Tl;dr:  Since it can be cheap and easy to attack everything your tribe doesn't believe, you shouldn't trust the rationality of just anyone who slams astrology and creationism; these beliefs aren't just false, they're also non-tribal among educated audiences.  Test what happens when a "skeptic" argues for a non-tribal belief, or argues against a tribal belief, before you decide they're good general rationalists.  This post is intended to be reasonably accessible to outside audiences.

I don't believe in UFOs.  I don't believe in astrology.  I don't believe in homeopathy.  I don't believe in creationism.  I don't believe there were explosives planted in the World Trade Center.  I don't believe in haunted houses.  I don't believe in perpetual motion machines.  I believe that all these beliefs are not only wrong but visibly insane.

If you know nothing else about me but this, how much credit should you give me for general rationality?

Certainly anyone who was skillful at adding up evidence, considering alternative explanations, and assessing prior probabilities, would end up disbelieving in all of these.

But there would also be a simpler explanation for my views, a less rare factor that could explain it:  I could just be anti-non-mainstream.  I could be in the habit of hanging out in moderately educated circles, and know that astrology and homeopathy are not accepted beliefs of my tribe.  Or just perceptually recognize them, on a wordless level, as "sounding weird".  And I could mock anything that sounds weird and that my fellow tribesfolk don't believe, much as creationists who hang out with fellow creationists mock evolution for its ludicrous assertion that apes give birth to human beings.

You can get cheap credit for rationality by mocking wrong beliefs that everyone in your social circle already believes to be wrong.  It wouldn't mean that I have any ability at all to notice a wrong belief that the people around me believe to be right, or vice versa - to further discriminate truth from falsity, beyond the fact that my social circle doesn't already believe in something.

Back in the good old days, there was a simple test for this syndrome that would get quite a lot of mileage:  You could just ask me what I thought about God.  If I treated the idea with deeper respect than I treated astrology, holding it worthy of serious debate even if I said I disbelieved in it, then you knew that I was taking my cues from my social surroundings - that if the people around me treated a belief as high-prestige, high-status, I wouldn't start mocking it no matter what the state of evidence.

On the other hand suppose I said without hesitation that my epistemic state on God was similar to my epistemic state on psychic powers: no positive evidence, lots of failed tests, highly unfavorable prior, and if you believe it under those circumstances then something is wrong with your mind.  Then you would have heard a bit of skepticism that might cost me something socially, and that not everyone around me would have endorsed, even in educated circles.  You would know it wasn't just a cheap way of picking up cheap points.

Today the God-test no longer works, because some people realized that the taking-it-seriously aura of religion is in fact the main thing left which prevents people from noticing the epistemic awfulness; there has been a concerted and, I think, well-advised effort to mock religion and strip it of its respectability.  The upshot is that there are now quite wide social circles in which God is just another stupid belief that we all know we don't believe in, on the same list with astrology.  You could be dealing with an adept rationalist, or you could just be dealing with someone who reads Reddit.

And of course I could easily go on to name some beliefs that others think are wrong and that I think are right, or vice versa, but would inevitably lose some of my audience at each step along the way - just as, a couple of decades ago, I would have lost a lot of my audience by saying that religion was unworthy of serious debate.  (Thankfully, today this outright dismissal is at least considered a respectable, mainstream position even if not everyone holds it.)

I probably won't lose much by citing anti-Artificial-Intelligence views as an example of undiscriminating skepticism.  I think a majority among educated circles are sympathetic to the argument that brains are not magic and so there is no obstacle in principle to building machines that think.  But there are others, albeit in the minority, who recognize Artificial Intelligence as "weird-sounding" and "sci-fi", a belief in something that has never yet been demonstrated, hence unscientific - the same epistemic reference class as believing in aliens or homeopathy.

(This is technically a demand for unobtainable evidence.  The asymmetry with homeopathy can be summed up as follows:  First:  If we learn that Artificial Intelligence is definitely impossible, we must have learned some new fact unknown to modern science - everything we currently know about neurons and the evolution of intelligence suggests that no magic was involved.  On the other hand, if we learn that homeopathy is possible, we must have learned some new fact unknown to modern science; if everything else we believe about physics is true, homeopathy shouldn't work.  Second:  If homeopathy works, we can expect double-blind medical studies to demonstrate its efficacy right now; the absence of this evidence is very strong evidence of absence.  If Artificial Intelligence is possible in theory and in practice, we can't necessarily expect its creation to be demonstrated using current knowledge - this absence of evidence is only weak evidence of absence.)

I'm using Artificial Intelligence as an example, because it's a case where you can see some "skeptics" directing their skepticism at a belief that is very popular in educated circles, that is, the nonmysteriousness and ultimate reverse-engineerability of mind.  You can even see two skeptical principles brought into conflict - does a good skeptic disbelieve in Artificial Intelligence because it's a load of sci-fi which has never been demonstrated?  Or does a good skeptic disbelieve in human exceptionalism, since it would require some mysterious, unanalyzable essence-of-mind unknown to modern science?

It's on questions like these where we find the frontiers of knowledge, and everything now in the settled lands was once on the frontier.  It might seem like a matter of little importance to debate weird non-mainstream beliefs; a matter for easy dismissals and open scorn.  But if this policy is implemented in full generality, progress goes down the tubes.  The mainstream is not completely right, and future science will not just consist of things that sound reasonable to everyone today - there will be at least some things in it that sound weird to us.  (This is certainly the case if something along the lines of Artificial Intelligence is considered weird!)  And yes, eventually such scientific truths will be established by experiment, but somewhere along the line - before they are definitely established and everyone already believes in them - the testers will need funding.

Being skeptical about some non-mainstream beliefs is not a fringe project of little importance, not always a slam-dunk, not a bit of occasional pointless drudgery - though I can certainly understand why it feels that way to argue with creationists.  Skepticism is just the converse of acceptance, and so to be skeptical of a non-mainstream belief is to try to contribute to the project of advancing the borders of the known - to stake an additional epistemic claim that the borders should not expand in this direction, and should advance in some other direction instead.

This is high and difficult work - certainly much more difficult than the work of mocking everything that sounds weird and that the people in your social circle don't already seem to believe.

To put it more formally, before I believe that someone is performing useful cognitive work, I want to know that their skepticism discriminates truth from falsehood, making a contribution over and above the contribution of this-sounds-weird-and-is-not-a-tribal-belief.  In Bayesian terms, I want to know that p(mockery|belief false & not a tribal belief) > p(mockery|belief true & not a tribal belief).

If I recall correctly, the US Air Force's Project Blue Book, on UFOs, explained away as a sighting of the planet Venus what turned out to actually be an experimental aircraft.  No, I don't believe in UFOs either; but if you're going to explain away experimental aircraft as Venus, then nothing else you say provides further Bayesian evidence against UFOs either.  You are merely an undiscriminating skeptic.  I don't believe in UFOs, but in order to credit Project Blue Book with additional help in establishing this, I would have to believe that if there were UFOs then Project Blue Book would have turned in a different report.

And so if you're just as skeptical of a weird, non-tribal belief that turns out to have pretty good support, you just blew the whole deal - that is, if I pay any extra attention to your skepticism, it ought to be because I believe you wouldn't mock a weird non-tribal belief that was worthy of debate.

Personally, I think that Michael Shermer blew it by mocking molecular nanotechnology, and Penn and Teller blew it by mocking cryonics (justification: more or less exactly the same reasons I gave for Artificial Intelligence).  Conversely, Richard Dawkins scooped up a huge truckload of actual-discriminating-skeptic points, at least in my book, for not making fun of the many-worlds interpretation when he was asked about in an interview; indeed, Dawkins noted (correctly) that the traditional collapse postulate pretty much has to be incorrect.  The many-worlds interpretation isn't just the formally simplest explanation that fits the facts, it also sounds weird and is not yet a tribal belief of the educated crowd; so whether someone makes fun of MWI is indeed a good test of whether they understand Occam's Razor or are just mocking everything that's not a tribal belief.

Of course you may not trust me about any of that.  And so my purpose today is not to propose a new litmus test to replace atheism.

But I do propose that before you give anyone credit for being a smart, rational skeptic, that you ask them to defend some non-mainstream belief.  And no, atheism doesn't count as non-mainstream anymore, no matter what the polls show.  It has to be something that most of their social circle doesn't believe, or something that most of their social circle does believe which they think is wrong.  Dawkins endorsing many-worlds still counts for now, although its usefulness as an indicator is fading fast... but the point is not to endorse many-worlds, but to see them take some sort of positive stance on where the frontiers of knowledge should change.

Don't get me wrong, there's a whole crazy world out there, and when Richard Dawkins starts whaling on astrology in "The Enemies of Reason" documentary, he is doing good and necessary work. But it's dangerous to let people pick up too much credit just for slamming astrology and homeopathy and UFOs and God.  What if they become famous skeptics by picking off the cheap targets, and then use that prestige and credibility to go after nanotechnology?  Who will dare to consider cryonics now that it's been featured on an episode of Penn and Teller's "Bullshit"?  On the current system you can gain high prestige in the educated circle just by targeting beliefs like astrology that are widely believed to be uneducated; but then the same guns can be turned on new ideas like the many-worlds interpretation, even though it's being actively debated by physicists.  And that's why I suggest, not any particular litmus test, but just that you ought to have to stick your neck out and say something a little less usual - say where you are not skeptical (and most of your tribemates are) or where you are skeptical (and most of the people in your tribe are not).

I am minded to pay attention to Robyn Dawes as a skillful rationalist, not because Dawes has slammed easy targets like astrology, but because he also took the lead in assembling and popularizing the total lack of experimental evidence for nearly all schools of psychotherapy and the persistence of multiple superstitions such as Rorschach ink-blot interpretation in the face of literally hundreds of experiments trying and failing to find any evidence for it.  It's not that psychotherapy seemed like a difficult target after Dawes got through with it, but that, at the time he attacked it, people in educated circles still thought of it as something that educated people believed in.  It's not quite as useful today, but back when Richard Feynman published "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" you could pick up evidence that he was actually thinking from the fact that he disrespected psychotherapists as well as psychics.

I'll conclude with some simple and non-trustworthy indicators that the skeptic is just filling in a cheap and largely automatic mockery template:

  • The "skeptic" opens by remarking about the crazy true believers and wishful thinkers who believe in X, where there seem to be a surprising number of physicists making up the population of those wacky cult victims who believe in X.  (The physicist-test is not an infallible indicator of rightness or even non-stupidity, but it's a filter that rapidly picks up on, say, strong AI, molecular nanotechnology, cryonics, the many-worlds interpretation, and so on.)  Bonus point losses if the "skeptic" remarks on how easily physicists are seduced by sci-fi ideas.  The reason why this is a particularly negative indicator is that when someone is in a mode of automatically arguing against everything that seems weird and isn't a belief of their tribe - of rejecting weird beliefs as a matter of naked perceptual recognition of weirdness - then they tend to perceptually fill-in-the-blank by assuming that anything weird is believed by wacky cult victims (i.e., people Not Of Our Tribe).  And they don't backtrack, or wonder otherwise, even if they find out that the "cult" seems to exhibit a surprising number of people who go around talking about rationality and/or members with PhDs in physics.  Roughly, they have an automatic template for mocking weird beliefs, and if this requires them to just swap in physicists for astrologers as gullible morons, that's what they'll do.  Of course physicists can be gullible morons too, but you should be establishing that as a surprising conclusion, not using it as an opening premise!
  • The "skeptic" offers up items of "evidence" against X which are not much less expected in the case that X is true than in the case that X is false; in other words, they fail to grasp the elementary Bayesian notion of evidence.  I don't believe that UFOs are alien visitors, but my skepticism has nothing to do with all the crazy people who believe in UFOs - the existence of wacky cults is not much less expected in the case that aliens do exist, than in the case that they do not.  (I am skeptical of UFOs, not because I fear affiliating myself with the low-prestige people who believe in UFOs, but because I don't believe aliens would (a) travel across interstellar distances AND (b) hide all signs of their presence AND THEN (c) fly gigantic non-nanotechnological aircraft over our military bases with their exterior lights on.)
  • The demand for unobtainable evidence is a special case of the above, and of course a very common mode of skepticism gone wrong.  Artificial Intelligence and molecular nanotechnology both involve beliefs in the future feasibility of technologies that we can't build right now, but (arguendo) seem to be strongly permitted by current scientific belief, i.e., the non-ineffability of the brain, or the basic physical calculations which seem to show that simple nanotechnological machines should work.  To discard all the arguments from cognitive science and rely on the knockdown argument "no reliable reporter has ever seen an AI!" is blindly filling in the template from haunted houses.
  • The "skeptic" tries to scare you away from the belief in their very first opening remarks: for example, pointing out how UFO cults beat and starve their victims (when this can just as easily happen if aliens are visiting the Earth).  The negative consequences of a false belief may be real, legitimate truths to be communicated; but only after you establish by other means that the belief is factually false - otherwise it's the logical fallacy of appeal to consequences.
  • They mock first and counterargue later or not at all.  I do believe there's a place for mockery in the war on dumb ideas, but first you write the crushing factual counterargument, then you conclude with the mockery.

