What false beliefs have you held and why were you wrong?

by Punoxysm1 min read16th Oct 2014368 comments

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Updated Beliefs (examples of)Changing Your Mind
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What is something you used to believe, preferably something concrete with direct or implied predictions, that you now know was dead wrong. Was your belief rational given what you knew and could know back then, or was it irrational, and why?

 

Edit: I feel like some of these are getting a bit glib and political. Please try to explain what false assumptions or biases were underlying your beliefs - be introspective - this is LW after all.

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I once believed that six times one is one.

I don't remember how it came up in conversation, but for whatever reason numbers became relevant and I clearly and directly stated my false belief. It was late, we were driving back from a long hard chess tournament, and I evidently wasn't thinking clearly. I said the words "because of course six times one is one." Everyone thought for a second and someone said "no it's not." Predictable reactions occurred from there.

The reason I like the anecdote is because I reacted exactly the same way I would today if someone corrected me when I said that six times one is six. I thought the person who corrected me must be joking; he knows math and couldn't possibly be wrong about something that obvious. A second person said that he's definitely not joking. I thought back to the sequences, specifically the thing about evidence to convince me I'm wrong about basic arithmetic. I ran through some math terminology in my head: of course six times one is one; any number times one is one. That's what a multiplicative identity means. In my head, it was absolutely clear that 6x1=1, this is required for what I know of math to fit together, and anything else is completely logically impossible.

It probably took a good fifteen seconds from me being called out on it before I got appropriately embarrassed.

This anecdote is now my favorite example of the important lesson that from the inside, being wrong feels exactly like being right.

8[anonymous]6yExcept when it doesn't [http://lesswrong.com/lw/if/your_strength_as_a_rationalist/].
7Punoxysm6yOne of the smartest people in my high school spent a class arguing that a there were 4^20 possibilities for a sequence of 4 amino acids, when in fact it was 20^4. Not quite as elementary as yours, but our brains all play tricks on us.
3[anonymous]6yWikipedia says there are 500 known amino acids. I take it you were talking about a domain involving fewer potential amino acids?

The 20 amino acids involved in protein creation.

8Toggle6yPresumably the slightly greater than twenty that form the universal basis of biological protein polymers. In other words, the amino acids explicitly coded for by DNA.
1Luke_A_Somers6yI once spent about 20 minutes in class trying to justify the claim that a cubic meter of water weighs one ton, not 100 kilograms. As you may note, this is not a false belief; it's relevant because I spent a significant fraction of this time wracking my brain trying to jog it free to see if I was being dense (pun intended) like you're describing (I have pretty strong reasons to believe I didn't remember this incident backwards as a case of self-justification by retcon)
0Jackercrack6yYou just made me sufficiently confused to quickly google the volume of a cubic meter and the weight of a litre of water. I suspect this is a good habit to reinforce but I can't help feeling silly.
5ChristianKl6yHow long do you think you had the wrong belief? Was it just something that happened in that moment or did you carry that believe around for you for longer?
5Nate_Gabriel6yJust that moment. I definitely didn't follow any of its implications. (Other than "if I say this then people will react as if I said an obvious true thing.")
2Sarunas6yIn my case such "short term mistakes" are often caused by fatigue. It's as if my brain enters some kind of energy saving mode and sanity checks are deemed not quite as necessary as some other things. In one case I somehow managed not to notice a contradiction in the idea that a cube has four sides and because of that I failed to solve a problem in a school mathematics competition (it must have been one of the problems, as I must have been really tired by then). It seems to me that sanity checks are analogous to redundancy and duplication of components in engineering. Therefore it is not surprising that when the mental energy is very low my brain may decide that these safety measures are not necessary (of course, they aren't until they are). In another case, another student asked me how to solve a particular exercise saying that he tried to use a certain lemma he thought might be useful but was unable to apply it. It was only after some time of trying to solve it myself I got the idea to check whether the statement of a lemma was correct (it wasn't). It seems that in this energy saving mode I did not to think about what exactly was the best thing to check given the fact that he tried and failed to solve it, and instead tried to solve it myself without a single thought that lemma's statement might be incorrect. In other words, my brain did not try to estimate conditional expectations of possible action to take given all the facts I had, it "calculated" only expectations for a general case, when lemmas printed in a textbook are usually stated correctly (in other words, I did not take all the information into account when deciding what should I do next). Even if it still wasn't more likely, the idea about wrongness of lemma should have at least occurred to me (and it would have been easier to check on a toy example). Of course, this seems to be a "hybrid" mistake as it seems to be caused by both failure of a heuristic (to trust mathematics textbooks) in this particular
0polymathwannabe6yI suspect you were saying six times one, but your brain was thinking of one to the sixth power, which indeed is one.

The belief was minor, but the story is entertaining:

A while ago a guy walked into the bookstore and asked me for a copy of The Art of War—by Machiavelli.

I've developed the habit of being polite when customers are mistaken about details, taking (and often inventing) every possible opportunity to help them save face, so I handed him a copy of Sun Tzu without comment—though you can be sure that internally I was feeling all kinds of smug at the chance to display my superior knowledge of extremely common classic books. He glanced at it and left—mortified, I imagined.

A few months later, I looked it up and discovered that Machiavelli did, in fact, write a treatise called The Art of War.

But that isn't the embarrassing part.

The embarrassing part is that, in the moment I went to check, what I was thinking was not "Hmm, I wonder if I could have been mistaken"; it was "Heh, I wonder if anyone else has made the same mistake as that idiot!" My error was corrected only incidentally—in the course of my efforts to reinforce it.

I wonder what the chances of the guy actually asking for the Machiavelli tract are relative to the chances of him being wrong about the author? When I run into a namespace collision like that, I try to be extremely clear about it precisely so that I don't run into situations like you described -- i.e. "Machiavelli's Art of War, not the one by Sun Tzu".

You're absolutely right. Anyone who knew about the existence of both books would also be aware of the need to clarify which he meant (unless he was deliberately testing me so he could feel smug at his superior knowledge). The chances he was simply mistaken are still pretty good.

Had I considered that possibility, and rejected it on grounds of low prior, maybe I would have been entitled to a Rationality Cookie; but alas, what actually happened was that I didn't think at all.

3Gunnar_Zarncke6yWait. "Rationality Cookie" is that a real thing? I can't find it but it sounds like a good idea to train rationality the classical way via quick rewards.
3[anonymous]6yNot that I know of—but it could still work. I hear Eliezer once had some success with M&Ms!

Before I started tutoring I believed that anyone can learn first year math and science if only they put in the time and effort. Before I went to grad school I believed that I can learn all the advanced math and theoretical physics topics I was interested in. Neither belief survived experimental testing.

I am interested in this -- what exactly happened? Feel free to reply in private if you wish. Was it the case of:

(a) Morale breaking (this is not meant to be judgmental, this happens very often in graduate school, and certainly happened to me). Morale management is really hard.

(b) You felt lots of people in your program were much faster/smarter than you? (Also very common..)

(c) You felt you could learn [topic], but it would take unreasonably long (e.g. not 4-6 years it takes to get a thesis out)?

(d) You felt that literally you just could not get something, regardless of time investment? Could you give an example of such a topic?

All of the above, but the root cause is limited aptitude. I know you don't believe that, but you probably will the day you hit your own limit.

Music is a good example. You can aspire to play the hardest and most exquisite music pieces with the best, and compose new masterpieces, but without the talent you will not progress much farther than "twinkle twinkle little star" (i'm exaggerating a bit).

Or sports. Not everyone who wants to makes it to the major leagues.

In math and sciences I have frequently observed a really motivated person learning something with extreme effort, doing the exercises, then coming to the next session with half the newly learned skills gone, and having to start nearly from scratch. As a result, the effort which is linear for many is exponential for them. Or worse.

I was in a similar situation. A couple of grad courses were easy, some harder, and one or two nearly impossible for me. I was able to do well enough on them, but it was hell. There would be no way for me to get to the level where I could do research in the area. Yet some other students just kept going, mastering the new material at the same rate as the old. (And others were forced to drop t... (read more)

(see also 99.5% of programming job candidates fail the FizzBuzz test, though this seems a stretch).

This is misleading. Bad programmers spend more time interviewing before being hired, thus the pool of job interview candidates is biased towards bad programmers.

7therufs6yIt isn't cited + it seems awfully high -> the number is probably exaggerated at some level of intentionality
5[anonymous]6yEven if a bad programmer did 200 times as many interviews as a good programmer, that would mean that about half the programmers can't do FizzBuzz, which is still unsettling.
2Viliam_Bur6yIf your idea of a "bad programmer" is someone who studied programming, but had unimpressive results, then yes, the idea that half the programmers can't do FizzBuzz is unsettling. However, the set of "bad programmers" also includes crazy people who believe they understand programming without any good reasons; overconfident people who used Excel for a few months and now believe they know everything there is about using computers; etc. It is not so difficult to believe that these people are as numerous as the real programmers. In other words, instead of a less skilled programmer, imagine a non-programmer with an extreme case of Dunning–Kruger effect [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect]. By the way, I wonder how much this effect is culture-dependent. There seems to be something in the American culture that supports overconfidence, at least in job interviews.
2[anonymous]6yBy “programmer” in this context I meant ‘someone who applies for a programming job and makes it to the interview stage’. Which unless they outright lied on their CV means they probably have some kind of certification. In another article I read that more than half of comp sci graduates can't do FizzBuzz. In a halfway decent world, granting a comp sci degree to someone who can't do FizzBuzz would be punishable as fraud.

99.5% of programming job candidates fail the FizzBuzz test

This cannot be right. I have a variant of this (using an excel spreed sheet) on a technical interview for data analysts, which is a pretty low level position (the average candidate has an associates degree and "some knowledge of excel"). 60%-70% of the applicants, with no claimed programming experience, can make an excel sheet do the fizz buzz thing.

5Gunnar_Zarncke6yThere are multiple possible interpretations: * For some reason your candidates have the neccessary ability. Possibly due to pre-selection, job profile, your area, whatever. * Your excel setup leads itself for easier realization of the FizzBuzz test. * Not having programming experience may actually help here as there is no standard solution where you can get stuck.
3Jiro6yIf it was true that 99.5% of candidates fail the FizzBuzz test, then someone who passes it is better than 99.5% of the candidates who get to the interview stage, and should be hired immediately for any computer software job they try out for (unless you believe more than 100 people on the average get interviewed before anyone is hired) . The experience in the job market, of people who can pass the test, does not bear this out.
8Randaly6yThis is accurate for the top companies- as of 2011, Google interviewed over 300 people for each spot filled. Many of these people were plausibly interviewed multiple times, or for multiple positions.
4Jiro6yThe job market isn't just Google. Is it really true that anyone who can program FizzBuzz will immediately get snapped up by the first place they apply to, if they are not applying to someplace like Google which receives such large numbers of applications? I find it hard to believe that the average accounting company or bank that needs programmers has to do 100 interviews on the average every time it hires one person. (Furthermore, multiply by how many competent programmers they go through. If they hire on the average 1 out of every 4 competent programmers who applies, that makes it 400 interviews for each new hire.)
3Randaly6yYou seem to be confusing applicants with people who are given interviews. Typically less than half of applicants even make it to the interview stage- sometimes much, much less than half. There's also enough evidence out there to say that this level of applicants is common. Starbucks had over a hundred applicants for each position it offered recently; Proctor and Gamble had around 500. This guy [http://www.quora.com/How-many-resumes-do-recruiters-receive-for-each-open-position-on-average] also says it's common for programmers.
0Jiro6yNo, I'm not. From shminux's link:
0Randaly6yThe quote does not claim there has been no filtering done before the interview stage. If you read the original source it explicitly states that it is considering all aplicants, not only those who make it to the interview stage: "We get between 100 and 200 [resumes] per opening." [http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2005/01/27.html]
0Jiro6yYou are confusing two different sources, the one that mentions FizzBuzz and the one in your link. Although both sources use the number 200, they are using it to refer to different things. It is the former (which uses it to refer to interviewees) which I object to, not the latter (which uses it to refer to resumes), except insofar as the latter is used to try to prove the former.
0Randaly6yNo I'm not. The Fizzbuzz article cited above is a wiki article. It is not based on original research, and draws from other articles. You will find the article I linked to linked to in a quote at the top of the first article in the 'articles' section of the wiki article; it is indeed the original source for the claim.
3Jiro6yThe wiki article uses as a source for the FizzBuzz statement the article at http://tickletux.wordpress.com/2007/01/24/using-fizzbuzz-to-find-developers-who-grok-coding/ [http://tickletux.wordpress.com/2007/01/24/using-fizzbuzz-to-find-developers-who-grok-coding/] . The wiki does not use as a source the article you just gave me a link to, which is http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2005/01/27.html [http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2005/01/27.html] and contains the "We get between 100 and 200 [resumes] per opening" quote. What you describe is neither the source for the statement, nor the first link in the articles section, but the second link in the article that is the first link in the articles section. It is a stretch to claim that this is the wiki's source when the statement directly contains a source which is not the article you point to. Furthermore, if you follow through the chain of articles, you find that because writers are playing a game of telephone with articles, the separate claims that people 1) cannot solve FizzBuzz (at a rate of 50% over computer science graduates) and 2) cannot program (at a rate of 99.5% over resumes) have been morphed into the Frankenstein-like [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Don%27t_build_the_Frankenstein] claim that 99.5% cannot solve FizzBuzz as an interview question, which is not what either source says and which spuriously combines the two and changes from the plausible resume to the implausible interviewee. That combined statement is the one that I said doesn't fit a basic sanity check. And it doesn't.
4lfghjkl6yWhat you're missing is the following insight: Taken from here [http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2005/01/27.html].
3Jiro6yTaking a quote from somewhere else as a reply always risks the possibility that it doesn't quite fit what it is being used as a reply to. I was pointing out that the described competence level implies that a competent programmer must be in the top 0.5% of the candidates for the job, not the top 0.5% of all programmers in the world. Of course your quote is in reference to the latter, not the former, and is therefore off point. In fact, your quote says that the former is indeed true, but the latter should not be confused with it. (Furthermore, the original FizzBuzz reference claims that only 1 out of 200 people can solve FizzBuzz as an interview question, not as something required with each resume. Only hiring 1 out of 200 candidates who submit resumes is a heck of a lot more plausible than only hiring 1 out of 200 candidates who get to the interview stage.)
3lfghjkl6yThe quote might not fit perfectly, but the insight does. And the point of the quote is that this really doesn't say as much as you think. Hence why "99.5% of candidates fail the FizzBuzz test" isn't as implausible as on first glance.
0IlyaShpitser6yYou should reread what I actually said.
0shminux6ySorry if I was being presumptuous. I was going by your advice to people with low math aptitude to learn more math, here and on SSC. If I confused you with someone else or grossly misrepresented your views, please disregard.
0IlyaShpitser6yI was talking to one specific person.
6lmm6yI hit c) for the category theory course in my masters. I managed the first half, more or less, but it felt like it was ramping up exponentially; there were too many new layers of concepts all of which were defined in terms of the previous one, and every new layer meant a percentage slowdown in my ability to work with that concept. During undergrad I'd been at about the 30th percentile, but only the best half of undergrads go on to do a masters (at least at that particular institution). In retrospect it shouldn't have been a surprise that I was towards the bottom of the class, but it was.

