The road to the truth is paved with revelations; sometimes those revelations are uncomfortable. Also, you can never go back; it is impossible to unlearn something.

The problem is, if you go too far, those who fell behind will stop to hear your voice. You want them to be closer, and sometimes the only way to achieve it is to guide them to the truth. But the road is paved with the uncomfortable revelations. Oops.

So far, I remember two big uncomfortable revelations: the first is that we live beyond the reach of god, and the second is that the psychology isn't nearly effective as everybody thinks.

If I had been completely honest with the people around, I would have told them about House of the Cards. But I'm not. It is too cruel to say "Hey, your world-view is wrong and your competence is just an illusion" to the psychologists and soon-to-be-psychologists. Hence I'm afraid to say even innocent "Hey, I read a very interesting book yesterday" to the fellow CS students (because I don't know whether they have psychologist relatives).

This situation seems very wrong to me, but I understand that the reality is unfair and I'm lucky that I can be an atheist without fear of alienation, unlike the poor souls living in the bible belt. I'm just going to be very careful with my words concerning psychology. Of course I should be more cautious and patient while talking with strangers in *Guardian Of The Truth* mode, no surprise here.

But still.

Sometimes I wonder what I'm going to do if I really need to tell somebody that very often psychology is useless and sometimes it is even dangerous. What should I do to prevent their flinching from the truth? How to make the reality look more comfortable to them?

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One of the top comments from the post you link:

You are describing old clinical psychology. Its gotten so much better. Rorschach tests are now only a very marginal measure within psychoanalytic psychology. Psychoanalytic/pscyhodynamic psychologists are themselves outcasts from mainstream clinical psychology, which is increasingly centered around evidence-based practice. For example, behaviorists are using systematic desensitization in novel and effective ways (for treating things like panic disorder), and cognitive-behavioral therapy is quite effective in treating depression: significantly more so than antidepressants.

The important thing to remember is that patients often get the treatment they want. If you're a self-absorbed neurotic, and you want to spend an hour a week for years talking about yourself, you can find someone who will take your money. If you want effective treatment, you can find that too. Most patients don't want to get better, they want to feel like they are doing something, and especially they want to talk about themselves.

Most patients don't want to get better, they want to feel like they are doing something, and especially they want to talk about themselves.

And if people have that attitude about non-psychiatric diseases, and an MD indulges them and talks about things instead of insistingly recommending effective treatment, that MD is guilty of malpractice.

You should be more specific, so that opaque disagreement would resolve into particular arguments.

psychology isn't nearly effective as everybody thinks

This isn't specific enough. What kind of claims are believed by whom?

line of retreat for the psychologists

What kind of wrong claims do the psychologists themselves believe?

very often psychology is useless and sometimes it is even dangerous

What do you mean by 'psychology' in this context? It's a very broad field of study; consulting psychology (if that's what you are thinking about when you say 'dangerous') also includes many significantly different therapeutic practices.

Using the term "psychology" to mean talk therapy (what Dawes bears on most directly) is a bit confusing: there are many other areas of knowledge contained within psychology, e.g. psychometric testing of cognitive ability.

You know who else doesn't like psychiatry? Hitler. I mean Scientologists. (This is a joke..)

Seriously though, it seems to be a common lesswrong affliction to distrust experts while at the same time displaying awful scholarship themselves. What specifically do you not like about psychology? Do you mean academic psychology or practicing psychology or psychiatry? Do you have paper links you are willing to talk about? What is your background in psychology?


Standard prior in any field one is not an expert in ought to be "current expert consensus".

Standard prior in any field one is not an expert in ought to be "current expert consensus".

If the field is disentangled from reality, even the experts are no better than a random generator. Theology is one example. A lot of today solid disciplines could serve as another at some early point of their history.

The post hasn't argued for a non-consensual psychological theory - the situation where your advice would apply - but for the hypothesis that psychology is not a solid discipline. (Disclaimer: I neither think that psychology is bunk, nor liked the post.)

