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What are Michael Vassar's beliefs?

by Chris_Leong1 min read15th May 202017 comments

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I've heard Michael Vassar's name mentioned a few times within the community. Why is he so well-known and what are his main ideas? I am particularly interested in the ideas that seem to have made him community famous.

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Michael Vassar was once MIRIs president when it was still SIAI. Afterwards he founded MetaMed which employed a lot of other rationalitsts. He gave a TedX talk on ideas behidn MetaMed.

I meet him last year a few times in Berlin and the conversations with him were very intellectually stimulating.

He thinks that there's a strong infowar going on. He considers cybernetics (control theory, I'm not sure whether he used the word cybernetics) as a tool of war.

Paraphrased: "We didn't have an atomic war as people expected after WWII, but we had an infowar and now most people are like zombies when it comes to their ability to think and act indepently"

According to him anybody who spents more then 2-3 years in the Bay Area gets mindkilled by pressures for political correctness and can't think straight anymore. That was his reason for leaving the Bay Area for Berlin at that time.

I have heard the ideas from the Immoral Mazes sequence from Vassar. Vassar is acknowledged by Zvi has having been on of the influences that resulted in him writing that sequence.

Vassar has original ideas on lot of subjects. It seems that him talking with people frequently results in people in tearing down Chestertons fences, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad (and I have the impression sometimes bad enough for some people to consider Vassar dangerous).

Nitpick: Vassar, not Vasser.

4ChristianKl1yI corrected it, it's still in the OP.
2Ben Pace1yMod note: I have corrected the OP.

Are you able to expand any more on his thoughts about cybernetics/control theory? Plus can you tell me any more about what kind of Chesterton's fences are being removed? Are these internal beliefs or are people breing convinced to break social norms?

2ChristianKl1yAs far as Chesterton's fences being removed, you might imagine that Bob has habit X. Then Bob gets told in a convincing way that he has habit X because it's what's benefitial in a hunter gather society or that the habit is based on some cultural battle where the stronger side preveiled in enforcing their cultural norms. That can both be internal beliefs or social norms. The one more problematic case I heard about involved a person doing mind hacking and taking drugs to do so. If I remember right Vassar suggested reading Norbert Wiener and being aware that DARPA funded the control theory research because they were actually interested in control. When a persons behavior is strongly driven by the feedback of a control system, they won't be using their human cognition freely.

He writes some of his beliefs down on Twitter.

Thanks, but Twitter is an extremely inefficient manner of figuring out someone's beliefs

3Ben Pace1yYeah. I added it because helps give others a chance to read it and report back here with better answers. I expect many didn’t know he was active on Twitter, for example.

There are cancerous memes that use emotional blackmail i.e. look how much these people will suffer if you don't provide more glucose to the cancer. Negotiating with terrorists is a bad plan, even if the terrorist is a selection effect and not a conscious agent.

See chapter 5 here https://www.dli.org/Files/Other/Heart%20of%20Compassion.pdf

Why is he so well-known?

He is extremely charismatic and confident and seems to accidentally produce cultishness around him wherever he goes.

What are his main ideas?

Unimportant. He is not community famous for his ideas, but for his personality and "reality distortion field".

But he believes that Hanlon's Razor is nigh-universally false and the public sphere of discourse is a Hobbesian war of all against all.

What makes him charismatic in person? In his youtube videos he's extremely uncharismatic, inarticulate, and even difficult to understand...

Here's a good example

6cousin_it1yI met him once and didn't feel much charisma, he just sounded overconfident about all things. I'm sure it works on some people though.
2Liam Donovan1yYeah he was ridiculously overconfident about the Yudkowsky-Bostrom paradigm in that video, and judging from the comments it just turned people off. Maybe his stuff works on people who identify emotionally with LW memes and feel affirmed when overconfidently endorses them?
3Czynski1y¯\_(ツ)_/¯
1 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 2:05 AM

I've had this same question and wrote the Wikiquote page on Vassar while doing research on him.

See also this comment thread. The Harper's piece from that post also talks a lot about Vassar.