for cash that you cannot afford to pay a good dental hygenist might increase laid-utility more than starting your own company. Parenthetically I might write a post explaining why according to my mental models, for a male scientist who is bad at getting laid to choose to work on an extinction-risky technology has significantly lower expected utility than for a male scientist good at getting laid to choose to do so where U (the human species goes extinct) = -1 and U (nonextinction) = 0. The effect might apply to female scientists, too, but I am currently almost completely confused about that -- except "confused" might be the wrong word because it might connote that I expect to gather additional evidence for or against the question. The effect stems from what has been called the crime-genius connection and from the cognitive benefits to the man of the love of a woman with strong "ego skills", "ego skills" being the term some psychotherapists use for some practical fragment of rationality.
5Eliezer Yudkowsky
Er... perhaps you would find different responses here from non-actresses not being interviewed in People magazine. Or not. Just sayin', the degree to which someone cares about something may have something to do with the degree to which they are ordinarily deprived of it. If you are not deprived of men owning jet planes, then you may feel free to weight it less than bad breath.
Do we have any serious evidence on how much more sexually successful rich people are? I estimate wealth to have amazingly small effect compared to what most people believe.
Our civilization does indeed have quite solid evidence that rich men have more sex and have sex with a greater variety of women than less-rich men. However, that removes only a small fraction of the support for the proposition that the kind of heterosexual single man reading these words is better off hiring a pickup/seduction trainer or spending heavily on dentists, hairdressers, gym memberships, etc, than seeking to enter the top percentile of wealth or power if his goal is to increase his sexual access to the sorts of women who will most improve his life -- because it is not as if getting a few million dollars is easy. All the dollars in the world are owned by persons, and these persons invariably resisting giving the dollars up. It is significantly easier to identify the women with whom sex will most improve your life and then get them to give the sexual favors up.
Give me this evidence. I want numbers. I suspect the correlation will be ridiculously tiny, perhaps far smaller than with stuff like height etc.
I suspect that while wealth is indeed correlated to sex, the causation runs from status and social skills to wealth and sex, meaning that a male at the 90th percentile of wealth and 10th percentile of status (think well-paid but socially inept geek) will have significantly less than average success with women.
I don't find it hard to believe that such preferences would be common among non-actresses. One way or another, the jet-or-lack-thereof isn't going to be right up in her face during the actual kissing.
I'll be the first to concede that my humble data point would be helpless to resist any real evidence of the sort that social psychologists specialize in obtaining. But even though I have failed to establish anything that cannot be easily knocked down by even one piece of strong evidence, I have undermined the "Roko hypothesis" entailed in Roko's comment that interventions to improve a man's weath or power have high expected laid-utililty -- since after all there is also no real evidence for the "Roko hypothesis". Or so it seems to me. Also, and this is evidence that has professional social scientific experimental expertise or expertise in opinion surveys or such behind it, high status women are even less likely to form certain kinds of sexual bonds (marriage?) with a man of lower status than the woman has than middle-class or lower-class women are likely to -- a result born out by my personal experience as a man of bottom-quartile financial security and bottom-quality social status according to the the metrics used by some of the women who have been willing to discuss with me the idea or possibility of their having sex with me (I refer here to the ones that do not swoon over my intelligence, good looks, tallness and mastery of science) and robust across at least American, East-Indian/Hindu and IIRC British women. In other words, you would think that an American or East-Indian woman who already has more financial security than most kings and emperors throughout history have had would care less about the financial security of her long-term mate than the average woman would, but peer-reviewed psychological or opinion research finds that they care more. In other words, owning a Lear jet is more helpful to convince Dana Delany to enter into certain kinds of sexual bonds with you than it is helpful to convince the hairdresser at the corner mall or the average co-ed at a prestigious university to enter into that kind of sexual bond. (The reason for the need for me to use
You seem to accept that women prefer men who have more money than them. Therefore, a man with a lot of money has more potential mates. Isn't that just the "Roko hypothesis"?
Well, yeah, but if you do not already have a lot of money, I claim that if you are very bright, there are probably ways of making yourself more attractive to women that are quicker, more reliable and easier than getting a lot of money. What are those ways? I list some here.
Have you written such a post?
I just read something by someone who'd seen Lewinsky in person-- he said she had spectacular skin and a very sexy attitude. It's plausible that neither would necessarily come through in photographs.
It's not impossible, but if that person has met Lewinsky after Clinton thing became known that's way more easily explained by halo effect.
There's really no chance that people are going to stop discussing "attractive women" (specifically, the sexual favors of attractive women) as objects that can and should be be attained under the right circumstances, is there? :(

Barring full-scale banhammer wielding... probably not, I'm afraid.

