Undiscriminating Skepticism

by Eliezer Yudkowsky14 min read14th Mar 20101360 comments

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SignalingEpistemologyMotivated Reasoning
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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.

6Bill_McGrath10yEugenics; that ought to be a fun one as well.
3Laoch8yThis 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 Crowley12yWe should try gun control some time...
4simplicio12yThat 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".

9Jack12yI'd say it became increasingly less well-defined after it's creation [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benito_Mussolini#Creation_of_Fascism].
2simplicio12yI 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!
7CronoDAS12yI'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."
4RobinZ12yFrom Jack's link [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benito_Mussolini#Creation_of_Fascism] in the previous comment [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1ww/undiscriminating_skepticism/1rfi]: 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 Bensinger9yI'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.

7Strange710yI'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.
8DanielLC10yWhat 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.

1aausch12yI 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.
5Emile12yI'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.
2aausch12yI 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.
1Psychohistorian12yI 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'.

5Nick_Tarleton12yHowever, someone who believes that global warming is a threat, and who has a poor grasp of ethics [http://lesswrong.com/lw/v0/ethical_inhibitions/], 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 [http://lesswrong.com/lw/hs/think_like_reality/] by this or hesitant in calling it as you see it.
5simplicio12yBingo. 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.

2johnlawrenceaspden9yAnd has "Naturist" as a convenient antonym...

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.

2simplicio12yI went looking for polls to answer your question; the only one I could find was this [http://www.beachbrowser.com/Archives/Science-and-Health/July-99/NATURE-VS-NURTURE.htm] 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.
9wedrifid12yThat 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).
4simplicio12yTrue. In that respect I think part of the problem might also be the Science News Cycle [http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1174] 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.
3CarlShulman12yThat's primarily an issue in the titles (often set by editors). The body of the text usually has the standard litany of basic caveats.

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.

8FAWS12yFor 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").
1Hook12yRichard Lindzen [http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Richard_S._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.
2FAWS12yThe 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)?
4Morendil12yThe 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.
4taw12yNot 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.
4[anonymous]10yThe 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.
1taw10yRuBisCO activity [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RuBisCO] 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.
2[anonymous]10yRuBisCO 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.
2BenAlbahari12yIt'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? [http://www.takeonit.com/question/76.aspx] Do negative feedback loops mostly cushion the effect of atmospheric CO2 increases? [http://www.takeonit.com/question/78.aspx]
4FAWS12yThat 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.
3BenAlbahari12yThe 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): http://www.takeonit.com/question/5.aspx [http://www.takeonit.com/question/5.aspx]
5[anonymous]10yI 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.
4taw12yHere'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 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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)

7ChristianKl12yArguing 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.
5DonGeddis12yDo 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.

5simplicio12yI 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.

1Cyan12yIs she a natural or a self-taught unnatural (or something else)?
7wnoise12yThat only follows if the societal pressures on men and women are mostly gender-neutral. This does not appear to be the case.
2dripgrind12yIt'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.
4Roko12ySeconded. 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.

2simplicio12yI endeavour to give satisfaction. =) Anything I can clarify? Probably did overdo the classical music metaphors a little...
5Jack12yLooking 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?
4simplicio12yHeh, 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.
3magfrump12yMostly 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.
2Jack12yDo you Canadians use liberal like we Americans use it or like Europeans use it?
1simplicio12yMore 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.
5komponisto12yMy 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").
2taryneast10yuh - 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)

1jt42429yThere 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.
8BenAlbahari12yIn 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.
1NancyLebovitz10yHere'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.
3Baughn10yIt 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.
2MixedNuts10yIt'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.
2Baughn10yThe 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.
0[anonymous]10yAre there any countries to which that doesn't apply?
0Baughn10yYes, most notably the USA.
0[anonymous]10yYou'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?)
2gwern10yEthnic 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 [https://www.evernote.com/pub/gwern/gwern#b=b37272d8-fa7f-4e5b-9ae4-f346dc17109f&x=World%2520on%2520Fire%2520Chua%2520&n=d0c119d8-7c1e-49cb-a526-b69ce8cc95a7] that there are many such conclaves throughout the world; it helps to be a wealthier minority.)
5simplicio12yNow 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.

8sketerpot12ySimple 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).
1taw12yThe 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.
1aausch12yI like that qualification. It's hard to make these calls out of the group context.
1PhilGoetz12yYou can tell someone is irrational if they don't believe global warming is happening. You can't conclude much if they believe it is caused by human action, as this is now de rigeur for any one democratic/liberal/educated/cosmopolitan. I don't know what you can conclude if they believe it is happening but aren't convinced that it's caused by human action; but this is a small enough percentage of cases that you don't really need to classify them.
2Aurini12yI don't think this is a fair assessment. I was a global warming supporter up until I saw that awful movie by Al Gore; his inept, unscientific presentation drove me to start looking into the situation. What I found was a great deal of controversy over the figures - some of the charts cited by Gore tended to suggest the opposite of his thesis (assuming he even had a thesis - that man's all over the place); that CO2 follows warming, rather than triggers it. After looking into it further - and hearing a dozen different sets of conflicting data - I eventually gave up on understanding. I don't know enough about the subject matter to make an accurate judgement, and various sources on all sides of the debate have proved themselves to be biased or incompetent. Alcor I trust to lay out factual information on 'vitrification' - whatever the hell that is. The IPCC on the other hand has a political motivation, as (probably) do many of the scientific skeptics. As a rough estimate, I'd assign a 60% chance that global warming is occuring, while maybe a 10% chance that the climate's cooling. This is completely ignoring the probabilities of it A) being man made, B) being catastrophic (or even bad), and C) of being correctable by current policies. Unless if you're a climatologist or a meteorologist, I'd be very suspicious of strong stances on the matter. Perhaps a better test would be whether somebody supports A) cap-and-trade or B) using a 'science fiction' solar-umbrella satellite to cool off the earth.

After looking into it further - and hearing a dozen different sets of conflicting data - I eventually gave up on understanding. I don't know enough about the subject matter to make an accurate judgement, and various sources on all sides of the debate have proved themselves to be biased or incompetent.

I sympathize. Frankly, most of us don't know anywhere near enough (nor should we, realistically) about climate science to truly assess the evidence ourselves, particularly when the models necessary for prediction are so complex. What to do in this case? I think we should consider the weight of opinion of actual experts. If you do this, the balance tips markedly towards AGW.

What about vested interests, you say? Well they exist on both sides, but on one side we have the fossil fuel lobby and on the other... conflict of interest wrt research grants (which is not just a problem in the case of global warming!).

Bottom line: If you can't assess the evidence directly yourself, delegate wisely.

6Aurini12yI generally agree with your heuristic - eg: arguing "this light should be green for longer to improve traffic efficiency" is ridiculous - but when money or politics get involved it tends to break down. For money, "Red light cameras are there to improve traffic safety, not as cash cows, and the various municipal-funded studies can be relied upon." For politics, "We have to have a speed limit on the highway, even if it's irregularly enforced, because allowing people to drive whatever speed they want is just crazy - it'd never work! The cops ticketing speeders are just protecting us from ourselves." A better corollary than the traffic issue however, would be medicine; while the majority of us on LW (I suspect) will blindly accept the broad-strokes declared by the medical community, while simultaneously distrusting the rationality of most doctors; when it comes to a specific treatment for a serious condition most of us would be researching it ourselves This goes doubly for the psychiatric field, and area as dominated by the politics of popular thought as it is by the pharma dollars. This is why I remain dubious about AGW (let alone Catastrophic-AGW). On the one hand we've got the oil lobbyists, and living in oil country I hear constant anecdotes about how slimy they are; but on the other side you've got the IPCC, a group of technocrats with a prior commitment to big government who are in charge of directing the research. There's a political bias at work, which I find even more frightening than the oil companies' profit motive. As for the rest of the scientists, which ones have actually done the research, and how many are just following the conventional wisdom? Medical doctors still recommend a diet which was created by George McGovern, and I'd be surprised if more than fifty percent of them actually understand evolution (rather than just believe it) - a ridiculously simple theory when you study it. Several prominent candidates pop up when you consider the IPCC's bia
2taw12yIt's not like a normal person can observe such changes - we're talking fraction of a degree over lifetime so far (Wikipedia says 0.74 ± 0.18 °C over entire 20th century). It's a matter of your level of trust in "mainstream" scientists, and there's nothing particularly irrational about not having terribly much trust here. And even global warming is real, it's still instrumentally rational to be wrong - let other people limit their carbon emissions, the world in which you drive SUV and everyone else overpays for Priuses is the optimal world for you to live in. (it would be even better to believe correctly in global warming, but be cynical enough to not give a shit about it, but many people have some sort of cynicism limit...)
6Jack12yYou don't have to be especially cynical, just recognize the situation as the collective action problem that it is. I'm not that cynical but I'm also not a dupe. Also, not believing in global warming, if global warming is real, is likely to lead you to do stupid things like accepting certain bets on global mean temperature fifty years out and purchasing coastal properties. So I don't think it is instrumentally rational, either.
5simplicio12yI'd describe that as a rationalization of egoism, wouldn't you?
3taw12yWhat do you mean by egoism [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rational_egoism]?
4simplicio12yKey word there was rationalization. If terminology is the problem, replace "egoism" by "selfishness" and my point remains the same. I don't buy rational egoism. What is rational is whatever advances one's goals - goals which may or may not be selfish. Considering our inbuilt empathy & love for our families, the general case is that our goals will not be purely selfish. Even if I was a rational egoist, though, actually believing something against evidence (as distinct from declaring belief or not caring) is utterly irrational.
2PhilGoetz12yI think we can agree that "instrumentally rational" is irrational.
1taw12yIt is irrational in a way that it recognized limitations of human rationality, and decides that sometimes you're better off not knowing. Perfect rational being would not need it - human being sometimes might.

"Oh all right," said the old man. "Here's a prayer for you. Got a pencil?"

"Yes," said Arthur.

"It goes like this. Let's see now: 'Protect me from knowing what I don't need to know. Protect me from even knowing that there are things to know that I don't know. Protect me from knowing that I decided not to know about the things that I decide not to know about. Amen.' That's it. It's what you pray silently inside yourself anyway, so you may as well have it out in the open."

"Hmmm," said Arthur. "Well thank you --"

"There's another prayer that goes with it that's very important," said the old man, "so you'd better jot this down, too."

"Okay."

