I'm skeptical about trying to build FAI, but not about trying to influence the Singularity in a positive direction. Some people may be skeptical even of the latter because they don't think the possibility of an intelligence explosion is a very likely one. I suggest that even if intelligence explosion turns out to be impossible, we can still reach a positive Singularity by building what I'll call "modest superintelligences", that is, superintelligent entities, capable of taking over the universe and preventing existential risks and Malthusian outcomes, whose construction does not require fast recursive self-improvement or other questionable assumptions about the nature of intelligence. This helps to establish a lower bound on the benefits of an organization that aims to strategically influence the outcome of the Singularity.

  • MSI-1: 105 biologically cloned humans of von Neumann-level intelligence, highly educated and indoctrinated from birth to work collaboratively towards some goal, such as building MSI-2 (or equivalent)
  • MSI-2: 1010 whole brain emulations of von Neumann, each running at ten times human speed, with WBE-enabled institutional controls that increase group coherence/rationality (or equivalent)
  • MSI-3: 1020 copies of von Neumann WBE, each running at a thousand times human speed, with more advanced (to be invented) institutional controls and collaboration tools (or equivalent)

(To recall what the actual von Neumann, who we might call MSI-0, accomplished, open his Wikipedia page and scroll through the "known for" sidebar.)

Building a MSI-1 seems to require a total cost on the order of $100 billion (assuming $10 million for each clone), which is comparable to the Apollo project, and about 0.25% of the annual Gross World Product. (For further comparison, note that Apple has a market capitalization of $561 billion, and annual profit of $25 billion.) In exchange for that cost, any nation that undertakes the project has a reasonable chance of obtaining an insurmountable lead in whatever technologies end up driving the Singularity, and with that a large measure of control over its outcome. If no better strategic options come along, lobbying a government to build MSI-1 and/or influencing its design and aims seems to be the least that a Singularitarian organization could do.

Moderation Guidelines: Easy Going - I just delete obvious spam and trolling.expand_more

highly educated and indoctrinated from birth to work collaboratively towards some goal

Doing this very reliably seems more fantastical than the intelligence enhancement part.

Do we need "very reliably"? If not, feeding them Eliezer's Sequences at a young age might work well enough.

Do we need "very reliably"?

I'm inclined to think not. IMHO it's better to work on an easy plan that probably won't backfire than a very hard plan that almost certainly won't backfire given dangers outside of the planners' control...

If not, feeding them Eliezer's Sequences at a young age might work well enough.

Beware the young male rebel effect...

Where do you get your numbers from? Why aren't [big number] of educated people a superintelligence now? If it's due to coordination problems, then you are sweeping the complexity of solving such problems under the rug.

Let's think of examples of groups of ten thousand genius-level people working together towards a common narowly-defined goal.

Wikipedia claims that the LHC “was built in collaboration with over 10,000 scientists and engineers from over 100 countries, as well as hundreds of universities and laboratories”. I doubt they were all von Neumann level, and I imagine most of them weren’t working exclusively on the LCH. And no matter how nice scientists and engineers are, the group probably didn’t cooperate as well the one Wei proposed. (Although diversity probably does count for something.)

Other groups of similar size I can think of are NASA, IBM, Google and Microsoft. (Though, like the LHC, I don’t think they’re hiring only von Neumann level geniuses. Probably many multinational companies would exceed the size but would be even further from the genius requirements.) But they don’t quite work in a single direction (NASA has many missions, Google and Microsoft have many products).

That said, I wouldn’t object strongly to calling such groups weakly superintelligent. Building stuff like the LHC or the Apollo program in ten years is so vastly beyond the ability of a single man that I don’t quite classify an entity that can do it as a “human-level intelligence”, even though it is assembled from humans.

(Also, I could see a group like this building an MSI-2, though it’d take more than ten years if starting now.)

The "Working in a single direction" part seems hard: are you so single-minded? I know I'm not.

No, I’m not, but I’m not nearly von Neumann’s genius level either, and I wasn’t educated and indoctrinated from birth for that purpose.

