Undiscriminating Skepticism

by Eliezer Yudkowsky9 min read14th Mar 20101359 comments


SignalingEpistemologyMotivated Reasoning

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_McGrath9yEugenics; that ought to be a fun one as well.
6Paul Crowley11yWe should try gun control some time...

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.

6Strange710yI'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.
8DanielLC9yWhat makes you think there's only one?

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

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

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

I'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_Tarleton11yHowever, 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.
5simplicio11yBingo. 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.

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

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

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

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

I'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.

8FAWS11yFor 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").

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.

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.


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.

4MugaSofer8yThat 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.

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.

5khafra11yProfessor 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.

6khafra11yThat 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.
4DonGeddis11yYour 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.)

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.

8Chrysophylax7yYou 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.
8lispalien11yMy 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!

7lispalien11yThat'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.

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.

4khafra11yIt should be safe to use on Philip K. Dick [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pre-persons] fan forums.
6MichaelVassar11ySounds like it would be interesting to have your mother make some comments on LW, if you think she would be interested.
7wedrifid11yYes, 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!
6Rain11yReal world test of human value along similar lines: Ashley X [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashley_Treatment].
6Strange711yI'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).
5Ishaan7yAre 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.
5CronoDAS11yIf I agreed with this logic, should I be reluctant to admit it here?
4byrnema11yAren'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.

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".

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.

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.

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).

5MBlume9yI've gone on dates with a couple guys just to check -- I'm still pretty definitely straight.

Downvoted for downvote-counting obsession.

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.

4MBlume9yUpvoted for noticing discomfort

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.

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.

7Psychohistorian11yThis is absolutely true and I've changed the last paragraph to reflect that.
7Morendil11yI 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.

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.

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.

"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.

Downvoted for encouraging such irresponsible behavior as citing TV Tropes!

9thomblake11yYou just say that because your karma is over nine thousand [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/PowerLevels?from=Main.OverNineThousand] !

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...

9Eneasz11yI 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.
7TimFreeman10yDon'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.

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.

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

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

I'm increasingly inclined to use reactions to data that Communist economies did no worse on average than Capitalist economies as a new litmus test.

This is extremely problematic for a number of reasons.

You are using (or at least citing) one study to argue for an extremely unorthodox claim that is highly values dependent. For example, what does it mean "to do worse on average" than capitalist countries? The paper you cite only demonstrates that GDP growth was not much worse for communist countries than for less liberalized non-communist countries. Perhaps the totalitarian communist systems were worse, even if their arbitrary GDP numbers, inflated by massive military spending, were fairly respectable.

Be careful, using this as a "litmus test" for rationality could make you dismiss arguments for why you should actually change your opinion about whether communist countries did "worse on average".

People who as their first reaction start pulling excuses why this must be wrong out >of their asses get big negative points on this rationality test.

Well, if people are absolutely, definitely rejecting the possibility that this might ever be true, without looking at the data, then they are indeed probably professing a tribal belief.

However, if they are merely describing reasons why they find this result "unlikely", then I'm not sure there's anything wrong with that. They're simply expressing that their prior for "Communist economies did no worse than capitalist economies" is, all other things being equal, lower than .5.

There are several non-obviously-wrong reasons why one could reasonably put a low prior on this belief. The most obvious is the fact that when the wall fell down, economic migration went from East to West, not the other way round (East-West Germany being the most dramatic example).

Of course, this should not preclude a look at the hard data. Reality is full of surprises, and casual musings often miss important points. So again, saying "this just can't be so" and refusing to look at the data (which I presume is what you had in mind) is indeed probably tribal. Saying "hmmm, I'd be surprised if it were so" seems quite reasonable to me. Maybe I'm just tribalised beyond hope.

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)

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.

5NancyLebovitz11yPeople 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.

8DanielVarga11y"Stop! We have reached the limits of what rectal probing can teach us." One of my favourite Simpsons quotes.

Hsu's blog post makes two claims about race. The first argument is that 'Hypothesis 2' could be correct - i.e., that there could be genetically driven differences in exciting traits like IQ between races (or 'groups,' but I think we all know which 'groups' we're really interested in). I agree with this argument.

I completely disagree with the second claim, which is that genetic clustering studies constitute 'the scientific basis for race.' It's true that scientists can extract clusters from genetic data that match what we call races. If you gave me a bunch of human genotypes sampled from around the world and let me fuck around with that data and run it through PCA for a few hours, I'm sure I could do the same. But it doesn't automatically follow that my classification is correct.

For example, if you sample some whites, sample some blacks, and expect those two categories to automatically pop out of your analysis, you might be surprised. Here's a recent paper that estimated the European ancestry in African-Americans by analyzing genotypes from samples of US whites, US blacks, and several subgroups of Africans. Running PCA on all of the genotype data, and plotting the first two principa... (read more)