Before I started tutoring I believed that anyone can learn first year math and science if only they put in the time and effort.

Weirdly, I had the exact opposite conversion via tutoring, where "anyone" = "college students."

EDIT: I should clarify, I was a mediocre tutor. However, the head of the tutoring center was incredible. He regularly had people who were failing college algebra and science for non-majors and turned them into chemistry majors. In the sessions where he tried to mentor me, my students were obviously learning more than when I was by myself.

9[anonymous]6yA lower bound on your first claim: Most everyone accepts that there exist people with severe intellectual disability. For many causes, the degree of impairment may range smoothly from severe into the "normal" range, where the bright lines are imposed by functional requirements like living independently or managing health care, and not by any well-defined abstract mental capability.
6XiXiDu6yCould you provide examples of advanced math that you were unable to learn? Why do you think you failed?
0Luke_A_Somers6yderp.

I used to think Narwhals were fictional animals. And people telling me they were real were just joking. It wasn't until HS that I was convinced they actually existed. My mental process was like "No way are there aqua unicorns."

Semi-political: I used to believe the correlation between economic freedom and economic growth was much stronger than it is. (I know there is no canonical choice of measurement for either variable). This realization had pretty important consequences for me.

My estimates of public opinion surveys were totally wrong. On almost every issue (sexuality, morality, politics, etc) I was completely wrong about the distribution of beliefs. Given my history of failure in this domain I no longer really on my own "intuitive" estimates of the distribution of group beliefs. Instead I seek explicit surveys.

On a similar note to narwhals, for a while I assumed that fan death was just a meta-urban legend.

3VAuroch6yYou were not alone in your narwhal-doubting. [http://gavinverhey.tumblr.com/post/99999810756/because-of-this-card-for-many-years-i-actually]
3Daniel_Burfoot6yHere is a list of countries ranked by economic freedom: http://www.heritage.org/index/ [http://www.heritage.org/index/] The top 10 are all very prosperous countries. In particular, Hong Kong and Singapore are both much richer than surrounding areas. Chile is conspicuously richer than other South American countries. Mauritius is conspicuously richer than other African countries. Ireland is one of the wealthiest countries in Europe.

correlation between economic freedom and economic growth was much stronger than it is

Here is a list of countries ranked by economic freedom:

http://www.heritage.org/index/

The top 10 are all very prosperous countries. In particular, [...]

Princess_Stargirl is talking about the correlation with economic growth, which is not going to be the same as the correlation with economic prosperity. This looks like a confusion of a variable with its rate of change.

It is informative to see what happens if I (1) correct this by correlating the economic freedom index with GDP growth, and (2) use as big a sample as is available instead of focusing on particular cases. I copied the freedom ratings from that Heritage web page and real GDP growth rates ("estimates are for the year 2013 unless otherwise indicated") from Wikipedia. The correlation between the freedom index and real GDP growth turns out to be negative: the Pearson correlation coefficient is -0.19 and Spearman's rank correlation coefficient (which allows for nonlinearity) is -0.35. Plotting the data and a loess curve with R's default settings:

Some outliers are evident. Perhaps they're disproportionately skewing the freedom-g... (read more)

1AspiringRationalist6yTo test this hypothesis, I did a linear regression of overall score, each of the ten subscores and 2013 real GDP growth against the log of 2013 GDP per capita (at parity). I then took the correlation between the residual of 2013 real GDP growth and the residual for each of the scores. Here are the results: overall score -0.04 property rights -0.15 freedom from corruption -0.11 fiscal freedom 0.25 government spending 0.18 business freedom -0.03 labor freedom 0.05 monetary freedom -0.12 trade freedom 0.01 investment freedom -0.18 financial freedom -0.09 These results were approximately opposite of what I expected (I expected minimal correlation for fiscal freedom and government spending and generally positive correlations for everything else). While I'm only somewhat surprised by the government spending and fiscal freedom results, I find the others very confusing. Does anyone have any idea what might be going on?
0satt6yThe analysis I'd do would be simpler. Compute the correlation of log GDP per capita with the freedom index (or its subscales); if I'm right it should be substantially positive. Then correlate log GDP per capita with GDP growth; the result should be substantially negative. Taking correlations of residuals addresses the different question of whether unusually high growth for a country's income level correlates with unusually high freedom indices for a country's income level.
2AspiringRationalist6yI did the simpler analysis first and all the correlations between log GDP per capita and all the economic freedom index subscores were pretty negative (as was the correlation between log GDP per capita and GDP growth). Log GDP per capita was positively correlated with economic freedom subscores. Edit: clarity
0satt6yThanks. A negative correlation between log GDP per capita and the freedom index surprises me; that falsifies my "poor country" confounder speculation.
0AspiringRationalist6yThe comment above yours was not very clear. I have edited it for clarity. There is in fact a positive correlation between the economic freedom index and log GDP per capita.
0satt6yI'm more confused now. The parent comment says the EF index correlates positively with log GDP per capita, while the edited comment says the EF index subscores correlate both negatively and positively with log GDP per capita. I don't understand how that can all be true simultaneously...
0AspiringRationalist6yYour charts graph 1990-2007 economic growth as a function of 2014 economic freedom, 1990 economic freedom, so assuming that correlation is causation here (almost always a dubious assumption), this would indicate that economic growth leads to economic freedom, not the other way around.
1Azathoth1236yIs 1990 economic freedom data available?
0AspiringRationalist6yMy bad. The oldest data [http://www.heritage.org/index/explore?view=by-region-country-year] is from 1995.

That site has a nice slightly-interactive map where you can pick out individual components of their "freedom index". Mostly they correlate with prosperity (I have no idea what the actual causal relationships are) ... until you click on "Government Spending" and suddenly it goes exactly the other way round -- the allegedly-worst government spending figures are for the US, Canada and Western Europe, and the allegedly-best are for severely messed up central African countries and China (!) and India.

If they stopped counting government spending as opposed to freedom -- it seems to me only marginally a matter of freedom -- the correlation between "freedom" and prosperity would become even more impressive.

(Note 1. The cynic in me says: Of course that's out of the question because a central part of the reason why the Heritage Foundation exists is to argue for lower government spending and hence lower taxes. If it advocated less forcefully for that, it would become less useful to those who fund it.)

(Note 2. It seems like there are lots of other things that could go into a "freedom index" with about as much reason as government spending. Two examples: ... (read more)

[-][anonymous]6y 26

False belief: That in the U.S. the death penalty was cheaper than life in prison.

Believing this wasn't rational. I didn't take such basic steps as looking up the costs surrounding executions or life imprisonment. Executions get much more appeals, trials and legal attention.

False belief: That in the U.S. deaths by firearm are generally homicides, not suicides.

Believing this also wasn't rational. I didn't take such basic steps as looking up available death statistics.

Actually, looking through things potentially on the list for me, a lot of them seem to have the following general form:

1: Something is asserted.

2: I think: 'Yeah, that sounds plausible.'

3: I don't bother to look up any data about it, I just move myself to the believe column.

4: Later, someone else reports data about it.

5: I'm surprised that my earlier beliefs were wrong.

I've since became more skeptical of believing things based on just assertions, (I can even recall a recent instance where an assertion popped up on TV which my wife believed, but which I was skeptical of and which upon looking it up we found data didn't support it and that they were massively overstating their case)

But I can definitely recall beliefs that I have had in the past that were fundamentally just assertion based and the followed the above pattern.

I can't up-vote this enough. This is such a useful pastern to understand.

8[anonymous]6yI would have expected accidents to lead that metric. A quick check of the actual data says it's negligible. Time to rescind my support for gun lock laws (except perhaps to reduce the likelihood that people purchase guns in the first place).
6DanielLC6yThis never occurred to me until now. It's not something I find at all surprising. It's just that I've never heard anyone talk about gun control and suicide, so it wasn't something that I ever considered related to the issue of gun control.

It's just that I've never heard anyone talk about gun control and suicide, so it wasn't something that I ever considered related to the issue of gun control.

Heh. That's conclusive evidence that you've ever heard only one side of the gun control debate.

The anti-gun side widely uses "gun deaths" numbers which, as you just found out, contain suicides. The pro-gun side subtracts the suicides to get to actual "homicide using a gun" numbers. That's a very early and basic point in the debate.

2DanielLC6ySo the blues, who are in favor of euthanasia, count suicides as a problem, and the reds, who are against it, do not? Ironic.

You've just found that a major component of this debate was completely foreign to you. Now you've quickly decided that it's so silly you should make fun of it. Use the Try Harder, Luke.

3DanielLC6yMost of the debate is foreign to me. I've heard general arguments, but I've never once bothered to look into the numbers. I am not ignorant of the debate because I was irrationally assuming no additional information exists. I am ignorant because I never felt the need to stop being ignorant.
6[anonymous]6yIf you think the average person who kills themselves with a gun is even in the ballpark of the reference class that the word “euthanasia” suggests, your intuition about the latter needs recalibrating [http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/07/17/who-by-very-slow-decay/].
-4Douglas_Knight6yOr maybe your intuition about the former needs recalibrating.
6Lumifer6yNot really. It's just demagoguery, dark arts. A bigger number is more useful as a heavy blunt object to beat your opponent over the head with.
1Azathoth1236yWell most of the arguments I heard against euthanasia are slippery slope arguments [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ase/schelling_fences_on_slippery_slopes/] that euthanasia will lead to increasingly less voluntary euthanasia [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Involuntary_euthanasia].
1VAuroch6yBlues are not uniformly in favor of euthanasia; I'd call that a Grey cluster belief, largely.
0[anonymous]6yWell, means matter, as the saying gos: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/means-matter/ [http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/means-matter/] People commit suicide opportunistically, not (generally) in a planned-out way. So it makes sense that Democrats, who favor government interference in life choices for the greater good, support something that reduces your opportunity space for suicide. Of course, Republicans also support government interference in life choices for the greater good, just for different things (abortion, birth control access, sexual health education access, etc.). Really, it doesn't matter whether the beliefs are consistent, because nobody really thinks about this and few if any people who are debating gun control bring up these topics.
4buybuydandavis6yBeing ignorant of certain facts isn't being irrational.
9[anonymous]6yThinking about this comment reminds me of an important point. I do have a smartphone in my pocket and I can look up that information in seconds, quicker than I can type this post. I don't recall exactly when I shifted that belief, but I think it was before I had a smartphone, which means that looking it up would probably take at least minutes, instead of seconds, which may be coloring me thinking now 'I should have just looked up some facts.' Regardless of the status of beliefs about facts about the U.S. death penalty in particular, I agree there exist certain facts that are worth seconds looking into, that aren't worth minutes looking into (or any other appropriate combination of time increments) Thanks for bringing this to my attention.
5[anonymous]6ySee Rational ignorance [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rational_ignorance].
2Daniel_Burfoot6yBelieving a proposition X with some probability, without checking it, isn't irrational. I'm very confident that the core of the moon isn't made of cheese, even though no one has ever checked that. The whole point of theorizing is to jump from a limited number of empirical observations to general statements about the world.

One of the slides of my physiology 102 course consisted of the claim that women blink twice as much as men. I put that as a fact into Anki. Now it turns out that when I google around it isn't true.

In general the heuristic of believing things I'm told in science university lectures isn't completely bad, but it seems that there a category where lectures want to mention interesting facts and then tell students interesting facts that aren't necessarily true.

[-][anonymous]6y 18

For some fun examples, see wikipedia's list of common misconceptions, (although several entries seem like misconceptions about misconceptions.)

0Azathoth1236yUp-voted for the parenthetical.

My own example: I used to be a pretty strong believer in the strong crisis version of peak oil. This was mainly because I was around people who were; I went along with fairly naive trend extrapolation (exponential resource use increase, hard to develop new resources).

Eventually, around 2012 or so after oil prices had spiked then dropped then risen again and shale oil was a thing, I tempered my ideas, and took the much more rational view that oil wouldn't have a crisis-like peak, more a plateau. I believed that extremely high oil prices could drive massive adoption of much more advanced drilling methods. Therefore there would never be a crisis of extraordinary oil scarcity, but we could very well face $200/bbl oil (which we'd learn to live with like $140/bbl oil). But I didn't believe oil would really drop; I was bullish on almost all resource prices and on developing nation growth driving them.

While this was founded in a better understanding of economics and the petroleum industry, it was still grounded in false assumptions of continuing high-pace developing world growth and pessimism about alternative energy. Oil has now plummeted to $80/bbl, which I never expected to see again in my lifetime.

8DanielLC6yEven without all of that stuff, the price of oil can't predictably rise faster than the market interest rate. If it did, people would stop drilling for oil since it would be worth more if they wait. And taking any conservation efforts beyond that would be a bad idea (ignoring things like global warming), since you'd be better off drilling for oil now and just investing the money.
5Punoxysm6yI think the case where the well has an approximately known size, extraction can be paused at low cost, there is no contract or law obligating "use it or lose it" for mineral rights, the extractor can deal with the lack of cashflow, you're right. But there are certainly conditions where production can't be varied even if an increase in prices is clearly expected.
3DanielLC6yI understand that you can't simply stop extracting, but as long as you're allowed to own oil and not drill it you should be fine. If you're having cash flow problems, you can sell the land. Are there enough "use it or lose it" mineral rights problems to mess with the market?
6lmm6yA lot of the world's oil rights are held by unstable and/or autocratic regimes, who might well prefer to have the wealth in more liquid form.
3Matthew_Opitz6ySame thing here from around 2003 to 2006. I did not see the oil shale boom coming. I found plausible all of the peak oil pundits who argued that oil shale would barely, if at all, have an energy return on energy invested (EROEI) greater than 1, and thus it wouldn't matter how high the price went - the costs would keep pace with the revenue, and it would not be economical to develop it. Of course, those pundits turned out to be wrong. I remember the day when I really started to doubt peak oil. It was when I saw a TOD article on Toe-to-Heel-Air-Injection for heavy oil [http://www.theoildrum.com/node/2907] and I thought, "By golly, maybe they'll be able to use all of that heavy oil after all...." If I had had any money at the time, rather than being a high school student, I would have put money on heavy oil and oil shale from that point on, and I'd probably be doing pretty well by now...
2NancyLebovitz6yI wonder whether the failure of Peak Oil should lead to mistrust of fairly abstract arguments, perhaps especially those which lead to desired outcomes.