I'll conclude the conclusion by observing that poor skepticism can just as easily exist in a case where a belief is wrong as when a belief is right, so pointing out these flaws in someone's skepticism can hardly serve to establish a positive belief about where the frontiers of knowledge should move.

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I think we've achieved a new record for "most distinct subthreads that would be flamewars anywhere else on the Internet, but somehow aren't yet".

The previous recordholder, I'm pretty sure, is also on Less Wrong.

A partial list to compare to future record breaking attempts: Global Warming, Meredith Kercher's murder, atheism, gun control, race and IQ, Pick-up artists, cryonics, Scandinavian social welfare, nuclear deterence, sweatshops, industry bailouts, immigration, UFOs, homosexuality, polyamory, bisexuality, pedophilia, necrophilia, cannibalism, rape, 2 girls 1 cup, sex change, generalizations about promiscuity, straight men like lesbians, masochism, incest, people getting off to cartoons, people getting off to cartoons of pre-teen girls, 9/11 was an inside job, and Communism.

Don't forget the biggest of them all: "questioning our raison d'etre"; i.e. we debated the value of rationality, whilst remaining civil and keeping the discussion meaningful. For comparison, imagine suggesting that "tennis isn't all that great" on a tennis forum.

Eugenics; that ought to be a fun one as well.
This reminds of the supposed spectre of "designer babies". Non-sceptic rationalist: "Oh don't do that scientific research it'll end in designer babies!!!!" Rationalist: "So what if it does?"
6Paul Crowley14y
We should try gun control some time...
That is so true. & that is why I bloody love this site. Still, I think to get the perfect compendium, somebody ought to mention fascism.

Fascism was never a well-defined political philosophy, as far as I can tell. It seems that, today, it seems to be a synonym for "non-Communist government I don't like".

I'd say it became increasingly less well-defined after it's creation.
I always thought of it as basically a reaction to communism, wherein the state takes control of industry but sort of for the benefit of industry rather than labour. But yeah, definitely a pretty amorphous thing. Anyway, it's mentioned now! Hurrah!
I've seen it defined, perhaps ironically, as "When the government takes over the corporations, that's called communism. When the corporations take over the government, that's called fascism."
From Jack's link in the previous comment: No further comment. :)

Two more non-trustworthy indicators:

  • Ask the person in question which of the several ridiculous ideas they reject they find least ridiculous - for example "Which do you think is more likely to be true - astrology, or UFOs?" I've found people trying to signal affiliation have a hard time with this sort of question and will even be flustered by it, saying something along the lines of "They're both stupid" or "Is this some sort of trick to make me sound like I believe a crazy idea?". A rationalist will say something more like "Well, I don't believe either, but UFOs at least make sense with our idea of the universe, whereas astrology is just plain crazytalk" (or ze may refuse to answer on the grounds that you're wasting zir time; it's not a perfect test).

  • Observe the circumstances in which the person involved brings up the belief. If they just go to atheist forums and say "Man, those religious people sure are stupid," higher probability of signaller. If they actively talk to religious people, try to use atheism as a starting point for building new ideas, and don't bring it up much when it's not relevant, higher probability they believe it for the right reasons.

I wouldn't answer the astrology/UFO question. Extraterrestrials visiting in flying human-vehicle-sized ships from human-visible distances is so horribly anthropomorphic as to make it immeasurably improbable. Both propositions are far less likely than me winning the lottery, and that's the best I can get from my wetware. Anything further is like asking, "Which are you more certain is a European country, France or Spain?"

Also, I'm inclined to avoid questions of this form on principle. It's like Yudkowsky's "blue tentacle" in Technical Explanation: Being able to find outs for a theory that doesn't fit evidence is anti-knowledge, and the more practice you get at it the crazier you become.

Spain is more Middle-Eastern than France and France was on the European front of both World Wars, so France. I can see your point, though.

UFOs are possible given what we know of the universe. Unlikely, yes, but its possible to have them without us learning much new about the universe. Astrology, not so much. Astrology means we have totally whiffed on science and have to integrate all the contradictory information we have in ways that are unimaginable.

3Rob Bensinger11y
I'm not quite sure what you mean by 'anthropomorphic' here. One way to think about framing the comparison is to note that if intelligent extraterrestrials have visited us, we have to update strongly in favor of their intelligence playing an important role in our intelligence. In any universe that isn't completely teeming with intelligent life, this will hold for anthropic reasons; two intelligences are immeasurably more likely to encounter each other if one had a causal role in the other's coming to existence (via panspermia and/or guided evolution). So some of the bizarre anthropomorphism here can be dispensed with. But note that if we want to pull a similar trick regarding astrology -- and I think there's several orders of magnitude more reason to be inclined to do this in the astrology case than in the UFO case -- then we'll need to posit an intelligent designer for our entire universe, not just for our species. In the one case our understanding of the origin of life on Earth is wrong; that's not surprising as these things go, since most scientists have already noted their current and ongoing confusion about the timeline for life on Earth's origination. In the other case, however, our understanding of the fabric of the universe is completely wrong. We are not in the least bit confused, at this point, about how it is that our psychological dispositions sometimes correlate with astronomical phenomena. To discover that there is a causal connection would mean that Approximately Everything You Know Is A Lie. That's a bigger deal, I think.

A sufficiently good rationalist should probably decompose astrology and UFOs into different possible definitions and discuss both priors and the nature of the processes that probably produce the two beliefs.

I'd be willing to seriously consider astrology in the sense that what time of year someone was born, and thus the weather and food their mother was exposed to in utero or that they had to deal with during some early developmental window, could have consistent effects on personality. I've heard enough conflicting explanations for "UFOs" that I think there probably is some real phenomenon to explain, even if it's just neurological.
What makes you think there's only one?

Another good indicator (as djbc said) is the level of certitude : if someone expresses more certitude on a complex topic like gun control than on a slamdunk like God - then I won't trust their confidence much.

Does that mean only hardcore atheists are worth listening to? Maybe, but some claims about religion are not that obvious - for example, is religion good or bad for society in terms of enforcing moral behaviour, facilitating cooperation, raising children, etc. ? I don't consider that question a slamdunk.

Another red flag for me is "clannish" language, presenting issues in terms of "group A vs group B" ("this is a victory for us", "hah, that shows them", etc.). It's a sign that the wrong part of the brain is being used.

I wonder what you mean by "hardcore atheists"? I'm guessing you don't mean hardcore as in "signaling group membership loudly", and Eliezer already argued the point that atheism is no longer a valid synonym for reliable, rational thought.
I'm not quite sure myself :D I mostly meant "as opposed to agnostic" ("strong atheist" would be a better word then), but wanted to point out (as Eliezer had indeed already done) that extreme commitment (for example, blaming religion for all evils) was not necessarily a good signal.
I get it now, thank you. You would expect rational thought to lead to a higher level of commitment on decisions about religion than gun control, but higher level of commitment on the topics is not a good signal for rational thought.
I think "hardcore atheist" generally means, "atheist who actively and loudly antagonizes religion." That is not consistent with the poster's usage, but I don't think any adjective would be - the point is that people who are not atheists may be worth listening to, not that some "not-hardcore" atheists are also worth listening to in addition to the hardcore atheists.

I'll bite the bullet and say global warming is the perfect example here. It's pretty clear to me that many people hold their positions on this issue - pro and contra - for political/social reasons rather than evidential ones.

Unfortunately that often seems to be the case when there are vested interests in the answer going one way or the other.

The impact of genetics on behaviour is another example. Most of the educated people I know are ultra-behaviorists, so if I see somebody argue that genes matter (but aren't everything), they definitely get brownie points. Especially since such a view tends to be seen as vaguely quasi-racist.

The problem with asking race related questions is that there's a much stronger social pressure to shut up if you believe something that comes off as racist.

If you support cryonics, the worst that happens is that you come off as having strange beliefs. Take most any factual claim about race and you're an asshole for even thinking about it.

Of course, once the person is confident that you won't attack them for holding politically incorrect views, you can start to get some information flow, but that takes time to develop comfort. That's actually my litmus test for how comfortable someone is with me- whether they'll actually say something that is really unPC.

The problem with asking race related questions is that there's a much stronger social pressure to shut up if you believe something that comes off as racist.

I'm at a loss as to what to do about that, because I do get where that pressure is coming from. In presenting such data, you can hedge and qualify all you want, but what many people are going to hear is just a lot of wonderful reasons why their prejudices were right all along, and how science proved it. What can anybody do? A remedial course in ethics ("moral equality does not require literal sameness")?

Sometimes I do think discussions of race and gender-related fact questions are best not done "in front of the goyim." It's a vexing question.

There's an additional problem-- there's a social circle where the consensus is that believing in race and gender differences in ability is proof of rationality, so if you're trying to do a counter-tribe rationality check, you'd need to know which tribe has a stronger influence on a person.

If Africa has the most genetic variation for humans, does that imply it's likely that the smartest human subgroup is likely to be African?

All else being equal, yes. However, many regions of Africa have ongoing problems with public health, availability of education, etc. that would wash out any advantages in genetic predisposition for intelligence.

"I'll bite the bullet and say global warming is the perfect example here. It's pretty clear to me that many people hold their positions on this issue - pro and contra - for political/social reasons rather than evidential ones."

I used to think that global warming was a poor example of this because while the right wing has plenty of reasons to oppose actions to fight global warming, and thus irrational reasons to force themselves to believe that global warming does not exist, the left wing does not have any reasons to support actions to fight global warming aside from evidence that global warming is a threat. Then it occurred to me that many people on the left actually do have alternate motives for pushing anti-global warming actions: other people on the left support it too (see Eliezer's The Sky is Green/Blue parable, and this article too, I suppose). This is even more irrational, but due to the stunning level of irrationality among humans on all sides of the political spectrum, is probably a factor for some.

the left wing does not have any reasons to support actions to fight global warming aside from evidence that global warming is a threat.

The story conservatives usually tell here is that the left wants to fight global warming as a way to further their economic agenda and narrative: corporations are bad and the government needs to stop them and control them. You see slogans like "Green is the new red".

Fighting global warming can be used to justify the creation of 'green' jobs, in a new spin on the old keynesian make work ideas.

Alternatively, it can be used to provide justification for 'green protectionism'.

However, someone who believes that global warming is a threat, and who has a poor grasp of ethics, has a motive to exaggerate the evidence, to compensate for others having too strict evidential standards or not doing cost-benefit analysis correctly. Also, the image of oneself as on the vanguard of saving the world is a strong motivation to believe the world is endangered (overlapping with but distinct from group identity). (Disclaimer: I don't think this is most of what's going on with AGW believers. Not having studied the issue, I default (albeit tentatively) to believing the scientific consensus.) It's absolutely a factor. People are crazy, the world is mad, you shouldn't be surprised by this or hesitant in calling it as you see it.
Bingo. The Michael Moore-style crowd is engaged in nothing less than an immense progressive circle-jerk, if you'll excuse my Klatchian. It's too bad we can't just throw them at the Limbaughistas and liberate gamma rays.

Most of the educated people I know are ultra-behaviorists

I'm pretty sure you're misusing the word "behaviorist".

On reflection, you're right. It's a pars pro toto thing I guess, since behaviourism is associated with the idea that personality comes from the environment alone.

"Nurturist" is probably a better term.

And has "Naturist" as a convenient antonym...

I'll bite the bullet and say global warming is the perfect example here. It's pretty clear to me that many people hold their positions on this issue - pro and contra - for political/social reasons rather than evidential ones.

There seems to be plenty of motivated arguing on both sides. But even though climate science is complicated the basic mechanism for CO2 raising temperatures is really simple and well supported by basic science. No one is disputing CO2's absorption spectrum (that I know of). It's possible that CO2 might not have any such effect on aggregate in a complicated system, but that would be quite remarkable and I don't think any mechanism has been proposed (other than that global warming is miraculously balancing out a coming ice age).

My litmus test for whether someone even has the basic knowledge that might entitle them to the opinion that anthropogenic climate change isn't happening is: "All other things being equal, does adding CO2 to the atmosphere make the world warmer?"

The answer is of course "yes." Now, if a climate change non-skeptic answers "yes" the follow up question to see if they are entitled to their opinion that anthropogenic climate change is happening: "How could a climate change skeptic answer 'yes' to that question?" The correct answer to that is left as an exercise for the reader.