6stevehsu11yI'm typing this on an iPad so apologies for mistakes. A picture for you here: http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2009/06/genetic-clustering-40-years-of-progress.html [http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2009/06/genetic-clustering-40-years-of-progress.html] Yes, there are clines, but so what? The population fraction in the clinal region between the major groups is tiny. The distance (e.g. measured by fst) between the continental groups is so large that you would have to stand on your head to not "discover" those as separate clusters. See also here http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2008/11/human-genetic-variation-fst-and.html [http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2008/11/human-genetic-variation-fst-and.html]
4cupholder11yI'm not sure that this contradicts what I wrote. I acknowledge that high-resolution genotyping enables one to distinguish geographically distant samples of people. Being able to pull that off does not automatically validate 'race,' as in the conventional white people v. yellow people v. brown people v. red people taxonomy. Or you need only come at the data with an unusual preconception of race, which would affect your analytic approach. Also, if you take wide-ranging genetic samples across Africa (as opposed to using a handful of samples from one Nigerian city to represent all of Africa, as seems to have been done to derive your picture [http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_o6vigEr23C4/SSl0A1BD2YI/AAAAAAAAALI/rLaeIV3CE80/s1600-h/Picture+2.png] ), it seems to me that you end up getting African clusters that can be as far apart from each other as they are from Europeans. Another example: check out subdiagram A in this diagram [http://www.pnas.org/content/107/2/786/F2.large.jpg], from a paper [http://www.pnas.org/content/107/2/786.full] that took samples from West and South Africa. The Fulani + Bulala are as far apart from some of the other African samples as they are from the Europeans!
4Jack11yHere of all places this is unnecessary. I posted the link specifically hoping someone would respond like this. If we're discovering clusters that don't fit with our racial preconceptions that is evidence the clusters that do match some of our racial preconceptions aren't bullshit. Also, aren't we looking for genetic evidence of cultural and geographical isolation? Isn't the fact that we see different clusters for different groups in Africa just evidence that those groups have been (reproductively) isolated for a really long time? I would predict from these findings that when humans first left the continent there were already distinct groupings and that not all of these grouping had descendants that left Africa. Also, from the chart posted here I would predict that the Africans kidnapped and purchased as slaves came more from the Yoruba and much less so from the Mandenka. They probably didn't all come from the Yoruba, perhaps the others came from the groups in the upper right corner of this chart [http://www.pnas.org/content/107/2/786/F2.large.jpg] that you linked in your other comment. Or perhaps they didn't come from the Yoruba but others in that corner and the Yoruba are just closely related to those other groups. EDIT: So there were a lot of tribes that had members become slaves. Like nearly every major tribe appears to have been affected. I'm going to have to find something that tells me proportions which will take longer. From your other comment on that chart. If you go search for pictures of both you can notice the phenotype differences as well. I'll maybe say more after I look at that chapter.

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".

9Jack11yI'd say it became increasingly less well-defined after it's creation [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benito_Mussolini#Creation_of_Fascism].

After glancing at the study [and after editing again after RobinZ's comment]:

It criticizes other studies for not controlling for such details as ethnolinguistic fractionalization, religion, natural resource abundance, or the wealth of neighboring countries. It's full of references to other variables that ought to be controlled for, like climate, resource-richness, and social mores. But the only thing this study claims to control for is initial wealth.

Much of the article lists rankings of growth rates that control for nothing at all. It has a large initial section claiming that communism performed well because a bunch of Communist countries that started out poor, grew faster than a bunch of non-Communist countries that started out rich. Then, in the other section of the paper, it claims that we can't compare Russia to Western Europe, because Russia started out poor, and of course every economist knows that poor countries grow faster than rich countries! So we must compare Russia to Mexico. Besides the fact that they conveniently ignored this in the first half of the paper, that doesn't make sense. A comparison that showed Russia growing slower than Western Europe (as it did)... (read more)

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?

5gregconen11yWelcome to the world. Sanity is not always valued so highly here as you might be used to.
4wedrifid11yDon't confuse preference with prediction. Where else have I been where sanity is valued more highly and how do I get back to it?
5gregconen11yI 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.
5wedrifid11ySee 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.

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 Yudkowsky11yI'm not worried about sounding effusive and I'll omit the "borderline" part.
5Matt_Duing11yThank 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.

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.)

4Shae11yI 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.

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...

A simple exercise to see whether further theoretical research is justified might be to have a friend print out the horoscopes for all the Zodiac signs or whatever, remove identifying characteristics from each one, and have you rank all of them every day for a month in terms of how accurate they are. Then see whether the horoscope accuracy correlates better with the ones for your sign than the ones for other signs.

4Anubhav9yMore doable than my idea. Upvoted.
[-][anonymous]11y 15

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

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.

7byrnema11ySure. 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.

4simplicio11yThis was rather elegantly put.

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.

[-][anonymous]9y 14

The adverse effects quite possibly are that significant in the context of the ancestral environment, but probably not in the context of the modern world.

You need to develop that a bit more. It is important for the benefit of the reader and thinking in general to precisely and clearly separate genetic fitness and general well being in addition to pointing out the environment has changed.

I suggest people read up on Algernon's Law and its loopholes. In short:

Any simple major enhancement to human intelligence is a net evolutionary disadvantage.

Bostrom's formulation, called “evolutionary optimality challenge” (EOC):

If the proposed intervention would result in an enhancement, why have we not already evolved to be that way?

The loopholes as given by Bostrom are:

  • Changed tradeoffs, because our envrionment has changed. What you said.
  • Value discordance, between what we'd like to optimize and what evolution is optimizing for. What I said.
  • Evolutionary restrictions, which don't apply to us. "We have access to various tools, materials, and techniques that were unavailable to evolution. Even if our engineering talent is far inferior to evolution’s, we may nevertheless be able to
... (read more)

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.

...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.

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_Ash8yThat 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.
7Swimmer9639yReminds 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.
5juliawise9yMy 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!)

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.

[-][anonymous]11y 10


[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?

7jimrandomh11yIt 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.

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

I don't know about exclusively.

7Psychohistorian11yAs 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).

It's not a good litmus test until you also point to what you consider the best honest skeptical response - albeit this is often damned hard to do with poor skepticism, cryonics being exhibit A in point.

You should offer a reward for the best top-level anti-cryonics post. Something to entice quiet dissenters to stick their necks out.

You can post it together with a pro-cryonics reading list, so people know what they're up against and only post arguments that haven't already been refuted.

EDIT: reworded for clarity, punctuation

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.

9clarissethorn11yAh, 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.
7Multiheaded9yI'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.
8Paul Crowley11y*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? ;)

6Jack11yI 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?
7thomblake11yThere are clearer language and relevant citations at ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_sexual_attraction [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_sexual_attraction])
6CronoDAS11yThere is a hypothesis [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_sexual_attraction] that claims that, but the evidence is dubious.
7clarissethorn11yI'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.
5Strange711yThere 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.
6Paul Crowley11yWhy 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?

