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Previously in seriesBayesians vs. Barbarians
Followup toOf Gender and Rationality, Beware of Other-Optimizing

There is no such thing as masculine probability theory or feminine decision theory.  In their pure form, the maths probably aren't even human.  But the human practice of rationality—the arts associated with, for example, motivating yourself, or compensating factors applied to overcome your own biases—these things can in principle differ from gender to gender, or from person to person.

My attention was first drawn to this possibility of individual differences in optimization (in general) by thinking about rationality and gender (in particular).  I've written rather more fiction than I've ever finished and published, including a story in which the main character, who happens to be the most rational person around, happens to be female.  I experienced no particular difficulty in writing a female character who happened to be a rationalist.  But she was not an obtrusive, explicit rationalist.  She was not Jeffreyssai.

And it occurred to me that I could not imagine how to write Jeffreyssai as a woman; his way of teaching is paternal, not maternal.  Even more, it occurred to me that in my writing there are women who are highly rational (on their way to other goals) but not women who are rationalists (as their primary, explicit role in the story).

It was at this point that I realized how much of my own take on rationality was specifically male, which hinted in turn that even more of it might be specifically Eliezer Yudkowsky.

A parenthetical, at this point, upon my own gender politics (lest anyone misinterpret me here).  Of much of what passes for gender politics in present times, I have very little patience, as you might guess.  But as recently as the 1970s this still passed for educational material, which makes me a bit more sympathetic.

So this about my gender politics:  Unlike the case with, say, race, I don't think that an optimal outcome consists of gender distinctions being obliterated.  If the day comes when no one notices or cares whether someone is black or white, any more than they notice eye color, I would only applaud.  But obliterating the difference between male and female does not seem to me desirable, and I am glad that it is impossible using present-day technology; the fact that humanity has (at least) two sexes is part of what keeps life interesting.

But it seems to me that, as an inheritance from the dark ages, the concept of "normal" is tilted more toward male than female.  Men are not constantly made aware that they are men in the same way that women are made constantly aware that they are women.  (Though there are contexts where explicit masculinity is suddenly a focus.)  It's not fun for women if female is defined as abnormal, as special.  And so some feminists direct their efforts into trying to collapse gender distinctions, the way you would try to collapse racial distinctions.  Just have everyone be normal, part of the same group.  But I don't think that's realistic for our species—sex is real, it's not just gender—and in any case I prefer to live in a culture with (at least) two genders.

So—rather than obliterate the difference between genders into a common normality—I think that men should become more aware of themselves as men, so that being female isn't any more special or unusual or abnormal or worthy-of-remark than being male.  Until a man sees his own argumentativeness as a distinctively male trait, he'll see women as abnormally passive (departures from the norm) rather than thinking "I am a male and therefore argumentative" (in the same way that women now identify various parts of themselves as feminine).

And yes, this does involve all sorts of dangers.  Other cultures already have stronger male gender identities, and that's not always a good thing for the women in those cultures, if that culture already has an imbalance of power.  But I'm not sure that the safe-seeming path of trying to obliterate as many distinctions as possible, is really available; men and women are different.  Moreover, I like being a man free to express those forms of masculinity that I think are worthwhile, and I want to live in a world in which women are free to express whatever forms of feminity they think are worthwhile.

I'm saying all this, because I look over my accumulated essays and see that I am a distinctively male rationalist.  Meanwhile, in another thread, a number of my fellow rationalists did go to some length to disidentify themselves as "female rationalists".  I am sympathetic; from having been a child prodigy, I know how annoying it is to be celebrated as "having done so much while so young" rather than just "having done neat stuff in its own right regardless of age".  I doubt that being singled out as an "amazing female rationalist" is any less annoying.  But still:  I built my art out of myself, and it became tied into every part of myself, and it happens to be a fact that I'm male.  And if a woman were to pursue her art far enough, and tie it into every part of herself, she would, I think, find that her art came to resemble herself more and more, tied into her own motives and preferences; so that her art was, among other things, female.

It's hard to pin down this sort of thing exactly, because my own brain knows only half the story.  My understanding of what it means to be female is too much shallower than my understanding of what it means to be male, it doesn't ring as true.  I will try, though, to give an example of what I mean, if you will excuse me another excursion...

The single author I know who strikes me as most feminine is Jacqueline Carey.  When I read her book Kushiel's Avatar, it gave me a feeling of being overwhelmingly outmatched as an author.  I want to write characters with that kind of incredible depth and I can't.  She is too far above me as an author.  I write stories with female characters, and I wish I could write female characters who were as female as Carey's female characters, and so long as I'm dreaming, I also want to sprout wings and fly.

Let me give you an example, drawn from Kushiel's Avatar.  This book—as have so many other books—involves, among its other plot points, saving the world.  A shallow understanding of sex and gender, built mostly around abstract evolutionary psychology—such as I myself possess—would suggest that "taking great risks to save your tribe" is likely to be a more male sort of motivation—the status payoff from success would represent a greater fitness benefit to a man, and in the ancestral environment, it is the men who defend their tribe, etcetera.  But in fact, reading SF and fantasy books by female authors, I have not noticed any particularly lower incidence of world-saving behavior by female protagonists.

If you told me to write a strongly feminine character, then I, with my shallow understanding, might try to have her risk everything to save her husband.  The protagonist of Kushiel's Avatar, Phèdre nó Delaunay, does realize that the world is in danger and it needs to be saved.  But she is also, in the same process, trying to rescue a kidnapped young boy.  Her own child?  That's how I would have written the story, but no; she is trying to rescue someone else's child.  The child of her own archenemy, in fact, but no less innocent for all that.  When I look at it after the fact, I can see how this reveals a deeper feminity, not the stereotype but a step beyond and behind the stereotype, something that rings true.  Phèdre loves her husband—and this is shown not by how she puts aside saving the world to save him, but by how much it hurts her to put him in harm's way to save the world.  Her feminity is shown, not by how protective she is toward her own child, but toward someone else's child.

It is this depth of writing that makes me aware of how my own brain is only regurgitating stereotypes by comparison.