Do please try to understand that for many men, lack of sex is sort of like missing your heroin dosage - at least that's the metaphor Spider Robinson used. Anyone in this condition is probably going to go on about it, and if you're not starving at the moment you should try to have a little sympathy.

(EDIT: Of course, blathering about "attractive women" on a rationalist website and thereby driving rationalist women away from your own hangouts, and ignoring the fact that what you do is ticking off particular women, is extremely counterproductive behavior in this circumstance; but that's probably meta-level thinking that's beyond most people missing a heroin dosage. Men missing sex seem remarkably insensitive to what actually drives away women, just as women missing men are remarkably insensitive to such considerations as "Where does demand exceed supply?")

Do please try to understand that for many men, lack of sex is sort of like missing your heroin dosage - at least that's the metaphor Spider Robinson used. Anyone in this condition is probably going to go on about it, and if you're not starving at the moment you should try to have a little sympathy.

Of course it is well known that men on average have a higher sex drive than women on average, but I think the analogy to drug addiction or starving is ridiculous hyperbole. For just one thing, starving people and heroin addicts do not have the option of simply learning to masturbate.

Masturbation is not sex. If the only good thing about sex is having an orgasm, you're doing it wrong!

(That's not to say the analogy to heroin addiction is a reasonable one.)

No, but it should be similar enough to break the analogy to starvation or heroin deprivation.

Well, that seems right, but allow me to clarify.

To use the food analogy, masturbation is like subsisting on flavorless but nutritionally adequate food, the proverbial "bread and water." Sex with someone who finds you desirable is more like that rich, delicious dessert that advertisers hope you've been fantasizing about recently. (Note the with someone who finds you desirable. It's important.)

If we have to use the drug metaphor, masturbation is more like giving a heroin addict all the methadone he wants.

I'm just questioning the idea that masturbation is to sex-starved people as food is to actually starving people. (Course, that's not exactly what you said either.)
To someone who deeply disdains human society, it probably is equivalent. Suppose that it were possible to soothe your hunger by just rubbing your stomach - how many people would do it and forgo food completely?
Actually, if I didn't have to eat, I probably wouldn't.
7Mike Bishop
Pornography may reduce rape though I haven't investigated the methodology too thoroughly. If true, it is certainly another sign that lack of sexual satisfaction is a big problem. The heroin metaphor certainly entails exaggeration, but I'm undecided as to whether that makes it inappropriate. Do you have a proposed substitute?

May I make a suggestion:

In many contexts like this, we need to replace "sex" with "intimacy." Or simply "attention."

It's not very masculine to admit it, but we men want love, too, or to at least to feel like we're desired by somebody. From what I've read, a prostitute is someone who a man pays to pretend to desire him while he masturbates using her body, and a lot of men aren't interested in that sort of thing.


It's not very masculine to admit it, but we men want love, too, or to at least to feel like we're desired by somebody. From what I've read, a prostitute is someone who a man pays to pretend to desire him while he masturbates using her body, and a lot of men aren't interested in that sort of thing.

Actually, it's something of a cliche that the more a sex worker is paid, the less important sex is the interaction, such that it becomes a smaller portion of the time spent, or perhaps doesn't occur at all.

(Where my information comes from: my wife runs a "sex shop" (selling products, not people!), and I was once approached by one of her customers to do a website for a prostitute review service, and I looked over some of the review materials, as well as some existing review sites to understand the industry and its competition before I declined the job. A significant portion of what gets reviewed on these "hobbyist" sites (as they're called) relate to a prositute's personality and demeanor, not her physique or sexual proficiency per se. Certainly, this only correlates with what guys who post prostitute reviews on the internet want, but it's an interesting correlation, nonetheless.)

I've heard that, too. As I said earlier, as far as I can tell, men tend to want girlfriends more than they want sex toys that have a woman's body, and some women are better actors than others. If I were to hire an escort, I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between someone who was genuinely interested in me and someone who was acting, and I don't want to pay someone to deceive me.

Incidentally, there's a disturbing similarity between hiring an escort and hiring a therapist - you're paying someone to act like they're interested in you, even if they're not.