I once believed that most people have a basic understanding of how Solar system works. My belief in humanity shattered when during a discussion with with several graduates of physics (!) I discovered that most of them do not know what is the orbital period of Moon. An impromptu survey revealed that about 8 people from 10 thought it was one day or one week. One knew, one even asked if I want to know sideric or synodic period.

I once walked around a university campus convincing people that it's impossible to see the Moon during daylight hours. I think it was about 2/3 who believed me, at least until I pointed up.

I believed until sometime in high school that the phases of the moon are caused by the shadow of the earth. Don't ask me how I explained the gibbous phase.

...damn. I believed that until just now.

4Douglas_Knight6yThis video [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrXaQu_qGeo] contains a Harvard professor claiming something like that at 2:34. Mainly it asks Harvard graduates and local high school students about the reason for seasons.
2Pfft6yOh, that's a good example too for the main thread! I don't remember exactly when I learned that the "eccentric orbit" theory of seasons was wrong (some time around grade 8), but remember how it happened---someone claimed that seasons in South America are flipped from the Northern Hemisphere, and I thought "that's obviously wrong!!", but asking around a bit other people confirmed it. I guess this is also very similar to Folk Theories of Heat Control [http://lesswrong.com/lw/4x8/folk_theories_can_be_useful_even_when_theyre/] ---you tend to end up with the simplest model which explains all relevant observations. As long as you only deal with one hemisphere, the eccentric orbit theory mostly works, and it's much easier to remember.
4Azathoth1236yI wonder what this says about how seriously we should take Occam's razor.
227chaos6yI think Occam's razor is best used when you have Model A and Model B, where Model B is identical to Model A except it has one extra idea in it. Comparing different models or different types of models through one's intuitions about simplicity alone is generally a bad idea.
427chaos6yIt is about a month, right? I don't really see the importance of that knowledge though, unless you're fighting werewolves. I agree people are dumb, but they're dumb because they don't understand useful ideas like math rather than because they don't remember trivia about everyday phenomena.
4[anonymous]6yI love the example of what causes the phases of the moon, because it's not knowledge that most (modern) people have cached, but figuring it out only requires drawing a bunch of picture and asking questions about them like "What would I see in this configuration?". For my part, I never realized (or probaly just forgot) there was a pattern between the phases of the moon and the time of the moon's visibility until I did this exercise a few years ago.
4Luke_A_Somers6yI would like to see a broader sample before you concluded that. If the 10 could hear each other, they could have formed a temporary mistake bandwagon.
2Azathoth1236yWell the Julian months aren't synchronized to the moon despite their origin.

I believed that the composition of a rational rotation of a sphere and another rational rotation of a sphere will be rational. (By a rational rotation I mean a rotation of a sphere around some axis which in radians is a rational multiple of pi, and thus will end up putting the sphere back where it started if you apply it enough.) Counterexample: Two 30 degree rotations each around a different axis with the two axies perpendicular to each other. I believed this because I was too used to thinking about the two-dimensional case, where it is trivially true.

Until very recently, I was convinced that it was extremely unlikely that any form of adiabatic quantum computing would have any chance at working at providing speedups, either asymptotically or practically. This belief came to a large extent as what was in retrospect an irrational reaction to the junk and bad hype that has been repeatedly coming from D-Wave. I changed my position when Scott Aaronson made this comment (comment number 25).

More mind-killing territory: Until about 3 days ago, I was convinced that claims that mass shootings were increasing in the US were due purely to media scare tactics and general human tendencies to ... (read more)

there really is a substantial fraction of what self-identifies as the "social justice" movement, primarily in an online context, that really is toxic, and that the rest of the left and the serious, sane part of the SJers aren't doing enough to call them out on it

Minus the online bit, this is fully generalizable against any political group, (and a lot of non-political groups as well). Which groups do you choose to lambast for "not calling out toxic members of that group"? Presumably the groups that you don't like. This is the art of politics.

"I don't have a problem with X group, but you have to agree that the subset Y of them are really horrible so lets continue to talk about how horrible they are" is Dark Arts to the max.

9[anonymous]6yThis is a accurate description of a common political behavior. But recognizing this doesn't mean that all groups must actually have symmetrically malign subgroups, or that the mainstream in every group has the same relationship towards these subgroups. You can support the mainstream positions of both group A and group B, but be more critical of group B due to the existence of a subgroup you consider malign.
6pianoforte6116yYes of course, and most political (or other) groups are filled to the brim with self criticism. And this is very difficult to confuse with the phenomenon I am describing. In particular, if you only ever talk about how horrible subgroup B is and never suggest ways of improving the movement and you use the same language to describe subgroup B and the movement at large then you are probably engaged in politics and not constructive criticism. This [http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/2014/02/moralizing-inequality.html] is a good example of in group criticism. The author calls out members of his political affiliation for making a stupid argument, presents an alternative framework for understanding the issue and moves on. Repeatedly talking about how horrible subgroup B is not an example of in group criticism. Meta-level point: out group criticism can be well reasoned and valuable. It is more often a politicized rhetorical weapon. The phenomenon I am describing is usually the latter.

I was convinced in 2008 that Obama was going to be good for civil liberties. I don't think I need to discuss in any detail why that was wrong or how I got convinced otherwise, since the reasons should be pretty obvious.

I also made this mistake (although, to be fair, on the issue of torture, Obama genuinely was an improvement.)

My current belief is that, rather being grossly mistaken about the character of the former Constitutional law scholar/sponsor of a bill requiring videotaped confessions, I was grossly mistaken in underestimating the corruptive influence of the concentrated power of the executive branch/national security apparatus on anyone who wields it. I no longer think real reform will come from any President of any background; if reform is ever to happen it would require the legislative branch to actually prioritize reigning in the executive branch.

I also made this mistake (although, to be fair, on the issue of torture, Obama genuinely was an improvement.)

How do you now? The Obama administration continues to ban photographing equipment which was one of the policies to suppress evidence of US torture.

Torture got outlawed in the late Bush administration. People responsible for the torture project had no problem raising in influence within the Obama administration. The Obama administration continues to run black sites.

6hyporational6yIs it possible that the reason for change was secret information instead of corruption?
9ChristianKl6yNo. I personally updated on the question the moment Obama got elected and choose his cabinet. If he would have wanted to change something he would have chose a cabinet of people who wanted change. He didn't. Politics is about people. Making someone like Rahm Emanuel his chief of staff is a clear sign about his intentions.
2Lumifer6ySecret information is the tool of corruption. I don't remember from where the quote is, but "The best way to control somebody is to control his information channels". Especially given that once you're privy to secret information you tend to discount the opinions of others who do not have access to it.
3Azathoth1236yJust out of curiosity, you do realize the reason countries keep information related to national security secret?
6Lumifer6yYes, of course, but the point is that there are costs (including non-obvious ones) to keeping a bunch of information secret.
2hyporational6ySecret information can explain the change whether it is true or false. We can only guess. Is there a solution? Keep the president in the dark? Make classified security data public?
2Lumifer6yWhat exactly is the problem you want to solve?
0hyporational6yCorruption. Am I being vague enough?
0Lumifer6yHeh. Let me be less vague. The problem is the capture and control of elected officials by the entrenched bureaucracy and associated interests. It's a well-known problem. I am not aware of good non-bloody solutions. Of course there is also the universal "power corrupts" which doesn't help.
327chaos6yI do not understand your sphere rotation example because I can't visualize that 3D example. Any chance someone can help out?
3shminux6yThat, and I was convinced that he would be a competent President. I did not expect the the degree of ineptitude that is apparent now.
3Brillyant6yCan you give examples? What sort of measure are you using? I also have a sense Obama has not been an effective President, but I've no idea how to objectively measure that.
0shminux6yObamacare, an excellent idea and long overdue, but implemented and deployed in the worst way possible, is a typical example. The Ebola crisis response is another. Handling of the Snowden affair... Take almost any issue, political or economic, international or domestic, and it has been botched pretty bad, not out of malice, but out of incompetence. Well, maybe the Quantitative Easing is an exception, I am not qualified to judge.
7Brillyant6yIn my view, it's always so hard to tell what was truly "botched". Further, how can we know what level of influence the President has in such cases where something actually was botched? Regardless of what someone's politics are, the federal gov't and all the agencies that are somehow intertwined with it is huge, and I'm not sure to what extent one man's incompetence has much to do with avoiding apparent gaffes that show up in the media. Obamacare is a strange example of Obama's incompetence, I think. I mean, they tried to roll out a hotly controversial brand new program in a nation of 300+ million people. It seems very likely in my view such a rollout would be loudly criticized for it's flaws no matter how well it went. And it's so early... might be a huge success or a big failure... no clue. Ebola is another one I'm not sure about—How can we know what good looks like? And how can we tie that to Obama? Something like Ebola dominates the news cycle for x days/weeks and it seems to become evidence that things were botched; evidence that the guy in charge blew it. I mean reasonably, what could Barack Obama do about the spread of the Ebola virus? He listens to his expert advisers and makes a decision. Then some huge chain of command takes over, with possible weak links and mistakes poised to happen from the President down to the doctors and researchers on the front lines. Certainly possible it's the President's fault, but it seems unlikely. Anyway, it seems to happen to both Reds and Blues. Make it political and try to tear down the other guy's heroes and leaders.
-5Azathoth1236y
3NancyLebovitz6yhttp://www.vox.com/2014/5/20/5732208/the-green-lantern-theory-of-the-presidency-explained [http://www.vox.com/2014/5/20/5732208/the-green-lantern-theory-of-the-presidency-explained] Summary: The President doesn't have all that much freedom to control the government. The office was designed that way.
0shminux6yI agree that there is very little direct power. However, the President has a lot of power in picking the executives running various governmental departments. And staffing them with competent administrators and not political appointees is the most important way the President can influence decision making without actually having to make the day-to-day decisions. This is a pretty standard advice to middle and upper management. Obama failed miserably in this. Sibelius and Napolitano are classic examples of obvious incompetence, I'm sure you can name many more. On the other hand, Frieden appeared very competent... until last month. So there is that. And whoever advised Obama on how to deal with Snowden should never be allowed to advise again.
1Douglas_Knight6yWhat is unpersuasive about the responses to Mother Jones? They're exactly what I thought when I read it. Actually, I had a more specific thought: what changed in 2011 is that they started collecting data live, rather than through archives. Of course, rejecting a data set because it was produced by hand in an ad hoc manner does not give you a replacement data set and thus does not produce an actual analysis. But the Reason link suggests Duwe's data as a replacement. Since he starts with official data and only uses media coverage to fill in details, he isn't subject to temporal bias.
0JoshuaZ6yI agree that Duwe's point is the closest thing there to a decent argument against MJ's data. But I think the accusation that there data is "cherrypicked" is not reasonably supported. The entire paragraph in Siegel's piece where he argues for this is essentially ignoring that what they are using is what fits closely with the common intuition of what is a mass shooting. The only one which one could plausibly take out of that set is Fort Hood but it doesn't alter the data very much. Most of Siegel's points are correct but not relevant to the question of increases of shootings. For example, he's correct that there's a serious measuring issue with whether shootings are stopped by others with weapons, and he's also correct that even if the trend identified by MJ is accurate it is still a tiny fraction of total crimes and will remain so, but that's not actually relevant to evaluating the central claim.
4Douglas_Knight6yWhat about the methodology of starting with news reports? These have strong biases that probably change by time. And how did they locate decades old news reports? A recency bias is to be expected. (Added: Duwe has a paper about this!) Their definition is pretty reasonable, except for the part where they make tons of exceptions. The examples they gave of the exceptions that they made sound intuitive, but what about all the exceptions that they didn't talk about? Why didn't they include the Ridgewood Postal murders? Since they don't actually have a consistent rule, it's impossible to decide if they applied it to this case, or if the actual criterion was that it was too old. Added: I tried spot-checking a few examples from Duwe's book against the MJ list. On pages 115-116 he lists 12 high profile workplace mass shootings. In addition to Ridgewood, they omit Alan Winterbourne and Willie Woods, both very straight-forward examples. If they miss these high profile examples, why would you expect them to reliably find others?
2JoshuaZ6yThinking about this more, I think you are correct. The data is much too spotty to make a strong conclusion.
1Douglas_Knight6yThe last 30 years of such claims are not due to anything that happened in 2011.
0JoshuaZ6ySure, that's certainly a valid point. It doesn't make the people saying this in the 1980s or the 1990s or the 2000s correct in any way shape or form. And it is possible that the media's current claims are completely disconnected from the uptick. The relevant bit is updating that there really has been a statistically significant uptick. (Especially because my priors based on general declining crime rates would have been to if anything suspect the opposite.)
1Douglas_Knight6yAlso, what about you? Did you have this opinion before 2011?
0JoshuaZ6yWhat do you mean? I thought I made that clear. My opinion was well before 2011 and remained my go to comment until I read that article that there was no increase at all and that any claimed increase was purely media hype.
1Douglas_Knight6yYour opinion about newsmedia was correct the whole time. This led you to ignore Mother Jones in 2012, but still your beliefs about the trends were correct for most of the time you held them. What is the correct course of action? Ignoring the newsmedia is clearly optimal. In particular paying attention to MJ writing on the same data set in 2012 would have produced the belief that spree killings had increased in 2006, an error according to your current MJ beliefs, though of course MJ doesn't notice the change. Maybe if you wait a few years, they'll convince you that nothing changed in 2011, only in 2015.
0JoshuaZ6yI don't think so. I had read similar articles in the past and was generally unpersuaded.

Probably not too interesting, but after studying physics at university I was pretty sure that the Many-Worlds interpretation of QM was crazy-talk (nobody even really mentioned it at uni). Of course I didn't read Eliezer's sequence on QM (although I read the others). I mean I had a degree in physics and Eliezer didn't.

Then after seeing it over and over again on LW, I actually read this paper to see what it was all about. And I was enlightened. Well, I had a short crisis of faith first, then I was enlightened.