I do dare say that I have developed my art of rationality as thoroughly as Carey has developed her thesis on love.  And so my art taps into parts of me that are male.  I cultivate the desire to become stronger; I accept and acknowledge within myself the desire to outdo others; I have learned to take pride in my identity as someone who faces down impossible challenges.  While my own brain only knows half the story, it does seem to me that this is noticeably more a theme of shōnen anime than shōjo anime.  Watch Hikaru no Go for an idea of what I mean.

And this is the reason why I can't write Jeffreyssai as a woman—I would not be able to really understand her motivations; I don't understand what taps female drives on that deep a level.  I can regurgitate stereotypes, but reading Jacqueline Carey has made me aware that my grasp is shallow; it would not ring true.

What would the corresponding female rationalist be like?  I don't know.  I can't say.  Some woman has to pursue her art as far as I've pursued mine, far enough that the art she learned from others fails her, so that she must remake her shattered art in her own image and in the image of her own task.  And then tell the rest of us about it.

I sometimes think of myself as being like the protagonist in a classic SF labyrinth story, wandering further and further into some alien artifact, trying to call into a radio my description of the bizarre things I'm seeing, so that I can be followed.  But what I'm finding is not just the Way, the thing that lies at the center of the labyrinth; it is also my Way, the path that I would take to come closer to the center, from whatever place I started out.

(Perhaps a woman would phrase the above, not as "Bayes's Theorem is the high pure abstract thing that is not male or female", but rather, "Bayes's Theorem is something we can all agree on".  Or maybe that's only my own brain regurgitating stereotypes.)

Someone's bound to suggest, "Take the male parts out, then!  Don't describe rationality as 'the martial art of mind'."  Well... I may put in some work to gender-purify my planned book on rationality.  It would be too much effort to make my blog posts less like myself, in that dimension.  But I also want to point out that I enjoyed reading Kushiel's Avatar—I was not blocked from appreciating it on account of the book being visibly female.

I say all this because I want to convey this important idea, that there is the Way and my Way, the pure (or perhaps shared) thing at the center, and the many paths we take there from wherever we started out.  To say that the path is individualized, is not to say that we are shielded from criticism by a screen of privacy (a common idiom of modern Dark Side Epistemology).  There is still a common thing we are all trying to find.  We should be aware that others' shortest paths may not be the same as our own, but this is not the same as giving up the ability to judge or to share.

Even so, you should be aware that I have radioed back my description of the single central shape and the path I took to get closer.  If there are parts that are visibly male, then there are probably other parts—perhaps harder to identify—that are tightly bound to growing up with Orthodox Jewish parents, or (cough) certain other unusual features of my life.

I think there will not be a proper Art until many people have progressed to the point of remaking the Art in their own image, and then radioed back to describe their paths.


Part of the sequence The Craft and the Community

Next post: "The Sin of Underconfidence"

Previous post: "Of Gender and Rationality"

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Until a man sees his own argumentativeness as a distinctively male trait, he'll see >women as abnormally passive (departures from the norm) rather than thinking "I am >a male and therefore argumentative" (in the same way that women now identify >various parts of themselves as feminine).

you allude to the dangers that follow from this; i think one issue with making too much of distinctively gendered traits is that it sets up expectations that can be socially and professionally costly to violate. i'm female. i'm argumentative. i'm competitive. i would not describe myself as nurturing, although i think it's a very admirable quality. but as far as i can tell, i don't embody feminine qualities. if those are something i should take pride in, should their absence be shameful? and of course, the social expectations that accompany the biological state of being female are part of what keep women out of high-paying and high-powered jobs, etc. i think this is why many feminists are so reluctant to accept separate male and female norms. (the problem cuts both ways, of course. i've known a few non-masculine heterosexual men who've endured social problems because they didn't fit the male mold.)

saying it's OK for men and women to see themselves as inherently different on traits other than gross anatomy is a bit easier when you're a man or woman who has the qualities you're "supposed" to have.

I can't stand watching sports. I don't have a problem with that either.

I think if we lived in a world balanced between genders, where men thought of themselves as men and women thought of themselves as women to around the same degree, then women would have no more difficult a time departing from gender average than men do.

Within-group differences are larger than between-group differences in most of these domains, so I'd rather make it easier for both groups to deviate from their group tendencies than to try to identify more group tendencies that it will be hard to deviate from.

It might work something like this. I'm a woman, and also gay. I identify very strongly as a woman in the sense that it's important to me that I'm a woman. Not because I fit anyone's femme stereotype, or because I think masculinity and femininity necessarily require any particular associated personality trait to exist. My RuPaul-watching gay male friends are men and feel as strongly that they're men as any football-watching straight man. My girlfriend is as stereotypical a butch as you can imagine, belongs to a fantasy football league, loves hunting and fishing, and works in a men's prison. People often call her "sir" without looking closely at her, and she corrects them that it's "ma'am." She is no less a woman than I or Jennifer Aniston. I have fought to the edge of my sanity to convince my deeply homophobic family that I am in fact gay, that I am attracted to femaleness in general and women in particular, that the right man for me will never come along because he does not exist. Because I have fought for this awareness, I have examined it to a degree I probably wouldn't have if I had been straight. I know many men who are kind, nurturing, generous, and graceful people. I find many men physically beautiful and enjoy looking at them. None of this has the slightest thing to do with my sexual orientation. I'm attracted to women because they're women, and that's all there is to it. Whatever the cause of that, it's not something that could change without making me a different person. Ultimately, sex and gender are meaningful to me. I have no interest in stereotyping people. My intent is not to designate specific characteristics as masculine or feminine. I'm not all that interested in analyzing central tendencies of populations by gender. If other people are interested, more power to them. But sex and gender, whatever they are, are meaningful to me when I identify myself in the space of people.
Similarly, Most of my friends and I tend to have roughly equal sets of male and female characteristics. The only real difference I see between some of my male friend's argumentativeness and my own passivity is that they have times where they will admit that they are just itching for a fight, whereas I will not argue unless there is an issue, it affects something I care about, and I know how to fix it. Otherwise it's just people shouting at each other, which is rather unproductive and I have better things to do with my time.