For example like this: * Yes, but the behavior of one component of the system doesn't necessarily determine the behavior of the system as a whole. It's the responsibility of those who propose an anthropogenic climate change to prove that it's happening, not the other way round. Most of the actual scientific debate seems to be centered around the reliability of the temperature record (and of different proxies) and of climate models (I consider it very likely that the skeptics are right on many of these issues), not around the question whether an anthropogenic climate change of some level is happening at all. At least I'm not aware of any climate scientist making the argument that no anthropogenic warming effect could possibly exist due to X (where X is some [proposed] physical reality, not something of the sort "that would be human hubris").
Richard Lindzen is a nut, but he's also an MIT professor of meteorology who has made arguments from physical reality (mostly) that AGW isn't real.
The closest thing I could find on that page and the the most promising looking links was the water vapor argument (which is more of an argument that AGW should be smaller than expected rather than non-existent) and he apparently doesn't subscribe to that anymore. Other than that he seems content to cast doubts and make accusations against the other side. If he has a new X, is there any good summary anywhere? Just out of interest, what would have been the correct answer to the test (rot13 if you don't want to spoil it)?
The position of "sane" climate skeptics appears to be that rising CO2 levels' effects on temperature will be dampened by other regulatory causal effects; the evidence for the existence of such regulatory feedback is the overall stability of climate over long periods of time. My main concern with that position is that it is whistling in the dark.
Not particularly remarkable. Homeostatic systems are the norm in the world, not the exception; and there are plenty of negative feedback mechanisms for CO2, starting from the most trivial one of more CO2 -> more photosynthesis -> (hopefully) more biomass not biodegraded back into carbon circulation. I think it's widely accepted such mechanism will bring CO2 levels back to their original equilibrium once anthropogenic emissions end, unfortunately over thousands of years. But - similar mechanisms for methane and CFCs are far faster and we might be already past peak atmospheric methane/CFC.
The upper bound for photosynthesis is constrained by plant populations and the area they cover, not atmospheric CO2 -- adding more CO2 to the air doesn't necessarily increase photosynthetic activity. Human metabolism doesn't increase in step with the number of calories you consume; there's a limit to the base rate at which those biological processes can operate, independent of how much of their base inputs are lying around. Biology is more complicated than that.
RuBisCO activity is usually the limiting step in photosynthesis, and it depends on CO2 concentrations (or CO2 to O2 ratios). Adding more CO2 to the air will increase photosynthetic activity, there's no doubt about it.
RuBisCO is the rate-limiting factor for plants, yes. But there's more CO2 in the air naturally than they can adjust upward to compensate for, even before we factor in human-generated sources. The RuBisCO reaction is not maximally-efficient, which is why attempts to increase the rate of enzymatic activity are at the forefront of genetic engineering research into carbon sequestration. Additionally, the two relevant parameters (carbon dioxide fixing and oxygen incorporation) may already have struck a maximally-efficient tradeoff balance in many species of plants; self-modifying to favor increased CO2 fixation is not a trivial step; the gains here can be translated to losses over there, elsewhere in the biosystem. The organism is not its parts. Anyway, if tomorrow we come up with plants that have a higher efficiency rate of carbon dioxide fixing, and they start pulling more CO2 from the air per unit time, that won't fundamentally change that the population of plants and the room for them to grow is the determining factor in how much photosynthesis gets conducted -- the RuBisCO reaction occurs in plants and protists such as algae when we're talking about the macroscale, and basically nothing else. Posit an artificial photosynthetic cell that can pack greater efficiency than the best of plants into the same surface area, and things are different. But we don't have any such thing as yet.
It's a good habit to avoid the Appeal To Ignorance of an opposing view. 1. Some skeptics do actually dispute the absorption effect of CO2. 2. The proposed mechanism by which CO2 does not cause overall warming is a negative feedback loop. I actually agree with your conclusion, but here's the evidence you need to back up the specific cases you brought up: Does atmospheric CO2 cause significant global warming? Do negative feedback loops mostly cushion the effect of atmospheric CO2 increases?
That is, they claim that the spectrum of CO2 has been faked? Or deny that there is such a thing as a spectrum? I was aware of feedback loop proposals, but they seem to amount to arguing for a weaker AGW effect rather than none. I tend to mentally file them under squabbling about the exact models rather than AGW denial. Are there any such proposed loops that would result in zero or effectively zero warming? ITSM that all feedback loops that involve actual warming as a step would not qualify because to result in effectively zero warming the effect would have to be strong enough to drown out temperature changes from all other causes unless overwhelmingly strong.
The leading skeptics (e.g. Roy Spencer) claim that negative feedback loops (due to clouds that reflect heat back into space) will reduce the warming effect of CO2 to be within the fluctuations Earth naturally experiences. So it's a serious denial, rather than a minor squabble. And the views of the opposing experts (also in the link I sent) strongly indicate Spencer and his colleagues are mistaken (one such reason is that without a positive feedback, it's very hard to explain the rapid shift in temperatures we know occurred between glacials and interglacials). The skeptics who deny CO2 actually has an effect at all are fringe. The link I sent has the most qualified expert I could find (Gerhard Gerlich) who holds that view. Given that even the NIPCC (Non-Governmental International Panel on Climate Change) hasn't subscribed to this position, I disregard its importance. The arguments and experts are all summarized here (it's a wiki, so you can add to it yourself if you find something new):
I don't know as I'd find that comforting, considering that the Cretaceous climate was within fluctuations the Earth naturally experiences, and transitioning to that in such a short time would still be a pretty darn significant systemic shock to economy and ecology alike... EDIT: To be clear, I'm not saying we're headed for a new Cretaceous, just that "fluctuations the Earth naturally experiences" could still allow for some pretty steep gradients between the last century and any plausible, randomly-selected point within the known range.

The impact of genetics on behaviour is another example. Most of the educated people I know are ultra-behaviorists, so if I see somebody argue that genes matter (but aren't everything), they definitely get brownie points. Especially since such a view tends to be seen as vaguely quasi-racist.

Are educated people really that badly informed? I would believe it but sometimes I overestimate how much my own knowledge is representative.

I've found that, in general, yes, people really are that badly informed about basically everything.

I'm not sure people are that badly informed, so much as people are unwilling to admit beliefs that contradict the beliefs they are "supposed" to have.

I went looking for polls to answer your question; the only one I could find was this outdated one. So on the basis of that one, I'm wrong. But there's no breakdown there for level of education. However, I suspect based on my anecdotal experience that educated people might be worse than the general public.
That wouldn't surprise me. Ignorance of bad information can be a good thing. There are political reasons to neglect genetic influence (easier to blame people while avoiding charges of racism and sexism). There are are also ideological motivations for such a preference (see pjeby's emphasis on learned responses rather than genetic influences).
True. In that respect I think part of the problem might also be the Science News Cycle as it applies to genetics. The geneticists know what they mean by "a gene for X" - merely a shorthand, that the presence of the gene affects the expression of X along with umpteen other factors. But inevitably the news media report a "gene for intelligence" as though the gene was a switch to turn intelligence on or off. Probably that type of thing has undermined any & all innatist ideas.
That's primarily an issue in the titles (often set by editors). The body of the text usually has the standard litany of basic caveats.
Here's explanation of my pro-ultra-behaviorist position. First, I haven't seen any convincing evidence against ultra-behaviorism, but plenty against ultra-innatism. Look at Flynn effect for example. There's absolutely no way a universe in which ultra-innatism is true is compatible with Flynn effect. There has been so many drastic shifts in behavior without slightest shift in underlying genetic makeup of population - abandonment of violence, shift from large families and low offspring investment to small families and high offspring investment, shift from agricultural to urban lifestyle etc. - these are vastly greater than any of the proposed genetic variations. And not a single kind of proposed genetically-based behavioral variation had a convincing genetic marker found for it (yes, there are heredity studies on twins etc. but I find they highly unconvincing). So my estimate of the truth is far closer to ultra-behaviorist end than ultra-innatist end, so much closer than ultra-behaviorism might be a good "tl;dr" version, even if not 100% accurate. And second, I find ultra-behaviorism instrumentally useful. Overestimating how much you can change your life leads to better outcomes than underestimating it and just giving up.

There's absolutely no way a universe in which ultra-innatism is true is compatible with Flynn effect

Just to clarify, in arguing against ultra-behaviourism I am not touting the opposite stupidity of ultra-innatism instead. So yeah, I agree. The 40-0-60 heuristic is closer to my view (40% of variance due to genes, 0-10% upbringing, 60% other environmental).

There has been so many drastic shifts in behavior without slightest shift in underlying genetic makeup of population

Yup. Culture and language is an incredible thing. Still, many traits are partially heritable, some strongly so. I refer you to Bouchard's meta-analysis. Why do you find twin/sibling/adopted sibling studies unconvincing?

ultra-behaviorism might be a good "tl;dr" version, even if not 100% accurate.

That is exactly where we stand now. The problem is, genetics is getting important in public policy. The tl;dr version needs to lose the tl;d if educated people are going to make policy decisions based on it (which they are).

And second, I find ultra-behaviorism instrumentally useful. Overestimating how much you can change your life leads to better outcomes than underestimating it and just giving up.

Mm...... (read more)

Arguing that the flynn effect shows that someone else should have a different opinion on the question of how much intelligence is heritable just shows misunderstanding of the meaning of the term of heritablity. Otherwise it would be logical to say that all of intelligence is due to culture. Why? Let's say all individuals with IQ > 300 happen to be born past the singularity. Past singularity we have the technology to make people intelligent and therefore intelligence can't be truly innate. Therefore modern biology defines heritability as the variance of a trait within a given population that's due to genetics. In it's essence the question of heritability doesn't only depend on genes but it also depends on the environment. There nothing wrong with saying that the heritability changes over time. A society where every child can eat as much as it wants has probably a different heritability for IQ than a society where some children don't have enough food and other children who have wealthy parents do have enough food.
Do you have the same opinion about gender-linked "genetically-based behavioral variation"? Not to open a can of worms here, but the pickup-artist (PUA) community is all about how the innate behavior of (generally heterosexual) men and women differ, in dating scenarios. And, in particular, how those real behaviors differ from the behavior that is taught and reinforced by society and culture. You can have an opinion that all behavior is changeable, and that it is shaped by society and culture. But that would lead you to one model of how men and women act during dating. (In particular, to a mostly gender-neutral model.) The PUA community has a different model of human dating behavior ... and I would say that theirs is a good deal more accurate at predicting actual observed behavior in the field.

(generally heterosexual) men and women differ, in dating scenarios

True story: My lesbian roommate runs mad game with remarkable success.

I may be setting myself up for ridicule, but: mad game? Do you mean she gets a lot of dates?

No worries, it's a colloquialism that is probably limited to American youth culture. I mean she does basically the kinds of things the Pick-Up Artist community would recommend men do to date and sleep with women. The remarkable success consists of her sleeping with different women multiple times a week.

Is she a natural or a self-taught unnatural (or something else)?
That only follows if the societal pressures on men and women are mostly gender-neutral. This does not appear to be the case.
It's not true to say that those shifts took place without any "shift in underlying genetic makeup of population" - there has been significant human evolution over the last 6,000 years during the "shift from agricultural to urban lifestyle". Of course, this isn't an argument for innatism, since evolution didn't cause the changes in lifestyle, but the common meme that human population genetics are exactly the same today as they were on the savannah isn't true.
Seconded. And I'll add that asking whether people support the renewal of the nuclear deterrent was a good one for centre/left people here in the uk. For right-wingers, something like getting them to admit that Scandinavia is doing something right with its high tax system and consequent high happiness.

It isn't topical anymore but a couple years ago getting an American liberal's take on the Dubai Ports World controversy worked pretty well. Also, progressive criticisms of the Bush administration for not implementing more aggressive cargo inspections and airplane security were pretty much just about getting in shots at the administration and not based on evidence.

Last year's debates on bailouts for the automobile and banking sectors struck me as mostly consisting of political signaling with only a handful of people who actually had any idea what they were talking about. You'd see people arguing either side without actually making any reference to any of the economics involved. I.e. "We need to make sure these people don't lose their jobs!" versus "You're just trying to help out your fat cat friends!".

Getting someone on the center-left to admit certain advantages of free trade and market economies probably works as well. The brute opposition to "sweatshops" without offering any constructive policy to provide the people who work in such places with alternatives strikes me as another good example.

It's a little harder for me to do this for the American r... (read more)

It was like a horrifying training session where students learn to ignore evidence, reason in favor of political hackery and bullshit.

I can't quite summon up all the splenetic juices I need to hate that sort of thing the way it needs to be hated. I live in Canada, and crikey are our politicians langues-du-bois. You should have seen the candidates debate at the last election. Every one of them just hit their keywords, as I recall. The Conservative Harper tinkled the ivories about "tough on crime," "fiscal responsibility" and "liberal corruption" (mercifully not "family values"). The Liberal Dion played a crab canon about "environment" and "recession." And the NDP (Social-Democratic) Layton just did a sort of Ambrosian chant incorporating every word that has ever made a progressive feel warm and fuzzy inside: "rights" "working families" "aboriginals" "choice" "fat cats" and "social spending." It made me want to elect Silvio Berlusconi.

I did not understand any of this post, but I enjoyed all of it.

ETA: I am now envisioning a Canadian man just chanting those phrases, over and over, clapping his hands and stomping his feet.