And there certainly are people who are that single-minded, we’ll “just” have to figure out which parts of nature or nurture cause it. Even drugs slightly more advanced that the stuff used now for ADHD might be useful.

Even with “normal” geniuses, I’d bet a group would gain a lot of focus even from “mundane” changes like not having to worry about office politics, finding grants, or assembling your children’s college fund, or going to college and finding a promising career for younger geniuses. I’m not saying this kind of changes are easier to achieve in practice, just that they’re very low-tech; you don’t need lots of research to try them, just a big (monetary and political) budget.

“mundane” changes like not having to worry about office politics, finding grants, or assembling your children’s college fund, or going to college and finding a promising career for younger geniuses

All these can be viewed as wasting time, but don't forget that they are important parts of the motivation framework -- promotion, recognition, monetary reward, etc -- that people operate in. Motivation is an important factor in productivity. If we remove (eg) the competitive grant system, will researchers slack off?

If we remove (eg) the competitive grant system, will researchers slack off?

I’ll bet some would and some wouldn’t. See Einstein and how he was working on relativity (at least at the beginning).

If this trait is genetically detectable, it would presumably be a selection criteria for MSI-1. If it is based on nurture, presumably the necessary conditions would be part of the indoctrination for MSI-1. Finally, if it cannot be anticipated, presumably MSI-1 would use post-facto selection (i.e., raise and train more than 10k candidates, keep those that “work” and let the others do other stuff.)

Also, there are likely other motivational elements that would work in a MSI-1 (at least in my view, the selection and training and indoctrination implicit in the OP’s suggestion would be very different from any group I am aware of in history). And stuff like peer recognition and the satisfaction of a job well done are huge motivators in some cultures.

Also, remember we’re seeing this with culture-tinted glasses: In the west pretty much everyone is focused on a carreer, family and the like; the few who aren’t are seen as “slackers”, “hippies”, “weirdos” etc. Even if not subscribing to that cultural subtext rationally, it’s hard to prevent the unconscious associations of “no care for money=status” => “no motivation”.

Moreover, and this was part of my idea, I think there may be something to the idea behind structured procrastination (.com). Which is to say I don't really know. What I do know is that I'm not very single-minded and there is evidence it is not a common trait.

Part of the reason is due to coordination problems, which I think would be reduced if the group consisted of clones of a single person with similar education and upbringing, and hence similar values/goals.

Another part of the reason is that we simply don't have that many von Neumanns today. The [big number] of educated people that you see in the world consist almost entirely of people who are much less intelligent compared to von Neumann.

Not only are there more people today than in von Neumann's time, but it is far easier to be discovered or to educate yourself. The general prosperity level of the world is also far higher. As a result, I expect, purely on statistical grounds, that there would be far more von Neumann level people today than in von Neumann's time. I certainly don't see a shortage of brilliant people in academia, for instance.

What is a test for a von Neumann level intelligence? Do you think "top people" in technical fields today would fail?

My intuition says that if we took the 10000 most intelligent people in the world, put them together and told them to work on some technical project, that would be much less effective than if we could make 10000 copies of the most intelligent person, in part because the 10000th most intelligent person is much less productive than the 1st. As evidence for this, I note that there are very few people whose "known for" list on Wikipedia is nearly as long as von Neumann's, and you'd expect more such people if the productivity difference between the 1st and the 10000th weren't very large.

But if it turns out that I'm wrong, and it's not worth doing the cloning step, then I'd be happy with a "MSI-0.9" that just gathers 10000 top people and sets them to work on MSI-2 (or whatever technologies appears most important to getting a positive Singularity).

As evidence for this, I note that there are very few people whose "known for" list on Wikipedia is nearly as long as von Neumann's, and you'd expect more such people if the productivity difference between the 1st and the 10000th weren't very large.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_things_named_after_Leonhard_Euler

"Mathematical historian Eric Temple Bell estimated that, had Gauss published all of his discoveries in a timely manner, he would have advanced mathematics by fifty years"; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_things_named_after_Carl_Friedrich_Gauss

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Lists_of_things_named_after_mathematicians

(This isn't to contradict your point, just provide relevant evidence.)