This is where the martial arts analogy shows some of it's power.

I do Aikido. My dojo enjoys a nice diversity of genders, ages, and body types. We don't all practice the same; our styles are as diverse as our backgrounds.

However, it's not a free-for-all. Some people in the dojo are clearly better at this than others, and people find others to look up to, people to follow. And there is a very strong agreement on who the best people in the dojo are.

This strong agreement comes from the fact that Aikido is a martial art, and we train with each other. On a regular basis we throw each other around and this constant interaction is how we learn from each other.

So while my Aikido is probably a bit more male, I learn from the women every time I practice with them, and I can point to parts of my practice that are more feminine and even tell you which women I learned those bits from. And the converse for the women I practice with.

It's okay for a teacher or leader to express their identity in the practice of the art. It is up to the student to integrate that style into their own practice. This requires judgment, so we usually tell beginners "Don't try to interpret just yet. Just mimic Sensei as closely as you can. You'll branch out and improvise later". This is a common teaching in many practices, I think.

So then, ideal is a diversity of teachers, so students can see a diversity of styles, and integrate them into something suitable to them.


Your mention of the difficulty of men writing realistic fictional female characters reminds me very much of a passage from Virginia Woolfe's A Room of One's Own that is the most insightful exploration of the issue I have ever read:

'Chloe liked Olivia,' I read. And then it struck me how immense a change was there. Chloe liked Olivia perhaps for the first time in literature. Cleopatra did not like Octavia. And how completely ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA would have been altered had she done so! As it is, I thought, letting my mind, I am afraid, wander a little from LIFE'S ADVENTURE, the whole thing is simplified, conventionalized, if one dared say it, absurdly. Cleopatra's only feeling about Octavia is one of jealousy. Is she taller than I am? How does she do her hair? The play, perhaps, required no more. But how interesting it would have been if the relationship between the two women had been more complicated. All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple. So much has been left out, unattempted. And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends. There is an a

... (read more)

A more recent instantiation of the same idea is the Bechdel Test or Mo Movie Measure (it's named after a character called Mo in Alison Bechdel's comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For), which a movie passes if it

1. has at least two women in it
2. who talk to one another
3. about something other than a man.

Depressingly few movies pass this test. Of course it can be applied to things other than movies.

1Paul Crowley
Ludicrously minor nitpick: that strip appeared in DTWOF before Mo or any regular characters were introduced. (Fun Home highly recommended btw)
It is none the less sometimes called the MMM, and the name does come from that character even though in the strip the test has nothing to do with her. See this blog entry for a confession for the person who named it the MMM.

You forgot the part where your way is incredibly American. If there is one not so positive and universal thing about your style it's he focus on the glory of the lone hero contained within a single human brain.

Then again, that's perhaps just because it's the most contrasting with my way, of being a cog within a hivemind that resembles an agent no more than a cut-out visual cortex does on it's own.


There is certainly a lot of Eliezer in the posts by Eliezer; yet that seems to part of what makes them so good to read. Taking out the Eliezer might not be desirable, if it produces posts that are that much less fun to read or easy to understand.

Part of my progress as a rationalist was learning to see past the writer and focus only the written. If the most prolific and oft-quoted figure of the community deliberately obfuscates himself from his posts, I fear the result may be an undesireable "easy mode" where that learning is not achieved.

Until more high-level rationalists have emerged and their Ways can be amalgamated, there is nothing wrong with having the Way be shaded by its walker.

I can duplicate the sentiment that growth in rationality means bypassing the writer for the written; I consider it part of the Way.
As is going beyond the written to that which is written of.

"She was not Jeffreyssai."

Actually, I have a question: Why do there seem to be no Viharts in fiction? Admittedly, she herself is pretty unique and awesome that way, but I haven't come across even one character displaying that type of intelligent, feminine charisma in any vaguely consistent manner. In fact, there seem to be very few genuinely smart, curious and independent-thinking women in fiction, in contrast to very many who we are TOLD are smart and charismatic. (Some even have the balls to preach that, in reality, intelligence and charisma exclude each other. If I believed that, I'd "come out of the closet" as asexual.)

I hope this is due to my own inexperience. If not, I suspect this is mainly because, like in ancient cultures, over 90% of modern fiction consists of a handful of Great Themes worked and reworked into every story. And these "ready-made art powder, just add water" plot points only have roles reserved for traditional innocent types, self-righteous bitches who exist to force the author's vision of just norms down everyone's throats, their negative stereotypes, femme fatales, etc. However, I personally haven't discovered Vihart-like char... (read more)

Bella's character (and most everything else about the story) improves over the course of the book. I also think the narrator of book two probably has more raw likeability than Bella.
Thanks, I hoped it'd be something like that. :)
Does this not strike you as a rather irrational statement? Passing judgement over something you freely admit you have no first-hand knowledge of?
There are lots of things I've never experienced, which I prefer not to experience. Are you suggesting that all such preferences are "irrational"? Or does reading Twilight belong to a more restricted class of experiences for which that's true?
Not at all, refraining from an experience is a perfectly rational action. It's passing judgement on something you are not familiar with that is not.
Huh. So, I infer from this that you consider halcyon's position ("I haven't read this and mean to keep it that way") a judgment on something they are unfamiliar with, but consider my position ("I haven't experienced this and prefer not to experience it") not that, but rather something else. Have I understood you properly?
Nope, I guess it's yet another misunderstanding. I have no problem with "I haven't read this and mean to keep it that way", either. It's the part "an improvement on the original" that I (mis)took as passing judgment on the (unread) original.
It is indeed irrational to pass judgment over something without having read it, but the modal qualifier in this context specifies that her character "MAY BE an improvement on the original," which I don't judge to be impermissible, considering I haven't heard good things about the story. I can't see how that could be construed as a (direct) dig at Twilight, but then, I may be under an authorship bias. (As for not reading Twilight, well, to be more accurate, I have come up with an informal probability estimate based on multiple secondary and tertiary sources, indicating the likelihood of my deriving more fun and profit from reading, say, Jane Austen than Twilight. Accordingly, I have arranged my reading list in that order: Don't attempt Twilight till you have exhausted the best Jane Austen has to offer. Do you feel that this guess of mine is rooted in misperceptions? At the risk of jumping to conclusions myself, your rebuke could be taken to (indirectly) imply that I have underestimated my chances of liking it. Moreover, I have this less-than-entirely-rational tendency to favor strong personal recommendations over judgments supported by diffuse criteria like one or two reviews obviously prioritizing entertainment value over accuracy and what I've been told in passing by such-and-such people. Bear in mind, it is invariably the participants whose personalities enliven a romance and make it interesting for me, and it is already established that I'm not enamored of Bella or Edward as portrayed in the opening chapters of Luminosity. Still, don't hesitate to speak your mind. Maybe I've misjudged them from limited exposure, or maybe I'll like something else about the story. If you do recommend Twilight and I hate it, I promise not to hold it against you. I will only inform you that in this case, you've misjudged the compatibility of that novel with my tastes. Either way, the answer may provide you with a data point to help improve any future recommendations.)