This all could have been avoided if I had read that paper earlier. The lesson is that I can't even trust my fellow physicists :(

I find Eliezer's insistence about Many-Worlds a bit odd, given how much he hammers on "What do you expect differently?". Your expectations from many-worlds are be identical to those from pilot-wave, so....

I'm probably misunderstanding or simplifying his position, e.g. there are definitely calculational and intuition advantages to using one vs the other, but that seems a bit inconsistent to me.

I take Eliezer's position on MWI to be pretty well expressed by this quote from David Wallace:

[...] there is no quantum measurement problem.

I do not mean by this that the apparent paradoxes of quantum mechanics arise because we fail to recognize 'that quantum theory does not represent physical reality' (Fuchs and Peres 2000a). Quantum theory describes reality just fine, like any other scientific theory worth taking seriously: describing (and explaining) reality is what the scientific enterprise is about...

What I mean is that there is actually no conflict between the dynamics and ontology of (unitary) quantum theory and our empirical observations. We thought there was originally, because the theory is subtle, complicated and highly unintutive, and because our early attempts to understand it and to relate it to empirical data promote high-level concepts like 'observation' and 'measurement' to the level of basic posits and confused the issue.

The central case for Everettianism is that it is just plain old quantum mechanics, approached with the default realist perspective that most of us have no problem adopting for practically every other physical theory.* Every other "interpr... (read more)

I'm probably misunderstanding or simplifying his position

You really aren't. His logic is literally "it's simpler, therefore it's right" and "we don't need collapse (or anything else), decoherence is enough". To be fair, plenty of experts in theoretical physics hold the same view, most notably Deutsch and Carroll.

0Baughn6yDoesn't pilot-wave QM imply literally the exact same calculations happening as for MWI, though? I sort of got that idea, but if that's true then I'm not sure I see what the difference between them is in the first place. It seems to me that any theory of quantum mechanics which practically differs from MWI must include collapse somewhere. (Assuming the difference you're looking for is "People don't live in the other branches".)
3DanielLC6yPilot-wave QM has all the calculations as MWI for describing the pilot waves. Then there are particles bouncing around the waves. And then there's the waveform collapse that happens whenever the particle actually does something. And if you want to explain entanglement, you have to deal with higher-dimensional pilot waves somehow controlling different particles in parallel so the location of one depends on the location of the other. The Copenhagen interpretation is QM with some bizarre useless stuff added on. Pilot-wave QM is the Copenhagen interpretation with some bizarre useless stuff added on.
2pragmatist6yIn Bohmian mechanics there is no wavefunction collapse "when the particle actually does something". There is something that the Bohmians call "effective wavefunction collapse", but that is an emergent phenomenon, not a fundamental dynamical process. The math of the theory says that the wavefunction never collapses, but since the particles are always carried on one branch of the wavefunction, you can treat the wavefunction as if it has collapsed to that branch once an observation is made, and the particle position/velocity calculations will still work out. So you can treat the wavefunction as having collapsed for calculational convenience, but in the actual ontology of the theory the wavefunction behaves exactly as it does under MWI.
0Baughn6yRight, that's my point. In that case, it's doing the same calculations as MWI and the particles are practically epiphenomenal; ~all observers will find themselves somewhere in the pilot wave.
2pragmatist6yThe Bohmian stance is that the "pilot wave" isn't a real thing, it's a mathematical tool. The stuff that actually exists in the universe is the particles. The pilot wave is just a construct we use to predict how the particles move. So it's a little misleading to say that the particles are epiphenomenal. Ordinarily, when we say that X is epiphenomenal in some theory, we mean that X is causally affected by all the other stuff in the universe but does not itself have any causal effect on any other stuff. The Bohmian position is that there is no other stuff in the universe besides the particles, so it doesn't make really sense to say the particles are epiphenomenal. Similarly, saying that all observers will find themselves somewhere in the pilot wave is also a bit misleading. It's true that there are mathematical structures within the pilot wave (including in those parts of it that do not carry particles) that correspond to observers. However, since the pilot wave isn't a real thing, those observers don't actually exist. The only observers that exist are the ones made out of particles. MWI, on the other hand, interprets the wave function as representing a real physical object, so any structures within the wave function correspond to stuff that actually exists in the universe.
2Baughn6yThis is the part I don't get. How can the pilot wave "not be a real thing" if it's being computed? Is there some sense in which a thing can be real separate from its being computed?
4pragmatist6yWhen you talk about the pilot wave "being computed", you are assuming a conception of laws of nature that contemporary advocates of Bohmianism would most likely reject. In what sense do you think the pilot wave is being computed? If you want to know more about how Bohmians conceive of the status of the laws of QM, read the first paper I linked in this comment [http://lesswrong.com/lw/l49/what_false_beliefs_have_you_held_and_why_were_you/bgy7] , or at least its conclusion. Basically, you're supposed to think of Schrodinger's equation as merely an efficient strategy for compressing information about particle interaction.
-1tut6yThe same way that World of Warcraft isn't real. Computations are in the map not in the territory.
0Luke_A_Somers6yAnd yet, a WoW account has persistent state and internal dynamics. It seems real to me. It just isn't the same thing as what it represents.
1gjm6yThat isn't how I've heard it. E.g., Wikipedia [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Broglie%E2%80%93Bohm_theory#The_ontology]: "The onyology [...] consists of a configuration [...] and a pilot wave." Bohm's book "The undivided universe" says (I'm going off the Amazon look-inside feature so it's possible that this would be invalidated by more context): "Let us now discuss this ontology in a more systematic way. Its key points are: [...] 2. This particle [sc. an electron -- gjm] is never separate from a new type of quantum field that fundamentally affects it." (The "new type of quantum field" is the wavefunction.) This seems to say in so many words that the wavefunction is as real as the particles in Bohmian mechanics, which seems to me enough to (e.g.) say that "observers" encoded therein are real.
3pragmatist6yBohmian mechanics has developed quite a bit since Bohm. Its most significant contemporary defenders are Sheldon Goldstein, Nino Zanghi and Detlef Durr, and they advocate the ontology I described. See, for instance, this paper [http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/9381/1/Bohm-ont1012.pdf]. From the abstract: Some [http://math.rutgers.edu/~oldstein/papers/rrwf.pdf] other [http://arxiv.org/pdf/quant-ph/9512031.pdf] sources [http://arxiv.org/pdf/quant-ph/9902018.pdf] for this view.
2gjm6yInteresting paper -- thanks! It seems to me to argue not that the Bohmian stance is that the wavefunction isn't a thing, but that one good Bohmian stance is that the wavefunction isn't a thing. Of course that might suffice as a rebuttal to the common claim that Bohmian mechanics is basically a less honest version of MWI plus some extra unnecessary bits. ... Though the paper's approach doesn't seem perfectly satisfactory to me -- the proposal is that the universal wavefunction should be considered a law of nature , which seems to me about as reasonable as considering every fact about the universe a "law of nature" and doing away with contingency altogether. I confess that I don't have much in the way of actual arguments against doing this, though. It just seems to violate a general pattern I think I see, that it works best to put random-contingent-looking stuff in (so to speak) the data rather than the code. (... And: even if we deny that the wavefunction is a thing, the usual argument still seems to me to have considerable force: Bohmian mechanics includes all the same stuff as Everettian, even if it reclassifies some bits as laws rather than things, plus extra stuff -- all those ontologically basic particles -- that seems to serve no purpose beyond making the theory feel a bit more natural to some physicists.) It might turn out (I suspect only with a complete theory of quantum gravity in hand) that actually there's a really briefly specifiable universal wavefunction that naturally gets everything we see as one of its branches. In that case, my objection to treating the wavefunction as a law of nature rather than a part of nature would probably go away. I'm not sure it would really do much to make Bohmian QM look better than Everettian, though. (Disclaimer: I'm not really a physicist or a philosopher of science, and my intuitions on this stuff aren't worth very much.)
0shminux6yAs a pragmatist, how do you decide if something is or isn't real?
3pragmatist6yMy stance is that whether or not an entity is real is not a meta-level philosophical question, the way it is usually treated in the realism vs. anti-realism debates, but an object-level scientific question. Our scientific theories, interpreted literally, are committed to certain ontologies. MWI is quite clearly committed to the existence of something like a universal wave function, otherwise none of its explanations or purported merits make any sense. I also think (like David Wallace) that basic quantum theory, interpreted literally and without any ontological or epistemological add-ons, is committed to something like a universal wave function. So I think that our best scientific theories should determine our ontology. As for which scientific theory to believe in, I think there are a number of different considerations that go into that -- empirical confirmation, simplicity, concilience with the rest of our theories, feritility (in terms of useful predictions), etc. My beef with instrumentalism is that it is, in a sense, too philosophical. It treats the reality or unreality of the unobservable entities posited by our best theories as a further question, one not determined by the theories themselves. Even once we have accepted, say, quantum mechanics as true, the instrumentalist says there is a further question about whether to take its claims literally or to treat them as mere calculational tools for making predictions. My take is that there is no further question. Accepting quantum mechanics as true, or believing in quantum mechanics, implies accepting the theory as a guide to reality. If you're unwilling to do that, you need to tell me why. If your standards for determining what really exists are so high that not even our best-confirmed scientific theories can meet them, then I suspect you're working with a concept of "reality" that I, as a pragmatist, have no use for (and can't even really understand).
0shminux6yOK, so your approach is something like "QM has wave function as a basic description, therefore wave function is real if QM is true"? And if QED requires virtual particles to calculate anything useful, then virtual particles "exist", and are not a mathematical artifact of the perturbation theory? If that's what instrumentalism is, then I am most definitely not an instrumentalist. To me "accepting QM as true" is a meaningless statement, while "QM is accurate (at explaining and predicting) and fertile (making lots and lots of interesting, useful and accurate predictions)" is a meaningful one. I would agree with that, assuming I had "standards for determining what really exists", which I don't. To me everything imaginable exists to the same degree, just in different contexts, be it stars, photons, baseballs, unicorns, thoughts, ghosts or numbers. Which makes the concept of existence so loose as to be meaningless. So I don't see any use for it. If you say that this (obvious to me) approach does not fit neatly to some existing (heh) ontology, I would be quite surprised,
0pragmatist6yYeah, I believe virtual particles exist. I also believe in the existence of things like phonons, the electromagnetic field, organisms, beliefs and prices. These are all ontological posits of the best theories of the particular domain. I don't think that there is a meaningful sense in which some of these things are more real than others. Unlike you, I don't think unicorns or ghosts exist to any degree, because they are not part of our best theory of the relevant domain. I'm not even sure how to think about degrees of existence. From a pragmatist point of view, there isn't much distance between those two statements. Pragmatists (myself included) reject the correspondence theory of truth.
0shminux6yInteresting, thank you. I guess our views are not that far apart. And I also though if someone comes up with an interesting, accurate and fruitful meta-model of partial existence, I'd be happy to change my mind. Could it be because you are trying to apply them to a wrong domain? Would you agree that in a certain setting (a fantasy tale, a horror story) we can predict behavioral and visual features of the creatures inhabiting it with a fair degree of accuracy? Often more accurately than, say, a path and strength of a tropical storm being born in the Atlantic.
0pragmatist6yYeah, but what we're using there is a theory of literary and mythological tropes. Those tropes certainly exist, and can be used to predict features of various books and movies. But I think it's misleading to characterize this as unicorns or ghosts existing. When people ordinarily say things like "I believe ghosts exist", they're not referring to predictable patterns in horror stories. I can tell you some things about what the world would be like if ghosts existed, and the world isn't that way. If all you mean is that ghosts exist in certain fictional universes, then sure, they do. If someone asks me "Do ghosts exist in Middle Earth?" I'd say "Yes". If someone asks me "Do ghosts exist?" I'd say "No".
0shminux6yRight. When you extrapolate a model beyond its domain of validity, in this case from stories to the physically perceived world, the predictions of ghost models tend to fail pretty badly. So when people argue about what exists and what does not, all I see is "domain confusion".
0pragmatist6yI'm not at all sure what you mean when you say that all you see is "domain confusion". Do you mean that people in these arguments are talking past each other because they are each talking about different domains? Because I'm pretty sure that is not true in general. Or do you mean that people who say, for example, that ghosts exist are saying this because they are illegitimately extrapolating a theory that works in one domain into another? I don't think this is true in general either. Or do you mean something else? Just to clarify: When, in ordinary circumstances, you encounter a debate between two people about whether ghosts exist, do you think one of them is right and the other is wrong?
0shminux6yYes. Usually yes, since people rarely argue whether ghosts exist in mythology. But a discussion about whether numbers exist is almost always a confusion about domains, since numbers exist in the mind, just like ghosts.
0lackofcheese6yAh, but then you're talking about a theory of "unicorns" rather than a theory of unicorns.
1shminux6yNot sure what you are saying. My guess is that you are implying that the quotation is not the referent [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ok/the_quotation_is_not_the_referent/], and unicorns are hypothetical magical creatures, while "unicorns" are vivid and very real descriptions of them in the stories often read and written by the local bronies. If so, then all I have to say that unicorn is not an accurate or fertile theory, while "unicorn" most definitely is. The difference is the domain of validity: can you go outside and find one running around, or can you mostly encounter them in books and movies? But that applies to most theories. If you go slow, Newtonian mechanics is adequate, if you study fast-moving objects, Newton gives bad predictions. Similarly, if you apply the predictions of the "unicorn" model beyond the domain of its validity, you are going to be disappointed, though occasionally you might discover a new applicable domain, such as a cosplay or a SFF convention.
2lackofcheese6yThe distinction is that a theory of "unicorns" is a theory that describes how and why other people (and probably you yourself) think about unicorns, while a theory of unicorns would explain actual unicorns. The latter would clearly fail as a theory, because you're never going to actually see a unicorn. The same distinction doesn't apply to Newtonian mechanics, because Newtonian mechanics is a theory of mechanics, not a theory of how people think about mechanics. On those grounds, I think it's quite reasonable to say that virtual particles are real, and "unicorns" are real, but unicorns are not real.
0shminux6yNot sure if you read anything I wrote in this thread. Note that both Newton's laws and "unicorn" laws are models. You don't find Newton's laws in Nature, just like you don't find "unicorn" laws. You don't find virtual particles, either, as they are but terms in the perturbative expansion of a particular quantum field theory (which is also a model, and not found in the wild). Anyway, disengaging now.
1pragmatist6yNo, it doesn't [http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qm-bohm/#eqs]. Pilot-wave QM postulates an additional fundamental equation (the guiding equation) that doesn't appear in MWI. It describes how the behavior of the wave function affects the positions of particles.
0Baughn6yOkay, so it does some extra calculations. But it still does all the same calculations as MWI?
0pragmatist6yYes, it does all the same calculations as MWI plus some more. The only way to empirically distinguish MWI and Bohmianism is through anthropic considerations (like in the quantum suicide experiment discussed elsewhere in this thread).
1travisrm896yThere is at least one situation in which you might expect something different under MWI than under pilot-wave: quantum suicide. If you rig a gun so that it kills you if a photon passes through a half-silvered mirror, then under MWI (and some possibly reasonable assumptions about consciousness) you would expect the photon to never pass through the mirror no matter how many experiments you perform, but under pilot-wave you would expect to be dead after the first few experiments.
5gjm6yI'm not convinced there's a real difference there. In both cases you expect that in no experiment you observe (and survive) will the gun fire and kill you. In both cases you expect that an independent observer will see the gun fire and kill you about half the time. In both cases you expect that there is some chance that you survive through many experiments (and, I repeat, that in all those you will find that the gun didn't fire or fired in some unintended way or something) -- what actual observable difference is there here?
-1pragmatist6yIn the pilot wave theory, the probability that you will witness yourself surviving the experiment after it is performed say 1000 times is really really small. In MWI that probability is close to 1 (provided you consider all future versions of yourself to be "yourself"). So if you witness yourself surviving the experiment after it is performed 1000 times, you should update in favor of MWI over pilot wave theory (if those are the two contenders).
9gjm6yI am skeptical of the existence of any clearly definable sense of "the probability that you will witness yourself surviving the experiment" that (1) yields different answers for Everett and for Bohm, and (2) doesn't have excessively counterintuitive properties (e.g., probabilities not adding up to 1). Probability that any you looking at the outcome of the experiment after 1000 runs sees you alive? 1, either way. Probability that someone looking from outside sees you alive after 1000 runs? Pretty much indistinguishable from 0, either way. You only get the "probability 1 of survival" thing out of MWI by effectively conditionalizing on your survival. But you can do that just as well whatever interpretation of QM you happen to be using. If I find myself alive after 1000 runs of the experiment ... well, what I actually conclude, regardless of preferred interpretation of QM, is that the experiment was set up wrong, or someone sabotaged it, or some hitherto-unsuspected superbeing is messing with things. But if such possibilities are ruled out somehow, I conclude that something staggeringly improbable happened, and I conclude that whether I am using Everett or Bohm. I don't expect to go on living for ever under MWI; the vast majority of my measure doesn't. What I expect is that whatever bits of my wavefunction survive, survive. Which is entirely tautological, and is equivalent to "if I survive, I survive" in a collapse-y interpretation.
5Strilanc6yAnthropomorphically forcing the world to have particular laws of physics by more effectively killing yourself if it doesn't seems... counter-productive to maximizing how much you know about the world. I'm also not sure how you can avoid disproving MWI by simply going to sleep, if you're going to accept that sort of evidence. (Plus quantum suicide only has to keep you on the border of death. You can still end up as an eternally suffering almost-dying mentally broken husk of a being. In fact, those outcomes are probably far more likely than the ones where twenty guns misfire twenty times in a row.)
0DanielLC6yIt's quite a bit less likely, but if quantum immortality changes the past (when you're on the border of life and death, it's clear the gun didn't misfire), then it would just keep you from running the experiment in the first place.
9shminux6yHow do you know your new belief is more accurate than your old belief?