Now you sound like one of these scientists suggesting that the scientific community should pretend that religion and science are compatible, even though they believe that that statement is false, purely because doing so will upset the deluded ones. Rationality and negation(pickup works to a significant degree) are about as incompatible as religion and science. We would expect based upon our understanding of evolutionary psychology, specifically about reproduction strategies for male and female animals that something like this would happen. AND on top of that we have the empirical evidence that companies are making money by selling pickup skills to males at $2000 for a weekend seminar. I think that on LW, we should call a spade a spade, even if it upsets womens' cherished beliefs about themselves. I am personally glad that you wrote a long post shattering my cherished false beliefs about myself a while ago, even if it did upset me at the time and involved objectifying me.
I do not think that word means what you think it means.
Saying you could have expressed a proposition better isn't disagreeing with the proposition.
Right. Specifics on "could have expressed a proposition better" would be of high utility/
There's a few important differences (for instance, heroin is not a person that can read this site and be made to feel unwelcome), but I'm sure you know that. Why would you assume that? Is there some reason it seems more likely to you that I'm having regular sex and therefore am completely without the ability to sympathize, than that I just don't objectify people even if I haven't had a fix of person lately?
8Eliezer Yudkowsky
Would that matter if you were missing a heroin dosage? Would you be able to pause that long to think about it, even if the actual consequence of your actions were to drive the heroin dosages away? To be blunt about this, human beings with XX chromosomes who experience equal or greater emotional pain for a given level of sex deprivation as the average human being with an XY chromosome are rare. Not nonexistent, but rare. A man experiencing or remembering the pain of sex deprivation is justified in assuming that the prior probabilities are strongly against a randomly selected woman being able to directly empathize with that pain.
How in the world would this be possible to know, unless you're using some kind of behaviorist account of pain?

I'd suggest reading the Hite Reports on Male / Female Sexuality, say. The number one complaint of married men, by far, is about insufficient frequency of sex.

Similarly: If the expression "After three days without sex, life becomes meaningless" doesn't seem to square with your experience...


Similarly: The vast majority of people who pay money (the unit of caring) to alleviate sex deprivation are men.

Given the statistical evidence, the anecdotal evidence, and the obvious evo-psych rationale, I'm willing to draw conclusions about internal experience.

But drawing from this evidence that lack of sex for many (most?) men is emotionally equivalent to heroine withdraw seems a bit much. In the very least if this were the case I would expect some direct evidence, rather than a list of things which could be chalked up to the differences in how men and women have been trained to spend money and words on the subject of sex.
I'll see if I can find the Hite Reports. As for the other things you mention: * I have never heard that expression before. Do some people actually, seriously believe that life is literally meaningless after three days without sex [that involves another person, I assume, since if solo sex did the trick there would be no reason for anybody without a crippling disability to get to this point]? Why are there not more suicides, if this is the case? * I have read that comic before. I don't think this demonstrates anything other than that the male characters are less picky about how they satisfy their desires than the female character. Suppose you deprived me and some other person of food for 24 hours and then put us in a room with a lot of mint candy. The other person would probably eat some mints; I wouldn't, because eating mint causes me pain. Would you think this yielded information about how hunger felt to me and the other person? (Note: of course I would eat mint if I were starving or even about to suffer serious malnutrition, but you can't die of deprivation of sex with other people.) * Women who are willing to have sex with strangers (which comprise just about 100% of the class of prostitutes) can, for the most part, get it for free (or get paid to have it!) with trivial ease. Of course fewer women pay for it: the thing that is for sale (sex with a stranger) is not what women tend to want. It seems to me that the conclusion to draw isn't (at least not necessarily) that men experience worse suffering when they don't have sex, but that "sex" does not just mean "friction with a warm human body" to women, and so it can't be had as easily as you think.
So from evidence that men, on average, report/perform greater suffering from lack of sex, you can conclude that a specific woman has never felt as much sexual frustration as a specific man, or indeed, anything similar enough to allow for empathy? That seems far from airtight. It's also worth noting that there are a great many men who seek physical and emotional intimacy from other men. So if your hypothesis is that men objectify their potential partners solely because their intimacy is temporarily unavailable, then a small but consistent portion of the partner-as-object-to-be-won rhetoric would be about men, which I have not observed.
If I were missing my heroin dosage, I weren't able to do all that smart discussion going on here.
What I wish you meant by this: " of course we're warming up the banhammer now!" What you seem by this: " we won't be doing a thing to make this a space any less toxic for an inexplicably underrepresented majority." I was really hoping this would be a come-for-the-fan-fiction-stay-for-the-awesome-forum situation, but if this community's priorities are accurately reflected (and please, please do prove me wrong) by the response "Come back and ask us to respect your humanity once everyone else has gotten their rocks off," then that is...exceedingly disappointing.