Accordingly, I have arranged my reading list in that order: Don't attempt Twilight till you have exhausted the best Jane Austen has to offer.

You may be interested in Gwern's marvellous essay Culture is not about Esthetics, which does the numbers on just how ridiculously unfeasible it is trying even to keep up with the best.

I disagree with some of the assumptions in that essay. Suppose that I were to actually read a hundred sci fi novels in a couple years, what would happen? Speaking from experience (more with fantasy than sci fi,) it would cause me to become a lot pickier with respect to sci fi novels. I've gone from being rather undiscriminating to a point where I can only assign a single digit percentage likelihood that I'll enjoy any particular sci fi or fantasy book given the knowledge that it's won an award such as a Hugo or Nebula. Now, from this, shouldn't we conclude that the market is already oversaturated? After all, if there are already so many works that they can drive my expected utility from reading another work in the genre so low, the last thing we need is more, isn't it? Not really, because what a good author is actively trying to do is create works that will be interesting to audiences in light of existing expectations and literary influences. Tropes evolve, and a savvy writer is one who's prepared to account for a savvy audience. Writing isn't a commodities market, it's an arms race. Of course, there are clearly reasons other than aesthetics driving the production of popular culture. Humans use shared culture such as media consumption for social bonding. It's much easier for people to bond by exchanging impressions of shared media consumption than unshared, so for socialization purposes individuals benefit by sorting their media consumption so that a significant proportion is shared with peer groups. One method is to sort by historical esteem, or "classics," and another is to sort by recency. Many societies throughout history have gotten by mainly using the former, but in a society with higher values of intellectual progressivism, it's probably inevitable that reverence of historical works will be a weaker motivator, and besides which, the more quickly culture changes the more strained the relevance of old classics will be.
I would have guessed the opposite.
It's not clear to me that you're disagreeing substantially with what I think or what the essay says. Culture is not about aesthetics, it's about interacting with other humans - those who even pay lots of attention to the aesthetics (e.g., me) are very much in the minority.
I'm saying that there are both aesthetic and non aesthetic reasons driving the production of media. If we were to halt media production, I think that would lead to aesthetic concerns despite the large preexisting body of works, but I don't think that those concerns are the only or necessarily even the primary reason for continued media production.
Well, yeah. We're still not disagreeing at all.
Then I think one of us is misunderstanding the content of the article. I think I do disagree with some of the content, particularly given this comment. If I had found the reverse of that observation to be true, I would have a very different position regarding the value of creating more works of fiction.
I think there are differences you're regarding as important that I'm not regarding as important - I could disagree with a lot of the details, but I think the broad thrust of it is both original and good. I'm still digesting what I think of the essay and mentally writing a Rocknerd post about it.
Yeah, I missed the "may be" part. As for whether it is worth trying to read for you, I have no opinion. It works better as an audiobook, though, mainly because the person reading it did a very good job.
I don't think I've ever heard anyone claim that Luminosity is not an improvement on the original (even people who don't like Luminosity), and some of my fans like Twilight too.
Having read and liked both, I claim that Luminosity is not an improvement on the original, it's just a different story, if based on the same premises. Like the Twilight series, it has its up and down moments, though unlike Twilight, it generally gets better written as it unfolds. Presumably because you didn't have an editor to make you go back and rewrite marginal parts into something publishable. Nah, who am I kidding, the original is better written, it has far less of dull narrative.
Okay. Now I have seen that claimed.
Well, I suspect that if you were to ask a Twilight forum, you'd get plenty of people claiming that (many without reading Luminosity). It's not clear to me what follows from those claims, though, if anything.
Ah! Yes, misunderstanding. Thanks for clarifying.

The "S" word is banned until May, but may I bring up the "T" word? Transhumanism, and ultimately posthumanism, will not have the notion of gender--I am certain of that. I have been at varying levels of testosterone following castration, and I cannot say the difference leads to any insight. I prefer to be at low testosterone most of the time just like I prefer to be at low blood-alcohol level most of the time. OK, another short comment, but I can only hope I offered something insightful that most cannot.

No, I liked this one. That sounds fascinating -- so you can choose your testosterone level on a daily basis, like choosing to get drunk or not. I can't imagine what that must be like. On the other hand, I wonder if you're over-extending your own experience. Whatever you do, the historical fact is that your brain was built while washed in testosterone. I doubt that turning that testosterone level down now is the same as actually moving to the female architecture. Eliezer talked about this at some length on OB.

you can choose your testosterone level on a daily basis, like choosing to get drunk or not. I can't imagine what that must be like.

You can do it. There are drugs that elevate your testosterone, and drugs that suppress it. I've tried both. I don't care for the suppression; it's like being tired. Elevation gives me insomnia. The effects of elevation probably depend largely on how quickly the drug you use is metabolized; androstenedione (the over-the-counter pro-testosterone in the US) breaks down quickly into DHT, and most of the bad effects of "testosterone" (baldness, aggression, prostate cancer) are directly caused by DHT.