Hm, because I spend more time researching the issue than I had before? That should count for something, shouldn't it?

Also, I can actually explain things like decoherence without hand-waving now. Looking back there were some gaps in my understanding that I just brushed over. You could say it was a failure of rationality to give as much credence to the Copenhagen interpretation in the first place.

5EHeller6yBut when you go to many worlds you lose the Born probabilities, doesn't that bother you? The Born probabilities are the actual measurable predictions of the theory. Many worlds is only simpler as a theory if you don't include a measurement postulate, in which case no one knows how to get Born probabilities. You can postulate the Born probabilities, but now the theory is exactly as complicated as it was before, so there is no reason to choose many worlds over something like consistent histories.
2Vladimir5yNope, MWI is still simpler. The Copenhagen version simply introduces a magical flying spaghetti monster that eats up all the other unobserved configuration spaces faster than light, non-unitarily, etc. That's not really what you would call an "explanation" of the Born probabilities, it's just a magical black box. Many Worlds proponents just say upfront that we don't really know why our experience matches the Born probabilities (and neither does Copenhagen), so it subtracts the FSM from the total complexity. Therefore O(MWI) < O(single-world theories).
6pan6yI think that when you start reasoning about quantum foundations it should be remembered that you're leaving the boundary of testable physics. This is to say that even if you've concluded that many-worlds is most likely to be correct with your current information, that there should remain a pretty high degree of uncertainty in your conclusion.
0shminux6yIt has been shown experimentally long ago [http://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.47.979] that MWI requires full Quantum Gravity, not just Quantum Mechanics (plus Newtonian gravity or General Relativity, or even semi-classical gravity). EDIT: provided an alternate link (paywalled, sorry).
3Luke_A_Somers6yWho out there, MWI-adherent or not, seriously thinks that QM is a fundamental rule of nature for everything BUT gravity?
-2Lumifer6yMy position here is Knightian uncertainty -- I have no idea whether that's true AND I have no idea what are the chances of it being true.
0Luke_A_Somers6yThat's, umm, nice, but I don't see how it helps answer the question since I suspect the number of 'not me!' would be enormous.
-4shminux6yNot sure what you are asking, but Everett and many other MWIers certainly thought/think that "the wave function of the universe" is all one needs to know.
0Luke_A_Somers6y
3DanielLC6yWhat does that mean? You can have MWI without Quantum Gravity. It just won't have any gravity. If I had to guess, I'd say that you mean that you won't be able to get general relativity working just by doing quantum physics on a non-flat spacetime. You have to have the spacetime metric itself vary along different universes. This is true, and it seems pretty obvious. If you didn't do that, then gravity would have to be the same in all universes. But there's another universe where Earth is somewhere else, so the gravitational field obviously has to be moved.
0TheMajor6yI don't understand. GR describes the metric tensor through the Einstein's equations, relating (the) energy (tensor) and the metric tensor. If you grab yourself an empty universe, then put some stuff in it, then do the incredibly hard math (this step usually goes wrong) out you get a metric tensor. In QM the energy is given in terms of the wave-function. You claim that the observation that the earth's gravity pulls us in the general direction of the earth is inconsistent with the idea of putting the full wavefunction's energy into this equation?
0DanielLC6yIf you look at Schroedinger's equation for one particle, it's easy to generalize it so that the particle is in curved spacetime. The problem is when you get entanglement involved. Normally, for n particles, you do Schroedinger's equation in R^3n, and each triplet corresponds to the coordinates of one particle. You could generalize that to M^n where M is an arbitrary manifold, but that means you'd have to use that manifold for every universe. You could try running Einstein's field equations on the 3n+1-dimensional configuration space (+1 being time, not an extra space dimension) and running Schroedinger's equation on that. I don't know if that would work. If it does, you didn't get MWI without quantum gravity. You discovered quantum gravity.
2gjm6yThat link doesn't work for me. Is there somewhere else to get whatever it's intended to link to, or a summary, or something? I find it very difficult to imagine what could possibly constitute an experimental demonstration that Everettian QM requires full quantum gravity and not QM + some semi-classical treatment of gravity. This isn't code for "I don't believe you" -- just a remark that what you're claiming is really startling, at least to me. (Well. In some sense any understanding of QM requires full quantum gravity, in that without it we know we don't have a theory that actually describes the real world. But that's as true of any other theory as it is of Everett's.)
4DanielFilan6yI can summarise the basic gist of the paper in relatively non-technical language (other people, please comment if you disagree with what I'm saying here): Einstein's equation says that the curvature (read geometry) of spacetime is equal to the stress-energy tensor, which basically measures how much mass/energy/momentum there is in a place at a time. However, in quantum mechanics, the universe is in a superposition of states with different distributions of mass. A theory of quantum gravity would therefore say that the universe must therefore be in a superposition of states with different geometries. The alternative is to have semi-classical gravity, where there is only one geometry of spacetime. The most obvious way to construct a theory of semi-classical gravity is to say that the geometry of spacetime is actually related to the average distribution of mass of all the Everett branches (if you're an Everettian). To test this, you can take a large mass, and put the universe into a superposition of two states: one where you move the large mass to the left, and one where you move the large mass to the right. You then see if your mass is attracted to the mass in the other Everett branch. If semi-classical gravity and the Everett interpretation are right, then both masses should curve spacetime, and that curvature of spacetime should be felt by both of them, so each mass should be attracted to the one in the other Everett branch. If semi-classical gravity or the Everett interpretation are wrong, then the masses shouldn't feel attracted to the ones in the other Everett branch. The people who wrote this paper did something that was essentially equivalent to the experiment described above, and discovered that the mass was not attracted to the one in the other Everett branch, meaning that semi-classical gravity and the Evererett interpretation can't both be true. They also argue that semi-classical gravity implies the Everett interpretation, and that therefore semi-classic
3gjm6yNice! I find myself wanting to say "no, surely that just means that they refuted one particular sort of semiclassical gravity" but I'm not sure what other sort there might be. Still, for me the main conclusion is: Yup, semiclassical gravity is wrong, just as we already knew it to be. More specifically, surely no one expects semiclassical gravity to be a good enough approximation in situations where the distribution of mass is made appreciably "different in different branches" (I don't mean to presuppose Everett here, it's just the easiest way to say it). So this experiment is finding that semiclassical gravity isn't a good approximation in situations it was never expected to work well in; blaming that specifically on the Everett interpretation seems perverse.

I think this was a great idea for a post. If LessWrong rationality is worthwhile, then it ought to get lots of replies on concrete facts - not moral preferences, theology, or other unproveables.

I used to believe that embryos pass through periods of development representing earlier evolutionary stages - that there was a period when a human baby was basically a fish, then later an amphibian, and so on. I believed this because my father told me so; he was a doctor (though not an obstetrician), and the information he had given me about other subjects was highly reliable. Most knowledge is second hand - it was highly rational for me to believe him. I now know (also second hand!) that Haeckel's ideas were debunked a long time ago - although they might well have been in a textbook when my father was at medical school.

To me, the lesson is trust, but verify.

"Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny"

"No it doesn't"

- graffiti in the men's room of the Life Sciences Building, University of California at Santa Cruz

6shminux6yThe way you stated it is actually not wrong, especially if your use of "representing" means "looking like". What is wrong is the much stronger statement that follows, "basically a fish", as opposed to, say, "human embryos pass through a stage where they have slits in their necks resembling gills, though without the same function". I suspect that this is closer to what your father meant.
1[anonymous]6yIf this [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Human_Embryo.JPG] “looks like” this [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:YellowPerch.jpg] your definition of looking like is much broader than mine.
9DanArmak6yA better comparison would be to a fish embryo. I don't know if among all the wildly different kinds of fishes there are some whose embryos superficially resemble mammalian ones for a time.
2summerstay6yI only recently realized that evolution works, for the most part, by changing the processes of embryonic development. There are some exceptions-- things like neoteny and metamorphosis-- but most changes are genetic differences leading to differences in, say, how long a process of growth is allowed to occur in the embryo.
1Gunnar_Zarncke6yOh horror. I believed this until right now. Not exactly literally. I never knew Haeckels strong thesis. But from what I had been told (probably as contracted as "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny") I still assumed the linearity part to be true. And I passed this wrong simplification on to my children (probably like your father did). So now I have some damage control to do... Indirect quotes from the cited Wikipedia article:

When I went to the London meetup, someone mentioned the "punching someone upward in the nose can send the nosebone into the brain and kill them" urban myth, and we all nodded except the one guy who actually bothered to think about it and said "I don't think that can be right, it doesn't make evolutionary sense" or something on those lines. I think, in my case at least, this was "just" a cached thought from childhood, but it was quite humbling how many of us got something so simple so wrong.

I used to believe that altruism was generally faked. This was based on my direct experience (and perhaps some mind projection fallacy), and an assumption that personalities were consistent over time, or perhaps situation - so probably the good old fundamental attribution error. And a default assumption that high schools couldn't really just be terrible, because no-one would allow that to happen. Why did I believe that? I think not appreciating how fallible memory is, and overestimating the engineering of the human reasoning apparatus. Evolution is always stranger than you think.

I used to not believe in quantum mechanics or general relativity, because they were terribly explained. I guess again I was assuming too much good faith on the part of educators. In retrospect if I'd just found a college textbook I'd've straightened myself out a lot sooner than I did. The popular science publishing industry still seems dysfunctional, but presumably there are incentives that I don't appreciate that keep it the way it is.

6DanielLC6yIt could have been worse. You could have believed their explanations.
4hyporational6yA single punch can be lethal, so why doesn't a special case (albeit myth) of it make evolutionary sense? What convinced you otherwise? I think the same person can profess either genuine or faked altruism depending on the situation. Figuring out the proportion of those throughout humanity without some kind of experimental psychology would be quite difficult I think.

A single punch can be lethal, so why doesn't a special case (albeit myth) of it make evolutionary sense?

A single punch can be lethal, but not with anything like the frequency that you could be subject to this kind of impact - it's an obvious place to punch someone, and very similar to what happens when you fall on your face. We know that skull shape is something that evolution can and does change in relatively short timeframes. There's no "technical debt" explanation, particularly if the claim was that this is something unique to humans.

What convinced you otherwise? I think the same person can profess either genuine or faked altruism depending on the situation.

Mainly moving from a situation in which I faked it to one in which I genuinely enjoyed being altruistic - but also observing changes in I guess how behaviour seemed to change with observation, which seemed to suggest that my peers also underwent the same change.