I endeavour to give satisfaction. =) Anything I can clarify? Probably did overdo the classical music metaphors a little...
Looking over your comments, the breadth of your vocabulary really is splendid. Do words like "splenetic" just come to your tongue or are you commenting away with a thesaurus open?
Heh, it's kind of you to say. Basically, I grew up on a steady diet of shows like Black Adder, Jeeves and Wooster, Fawlty Towers... and authors like Douglas Adams, Rex Stout & Terry Pratchett. So my way of expressing myself has become more than a bit idiosyncratic.
Mostly I just didn't recognize any of the names, but I did recognize what you were talking about. I don't think clarification is what is really necessary here; since the purpose of your post seems to be more anecdotal evidence and venting than a fountain of new ideas. If your post WAS supposed to be a fountain of new ideas, then it could use a little extra explanation. I feel like that came off as a little more negative than I wanted it to so I'd like to note that I did enjoy and vote up your post.
Do you Canadians use liberal like we Americans use it or like Europeans use it?
More the European way. It definitely does not have the strong negative connotations, even among conservatives. Also worth noting that one of our two main political parties is actually called the Liberal Party of Canada. Another fun fact: Liberals are also affectionately known as Grits, and Conservatives as Tories.
My understanding is that that party is roughly the equivalent of the U.S. Democrats or U.K. Labour -- which would make the usage of "liberal" much more like the American usage (meaning "left-wing") than the European usage (meaning "opposed to high levels of economic regulation").
uh - interesting. Thanks for pointing that out. In Australia the Liberal party is right-wing (liberal on free trade policies, not on social policies), so I tend to get confused about discussions of "liberals" in the US unless I remember to switch definitions before reading.

A lot of times you can tell when someone holds a position for political reasons just by their diction.

Very true. When I was fourteen years old, there were presidential elections after Mitterand's two terms (Did I tell you I was French? I'm French.). I remember a friend saying we needed change "after fourteen years of socialism", and at the time I thought there was no way that was his opinion, and that he was merely repeating what (most likely) his father said.

I guess it's even easier to recognize talking points in kids, because it's things they would never spontaneously say. I also remember my mom pointing out that a "letter to the editor" in a Children's newspaper was probably just the kid parroting a parent, because no child would write things like that - and I was mildly embarrassed because I hadn't noticed at first. Hmm, I'll have to point that kind of stuff to my kids too.

For right-wingers, something like getting them to admit that Scandinavia is doing something right with its high tax system and consequent high happiness.

Is the causation really that clear?

The phrasing might be better in a different direction:

"...getting them to admit that Scandinavia is not doing something inherently wrong with it's high tax system, given that they have relatively high happiness and quality of life."

(in that right-wing conservatives state that high taxes inherently will cause reduction of standard of living/happiness)

There is another conservative argument against this: To acknowledge that it might actually be true that the average happiness is increased, but to reject the morality of it. Too see why someone might think that, imagine the following scenario: You find scientific evidence for the fact that if one forces the minority of the best-looking young women of a society at gunpoint to be of sexual service to whomever wishes to be pleased (there will be a government office regulating this) increases the average happiness of the country. In other words, my argument questions that the happiness (needs/wishes/etc.) of a majority is at all relevant. This position is also known as individualism and at the root of (American) conservatism.
In reality you can make the bar even lower. Just ask the right wingers if they're even aware of an empirical study comparing the relative happiness of Scandinavians to others.
Here's something I believe-- I might as well toss it in as a possible rationality test. I think immigration/emigration flows are a good rough test for ranking how good places are to live in. There are barriers to moving, so it's only a rough estimate. Any place which people are willing to take a high risk of dying to leave is a bad place. However, the fact that there isn't a significant number of people moving from the US to western/northern Europe or vice versa suggests that they're roughly on a par.
It suggests they believe they're on par. All else being equal, you're right. With Scandinavia in particular, there's an issue in that immigrating is really hard. Which is to say, we require you to learn our language and culture. Terrible taskmasters, we are.
It's really easy to emigrate from a country in the European Union to Sweden (presumably also Denmark, but not Norway because it's not in the union). I mean, I'm doing it at 3 AM while browsing the web! Is there a legal requirement to learn the language for immigrants from outside the EU, or did you mean you can't make it in practice without speaking the language? I would expect that sitting around in a country for five years automatically teaches you its culture.
The second, mostly. The first, with Norway, in practice. If you have particularly valuable skills they'll overlook it, and being western helps, but immigration has pretty much had it with third-world immigrants lately. I believe (I'm an expat, so haven't followed that closely) that we just added a requirement to join some natives on cultural trips of various kinds, too. Going hiking, that kind of thing... We do take our hiking seriously.
Are there any countries to which that doesn't apply?
Yes, most notably the USA.
You're saying it wouldn't be that hard to live in the US without speaking English? That doesn't sound very likely to me (though I've never been there). (Or do you think that all people who might consider moving to the US because they think that's a better place to live in already speak decent English?)
Ethnic conclaves are probably what Baughn is thinking of. I have the impression that this could be true in the China and Koreatowns in the biggest cities, and there are probably places where you can live happily knowing only Spanish. (I gather from Amy Chua's World on Fire that there are many such conclaves throughout the world; it helps to be a wealthier minority.)
Now this I would not have thought of. Nuclear energy perhaps... Do you think the nuclear deterrent should be renewed or should not, & why is it a litmus test?

Whether or not the nuclear deterrent should in fact be renewed, inability to see the point of (as opposed to mere considered disagreement with) "if you want peace, prepare for war" seems like valid proof of political derangement.

Oh, I see! You mean that a deranged liberal is likely to say "nuclear armament cannot possibly be a solution for anything in principle?" Yeah, that makes sense.

Come to think of it, the fear of anything nuclear, period, is probably a good predictor of irrationality on the left, as is a knee-jerk negative response to, i.a., GE crops.

Simple ignorance can confuse the issue; the real indicator is how they deal with argument (assuming you really know your stuff and can present a compelling argument).
The overwhelming evidence for it being...? The only thing happiness research has shown so far is that it's far more complicated than "tl;dr" summaries like that.
I like that qualification. It's hard to make these calls out of the group context.

There's an additional issue of subtlety that isn't addressed here. People will typically reveal "improper" views by starting small and seeing if their audience is sympathetic, not because they are irrational, but because they aren't stupid and they care about consequences.

That is, if I'm in some highly religious town, I'm not going to open my conversation with, "So, this whole God thing makes about as much sense as Santa Claus, am I right?" I'm going to open with, "You know, there's something about the story of Job that just doesn't sit right with me," or something else small, safe, and exploratory.

Agreed. There's another reason why people might give religion the "respect" of treating it worthy of debate, while not doing so with astrology. One might feel that religious people are taking their agendas into politics and school classrooms to the detriment of society in a way that astrologists are not, and might therefore give religionists the respect necessary to engage them in debate and hopefully change their minds.

Proposed litmus test: infanticide.

General cultural norms label this practice as horrific, and most people's gut reactions concur. But a good chunk of rationality is separating emotions from logic. Once you've used atheism to eliminate a soul, and humans are "just" meat machines, and abortion is an ok if perhaps regrettable practice ... well, scientifically, there just isn't all that much difference between a fetus a couple months before birth, and an infant a couple of months after.

This doesn't argue that infants have zero value, but instead that they should be treated more like property or perhaps like pets (rather than like adult citizens). Don't unnecessarily cause them to suffer, but on the other hand you can choose to euthanize your own, if you wish, with no criminal consequences.

Get one of your friends who claims to be a rationalist. See if they can argue passionately in favor of infanticide.

Once you've used atheism to eliminate a soul, and humans are "just" meat machines, and abortion is an ok if perhaps regrettable practice ...

Kudos to you for forthrightness. But em... no. Ok, first, it seems to me you've swept the ethics of infanticide under the rug of abortion, and left it there mostly unaddressed. Is an abortion an "ok if regrettable practice?" You've just assumed the answer is always yes, under any circumstances.

I personally say "definitely yes" before brain development (~12 weeks I think), "you need to talk to your doctor" between 12 and 24 weeks, and "not unless it's going to kill you" after 24 weeks (fully functioning brain). Anybody who knows more about development is welcome to contradict me, but those were the numbers I came up with a few years ago when I researched this.

If a baby/fetus has a mind, in my books it should be accorded rights - more and more so as it develops. I fail to see, moreover, where the dividing line ought to be in your view. Not to slippery-slope you but - why stop at infants?

*(Also note that this is a first-principles ethical argument which may have to be modified based on social ex... (read more)

Is an abortion an "ok if regrettable practice?" You've just assumed the answer is always yes, under any circumstances.

Sorry, you have a point that my test won't apply to every rationalist.

The contrast I meant was: if you look at the world population, and ask how many people believe in atheism, materialism, and that abortion is not morally wrong, you'll find a significant minority. (Perhaps you yourself are not in that group.)

But if you then try to add "believes that infanticide is not morally wrong", your subpopulation will drop to basically zero.

But, rationally, the gap between the first three beliefs, and the last one, is relatively small. Purely on the basis of rationality, you ought to expect a smaller dropoff than we in fact see. Hence, most people in the first group are avoiding the repugnant conclusion for non-rational reasons. (Or believing in the first three, for non-rational reasons.)

If you personally don't agree with the first three premises, then perhaps this test isn't accurate for you.

Well, my comment from would probably be better here. I still dispute that argument, as I think this drop-off is justified, even for rationalists.
So your point is that anyone who feels there is a moral difference between infanticide and abortion is irrational? Because most pro-lifers already say that, in my experience.

If a baby/fetus has a mind, in my books it should be accorded rights - more and more so as it develops. I fail to see, moreover, where the dividing line ought to be in your view. Not to slippery-slope you but - why stop at infants?

The standard answer is that at that point there is no longer a conflict with the rights of the women whose body the infant was hooked into. We don't generally require that people give up their bodily autonomy to support the life of others.