Theoretically, a man could increase his health by taking an injectable synthetic anabolic steroid with a long half-life. This would suppress his natural testosterone, which has a half life around an hour, and replace it with something that gave him the benefits of testosterone without the harmful effects of DHT. AFAIK this is untested.

I've used androcur to reduce (a new one reducer was released recently) and androgel to increase. Removal of the testicles brought the level to near zero (adrenals produce some I think).

Without getting into the meat of your post: this is the second or third time you've recommended Jacqueline Carey. The first time you recommended her, I checked out the Kushiel series because I've tended to agree with your taste about some other things. I don't think I ever thanked you for the recommendation, but I need to. Thank you.

Everyone else: get and read the Kushiel series. You won't regret it.

I'm ambivalent after reading the first book (Dart). How do the sequels hold up?
6Eliezer Yudkowsky
Better up to Kushiel's Avatar IMO, then down again from that high point.

You'll go crazy trying to figure out every downvote. Do like me, and just secretly take it as further evidence of rampant stupidity and your intellectual superiority.

(Upvotes are also evidence of your intellectual superiority. You can't lose.)

I didn't downvote you, but please try to include some more content than 'seconded', even if it's just expressing what it is that you agree with.
I think the sentiment you're trying to express is captured in simply upvoting the post you're in agreement with. If you have nothing to add, it's probably best not to make a comment.
3Paul Crowley
You don't have to break a rule to be downvoted; someone just had to find your comment substantially less valuable than the average. However, downvoting someone for expressing assent has been explicitly discouraged.
Not only that, I have also noticed that if you ask why you were downvoted, the downvoted comment usually gets voted back up. I have no idea why this is, but it happened with another of my posts. I think that one fluctuated above and below and finally rested on 0.
I'd guess that asking why you were downvoted makes other people think about why you were downvoted, and hence think about voting you up or down, which both overrides the previous vote since people vote to move numbers towards where they think they should be and also changes the mix of voters.
It may also simply draw attention to the comment thread due to people seeing the "why downvoted?" comment appear in the recents comment list. The more people reading a comment, the more who may vote on it. Inexplicable downvotes tend to persist more in long comment threads, low on the page, on older posts.

So this about my gender politics: Unlike the case with, say, race, I don't think that an optimal outcome consists of gender distinctions being obliterated. If the day comes when no one notices or cares whether someone is black or white, any more than they notice eye color, I would only applaud. But obliterating the difference between male and female does not seem to me desirable, and I am glad that it is impossible using present-day technology; the fact that humanity has (at least) two sexes is part of what keeps life interesting.

Why the difference? Doesn't the existence of different races keep life interesting?

The existence of different cultures keeps life interesting. Race is just the color-coded label for some such cultures, and it's got a low enough correlation given modern globalization that it's often more of an obstruction to cultural interchange than a help.

We're evolved for mixed-sex societies, not mixed-race societies. We find sex differences much more salient than racial differences. I'm not sure whether that addresses the "optimal outcome," but it does explain why the situations are different.
They're not as biologically determined. The presence of different cultures keeps life interesting (though there are some cultural norms that should be destroyed as soon as it becomes possible, relativism be damned). To put an extremely shallow spin on it, I'm glad that I can leave my apartment and find mexican food, italian food, chinese food, etc., and I'm grateful for all the different groups of people who found their own ways to survive and thrive in their own particular circumstances, and thus gave me these diverse cuisines, these diverse languages, these diverse ways of living and speaking and creating art and travelling. But because none of that is (all that) biologically determined, I don't see why the fact of my parents coming from particular places should inform my enjoyment of these cultures.
Among the only differences I could think of, is that noticing the difference between black and white has almost only negative connotation today, while noticing it between males and females is a more mixed bag. What if it was possible to attach positive affect reactions in excess to negatives ones, to that color difference ? Would it still be good to abolish people's noticing ? Though, color of skin isn't a category in the same sense sex is; it doesn't correlate with so much potential difference. This also leads to the other reason why you'd think it's important to care about difference between sexes but not between skin color, is because the first has practical consequences, for instance, on your relationships, while the other would not. But while this is true, I can't shake the feeling there is a bias there, which ticks me off. Some people may not feel like gender makes such a difference in how they relate to others. This doesn't back the idea that erasing differences is a desirable thing, but it probably lessens the extent to which the fact that humanity has two sexes adds to life's interest - at least Eliezer should stick to saying he finds it desirable on a personal level, and be more careful about making it an universal.
It's true - a woman can take pride in being caring, empathic, etc. A man can (secretly) take pride in being aggressive, competitive, etc. Blacks in America are constantly told to take pride in being black, but aren't supposed to take pride in any specific traits - just specific events in history. (I saw an Indian woman, trying to compliment a black man, say very sincerely that blacks were good at sports. He was not pleased. The fact that this could seem funny is strange.) Absorbing all cultures into a single culture would be bad; I say this based on experience with genetic algorithms. If we eliminated race, it would increase cultural entropy. And I've got to think there must be similar advantages to having different races, as opposed to churning out people with SNPs chosen independently with probability proportional to their worldwide frequency.
It seems you're mixing culture with ethnicity. Also, ethnicity/race is a historical, but ultimately pointless fact of evolution. Why should we care, other than for its social implications?
This basically sums up my thoughts on the matter. Either gender differences are intrinsic sex differences viewed through cultural lens, in which case erasing the differences isn't possible anyways baring advanced technology; or they're pure socially constructed groups with sex-biased membership in which case the proposition that gender is more relevant than any other social group identity strikes me as weakly defended at best.

"...and in any case I prefer to live in a culture with (at least) two genders."

That specific formulation sounds appalling to me, actually. If they've done the self-realization thing right, each individual ought to constitute his or her own gender without needing to conform to the shallow norms of society, except where they have explicitly chosen otherwise. So in a sense, my ideal society would reflect infinite genders, filling out every available nook and cranny of human experience.