6Gunnar_Zarncke6yLink Human face shaped by millions of years of fighting, study finds [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/evolution/10884763/Human-face-shaped-by-millions-of-years-of-fighting-study-finds.html]
9Jayson_Virissimo6yYes, but weren't human limbs also shaped by millions of years of fighting? I don't think you could determine the outcome of that evolutionary arms race a priori.
1roystgnr6yWait, did you say myth? sneaks off to Google What the hell, Card?
1Brillyant6yPlease define faked.
4lmm6yDone out of conscious self-interest, rather than for moral reasons. (I'm well aware that our moral reasoning was optimized by evolution for self-interest; nevertheless, I think the distinction is real).
-1Brillyant6yI'm not sure the distinction is real. Do you have any examples?
1jefftk6yLet's say you see someone who gives 25% of their income to the charities GiveWell recommends and says they do this because they think it's the right thing to do. This is enough money that if they're optimizing for your own happiness, social status, long term welfare, or pretty much anything else about them there are almost certainly better ways they could spend it. I guess you could say "they're not being altruistic, they're doing a poor job of acting in their own self-interest" but that seems like a pretty big stretch.
0Brillyant6yDoesn't matter what "they say" in regard to what the right thing to do is, right? It only matters if the act is pure altruism—that is, the giver gets no benefit, or even sacrifices, for the recipient. My understanding (a la The Selfish Gene) is that the replicating genes of humanity will benefit from even fully anonymous gifts to people we've never met. Altruism is actually self-interested at the gene (or "replicator") level, no matter how purely altruistic (or 'selfless' and 'moral') an action may seen at the level of the organism.
3jefftk6yFor there to be a real distinction you don't need there to be no benefit to the giver, just less benefit than the giver could have gotten in other ways. Yes, a fully anonymous gift to someone you'll never meet does make you feel good, but because of scope insensitivity the difference between donating 10% and 20% of income has incredibly little benefit to the giver. If I see someone donate 20% when 10% would have almost the same benefits to them, and that money could instead if spent selfishly buy other things they would have enjoyed a lot, then their claim that they're doing it because it's the right thing to do seems pretty plausible. (One counter is that if they will be unhappy donating less than they believe they ought to, then there is a real difference between 10% and 20%.)
3hyporational6yWhat do you mean by pure altruism? Is my desire for food pure only if I don't enjoy it? Selfishness and altruism are phenomenoms that people discuss on the abstraction level of psychology. It makes no sense to talk about the self interest of genes not only because they're the wrong abstraction level, but also because they're not prescient like brains are. The selfish gene is a figure of speech.
0Brillyant6ySort of, yes. In the context of my reply, I mean an action to a recipient that is, as I said, no benefit, or even a sacrifice, to the giver. If a soldier dove on a grenade to save an enemy soldier who'd killed his mother, I'd be impressed in terms of it's apparent altruism...though I could imagine there'd be a Darwinian explanation (even if it doesn't occur to me in the moment.) I think Dawkins admits 'selfish' was the wrong term to use. But it's helpful to think of a replicator-centric mechanism for evolution, versus anything on the organism level.
3hyporational6yWhat about an environmental or a neurological or a psychological explanation? What's so special about genes as a causative factor? The main reason for this is because people constantly misunderstand it. It certainly is the right way to think about evolution, and I also think the figure of speech is nice to have if not misunderstood.
0Brillyant6yI'd imagine you'd be right. (Sufficient belief in an afterlife might do it.) Though I don't know if I'd rule out the genes. Nonetheless. Exactly my thought.
0hyporational6yThey are an important factor in everything the soldier does, for instance they set limits to what kinds of beliefs he can have given his experiences. Genes don't do anything at all without the environment they interact with however.
0hyporational6ySo would you consider altruistic pleasure as a benefit?
0Brillyant6ySure. I think so. Doesn't evolution make many altruistic actions pleasurable?
027chaos6yWhat predictions might you make about human behavior that someone who believed in altruism would not? My impression is that when people say they believe altruism exists, they mean that they believe people derive pleasure from altruistic behavior. There are some people like Kantians who might be imagining something else and I agree that version of altruism is wrong. But I think that view of altruism is a minority one. Let's imagine a computer simulation that has various organisms. Some of these organisms are programmed to sacrifice their own lives for the lives of others in their area who have no genetic relationship at all. Is it accurate to describe the behavior of these organisms as altruistic? Are you aware that group selection has come back into scientific acceptability since the 80s? The original experiments assumed static populations, but when you allow populations to have varying growth rates group selectionism does much much better. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multi-level_selection [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multi-level_selection]
0[anonymous]6ylmm would presumably have predicted that when people are anonymous, they would not do altruistic acts
0lmm6yIt's a difference in one's conscious reasoning rather than in one's actions, so my only direct examples are my own and intransmissible. You can infer it from "who you are in the dark" cases where you happened to observe someone who believed they would be unobserved and still did the altruistic thing, but obv. that requires being confident they weren't just playing the game one level higher than you.
-3DanielLC6yHaving sex for procreation vs. having sex for fun, because you evolved for it to be fun to procreate more. The distinction becomes clear after the invention of birth control. People who want to have kids don't use it. People who want to have fun do.
2Brillyant6yI'm not sure I understand your example as a distinction between altruism as an act of conscious self-interest vs. moral reasoning. Perhaps there is a distinction between conscious self-interest and unconscious self-interest?
0DanielLC6yIt was a more general distinction between doing something because you consciously want it and doing something because you evolved to. Reading this again, I should have made that more clear. The way you get helped by altruism isn't entirely well-understood. It's not clear how it's changed since the ancestral environment. As such, it's not clear what we're doing wrong, and what we'd change if it was self-interest we actually cared about.
0Brillyant6yI understand that "I" am not helped by altruism, but that my replicating genes are. In most cases, I and the replicating genes are helped by the same actions, thus self-interested actions generally "work". Altruism happens when the replicating genes' benefit outweighs my own.
0DanielLC6yUnless you're talking about cases where you're being altruistic to your family, I'm pretty sure the main reason being altruistic is good for your replicating genes is that it's good for you. I'm pretty sure a significant part of altruism is signalling that you'd be a good parent and make it so you can get in a relationship and have kids, but if you want a relationship, it's good for you. In any case where you know you're not helped by altruism, doing it shows that you're not just acting in conscious self-interest.
0Lumifer6y8-0 That, um, doesn't look like the empirical reality I'm familiar with. Sure, no one likes me-me-me assholes, but you certainly don't need to be altruistic to get someone to marry you.
-1Azathoth1236yUm, condoms have existed since ancient Egyptian times.
2Brillyant6yNot sure that's relevant.
0DanielLC6yThat is not long enough for us to evolve to not use condoms. Especially since they weren't all that reliable until much more recently.

I used to believe that no one would loot a large organization (especially in the first world) from the top. It took me a while to realize anyone could want that much money.

The comment has five karma points, so I may not be the only person who had that blind spot. I suspect in my case that having grown up slightly upper middle class contributed to my false belief-- it was a combination of comfort/security with limited ambition.

8Douglas_Knight6yCould you give an example of someone looting a large organization in the first world?
0polymathwannabe6yThe terrible CEO of Sears [http://www.salon.com/2013/07/18/ayn_rand_killed_sears_partner/] comes to mind.
1Douglas_Knight6yThat link claims that (1) he is incompetent and (2) he is liquidating the company. The two claims are not compatible. Nor does either constitute "looting." Looting is intentional behavior, not incompetence. If you do think liquidating a company is "looting," you could have just said so, rather than linking to an article and letting me figure out the behavior you meant. And there are a lot more examples of liquidation.
0therufs6yI don't think it's reasonable to expect someone who you disagree with about the meaning of a word used in an unusual context to know you disagree with them and mention it in advance.
1Douglas_Knight6yIt's not an unusual context [https://www.google.com/search?q=looting+company], but that doesn't meant that it means anything beyond negative affect.
0Azathoth1236yThe recent history of the state of Illinois.
-4Gunnar_Zarncke6yOne could call any CEO salary greater 100 times worker salary looting. Note that CEOs salary is not just market demand and supply but to a large part power gaming. ADDED: I note that this is down-voted, but don't understand why. It was solely intended as one example as requested. I understand that very high CEO salalary is neither unusual nor (mostly) condered unethical. But one could see it as such. Where went my reasoning wrong?

I vaguely recall believing when I was young that there were no real bisexuals, just gays in denial about it.

I used to think acne was unrelated to diet (other than perhaps via direct facial contact with grease).

When law enforcement first started being equipped with tasers, I thought this was a good thing, because they would use nonlethal force on occasions where they would previously have used firearms. It turned out that police continued to use lethal force as before, and instead used tasers in situations where they might actually have talked people down in the past.

0Vladimir5yIronically it's much more likely that gays are just bisexuals in denial.
0Brillyant6yAren't many people prone to acne regardless of diet? Stats? Source?
4hyporational6yAbout half [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23210645] of people in their 20s and 30s have acne. Acne is caused by a bacterium that breaks down lipids in the skin. I've only seen hyperglycemic diet implicated in making acne worse, but no diet will cure acne. Note that dermatology has a stricter definition for acne than people usually care about for cosmetic reasons.

After Sandy Hook, I got angry and convinced guns rights people and the NRA were nuts.

Then I looked at the data for gun deaths in the US and I seem to remember mass shootings are a statistical anomaly. Handguns in 1-on-1 killings are the bulk of the problem.

Then I considered the second amendment and how maybe it's not a terrible idea to have an armed populace should the gov't get corrupt and motivated to oppress. Also, I saw a TED talk that had me convinced income inequality was the cause of gun (and all sorts of) violence, and concluded gun ownership rates (and gun enthusiasm) weren't to blame for anything.

Then I thought an armed populace wouldn't matter against a sufficiently armed gov't. Then I was like, "What do I know about such matters??"

Then I extrapolated this revelation about my ignorance out to include everything, and I recognized I have no idea what to believe about gun rights, or anything else.

Then I went on FB and started arguing with gun enthusiasts, because they seem wrong to all the rational parts of me.

Then back to LW, to sort out my bad epistemological habits...

There's an interesting argument in favor of gun rights that the Reds rarely make, because it requires an appeal to concepts from evolutionary psychology and morality. It turns out that humans are much more egalitarian than other primates, who generally organize themselves into strict dominance hierarchies. The explanation for this (according to Jonathan Haidt) is that early humans developed weapons like spears and axes, which made it easier to kill other humans. So it is relatively easy for a larger, stronger alpha male chimp or ape to dominate weaker males, but a human alpha male bully would often end up getting speared by a lower status rival.

that the Reds rarely make

Oh, but they do. “God made every man different; Sam Colt made them equal."

Haha, I stand corrected.

4AspiringRationalist6yThat sounds pretty similar to the argument that high gun ownership makes makes it more difficult for the government to become tyrannical.
2Brillyant6yInteresting. One of my (many) irrational iterations of thinking about gun control had me convinced Republicans held such a staunch line on defending gun rights (in part) in order to keep the argument not about economic inequality as a causal driver for all sorts of violence, including guns. As long as the argument was about he 2nd amendment, assault rifle bans and school shootings, no one would pay attention to the numbers showing strong correlation between gun violence (and violent crime) and disparity in income, and thus no deeper discussion about fiscal/social policy would need to occur. I don't know about this any more. I want it to be true, because of my Blue team affiliations, but it seems a bit too conspiracy-ish for my liking. (I'm also part of the Anti-Conspiracy Team...which wears a mustard yellow uniform.)
3Jiro6yI don't think this is true. Gun violence is not just correlated with poverty, it's also correlated with race. And while it may be disadvantageous to Republicans to emphasize how poverty is bad, it may be advantageous to Republicans to emphasize how blacks and Hispanics are bad.
6NancyLebovitz6yI've heard a theory that violence in the US is correlated being Southern, not with race. Anyone know whether there's anything to this?
3RomeoStevens6yviolence is correlated with temperature.
3JoshuaZ6yRelevant article [http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v4/n4/full/nclimate2171.html]. Less technical summary by the authors of that paper here [http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/01/opinion/sunday/weather-and-violence.html]. There is some controversy about what the underlying causal mechanism is. See this article [http://www.wired.com/2011/07/hot-weather-violence/].
4DanielLC6yRace is correlated with poverty, so that's expected. Is there a strong correlation beyond that?
0Desrtopa6yThere seems to be, although the studies that I've found with a quick search discuss this in terms of poverty having strong predictive value even after controlling for race (which is probably a less politically charged claim.) However, there are a lot of confounders that are not easy to adjust out of such an analysis.
3Azathoth1236yConversely, race also has strong predictive value after controlling for poverty.
0[anonymous]6yFor convictions certainly.
2AspiringRationalist6yGiven that a lot of people suspect Republicans of being racist, it would be extremely disadvantageous for them to openly say bad things about blacks and Hispanics. It may, however, be advantageous for them to do so subtly [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willie_Horton].
0[anonymous]6yWell, you get an even stronger correlation if you just use race. Something the blues are even more desperate to keep under wraps.
-1Brillyant6yIsn't poverty correlated with race in the U.S.?
9DanielLC6yAccording to someone else's post on here, suicides are the bulk of the problem, provided that you consider suicide a problem.
-4Brillyant6yI consider it a basically unrelated problem.
1DanielLC6yIt's caused by guns. If you're considering gun control, most gun-related deaths are suicide, and you consider suicide to be just as bad as any other form of death, then the most important consideration is suicide.

If you assume people won't find another way to kill themselves, and IF you consider suicide to be just as bad, and if you assume gun-related deaths is actually the right metric to judge as to whether or not you want gun control.

If you assume people won't find another way to kill themselves

I've seen something about this that Google showed me is discussed here. It works out that one in three people who would have killed themselves with gas found another method, and the other two thirds just didn't bother. Ideally I'd find some other statistics along this line, but since I'm lazy and I don't actually care all that much about this issue, I'll just go with that. Accounting for this, and not accounting for people find another way to kill others, there's still a little more suicides caused by guns than homicides.