"It goes, 'Lord, lord, lord...' It's best to put that bit in just in case. You can never be too sure. 'Lord, lord, lord. Protect me from the consequences of the above prayer. Amen.' And that's it. Most of the trouble people get into in life comes from leaving out that last part."


In all seriousness, ignorance may sometimes be bliss, but conscious, willful ignorance is reprehensible. Let's actually make an effort to be all right with the way the world is, before we throw up our hands.

2taw12yI choose to be ignorant about certain things all the time - every moment of my life spent on anything except reading Wikipedia is a choice of selective ignorance. How much does your life improve by having more accurate view of global warming research, as opposed to being vaguely aware of it but fairly skeptical either way like most educated people? I'd guess improvement will be tiny, and the risk of such knowledge triggering your world-saving instincts is not worth it.
7simplicio12yTrue, but that is ignorance-of-omission. You seemed to be advocating a conscious decision to keep yourself ignorant of certain well-defined areas of knowledge. Apologies if this is not so. Well, here's the hedonistic vs. goal-oriented view of rationality again. Not everything I do is directly related to satisfying immediate whims. I am a voter and also an engineer, as it happens. Both of these circumstances imply I have an ethical obligation to be at least somewhat conversant on questions of public policy & the environment. If my "world-saving instincts" should be triggered, I want them triggered. Again, as a bare minimum, public policy depends on an informed public, and GW is a policy problem. But uninformed consent in a democracy is pointless, it doesn't count. We might just as well save money on ballot paper and install a grand Doge for all the functional difference it would entail.
2PhilGoetz12yI didn't say it was bad. I said it was irrational.
1RobinZ12yThat's not necessarily true - first, the temperature change is not uniform everywhere, and second, the effects of such changes on weather may be noticeable in ways other than simple warming (e.g. more extreme weather events). Certainly day-to-day observations cannot support the kind of confidence that many scientists have in their conclusions about global warming, but they can lend slight credence to such statements.

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.

2[anonymous]12yWell, my comment from http://lesswrong.com/lw/1ww/undiscriminating_skepticism/1sek [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1ww/undiscriminating_skepticism/1sek] would probably be better here. I still dispute that argument, as I think this drop-off is justified, even for rationalists.
1MugaSofer9ySo 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.

3simplicio12yThe 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.
8wnoise12yThis 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 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liver_transplantation#Living_donor_transplantation] 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 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maternal_death], we see it is similar to WHO [http://www.who.int/]'s 2005 estimate of world average of 900 per 100,000 [http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/97892
5simplicio12yIs 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.
3[anonymous]12yI'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).
2BarbaraB10y"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.
1[anonymous]12yThis 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?
6simplicio12yI am very much in favour of this sort of policy; it would do no end of good.
0Strange78yThe 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.
0Jiro8yIn 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.
2thomblake9yThe 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.
6TheOtherDave9yUpvoted entirely for this line, which made me spit coffee when it finally registered.
0[anonymous]8yIn 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?
0[anonymous]8yNot without some risk to both, the exact amounts depending on the situation..
0[anonymous]8y(I'm assuming that by “some” you mean ‘larger than that of either abortion or natural childbirth’, otherwise it wouldn't be relevant. Right?)
2[anonymous]8ySmaller would be relevant too, for the opposite reason.
0MugaSofer9yWe 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.
3wnoise9yWe 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?
3TimS9yMandatory drug testing?
1wnoise9yThat'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".)
5[anonymous]12y.
3[anonymous]12ySidetrack: 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.

2Psy-Kosh12yBoth menus being "vegetarian and non vegetarian" or "pork menu and baby menu"? :)
4MugaSofer9yThat 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.
3[anonymous]12ythis is sounding like a copout....
2Fallible10yIt 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.

2Baughn10yHow 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.

5khafra12yProfessor 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.

6khafra12yThat 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.
0Ishaan8yAny 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.
4DonGeddis12yYour 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.)
2Larks12yThis 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: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infanticide

0BarbaraB10y"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???

0[anonymous]10yOkay, 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.

9Chrysophylax8yYou 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.
8lispalien12yMy 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!

7lispalien12yThat'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.
2Multiheaded10yEliezer, 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.)
0TheOtherDave10yCan 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.
0Multiheaded10yJokes 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.
1TheOtherDave10yYes, 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.

4khafra12yIt should be safe to use on Philip K. Dick [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pre-persons] fan forums.
6MichaelVassar12ySounds like it would be interesting to have your mother make some comments on LW, if you think she would be interested.
2lispalien12yThat's very unlikely, I think. She's not interested in rationalism.
7wedrifid12yYes, 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!
7Strange712yI'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).
0Gurkenglas8yIs 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)
0hyporational8yIt quite obviously is. If you mean as an alternative to infanticide, definitely. What's your point?
0Gurkenglas8yWhat 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)
0Strange78yIf 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.
6Rain12yReal world test of human value along similar lines: Ashley X [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashley_Treatment].
5Ishaan8yAre you allowed [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/The_utility_function_is_not_up_for_grabs] 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.
5CronoDAS12yIf I agreed with this logic, should I be reluctant to admit it here?
1byrnema12yAgreeing 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.

7byrnema12ySure. 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.

4simplicio12yThis was rather elegantly put.
3byrnema12yFrom 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.)
6gregconen12yThat 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 [http://lesswrong.com/lw/rn/no_universally_compelling_arguments/] 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 [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Metaethics_sequence].
6byrnema12yI 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.
4gregconen12yYes. 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.
4byrnema12yAren'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.
3FAWS12yVoted 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.
3taryneast10yAs 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.
4[anonymous]10yActually 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).
2Strange78ySo, 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?
0taryneast8yIf 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".

Downvoted for downvote-counting obsession.

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.

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.

1Jayson_Virissimo12yThis 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.
2thomblake12yI 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.

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...

1Kevin12yThis report [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1s4/open_thread_february_2010_part_2/1n29 [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1s4/open_thread_february_2010_part_2/1n29]] 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.
9Eneasz12yI 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.
7TimFreeman11yDon'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.
2turchin12yMay 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: http://www.scribd.com/doc/18221425/UFO-as-Global-Risk [http://www.scribd.com/doc/18221425/UFO-as-Global-Risk]
2simplicio12yBrilliant! Did you ever figure out what it was (not that one has to)? Reminds me very much of Trisha's experience in HHGTTG.
8Jayson_Virissimo12yIt turns out I wasn't the only one who saw it! Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_lights] 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).

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.

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.

5NancyLebovitz12yPeople 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.

8DanielVarga12y"Stop! We have reached the limits of what rectal probing can teach us." One of my favourite Simpsons quotes.
2Scott Alexander12yAlso, this [http://www.raikoth.net/Comics/comic64.png]
4PhilGoetz12yI 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?

5gregconen12yWelcome to the world. Sanity is not always valued so highly here as you might be used to.
4wedrifid12yDon't confuse preference with prediction. Where else have I been where sanity is valued more highly and how do I get back to it?
5gregconen12yI 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.
5wedrifid12ySee 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 Crowley12yOf 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.
0DanielLC10yDoesn't that violate conservation of expected evidence [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Conservation_of_expected_evidence]? Or are you saying that this article was a cause for worry?
0Paul Crowley10yI'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...

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 Yudkowsky12yI'm not worried about sounding effusive and I'll omit the "borderline" part.
5Matt_Duing12yThank 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.
2wedrifid12yMy 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.
6NancyLebovitz12yFor another similar account see Julia Sweeney's Letting Go of God [http://www.amazon.com/Letting-Go-God-Julia-Sweeney/dp/B000MM107I]-- she was contently Catholic, went to Bible classes, and gradually became an atheist.
2orthonormal12yThat 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.
6arundelo12yIt's here (starting at "I know a transhumanist who has strong religious visions") [http://lesswrong.com/lw/xc/the_uses_of_fun_theory/].

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.)

4Shae12yI 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.
2simplicio12yThanks 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?
1Peter_de_Blanc12yI'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...

[-][anonymous]12y 15

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.

4rwallace12yPoint. 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?
7FAWS12yNo, but once you spot "flaws" you should at least check whether they actually are.
8rwallace12yYeah, 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.
4simplyeric12yTrust 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?)

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.

1JoshuaZ10yAh. 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.

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.

2[anonymous]10yI'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 Crowley10yThe point holds if you focus on just one particular tests rather than generalizing across many sports.
[-][anonymous]12y 10

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[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

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?

3[anonymous]12y.
1[anonymous]12y.
2Alicorn12yYou 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.
7jimrandomh12yIt 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.

2[anonymous]10yI 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...)
8FAWS10yAfrican 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.
3[anonymous]10yI'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.

3jimrandomh12yYou'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 ( http://psychiatry.healthse.com/psy/more/alcoholism [http://psychiatry.healthse.com/psy/more/alcoholism]), and other factors like susceptibility to smoking addiction probably are as well.
2NancyLebovitz10yMaternal [http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0091305786904004] Stress [http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-244X/8/71] affects [http://jas.fass.org/content/89/6/1787.abstract] offspring [http://jcem.endojournals.org/content/90/7/4115.full]. So [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18579882] does [http://hyper.ahajournals.org/content/32/1/108.full] malnutrition [http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:xsmDqBKoZsAJ:faculty.une.edu/com/dmokler/Index_files/Morgane-03revNBR.pdf+malnutrition+prenatal&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESiMPAw_-dvNEkmm-VvgVYCHE_nklHeibtIy8leOJkpP-vIiZJi3laLjPb32xKw7yXJLC04qWuJYMocHSIr68aMfuRmS8GtLAEQY-uNRnI5GXoc4__Yag92gfdqWby9_MxzJiFRi&sig=AHIEtbTg8l4EzrMbT5VyqFXmVFJygf7oMA&pli=1] .
7Psychohistorian12yAs 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.

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

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).

0ExAequali8ySo is the source of consciousness not a mystery? Or is consciousness not necessary for intelligence?
0ArisKatsaris8yIndeed. 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.
0ExAequali8yThis article [http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/11/the-man-who-would-teach-machines-to-think/309529/] 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.

9clarissethorn12yAh, 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 [http://chicago.timeout.com/articles/sex-dating/82830/]. 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.
7Multiheaded10yI'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.
1wedrifid10yI like it. I hope the term catches on - even if the situations where it can be useful are rather uncommon.
3Eliezer Yudkowsky12yI call that a win for literature.
8Paul Crowley12y*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 [http://rationalwiki.com/wiki/Cryonics]). There's a warning flag you don't mention: the logical rudeness of the skeptical Gish Gallop [http://rationalwiki.com/wiki/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).