(Okay, now to reread The Sequences in sequence.)

Then gender is identical to identity; you've ruined gender's identity.

I don't think identity is cleanly separable from culture. Each individual's gender expression is going to be unique or at least close to it, but gender is a property of identity and defines a relation between behavior and cultural expectations.

Just a minor nitpick: the cartoon you linked (boys vs. girls) was actually a satire. The cartoonist (Darrow) was a well-known satirist.

Where's it from?
Whitney Darrow was a New Yorker cartoonist, so there's a decent chance that I'm Glad I'm a Boy! I'm Glad I'm a Girl! was intended as a satire of sexism and gender roles, but I know of no definitive answer about this.
Thanks for the source.

I prefer to live in a culture with (at least) two genders.

Would you mind explaining why? (I presume you consider a very large number of genders to be the same as zero/one gender.)


I shan't presume to answer for Eliezer, but for myself, I think it is valuable that in the course of a day, I encounter many people whose experiences are similar to mine along all these gender-related axes, and with whom I can discuss these commonalities, and that, at the same time, I encounter many people whose experiences are drastically unlike mine, whose ways of thinking I will have to exert effort in order to understand. Thus, having a few genders seems to me to be well-optimized for fun.

(It is, of course, possible that I'm just putting a happy gloss on the circumstances in which I already happen to exist)

8Eliezer Yudkowsky
Well, call me loony, but I (a) like the fact that women exist in the world (b) don't mind being a man. Ergo, I prefer to live in a culture with at least two genders.
Personally, I just like the fact there are people in the world that are different from me. I'm not clear on why gender (especially in the current, culturally-constructed and tied to physical sex, manner) serves this purpose particularly well vs. other types of people I don't identify with but find interesting (such as, say, philosophers).
1Eliezer Yudkowsky
The obvious reason.
Probably I'm being obtuse here, but I asked because it isn't obvious to me.
Well, the having sex part is certainly nice =). Seriously, intercourse, marriage, raising children, etc. give the two genders an objective reason to work hard to understand their differences. The challenge is more fun because it has a built-in reward.
Sex is a function of, well, physical sex. This is not the same thing as gender, or gender roles. It's not clear to what extent the two are directly connected instead of socially constructed, cf. comments such as this or ciphergoth's comments about sexual politics. ETA: One can obviously make the argument that value is gained from sexual attraction pushing people to connect with others who may differ from them, but given some non-isomorphism between gender and sex vs. arguably larger differences between people from different cultures vs. masculine vs. feminine individuals from the same culture this strikes me as hard to defend as making gender identity particularly useful. ETA2: Also, I'm pretty sure my boss and his partner would be surprised if I told them that sex and gender differences are an integral or even major part of the fun in sex and romantic relationships.
Indeed, I think gender (and the way it is intertwined with hetero-normativity) is one of the factors causing us to have less sex than we could have. For instance, suppose that there is some evolutionary-psychology reason which makes biologically male persons like short sexual encounters higher, and biologically female persons value long-term relationships. (This whole discussion is predicated on the existence of biological-sex based psychological traits, after all, so let's go out on a limb). The expected outcome might be that men seek out men for casual hook-ups and women for longer-term relationships. But this is generally not what we are seeing. Why not? One explanation might be that most people are not even a little interested in same-sex sex. But that does not seem to be the case, consider for example environments like single-sex prisons. I would instead argue that the reasons is that "men do not have sex with men" and "women do not have sex with women" is a cornerstone of the socially constructed part of gender, and going against this would necessitating people to drop a big part of their identity, which is unpleasant. On this view, the existence of gender is actually preventing us from optimally partaking of that obvious good, copious sex.
I generally like being a heterosexual man. Though maybe I'd prefer to be an asexual man. Being a homosexual man might be fun too. But not being a man, seems like something that would change my values significantly. That's obviously not something I want.
I don't see why. There are obvious differences between a cluster around one point, two points, n>2 points, or a random distribution in genderspace. IIRC the case of n=2 comes from the evolutionary instability of n=1 in the prisoner's dilemma of providing for the gamete and later for the infant. But with stem cell gametes etc, there is now no reason for humans to restrict n to 2.
Too concise for me. Can you elaborate?
IIRC, if you start from equal sized gametes, cheaters can win by providing less, which requires the others to provide more. In the end you get stable sperm and egg gametes where one provides 100% and the other packs only the energy to swim. Hence n=1 decays into n=2. A lot of other sex characteristics arise as consequences, including the relative huge numbers of male sperm to female eggs, the fact that the sperm usually swims and the egg doesn't, the female becoming the site of internal fertilization, the female carrying and feeding the pregnancy, the female looking after live born young, and the consequent genetic pickiness of females versus male fire-and-forget. As for the stem cell thing, one of the kinds of cells they can be made into is the kind that become gametes. In principle though not yet in practice you should be able to make either kind from either sex - they have already made female sperms in mice. Hence sexual reproduction will be available to anyone with anyone, or solo.

What would the corresponding female rationalist be like? I don't know. I can't say. Some woman has to pursue her art as far as I've pursued mine, far enough that the art she learned from others fails her, so that she must remake her shattered art in her own image and in the image of her own task. And then tell the rest of us about it.