9Kevin11yI'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
7Psychohistorian11yMy 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.
6Jack11yBisexual males often don't identify as 50-50 which complicates the matter.
5CronoDAS11yBut 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.

6thomblake11yI 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.
6Jack11yI 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.

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.

5NancyLebovitz11yHow far can you judge a person's rationality by what sort of evidence they use to support their beliefs about sexuality?

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.)

5clarissethorn11yHi 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/].)
9rwallace11yAlmost 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.
6Morendil11yCultural 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/].
9NancyLebovitz11yI 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.

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)

9Sarokrae9yIt 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.
8brazil849yI'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?

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.

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)

Something about this pro-appeasement argument strikes me as really wrong, though I wish I were able to better explain why. It just seems to me that the people historically interested in the rule of religion - say, Church hierarchy - would find it better for their agendas that any closet atheists should keep kowtowing rather than become vocal about their disbelief. Surely if nobody ever challenged orthodox ideas, they'd never get overturned?

Well, I'm no historian. But in any case, if a medievial equivalent of Less Wrong, some group of people unusually interested in forming true beliefs formed in those times, then they should be able to discuss atheism at least among themselves, surely. It would be contrary to their common goal to do otherwise. It might prevent them from figuring out that atheism is probably correct, you see.

Sure, atheism may be low status and immoral and evil and "not useful" to know about if true - but if for whatever reason they already decided they are interested in forming true beliefs, then they should consider atheism anyway.

We're on Less Wrong because we are unusually interested in pursuing true beliefs, and methods of forming them. If other factor... (read more)

[-][anonymous]9y 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.

I like what Hook wrote. If I believed that babies were valuable because they have souls and then was told, "no they don't have souls", I might for a while value them less. But it has been a very long time since I believed in souls and the value I assign to babies is no longer related at all to my belief about souls (if it ever was).

After all, in the space of "things that one can construct out of atoms", humans and goldfish are very, very close.

Sure, they just don't resemble each other in many morally significant ways (the exception, perhaps, being some kind of experience of pain). There is no reason to think the facts that determine our ethical obligations make use of the same kinds of concepts and classifications we use to distinguish different configurations of atoms. Humans and wet ash are both mostly carbon and water, and so have a lot more in common than, say, the Sun. But wet ash and the sun and share more of the traits we're worried about when we're thinking about morality. The same goes for aesthetic value, if we need a non-ethics analogy.

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 Crowley11yHomosexuality is also wrong, as are many other things [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hybrid_word]...
5RobinZ11yC'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)

7thomblake11yThose 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.
[-][anonymous]9y 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.

6siodine9yI 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 Yudkowsky9y(takes deep breath) AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEE sorry, I just had to scream for a bit

For better or worse, [EY] enjoys a special status in this community.

A status earned precisely by writing posts that people enjoy reading!

If you're suggesting that the ordinary academic/intellectual norm of only allowing high-status people to write informally, with everyone else being forced to write in soporific formal-sounding prose, is operative here, then I suggest we make every effort to nip that in the bud ASAP.

This is a blog; let's keep it that way.

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.

5wedrifid11yI 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.

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.

5Jack11yI find Nisbett's reply pretty convincing. How do others feel? Brazil, would you like to reply to the Nisbett article?
4nazgulnarsil11yNot 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.

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.

6Aurini11yI 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

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

6[anonymous]9yI 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 nominate ABrooks as this month's contrarian.

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

4TheOtherDave9yAnd yet, at least one person below did just that. Edit: ...but later asserted that had been a joke.

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?

5byrnema11yThank 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.)

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. ;)

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]9y 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)

One would hope that dating someone would provide enough evidence to make a better estimate than a blind prior.

5shokwave9yNot 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")
8Jack9yYou'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.

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?

Looping back to the starting point of this discussion, from which we are in danger of drifting too far, what I wanted to say is that people who take an intolerant position on the subject of (say) homosexuality do not seem to do so after having held up their own ethical intuitions to anything like the kind of scrutiny you and others here are clearly capable of.

Rather, they seem to rationalize an immediate "eww" reaction and look for any ammunition they can find supporting their intution that "people shouldn't do that". That strikes me as... (read more)

