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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
Another good indicator (as djbc said) is the level of certitude : if someone expresses more certitude on a complex topic like gun control than on a slamdunk like God - then I won't trust their confidence much.
Does that mean only hardcore atheists are worth listening to? Maybe, but some claims about religion are not that obvious - for example, is religion good or bad for society in terms of enforcing moral behaviour, facilitating cooperation, raising children, etc. ? I don't consider that question a slamdunk.
Another red flag for me is "clannish" language, presenting issues in terms of "group A vs group B" ("this is a victory for us", "hah, that shows them", etc.). It's a sign that the wrong part of the brain is being used.
I'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.
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 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'.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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?
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).
Mm...... (read more)
True story: My lesbian roommate runs mad game with remarkable success.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
"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."
"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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.)
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.
Any species with at least one member who has demonstrated to humans the capability of Calculus.
So it's perfectly acceptable to use a time machine to gather your experimental subjects from before the 17th century.
Also, once a human solves the problem of friendly AI, aliens will stop abducting us and accept us as moral agents.
That'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
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???
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.
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!
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.
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.
I'm not sure what "arbitrary" means here. You don't seem to be using it in the sense that all preferences are arbitary.
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.
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".
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.
Basically you are right. I tried to answer the question without saying anything which would invite a debate on the actual race/iq question.
Looking back at my response, I should have made it clear that I wasn't giving the answer Allicorn was looking for. But I admit it now.
I'm a bit torn, but I will try to put together a blog post which lays out my case and link to it.
Downvoted for downvote-counting obsession.
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.
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)
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...
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.
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.
You mean not appearing to have been mind-killed is a bad thing?
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?
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.
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).
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.)
To what extent does "ability to choose the right tribe" mitigate "undiscriminating skepticism"? There are lots of different tribes with different beliefs, and people often explicitly choose what tribe to affiliate with...
As far as I can tell, "not-mainstream" (for the right value of "mainstream") is almost always a huge hurdle to overcome...
It seems like you're trying to torture the answer you want into the question.
You're proving taw's point. You are so eager to find faults that you don't even double check long enough to realize that the table is ordered form poorest to wealthiest. If that's not selective perception I don't know what is.
Poincare said: “To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of reflection.”
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.
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.
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?
It may not be proof, but it's certainly evidence.
Err, what? Smoking? Just to name the most obvious counter example.
Mitochondrial DNA would also be a possibility ("white" mitochondria being optimized for neurons, "black" mitochondria for muscle cells, say), but environmental factors seems by far the most obvious explanation.
I don't know about exclusively.
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).
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.
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? ;)
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.
Downvoted for encouraging such irresponsible behavior as citing TV Tropes!
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?
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.
Reminds 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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. ;)
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.
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.
"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)
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.
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.
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.
NEW UTILITARIAN LITMUS TEST
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.
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.)
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)
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.
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.
Generally speaking, yes.
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)
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".
Really? Do you have the same problem with "television"? What about zoological binomial nomenclature?
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)
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.
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.
I think you can be confident that he's not agreeing with you.
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.
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?
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).
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)
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)
I'll try and clarify with the non-race and IQ related example that first put the idea into my head: gravity. The idea of things falling to the floor is so obvious to me, and agrees so well with my common sense, that I would not even bother to debate somebody who wanted to argue that things don't fall to the floor. That's the behaviour I'm saying it's a good idea to be super careful about: rejecting challenges to your existing view out of hand.
Stepping back to the race and IQ argument, I'm saying that I would exercise a lot of care before I put the argument... (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 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.
Is hair color innate?
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.
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)
"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."
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)
Would you rather be tortured for 3^^^3 years, or have a dust speck in your eye?
I think you'd have to be a pretty unsubtle contrarian to answer that with "torture".