I'm somewhat sympathetic to that idea (I haven't felt guilty about being straightish, but I've wished I were more bisexual once in a while, and succeeded in pushing myself in that direction in some cases), but I'm curious now: is gender the only dimension you'd apply that to? Would you also take a pill (again assuming it's really really safe) that would make all outward physical attributes irrelevant to how attractive you find someone? Would you take a pill that would make you enjoy every non-harmful sexual practice/fetish (not necessarily seeking them out, but able to enjoy it if a partner initiated it)?

(I originally started writing this comment thinking something like "hmm, I'd take the bi-pill, but let's take that reasoning to its vaguely-logical conclusion and see if it's still palatable", but now I'm actually thinking I'd probably take both of those pills too.)

Well, to ask the non-mainstream-relative-to-this-community version of the question, ask "Would I take the loli pill?"

How about the anti-Westermark effect pill? ;)

6Jack12yI can't believe I had never heard of that before. Fascinating. A question if you can answer it. Wikipedia says: The addition of "highly" seems to suggest that separated brothers and sisters find themselves especially or unusually attracted to one another. Is that the case or is Wikipedia just adding unnecessary adjectives?
7thomblake12yThere are clearer language and relevant citations at ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_sexual_attraction [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_sexual_attraction])
6CronoDAS12yThere is a hypothesis [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_sexual_attraction] that claims that, but the evidence is dubious.
4ata12yThe two pills I proposed are mainstream relative to this community? I'm surprised yet not surprised. Good to know, anyway. (So, alright, would you take the loli pill?)
4FAWS12yDoes "loli" mean non-persons and emotionally mature persons who look like a child, or are actual children (of average or below average emotional maturity) included by the effect?

If it meant the former, I would take the loli pill if the (unlikely) circumstances called for it. Why not? If it meant the latter, then you would have to tell your libido "no" a lot, but it wouldn't necessarily lead to doing bad things. I doubt it would be worth the hassle, though, except in very special circumstances.

Actually, the biggest drawback to either version of the loli pill would probably be how society would react if they ever found out. It probably wouldn't matter if the one you're sleeping with is really 700 years old; you'd still get put on every sex offender registry out there, and shunned vigorously, at the very least. People are damn tense on this subject. Just look at how much trouble Christopher Handley got in for his manga collection.

Edit: I felt pretty uncomfortable writing this post, even though I know I shouldn't be. Looks like this really is a good question.

4MBlume10yUpvoted for noticing discomfort
2kodos9612yupvoted for citing tvtropes :)

Downvoted for encouraging such irresponsible behavior as citing TV Tropes!

9thomblake12yYou just say that because your karma is over nine thousand [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/PowerLevels?from=Main.OverNineThousand] !
7clarissethorn12yI'd definitely take all three of the above pills. In fact, I wonder how much harm such pills would have to do for me not to take them.
5Strange712yThere is a well-established mechanism within the transformation fetish subculture making use of devices which work a bit like temporary tattoos, altering the subject's body and/or personality in ways both profound and fully reversible. Like most magic intended to make a story possible rather than to make it interesting, the patches in question are entirely without negative side effects. As demonstrated with Clippy, I would be willing to provide further information even if doing so does not serve my long-term interests in any obvious way.
3Bindbreaker12yWould it be reversible?
8ata12yYou can just answer it for each case. Would you take either pill if they were irreversible? If they were reversible?
8Bindbreaker12yYes in all cases, but absolutely only if reversible. I am asexual and thus have not experienced any of the romantic/sexual emotions. I feel as if doing so would almost certainly help my understanding of others, as well as broaden my emotional range. However, I seem to do quite fine without these emotions, and they seem to cause more problems than they are worth in many of the people around me. Therefore I would only take such pills if they were reversible, as my present state is quite happy and the alternative could certainly be worse.
4Jack12yNo kidding. Do people remember that guy who was here at the very beginning and wouldn't shut up about how the key to being rational was castration? I doubt that troll would have had much to say would have been helpful but the position has a certain intuitive plausibility to me. To begin with, I'm pretty sure the ebb and flow of sexual arousal would be really easy to money pump.
5wedrifid12yBuying and selling bulk cupons for the service of prostitutes?
4Jack12yI was actually thinking pornographic website subscriptions. That works too, though.
2Morendil12yEasy enough to find by searching. ;) Those contributions were... interesting. I'm somewhat tempted to doubt the disclosure. While researching permanent forms of contraception, in particular vasectomy, I learned that the procedure was illegal in France up until a few years ago: it was considered "self-mutilation". I'd be rather surprised to learn about someone getting elective castration, unless some plausible details substantiated that story.
1Jack12yAgreed. And I obviously wouldn't volunteer. But sexuality does appear to generate some serious bias. I imagine straight men might be unreliable rebutters and evaluators of arguments made by attractive females, for example.
6Paul Crowley12yWhy would you take such a pill? So that you can have more fun, or for some other reason?

So I wouldn't miss out on half the fun.

How do you distinguish the sort of fun it's worth changing your values to enjoy from the sort of fun (like wireheading) it's worth not having access to?

Of course, it's nothing like half the fun you're missing. Adding a gender would increase your fun by less than 100% since it's not that different in many ways. Adding all the sexual variation in the world would be a humongous amount of fun, but you'd start to hit diminishing returns after a while.

Technically, given that most people are heterosexual, Woody Allen's quote - "The good thing about being bisexual is that it doubles your chance of a date on a Saturday night." - is inaccurate. It only increases your chances by the percentage of people of your gender who are open to same-sex encounters.

I think I have enough evidence to say this confidently without unfairly stereotyping: On balance, gay men are so much more promiscuous than straight women that being bisexual really might double or triple the opportunities for a man to have sex. But your point is well taken and certainly applies to chances for a monogamous relationship.

Point of curiosity if anyone knows the answer: How promiscuous are bisexual men and do they tend to have more m-m than m-f sex because the m-m sex is much easier to obtain? If not, why not?

9Kevin12yI'm a 1 on the Kinsey scale but I have only had sex with women, not men. I don't identify as bisexual. I suspect that the median bisexual man has more m-m sex because the median person willing to identify as bisexual is not a 3 on the Kinsey scale but leans towards the homosexual side of the scale. Also, especially for young people just coming to terms with their sexuality, identifying as bisexual is often a path towards identifying as gay, and such people are likely to have more sex with their true preferred type of partners. There is a negative perception in the gay community that bisexual people are more promiscuous, but this probably isn't true. I'm pretty sure the reason bisexual men tend to have sex with men more often than women is not because getting gay sex is as easy as posting a "Hey, who wants to come over, blow me, and leave right away without talking?" on Craigslist, but because most people that identify as bisexual are just more gay than straight. Btw, if anyone was intrigued by the possibility of making such a Craigslist post, if you say you're straight you'll get at least twice as many replies! :D
1Jack12yThis is of course controversial but I've had a number of gay friends and acquaintances deny that there even are true bisexual men. The position they take it is that homosexuality is a binary, pre-natal development characteristic and that bisexual males are pretty much just gay men holding out hope for a normal marriage/family life. No offense to those men here who identify as bisexual, obviously. This all may just be in group posturing and what not.

deny that there even are true bisexual men.

I, meanwhile, am not entirely sure that there are straight women.

(Every woman I have met has fallen into one of the following categories: 1) She would not know if she were non-straight, due to inadequate self-examination or understanding of the concept of orientation. 2) I would not know if she were not straight, due to not having a close enough relationship with her or due to social constraints on her end preventing her from being out or due to the topic never having come up. 3) I know her to be bisexual, gay, asexual, or some other non-straight sexuality.)

Counterexamples are welcome to present themselves, of course.

The thread seems to be resurrected, so I'll present myself. :)

I am a cissexual slightly genderqueer exclusively androsexual monogamously married woman. I think about sexuality and orientation a lot. Including my own. I don't recall ever being sexually or romantically attracted to a woman. Intellectually, monosexuality seems a little weird to me, but nevertheless it seems to describe me. In fact I think of my monosexuality as a gender fetish, but I hesitate to apply that paradigm to other people's monosexuality.

5Mark_Ash9yThat is one of the most delightfully precise explanations of personal gender identity and sexual preferences I have ever seen. Also, as an exclusively monosexual male, I agree with your thoughts that monosexuality is understandable but doesn't seem optimal from an individualistic standpoint.
7Swimmer96310yReminds me of a study I read about. They basically showed men and women different types of porn and measured genital arousal. The results were straightforward for men: if they identified as straight, girl-on-girl porn caused the greatest arousal, girl-on-guy was ok, and guy-on-guy caused almost no arousal. For gay men, the results were reversed. For girls, there were no simple categories, and their identification as straight or gay didn't predict which images would be the biggest turn-on.
5juliawise10yMy impression from attending a women's college was that by the fourth year, most women who came in identifying as straight had experienced some attraction to other women. And those who came in saying "My life would be so much easier if I liked girls" were more likely to be dating women by the end (though no data on whether their lives were actually easier!)
4Jack12yI'm around 90% confident my girlfriend is straight.

Update- She has a date with a girl next week. So... oops. :-)

Update #2-- And now.... she is in a long-term relationship with a woman.

Feels like I should tie a bow around this, in memory of old Less Wrong. They got married 6 months ago.

Huh, that sure was an interesting series of comments. Thanks for updating this after so many years and providing a tiny bit of data (and humour).