9mattnewport11yThe best general argument for conservativism I've encountered is that we should pay attention to established social customs and innate moral intuitions because the world is a complex place and practices that persist over time probably exist for a good reason. The fact that we don't fully understand the reason for a practice is not enough to discard it, we should exercise caution when messing with established customs because we don't fully understand what customs are key to society achieving whatever level of success it has so far achieved. I don't fully buy this argument but I think it has some merit. Thus it is not necessarily irrational to see an intuitive "eww" reaction as a reason to think that we should exercise caution when liberalizing attitudes towards the provoking practice. I think the generous interpretation of the social conservative attitude to homosexuality is that the "eww" reaction probably exists for some 'good' reason and should not be totally ignored. Generating hypotheses to explain why the "eww" is beneficial is not necessarily an irrational first step to understanding what's really going on. Relatively few social conservatives can articulate this argument but some can and I don't think it is fair to dismiss them as irrational. Indeed the more thoughtful conservatives tend to think that most people are not capable of thinking rationally about the costs and benefits of certain behaviours and so social customs must do the work of preserving the 'good' society.
7Rain11y-- John Brunners
9SilasBarta11ymattnewport's comment was much more broad and insightful than "This is old therefore it is good". His point (paraphrasing the general conservative thesis) is that social customs arise as solutions to difficult problems and have highly immodular interplay. Therefore, before relaxing them, you should at least identify what problem it was (believed to be) solving, and how it interplays with the other customs and factors (including the ick factor in others). In the case of homosexuality, the taboo against it is extremely common across cultures, which suggests some kind of mechanism like, "Cultures that didn't have a taboo against it were outbred or otherwise dominated by a more populous culture." Of course, no one actually argues for such a taboo against it today on that basis, though it has the trappings of a good argument: "If we don't have pro-reproduction customs, we'll be unable to withstand the memetic overload from cultures that do, and will be unable to perpetuate our values across generations." (Several European countries provide good examples of cultures slowly losing their ability to protect Western values by being outbred by those who don't share those values.) But even so, if this is the concern, there are much better, Pareto-surperior ways to go about it: e.g., require everyone to either have children, help with the raising of other's children, or pay a tax after a certain age that goes toward relieving the burden of others' childbearing. Unfortunately, the debate on the issue is nowhere near this point.
9wnoise11yThat is a severe undercounting of types of fools.
5Rain11y-- Unknown
9rhollerith_dot_com11yLame quote because everyone I have ever met who starts indexes at 0 says "2 types": it is just that they call them Type 0 and Type 1 instead of Type 1 and Type 2. ADDED. I am not saying that writers should start indexes at 0, just that the fact alluded to in the quote (that, e.g., the "1" in "Type 1", is different from "2") is not a good reason for avoiding the practice. A good reason to avoid the practice is that diverging from a long-standing stylistic convention distracts without contributing anything substantial to your point.
4RichardKennaway11yOr as G. K. Chesterton [http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=yz5INgXDf00C&pg=PA157] may have put it: (It's a good summary of the linked passage, but I can't find evidence that he ever expressed it in this form, which is variously attributed.)
5Jack11yI suggest looking up the views of communitarians [http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/communitarianism/] on these topics. Some names: David Popenoe, Amitai Etzioni. See this book [http://books.google.com/books?id=Ty82HNHpmH0C&printsec=frontcover&dq=communitarianism+marriage&source=bl&ots=v9UGbo9MtK&sig=g0KeEw7PjH6d9p_KDuXdTteoLSw&hl=en&ei=-7CfS8OCJom0tgfo0YD9DQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CAoQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=communitarianism%20marriage&f=false] , and especially this part [http://books.google.com/books?id=FhZeJwLSu74C&pg=PA83&lpg=PA83&dq=Popenoe+homosexuality&source=bl&ots=iH1CJUd6Ww&sig=1UQ63VYHcXz3xhO5M7WB7UpZqXQ&hl=en&ei=xbGfS7HGCcuutgfJj8XmDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CBQQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=Popenoe%20homosexuality&f=false] from Popenoe. tl;dr: The won't go as far as the most bigoted but they're also not cool with just affirming homosexuality and out of wedlock promiscuity. Communitarianism isn't my bag of tea but it has pretty firm theoretical foundations and the research that suggests marriage's importance isn't obviously bunk. As for those who are just rationalizing an "eww" reaction, their mistake isn't basing their terminal values on disgust, their mistake is trying to justify those values in terms liberals, who don't share their intuition, can understand. "Polyamory should be prohibited because polyamory is immoral" is a consistent position. See Jonathan Haidt's page on the foundations of morality [http://faculty.virginia.edu/haidtlab/mft/index.php]. Most people who object to polyamory and homosexuality are coming from the purity/sanctity foundation (i.e. "ewww!"). But there is nothing rationalist or not rationalist about these intuitions. They're just intuitions like all moral reasons. You and I might have more complicated intuitions that can be formalized in interesting ways and employ philosophers-- But I'm with Hume here, you can't reason your way to morality.

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?

I'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.

However, I suspect based on my anecdotal experience that educated people might be worse than the general public.

That wouldn't surprise me. Ignorance of bad information can be a good thing. There are political reasons to neglect genetic influence (easier to blame people while avoiding charges of racism and sexism). There are are also ideological motivations for such a preference (see pjeby's emphasis on learned responses rather than genetic influences).

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.

8sketerpot11yThere'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.

In other words, this is not entirely correct:

What if someone has rational reasons for rejecting a belief such as cryonics, but is deliberately using Dark Art rhetoric to talk more convincingly about that belief by associating it with low-status people? You'd class them as irrational when you should class them as unethical.

In this case, it might be (epistemically) correct to class them as irrational (with some probability, etc.), given the information you have about them.

Similarly, if someone draws a card at random from a standard 52-card deck, your de... (read more)

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)

"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)

Here's a really neat chart from OkTrends (a blog discussing data from the dating website OkCupid) showing match percentages between people of various astrological signs, based on similarity between the users' answers to a wide range of questions:


The data there implies pretty strongly that astrological sign has no predictive ability when it comes to a person's self-description.

4[anonymous]9yUnless they had several thousand couples for each one of the 144 cells, I'm very surprised there weren't bigger fluctuations due to chance alone. (And that single “59” shows that they didn't round all numbers to the nearest ten.)
8DSimon9ySorry, I should have linked the article [http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/how-races-and-religions-match-in-online-dating/] earlier instead of just the chart. On sample size: Keep in mind that it isn't couples that are being looked at here, just comparisons between users' self-reports. Specifically, each question has two answers: The user's self-report, and what they would want a potential date to answer. The compatibility percentage is based on matching from A's wants to B's reports and vice-versa. For the article, data was collected from a randomly selected pool of 500,000 straight users. The gender balance among straight users is about 60% men, 40% women, so that's about 25,000 men in each row and 17,000 women in each column. So each cell has about 400 million comparisons.
5arundelo9yIndeed they did [http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/how-races-and-religions-match-in-online-dating/] -- about 868 million couples per cell by my reckoning, or about half that if they're only pairing based on preferred gender:

African populations also have the greatest genetic variation in general. African Americans have somewhat less (but still a lot of) variation. African Americans also have considerable European ancestry, but little in the female line, and in so far as they have mtDNA of (recent) African origin they all have in common that they lack mtDNA of Euopean origin (which might have innovations that contribute to the effect observed). If you are willing to assume a genetic cause I don't see how you can a priori exclude a mitochondrial cause. I already made clear that it's not a hypothesis I'd ascribe much probability mass to.