The complication here is that a responsible, consenting adult tacitly accepts giving up her bodily autonomy (or accepts a risk of doing so) when she has sex. That's precisely the same reason men are required to pay child support even if they didn't wish for a pregnancy. (Yes, I see the asymmetry; yes, it sucks). Case-by-case reasoning is probably a good thing in these circs, but unless the mother was not informed (minor/mental illness) or did not consent, then the only really tenable reason for a late-term abortion I can think of is health. In which case the relative weighing of rights is a tricky business, a buck I will pass to doctors, patients & hospital ethics boards.
This is already a significant retreat from your previously stated position. ("not unless it's going to kill you" after 24 weeks) That's a hell of an assertion. I don't really see any reason to accept it as other than a normative statement of what you wish would happen. As you say, there is an asymmetry. Garnishing a wage is a bit different, and seems appropriate to me. Yes, it is, so long as it is reasoning rather than assertions that this case is different. We have to specify how it is different, and how those differences make a difference. The easiest way for me to do this is to use analogies. This is dangerous of course, as one must keep in mind that they can ignore relevant differences while emphasizing surface similarities. So, in this case the relevant specialness you're calling out is that a risky activity was knowingly engaged in that created a person who needs life support for some time, as well as care and feeding far after that. So I'm going to try to set up an analogous situation, but without sex being the act (which I think is irrelevant) coming into the mix. This will also mean another difference: the person will not be "created" except metaphorically from a preëxisting person. I personally don't see how that would be relevant, but I suppose it is possible for others to disagree. Suppose a person is driving, and crashes into a pedestrian. This ruptures the liver of the pedestrian. A partial transplant of the driver's liver will save the pedestrian's life. Is the driver expected to donate their liver? Should it be required by law? Note that the donor's death rate for this operation is under 1%. When we compare this to the statistics for maternal death, we see it is similar to WHO's 2005 estimate of world average of 900 per 100,000, though developed regions have it far lower at 9 per 100000.
Is it? I suppose it is. I contain multitudes. No, honestly, I just didn't name all my caveats in the previous post (my bad). Clearly there are two people's interests to take into consideration here. Also, as I noted, that was an ethical rather than legal argument. I don't have any strong opinions about what the law should do wrt this question. I don't think it's unreasonable, although you're right it's not a fact statement. But I think it's a fairly well-established principle of ethics & jurisprudence that informed consent implies responsibility. Nobody has to have unprotected sex, so if you (a consenting adult) do so, any reasonably foreseeable consequences are on your shoulders. It's a reasonably good analogy I guess. There are two separate questions here: what should the law do, and what should the driver do. I don't think anybody wants the law to require organ donations from people who behave irresponsibly. However, put in the driver's shoes, and assuming the collision was my fault, I would feel obligated to donate (if, in this worst-case scenario, I am the only one who can). There is a slight disanalogy here though, which is that an abortion is an act, whereas a failure to donate is an omission. It's like the difference between throwing the fat guy on the tracks and just letting the train hit the fat guy.
I'm curious to the reasoning on what the difference is, except maybe that, no better options being available (it seems) we use omission as the default strategy when consequences are not within our grasp (as watching and gathering more information will at least not worsen your later ability to come to a conclusion, with the only caveat that then it may be too late to act).
"Suppose a person is driving, and crashes into a pedestrian. This ruptures the liver of the pedestrian. A partial transplant of the driver's liver will save the pedestrian's life. Is the driver expected to donate their liver? Should it be required by law?" For organ transplantations, the body biochemistries of the organ donor and acceptor must be somewhat compatible, otherwise the transplanted organ gets rejected by the immune system of the acceptor. The best transplantation results are between the identical twins. For unrelated people, there are tests to estimate the compatibility of organs, and databases. A conclusion: The driver is not generally expected to donate their liver, because in the majority of the cases, it would not help the victim. Imagine an alternate universe, where all the human bodies are highly compatible for transplantation purposes. * Yes, I believe it might become a social norm in this alternate universe, or even a law, that the driver must donate their liver to the victim.
This depends mostly upon whether you think that law should enforce doing actions which save lives with insignificant risk to the actor. If yes, then this (quite special) case is clear-cut, given a few assumptions (liver matches and is healthy, is not already scheduled for another similarly important surgery, etc. etc.). However, at least as far as I know, this is not the case. And I doubt it will be soon (simply did not think about whether it should yet). Just an example: In Austria by default all deceased people are potential donors -- you have to file an explicit opt-out. This is quite different than for instance in Germany. Therefore we have a relatively good "source" of organs. However, though sometimes under discussion, Germany has not changed its legislation, even with the possibility to compare the numbers. Maybe for religious reasons, or freedom of whomever. I didn't follow it that close... If such simple matters (we are talking about already medically dead persons) do not change within years, what can be expected for such, really fundamental, decisions?
I am very much in favour of this sort of policy; it would do no end of good.
The driver could instead be made responsible for the victim's exact medical costs or some fraction thereof, in addition to any punitive or approximated damages. This would provide adequate incentive to seek out ways to reduce those costs, including but not limited to a voluntary donation on the part of the driver or someone who owes the driver a favor.
In the abortion example, the fetus 1) is created already attached and ending ongoing life support may not be the same as requiring that someone who is not providing it provide it, 2) needs life support for an extended period, and 3) can only use the life support of one person.
The complication there is that on the standard view, one cannot give up one's bodily autonomy permanently. You cannot sell yourself into slavery. The pregnant person always has the right to opt-out of the contract. Though the fetus would presumably be able to get damages. I guess those get paid to the next-of-kin.
Upvoted entirely for this line, which made me spit coffee when it finally registered.
In the first month of pregnancy, right, but in the seventh month you can Caesarean the baby out of the mother and put it into an incubator, can't you?
Not without some risk to both, the exact amounts depending on the situation..
(I'm assuming that by “some” you mean ‘larger than that of either abortion or natural childbirth’, otherwise it wouldn't be relevant. Right?)
Smaller would be relevant too, for the opposite reason.
We don't? In what situation, exactly, do we fail to do this? I can't think of any other real-world situation. I can imagine counterfactual ones, sure, but I'm fairly certain most people see those as analogies for abortion and respond appropriately.
We don't, for instance, require people to donate redundant organs, nor even blood. Nor is organ donation mandatory even after death (prehaps it should be). What are some cases where we do require people to give up their bodily autonomy?
Mandatory drug testing?
That's the big one I can think of, and this usually arises in a very different context where it's easy to dehumanize those forced to take such tests: alleged criminals and children. (Even in these contexts, peeing in a cup or taking a breathalyzer is quite a bit less severe than enduring a forced pregnancy. Mandatory blood draws for DUIs do upset a signifianct number of people. How you feel about employment tests and sports doping might depend on how you feel about economic coercion and whether it's truly "mandatory".)
Sidetrack: When one chooses subjective experience of pain and pleasure as one basic necessity for the privilege of taken into account when deciding moral matters, and if one assumes that this privilege is only gradually applicable (i.e. the pain/pleasure experience of a dog is less vivid than that of a human, etc.), than the immediate right/wrongfulness of an action like abortion/infanticide with regard to the fetus/baby should correlate to similar decisions on pets. simplicio: But, if, as I think, we also have a common ground by preferring consequentialist ethics, which also more or less leads to resolve "omission vs. act" as both being similary morally active, then one has to take into account that an abortion or infanticide will make it impossible for this person to develop, whereas a dog will never by itself, however long you wait, suddenly develop the vivid subjective experience of a human. And then you have to take into account that consequentialism demands to take more factors into account, like the increase of bad-practice abortions and increased mental stress for many people. DonGeddis: However, if you do take those matters into account, then the conclusion is not "bad, but OK because of some reasons we do not like", but simply "OK". Or not. Whatever conclusion you may come. And yes, it would probably a case-by-case decision. Extremely complicated, and given the nature of human thought probably more open to manipulation than one would like. Then, when we have failed to simplify the method to determine the consequences, we fall back to a "practical simplification", and here a common line of thinking is: Well, there may not be a sharp line between a fetus and a newborn, but we have exactly one criterium we can count on (birth), and it is sufficiently similar to the "real thing" one can use this metric without having too much of a problem. And yes, it works, in practice, not too bad (when compared with other legislations).

Time of birth serves as a bright line.

Very much agreed. This is also why we place much more moral value in the life of a severely brain-damaged human than a more intelligent non-human primate.

Despite some jokes I made earlier, things that could arguably depend on values don't make good litmus tests. Though I did at one point talk to someone who tried to convert me to vegetarianism by saying that if I was willing to eat pork, it ought to be okay to eat month-old infants too, since the pigs were much smarter. I'm pretty sure you can guess where that conversation went...

I'm pretty sure you can guess where that conversation went...

You started eating month-old infants?

Option zero: "There's an interesting story I once wrote..."

Option one: "Well then, I won't/don't eat pork. But that doesn't mean I won't eat any animals. I can be selective in which I eat."

Option two: "mmmmm... babies."

Option three: "Why can't I simply not want to eat babies? I can simply prefer to eat pigs and not babies"

Option four: "Seems like a convincing argument to me. Okay, vegetarian now." (after all, technically you said they tried, but you didn't say the failed. ;))

Option five: "actually, I already am one."

Am I missing any (somewhat) plausible branches it could have taken? More to the point, is one of the above the direction it actually went? :)

(My model of you, incidentally, suggests option three as your least likely response and option one as your most likely serious response.)

Well, not quite option two, but yes, "You make a convincing case that it should be legal to eat month-old infants." One person's modus ponens is another's modus tollens...

I actually did a presentation arguing for the legality of eating babies in a Bioethics class.

And I don't eat pigs, on moral grounds.

Option six: "I was a vegetarian, but I'm okay with eating babies, and if pigs are just as smart, it should be okay to eat them too, so you've convinced me to give up vegetarianism."

This reminds me of the elves in Dwarf Fortress. They eat people, but not animals.

I'm imagining this conversation while you're both holding menus...

In seriousness, there are good instrumental reasons not to allow people to eat month-old infants that are nothing to do with greatly valuing them in your terminal values.

Both menus being "vegetarian and non vegetarian" or "pork menu and baby menu"? :)
That guy clearly asked you those questions in the wrong order. * Do you believe killing animals for food is OK? * Killing animals for food is the same as eating babies! * Do you believe killing babies for food is OK? ... is obviously going to activate biases leading to the defense of killing animals for food, whether by denying they are equivalent or claiming to accept killing children for food. Thus the chance of persuading someone eating babies is morally acceptable depends on how strongly you argue the second point. However... * Do you believe killing babies for food is OK? * Killing animals for food is the same as eating babies! * Do you believe killing animals for food is OK? ... leads to the opposite bias, as if the listener cannot refute your second point they must convert to vegetarianism or visibly contradict themselves.
this is sounding like a copout....
It isn't a question of current intelligence, it's a question of potential. Pigs will never grow beyond human-infant-level comprehension. Human babies will eventually become both sapient and sentient. Saying a baby and a pig can be considered equally intelligent is like saying a midget and an 11-year-old of the same height are equally likely to become basketball players.

No, saying a baby and a pig can be considered equally intelligent is like saying a midget and an 11-year-old can be considered equally tall.

2Matt Vincent2y
Doesn't this depend on whether one is referring to fluid intelligence or crystal intelligence? Human babies may have the same crystal intelligence as adult pigs, but they have much higher fluid intelligence. I think what happened here is that the vegetarian failed to realize that the component of intelligence that people find morally significant is fluid, not crystal, and then he equivocated between the two. EY realized what was going on, even if subconsciously, which is why he trolled the vegetarian instead of disputing his premise. Finally, Fallible failed to pick up on the distinction entirely by assuming that "intelligence" always refers to fluid intelligence.
How about fertilized egg cells? Caviar made from fertilized human egg cells, yum.

I like this test, with the following cautions:

The regrettability of abortion is connected to the availability of birth control, and so similarly, the regrettability of infanticide should be connected to the availability of abortion. A key difference is that while birth control may fail, abortion basically doesn't. I can think of a handful of reasons for infanticide to make sense when abortion didn't, and they're all related to things like unexpected infant disability the parents aren't prepared to handle, or sudden, badly timed, unanticipated financial/family stability disasters.

In either case, given that the baby doesn't necessarily occupy privileged uterine real estate the way a fetus must, I think it makes sense to push adoption as strongly preferred recourse before infanticide reaches the top of the list. Unlike asking a woman who wants an abortion to have the baby and give it up for adoption, this imposes no additional cost on her relative to the alternative.

Additionally, I think any but the most strongly controlled permission for infanticide would lead to cases where one parent killed their baby over the desire of the other parent to keep it. It seems obvious to me that either parent's wish that the baby live - assuming they're willing to raise it or give it up for adoption, and don't just vaguely prefer that it continue being alive while the wants-it-dead parent deal with its actual care - should be a sufficient condition that it live. I might even extend this to other relatives.

Basically, this is a variant on the argument from marginal cases; infants don't differ from relatively intelligent nonhuman animals in capabilities, so they ought to have the same moral status. If it's okay to euthanize your dog, it should also be okay to euthanize your newborn.

(The most common use of the argument from marginal cases is to argue that animals deserve greater moral consideration, and not that some humans deserve less, but one man's modus ponens is another man's modus tollens.)

(The most common use of the argument from marginal cases is to argue that animals deserve greater moral consideration, and not that some humans deserve less, but one man's modus ponens is another man's modus tollens.)

Cerca 1792 after Wollstonecrafts A Vindication of the Rights of Women a philosopher name Thomas Taylor published a reductio ad absurdum/ parody entitled A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes which basically took Wollstonecrafts arguments for more gender equality and replaced women with animals. It reads more or less like an animal rights pamphlet written by Peter Singer.

Professor Mordin Solus solves marginal cases by refusing to experiment on any species with at least one member capable of Calculus, which is a bit different from criticism, "argument from species normality."

any species with at least one member capable of Calculus,

Any species with at least one member who has demonstrated to humans the capability of Calculus.

So it's perfectly acceptable to use a time machine to gather your experimental subjects from before the 17th century.

Also, once a human solves the problem of friendly AI, aliens will stop abducting us and accept us as moral agents.

That sounds like a reasonable conclusion--compared to an intelligence capable enough of introspection and planning to make a friendly AI, the overwhelming majority of my actions arise purely from unreasoning instinct.
Any species with at least one member who has demonstrated to humans the capability of doing calculus as per human notions of "doing calculus". I don't remember the source, but I read a fiction somewhere in which an alien observed a few children playing catch. The alien commented on how impressed it was that they could do such sophisticated calculations so quickly at such a young age.
Your parenthetical comment is the funniest thing I've read all day! The contrast with the seriousness of subject matter is exquisite. (You're of course right about the marginal cases thing too.)
This is a hand, this is an inviolate right to life...

That's an amusing example because infanticide was extremely common among human cultures, so all good cultural relativists should be fine with this practice.

Usually there was a strong distinction between actually killing a baby (extremely wrong thing to do), and abandoning it to elements (acceptable). I'm not talking about any exotic cultures, ancient Greece and Rome and even large parts of Christian Medieval Europe practiced infant abandonment. There are even examples of Greek and Roman writers noting how strange it is that Egyptians and Jews never kill their children - perfect stuff for any cultural relativists. It was only once people switched from abandoning infants to elements to abandoning them at churches when it ceased being outright infanticide.

Anyway, pretty much the only reason babies are cute is as defense against abandonment. This shows it was never anything exceptional and was always a major evolutionary force. By some estimates up to 50% of all babies were killed or abandoned to certain death in Paleolithic societies (all such claims are highly speculative of course).

Infant abandonment is normal, and people should have the same right to abandon their babies as they always had. Especially since these days we just put them into orphanages. Choosing infanticide over abandonment is pretty pointless, so why do it?

A lot of sources can be easily found here:

"Choosing infanticide over abandonment is pretty pointless, so why do it?" How about infanticide as euthanasia ?

A key point is that they don't need to advocate the legalization of infanticide, they just need to be able to cogently address the arguments for and against it. Personally, I think that in the US at this time optimal law might restrict abortion significantly more than it currently does and also that in many past cultural contexts efforts to outlaw or seriously deter infanticide would have been harmful. Just disentangling morality from law competently gets a person props.

Infanticide and abortion are okay, as long as doing so increases paperclip production.

However, infanticide and abortion are obviously not alone in that respect.

How do you feel about the destruction of a partially bent piece of steel wire before it has been bent fully into paperclip shape?

Is that some kind of threat???

Okay, what about melting down a large paperclip in order to make multiple smaller paperclips?

I'll be the first to disagree outright.

First, when a woman is pregnant but will be unable to raise her child we do not force a woman to give birth to give up the baby for adoption. This is because bringing a child to term is a painful, expensive and dangerous nine-month ordeal which we do not think women should be forced into. In what possible circumstances is infanticide ethically permissible when the baby is born, the woman has already paid the cost of pregnancy and giving birth, and adoption is an option?