5MBlume10yI've gone on dates with a couple guys just to check -- I'm still pretty definitely straight.
2Oscar_Cunningham10yPolls show that about 10% identify as non-straight, so your initial estimate wasn't bad.
9Jack10yOne would hope that dating someone would provide enough evidence to make a better estimate than a blind prior.
5shokwave10yNot necessarily true - it's possible you had an implicit "given that she is straight" at work when you were interpreting evidence. If you conditioned on her being straight it makes perfect sense that you'd have no evidence one way or the other from a blind prior. (People conditioning on such things is extremely common - for a much less innocuous example, consider what "no thanks, I don't want to" looks like to someone who is conditioning on "this person wants me to")
8Jack10yYou're right, actually. This occurred to me when posting the above. I started from "She's a girl who says she is straight" and then updated down to .9 based on what I learned.
6mattnewport12yI think you both need to clarify your definitions a bit. It seems to me that females have a lot more scope for physical intimacy with other females in western society without generally being considered non-straight than males do. A straight female expressing physical attraction/admiration for other females is not considered grounds for doubting self-reported sexuality the way it might be for males.
2Jack12yIt's true that evidence one has for classifying people's sexual orientation can be different for men and women. Thus I have female friends who, if they were men and behaved toward men the way they now behave toward women, my beliefs about their sexual orientation would alter dramatically. But such behaviors don't define heterosexuality. An Anglo-American man who compliments other men on their attractiveness, holds hands or is affectionate toward other men is giving us evidence that he is gay or bisexual. But these facts don't make him gay or bisexual. Facts about who wants to have sex with and who he wants to have romantic relationships define his sexual orientation. People really aren't comfortable with their naive notion of heterosexuality [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heterosexuality]? It's true that these concepts, like all cultural and social concepts, might break down upon extremely close examination. There are often degrees and exceptions. But I think we can use them just fine.
5mattnewport12yI more or less agree with your interpretation but it seems to me that the crux of any disagreement you have with Alicorn may well be over your respective defintions of 'straight' for males and females rather than a disagreement over the prevalence of certain behaviours. Examples of behaviours that are quite common between girls I consider 'straight' but I would consider an indication of homosexuality in (western/anglo-american) males: holding hands; kissing on the lips; sharing a bed; overtly sexual dancing; commenting on the sexual attractiveness of other females. Would you consider any of these behaviours evidence that your girlfriend is not straight? Would Alicorn consider any of them evidence that a girl is not straight? That's where I think some clarification is needed.
3Jack12yI'm actually not sure how much my data point suggests a disagreement with Alicorn. After all this is my girlfriend and I'm still only 90% sure she is straight.
1Jack12yActually, I think all of those behaviors are evidence of non-heterosexuality in women they're just weak and easily trumped by other kinds of evidence. After all, pretty much every non-straight girl I know does these things and only some of the straight girls I know do them. None are, of course, constitutive of non-heterosexuality. Incidentally, none are a pattern with my girlfriend.
3CronoDAS12yWhich category do you yourself fall into? (Or would you prefer not to answer that question?)
4Alicorn12yI'm bi.
0TheOtherDave10yFor what it's worth, I know a few women (2 certainly, 1 arguably) who strike me as reasonably self-aware, are at least as familiar with the concept of orientation in the abstract as I am, whose sex lives I'm reasonably well acquainted with, who have expressed sexual attraction to and initiated/accepted sexual intercourse with a number of men, and who have expressed (sometimes with regret) their lack of sexual attraction to and have never initiated/accepted sexual intercourse with any women. Calling them straight seems reasonable to me... certainly I would call myself gay were all of that true of me. That said, I can certainly imagine all of them having sex with another woman were the circumstances perfectly aligned (at least, I suppose I can imagine it; I've never actually done so and it seems vaguely impolite to do so now, especially since I'm at work).
[-][anonymous]10y 12

deny that there even are true bisexual men.

I don't exist -_-;;

So there is actually new evidence since we had this conversation. Bisexual men do exist! Past studies found that the men they studied who identified as bisexual weren't.

The different results are likely due to the different procedures used to determine the participant pool. The 2005 study took it's sample of bisexual men mainly from college campus LGBTQ student associations while the more recent study advertised on craigslist M/F for M and, on top of that, refused to include anyone whose claim to bisexuality they didn't believe.

1Clippy10yNeither do I, apparently, even after meeting with LWers in person!
3Kevin12yThere are also "David Bowie bisexuals", straight men willing to identify as bisexual in solidarity with the gay rights movement, or as an acknowledgement of the general fluidity of sexuality and gender.
4Jack12yInteresting. I'm pretty sure my gay friends would find this offensive and patronizing.
4Eliezer Yudkowsky12yI have trouble imagining how I would feel if heterosexuals were persecuted and one of my gay male friends kissed a woman to show solidarity.
4Jack12ySo I think I just figured out the motivation behind this tactic which wasn't obvious to me before (maybe it was to you). I doubt straight men innately dislike kissing or showing affection toward men. It seems more likely to me that they (okay, we) are either homophobic or wary of the status cost of being seen as gay or bisexual. Thus a straight male who declares himself to be bisexual demonstrates a rejection of homophobia and in part shows that he doesn't think being gay or bisexual is low status and refuses to accept some (but not all) of the privileges he has as a straight male (the privilege language is obviously controversial but it probably isn't to the people who do this). The problem is part of the anti-gay narrative is that homosexuality isn't actually an important part of anyone's identity, that it isn't innate but basically just people choosing to be "sinful". Identifying as bisexual for political reasons bolsters this position. "If these straight males can choose to behave like bisexuals, then the bisexuals can choose to behave like good, church-going straight people!" Also, the fact is a straight male really can't take on the same persecution non-heterosexuals face. They can always opt out and they are never told that a part of their identity is immoral (their told that the act their putting on is immoral, but that isn't the same thing). And of course in some circles being gay or bisexual is a status booster- my friends would be suspicious I was "coming out" for these status-benefits, not out of a genuine attempt at solidarity. Actually, I've seen this complain leveled at some college-aged bisexual women.
2CWG6yI went to a kissing workshop. (Things escalated slowly and nothing was mandatory.) I was turned off more quickly than I expected by kisses with guys - just by a very short closed-mouth kiss. (I like hugs though.) I'm certain I'd also benefit from the bisexual pill, and my aversion to the idea is irrational. "I hate spinach, which is a good thing because if I liked it I'd eat it all the time, and I hate the stuff." - half remembered second-hand quote, apparently from the 19th C(?)
3Kevin12yThis isn't exactly very common (I can't think of a David Bowie bisexual other than David Bowie), and David Bowie was also all kinds of crazy and drugged up at the time. Saying he was gay was kind of stupid, but it certainly was not the dumbest thing he did under the influence of drugs. This is the guy who read some Nietzsche and then misunderstood it so dramatically that he wrote The Supermen [http://lyrics.wikia.com/David_Bowie:The_Supermen]. Good song, though.
4Jack12yI'm willing to forgive David Bowie for nearly anything.
2Paul Crowley12yI understand that you're describing another's position not your own, but can you describe how that position's predictions differ from the predictions from "true bisexuality"?
1Jack12yI suppose it predicts a likelihood that any given male bisexual will more and more exclusively have sexual relationships with males, a higher probability of eventually identifying as gay (relative to the probabilities of those of other orientations changing their identifications) and a low probability of a successful and happy relationship with a female. ETA: The number of people who still identify as bisexual and lead bisexual lifestyles late into adulthood should be negligible modulo some kind of continued denial.
8Paul Crowley12ySo having been in the bi community for 19 years, I should know lots of men who used to identify as bi but now identify and behave as gay, and relatively few who still identify and behave as bi? In that case I can confidently say that this is nonsense. Obviously the ones who "turn gay" might not continue to come to bi events, but I'd still have noticed through social networking websites.
1simplicio12yI dunno... I talked to a couple of (male, straight) friends of mine about this once. We all agreed that although we were straight, 100% would be an exaggeration. I think it's probably a continuum, although dominance/submission factors muddy the waters a bit too. EDIT: I have now officially heard of the Kinsey scale.
2Jack12yI don't think the fact that most straight men wouldn't say 100% is particularly strong evidence against the original thesis. It is consistent with the claim that sexual orientation for men is very heavily clustered at the poles of the Kinsey scale.
0[anonymous]10yOn the other hand, I think I've read claims that everyone is actually bisexual, and people who claim they're heterosexual are just suppressing their homosexual tendencies and vice versa.
4TheOtherDave10yWell, the claims are certainly made. I find them about as absurd as the claims that everyone is actually monosexual, myself, though I'd certainly agree that there are a whole lot of people asserting a far greater degree of monosexuality than they actually possess. Whenever this subject comes up I'm reminded of a woman at a party who was trotting out the "there are no bisexual men, they're just gay men in denial" chestnut, to which I replied "Right! I mean, consider me and my husband. We've been in a monogamous same-sex relationship for the last twenty years, but we claim to be bisexual solely to preserve our heterosexual privilege. Um. No, wait, how does that work again?" She was annoyed with me.
7Psychohistorian12yMy understanding is that bisexuality rarely endures past one's twenties, and that bisexuals of both genders tend to end up choosing men. Of course, that may stem from the fact that publicly displayed bicuriousity is far less ostracized when it occurs amongst women, so more straight-leaning women are tempted to fool around than straight-leaning men, resulting in most bisexuals settling with men. Of course, there are people who remain bisexual past that, and my data is not exactly rigorously gathered - I have some friends who study psychology and sexuality, and I've heard it from them.
6Jack12yBisexual males often don't identify as 50-50 which complicates the matter.
4CronoDAS12yIs someone who is what might be called "prison gay" bisexual? (That is, someone who will engage in homosexual acts as a substitute for masturbation, but is not physically attracted to members of the same sex. Yes, it's probably a bad/loaded term, but I don't know what a better one is.)
0MugaSofer9yAs I understand it, it's a standard human response to being trapped with substandard mates to have increasingly-greater estimates of their attractiveness. This has no relevance to sexual orientation.
1thomblake12yThere don't seem to be any findable sources that present an unbiased view on the matter (say, relevant statistics), and I suspect that the categories are sufficiently fluid at the moment that the question would be difficult to pin down.
5CronoDAS12yBut what if you're female?

I think I have enough evidence to say this confidently without unfairly stereotyping: On balance, straight men are so turned on by the idea of girl on girl sex that being bisexual really might double or triple the opportunities for a woman to have sex.

Well, not really. The having enough evidence part at least.

6thomblake12yI think "opportunities for a woman to have sex" must mean something entirely different from "opportunities for a man to have sex", given the facts on the ground w.r.t. the market.
6Jack12yI think I have enough evidence to say this confidently without unfairly stereotyping: On balance, straight men are so much more promiscuous than gay women that being bisexual really might double or triple the opportunities for a woman to have sex. :-) Edit: On reflection, this might not be right. But yeah, my point doesn't exactly apply to straight women.
2CronoDAS12yFunny!
3ata12yWe'll have to make enough bi-pills for everyone, then.
2CWG6yBut the other people of your gender are also restricted to this smaller pool in their search for a pairing, giving you a better chance of being accepted/selected by a particular individual that you're attracted to (assuming you spend significant time around people in this pool). So this factor may not have a big effect.
1Eliezer Yudkowsky12yActually, what you really need is the sexchange pill, but that's a lot harder than it sounds [http://lesswrong.com/lw/xe/changing_emotions/].