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.

but unless the mother was not informed (minor/mental illness) or did not consent,

This is already a significant retreat from your previously stated position. ("not unless it's going to kill you" after 24 weeks)

The complication here is that a responsible, consenting adult tacitly accepts giving up her bodily autonomy (or accepts a risk of doing so) when she has sex.

That's 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.

That's precisely the same reason me

... (read more)
5simplicio11yIs it? I suppose it is. I contain multitudes. No, honestly, I just didn't name all my caveats in the previous post (my bad). Clearly there are two people's interests to take into consideration here. Also, as I noted, that was an ethical rather than legal argument. I don't have any strong opinions about what the law should do wrt this question. I don't think it's unreasonable, although you're right it's not a fact statement. But I think it's a fairly well-established principle of ethics & jurisprudence that informed consent implies responsibility. Nobody has to have unprotected sex, so if you (a consenting adult) do so, any reasonably foreseeable consequences are on your shoulders. It's a reasonably good analogy I guess. There are two separate questions here: what should the law do, and what should the driver do. I don't think anybody wants the law to require organ donations from people who behave irresponsibly. However, put in the driver's shoes, and assuming the collision was my fault, I would feel obligated to donate (if, in this worst-case scenario, I am the only one who can). There is a slight disanalogy here though, which is that an abortion is an act, whereas a failure to donate is an omission. It's like the difference between throwing the fat guy on the tracks and just letting the train hit the fat guy.

I'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.

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.

I don't think we can reasonably elevate our estimate of our own rationality by observing that we disagree with the consensus of a respected community.

Second, the background radiation which is said to be leftover stray photons from the big bang. If the background radiation was a prediction of Big Bang theory, then I might have been convinced by this experimental evidence, but in fact the background radiation was discovered by accident. Only afterwards did the proponents of Big Bang theory retrofit it as a prediction of their model.

I am wary of this kind of argument. I should not be able to discredit a theory by the act of collecting all possible evidence and publishing before they have a chance to think things through.

4gelisam11yBut isn't Eliezer suggesting, in this very post, that we should use uncommon justified beliefs as an indicator that people are actually thinking for themselves as opposed to copying the beliefs of the community? I would assume that the standards we use to judge others should also apply when judging ourselves. On the other hand, what you're saying sounds reasonable too. After all, crackpots also disagree with the consensus of a respected community. The point is that there could be many reasons why a person would disagree with a respected community, one of which is that the person is actually being rational and that the community is wrong. Or, as seems to be the case here, that the person is actually being rational but hasn't yet encountered all the evidence which the community has. In any case, given the fact that I'm here, following a website dedicated to the art of rationality, I think that in this case rationality is quite a likely cause for my disagreement. I agree that if a piece of evidence is published before it is predicted, this is not evidence against the theory, but it does weaken the prediction considerably. Therefore, please don't publish this entire collection of all possible evidence, as it will make it much harder afterwards to distinguish between theories!
6thezeus1811y"But isn't Eliezer suggesting, in this very post, that we should use uncommon justified beliefs as an indicator that people are actually thinking for themselves as opposed to copying the beliefs of the community? I would assume that the standards we use to judge others should also apply when judging ourselves. On the other hand, what you're saying sounds reasonable too. After all, crackpots also disagree with the consensus of a respected community." Eliezer didn't say that we should use "disagreeing with the consensus of a respected community" as an indicator of rationality. He said that we should use disagreeing with the consensus of one's own community as an indicator of rationality.

If the background radiation was a prediction of Big Bang theory, then I might have been convinced by this experimental evidence, but in fact the background radiation was discovered by accident. Only afterwards did the proponents of Big Bang theory retrofit it as a prediction of their model.

Not true; Alpher & Gamow predicted the radiation, although they were off by a few kelvins.

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.

True, but this lacks parsimony, & the mechanism by which the "sine wave" (or whatever) could be produced is unknown. The universe is expanding now, implying some force behind the expansion. Gravity is attractive only. Celestial objects almost all have net electric charge as close to 0 as makes no odds, so they do not repel each other. The strong nuclear force is always attractive too. You see what I mean? What could possibly cause the outward oscillation, if not extreme density? It's not like when stars come close to each other they suddenly feel a repulsio... (read more)

9gelisam11yThanks! I had only heard about the accidental discovery by two Bell employees of an excess measurement which they could not explain, but now that you mention that it was in fact predicted, it's totally reasonable that the Bell employees simply did not know about the scientific prediction at the moment of their measurement. I should have read Wikipedia. The probability of predicting something as strange as the background radiation given that the theory on which the prediction is based is fundamentally flawed seems rather low. Accordingly, I should update my belief in the Big Bang substantially. But actually updating on evidence is hard, so I don't feel convinced yet, even though I know I should. For this reason, I will read the book you recommended, in the hope that its contents will manage to shift my unofficial beliefs too. Thanks again!

I apologize for giving you grief about the quote.

When I initially saw it, the tone of the quote seemed to reveal a lack of assimilation of the insight mattnewport gave; to the extent that the quote is doing so in this context, such oversimplification does count as a (3rd) kind of foolishness. I do not, however, deem you a fool.

While I still don't think the quote was helpful, I will remove the remark that implies you are a fool. And, as standard practice, I didn't mod down any of your comments in this thread because I was involved in the thread's argument.

Please do not take offense.

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)

It turns out I wasn't the only one who saw it! Wikipedia has a page with a description that sounds almost exactly like what I experienced. Looks like if I am crazy, so was our Arizona Governor (because he saw the same thing).

So 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.

You can just answer it for each case. Would you take either pill if they were irreversible? If they were reversible?

8Bindbreaker11yYes 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.
4Jack11yNo 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.
5wedrifid11yBuying and selling bulk cupons for the service of prostitutes?
4Jack11yI was actually thinking pornographic website subscriptions. That works too, though.