In general, I'm not sure it follows from the fact that persons aren't magic that persons are less valuable than we thought. Maybe babies are just glorified goldfish. Maybe they aren't valuable in the way we thought they were. But I haven't seen that evidence.

You haven't taken account of discounted future value. A child is worth more than a chimpanzee of equal intelligence because a child can become an adult human. I agree that a newborn baby is not substantially more valuable than a close-to-term one and that there is no strong reason for caring about a euthanised baby over one that is never born, but I'm not convinced that assigning much lower value to young children is a net benefit for a society not composed of rationalists (which is not to say that it is not an net benefit, merely that I don't properly understand where people's actions and professed beliefs come from in this area and don't feel confident in my guesses about what would happen if they wised up on this issue alone). The proper question to ask is "If these resources are not spent on this child, what will they be spent on instead and what are the expected values deriving from each option?" Thus contraception has been a huge benefit to society: it costs lots and lots of lives that never happen, but it's hugely boosted the quality of the lives that do. I do agree that willingness to consider infanticide and debate precisely how much babies and foetuses are worth is a strong indicator of rationality.
My mother made this argument to me probably when I was in high school. Given my position as past infanticide candidate, it was an odd conversation. For the record, she was willing to go up to two or six years old, I think. And let us not forget the Scrubs episode she also agreed with: "Having a baby is like getting a dog that slowly learns to talk."

My mother made this argument to me probably when I was in high school. Given my position as past infanticide candidate, it was an odd conversation.

Hey, now you know you were kept around because you were actually wanted, not out of a dull sense of obligation. It's like having a biological parent who is totally okay with giving up children for adoption - and stuck around!

That's an interesting take. She clearly loves me and my siblings and has never hurt anyone to the best of my knowledge, besides. So, it wasn't an uncomfortable topic--only a bit of an odd position to be in. Although, I also have to point out adoption does not carry the death penalty, so I can imagine a situation in which my hypothetical parent opts not to kill me because they think the fuzz will catch them.
Eliezer, your thought processes and emotions are quite a bit different from those of most currently living humans. And that mostly leaves you quite well-off, but you've always got to account for that before you say something like this. How the hell do you know what others, especially children, would feel in an odd situation like that? Me, I know for sure that I'd MUCH rather have a cold/distant but dutiful and conscientous parent than one who could really, seriously plan to kill Pre-Me for their own convenience. (If that was supposed to be a joke, I claim that it was in bad taste, just like an anti-AI LessWronger's joke about planning to assassinate you and your colleagues would be.)
Can you generalize your claim a bit? I mean, if the general form of your claim is that a joke whose punchline is "your parents wanted you" is in bad taste just as a joke whose punch line is "I'm going to kill you" is, I simply disagree. I find this unlikely, I just mention it because that's the vast difference between the two examples that jumped out at me. If the general form of your claim is that a joke that mentions the (unactualizable) possibility of my infanticide is in bad taste just as a joke that mentions the (thus-far-unactualized, but still viable) possibility of my assassination, I also disagree, though I have more sympathy for the claim. I find this more likely. If it's something else, I might agree. Of course, if you don't actually mean to make a general claim about what is or isn't in bad taste, but rather to assert somewhat indirectly that references to infanticide upset you and you'd rather not read them, that's a whole different kettle of fish and my question is meaningless.
Jokes aren't only about punchlines; here Eliezer was talking about how the (apparently REAL) fact that a murder was contemptated by the guy's own mother ended up having an upside.
Yes, that's true, he was indeed talking about that. I infer that your claim is that talking about that is in sufficiently bad taste to be worth calling out. Thanks for clarifying.

I have said before "I'm a moderate on abortion -- I feel it should be okay up to the fifth trimester." While this does shock people into adjusting what boundaries might be considered acceptable, I no longer think it is something useful to say in most fora. Too much chance of offending people and just causing their brains to shut off.

It should be safe to use on Philip K. Dick fan forums.
Sounds like it would be interesting to have your mother make some comments on LW, if you think she would be interested.
That's very unlikely, I think. She's not interested in rationalism.
Yes, I should also be allowed to kill adults. Especially if they have it coming. After all, the infant still has a chance to grow up to make a worthwhile contribution while there are many adults that are clearly a waste of good oxygen or worse!
I'd say the primary value of an infant is the future value of an adult human minus the conversion cost. Adult humans can be enormously valuable, but sometimes, the expected benefits just can't match the expected costs, in which case infanticide would be advisable. However, both costs and benefits can vary by many orders of magnitude depending on context, and there's no reliable, generally-applicable method to predict either. No matter how bad it looks, someone else might have a more optimistic estimate, so it's worth checking the market (that is, considering adoption).
Is it acceptable to assume that the conversion cost up to a newborn is less than the rest of the way to an adult? (Think this through before reading on, to avoid biased thinking about the above (This is called "Meditate", right?)) Given that, wouldn't a rich excentric that commits to either spend a pool of money on paying people to roll boulders up and down a hill or on raising the next child he makes you pregnant with cause you to not be allowed to say no? (Edited for clarity)
It quite obviously is. If you mean as an alternative to infanticide, definitely. What's your point?
What I meant to say is that this complete stranger wants to have a child with Strange7 (for this hypothetical Strange7 can get pregnant) and it would be as wrong/illegal for Strange7 to not do so as late abortion or infanticide would be. (Edited grandparent for clarity)
If this hypothetical rich person is able and willing to cover all the costs of me bearing a child and the child being raised, they can draft a contract and present it to me. What greater good would be served by making it illegal for me to refuse? Such a law would weaken my negotiating position, increasing the chances that the rich eccentric would be able to avoid internalizing some of the long-term costs and/or that I would be put in the position of having to give up some marginally more lucrative prospect in order to avoid the legal penalty. I'd rather not try to derive the full ethical calculus of abusive relationships and rape from first principles, but i can point you at some people who've studied the field enough to come up with excellent working approximations for most real-world cases.
Real world test of human value along similar lines: Ashley X.
Are you allowed to use moral questions as litmus tests for rationality? Paper clippers are rational too. It isn't inconceivable that a human might just value babies intrinsically (rather than because they possess an amount of intellect, emotion, and growth potential). If anyone here has been reading this and trying to use more abstract values to try to justify why one should not to harm babies, and is unable to come up with anything, and still feels a strong moral aversion to anyone harming babies anywhere ever, then maybe it means you just intrinsically value not harming babies? As in, you value babies for reasons that go beyond the baby's personhood or lack thereoff? (By the way, the abstract reason i managed to come up with was that current degree of personhood and future degree of personhood interact in additive ways. I'll react with appreciation to someone poking a hole in that, but I suspect I'll find another explanation rather than changing my mind. It's not that I necessarily value babies intrinsically - it's more that I don't fully understand my own preferences at an abstract level, but I do know that a moral system that allows gratuitous baby-killing must be one that does not match my preferences. So if you poke a hole in my abstract reasons, it merely means that my attempt to abstractly convey my preferences was wrong. It won't change the underlying preference.) <But a good chunk of rationality is separating emotions from logic Even if I insert "epistemic", i find this only partially true. Edit: Although, my preferences do agree with yours to the extent that harming a young child does seem worse than harming a baby (though both are terrible enough to be illegal and punishable crimes). So I might respect the idea of merciful killing (in times of famine, for example) at a young age to prevent future death-inducing-suffering.
If I agreed with this logic, should I be reluctant to admit it here?
Agreeing with the logic is OK, but the problem with reductionism is that if you draw no lines, you'll eventually find that there's no difference between anything. Thus the basic reductionist/humanist conflict: how does one you escape the 'logic' and draw a line?

Draw a gradient rather than a line. You don't need sharp boundaries between categories if the output of your judgment is quantitative rather than boolean. You can assign similar values to similar cases, and dissimilar values to dissimilar cases.

See also The Fallacy of Gray. Now you're obviously not falling for the one-color view, but that post also talks about what to do instead of staying with black-and-white.

Sure. But I was referring to my worry that if you don't allow your values to be arbitrary (e.g., I don't care about protecting fetuses but I care about protecting babies), you may find you wouldn't have any. I guess I'm imagining a story in which a logician tries to argue me down a slippery slope of moral nihilism; there'll be no step I can point to that I shouldn't have taken, but I'll find I stepped too far. When I retreat uphill to where I feel more comfortable, can I expect to have a logical justification?

I'm not sure what "arbitrary" means here. You don't seem to be using it in the sense that all preferences are arbitary.

a story in which a logician tries to argue me down a slippery slope of moral nihilism

If the nihilist makes a sufficiently circuitous argument, they can ensure that there's no step you can point to that's very wrong. But by doing so, they will make slight approximations in many places. Each such step loses an incremental amount of logical justification, and if you add up all the approximations, you'll find that they've approximated away any correlation with the premises. You don't need to avoid following the argument too far, if you appropriately increase your error bars at each step.

In short: "similar" is not a transitive relation.

This was rather elegantly put.
From your answer, I guess that you do think we have 'justifications' for our moral preferences. I'm not sure. It seems to me that on the one hand, we accept that our preferences are arational, but then we don't really assimilate this. (If our preferences are arational, they won't have logical justifications.)
That seemed to be exactly how he's using it. It would be how I'd respond, had I not worked it through already. But there is a difference between arbitrary in: "the difference between an 8.5 month fetus and a 15 day infant is arbitrary" and "the decision that killing people is wrong is arbitrary". Yes, at some point you need at least one arbitrary principle. Once you have an arbitrary moral principle, you can make non-arbitrary decisions about the morality of situations. There's a lot more about this in the whole sequence on metaethics.
I am generally confused by the metaethics sequence, which is why I didn't correct Pengvado. Agreed, as long as you have found a consistent set of arbitrary principles to cover the whole moral landscape. But since our preferences are given to us, broadly, by evolution, shouldn't we expect that our principles operate locally (context-dependent) and are likely to be mutually inconsistent? So when we adjust to a new location in the moral landscape and the logician asks up to justify our movement, it seems that, generally, the correct answer would be shrug and say, 'My preferences aren't logical. They evolved.' If there's a difference in two positions in the moral landscape, we needn't justify our preference for one position. We just pick the one we prefer. Unless we have a preference for consistency of our principles, in which case we build that into the landscape as well. So the logician could pull you to an (otherwise) immoral place in the landscape unless you decide you don't consider logical consistency to be the most important moral principle.
Yes. I have a strong preferences for simple set of moral preferences, with minimal inconsistency. I admit that the idea of holding "killing babies is wrong" as a separate principle from "killing humans is wrong", or holding that "babies are human" as a moral (rather than empirical) principle simply did not occur to me. The dangers of generalizing from one example, I guess.
Aren't abortions unnecessarily painful? This is as strong an argument pro-life as pro-infanticide. I agree there a continuum between conception and being, say, 2 years old that is only superficially punctuated by the date of birth. Yet our cultural norms are not so inconsistent... For example, many of these same people would find it horrific to kill a late-stage fetus. And they might still find it horrific to murder a younger fetus, but nevertheless respect the mother's choice in the matter.
Voted up, but I think abortion shouldn't be legal once the fetus is old enough to have brain activity other than for medical reasons (life of the mother), and I'm an unrepentant speciesist.
As I recall (I haven't gone to check), fetuses have "brain activity" about the same time they have a beating heart... ie about one week after conception. The brain activity regulates the heartbeat. The problem with your definition is that it's very vague - it doesn't carve reality at the joints. I myself prefer the "viability" test. If a foetus is removed form the mother.... and survives on it's own (yes, with life support) then it is "viable" and gets to live. If it's too undeveloped to live... then it doesn't. This stage is actually not very far prior to birth - somewhere around 34-36 weeks (out of 40) (again as I recall without having to look it up). This is very similar to (but gives just a bit more wiggle room) to the "birth" line... ie it disentangles the needs of the mother from the needs of the child, and can be epitomised by the "which would you choose to save" test. If you had to choose between the life of the mother or the life of the child: if the child is not viable without the mother - then there is no choice necessary: you choose the mother, because choosing the child will result in them both dying. But if the child is viable - then you actually have to choose between them as individual people.
Actually a good bit earlier than that. Like 24, 25 weeks I think is the age where you get 50% survival (with intensive medical care, but you seem to say that's ok).
So, as technology improves and artificial substitutes become viable progressively earlier in the developmental process, you'll eventually be advocating adoption as an alternative to the morning-after pill?
If people are willing to pay for the cost of those artificial substitutes - then I would have no problem with it. If there are sufficient people wanting to adopt, too. There is still a step between "being fine with it" and "advocating for" - that's turning a "could" into a "should" and you have not given any evidence why this should become a "should" Right now I'd still not see a benefit for advocating for a child to be placed onto this kind of life-support if the parents do not want it. If the adoptive parents do, then no problems. The issue with what FAWS is proposing is that "brain activity" is vague int he extreme. Ants have brain activity...

Obvious truth? Maybe it is given all available information — I don't know — but certainly not given the information most people have. (And "rational truth" is just a positive-affect type error.)

I would agree, if "believes" were replaced by "is willing to entertain the hypothesis" or "doesn't think one must be a racist to believe".

What makes you think this is obvious?