I'll settle for the bisexuality pill, an attractive female-shaped body (including the "vagina-shaped penis"), some time to get used to moving around in it, and the capacity for having multiple orgasms. "Gay man in a woman's body" is close enough for my purposes. ;)

3wedrifid12y(See also [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mT1nVisnK7U])

Someone who believes that homosexuality is not immoral, but believes it is a dysfunction.

Actually I have more answers, but this question is just too toxic. So I'll go meta: Anyone who responds to this question either by saying that rationality is indicated either by signalling acceptance of more-outlandish sexuality, or by signalling intolerance, is indicating their own irrationality; they are turning this question into a tribal test.

5NancyLebovitz12yHow far can you judge a person's rationality by what sort of evidence they use to support their beliefs about sexuality?
4Morendil12yI'm having difficulty parsing your meta observation.

There's a large community where you are expected to be open to anything except sex with children; and a large community where you are expected to not be open to anything except sex between a monogomous man and woman.

I'm not arguing whether either of these points of view is valid. But both have enough adherents that no position that can be characterized entirely as more liberal or less liberal can identify its holder as rational. Therefore, anyone who says that such a position (for instance, being open to polyamory) indicates rationality, is merely stating their tribal affiliation. The fact that they think that such a stance demonstrates rationality in fact demonstrates their irrationality.

I can think of a few possible exceptions (sexual practices that are far enough beyond the pale that even tongue-pierced goths disclaim them, yet which have no rational basis for being banned), but they're too toxic for me to mention.

Therefore, anyone who says that such a position (for instance, being open to polyamory) indicates rationality, is merely stating their tribal affiliation.

"Merely" is incorrect. If people are employing consistent justifications for their beliefs, that indicates rationality. If their beliefs rely on inconsistent justifications, then they are not.

Suppose I believe polyamory is OK, because I believe that sex between consenting parties will make people happier. If you provided me with overwhelming evidence that most people who practice polyamory are especially miserable specifically because they practice polyamory, that would test my rationality. If I continue to be OK with it, I have an inconsistent belief system. If I cease being OK with it, I am consistently adhering to my beliefs.

Conversely, suppose I believe, "Homosexual sex is wrong because two men can't procreate." If you point out, "Post-menopausal women can't procreate," then, if I say, "Well, they shouldn't have sex either!" then I may be a bit crazy, but I'm consistent. If I say, "Well, that's different" without providing a very specific "that's different" princi... (read more)

If this observation is correct, beliefs about sexuality are a very strong indicator of rationality.

The problem is if the supposedly rational beliefs also happen to be the tribal belief system of a large, pre-existing tribe. Then someone was rational, sometime back in the history, but it isn't necessarily the person you're talking to right now.

A better test would be to ask them to defend a sexual view of theirs that they see as unconventional, or at least, not a typical view of their tribe as yet.

7Psychohistorian12yThis is absolutely true and I've changed the last paragraph to reflect that.
7Morendil12yI wouldn't suppose that "being open to polyamory" per se indicates rationality. But I would consider someone rational who, having thought about the matter, and concluded on the basis of sound reasoning that there is no valid reason to condemn polyamory, decided to adopt that lifestyle even in the face of some cultural opposition. And I would consider someone irrational who, having no sound reasoning behind that position, would act in such a way as to deny others the enjoyment of a non-straight-monogamous lifestyle. Controversies involving third parties are a valid matter of debate, for instance, I'd concede that there is some grounds to ask whether gay couples should adopt. But to assert, without argument, an interest in what consenting adults do behind closed doors, and that doesn't cause anyone lasting harm, just because it concerns sex - that does strike me as irrational.
3wnoise12yThis all presupposes a consequentialist and libertarian ethic: that morality is about harm.
6Morendil12yNot necessarily - I don't think of myself as a consequentialist but as a contractarian. Although I'm less than firm in my metaethical convictions. Still, I have the clear intuition that someone who would assert a claim against me, based on who I chose to spend time in bed with, isn't all right in the head. They wouldn't deny me the right to have dinner with whomever I choose, and (within some reasonable bounds on consent, privacy, and promises made to other people) I see no sound basis to distinguish sex from another sensual experience like dinner. At the moment I am straight, monogamous, and in fact legally married (for fiscal reasons mostly), but I see no reason to elevate my personal choices and inclinations to the status of universal moral law.
5wnoise12yThere really do exist those who consider who you're having dinner with, and what you're eating to be valid regulatory targets.
6CronoDAS12yConsuming human meat is generally disapproved of...

If you uploaded, would you be willing to let someone else eat your body if they were, y'know, into that sort of thing?

If you wanted to kill yourself you could satisfy the desires of quite a few fringe people at once: have a psychopath kill you, a necrophiliac rape you, and a cannibal eat you. Hell, if done under the right medical supervision it might even be possible to save the organs too (of course, if I were a cannibal I'd probably be bummed out if I didn't get any liver).

I am constantly amazed by the number of people who commit suicide without getting on the evening news.

4Strange711yI've heard that many deaths ruled suicide might be better classified as signaling botches. That is, the individual in question was doing something with the lowest available probability of actually killing them, which would still be recognized as a suicide attempt and thereby provoke reassurances. A multifetish scenario would be far enough outside societal norms to be unlikely to attract support, and virtually impossible to survive. In other cases, it's a matter of extreme altruism, not wanting to be a burden on others. That's more compatible with the psychopath/necrophile/cannibal option, but, statistically speaking, so few people empathize with any of those demographics (let alone all three) that they aren't common targets for even minor altruism, let alone literal self-sacrifice.
5RobinZ12yWait, is it rape if you give pre-mortem consent?
1wnoise12yLiver grows back far more readily than any other organ. It might be possible to give the cannibal a slice and still use the rest [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liver_transplantation#Living_donor_transplantation] . Of course, given the shortages of livers, it would probably be better to split it and graft into multiple people.
2FAWS12yEat your simulated body while you are in it (presumably with pain turned off or at least down?) or your original body (which you don't have any use for anymore in the scenario?)?
1Kevin12yDepends on my current state of wealth and the current meaning of "wealth" in the universe. I think if I uploaded I'd still prefer to be frozen/vitrified (or whatever the current state of the art with regards to that is), just in case I ever changed my mind. Also, I hold a bit of sentimental value towards my body, and if I could afford to keep it well preserved for an extremely long time, why not? If, say, I could only afford to upload if I let someone eat my body and that paid better than medical research or donating my organs, sure, a cannibalism fetishist or super-hardcore foodie could eat my body.

Hey, good idea. New question for getting evidence of rationality: "How do you feel about cannibalism? Not killing people, just the act of eating human meat. Imagine that the meat was vat-grown, or you're a starving survivor of a plane crash, or something."

I remember once reading Richard Stallman saying that when he dies, if his body cannot be used for medical research, he would want it to be used for cannibalism or necrophilia.

A rather weird thing to say, but on reflection, not quite as weird as people's usual thoughts on death — "I want my body to be put into the ground so it can decompose" or "I want my body to be burned so it can be of no use to anybody" — right?

Well, along with medical research, organ donation and cryonics also probably exceed the expected utility of cannibalism or necrophilia.

That said, I'm not sure they would be mutually exclusive. My head for my future self, my innards for the sick, my penis and anus for lovers, and my arms and legs for the hungry.

My head for my future self, my innards for the sick, my penis and anus for lovers, and my arms and legs for the hungry.

NEW UTILITARIAN LITMUS TEST

4dclayh12yPerhaps a slightly more poetic phrasing like "My head for myself, my organs for the sick, my crotch for the horny, and my limbs for the hungry." (Of course the most tasty meat is on the torso, at least in cows...)
5Liron12yCryonics and organ donation is really a winning combination. It solves the organ donor's worry that doctors might not take long shots at saving your life if they can harvest your organs instead.
1MBlume11yAs I understand, current cryo practices use your circulatory system to get cryopreservant into your brain, and this leaves your organs useless. Is this wrong?
3Vaniver11yThis is correct but I imagine it could be bypassed, if you severed the head and used the carotid arteries / jugular veins. I imagine that's much messier and more difficult than doing the whole body through one well-defined entry point, but may be possible.
1Kevin12yI tried searching to find a citation for this and the most obvious keywords just take me here. 50 karma to anyone who has enough Google-fu to find me a citation.
3ata12yI was thinking of the fourth post on this page [http://stallman.org/archives/2003-mar-jun.html]. Looks like I misremembered, he didn't mention cannibalism, but given the rest of that post, I'd bet money that he'd be fine with it (perhaps as a third choice).
1Jack12yHere. [http://stallman.org/archives/2003-may-aug.html] Command-F "corpse".
5thomblake12yIn context and reading quickly, I thought you were suggesting a macro in Emacs.
1FAWS12yI think disgust is the normal reaction and doesn't tell anything about rationality so you'd need to ask about the ethics of eating human meat.
0[anonymous]10yDunno, I've never tasted it.
2sketerpot10yIf your main decision criterion is the taste of the meat, then you have already given your answer. (I hear it tastes more or less like pork, in case you were wondering.)
2thomblake12yI'm not the first to point this out, but by that reasoning, rape is no worse than forcing someone to eat broccoli.
9Morendil12yI'd appreciate if you would read my parenthetical qualifications before making misleading comments about my "reasoning". I disapprove of coercion in general, but it seems clear that people in general experience sex as a much more significant experience than eating, to the extent that rape can make for life-threatening emotional trauma. Given these (possibly local) facts of human nature, we would clearly not agree to a social contract that provided no protection from rape.
4jimmy12yWhat about forcing 3^^^3 people to eat broccoli?
0[anonymous]10yI suspect that there are good game-theoretical/TDT reasons for the rule that one shouldn't break promises, so if Alice has promised to Bob that she won't have sex to anybody else, I'd say it'd be wrong for Alice to have sex with Charlie even if both Alice and Charlie are consenting. (But the idea that people should never have sex unless they promise each other to not have sex with anyone else I do find silly.)
3FAWS12yIt's just as dysfunctional as non-vaginal straight sex is.
2PhilGoetz12yYour position may be valid; but in the context of the current distribution of opinions on sexuality, it does not in itself signal rationality to me. And that's what we're discussing.