3rkdj6yRobbing people of effective means to die doesn't make suicidal people stop being suicidal. It just forces them to endure whatever unbearable and possibly untreatable pain they are in.
7VAuroch6y
4Dreaded_Anomaly6ySuicide is indeed often an impulsive act, in which the urge must coincide with the means. Stronger evidence for this claim: Decrease in suicide rates after a change of policy reducing access to firearms in adolescents: a naturalistic epidemiological study. [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21034205] Use of army weapons and private firearms for suicide and homicide in the region of Basel, Switzerland. [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=17091825&dopt=Abstract]
1kalium6yThis sort of testimony strikes me as weak evidence. If you've just failed to kill yourself and don't want to be committed, or have been committed but want to be let out soon, this is exactly what you'd say regardless of truth.
3VAuroch6yThat would explain why you said so to a doctor, but not why you agreed to an interview with reporters and said the same thing there.
6Gunnar_Zarncke6yI don't think suicidality (is there such a word?) is a condition one has or doesn't have. If thoughts of suicide can be induced by literature and communities (see e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copycat_suicide [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copycat_suicide] ) then the opposite should also be possible at least in principle. Taking away one means of simple suicide at least provides a trivial incenvenience [http://lesswrong.com/lw/f1/beware_trivial_inconveniences/] for boundary cases.
6hyporational6yIt's a commonly cited figure that at least 90% of people who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder, and here's [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1489848/] a paper that claims the figure is as high as 98%. Of course there could be some tautology in the diagnostic methods, but suicidality itself isn't classified a mental disorder.
4kalium6yIt bothers me that this fact is usually interpreted to mean that suicides are the result of poor judgment or a disconnect with reality. Mental illness is a common cause of genuine severe suffering.
0hyporational6yIt would bother me too if the interpretation was that this is always so. I'm not sure how you could reliably investigate the quality of their judgement concerning suicide. Much of the poor judgement might not be so much the mental disorder itself, but normal hyperbolic discounting combined with severe temporary suffering.
0Gunnar_Zarncke6yThank you for your reference. I'm not clear whether this is intended to support or reject this point or just provide additional data.
3hyporational6yI referred to the first sentence of your comment. My point was given the statistics "suicidal" could just as well be a shorthand for "severe mental disorder". Such mental disorders are usually chronic.
2Gunnar_Zarncke6yOK. But suicide => mental disorder doesn't equal mental disorder => suicide. So this doesn't support nor deny the original claim.
0hyporational6yActually the paper supports the other direction too, just not as strongly. I don't think the original comment was meant to be taken literally. If it was, it was especially angsty.
5DanielLC6yReplace "suicidal" with "suicidally depressed" and I'll agree. Depression isn't always chronic, and when it is, you aren't depressed the whole time. It doesn't seem clear to me if a depressed person committing suicide is on average a net loss or a net gain. I suppose I should have made my position more clear in my earlier comment, and said that that could just as well be a cost to gun control.
2IlyaShpitser6yMaking an open call for interesting papers people may have read arguing for effect (one way or another) of gun legislation on [interesting outcomes]. Gwern, do you know anything, maybe?
5gwern6yNo. I don't pay any attention to gun control - too politicized, the data too weak, and too irrelevant to my life to make it worthwhile. (Everyone agrees it's a good idea to be careful with your own guns, and there's little you can do about crime.)
0hyporational6yGuns are bit old school. People should be allowed to have their own tanks and fighter jets by now :)
-3polymathwannabe6yIt always amuses me to watch the optimism of gun fanatics who believe they're preparing themselves to resist with their shotguns against a state that has drones and nukes at its disposal.

We have drones and nukes and yet somehow still fighting persisted for a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan. Guerilla warfare is a very real thing.

As for nukes, What would be the point of the united states dropping a nuke on say, a rebellious Chicago? They'd be fucking themselves over. There are plenty of decent arguments one way or the other, but let's not be stupid.

4Randaly6yThe Syrians and Libyans seem to have done OK for themselves. Iraq and likely Afghanistan were technically wins for our nuclear and drone-armed state, but both were only marginal victories, Iraq was a fairly near run thing, and in neither case were significant defections from the US military a plausible scenario.
3V_V6yThey are organized paramilitary groups who buy military-grade weapons and issue them to their soldiers, not random gun toters who fight with personally owned handguns and shotguns. It seems to me that the main issues in setting up a militia are organization, recruitment and funding. Once you sort that out, acquiring weapons isn't much difficult.
3Randaly6yMaybe, but this is the exact opposite of polymath's claim- not that fighting a modern state is so difficult as to be impossible, but that fighting one is sufficiently simple that starting out without any weapons is not a significant handicap. (The proposed causal impact of gun ownership on rebellion is more guns -> more willingness to actually fight against a dictator (acquiring a weapon is step that will stop many people who would otherwise rebel from doing so) -> more likelihood that government allies defect -> more likelihood that the government falls. I'm not sure if I endorse this, but polymath's claim is definitely wrong.) (As an aside, this is historically inaccurate: almost all of the weapons in Syria and Libya came either from defections from their official militaries (especially in Libya), or from foreign donors, not from private purchases. However, private purchases were important in Mexico and Ireland.)
1V_V6yI didn't claim that fighting a government is simple. My claim is that the hardest part of fighting a government is forming an organized militia with sufficient funds and personnel. If you manage to do that, then acquiring weapons is probably comparatively easy.
2Azathoth1236yUm, until recently the various Iraqi militants weren't very organized.
1V_V6yKinda. And until recently they sucked at fighting the government.
-1Luke_A_Somers6yCliven Bundy makes this seem quasi-justified, sadly enough. Also... Nukes? Useless in this sort of situation.

Not so much a false positive belief but a conspicuous failure to fill the blanks in the world model: I didn't realize that the night sky appears to rotate until I was a teenager reading Carl Sagan's Contact, and came to the part where the character is watching the sky at night and the stars are described as moving slowly along the night. Then it was obvious that of course that's what happens, but this was the first time I'd seen anyone say this aloud, and before that I would've just assumed without thinking that stars stay in the same relative place all night.

Before coming to LW I intuitively believed in the map/territory distinction (physical realism, if you will). After going through the countless arguments of the type "Is real?" (where can be qualia, consciousness, wavefunction, God or what have you.) I gradually came to the conclusion that the term "real" is both misleading and counterproductive. If a sentence (excepting mathematical statements) cannot be rephrased by replacing "real" or "true" with "accurate", then it is meaningless.

Up next: stop believing in using parentheses so much.

1ChristianKl6yPhysical realism is not the same concept as the map/territory distinction. Korzybski who coined "The map isn't the territory" distinction wanted to get rid of discussing "Is X Y?"
3shminux6yMaybe scientific realism? Not sure. In any case, I prefer the original "the map is not the thing mapped" vs "the map is not the territory" as just as potent but free of ontological baggage.
1ChristianKl6yIt's a little less catchy. Being catchy is why it's survived in it's original form.

I used to believe that almost nobody was really interested in anything. This was because (a) I had never been really interested in anything and (b) "Passion" was a mandatory signal, required for getting into college. When I saw people who appeared to be genuinedly interested in things (sports, music, running the school newspaper, building robots, whatever), I assumed they were just better than me at sending the required signals. When I got to college and saw people who continued to appear interested in these things, even though extracurriculars were no longer valuable, I realized I had been wrong.

Transgender people are fundamentally delusional.

This was mostly typical mind fallacy, supported by an argument that rested on an availability heuristic problem, which was this: I'm aware of no record of trans people historically, so the phenomenon was not present; therefore, the prior on being born into a male/female body is overwhelmingly that you are a man/woman (respectively), and you need an enormous amount of evidence to overcome the prior. (This isn't how I would have formulated it at the time; I wasn't familiar with Bayesian terminology and had only intermittently read the sequences, and that in small, scattered chunks.)

3Anatoly_Vorobey6yHmm, "delusional" is a bit underspecified. How about "There's no solid evidence for a gender bit in the brain. While many or most transgender people feel something, explaining that feeling as "I'm an X brain trapped in a non-X body" is essentially a memetic phenomenon. Additionally, genderqueer and non-binary persons are typically participants in a memetic fad." I think that's what I believe; summarizing this as "trans people are delusional" seems harsh and uncharitable to me, but I can see how someone might say that's exactly what it is. If you think now that the above is obviously wrong, I'm very interested in arguments/evidence.
4VAuroch6yWell, obviously it's far more complicated than one bit; like most brain features, it's built into the structure of the brain in a somewhat or totally distributed fashion, and through some developmental quirk, some or all of that structure develops in a way inappropriate to their DNA and physical layout. The more complex it is, the more I would expect genderqueer and nonbinary people to be common from increasingly nonstandard configurations of whatever that structure looks like as opposed to fairly limited values it could take on (at least the two). Most trans people I know felt extremely uncomfortable with their sexual characteristics and assigned gender before ever hearing of the concept of a transsexual person; my ex-boyfriend jokes that he really should have figured it out sooner, given how he would devour literally any media that had crossdressing main characters, and he was raised heavily-Orthodox Jewish where the concept was not at all available. This is a pretty significant obstacle to it being a memetic phenomenon in all/most cases. I would agree that it's to some degree a memetic fad in the case of nonbinary/genderqueer people; definitely a number of people I know slide around somewhat on the gender spectrum in what seems to be a semi-deliberate act of protest against restrictive gender norms rather than particular pain at being called the gender they were raised as. But there are also nonbinary people whose beliefs are much more deeply held, and who feel intense, crippling emotional pain (i.e. are triggered) when referred to as their raised gender rather than their chosen gender. Generally these people find the opposite binary painful to a significantly lesser extent, which supports the idea that they might be physiologically/neurologically indistinguishable from binary trans people, but they're definitely distinct from the weaker category of nonbinary identification. This is probably a necessary stopping point on the path to the inevitable death of soci
2KaceyNow6yI read an article once about the hijra, a third gender in India. What surprised me at the time was that some hijra were adamant that they were not transgender in the western sense, seeing it as foreign and strange, whereas others would have preferred a binary transgender identity had it been available in their culture. So some strongly viewed hijra as what they really wanted to be, but others saw it only as a consolation prize because their culture didn't include the concept of transitioning to the other binary gender. I walked away from this thinking that the cultural component of gender can't be overlooked. Gender is ultimately a compromise between the individual and categories provided by the culture. I can even imagine, that if one had two very different cultures and were able to completely replicate a particular infant, atom for atom, it's possible in one culture they would identify as male, and in the other as female.
1Azathoth1236yYes, people tend to have that reaction when faced with something that contradicts some aspect of the identity they've adopted (for whatever reason). I'm pretty sure creationists, for example, have the same reaction to people arguing for evolution.
327chaos6yWhat do you think that something is that they feel? Why do you think such a meme would spread or originate, if not due to its truth value?
2Anatoly_Vorobey6yProbably a lot of different things, for example: revulsion at some of the traditional gender roles and behaviors. Negative emotions about their sexual organs. Intense erotic pleasure while imagining themselves the opposite sex. Anxiety due to not feeling what they think the person of their sex is supposed to feel. Memes that provide an explanation of one's behavior in terms of one's identity are insanely powerful. They spread because they lead you from from "I don't understand why I'm like this" to "I understand why I'm like this", and the latter feeling is something we all lust for. The truth value is not especially important to the initial spread of an attractive identity-meme. Consider that "people are born gay" is almost a dogma in the LGBT community and liberal circles, although the available scientific understanding sharply contradicts it. Or recall that the 19th century saw a very potent meme [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranian] in which gay people self-identified as "the third sex", "a female psyche in a male body". It seems that many gay people in the 19th century really felt very strongly that they have a "female psyche" or a "female soul", similarly to how today many biological-X transgender people feel very strongly that they have a "non-X brain".
227chaos6yThat historical example did a lot to persuade me. Do you have any others similar to it? I used to share your position, but moved away from it. The main reason I did is studies such as the ones mentioned in this article: http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304854804579234030532617704 [http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304854804579234030532617704]. How do you explain such results?
0ChristianKl6yThe article is behind a login wall. It would help linking directly to studies instead of a badly accessible article about them. To guess at the point, we find that obesity within the US has a strong genetic component. On the other hand we find that obesity strongly changes over the time span of decades. The fact that something seems to be genetic within one population seems no good evidence that there are no societal factors involved.
027chaos6yI didn't know there was a login wall. Try this one: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20032-transsexual-differences-caught-on-brain-scan.html#.VEgMHPSTZD0? [http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20032-transsexual-differences-caught-on-brain-scan.html#.VEgMHPSTZD0?] The article wasn't mentioning genetics, it was about nMRIs.
1Azathoth1236yThe problem with nMRI scans is that if you believe in physicalism, you'd expect every aspect of someone to show up on a sufficiently advanced brain scan. Also, I wonder how many brain regions they tried before finding one that displayed the correct pattern.
2KaceyNow6yHumans are made of both biological and memetic (social) stuff, though. It's famously difficult to ascribe any particular behavior to just one or the other -- the old nature/nurture debate being one aspect of that -- but even if you could, you can't necessarily describe one side of that as more "real" than the other side -- I am both my flesh and its neural activation patterns. One reason I believe most transgender people describe a purely physical (brain) basis is that using the language of desire is severely socially proscribed: it's not viewed as OK to merely say "I want to be a man/woman" the same way someone can say "I want to be an architect", although in both cases a person may simply be looking around at the various roles their society has on offer and finding some desirable than others. This phenomenon isn't limited to transgender people; even 15 years ago gays and lesbians were viewed more negatively by society, and magazines would run articles about "the gay gene," despite the lack of evidence for its existence. Nowadays, in a much more tolerant culture, you can find people who say that they "choose to be gay." A similar evolution in transgender self-description could happen if society becomes more tolerant. So, I think this is actually evidence simply that behaviors or accomplishments viewed as highly unusual (either positive or negative) are often ascribed to a physical basis, whereas anything perceived as being in the normal range of human behavior in the culture is seen simply as the individual's choice or self expression. This doesn't actually tell you anything about the cause of the action or desire -- we can't do the kind of experiments that would be necessary to find that out. For all we know, desiring to be a particular gender, or desiring to have a particular occupation are similar mixes of built-in brain organization, body chemistry, psychological imprinting, culture, and both conscious and subconscious weighing given the individual's other ab
2Azathoth1236yI'm not sure about that. The being gay/trans is inborn thing was concocted to better fit the mold generated by the blacks' and women's rights movement which relied on arguing that it's wrong to "discriminate" against people for something that's not their fault.
0Jackercrack6yDo you have evidence that it is or is not inherent? For evidence of gayness being inborn there is the digit ratio [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digit_ratio#Correlation_between_digit_ratio_and_traits] where if you scroll down to sexual orientation you'll see that lesbians have a lower average digit ratio. This has been suggested to be affected by androgens like testosterone while in the uterus. This is evidence that sexuality is inborn. If true the obvious parallel is that a person can no more change their sexuality than choose to have one finger grow more than the other. Edit: Having just looked around, It seems there is a long list [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biology_and_sexual_orientation#Biological_differences_in_gay_men_and_lesbian_women] of differences between homosexual and heterosexual humans. This is very strong evidence that people are born with their sexuality. Edit 2: is that a downvote for going to close to the realms of politics? I'm still getting used to the conventions around here
3Anatoly_Vorobey6yThe list you mention is not very strong evidence that "people are born with their sexuality". It's a list of correlations of varying quality and effect size that is subject to strong publication bias. More importantly, all of these correlations are perfectly compatible with the possibility that genetic/prenatal factors only partially influence one's sexual orientation rather than completely determine it. Please read the section on twin studies that opens the Wiki page you referenced. The epidemiological twin studies are probably the strongest evidence we currently have, and they suggest that genetic factors play a role but do not determine sexual orientation.
4Jackercrack6yThank you, I was not expecting that. It is time to update my beliefs. I knew I had lots that were not based on proper evidence gathering, but I was not expecting such strongly held beliefs to be so easily falsifiable. It would appear I have a ways to go. On the upside I at least now have an intuitive understanding of how being wrong feels exactly like being right whereas before I only had an intellectual understanding. I suspect I shall have to beat myself about the head with that memory I'm trying to figure out what this implies for the gay/trans rights movement and those pray the gay away camps kids get sent to. I would like to think people should still be able to decide on their own in the absence of judgement or coercion, but I'm less sure now.
2Azathoth1236yWhat do you mean by this? While you believed that people had no choice about being gay/trans, you didn't seem to be at all bothered by the lack of choice.
2Jackercrack6yWith my previous (incorrect) knowledge, attempting to influence someone's sexuality had no redeeming features. Its only effect was to create confusion, self loathing and other negative effects/emotions in adolescents. If, however it can be effected by the environment then there exist situations, possibly controllable situations where children can be systematically influenced to one sexuality or other. My immediate reaction is that people should still be able to figure it out for themselves, but the situation is less black and white than before. If for example gays turn out to be significantly happier and more productive throughout their life than straight people, does it then become moral to attempt to influence potential homosexuals to increase their changes of becoming gay? The opposite argument also exists if you replace gay with straight in the previous sentence. It is no longer an open and shut case, there exist worlds where the optimal thing to do is morally repugnant to me. It pits my value for autonomy against my value of optimality.
2gjm6yHow can you tell? In particular, what reason do you have to think that Jackercrack's former position was not something like this? * Beyond early childhood, no one has any substantial ability to change (1) whether they are sexually/romantically attracted to men, women, both, neither, etc., or (2) whether they find it highly distressing to have the sort of body they have rather than (e.g.) one with different sexual characteristics. * For exactly that reason, attempting to change those things is futile and the most likely effect is to distress the people it's applied to. * In particular, it should be up to them what sexual orientation they see themselves as having, what gender they present as, etc. * Not because they have a free choice about it, but because the alternative to leaving it up to them is for someone else to tell them what they have to be, in which case sometimes it won't match what they more-or-less-unalterably very much want it to be, and then they'll be miserable.
1Douglas_Knight6yHow sure are you that it is more common? How do you know? It appears to me to have moved in the opposite direction.