I sometimes think of myself as being like the protagonist in a classic SF labyrinth story, wandering further and further into some alien artifact, trying to call into a radio my description of the bizarre things I'm seein

... (read more)
I think we need to remember the distinction between sex and gender. It is our identity (how we interpret our physical description and existence) that our art/path is tied to, not our physical description/existence itself. I'm glad curious brought it up, but this thread still seems to be using "sex" where it means "gender" (how we interpret our sex given social norms, etc). So, my ability to build on Eliezer's posted knowledge is not dependent on physical differences explained by my sex, but the similarities I perceive between Eliezer's reported-identity and my identity. (This is why I would expect "communicating in the maze" to be necessary, not to find out whether Eliezer is male.) I expect this would be true until we discover exactly what mental traits have been genetically hardwired to correspond to sex, and how those traits socialize. Given that we haven't yet, I would imagine that we shouldn't be asking what a "female-rationalist" would do but what a "rationalist who identifies as a woman" would do.
It seems likely that either will be substantially different. The personalities of the trans men I know are significantly formed by female socialization. The trans women I know are similarly affected by male socialization. They are not what they were raised to be, but how they were raised is a significant part of who they are; in most cases a part they dislike and repudiate, but still a major influence on the people they are. Of course, the oldest trans person I know is barely 30. Potentially those influences will go away with age, but I doubt it. They may disappear from view, but still have a backstage role.
It will definitely help to have people from completely different backgrounds understand rationality. People with different sexes is absolutely awesome, because what is being implied here is a genuine non-understanding of the other sex, a slightly alien intelligence. A genuine new piece of information on which much new science can be built. The enthusiasm of George Dvorsky and David Brin for uplifiting animals seems to make much more sense in this light. (I hope that comment didn't violate the rules) But a certain doubt does arise. When different people with different paths start from different points and try to explain this multidimensional problem, then each begins simple and then as they continue to post, the effort of the others to understand them rises as the inferential distance from new comers on the path increases. The ability to understand the many paths, to really learn their lessons, to incorporate them within your bones, we have faith that this is possible within one human mind, whichever point it began from. For the sake of the reason that shall not be named, lets hope this is true.
I am not sure that all paths hold the same relevance or value.

But as recently as the 1970s this still passed for educational material, which makes me a bit more sympathetic.

May have been satire.

You say that it's worth talking about sex-based gender differences because they exist, but I'm not sure I buy it. Is sex more of a determinant than other factors in personality? Should I expect that my ideas are "male" more than that they are "brown-haired" or "grew up watching thundercats" or "ate too much peanut butter today"?

I remain skeptical that there's a good reason to make a big deal out of gender.

ETA: was this downvoted to oblivion because you think these questions aren't relevant, or because you disagree with my conclusion?

I've never been certain what people actually meant by 'male' and 'female', beyond the obvious physiological differences.

There are certain associations with 'outgoing' and 'introverted', 'dominant' and 'submissive', certain roles (women do regenerative work, men do profitable work), and certain specific behavioral tendencies (boys tend to play at group conflict, girls tend to play at social interaction), but the vast majority of cultural associations seem to be fairly arbitrary.

Beyond the associations is the idea that there are two categories, and it's very important that things be known to belong to one or the other. That's the part I cannot empathize with.

Read Male, Female by David Geary and Gender, Nature, and Nurture by Richard Lippa.

I'm not sure arts have to be based to this extent on a single individual (though I'm not sure they don't, either). Pjeby, as a possible counter-example, seems to change his art based on experimental data he gathers from a largish number of students.

From his post: Also, I took his use of the term to specifically mean his art. I hear this type of use a lot. "His art is amazing." Or, "He possesses the Art."
I just meant -- how does the Art get expanded to include many peoples' paths, and to have room for distinctively female rationalists and other cognitive types? One possibility is for several individuals to painstakingly search out approaches that work for themselves in particular, and radio their paths to us, as Eliezer did. I expect this image is what was behind, say, Eliezer’s discussion of mandatory secret identities. A second possibility is for individuals (or the LW community) to painstakingly search out approaches (or distributions of approaches) that work for many different people, including people who are not yet master rationalists and who don’t yet have the skills to pick out their own paths all that efficiently. So, in addition to figuring out what works for me in my own attempts to protect what I protect, I could make extensive, active attempts to understand how a variety of other people think, and what techniques do and do not help those individuals. This would involve painstakingly gathering data, interacting with many different people as they experiment with different technique-components, offering suggestions and carefully watching what my interlocutors do with a given suggestion, etc. On this model, seeing what works for other people (even people who are not master rationalists, and who are not more skilled than me) would be a substantial part of what pushed my own art of rationality: both the art I use myself, and the art I share with others. To bring in a concrete example, pjeby sounds like he is taking this second approach -- so his art may more naturally grow the faces or approaches that work well for distinctively female practitioners of the art he is trying to develop, and for others who differ from himself in various ways. Not because he has the model “woman” inside himself well enough to write distinctively female characters, but because he is actively experimenting on a large number of actual women, and on students who differ from himsel

I've read this and "On gender and rationality", and I still have to ask - is there any rational reason for you preferring multiple-gender-society, as opposed to, say, Asari-like guys (ahem, gals) or women with parthenogenesis (suppose it is actually really truly possible, and the problems of imprinting and insufficient DNA reparation are solvable) or eunuch-like people reproducing by cloning/cell combining/whatever?

The second Kushiel trilogy has a male lead. Carey isn't quite as proficient at writing men as she is writing women; the character felt somewhat "off" to me, when compared to my own experiences as a male. Then again, I didn't suffer through horrible abuse that made me terrified of my own sexuality, so I don't know what it's like to be Imriel either.

I don't understand women, but I'm not all that much better at understanding men, either. Heck, I don't even have that good of a model of myself. I'm pretty good at understanding fiction, though; I've read an awful lot of it.

8Eliezer Yudkowsky
I would have been surprised if she was. Joscelin Verreuil also strikes me as being a projection of some facets of a man that a woman most notices, and not a man as we exist from the inside. I have never known a man with a true female side, and I have never known a woman with a true male side, either as authors or in real life.

This perception seems far too easily biased by knowing the gender of the author. Does anyone know of blinded studies on determining the gender of an author based on how they write male vs. female characters? Lacking any hard evidence I am extremely skeptical of the effect being all that large.

A few notable female science fiction/fantasy authors wrote under male or gender-neutral names. There may be data that could be found from reactions to their work, but I wouldn't know where to start looking.


Look up James Tiptree Jr. (the pseudonym used by sf writer Alice Sheldon) for a great example of a female sf author who "passed" not only as male, but as manly (in the opinion of many men who read her work) until her true identity was revealed.