Well, it's probably at least the same chance that Cosmo's covers are going to stop discussing men's love and commitment as "objects that can and should be attained under the right circumstances". ;-)

Or of course, we could just assume that when people talk about doing things in order to attract a mate, that:

  1. This has nothing to do with "objects" or "attainment",
  2. That any such mates attracted are acting of their own free will, and
  3. That what said consenting adults do with their time together is really none of our business.
Shouldn't Less Wrong have a bit more subtlety and detail than Cosmo?
pjeby: Can you subjectively discriminate brain states of yours with high medial prefrontal cortex activity and brain states of yours with low medial prefrontal cortex activity? What behavior is primed by each brain state? Alicorn has intuited that brain states with low mPFC activity prime rationalization of oppression and collusion in oppression. Alicorn also intuits that that signals of social approval of intuitively distinguished brain states characterized by low mPFC activity, as well as absence of signals of social disapproval of intuitively distinguished brain states characterized by low mPFC activity, are signals of social approval of oppression and of willingness to collude in and rationalize oppression. Also, Alicorn did not express these intuitions clearly. (Also, on this subject: I think utilitarian moral theorizing and transhumanist moral theorizing are two other brain states that are, by most people, mainly intuitively distinguished as characterizable by low mPFC activity. This makes not signaling disapproval of utilitarianism or transhumanism feel like signaling approval of totalitarianism and slavery.) [edit fix username capitalization]
Wow, that's an awful lot of projection in a tiny space - both your projection onto her, and the projection you're projecting she's making. I don't think that you can treat the mere use of the word "get" to imply the sort of states you're talking about, for several reasons. First, I think it's interesting that the study in question did not have men look at people -- they looked at photographs of people. Photographs of people do not have intentions, so it'd be a bit strange to try to figure out the intentions of a photograph. (Also, human beings' tendency to dehumanize faceless persons is well-known; that's why they put hoods on people before they torture them.) Second, I don't think that a man responding to a woman's body as if it were an object -- it is one, after all -- is a problem in and of itself, any more than I think it's a problem when my wife admires, say, the body of Jean Claude van Damme when he's doing one of those "splits" moves in one of his action movies. Being able to admire something that's attractive, independent of the fact that there's a person inside it, is not a problem, IMO. After all, even the study you mention notes that only the sexist men went on to deactivate their mPFC... so it actually demonstrates the independence of enjoyment from oppression or objectification in the negative sense. So, I'm not going to signal social disapproval of such admiration and enjoyment experiences, whether they're engaged in by men OR women. It's a false dichotomy to assume that the presence of "objective" thought is equal to the absence of subjective/empathic thought. After all, my wife and I are both perfectly capable of treating each other as sex objects, or telling one another we want to "get some of that" in reference to each other's body parts without it being depersonalizing in the least. (Quite the opposite, in fact.) We can also refer to someone else (male or female) as needing to "get some" without any hostile or depersonalizing intent towards

It's a false dichotomy to assume that the presence of "objective" thought is equal to the absence of subjective/empathic thought.

Yes. But when women like Alicorn intuitively solve the signaling and negotiation game represented in their heads, using their prior belief distributions about mens' hidden qualities and dispositions, their beliefs about mens' utility functions conditional on disposition, and their own utility functions, then their solutions predict high costs for any strategy of tolerating objectifying statements by unfamiliar men of unknown quality. It's not about whether or not objectification implies oppressiveness with certainty. It's about whether or not women think objectification is more convenient or useful to unfamiliar men who are disposed to depersonalization and oppression, compared with its convenience or usefulness to unfamiliar men who are not disposed to depersonalization and oppression. If you want to change this, you have to either change some quantity in womens' intuitive representation of this signaling game, improve their solution procedure, or argue for a norm that women should disregard this intuition.

Change what? Your massive projection onto what "women like Alicorn" do? I'd think that'd be up to you to change. Similarly, if I don't like what Alicorn is doing, and I can't convince her to change that, then it's my problem... just as her not being able to convince men to speak the way she wants is hers. At some point, all problems are our own problems. You can ask other people to change, but then you can either accept the world as it is, or suffer needlessly. (To forestall the inevitable analogies and arguments: "accept" does not mean "not try to change" - it means, "not react with negative emotion to". If you took the previous paragraph to mean that nobody should fight racism or sexism, you are mistaken. It's easier to change a thing you accept as a fact, because your brain is not motivated to deny it or "should" it away, and you can then actually pay attention to the human being whose behavior you'd like to change. You can't yell a racist or sexist into actually changing, only into being quiet. You can, however, educate and accept some people into changing. As the religious people say, "love the sinner, hate the sin"... only I go one step further and say you don't have to hate something in order to change it... and that it's usually easier if you don't.)
Why the double negative in the last sentence? Are you claiming that utilitarianism and transhumanism feel stronger than totalitarianism and slavery?
The double negative is because of peoples' different assumed feelings about utilitarianism or transhumanism and totalitarianism or slavery. There is a strong consensus about totalitarianism and slavery, but there is not a strong consensus about utilitarianism and transhumanism. So I expect most people to feel like other people will assume that they already disapprove of totalitarianism or slavery, but not to feel like other people will assume that they already disapprove of utilitarianism or transhumanism.
Thanks for the clarification. I think that you should not have indicated it in such a subtle way: either you should have spelled it out, as in the follow-up, or you should have probably left it out. It's the kind of thing footnotes are good for.
Can I really be said to have intuited something that makes less than no sense to me?
I think you intuited that there are some states of mind that cause oppression of women when they are socially tolerated and approved. I also think you intuited that, if women see men in a forum saying things that might be expressions of those states of mind, and see that those things are tolerated, it will cause the women to feel uncomfortable in that forum. I think that your intuition does refer to a real difference between states of mind that can be objectively characterized. (I don't mean to say that you intuited that mPFC measurements were part of that objective characterization.)
It's hard to buy the idea that it's not supposed to have to do with objects or attainment when the phrasing looks like: You could just as easily say the same thing about cars or a nice house or something else readily available for sale. I wouldn't mind if the mate-seeking potential of money and status was discussed indirectly in a way that didn't make it sound like there is a ChickMart where you can go out and buy attractive women. "If I were a millionaire I could easily support a family", "if I were a millionaire I would have more free time to spend on seeking a girlfriend" - even "if I were a millionaire I could afford the attention of really classy prostitutes", because at least the prostitutes are outright selling their services. It's probably not even crossing the line to say something like "if I were a millionaire I would be more attractive to women".