Anyone know if there is a racial IQ gap between blacks and whites in the UK?

4[anonymous]10yhttp://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/6176070.stm [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/6176070.stm] Googling the answer appears to be yes. There quite a lot of sources on this, but I wanted to give a news story to show that this is already apparently a source of public concern in the country.

A single eyewitness account, presumable handpicked and stagemanaged by people with an agenda, does not make particularly strong evidence.

Okay. Here is the enumerated list of what I consider to be non-human intelligences, ranked in order of decreasing intelligence, by the measure I deem most appropriate:


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

In reality you can make the bar even lower. Just ask the right wingers if they're even aware of an empirical study comparing the relative happiness of Scandinavians to others.

You need to define what you mean with molecular self-organization. presumably you don't believe that some supernatural force is involved in arranging water molecules in snow flakes.

If alien ships actually got close enough to earth to observe, they would quickly notice that you annihilate each other based on minor differences in your makeup, realize that they are far more different, and then decide it's in their best interest to leave immediately before they are detected.

They don't have telescopes? They can't watch our TV? If the aliens need to hover around in front of some Idaho farm boy and maybe give him an anal probe in order to figure out that humans are sometimes violent, they're idiots.

You can always make up some loophole. Ockham's razor should mitigate against it though.

This makes me think your website would be improved by some means of ordering quotes based on the relevance of the speakers' expertise. In this case, it's easy enough to tell that bin Laden claiming responsibility is more relevant than Jesse Ventura having watched a video on YouTube, but on other issues, it might not be as clear-cut, and could serve to promote a false equivalence between the "experts" quoted on each side.

8BenAlbahari11yThe ordering algorithm currently works in two steps: 1. Expertise Relevance: If the topic of expertise the expert has matches the topic of the question, the expert quote ranks higher (sub ordering: a rarer topic match gets a higher rank than a common topic match, e.g. a match for "climatology" would outrank a match for "science".) 2. Expertise Depth: An expert quote with more sub-arguments out-ranks an expert quote with fewer sub-arguments. Like many algorithms (such as collaborative filtering), the algorithm starts working better as the content is filled out, e.g.: http://www.takeonit.com/question/5.aspx [http://www.takeonit.com/question/5.aspx] P.S. I just tagged that question with the topic "War" so now Bin Laden bubbles to the top. Keep the feedback coming. It's incredibly helpful.

I cannot answer for Eliezer, but I can (perhaps) explain why the belief is "visibly insane".

  1. There is footage of the airplanes flying into the building.
  2. In hindsight, several engineering organizations that investigated the phenomena, decided that a collapse from the fires started was likely (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collapse_of_the_World_Trade_Center )
  3. In order to be a conspiracy, there would have had to be 3a. Someone who planted the explosives in a way to cause an organized collapse. 3b. People who shipped the explosives. 3c. People on the
... (read more)

From Wikipedia:

During an interview on the January 31, 2007 episode of The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, Teller claimed that the final episode of the show would be about "the bullshit of Bullshit!" and would detail all the criticisms that they themselves had of the show, however the series ended before such an episode ever aired.

Awesome. =]

If say, "This isn't about a test of rationality itself, but a test for true free-thinking. All good rationalists must be free-thinkers, but not all free-thinkers are necessarily good rationalists", is that a good summary?

Here's a discussion of this post at the James Randi forums. Reaction seems net negative with high variance: http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?p=5726673

If you disagree with your tribe, you get rationality points for independent thinking; but you lose rationality points for failing to update. Is the total positive or negative?

No; he's trying to stick to the point. He's stuck his neck out in other posts.

4LazyDave11yOK, I may have misunderstood his meaning. I thought he was saying that there were things he would never mention, as it would alienate people, as opposed to just not mentioning it in this post.

Unfortunately cupholder was rather evasive in our discussion.

Evidence please.

I see one answer to one of your questions in this atheism discussion that I answered in a cutesy way - though I still think my implication there was quite clear. For your other questions in this subthread I either replied in enough detail to answer your questions, where they were relevant (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8), or pointed out that your question was underspecified or had a false premise.

That's his fault not mine.

If you felt my answers to your questions were unsatisfactory, it wo... (read more)

The only good experiment performed was the partitioning of Germany. East and West Germany were economically equivalent at the end of World War 2, with very similar populations, socioeconomically and genetically.

When they reunified, West Germany was very far ahead of East Germany. I know many people who've come from or been to both East and West Germany, and their opinions on the subject are so strong and unanimous that I will flatly deny any study that says they were equivalent economically. I will not even bother to read such a study.

To make the compar... (read more)

5taw11yThis is just plain false. Their income ratios in 1950 were about 2.1:1. Income ratios in 1990 were still about 2.1:1.

If God really were love, praying would be a complete waste of time. I suspect such statements are not actually expressions of factual content.

5bogus11yWhy? The placebo effect and other mindhacks apply to any sort of ritual or 'magic'. If you accept this, then worshipping 'love' or 'warfare' or other god-forms is not a waste of time at all--the purpose and effect of prayer need not involve anything supernatural.

Not according to the Richard Carrier definition of "supernatural", which I would argue is a more accurate interpretation of the term.

Ditto for global surface temperatures. Take the temperature label off the graph and tell people it's the dollar to yen exchange rate. I bet 10 out of 10 statisticians will say the rate is basically flat for the last 10 years.

cupholder has the empirical data - which, you will note, is increasing in all cases - but do you really imagine that no-one's tried a blind test?

1) Use longer sentences and bigger words. The community appears to react favorably to academic styling in prose.

2) State all the givens. Things which I believed would be understood automatically and omitted to save time are much more likely to be picked apart as flaws, where the other person assumes I have not thought the matter through.