5Eliezer Yudkowsky
I read a book by Tiptree and did not identify it as female, but neither did it give me any particular impression of manliness. Good data point though.
6Eliezer Yudkowsky
Authors whose work reveals a deep enough understanding of their characters that you would say of them, "This goes beyond what I thought a man (woman) could understand of women (men)" are terribly exceeding rare. I'm not sure who the male conjugate of Jacqueline Carey might be.
At the risk of replying too late for any of the original interested parties to take notice, I've found the female characters in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series to be particularly compelling. I confess that I've never looked at the question in terms of an author displaying exceptional understanding of the opposite sex, but rather their ability to express insight into other people who are distinctly not them, but Martin's gotten rather high praise for his female (and male) characters from many sources, so perhaps some of them were looking at the issue in this light.
She's Come Undone by the male author Wally Lamb has been praised for its utterly convincing portrayal of its female main character. I've never read it.
I hear Memoirs of a Geisha has a good female lead written by a male author.

James Tiptree Jr, aka Alice Sheldon.

Robert Silverberg: "It has been suggested to me that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree's writing."

Yes, I do believe that Orthodox Jewish cultural hardwiring is showing.

Could you please taboo these?

Okay. I've never seen a male author write a female character with the same depth as Phedre no Delaunay, nor have I seen any male person display a feminine personality with the same sort of depth and internal integrity, nor have I seen any male person convincingly give the appearance of having thought out the nature of feminity to that depth. Likewise and in a mirror for women and men. I sometimes wish that certain women would appreciate that being a man is at least as complicated and hard to grasp and a lifetime's work to integrate, as the corresponding fact of feminity. I am skeptical that either sex can ever really model and predict the other's deep internal life, short of computer-assisted telepathy. These are different brain designs we're talking about here.

I sometimes wish that certain men would appreciate that not all men are like them--or at least, that not all men want to be like them--that the fact of masculinity is not necessarily something to integrate.

9Eliezer Yudkowsky
Duly appreciated.
Have you ever read something featuring characters of both genders without knowing in advance the gender of the author?
I have I have! He identifies as male but ... wow. He knew what I felt in IM. He played me like a symphony. It was incredible. He must have had me all worked out in his head. And he was so sensitive, so very much like a woman... It may be true that you've never seen this but this comment upset somebody so I hope that in the event that you have the perception that this is not possible, you do realize that you're likely to be working with a biased sample. Do men who identify as male frequently wish to share emotionally intimate thoughts with other men? Do men who are feminine inside and want a male mate do this with males who are straight? Do trans women do this with just everyone? How many trans women have you attempted to get close to? How many others do we allow to see more than a superficial view of us, period? From the view you have of me, am I displaying a feminine personality with "the same sort of depth and internal integrity"?
Which raises a question: were there high-quality collaborations in fiction, where a male writer contributes to the writing of male characters, and a female writer works on female ones? How did that work out?
To a significant extent David and Leigh Eddings. Nauseating. Completely replacing every female character in his books would lose nothing of value. :)
1Eliezer Yudkowsky
I went back and read some David Eddings, which I remembered liking in early childhood, and was like, "Wow, look at all the adverbs". I think you have to try something like that with, I don't know, Neil Gaiman and Lois McMaster Bujold, before it becomes a good test of the theory. Actually, now that I think on it, Bujold has many male characters and I've yet to notice a flaw in their masculinity, side-by-side with Cordelia Naismith, the Greatest Mom in the Multiverse. She's also written a gay male viewpoint character at length (Ethan of Athos) but I don't know how accurate that was.
3Paul Crowley
Do you know very many transsexuals?
6Eliezer Yudkowsky
Surprisingly many.
5Paul Crowley
If you don't mind my asking, how do you perceive them wrt to

Data point: I am physically (and I am figuring, genotypically) female but have never felt that I have an "internal feminine identity" of any kind. I used to think the whole idea of such an internal identity was a socially-imposed myth. It was not until I encountered trans women / trans men who very, very clearly had an internal identification that strongly differed from their sex phenotype that it became evident to me that some people (and possibly most cisgendered persons, even) really and truly did have an internal gender "sense".

For opposite values of sex and gender, the same goes for me. To the extent that I do conform to certain masculine stereotypes I don't view them as critical to my identity, just another semi-arbitrary socially constructed category that I belong to. In my case, I had (often vastly) reduced exposure to most of the transmission vectors I would expect social gender identity memes to have. Out of curiousity, if it's not too personal, was your childhood particularly atypical in exposure to type of social environments/mass media/&c.?
1Paul Crowley
The thing I've heard said about it is "if you're cisgendered, you're as aware of your own gender as a fish is of water" (where cisgendered == not transgendered). I don't know how you'd measure whether that was so.
Perhaps not so surprisingly, given that (anecdotally and handwavily, I confess) MtF transsexualism appears to be associated with something like +1 s.d. of intelligence. I've heard super-duper-handwavy explanations along the lines of "male-sized brain with female-style connectivity" but don't know whether there's any truth to them. And of course there are obvious reasons why open transsexualism might be strongly associated with openness to unconventional ideas and tolerance for the idea of self-modification, both on the part of the individual concerned and of those he/she socializes with. So someone who hangs out with transhumanists might reasonably expect to know a greater-than-average proportion of transsexual people.

I can picture Jeffeysai as a woman. Doing so gives me a better sense of J-sensei's pain.

This perception would probably not lead to as much active discouragement as the perception of J-sensei as an arrogant bitch, but it could easily lead to concern and a different kind of social discouragement.

I sometimes think of myself as being like the protagonist in a classic SF labyrinth story, wandering further and further into some alien artifact, trying to call into a radio my description of the bizarre things I'm seeing, so that I can be followed.

That's not a happy thought - the protagonist of that story ("Rogue Moon") was knowingly committing suicide; no one ever followed him; and everyone concluded in the end that it had been pointless.

2Eliezer Yudkowsky
But it was such a great story! (Also, I think there have been other stories with the labyrinth motif, though the one you named may be most famous.)

A friend of mine has offered to lend me the Kushiel series on a number of occasions. I'm starting to think I should take her up on that.