Theology is a conditional field, like complexity theory or mathematical logic (e.g. "assume P != NP, what follows?"). There are some smart theologists.

Scientologists claim mainstream psychiatry is divorced from reality. Mainstream psychiatry claim scientology is divorced from reality. If one isn't sure who to trust, just look at the output. In terms of theology, is the entire output of the theology discipline useless? Are you sure you are willing to throw away Aquinas, et al.? Psychology is even less controversial, there is undoubtedly many valuable things produced in psychology. On the other hand, what have the critics (or the alternative the critics promote) produced?

Again, I don't think that psychology or psychiatry is divorced from reality and agree with you that these disciplines have produced valuable knowledge. I was only pointing out that "current expert consensus" should be a non-expert's prior when evaluating theories within the respective discipline, but is not useful when evaluating the merit of the discipline as a whole. Every discipline is conditional, at least in the practical sense: one doesn't become a leading expert by critically examining the discipline's axioms and absorbing a wide general knowledge of the fundamentals; rather, experts are specialists with detailed knowledge of a narrow sub-domain who have accepted the basic assumptions early in their professional career. Expertise could be acknowledged on the basis of practical achievements overreaching to other fields, or solely on the basis of one's social status within the discipline (perhaps backed by some internal rules, such as number of publications or academic achievements). In the first case we needn't worry about the discipline, but the second case is a reason to be careful, even if it doesn't automatically mean that the discipline is worthless.

I am also not sure whether it is wise to demand that the critics have achievements better than the discipline they are criticising. All a person arguing that astrology is bunk needs is to show that the fundamental assumptions of astrology are implausible; he/she needn't provide an alternative to astrology.

As for theology, I am probably willing to declare the discipline useless. That theologians are often smart doesn't contradict that, and that sometimes they produce a true conditional statement doesn't contradict that either. Even if all their conditionals were true (which aren't by far) - there are many tautologies and not every single one is worth writing down.

"As for theology, I am probably willing to declare the discipline useless."

You know, some lesswrong folk are very concerned with "acausal trading," future superintelligences, etc. How do you feel about concerns like that?

I tend to ignore that. How is it related to theology?

I think things like that have "the shape" of theology.

On the one hand I have similar gut feelings, especially when it comes to anthropic reasoning. On the other hand I think that "things like that" are based on significantly more plausible assumptions and people around here, at least those who are seriously interested in "things like that", tend to be more technical and precise than theologians use to be. Which still doesn't mean much, as the assumptions of theology are standing really low on my plausibility hierarchy and I don't have particularly high opinion of theological methods.

In terms of theology, is the entire output of the theology discipline useless? Are you sure you are willing to throw away Aquinas, et al.?

Are there any modern theologians you would throw Aquinas away in favor of?
That is, is the output of modern theology, in your view, an improvement on the output of the theology of eight centuries ago?

In terms of theology, is the entire output of the theology discipline useless? Are you sure you are willing to throw away Aquinas, et al.?

Not that Aquinas wasn't a pretty intelligent guy, but I'm curious as to why you would expect an answer other than "yes." What useful outputs would you credit theology with?

Theology is a conditional field

If you mean it assumes some god and reasons from there, then lots of theology is concerned with proving things about gods without such assumptions.

what I'm going to do if I really need to tell somebody that very often psychology is useless and sometimes it is even dangerous

How do you anticipate such a need arising? The specifics of the scenario may well constrain how you go about it.

Sometimes I wonder what I going to do if I really need to tell somebody that very often psychology is useless and sometimes it is even dangerous. What should I do to prevent their flinching from the truth? How to make the reality look more comfortable to them?

While there is indeed little correlation between the credentials of a therapist and the measurable success of the therapy, your "psychology is useless" statement is a sweeping generalization. Why don't you first ask yourself the classic "what do I know and how do I know it?" question. And do not "flinch away from the truth".