3) Be careful about how much you share. People here are far more willing to do research and analysis to pick apart every claim you make, even if its a metaphor, and they will look into your background. Any of the informatio... (read more)

5komponisto11yYes -- I have seen this so many times! It's particularly frustrating, because encountering it feels like discovering that you've overestimated your audience at the same time that they've underestimated you. I've noticed this too, and I long for the day when our rationality skills have advanced to the point where we can be rational and nice. I haven't really seen 3), and EY's posts undermine 1) significantly, it seems to me.
4Morendil11yThere's definitely a martial feel to the way this community requires you to earn its respect, rather than granting it to you almost immediately upon uttering the appropriate shibboleths as is common elsewhere. I'm not sure that's a bad thing. Sometimes I feel that upvotes are wordless substitutes for what would otherwise be verbal "strokes" of appreciation; the community prefers when words are used to convey info rather than good vibes. I would add a 5) which really surprised me when I noticed it: link, link, link. This is a community which lives less than others in an ever-flowing present, but instead constantly strives to weave together past, present and future thought and discourse. That could well be an explanation for your 3. I feel perfectly at home with 1) as long as it doesn't reach the passive-voice level of academic styling. I see the writing style here as literate rather than academic. ;)

You appear to be referring to Nisbett's paragraph starting with

Hedges and Nowell (1998) found improvement on almost all tests for African American 12th graders compared with other 12th graders over the period 1965-1994.

A few sentences below that Nisbett refers to NAEP data to say that the reading score gap could be gone in 25 years and the science score gap in 75 years, if trends continue. [ETA: this is the 'largest study' that Nisbett cites. I'm sad Nisbett didn't give a more specific citation for it.]

The page you link appears to have data on the NAEP... (read more)

Not really. Of that (relatively short) post, the only part that counts as a prediction is "you see it pretty much everywhere in the United States and the rest of the world; further, various attempts to eliminate this gap have failed". And this is compatible with a non-genetic explanation: environmental in African countries, and from discrimination in rich countries. Attempts at eliminating other kinds of discrimination (e.g. gender) have also been less than successful.

How does a world in which the causal origin of the black/white IQ gap is genetic look different from a world in which that gap has a different explanation?

I've seen it defined, perhaps ironically, as "When the government takes over the corporations, that's called communism. When the corporations take over the government, that's called fascism."

Democracy is my litmus test.

8FAWS11yDo you mean being willing to consider the possibility that some other form of government might be better at pursuing the interests of a society as a whole? People also value democracy simply for being democratic, so saying that democracy is best is to some extent just stating your values.
6nazgulnarsil11yYeah, but even just in people's reaction to the topic. I try to avoid framing the issue and just feel people out. For example I would take someone responding to the subject like you did to be a very positive sign. Someone immediately jumping to the possibility of alternatives followed by a reasoning on how normative statements work is not exactly a common reaction.

Arguing that the flynn effect shows that someone else should have a different opinion on the question of how much intelligence is heritable just shows misunderstanding of the meaning of the term of heritablity.

Otherwise it would be logical to say that all of intelligence is due to culture. Why? Let's say all individuals with IQ > 300 happen to be born past the singularity. Past singularity we have the technology to make people intelligent and therefore intelligence can't be truly innate.

Therefore modern biology defines heritability as the variance of a... (read more)

I 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.

True, 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.

How much does your life improve by having more accurate view of global warming research...?

Well, here's the hedonistic vs. goal-oriented view of rationality again. Not everything I do is directly related t... (read more)

This is clearly a good way to do skepticism, if you're going to do it. However, I wonder, at my blog (http://aretae.blogspot.com/2010/03/cognitive-antivirus.html), whether skepticism is generally wise at all, and whether religion is a much more useful and effective cognitive antivirus system (especially for the only normally intelligent) than anyone else here seems to give it credit for.

8CronoDAS11yIn matters not related to Catholic dogma, the Catholic Church is (or at least used to be) a consistently skeptical organization.
6simplicio11yThat is at least plausible, and it is certainly better in a sense to have one piecewise-sane dogma than to be swept away in a deluge of weird and wacky truth claims about crystals and auras. But problems will arise, in god's good time. The stem cell "controversy" for example is the result of a prima facie pretty innocuous doctrine that life begins at conception. How many more harmless little bits of scripture are waiting in the wings to impede us? Are they not pathogenic as well? Nonetheless I think you have a point that it's pretty hard to imagine a majority of people adopting the skeptical procedure used here. I think our best hope is actually to press for the private-ization of spirituality: it's "true for you" and "metaphorical." But that will involve a lot of training our gag reflex.

The stem cell "controversy" for example is the result of a prima facie pretty innocuous doctrine that life begins at conception.

Let's suppose that cryonically preserved human brains are found to be especially useful for the treatment of several terrible diseases, because of some quirk of the vitrification process. Should we haul out cryonically suspended people and use them for medicine?

I think this is pretty disanalogous. We're basically talking about killing people who are unconscious in the cryonics case, versus harvesting non-to-semi-differentiated cells in the other.

Let me clarify that although ''life" is a good, quick word, it doesn't really capture what we value morally, which is mind or consciousness. That's why we don't cry when our appendix is taken out, and why we remove people from ventilators when they're braindead, even though they are "still alive" in the sense of breathing and having a pulse. A frozen brain is a conscious entity that's temporarily unconscious. The stem cells never were in the first place.

You have to choose if you value actual fellow humans, or just fetishize that blip on a monitor.

8nerzhin11yYou basically answered my question when you said But I'm going to pick at you one more time and then shut up. Both an embryo and a cryonically suspended person are presently unconcious. If what you value is past conciousness, then there's no problem, you're consistent. If you value potential (or long-future) conciousness, there might be a problem. I'm guessing that you value short-future conciousness - a suspended person (or a sleeping person) can in principle be concious in five minutes, while an embryo cannot. The next stage of the argument asks about infants and animals and so on, but I said I'd shut up.