How's this different from women's magazines having articles on how to "get" a man? Is this not idiomatically equivalent to "be more attractive to more-attractive men"? If so, then why the double standard?

Meanwhile, the reason that the phrasing was vague is because it's an appropriate level of detail for what was specified: men with more money have more access to mating opportunity for all of the reasons you mention, and possibly more besides. Why exhaustively catalog them in every mention of the fact, especially since different individuals likely differ in their specific routes or preferences for the "getting"? (Men and women alike.)

Do you have some evidence that I approve of that feature of women's magazines, or are you just making it up? I find it equally repulsive, I just haven't found that particular behavior duplicated here so I haven't mentioned it. If concision is all that was intended, there are still other, less repellent ways to say it ("If I were a millionaire, my money and status might influence people to think better of me", leaving it implied that some of these people will be women and some of these women might have sex with the millionaire.) Or it could have been left out.

I find it equally repulsive,

So you find goal-oriented mating behavior offensive in both men and women. What's your reasoning for that? Does it enhance your life to find normal human behavior offensive? What rational benefit does it provide to you or others?

If concision is all that was intended, there are still other, less repellent ways to say it

And we could call atheism agnosticism so as not to offend the religious. For what reason should we do that, instead of simply saying what is meant?

What kind of rationalism permits a mere truth to be offensive, and require it to be omitted from polite discussion? Truths we don't like are still truths.

I did not use the word "offensive" (or for that matter "goal-oriented mating behavior"), and I'd appreciate if you would refrain from substituting inexact synonyms when you interpret what I say. (You specifically; you seem bad at it. Other people have had better luck.) There is a difference between upsetting people who hold a certain belief, and upsetting people who were born with a particular gender. What "mere truth" do you mean to pick out here, anyway? I have made some ethical claims and announced that I am repelled by the failure to adhere to the standards I mentioned. I'm not "offended" by any facts, I'm repulsed by a behavior.

I did not use the word "offensive" (or for that matter "goal-oriented mating behavior"), and I'd appreciate if you would refrain from substituting inexact synonyms when you interpret what I say.

If I didn't do that, how would we know we weren't understanding each other? Now at least I can try to distinguish "offensive" from "repulsive", and ask what term you would use in place of "goal-oriented mating behavior" that applies to what you find repulsive about both men and women choosing their actions with an intent to influence attractive persons of an appropriate sex to engage in mating behaviors with them?

What "mere truth" do you mean to pick out here, anyway?

That men and women do stuff to "get" mates. This was what the original poster stated, that you appeared to object to the mere discussion of, and have further said that you wished people wouldn't mention directly, only by way of euphemism or substitution of more-specific phrases.

I have made some ethical claims

I guess I missed them. All I heard you saying was that it's bad to talk about men "getting" women by having money. Are you say... (read more)

I've been using "objectification" to label the set of behaviors of which I disapprove. (It isn't the only one, but it's the most important here.) I claim that it is unethical to objectify people. By "objectify", I mean to think of, talk about as, or treat like a non-person. A good heuristic is to see how easily a given sentence could be reworked to have as a subject something inanimate instead of a person. For instance, if someone says, "If I were rich, I'd have a nice house and a sports car and girls falling over themselves to be with me", the fact that the girls appear as an item in a list along with a vehicle and a dwelling would be a giant red flag. The sample substitute, "If I were a millionaire, my money and status might influence people to think better of me", would not make sense if you changed "people" to "cars", because cars do not think. This heuristic is imperfect, and some statements may be objectifying even if their applicability is limited to persons. Likewise, there are statements that can be made about people that are not really objectifying even if you could say them about non-people (e.g. "So-and-so is five feet six inches tall"; "that bookshelf is five feet six inches tall".) The behavior that I am repulsed by is the behavior of objectification. The fact that people objectify is simply true. The action of people actually objectifying causes me to castigate the objectifiers in question, whether they are doing so in the course of actively seeking mates or not.