Looking at the totality of facts without letting my wishes color my judgment.

The reasonable and helpful interpretation of Alicorn's question was "What evidence are you basing this strongly-held belief on?" Asserting that you are basing your belief on evidence is not an answer. We get that you think this position is tantamount to being an atheist in the past. You don't have to keep making that analogy. Instead, give us the evidence. We can handle the ugly truth if you're right.

Asserting that you are basing your belief on evidence is not an answer

Basically you are right. I tried to answer the question without saying anything which would invite a debate on the actual race/iq question.

Looking back at my response, I should have made it clear that I wasn't giving the answer Allicorn was looking for. But I admit it now.

I'm a bit torn, but I will try to put together a blog post which lays out my case and link to it.

Downvoted for downvote-counting obsession.

I honestly wish I never saw the damn thing.

This sounds like you're a bit too scared that it has an "unnatural" explanation. If it did happen, there's a normal explanation for it. Curious, yes, scared, no.

This is exactly why I wish it didn't happen. I can't think of anything else I would tell someone about that would cause them to say "if it did happen...". Either I could provide enough evidence for my claim or my reputation as a truth-teller would be sufficient. Not so, in this case.
I think you're misreading a logical statement as a statement of uncertainty.

No, I don't believe in UFOs either

Sometimes things are in flight and the observers can't identify them. What we don't believe in is paranormal or space alien explanations for UFOs.

I've seen undiscriminating skepticism applied to doubting the reports of slightly weird things in the sky.

Of course, once you pick a test you have to keep it secret - a well known test will be memorized as a shibboleth.

Talk to the experts in psychometrics, and they'll tell you that this is still an open question. It was a plurality (not majority or consensus) view in psychometrics that there was some genetic influence (beyond the obvious, e.g. black skin attracting discrimination, etc) back in 1984, but since then there has been other work that changes the picture, e.g. that of James Flynn, Will Dickens, and Richard Nisbett. It's unclear what a poll done today would reveal.

The experiments that would give huge likelihood ratios just haven't been done. Transracial adoption studies have been very few, flawed in design, and delivered conflicting results. And so far, genomics has revealed almost nothing positive about the genetic architecture of intelligence in any ethnicity, much less differences between ethnicities. Cheap genome sequencing may well bring answers there in the next 5-7 years, pinning down this debate with utterly overwhelming evidence, but it hasn't done so yet.

I think it's also important to mention that not having a (strong) opinion on something may be the best (rational) thing to do, when things are not so clear.

For many things (say, the AGW controversy) it's not so clear-cut as to where to find the 'truth' (I do happen to find it more likely that there is a thing called AGW and that it really could lead to great problems... but to what extent? Hard to say). Saying that you don't know may sometimes be the best answer.

Now all we need is a test to separate 'I don't know' from ignorance to 'I don't know' because your epistemic error margins are too big...

(btw, I found this an excellent article)

I don't believe in UFOs.

To my own great embarrassment, I have experienced a "UFO sighting". It was in the late 1990s in Phoenix, Arizona. What I saw was 7 or 8 bright orbs in the shape of a triangle traveling very slowly over the Phoenix/Scottsdale area (which is why I thought it was a blimp at first). After about a minute and comparing it to a nearby mountain I decided that it couldn't possibly be a blimp. The length and width were way too large. Next, I thought that perhaps it was flares, but after watching it for about 10 more minutes was sure they they had either floated higher into the sky or stayed the same altitude and were still in the same configuration with respect to each other (an isosceles triangle).

Before my personal experience, I had assumed that the people on those ridiculous documentary shows on the Discovery Channel were simply fools or people suffering from a psychological illness. I wasn't the kind of person who believed in that stuff. The next day I started questioning if I even saw it (after all, I would probably has ridiculed someone who told me they saw such a thing the previous day). It must have been a mistake. A few months later, I rationalized it by telling myself that it had been a dream. This worked until my mother (who also saw it) reminded me about something that happened on that same day.

Well, not believing in "UFOs" is just silly to start. They are definitely up there. The disagreement is usually over what they are.

You should certainly not be embarrassed. What you describe doesn't even rank as a sign of foolishness or psychological illness. Probably at worst it means you're not used to looking at aerial phenomena, so you couldn't identify it. On a bad day, it's taken me a little while to identify the Moon.

If you would have discounted as crazy someone who made a report like you just did, that was a rationalist error. Strangely moving lights in the sky are often reported by multiple witnesses and captured on videotape.

it is a grave mistake to believe that ultra-rationality means immediate dismissal of sensory experiences that (currently) have no good explanation.

My father was once involved in an UFO sighting - he built the UFO, and did the sound effects too, when the other kids got close. Summer camp was involved.

Hope no one ever told those kids it was a flock of birds...

This report [] makes it seem like UFO sightings of the kind Jayson experienced are relatively common. The reports on objects previously known as UFOs would probably be more interesting.
I had a very similar UFO sighting, just a couple months ago. Fortunately I've been consuming rationalist media for a long time, and I was able to say "There is a non-magic answer to this question, just because I don't know the answer doesn't mean UFOs exist. My map is incomplete, but the territory isn't magic." It doesn't make the creepy shiver-up-your-spine and cold-knot-in-your-stomach feelings go away, those are biological reactions. But it does let you accept them and ride them out, like the cramp you know will go away in a while that isn't ACTUALLY a knife in your leg, no matter how much it feels like it.
Don't discount the possibility of a joke. Wouldn't it be fun to make an assembly of PVC pipe, lights, a motor, batteries, and a large balloon, launch it, and watch people make up excuses about what it is? Actually, I remember where I first heard the idea, and if I recall correctly it was a triangle over Arizona somewhere. I don't recall whether the joke hypothesis was based on seeing the thing fly or seeing the thing be assembled or hearing reports from the people who assembled it. I'll forward a pointer to your article to the person I heard it from and see if he wants to share what he knows.
May be my confestion will spoil again my low reputation, but I should tell that I wrote an article about UFOs. And I think it was rational. Because even slightest probability that we have unknown phenomena in our sky should be taken in account when we speak about existential risks. Also I use Baiesian path of weighting different hypothesis and calculating expected negative utility associated with each. "UFO as Global Risk" Alexei Turchin, expert on global catastrophes of Russian Transhumanist Movement Version 0.910, 5 Jan 2010. Abstract In this article are discussed global risks – i.e. risks that could lead to the complete extinction of mankind, – associated with the problem of UFOs. Although the author is on 90 per cent sure that the UFOs are some common phenomena, the remaining 10 percent are forced him to consider these risks seriously. In the paper is suggested almost complete list of possible hypotheses explaining the nature of UFOs, including a number of new hypotheses (crown discharge around human body, ships from other dimensions covered by the shell of liquid metal, alien nanorobots, conspiracy of suppressed unconscious parts of self, parasites-symbionts from unknown forms of matter, bugs and viruses in the Matrix, etc.) and assessed the reliability of each of the hypotheses and the risk that relates to it. I consider several factors of global risk that may be associated with UFO (intelligence, energy, specific form of toxicity, informational effect, global power), based on observational data. The work is intended for a wide range of readers, as well as for anyone interested in existential risks. This work does not reflect the official position of the Russian Transhumanist Movement, or of any other organization and is only my personal research. Permalink:
Brilliant! Did you ever figure out what it was (not that one has to)? Reminds me very much of Trisha's experience in HHGTTG.
It turns out I wasn't the only one who saw it! Wikipedia has a page with a description that sounds almost exactly like what I experienced. Looks like if I am crazy, so was our Arizona Governor (because he saw the same thing).

Nothing that travels from one star to another has cause to be scared of us. If they're worried about future war, they'd just wipe us out, and in any case wouldn't do fancy acrobatics with their exterior lights on.

People do weird things to animals in order to find out what will happen. Not only are those things incomprehensible to the animals, the rationale for the details of lot of them wouldn't make sense to most people, either because the explanation is technical or because it's a badly thought out experiment. On the non-scientific side, I don't think an insect can make sense of getting caught in a cup and dumped out a window. It's at least plausible that aliens want to study relatively undisturbed human societies-- how a particular intelligent species behaves could still be very hard to predict, even for aliens capable of space travel. It's not that they'd be afraid of us, it's that we're interesting enough without adding in reactions to aliens.

I have heard it suggested, in jest, that abduction and anal-probing of humans found alone on rural roads is a sign that even societies sufficiently advanced to travel between solar systems still can't figure out how to efficiently allocate research grant money.

"Stop! We have reached the limits of what rectal probing can teach us." One of my favourite Simpsons quotes.
2Scott Alexander14y
Also, this
I like the HHGTTG explanation: They're just idiots like Zaphod pranking us. I don't believe it. I just like it.

People will come here and think that Less Wrong doesn't really care. I realize that people in these threads are providing arguments, but they seem too calm and impartial, given the issues involved.

You mean not appearing to have been mind-killed is a bad thing?

Welcome to the world. Sanity is not always valued so highly here as you might be used to.
Don't confuse preference with prediction. Where else have I been where sanity is valued more highly and how do I get back to it?
I see my joke fell flat. In the world at large, sanity is valued much less than it is here at lesswrong. Absurd as it sounds, many people would value righteous indignation above rational debate, or even above positive results.
See the recent discussion on jokes with Rain. The joke implication missed. I almost wish that did sound absurd.

Did anyone read this post and worry whether they're one of the poseurs and not one of the true-blooded rationalists?

I could believe I'm a poseur with respect to this group, i.e. adopting the opinions of the average Less Wrong reader without doing much thinking myself. But this might be rational in the case of issues where the average Less Wrong reader has done more thinking than me, right?

But I do propose that before you give anyone credit for being a smart, rational skeptic, that you ask them to defend some non-mainstream belief. And no, atheism doesn't count as non-mainstream anymore, no matter what the polls show. It has to be something that most of their social circle doesn't believe, or something that most of their social circle does believe which they think is wrong.

Maybe we should have a thread where we all do this? Heh, what a cult initiation ceremony that would be: loudly proclaim to the cult what they're wrong about.

1Paul Crowley14y
Of course. If you know others who share your belief, that's a cause for worry, and if you know no-one who does, that's also a cause for worry.
Doesn't that violate conservation of expected evidence? Or are you saying that this article was a cause for worry?
0Paul Crowley12y
I'm having a bit of a hard time reconstructing my meaning from two years ago I'm afraid! Clearly it does violate conservation of expected evidence, so I can only think that it's offered as a way to combat overconfidence bias than actually meant as a way that a ideal reasoner would update on the evidence. Or I'm just trying too hard to sound clever...

What makes you think this is obvious? While racial IQ differences certainly aren't ruled out a priori (Ashkenazi Jews are the quintessential example), Occamian reasoning about the black/white divide doesn't indicate that genetics is part of the best and most parsimonious explanation. There are adequate other factors at work - you can pick up a lot of data from studies on things like stereotype threat, for instance. And the fact that biracial children do better on IQ when the mother is the white parent than when the mother is black seems strong evidence to me that genetics are not the whole story, if they play any part at all.

What sort of human variable doesn't correlate with race? Are any of weight, height, blood pressure, athletic ability, or any other more measurable characteristic uncorrelated? How about if we measure these at birth, to work around environmental effects?

Athletic ability at birth isn't really all that variable. Besides, "at birth" doesn't eliminate in utero environmental effects.

Correlation with race does not mean genetic causation. Having 100% recent African ancestry correlates highly with living in Africa.

I'd like to suggest you taboo "athletic ability", as it seems more like a reference to a common stereotype about black people than a well-defined trait (if nothing else, long-jumping, hockey, cross-country skiing, soccer, distance swimming and mountain climbing seem like very different tasks that nevertheless might get called "athletic")
5Paul Crowley12y
The point holds if you focus on just one particular tests rather than generalizing across many sports.


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This would predict that the difference would be seen in biracial boys, but not in biracial girls. I've never heard anything to that effect - have you?

You can edit comments - there's a button to the right of the "parent" link at the bottom of each. That way you can make prompt additions like this without having to double-post.
It is not evidence for that at all; an alternative explanation for the difference is that a child's intelligence depends to a significant degree on the prenatal environment, which is determined by the mother's genetics exclusively. I predict that the extra degree of correlation between a mother's and child's intelligence over the correlation between a father's and child's intelligence will be very close to equal to the degree of correlation between a genetically unrelated surrogate mother and child's intelligence.

It is not evidence for that at all

It may not be proof, but it's certainly evidence.

renatal environment, which is determined by the mother's genetics exclusively.

Err, what? Smoking? Just to name the most obvious counter example.

Mitochondrial DNA would also be a possibility ("white" mitochondria being optimized for neurons, "black" mitochondria for muscle cells, say), but environmental factors seems by far the most obvious explanation.