Emotionally, I feel I have two tribes: the meatspace upper-middle-class collegiate culture and my Internet circle of acquaintances.

In the meatspace tribe, vanilla heterosexuality or homosexuality are considered normal and unremarkable, things like 2 girls 1 cup, goatse, etc. are considered disgusting/gross-out material - and I cannot remember anyone acknowledging anything else.

In the Internet tribe, sexual relations of any kind between consenting adults are considered fine provided that they are carried out in private, sexual intercourse between teenage minors is considered normal (fine or not may vary), and crossing the line ... well, I haven't heard Snape/Hermione strongly condemned, but pedophilia is definitely out. I note that no-one I know talks about anything involving permanent damage, however.

1Strange710yIf you're looking for unusual concepts for use as test cases (and have a strong stomach), I recommend poking around and asking some open-ended questions on gurochan.net. The site has, of necessity, a very diverse and open-minded attitude toward anything which does not directly threaten it's primary objectives.

Hi Clarisse, and Welcome to LessWrong! I've seen your blog, and I'm happy to see you commenting here. (I comment as "Doug S." on various feminism-related blogs - I'm not very prolific, but you may have seen a couple here and there.)

5clarissethorn12yHi Doug! Yes, I remember you. I've actually read a number of posts here, and I've commented once here before, but I was too angry and irrational and in feminist-community mode during that little fracas, so I decided to give myself lots of time to cool off before posting again. (Note that the original post [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ac/is_masochism_necessary/] has been edited to the point where it is no longer clear what pissed me off.) (I also discussed some of the cultural differences between this site and the feminist blogosphere that contributed to that blowup in the comments here [http://pdf23ds.net/implications-and-debate/].)
9rwallace12yAlmost every tribe tacitly accepts the assumption that it is healthy and appropriate to have a passionate interest in the sex lives of complete strangers. Disagreement with that assumption would lead me to consider someone to be defending a non-mainstream belief.
6Morendil12yCultural norm for me is "sexuality is a matter of choice between consenting adults". Non-mainstream beliefs around sexuality that I'm currently curious about include PUA lore, and this interesting site [http://www.reuniting.info/].
9NancyLebovitz12yI agree about what my cultural norm is. I disagree with it on two points. I'm pretty sure the legal age of consent is set considerably too high, though I'm not sure where it should be, or whether there should be a legal age of consent. I think the "enthusiastic consent" standard in Yes Means Yes [http://www.amazon.com/Yes-Means-Visions-Female-Without/dp/1580052576] makes sense.
4steven046112yopen thread [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1wd/open_thread_march_2010_part_2/]

The problem with discussing racial differences is that when people say "black", they're already making inherent assumptions about genetics. "Black" incorporates an incredible amount of genetic diversity, far more than the label "white". The common error in these debates is that an awful lot of the population will see the label "black" and fail to distinguish between all people labelled as such. People distinguish between, say, east Asians and south-east Asians and Indians, but they say "black" as if all of Africa are the same.

Look at the performance at the Olympics running races. Would you note the fact that "100m winners are always black"? Would you be willing to make the statement that "black people are naturally better sprinters"? How about distance runners? As it turns out, the good sprinters are usually Jamaican or African-American, with little success from Africa itself. The good distance runners almost entirely come from the Nandi area of Kenya - hardly representative of Africa as a whole. Plenty of areas of Africa have fewer good runners, and probably lots of areas have just the same proportion as Europea... (read more)

The problem with discussing racial differences is that when people say "black", they're already making inherent assumptions about genetics. "Black" incorporates an incredible amount of genetic diversity, far more than the label "white".

I don't see why this is necessarily a problem. For example, if I observed that generally speaking, the South is warmer than Minnesota, I would be correct even though the South incorporates a lot more geographic diversity than Minnesota.

People distinguish between, say, east Asians and south-east Asians and Indians, but they say "black" as if all of Africa are the same.

For purposes of this discussion, it's a reasonable category. If there were a large subgroup of blacks which was highly intelligent, then it might be appropriate to use different categories.

Would you note the fact that "100m winners are always black"?

Generally speaking, yes.

Would you be willing to make the statement that "black people are naturally better sprinters"?

Probably not, since sprinting ability seems concentrated in a subgroup of blacks. (Relatively) low intelligence does not seem to be this way.

Perha... (read more)

9Sarokrae10yIt means that there are few contexts where you might ask me "are blacks less intelligent than whites on average" without me saying anything more than "insufficient data: error bars too big". And any scientist who researches the issue (or indeed anyone taken seriously who discusses the issue) and uses the term "black people" without considering whether or not they really mean "all black people" or even "a representative average of all black people" are being very misleading if they report it using that wording, considering the biases of the general public.
8brazil8410yI'm not sure I understand this. Are you denying that there is a statistically significant difference in intelligence (as measured by IQ) between blacks and whites? So you are saying that special rules need to apply when discussing race and intelligence?
1Bill_McGrath10yI think the point is, such a statement is not useful, considering the huge number of different groups that can be classed as "black" and "white." Well when reporting findings, its important to do so in a way which conveys the meaning correctly to the intended audience. And Sarokae did originally say
2brazil8410yDoes this principle apply just to statements concerning intelligence? Or does it apply to any perceived racial difference which may be due to genetics, in part or in whole? Also, does it apply only to human racial groups? Or does the same thing apply to all biological groupings? Perhaps, but I think that when discussing things on this discussion board, the statement "Group X is more Y than Group Z" can be reasonably understood to mean that if you measure quality Y, then in general and on average, members of Group X have a higher measurement for Y than members of Group Z. Further, it doesn't imply that every last member of each group has been measured. Certainly that's what I mean.
1[anonymous]10yNailed it. Racial groups are an idea a few centuries old; we've had a functional understanding of genetics for less than a hundred years. Long before we had any ability to group people by ancestry in a reliable way, a bunch of distinct populations were grouped by the people of a tiny corner of the globe according to nothing more salient than skin color, and by the fact they often lived hunter-gatherer lifestyles (viewed by the Europeans as unconscionably primitive no matter how happy and prosperous the people themselves were) or low-tech agricultural and pastoralist ones (viewed similarly, insofar as industrializing European populations considered those lifestyles representative of ancestral, earlier times). A whole bunch of these peoples wound up colonial subjects; any intergroup strife between them or conditions they considered normal but Europeans found backward was used to. These marginalized, conquered, exploited peoples did pretty much what marginalized, conquered, exploited peoples anywhere and anytime have done in that situation: their cultures, lifeways, institutions and so on fragmented under the strain, existing tensions amplified, resources became increasingly scarce for the majority, and access to health and wealth plummeted as they went from their own former economies to the bottom rung of another civilization's. The Europeans with decisionmaking power largely looked at all this and concluded that the members of this group were a sorry lot and perhaps conquest was better for them than leaving them to their own devices. In some places throughout the greater colonial Eurosphere, they were still legal to own as property until relatively recently. Then, long after their marginalized status had had centuries to take root, someone discovers the basis for genetic inheritance, and a comparitively short time after, that the populations grouped as "black" (which includes a huge number of quite-distinct groups in Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia and Austra
6brazil8410yI'm not sure I agree with your view of colonialism. Europeans did not uniformly judge all of the non-white peoples they encountered so it's not just a matter of ethnic chauvinism. More importantly, none of what you said changes the facts that (1) there is a group of people in the world known as "blacks"; (2) there is a group of people in the world known as "whites"; (3) there is a large an intractable difference in intelligence between these groups; and (4) it's reasonable to ask whether genetics might play a significant role in this gap.

The kind that comes from more than a single person, for a start. An unequivocal sign of a conspiracy (like an actual explosive attached to a support).

Failing that, a report free of clear signs of confusion (like the aforementioned confusion at 4:39). Reports of explosions from people actually familiar with explosions, and/or experience and a track record of cool under threat ("a boiler guy" and bureaucrat don't qualify, without more of a evidence). A witness who hasn't changed his story back and forth. Etcetera.

You're now not only assuming aliens, but also assuming aliens with a peculiar psychology. Parsimony is dropping fast.

On reflection, polyamory really is just wrong. Count me as a skeptic on this unnatural alliance.

(Yes, yes, I can hear the comebacks already: "Playing with the use-mention distinction" isn't "everything in life, you know".)

Geh - It's the new "pun".

"polyamory" really is just wrong.

Really? Do you have the same problem with "television"? What about zoological binomial nomenclature?

6Paul Crowley12yHomosexuality is also wrong, as are many other things [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hybrid_word]...
5RobinZ12yC'mon - there's much worse than that. "Ombudsperson", for one.

A cultural explanation could exclude a genetic one. Simply put, the culture transmitted by black parents is not conducive to intellectual growth, just as the culture transmitted by Ashkenazi Jews is conducive to intellectual growth. This would also explain Alicorn's example, as the mother is more likely to do most of the cultural transmission, it would explain that data.

I'm not advocating this position, and I'm certainly not generalizing about every single member of a very large group, but this would explain the observed discrepancy and data without requiring a genetic basis. The actual explanation is doubtlessly more complicated; the point is that there are certainly other ways of explaining observed data that do not rely on genetics. That doesn't mean that genetics isn't a factor, only that it's not the case that it must be a significant one.

Also, while we're at it, I hate the term "significant." It's one of the most effective weasel words in existence.

If I wanted to claim that any one of these factors plays a significant role in the difference, I'd need to provide evidence. Because genetics is hard to see and so directly intertwined with other factors (the parents wh... (read more)

7thomblake12yThose people are failing at something much more basic than rationality. Likewise for folks who think intelligence does not have any basis in genetics (try to debate a douglas fir!) It is obviously true that different people differ genetically, and obviously true that intelligence is related to genetics. But it is not obvious in this way that differences in intelligence between two humans would have anything to do with genetics.

That's only if you feel you need to rely on scientific studies to reach conclusions. Some things don't require such a study.

Yes, but you have to be super careful when deciding which things need scientific studies.

A few years ago I would've said women were so much more chatty than men - and that the difference in chattiness was so obvious - that it would be a waste of time to check it out scientifically. But sometimes, when you check things out systematically, you're surprised. I think the argument about blacks, whites and IQ is a bit like that, although that argument is more about the cause of the differences and not their mere existence.