I claim that it is unethical to objectify people. By "objectify", I mean to think of, talk about as, or treat like a non-person. A good heuristic is to see how easily a given sentence could be reworked to have as a subject something inanimate instead of a person.

Ultimately each person's ethics are probably axiomatic and impossible to justify or discuss, but this injunction seems extremely odd to me, and trying to follow it would seem to have very bad consequences for the kind of thinking we could do.

For instance, consider the sentences "if falling freely, a car will accelerate at 9.8 m/s^2" and "if falling freely, a person will accelerate at 9.8 m/s^2". We are not allowed to say or think the second one. But that means that it is impossible to work out the answers to problems like "how long would it take me to fall from a building" -- which surely is a question which almost everyone has considered one time or another, and which seems intrinsically harmless.

The fact of the matter is, people are objects, and we ignore it at our peril. Some questions are best considered working "inside-out" , starting with and reasoning from our... (read more)


I still have very little idea what you mean by 'objectification' and 'objectify people'.

I was momentarily off-put by Roko's comment on the desire to have sex with extremely attractive women that money and status would get. This was because of:

  • the focus on sex, whereas I would desire a relationship.
  • the connotation of 'attractive' which in my mind usually means physical attractiveness, whereas my preferences are dominated by other features of women.
  • the modifier 'extremely' which seems to imply a large difference in utility placed on sex with extremely attractive women vs. very attractive or moderately attractive women, especially when followed by identifying this desire as a generator for desiring high social status rather than vice versa or discussing both directions of causation. (The latter would have made more sense to me in the context of Roko saying we should value social influential power.)

I had negative associations attached to Roko's comment because I started imagining myself with my preferences adopting Roko's suggestions. However, I wouldn't have voiced these negative associations in any phrases along the lines of 'objectificaton' or 'objectifying', or in terms of any moral concerns. The use of the word 'get' by itself did not strike me as particularly out of place any more than talk of 'getting a girlfriend/boyfriend'.