I don't know as I'd call that a possibility, insofar as African populations have the widest variety of mitochondrial haplogroups (black vs white mitochondria? That's not biology, that's indulging the hypothesis so much you're willing to commit mental gymnastics on its behalf...)
African populations also have the greatest genetic variation in general. African Americans have somewhat less (but still a lot of) variation. African Americans also have considerable European ancestry, but little in the female line, and in so far as they have mtDNA of (recent) African origin they all have in common that they lack mtDNA of Euopean origin (which might have innovations that contribute to the effect observed). If you are willing to assume a genetic cause I don't see how you can a priori exclude a mitochondrial cause. I already made clear that it's not a hypothesis I'd ascribe much probability mass to.
I'm not ruling it out a priori, I'm ruling it out based on domain-specific knowledge. There is no reason from first principles of predicate logic to assume half the stuff that's true and important in biology, but it's no less critical to reasoning correctly in that domain.

the prenatal environment, which is determined by the mother's genetics exclusively.

I don't know about exclusively.

You're right that that was too strong; I should have said it's determined largely by the mother's genetics (but also to lesser degrees by the father's genetics and environmental factors.) But note that the strongest known environmental factor, alcohol consumption, is at least somewhat genetic (, and other factors like susceptibility to smoking addiction probably are as well.
Maternal Stress affects offspring. So does malnutrition.
As the mother is usually the more involved parent when it comes to raising the child, mother-based differences strongly suggest nurture-based differences, unless of course there is some specific and identifiable pathway by which the mother's genetic composition could play an outsized role. I'm not aware of any evidence that the prenatal environment provided by black women is systematically different from that of white women for any genetic reason. Though, in your defense, you were decent enough to make a falsifiable prediction based on this.

I honestly wish I never saw the damn thing.

I totally empathize with the psychology, but there's no good reason to regret seeing it. You saw something you didn't understand. You still don't understand it. Such things will happen. I think it's admirable that you hope for a rational explanation even when one isn't forthcoming - moreover, in the teeth of our human need for some explanation, even if it's a bad one.

To extend on Eliezer's point here, it's trivially easy to be a skeptic when the believer's epistemic position is foreign to you. Much harder when you're the experiencer-of-experiences, and the object of scrutiny.

We're nearly all of us materialists here; how many of us would still be if we had a powerful religious experience? And yet we (rightly) reject the truth claims of people who have had such experiences.

There was a time that I prayed intensely and experienced the presence of God on a nearly daily basis. Reading identical reports from people of other religions and learning about the many frailties of the brain helped me greatly to discount these experiences.

I hope I don't sound too effusive if I say that's borderline heroic.

But yeah, I suppose if you read "The Varieties of Religious Experience" or some other such book, you realize pretty fast that an experience like that is not really evidence.

I'm nonetheless surprised at your ability to do that calculus, as opposed to just closing the book. It impresses me almost as much as, say, the family of a murder victim speaking up in the defendant's cause. You were surely working through the Venus-of-Willendorf of all biases (I would imagine).

8Eliezer Yudkowsky14y
I'm not worried about sounding effusive and I'll omit the "borderline" part.
Thank you. Another factor that helped me was that I was encouraged to read the Bible. I actually did read all of it and was disturbed by some of the things I found. Something that particularly sticks out in my mind is the story of Jephthah from Judges chapter 11. Here God basically demands that a man sacrifice his young daughter (i.e. stab her to death and burn her body) as repayment for answering a prayer. God also claims responsibility for creating evil somewhere in the book of Isaiah, though the exact reference escapes me. It took me several years after these initial disturbances to ultimately own up to my mistake, but I gradually realized that the truths I were protecting were structurally quite different from the truths that were protecting themselves.
My experience was similar. If you (are similar to me and) want to lose the Christian faith - go to church and read the Bible. Two recipes for apostasy.
For another similar account see Julia Sweeney's Letting Go of God-- she was contently Catholic, went to Bible classes, and gradually became an atheist.
That calculus isn't as uncommon as you'd imagine; most people who take a religion very seriously end up having experiences they identify as "the presence of God", and anyone who leaves a religion they'd taken seriously must confront that bit of evidence. I'm another such case, although I have to cede the most impressive of these stories to the acquaintance of Eliezer (sorry, can't find the link to this anecdote) who had frequent, detailed, coherent visions and eventually decided that the most likely explanation was hallucination rather than contact with a deity or superintelligence.
It's here (starting at "I know a transhumanist who has strong religious visions").

We're nearly all of us materialists here; how many of us would still be if we had a powerful religious experience?

I once experienced "Hag syndrome", I must have been around eleven. I woke up during the night, unable to move and convinced I had a witch sitting on me.

The next day when I could think about it in bright daylight I thought it was kinda cool that my brain could make me believe something so clearly supernatural, but it seemed just as obvious it had only been the same kind of thing as a nightmare, only more powerful. I didn't mention it to my parents or anything, just filed it as "one of those things". (It was downright scary at the time though; I don't recommend the experience, which as you can see still, um, haunts me.)

I had very strong religious experiences in my past, and became an atheist/materialist later, if that counts. So I'm guessing a later one could be similarly worked around.
Thanks for coming forward. May I press you for details? What was it like? What were the circumstances? Do you think it showed you anything psychologically, if not factually, worthwhile? What is your general take on the thing now?
I've also had sleep paralysis (multiple times). No hallucinations, though. I just couldn't move.

To what extent does "ability to choose the right tribe" mitigate "undiscriminating skepticism"? There are lots of different tribes with different beliefs, and people often explicitly choose what tribe to affiliate with...

As far as I can tell, "not-mainstream" (for the right value of "mainstream") is almost always a huge hurdle to overcome...


It seems like you're trying to torture the answer you want into the question.

You're proving taw's point. You are so eager to find faults that you don't even double check long enough to realize that the table is ordered form poorest to wealthiest. If that's not selective perception I don't know what is.

Point. I will freely grant I was skimming looking for flaws; but some of those rankings still look dubious. What data are they based on? Official figures on the wealth of communist countries greatly differed from reality -- in particular, compare the official exchange rates with the actual black market ones. (Comparing wealth across countries sensitively depends on the exchange rates used.) As for the general argument, when an unlikely (and probably politically motivated) claim is presented, are you saying you think 'skim briefly looking for flaws' is a bad approach to take, at least initially? If so, would you apply that same standard to other unlikely claims?
No, but once you spot "flaws" you should at least check whether they actually are.
Yeah, thinking about it, it's been quite some time since I've seen anyone try to defend the Soviet Union on economic grounds; in the old days, those who did so, tended to do it based on obviously off the wall 'data'. I should really have realized anything quite that flaky wouldn't likely be linked approvingly from LW, and updated my priors accordingly. So chalk one up for be careful about reacting off the cuff to X just because it seems to resemble previously encountered Y and Z.
Trust me here that I am not defending the Soviet Union in terms of any moral or ultimate economic success (I have ties to a "Former Soviet Republic" and know the failings on both accounts)...but it should be noted that the rate of growth of the Soviet economy, and the rate of improvement of quality of life, outpaced that of Western Europe and the US from time of the revolution to about the late 50's early 60's (give or take). It should be noted that Russia at the time of the revolution was barely "developed" and was fully in the grips of a system based on serfdom bordering on (if not actually equivalent to) slavery. It was, in common parlance, "backwards". They were coming from quite the depths, and made great strides. In doing so, they brought their standard of living up, and their level of "development" up, while managing to bring their agricultural production down. Sooner or later it was all a diminishing return, but the Soviet system in the early years was at least defensible on certain grounds. Ultimately that system did not succeed, but it points the notion that different systems might be better for different things. What might have happened had the Soviets edged towards capitalism more in the manner of recent China, or if they had not bankrupted themselves on military spending? (and by extension, what can we as capitalists learn from that last point?)

Poincare said: “To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of reflection.”

biracial children do better on IQ when the mother is the white parent than when the mother is black


Actually, there is some evidence that many intelligence genes are carried on the X chromosome.

So, there's four cases, which I will give names: boy with a black mom and white dad ("Joe"), boy with white mom and black dad ("Rob"), girl with black mom and white dad ("Sal"), and girl with white mom and black dad ("Eve").

Joe has a black X chromosome and a white Y chromosome.

Rob has a white X chromosome and a black Y chromosome.

Sal and Eve both have one black and one white X chromosome.

If X chromosomes have lots of intelligence-related genes, and if white parents contribute smarter chromosomes than black parents do, then there's no difference between Sals and Eves (they've both got one of each), but Robs should be smarter than Joes on average, because Rob has his g-loaded genes from a white parent and Joe doesn't.

Ah. Ok. That makes sense. Thanks..

...using a similar method of estimating probabilities based on my knowledge, common sense, etc., I am satisfied that...

This statement is roughly equivalent to "My opinions on topic X are soundly arrived at". Show, don't tell.

In the instance, the blog where you said you were going to publish "evidence and arguments" in support of the above view has, to a first approximation, zero useful or interesting content at this time. Meanwhile you have wasted the time and attention of many LW readers as you submitted cupholder to an interrogation that would have tried anyone's patience.

I wish you'd stop doing that.

That adds some weight. But it's still not particularly convincing. Even assuming he's not being intentionally deceptive or deceptively cut (which I'm not sure is true), it's not anything close to extraordinary evidence, as a claim like that requires.

Remember that witnesses perceptions and memories will be distorted. Clearly, events were confused (look at his statement at 4:39, where he's confused on whether he's standing on a landing or hanging). He "knows" he heard explosions, apparently based on his experience as "a boiler guy"; even setting aside the possibility of actual explosions from (eg) fuel oil tanks, it's certainly possible that he mistook other sound associated with a massive fire and collapsing building for explosions. The devastation, dead bodies, etc, are likewise consequences of the fires and damage.

There is some evidence supporting the conspiracy theory, but it's not nearly enough to outweigh the low prior and evidence against it.

I've used AI as a sniff test many times (>10 tests), along with better-than-human humans (posthumans) and engineered immortality (SENS). Very few people, even those who are smart and educated, are able to argue against them rationally. Every time I've been given more than 10 minutes to discuss the point with someone who disagrees they're possible, it comes down to some sort of mystical mysteriousness which humankind cannot fathom or recreate. Quite often (>20%), it's even revealed a religiosity in the person they don't express in any other way apparent to me (god of the gaps).

So is the source of consciousness not a mystery? Or is consciousness not necessary for intelligence?
Indeed. If we mean "intelligence" as ability to optimize an arbitrary goal X, I don't see either consciousness or intelligence being at all necessary for the other. These are two completely different things. Consciousness is currently mysterious (at least for me), intelligence not really.
This article makes some interesting points about the meaning of intelligence. Curious what you think of Hofstadter's arguments.

Sorry if this is overly tangential, but as a sex educator I'm interested to know what you all think are your tribal beliefs around sexuality, and what kind of sexuality-related arguments would lead you to consider someone to be defending a non-mainstream belief.

Heh. My tribal beliefs are from reading Spider Robinson books as a teen. Ciphergoth is an example of the sort of person I grew up thinking of as normal, and I've always felt a little guilty about not being bisexual. You have to get up pretty early in the morning to go outside that mainstream, which is one reason I went to the lengths of postulating legalized rape in Three Worlds Collide.

Ah, Spider Robinson. I remember buying a stack of his books at Borders around age 12 and having the clerk give my mother an alarmed look. Mom just waved her hand .... I think it's pretty normal for science-fiction-reading middle- to upper-middle-class kids to think that alternative sexuality is "normal" and to feel guilty for being vanilla/monogamous/whatever. (I used to feel a lot of pressure to be polyamorous.) Interestingly, though, there still seems to be a lot of internalized stigma about certain forms of sexuality, as demonstrated for example in my coming-out story. I would imagine that most people here fit that tribal group. Still, within that tribal group I still encounter a lot of people with assumptions I'd call weird and/or irrational, which is why I asked specifically what kind of sexuality-related arguments would lead you to consider someone to be defending a non-mainstream belief. I think your legalized rape post (it was forwarded to me last year, actually, and I still haven't decided how I feel about it) is a definite example of defending a non-mainstream belief, but I wonder if there are less dramatic ones.
I'm adamant that none of us should use the messed-up word "Rape" to point to a benevolent social practice of a made-up libertarian utopia, where that term and its implications are not just forgotten but can hardly be understood. Something like "meta-consensual sex" would be way better. This alone would've allowed us to avoid half the controversy about this relatively minor point.
I like it. I hope the term catches on - even if the situations where it can be useful are rather uncommon.
3Eliezer Yudkowsky14y
I call that a win for literature.
9Paul Crowley14y
*smiles* I'm sure you know this, but I don't think it makes any sense to think you should enjoy X. And I agree, alt-sex is not a useful discriminator here. I've been having a lot of arguments about cryonics with my friend David Gerard who is also an alt-sex community member, and this article could have been written specifically with him in mind (as well as other contributors to the "RationalWiki" article on cryonics). There's a warning flag you don't mention: the logical rudeness of the skeptical Gish Gallop. I have over and over again begged David to pick one counter-argument to cryonics and really press it home. Instead he insists on picking up everything that looks to him like shit and flinging it as fast as he can, and it appears to give him no pause at all when one argument after another turns out to be without merit.

I'm sure you know this, but I don't think it makes any sense to think you should enjoy X.

Why doesn't it make sense? If there were a pill to turn me bisexual, I'd take it, modulo the fact that in general I take almost no pills (it'd have to be really really safe, but I hold all mind-affecting substances to that standard, don't drink etcetera, it's not a special case for the bisexuality pill).