I'm guessing that you value short-future conciousness - a suspended person (or a sleeping person) can in principle be concious in five minutes, while an embryo cannot.

I think there is a more salient difference, which is that it's not the embryo that will be conscious in ~20 weeks, whereas it is the brain.

The next stage of the argument asks about infants and animals and so on, but I said I'd shut up.

By all means continue, I always enjoy parsing these things. My friends are so sick of hearing about trolley cases they'd throw themselves on the tracks.

5Strange711yI would say that we should conduct trials on equivalent use of vitrified pig or chimpanzee brains before proceeding, or maybe a nonfunctional mockup of a human brain based on organ-printing techniques. I mean, if somebody discovered that it was possible to get high by snorting powdered high-density hard disks, I'd recommend grinding up blanks rather than the last copy of some valuable data.
5simplicio11yGood point, but probably not the Least Convenient Possible World [http://lesswrong.com/lw/2k/the_least_convenient_possible_world/].

If it turns out that pig and chimp brains don't have the same effect, that would be less convenient, yes. I still wouldn't regret having run the trials.

In such a case, the next step would be to run tests on volunteers (that is, suicides) or people sentenced to be executed. If it turns out that criminals and those who wanted to die are also unsuitable, I'll allow people with those horrible diseases to sign up for treatment on the condition that, if it doesn't work, they get their brains vitrified and used to treat the next generation of patients, as a stopgap measure until strictly synthetic treatments becomes available.

The real world is not maximally inconvenient. Training your mind to respond to binary decisions by ruling out any options not explicitly presented is a deliberate subversion of the drive to cheat, which might, in the long term, compromise your ability to win.

More generally, if I were put in some sadistic moral dilemma (say, choosing between rescuing my love-interest or my sidekick) where either option is repugnant but inaction is somehow worse than both of them put together, I've got no reason to believe I'd have either enough knowledge of the consequences or enough time for my moral calculus to run in full. Under those circumstances, I would flip the fairest coin I had handy and decide between the two least-repugnant options on that basis, then try not to get backed into such situations in the future.

8simplicio11yThat is actually a really good point. Getting in the habit of "accepting the problem as stated" could be a very bad thing. However, this scenario was contrived right from the beginning. A magical cure from eating frozen brains? Unlikely. It was a question about where to draw the line on the ethical worth of living things, that was illustrated with a little story.

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?

No, but once you spot "flaws" you should at least check whether they actually are.

8rwallace11yYeah, 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.

Speaking as someone that has been going to a therapist off and on for the past three years I have come to be pretty skeptical of the idea. Pretty much all the progress I have made in coping with and solving my problems has been on my own. I currently see one mainly because it is required of me by my college and because of the entertainment value of talking about myself for an hour or so.

Therapy has worked well for me, but usually as a more effective means of rubber ducking, i.e. getting to discuss out loud problems that I'd been ruminating unproductively on. This often makes it clear which parts of my internal monologue actually make sense, and which parts might be covering up for my real priorities. A good therapist can help in other aspects, but I'd say most of the benefit just comes from this phenomenon.

The main reason therapy works for this and talking with friends doesn't is that I'm much more likely to filter my thoughts when talking to a friend, lest it come back to hurt me socially.

(Take this all with a grain of YMMV; I'm not contradicting your experience.)

For the same reason, it helps a lot to honestly write up one's understanding of one's ideas where no one is supposed to see them.

What are some questions without a standard LW in-group response that I could use to prove my own conclusion-reaching soundness?

I know the Meredith Kurcher murder case has been offered as an example "rationality test".

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.

This can be legitimate for a reporter wanting someone to read the story, and to show why the subject of the story matters practically.

Want to know if someone is a good rationalist? Ask them what the best arguments are for a belief he strongly opposes on a complex issue. See if the arguments he gives are the strongest ones, or the weak ones. To strongly oppose a belief on a complex issue, requires hearing the best arguments from both sides. Being unaware of the best opposing arguments, or being unwilling to speak them, is pretty good evidence that he let his biases get in the way of his reasoning.

6TheOtherDave7yIt helps if, prior to using this technique, I've given them reason to trust me to be primarily interested in something other than scoring points off of them by "winning" arguments.

I guess those get paid to the next-of-kin.

Upvoted entirely for this line, which made me spit coffee when it finally registered.

I think in this case you can drop the suffix and just say "being contrary".

Summary: People's beliefs are very strongly influenced by their culture. We can't cure that by encouraging contrarianism, because most people aren't suited for that. We should work more on group rationality instead.

I'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.

So, this is well written and does bring up some valid points. But there are some serious issues:

First, your comment about defining racism misses the point: The issue there was specifically whether individuals are being racist and what that means. You seem to be arguing that that might not be terrible relevant. But that doesn't undermine that discussion at all.

Another issue is that there a large set of minorities which have succeeded quite well in the US despite having had serious issues in the past. The Chinese and the Jews are excellent examples (the sec... (read more)

While it may literally mean "unidentified flying object", in the USA it is synonymous for "Extra-Terrestrial Craft"

Video footage.

Of course, video footage does exist and shows no explosions, but does show a plane hitting the tower.

So the standard is "net gain," and a net gain greater than (or less than) 0.1 Kelvin means not basically flat?

Any net gain (or net loss), however small, means not flat, if you are confident enough that it's not an artefact or noise. (Adding the adverb 'basically' muddies things a bit, because it implies that you're not interested in small deviations from flatness.) So: am I quite confident that there has been a deviation from flatness since 1995, and that the deviation is neither artefact nor noise? Yes. But you knew that already, so I'll go d... (read more)

For another similar account see Julia Sweeney's Letting Go of God-- she was contently Catholic, went to Bible classes, and gradually became an atheist.

Just an example: In Austria by default all deceased people are potential donors -- you have to file an explicit opt-out.

I am very much in favour of this sort of policy; it would do no end of good.