I'm sorry you don't understand where I'm coming from. I don't have any bright ideas about how to make it less ambiguous. Is there some reason you are put off when others don't share your desires? If the desire in question was something like "I desire to behave ethically" that would be okay, but there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with wanting sex but no relationship. There are ethical ways to pursue that desire. It's certainly nice that your attraction isn't dominated solely by physical features, but that isn't actually what "attractive" means on a reliable enough basis that I thought it was worth bringing up. Even if "conventionally physically attractive" was what Roko meant, there doesn't seem to be anything obviously wrong with that in light of the focus on sex over a relationship. One person can want to have no-strings-attached sex with multiple conventionally physically attractive women and I can want to settle down in a long-term relationship with a bespectacled dark-haired person with an IQ over 120 and there is no reason to think that these desires can't both be okay simultaneously. I don't see this as any more problematic than the mention of attractiveness in the first place. If it's okay for me to want a spouse with an IQ over 120, presumably it'd be okay for me to want a spouse with an IQ over 140, it'd just make a person satisfying my criteria trickier to find; the same would be true if Roko or anyone else wants to have sex with women several standard deviations above the physical attractiveness mean. Not more than, but "getting a [girl/boy]friend" isn't unloaded language either... (I have been known to use the word "obtain" with respect to a hypothetical future spouse myself, but that's mostly because "marry" would sound redundant.)
Then why is "getting" objectionable? I (obviously) don't "get" it, no pun intended.
Read Roko's comment again and you'll realize that Wu wei is quite justified in being put off by it. Roko was implying that people who do not adopt these specific values are setting themselves up for failure at their goals due to not being motivated enough. In my opinion, Roko's whole argument reeks of availability bias. People who have attained more wealth and social status are certainly more salient to us, but this doesn't make them more influential by real-world measures. Still, money makes the world go round and having more wealthy philanthropists who can look beyond warm fuzzies to actual utilons created would be a very good thing.
This sentence was meant to explain why I was momentarily off-put. I did not mean to imply that I have any ethical problems with the desires mentioned (I don't), though now that you mention it, I wouldn't be too surprised if I do retain some knee-jerk ethical intuitions against them.
Um, that example actually fails your heuristic: "If I were rich, I'd have a nice house and a sports car and cars falling over themselves to be with me" makes no sense. That appears to contradict your earlier definition: If the applicability of a statement is limited to persons, then how can that possibly be "like a non-person"? The entire thing sounds like bottom-line reasoning - i.e., the specific thing is something you find repulsive, therefore it's objectification. (I'm not even going to touch the thoughtcrime part where you're classing speech and thoughts to be unethical in themselves, except to mention that this is the part where having such a repulsion is objectively non-useful to you or anyone else, since all it can ever do is cause you and others pain. Of course, I expect this comment to be widely downvoted for that idea, since the right to righteous indignation is itself a religious idea around here, even if it's more usually wielded in support of Truth or Theory rather than gender sensibilities. All very on-topic for this post about atheist/rationalist denials, as it turns out!)
I feel your pain... I think I lost about 40 karma in this discussion...
Perhaps you are trying to be funny. If you're not, I'll just point out that I did say it was an imperfect heuristic, and anyway to apply it with some finesse means that you might have to replace a whole noun phrase (gasp, shock, alarm). Because grammar is like that. For instance, most sentences that use gendered pronouns would be deeply strange if applied to non-boat inanimate objects, but that doesn't stop some such sentences from being objectifying. No, sometimes things I find repulsive are non-objectifying, and are bad for some other reason. Occasionally, I'm even repulsed by things that are not unethical. Not so. By having and announcing this repulsion I can influence anyone who happens to care about my opinion.
...and how is that useful?! That's like saying that it's good to dislike chocolate because then you can make sure nobody gives you any, or that banging your head on the wall is a pleasure because it feels good when you stop. It'd be more useful to just not bang your head, unless there's something else you're getting from the activity. Then kindly point out what noun phrase you would have replaced. Or in the alternative, please provide a definition of "objectification" that doesn't boil down to, "I know it when I see it."
I really have no clue what you're talking about in the first bit. Do you think that having ethical opinions is useless because if one didn't have them it would save one a headache? Do you think being repelled is not an appropriate response to detecting an ethical violation? Are you even trying to understand what I'm typing? Second bit: "If I were rich, I'd have a nice house and a sports car and girls falling over themselves to be with me." -> "If I were rich, I'd have a nice house and a sports car and real silverware and crystal dishes."
What I was saying was that I think considering people's words and thoughts (as opposed to their behaviors) about their goals and opinions as having ethical weight is ludicrously unuseful. I also think repulsion is not an appropriate response to "detecting an ethical violation", since that emotion motivates signaling behavior rather than useful behavior. For example, it encourages one to communicate one's beliefs in a judgmental way that communicates entitlement, and discourages co-operation from others. So, how do you arrive at this substitution? You keep removing the part that only a person can do, so if that rule is applied consistently, you end up with any statement being objectification.
Words are verbal behavior. If you don't think people can be held ethically responsible for verbal behavior, I'm sure I could come up with some persuasive examples, but I'm no longer sure this discussion is worth my attention, as you're very persistent in missing the point.
Please reread: Sure, there are unethical verbal behaviors. Truthfully expressing opinions or discussing one's goals are not among them, however. Even if somebody opines that their goal is to do something awful to me, then if that is a true statement, it is actually ethically good for them to give me advance warning! So considering someone's (truthful) verbal behavior about their goals or opinions as unethical is simply not useful to me, regardless of what opinion I may hold about what behavior may result from that opinion or goal.
But what if somebody, in opining that their goal is to do something awful to you, solicits ideas on what awful things to do and how to accomplish them, and encourages others to do awful things to you themselves? I think that situation is closer to what Alicorn is objecting to.