I used to think something could rotate around more than one axis at once. Imagine a pipe sitting in space with some jets on it. Two opposing jets on the middle angled tangent to the curve firing equally would set it rotating around the long axis. Two opposing jets on the end angled perpendicularly to the pipe would set it rotating around the short axis. I thought you could do one of these and then the other and get something that was rotating around two axes at once. Then in high school I was writing some kind of space program that had objects and I n... (read more)

4Azathoth1236yWell, for one thing it would be mathematically incoherent. Actually, rigid rotation is more complicated than you seem to think [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euler%27s_equations_%28rigid_body_dynamics%29]. While instantaneous rotational velocity (at least in 3 dimensions) is always representable by an axis and an angular velocity, the angular velocity can change even in the absence of torques [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precession#Torque-free]. Edit: Also how are you representing orientation as (ox, oy, oz)?
1jefftk6yI'm not sure what you mean. You're saying it's not possible to make a coherent mathematical description of a physics system where something rotates around multiple axes? It wouldn't correspond to our world very well, but why are the mathematics impossible? Yikes! Yes, even the model I ended up with sounds like it didn't represent rotations properly. This was about a decade ago, so I'm not confident I remember what I did properly. But I think you can represent orientation as a one-time rotation from an initial position. So (ox, oy, oz) are a vector representing an axis with the magnitude indicating how far around that axis it rotates. Does that not work? (It's also possible that I kept orientation as a matrix.)
4Douglas_Knight6yRotation is a mathematical concept, not a physical one. In 4d, an object can rotate about two axes at once. Say the 4 coordinates are w x y z. The w and x coordinates can do the usual rotation, while the y and z coordinates rotate together, perhaps at a different rate. Or instead of 4 real coordinates, take 2 complex coordinates a and b, and have them evolve by (a,b) → (exp(i.r.t).a, exp(i.s.t).b), where t is the time and r and s are speeds.
0Azathoth1236yNot in 3 dimensions. Come to think about it, yes it can.
[-][anonymous]6y 5

I used to believe that Benzin (the German word for petrol/gasoline, with cognates in many continental European languages including my mother tongue) was named after Karl Benz.

0Aleksander6yWow thanks, I believed this one until five minutes ago.

I used to think that overweight was caused by slow metabolism, i.e. that generally speaking fat people are people who have slow metabolisms and thin people are people who have fast metabolisms.

I believed this because (1) it is the conventional wisdom; (2) it is consistent with the observation that some people seem to be thin even though they stuff their faces; and (3) it makes sense from a thermodynamic perspective that someone with a slow metabolism would be prone to putting on weight and someone with a fast metabolism would be prone to staying thin.

Put... (read more)

3AspiringRationalist6yDo you have a source for the claim that fat people don't generally have slow metabolisms?
0brazil846yI assume you mean some kind of formal reference as opposed to common sense arguments or general observations. If so, are you seriously skeptical of the claim? If the answer is "yes," then I will try to dig something up.
1Lumifer6yI am sceptical of that claim, too. I don't expect all fat people to have slow metabolisms, but I expect slow metabolism to be more prevalent among fat people as compared to thin people. For example, there is a correlation between people's metabolism slowing down as they age and people gaining weight as they age (we're talking about the progression from, say, the 20s into the middle age, not old age). I am not ready to pronounce it a causal relationship, but the correlation is there.
4brazil846yThat's not quite the claim I was addressing - the claim is that generally speaking, obesity is the result of having a slow metabolism. But anyway, I was able to dig up some evidence: First, a video which is obviously not a scientific study but still pretty compelling: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KA9AdlhB18o [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KA9AdlhB18o] In this video, a fat girl who believes she is fat because of a "slow metabolism," is tested. It turns out that she has a perfectly normal metabolism but eats a lot more than she realizes. Here is a similar video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGLwzbvx4S4 [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGLwzbvx4S4] Scientific research would seem to indicate that this is pretty typical. i.e. people are fat not because of their "slow metabolism" but because they eat a lot more than they realize: http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJM199212313272701 [http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJM199212313272701] Here is a study which looked at a group of people and determined that the fatter subjects had higher metabolic rates than the thinner ones: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/35/3/566.short [http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/35/3/566.short] If you search, there are a lot of studies like this out there. AFAIK, most (but not all) scientific studies have found that obese people have higher metabolisms than thin people. My guess is that this is largely because obese people regularly overeat and so their metabolisms rev up a bit in a futile effort to handle the onslaught of calories. There may be a few studies out there which indicate that obese people have slower metabolisms, but I suspect the differences are pretty minor when you look at the real problem: Fat people eat a lot more than they realize, which is something that every study looking at this issue has concluded.
-1Lumifer6yThat looks to be a strawman. I am sure you can find on TV, but I am unaware of anyone reasonably serious holding this view.
0brazil846y:shrug: That's what I believed. Anyway, your response is a bit of a True Scotsman argument. If I find 100 people who expressed similar beliefs, you can simply dismiss them as not being "reasonably serious." Let's do this: How do I know if someone is "reasonably serious" or not?
-2Lumifer6yIn the same way saying that no one serious believes in perpetual motion machines is also a True Scotsman argument. Has adequate knowledge of human physiology and is not trolling :-P
1brazil846yYes, I would say that it suffers from basically the same same problem. Do you agree that there are people out there who believe, in good faith, that perpetual motion machines are possible? Do you agree that there are people who invest a lot of personal time and energy into constructing perpetual motion machines? Okay, and if someone asserts or implies that generally speaking obesity is caused by low metabolism, how do I know if they have adequate knowledge of human physiology and are not trolling? And let's look at the girls in the two videos they linked. Although they did not make general statements about the causes of obesity, they did seem to believe at the beginning that their obesity was caused by slow metabolism, agreed? Would you agree that those two girls were not trolling? And in your opinion, did they have adequate knowledge of human physiology? If not, how do you know it? In short, are those two girls "reasonably serious"?
0Lumifer6yHere I mean "serious" in the external-observer sense -- to denote people whom others consider serious = worthy of attention and time. I do NOT mean "serious" in the internal perception sense (as in e.g. "I'm not joking, I'm serious").
1brazil846yFine, but please help me figure out where the goalposts are. Are the two girls in the videos I linked worthy of attention and time (at the beginning of the video, before they were scientifically tested)? In your opinion, do they have adequate knowledge of human physiology? If not, how do you know it?
0Lumifer6yThe goalposts in which particular game? This has grown from talking about a minor mistaken view into a request for general guidance on how to evaluate people's reputations and claims about truth. If you're looking for help with epistemic rationality, well, I heard that there is a whole forum concerned with it and trying to be less wrong... And unless you're willing to accept me personally as the Ultimate Arbiter Of All Things, I don't see why my opinion about some girls in some videos (which I haven't looked at, by the way) matters.
0brazil846yNo game at all, I am simply scrutinizing your statement "that looks to be a strawman." Not at all, I am trying to nail down your position. I am asking for your opinion because I want to understand what you mean by "reasonably serious." I have a feeling that the phrase means nothing at all, it's just an out for you to dismiss counter-examples to your generalization. So again my questions: 1. If someone asserts or implies that generally speaking obesity is caused by low metabolism, how do I know if they have adequate knowledge of human physiology and are not trolling? 2. Are the girls in the videos I linked worthy of attention and time (at the beginning of the video, before they were scientifically tested)? In your opinion, do they have adequate knowledge of human physiology? If not, how do you know it? I can summarize the videos in a couple sentences. Each one contains a fat girl who asserts that she is fat because of her "low metabolism." The girls have their metabolisms scientifically tested. It turns out that their metabolisms are perfectly normal; the problem is that they are eating a lot more than they realize. Ok, with that understood, do you consider the girls (as they were at the beginning of the videos) to be "reasonably serious"? Why or why not? It's a pretty simple question.
0Lumifer6yPeople who have demonstrated a sufficient level of knowledge and competency. In the usual way -- you bother to find out. Thing these people say are evidence that you use to update your prior. On the basis of available to me information, no, but that's a low-credence opinion and can easily be changed by additional evidence.
0brazil846yAnd how exactly do I do that? Why not? And if someone asserts or implies that generally speaking obesity is caused by low metabolism, how do I know if they have adequate knowledge of human physiology and are not trolling?
0Lumifer6yOh, dear . If you really have no idea -- none at all whatsoever -- how to find out whether people you're listening to are credible, please go figure out how to do this. This is going to be a much better use of your time than posting on LW. Because as far as I can see (which, as I mentioned, isn't very far) they were just fat girls specifically selected for having a particular false belief so that this belief could be debunked on video.
-2brazil846yLol, nice strawman. I was asking how YOU determine whether somebody is "reasonably serious." But enough is enough -- we both know that "reasonably serious" as you used the phrase is essentially meaningless. I asked you a few times, and each time you dodge and weave. See below. And now your position starts becoming a bit more clear: It appears that according to you, anyone who who believes that obesity is in general caused by a slow metabolism has a false belief which ipso facto makes them not "reasonably serious." Therefore your claim that no reasonably serious people believe that obesity is caused by slow metabolism is in essence just a meaningless tautology. As noted above, you are engaged in the True Scotsman fallacy. None of this changes the fact that there is a belief out there that obesity is in general caused by slow metabolism. Whether people who hold that belief are "reasonably serious" or not is irrelevant to my point. Indeed, it would appear that such people are "not reasonably serious" by definition. In short, your statement "that looks to be a strawman" does not stand up to scrutiny and in fact is itself based on an attack on a strawman.
0Antiochus6yThis is interesting enough that I'd like to see some more explanation, too.
0brazil846ySee my reply to Lumifer above.
0dougclow6yI don't think that follows, or at least not without a lot of other explanation, even if you grant that temperature doesn't vary in any significant way between people (which I'm not sure I do). The body has multiple mechanisms for maintaining temperature, of which metabolic rate is only one. It seems entirely plausible to me that people run their metabolisms at different rates and adjust their peripheral vasodilation and sweating rate to balance it all out near 37 C/98 F. Core temperature might vary between people by only a few degrees, but surface temperature varies much more widely.
0brazil846yThat's an interesting point. Would you agree that if a person has a higher metabolism, one would expect that under your theory, their skin temperature would be expected to be higher?
2tut6yFor a given body-shape, they should. For a given metabolism people with lower surface to volume ratio (ie round people) should have higher skin temperature.
0brazil846yI would have to agree with this. I wonder how much of an impact body shape has.
-1Lumifer6yAnd spherical cows in vacuum should have the highest skin temperature of them all!
0dougclow6yThat, and/or increased sweating, and/or larger temperature gain between inspired and expired air, or wearing fewer/thinner clothes. There's lots of ways to dump heat. I would definitely expect someone with a faster metabolism to put out more total net heat, which is measurable with difficulty, and also consume oxygen faster (and produce carbon dioxide faster) which is measurable with some difficulty, but a lot less.
1brazil846yYes, but that would require much more involved procedures than just taking peoples' temperature. So I will concede that my argument about variation in temperature, which is sort of a back-of-the-envelope way of getting at the problem, is weaker than I had thought.

I used to believe that anyone, with hard work, can succeed and I realized that hardwork is no substitute for investment capital and something being on your life path. If its not for you, its just not for you and its important to gut check and know if something is what you REALLY want rather than something you are doing because its a good idea or makes financial sense.

[-][anonymous]6y 0

I used to be very often surprised by the English language (constantly running into my own false beliefs) and it was frustrating, until I started to read fan fiction. Since then, my attitude changed from 'wow, it's a word' to 'ah well, if t ain't broken, don't fix it'. Not sure if it is a good thing, but it seems to help with communication.

ETA: having just read the article 'Why don't people help others more?', I begin to suspect that donating to charities is actually one of the things that I don't want to do at all, even though I allocate money for it in my budget. I always thought of myself as not stingy, and it turned out I am. Feels... odd.

I once thought UDT may fail on some problems CDT (as I understand it) gets right.

"Jewish" means everybody who doesn't believe in Jesus. Ancient Pagans and contemporary atheists? Kinds of Jews.

I think I formed this belief very young, and I think I had my first conversation about beliefs with a Jew at 15ish, so lot of echo chambering. I updated immediately (and probably turned an interesting shade of red).

[-][anonymous]6y 0

its important to gut check and know if something is what you REALLY want rather than something you are doing because its a good idea or makes financial sense.

This doesn't seem convincing at all, can you elaborate a little?

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