5wedrifid12yI would never have predicted that women would be more chatty in such a test. I would have predicted that men would talk more on a supplied topic. I believed, and still believe that women are more chatty under the commonly intended meaning of 'chatty'. A more relevant test: * Asign random pairs of people and send them on a 5 hour hike together. Count words. I would expect female pairs to say more words than the male pairs. Mixed pairings I would find somewhat more difficult to predict due to possible interference from courtship protocols.
2mattnewport12yI have my doubts about how strongly that particular test would correlate with what I understand by 'chatty'. It's a pretty artificial setup. When I think about it I have a pretty fuzzy idea of what 'chatty' means though. I would still say women are more chatty than men but that is partly because some part of the fuzzy definition involves 'the type of small talk that women tend to engage in more than men' rather than some idea of total word volume.
1NancyLebovitz12yI'm interested that you believed women were much more chatty than men as recently as a few years ago. I can remember it being a default belief in the culture that women were more chatty, but I thought it had faded out in the 80s or thereabouts.
1cupholder12yI imagine it's less widespread a belief than before the 80s, but it's just one of those things you get by osmosis from the broader culture when you're young. It's part of the stereotypes there are about the sexes: women can't drive, men won't ask for directions when they're lost, blah blah blah.

From what I can tell of your blog post, you said, "there's evidence, it's so obvious, people have alternative explanations but they're bogus, there's evidence, I bet whites do better than blacks on tests, there's tons of evidence."

Where's the evidence?

Here's Rushton and Jensen making their best case for significant genetic influences on intergroup differences in a 2005 review article, and a critical response from Richard Nisbett, one of the leading proponents of the hypothesis that there are no significant B-W genetic differences. Taken together, they are much more informative than selective presentations by amateurs.

5Jack12yI find Nisbett's reply pretty convincing. How do others feel? Brazil, would you like to reply to the Nisbett article?
4nazgulnarsil12yNot to excuse the shoddy scholarship of rushton and jensen, but I'd just like to add that a cursory examination of the nisbett article indeed shows some highly dubious claims. In several places he assumes a hypothesis of the form "If the hereditary model is true, then we should see X". But for many of these it seems that X does not necessarily follow from the hereditary hypothesis. the hereditary hypothesis is not a monolithic structure. it is a spectrum of correlation from 0.0 to 1.0. both ends seem equally implausible to me.
1gwern9yMy own encounter with Nisbett material: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4257220 [http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4257220]

I think you can be confident that he's not agreeing with you.

6[anonymous]10yI ask only that people disagree with me in such a way that my errors are corrected.
  • If you've acclimated to torture it's no longer torture.
  • If you've acclimated to torture the effects have likely left you with a life not worth living.
  • Torture isn't something you can acclimate yourself to in hypotheticals. E.g., the interlocutor could say "oh you would acclimate to water boarding, well then I'll scoop your brain out, intercept your sensory modalities, and feed you horror. but wait, just when you're getting used to it I wipe your memory."
  • All this misses the point of the hypothetical by being too focused on the details rather than the message. Have you told someone the trolley experiment and had them say something like "but I would call the police, or I'm not strong enough to push a fat man over" and have to reform the experiment over and over until they got the message?

I agree that the idea of skin-color defined races as the units you should look for genetic variation between is unhelpful in the context of pure science, but if you politically define all sub-par outcomes compared to the privileged group that are not caused by genes (or something else politically defined as untouchable) as needing to be fixed you need to know about genetic differences between politically defined groups to make sensible decisions.

I don't think we're qualified to answer this last set of questions.

We're qualified to inquire into any topic that seems worthy of curiosity.

There seems to be much convergent evidence that people who self-identify as "black" tend to test more poorly on some standard measures of cognitive ability than do people who self-identify as "white", and I don't think acknowledging that makes someone racist.

I'm in violent agreement with you that a) self-identification as a member of some ethnic group is a cultural phenomenon, not obviously related to any "natural kinds" or empirical clusters, b) standard measures of cognitive ability are a very poor proxy for what we may generally think of as "competencies", whereby individual humans contribute value to the world, c) it's unclear even if the 'genetic' claim were established as fact what influence it should have on social policies.

If we think about a) clearly enough we might be able to dissolve the confusing term "race" and that seems perhaps a worthy goal. If we think about b) clearly we might be able to dissolve the confusing term "intelligence" and its cortege of mysterious questions, and if we think about c) clearly enough the mysterious questions of ethics.

Isn't that what this site has been about all along?

5byrnema12yThank you for helping to frame this. I believe I can clarify my position now as the following: I'm afraid it is unethical to dive into the relationship between (a) and (b) if we can gauge in advance we are going to be unsuccessful (culturally, politically, real-world-wise) with (c). Let's stick with working on (a), (b) and (c) in the abstract before we dive into a real-world example for which even our discussion will have immediate personal and socio-political consequences. (Or let's work on (c) first. This is what I mean by facts not existing in a vacuum.)
2PhilGoetz10yYes, it does, by definition. If you disagree, define racism in a way such that someone who believes different races have different distributions of attributes is not racist. The problem is we have two meanings of "racist". One is "a person who believes the distribution of traits differs among races". The other is, roughly, "a person who hates members of other races". Most people believe these are equivalent.
3Emile10yI agree with what you mean, but I'm not sure the demarcation line between the two is very sharp, especially for non-nerds who don't overthink the issue. Our brains store information as rough summaries, and don't always separate the value judgement from the characteristics. I'm not sure that there's a big difference between the mental representations for "X has such-and-such negative characteristic" and "I don't like X".
2Morendil10yI'll pass on playing definitional games. What are we arguing about [http://lesswrong.com/lw/nz/arguing_by_definition/]?

I wish to explicitly distance myself from the analogy you use. The implications are not desirable (and in a way that is not quite accurate either).

And what scientific theories are these categories part of?

I really don't think science has much to do with the bulk (or strength) of objections you will get on this subject. You're doing yourself no good by continuing to argue about it. Even the terrible arguments made against you will receive positive support by virtue of being sandwitched between two of yours - reading need not be involved.

It is probably better to make the ethnic-group references a bit more specific than a two category split. It is fairly clear what 'black/white' labels refer to in co... (read more)

[-][anonymous]10y 9

My prior is based on the following:

-Mitochondrial DNA has 16,569 base pairs but only 13 of them code for protein (and most of those are dedicated to the electron transport chain, a pretty darn fundamental thing), so while the mutation rate of mtDNA is higher than nuclear DNA there's a limited number of possible variations that will have an effect. There's also a very constrained number of functional changes; most mutations of the protein-coding genes correspond to known mitochondrial diseases, which vary in their effects but do so on the basis of impaired ... (read more)

Your debating style resembles more an interrogation than a friendly discussion, and this I consider rude, but it may be only my personal feeling.

More importantly, you deliberately derailed the debate about racial differences in IQ asking about cupholder's religious beliefs, while being apparently not interested in the question. It seemed to me that the purpose of the long debate was only to prepare positions for your final argument again about racial differences in IQ. This is also on my list of rude behaviour. I don't like people asking questions in orde... (read more)

Consider the point Brazil was making in the context, by making the claim more realistically comparable now to making the "no God" claim some time ago.

I think it is really important that we bring up the fact that the statement we're arguing about is fundamentally [religiously intollerant] and treating this question as just a question of fact lends way too much respectability to the question.

I would expect similar social pressure for the God question historically (in a god-denying but PC heavy context). It seems to me that the comparison is an accurate one.

In this discussion you have waited for other people to bring forward the very kind of evidence that underpins your claims, which, seeing as you were the one making a claim in the first place, was your responsibility. From where I sit you're the one who is causing others to waste their time. Your contributions have been vague and overbroad, those of your interlocutors precise and information-rich.

Why should we pay attention to you?

How can you reason about the motives of alien interstellar travelers? Maybe they've been poking holes in my socks and interfering with my TV reception.

Past singularity we have the technology to make people intelligent and therefore intelligence can't be truly innate.

And it would be correct.

Is hair color innate?

variance of a trait within a given population that's due to genetics

which is a completely meaningless concept and cannot be measured.

Twin studies etc?

Huh, I had completely forgotten that P&T did an anti-cryonics bit. Disappointing. On the other hand, their basic point ("Why not spend that $125,000 on hookers?") reminded me of Reedspacer's Lower Bound.

8sketerpot12yThere's still hope for Penn and Teller; their last episode is going to be a bunch of miscellaneous retractions for the times they've been wrong on their show. Which is a good sign in itself.
2gwern10yBullshit! has apparently finished up. Did they do any interesting retractions?
7saturn10yFrom Wikipedia:
3gwern10yOh. What a pity. I guess the network didn't think it was worth spending money on.
1Roko12yFirst, it's only 30,000 for neuro. Second, your utility in hookers is sublinear. If you have 50,000, spend 20k on hookers and then 30k on neuro. It seems inconcievable that there are many people who have exactly 30,000 free. I am also disappointed in Penn and teller. But the bar for discriminating truth against much social pressure is very high.
3khafra12y$80K USD [http://www.alcor.org/BecomeMember/scheduleA.html] for Alcor neuro, $9K [http://www.kriorus.ru/english.html] for some Russian organization, and $50K [http://cryonics.org/comparisons.html] for Trans Time, which has a rather shoddy website. Other organizations only seem to offer full-body cryopreservation. What institution charges 30,000?
5Morendil12yCryonics Institute. (Edit: they don't offer neuro, but I'm guessing they're the source of the $30K figure.)
3dclayh12yI was just quoting P&T's number. That show aired in 2004 so I assumed the price would be lower today (not to mention the neuro discount). Of course, that's why it's a lower bound :)
1gwern10yWhy would you think that [http://lesswrong.com/lw/8fe/cryonics_costs_given_estimates_are_low/]?

I think this is wrong: saying you'd yell real loud or call the police or break the game somehow is exactly the right response. It shows that someone is engaging with the problem as a serious moral one,

It is not clear to me that that is a more "right" response than engaging with the problem as a pedagogic tool in a way that aligns with the expectations of the person who set it to me. Indeed, I'm inclined to doubt it.