People can phrase things in many ways. There is a difference which may be ethically relevant between: "So-and-so is a [profanity] and I'm going to lose it and [threats of violence] if he doesn't leave me alone!" and "I don't like so-and-so and I wish he'd go away. I might do something really regrettable if he doesn't; he just gets on my nerves that much." Even though the goals and opinions might be just alike. That is verbal behavior that goes above and beyond just truthfully stating things.
How so? If the first one is what the person actually means, then blowing smoke up my ass about it doesn't help me. AFAICT, you are still arguing a bottom line: that truthful verbalization about one's internal state can be ethically bad. I won't claim that NO such verbalization can exist as a mathematical absolute, but I haven't yet seen you offer an example that's bad by anything other than your own definition of "ethics" -- i.e., what makes you feel bad. So, how can something be wrong that has no bad results, probabilistically OR actually?
I'm not sure objectification is the cause of the red flag here : would you get the same impression if he said "If I were rich, I'd have a nice house and a sports car and a gardener"?
I'm not sure if a gardener is "objectified" (I find that an confusing word). He or she certainly is a substitutable unit of gardening skill. Another gardener with the same skill would be just as good. Similar does apply to "attractive woman". Another attractive woman would fit the job just as well. Leaving aside "objectified", it's certainly impersonal.
You make a very good point. I'm tempted to draw a distinction between referring to a hypothetical member of a profession as opposed to a hypothetical member of a gender, but until I've given this more thought all I will say is that it'd probably be better to say "a garden" than "a gardener".
It is perhaps a salient distinction that people choose their profession, but not their gender. However, I disagree; both are objectifying to some degree, but it is considered socially acceptable to objectify people in the context of employment, presumably because both parties are getting some explicit value out of the transaction.
It's certainly something that mid-20th-century radicals would object to. The language of 'objectification' that we've inherited primarily from radical feminists grew out of the intellectual framework of the Marxists, who were explicitly objecting to that sort of treatment of employees; cf Marx (or better yet Hagel)'s notion of alienation. That said, I don't think we have any radicals here in that sense, and I agree with Alicorn's characterization that it would have probably been fine for OP to say (roughly speaking) "get lots of prostitutes".
Marx's equivalent to objectification is actually called "commodity fetishism" (seriously - no pun intended). It corresponds to replacing social relations between human beings with mere exchange of commodities. In Marxian analysis, this obscures the social and exchange relations between producers and consumers, since e.g. a worker becomes utterly unaware of the people who will consume his products, except to the extent that his "labor-power" is valued as a commodity. Of course, as Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek observed, commodity fetishism (or the "commercial production process") is what makes modern-day specialization and complex supply chains possible: even something as humble as a cotton shirt might incorporate designs sketched out in Italy, cotton grown in Africa and plastic buttons made in China. Requiring human contact or conscious agreements between so many agents would clearly be infeasible. The benefits of sexual objectification are far less clear, except to the extent that (as some empirical evidence bears out) some people are positive towards being objectified in a sexual context.
Well, it is somewhat tacky to blatantly objectify employees--it tends to make one sound like a pompous, entitled jerk. But that's a much shallower sort of objection than what Alicorn is raising. At a general social level, objectifying in the context of employement is on the "acceptable" side, whereas objectifying in the context of personal relationships, especially sexual relationships, straddles the line and is probably drifting toward "unacceptable". As for me, since I figure it's heading that way, I'm getting in on the ground floor on avoiding such language, so that when I'm 70 years old I don't embarrass younger family members with quaint objectifying language.
Alicorn, I am curious what is your answer to Emile's question if we replace "gardener" with "butler"? Please do not take my question as a dismissal of your concern. In fact, I think it is probable that you have a valid concern. I ask my question not in the spirit of a debate but rather in the spirit of a cooperative quest to understand. I am planning more top-level posts about sex, and I do not want my ignorance of your concerns and similar concerns to cause me to alienate female Less Wrongers.
I think what I'm going to wind up saying to both the gardener and butler examples is that those individuals are explicitly selling their work, so it's okay to refer to the profession as a stand-in for a semi-objectified human representation of that work. I've said elsewhere that when people want to have sex with women, it's "at least honest" to purchase it outright from prostitutes who are selling it; I imagine it's no less honest to purchase the work of a gardener or a butler. It's when random "attractive women"/"girls"/whatever are said to be taking action other than the actual, literal sale of some sort of work as a result of hypothetical millionaire-ness that it stops being acceptable.
I think the problem is that you need to think though what it is you're protesting. Objectification, to me, doesn't mean wanting to get, acquire or obtain a girl. Buying a girl, raping a girl - that's objectification, because the rapist ignores the fact that the girl has free will. It's still true that she is ALSO an object, though. And a chordate animal. And an ultra-feminist. Buying women, kidnapping women, shotgun wedding, buying off the cops to cover up your rape - these are no-nos. But what's wrong with attracting girls by being more awesome? (Also, it is immoral to abuse bugs in people's decision-making algorithms.)
Nothing, unless by "more awesome" you mean "more deceitful, depersonalizing, and piggish".
Please explain to me how being rich is any of these things. Don't make me invoke Godwinski's Law. It seems to me that you're saying that merely wanting sex is dehumanizing.
The first Google result for this is the parent comment. I have no idea what you mean. From what I gather, it's supposed to be invoked when someone calls one's opponent a Communist. Did that happen?
It's a term that was proposed on TV Tropes, but I forgot that, apparently, it wasn't launched.
Is thomblake's definition correct, then?
It's not. What? No.
"Please explain to me how being rich is any of these things. It's not." Then what DO you mean? Minutae of phrasing? When I said "more awesome", I meant "richer". That is also what Roko said - that money gets you girls. He didn't say that money gets you girls on the black market. Money gets you all sorts of girls - from sex slaves to true love. Not being a jerk is a separate problem.