In much the same way: if I'm asked to multiply 367 by 1472 the response I would give in the real world is to launch a calculator a... (read more)

0[anonymous]10yYou called the trolly problem a pedagogic tool: what do you have in mind here specifically? What sort of work do you take the trolly problem to be doing?
3TheOtherDave10yIt clarifies the contrast between evaluating the rightness of an act in terms of the relative desirability of the likely states of the world after that act is performed or not performed, vs. evaluating the rightness of an act in other terms.
1[anonymous]10yOkay, that sounds reasonable to me. But what do we mean by 'act' in this case? We could for instance imagine a trolly problem in which no one had the power to change the course of the train, and it just went down one track or the other on the basis of chance. We could still evaluate one outcome as better than the other (this must be the one man dying instead of five), but there's no action. Are we making a moral judgement in that case? Or do we reason differently when an agent is involved?
0TheOtherDave10yI don't know who "we" are. What I say about your proposed scenario is that the hypothetical world in which five people die is worse than the hypothetical world in which one person dies, all else being equal. So, no, my reasoning doesn't change because there's an agent involved. But someone who evaluates the standard trolley problem differently might come to different conclusions. For example, I know any number of deontologists who argue that the correct answer in the standard trolley problem is to let the five people die, because killing someone is worse than letting five people die. I'm not exactly sure what they would say about your proposed scenario, but I assume they would say in that case, since there's no choice and therefore no "killing someone" involved, the world where five people die is worse. Similarly, given someone like you who argues that the correct answer in the standard trolley problem is to "yell real loud or call the police or break the game somehow," I'm not sure what you would say about your own proposed scenario.

"Choosing infanticide over abandonment is pretty pointless, so why do it?" "Killing another living thing doesn't qualify as "euthanasia" if you do it for your benefit, not that being's."

  • Let me respond by a little story telling, without making a clear point. I am not proving You wrong, just sharing my personal experience. Warnings: depressive stories about ilnesses, probably bad reading.

I once was a friend with a boy with a progressive muscular dystrophy. It is a degenerative disease, where gradually, Your muscles stop wor... (read more)

3taw10yThere's plenty of diseases we can now deal with quite well because we didn't infanticide or murder everyone who had them. This isn't a coincidence that a treatment is found, if we killed everyone with a disease there would be no search for treatment.
5thomblake10yIs this one of those "torture one person for 50 years" versus "deaths of millions" thought experiments?
5wedrifid10yEasiest thought experiments ever?

Would you rather be tortured for 3^^^3 years, or have a dust speck in your eye?

4wedrifid10yIf I use UDT2 can I choose 'both'?
2Eliezer Yudkowsky10yThis seems like a good "control" thought experiment to determine whether people are just being contrarian.

I think you'd have to be a pretty unsubtle contrarian to answer that with "torture".

4TheOtherDave10yAnd yet, at least one person below did just that. Edit: ...but later asserted that had been a joke.
6thomblake10yI think in this case you can drop the suffix and just say "being contrary".
3[anonymous]10yMore like, to determine whether people are paying any attention. (I once took an online personality test which included questions such as “I've never eaten before” to prevent people from using bots or similar to screw up their data.)
2Paul Crowley10yIt's hard to get people to answer such things straightforwardly. I once included "Some people have fingernails" in a poll, as about the most uncontroversially true thing I could think of, and participants found a way to argue that it wasn't true - since "some" understates the proportion.
3[anonymous]10yWell... Some people does usually implicate [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Implicature] ‘not all people, and not even all people except a non-sizeable minority’, but if we go by implicatures rather than literal meanings, X has fingernails (in contexts where everyone knows X is a human), in my experience at least, usually implicates that X's fingernails are not trimmed nearly as short as possible, since the literal meaning would be quite uninformative once you know X is a human.
1shokwave10y"There exists at least one X that ..." is what logicians have settled on as the most easily satisfiable and least objectionable phrasing.
0[anonymous]10yThat's not that easy, unless having a dust speck in my eye also entails my living for 3^^^3 years.

I nominate ABrooks as this month's contrarian.

2TheOtherDave10yWait, what? To clarify: A = Dust speck in your eye, and your life is otherwise as it would have been without this deal. B = 3^^^3 years of torture, followed by death. Is that an easy choice for you? If not, can you summarize your arguments in favor of choosing B?
[-][anonymous]10y 11

If not, can you summarize your arguments in favor of choosing B?

Well, if I choose B, I'll be alive for a very large number of years. I'll be alive so long, that I expect that I'll get used to anything deployed to torture me. And I'll be alive so long, I'd need to study a fair amount of cosmology just to understand what my lifetime will involve, by way of the deaths and rebirths of whole universes or whatever. Some of that would be interesting to see.

The easy thought experiment would be dust speck vs. 3 years of torture followed by death. I think there, I'd go with the speck.

I'll be alive so long, that I expect that I'll get used to anything deployed to torture me.

Is this based on the experience of torture victims? I think that "get used to" would more closely resemble "catatonic" than "unperturbed." I don't think your ability to be interested would survive very long.

6siodine10yI wonder if there's a case study of an individual that's been exposed to prolong torture. Probably have to look through Nazi and Japanese experiments.
9Eliezer Yudkowsky10y(takes deep breath) AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEE sorry, I just had to scream for a bit
3shminux10yThem dust specks hurtin'?
0TheOtherDave10yOK, thanks for clarifying.
0thomblake10yAn obvious argument in favor of B is that you get to live for 3^^^3 years. A reframing: A = Dust speck in your eye, after which you read a normal life except that you cease to exist a mere 60 years later. B = Tortured for the rest of your life, but you never die.
1[anonymous]10yB is just the traditional idea of hell, isn't it? (IIRC, the present-day Catholic Church's idea is that hell is just the inability to see God.)
0TheOtherDave10y(nods) That seemed the obvious argument, as you say, though it depends on the notion that being tortured for a year is a net utility gain (relative to not existing for that year at all), which seemed implausible to me. But it turns out that is indeed what ABrooks meant. (shrug) No accounting for taste. Edit: He later asserted that had been a joke.
1steven046110yThis is another great example of a comment that should have been silently downvoted, not responded to.
1TheOtherDave10yI generally avoid downvoting comments that are direct responses to me. I'm not exactly sure why, beyond a sense that it just feels wrong, although I can justify it in a number of different ways that I'm pretty sure aren't my real reasons.
2Nornagest10yI do the same. The reasoning that comes to mind is that the timing tends to imply that you did it, and that that -- especially if you're already in an adversarial mode -- can provoke a cycle of retaliation that's harmful to your karma and doesn't carry much informative value. Short of that, I feel it carries adversarial implications that're harmful to the quality of discussion. I'm reasonably sure that that's my true objection.
0TheOtherDave10yYeah, that's plausible in my case as well. Evidence in favor of it is that I do become mildly anxious when people who are responding to me get downvoted by others, which suggests that I fear retaliation.
1[anonymous]10yI thought that too, but I assumed I'd die right after being tortured anyway. And I'd rather live to age n without ever being tortured than live to age n + m being tortured for m years.
2orthonormal10yNote that you're arguing that your preferred policy can never have true drawbacks [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Policy_debates_should_not_appear_one-sided], rather than arguing that it's worth it on balance. Be careful.

One thing I'm afraid of is that the forces of political correctness would only permit inquiring into sensitive topics as long as the questions are framed and definitions (of things such as "intelligence") redefined to such a state, that it's not possible to get a politically incorrect answer, facts be damned.

Is it irrational to find it quite troubling that someone you're talking to would want to discuss the issue of whether one race is inferior to another race, for any reason?

I don't know if it's "irrational", but I find it troublin... (read more)

It matters to me as a person considering adopting children.

So before the 19th century a rationalist could not reasonably conclude that the atheistic position is correct?

Do you really take this to be a reasonable interpretation / inference based on what Morendil said?

I think we might just have to stop feeding the troll.

I've been following Alicorn's sequence on luminousness, that is, on getting to know ourselves better. I had lowered my estimate of my own rationality when she mentioned that we tend to think too highly of ourselves, but now I can bump my estimate back up. There is at least one belief which my tribe elevates to the rank of scientific fact, yet which I think is probably wrong: I do not believe in the Big Bang.

Of course, I don't believe the universe was created a few thousand years ago either. I don't have any plausible alternative hypothesis, I just think th... (read more)

There is no particular reason to assume that if the stars are moving away from each other right now, then they must always have done so. They could be expanding and contracting in a sort of sine wave, or something more complicated.

The key is there at the end of your quote. From the first set of observations (of relatively close galaxies), the simplest behavior that explained the observations was that everything was flying apart fast enough to overcome gravity. This predicted that when they had the technology to look at more distant galaxies, these too should be flying away from us, and at certain rates depending on their distance.

When we actually could observe those more distant galaxies, we did in fact see them red-shifted as predicted. This alone should be enough to put the "sine wave" theory in the epistemic category of "because the Dark Lords of the Matrix like red shifts", because the light left these galaxies at all different times! It would take a vast conspiracy for them all to line up as red-shifted right now, from our perspective.

With strong evidence in hand that the galaxies had been flying apart for billions and billions of years, the scientis... (read more)

You win. I did not realize that we knew that galaxies have been flying apart for billions and billions of years, as opposed to just right now. If something has been going on for so long, I agree that the simplest explanation is that it has always been going on, and this is precisely the conclusion which I thought popular science books took for granted.

Your other arguments only hammer the nail deeper, of course. But I notice that they have a much smaller impact on my unofficial beliefs, even thought they should have a bigger impact. I mean, the fact that the expansion has been going on for at least a billion years is a weaker evidence for the Big Bang than the fact that it predicts the cosmic background radiation and the age of the universe.

I take this as an opportunity to improve the art of rationality, by suggesting that in the case where an unofficial belief contradicts an official belief, one should attempt to find what originally caused the unofficial belief to settle in. If this original internal argument can be shown to be bogus, the mind should be less reluctant to give up and align with the official belief.

Of course, I'm forced to generalize from the sole example I've noticed so far, so for the time being, please take this suggestion with a grain of salt.

I prefer the meme where you've just won by learning something new; you now know more than most people about the justifications for Big Bang cosmology, in addition to (going meta) the sort of standards for evidence in physics, and (most meta and most importantly) how your own mind works when dealing with counterintuitive claims. I won too, because I had to look up (for the first time) some claims I'd taken for granted in order to respond adequately to your critique.

I take this as an opportunity to improve the art of rationality

Good idea! It's especially helpful, I think, that you're writing out your reactions and your analysis of how it feels to update on new evidence. We haven't recorded nearly as much in-the-moment data as we ought on what it's like to change one's mind...

When two people argue, and they both realize who is actually right, without drama or flaring tempers, then everybody wins. Even people down the block who weren't participating at all, a bit; they don't know it yet, but their world has become slightly awesomer.