I agree that von Neumann was exceptional.

I am not sure a Wikipedia rap sheet is as good a proxy for genius as you claim. I think genius is necessary but not sufficient. I also think "recreating von Neumann" will require context not present in his DNA. There are also issues with parallelizing intellectual work detailed in "the mythical man month," I am sure you are aware of.

At any rate, instead of trying for MSI-1, which has huge technical obstacles to overcome, why not simply push to acquire financial resources and hire brilliant people to do the work you think is necessary. That is doable with today's tech, and today's people.

[comment from the heart, rather than from the head: your description of MSI-1 sounds kind of, well, totalitarian. Don't you think that's a little peculiar?]

why not simply push to acquire financial resources and hire brilliant people to do the work you think is necessary

The point is to obtain an insurmountable lead on WBE tech, otherwise you'll just spur competition and probably end up with Robin Hanson's Malthusian scenario. (If intelligence explosion were possible, you could win the WBE race by a small margin and translate that into a big win, but for this post I'm assuming that intelligence explosion isn't possible, so you need to win the race by a large margin.)

[comment from the heart, rather than from the head: your description of MSI-1 sounds kind of, well, totalitarian. Don't you think that's a little peculiar?]

In that case you're in for a surprise when you find out what I was referring to by "WBE-enabled institutional controls" for MSI-2. Read Carl Shulman's Whole Brain Emulation and the Evolution of Superorganisms.

(If intelligence explosion were possible, you could win the WBE race by a small margin and translate that into a big win, but for this post I'm assuming that intelligence explosion isn't possible, so you need to win the race by a large margin.)

Since exploiting intelligence explosion still requires FAI, and FAI could be very difficult, you might still need a large enough margin to perform all the necessary FAI research before your competition stumbles on an AGI.

Part of the reason is due to coordination problems, which I think would be reduced if the group consisted of clones of a single person with similar education and upbringing, and hence similar values/goals.

I thought of an interesting objection to this. What if the cloned agents decided that the gap between themselves and other humans was sufficiently well-defined for them to implement the coherent extrapolated volition of the clones themselves only?

http://lesswrong.com/lw/932/stupid_questions_open_thread/64r4

Of course, this problem could potentially arise even if the gap was poorly defined...

That isn't necessarily an objection. Personally, I'm unsure if I would prefer human-CEV to Johnny-CEV.

Agreed. I don't know much about von Neumann, but I would trust Feynman with my CEV any day.

Why aren't [big number] of educated people a superintelligence now?

They are. Many collections of individuals (e.g. tech companies, hedge funds, PACs, etc.) seem to do rather a lot more than an individual human could. Likewise, humanity as a whole could be classified as a superintelligence (and possibly a recursively self-improving one: see the Flynn effect). The idea is not that large numbers of intelligent people aren't a superintelligence, it's that 10000 von Neumanns would be a more powerful superintelligence than most groups of highly intelligent people.

Downvoted for using terms imprecisely; see The Virtue of Narrowness.

Superintelligences are not "any powerful entity"; humanity is not "recursively self-improving". This conversation was over some time in 2009 when Eliezer finally got Tim Tyler to stop applying those terms to things that already exist, as though that meant anything.

Insofar as I have seen it defined here, an intelligence is that which produces optimization given a certain amount of resources, and higher intelligences exert more optimization power that lower intelligence given the same starting conditions. Since many organizations, especially tech companies, do rather a lot of optimizing given their resources. Apple, a company of 60000 employees, made profits of 30 billion last year. Apple, effectively a profit maximizer, is doing rather more than 60000 independent individuals would (they're making $500000/employee/year in profits). Considering that they are doing a lot of optimization given their starting conditions, I would say that they are at least a weakly superhuman intelligence.

Humanity is working to improve its own intelligence, and succeeding. So we have the "self-improving" right there. As we get smarter/more able, we are finding new and interesting ways to improve. Hence, "recursively". Evidently, "self improving in such a way that the entity can find new ways to self improve" isn't "recursive self improvement". I really don't know what the term would mean, and would appreciate if someone would enlighten me.

It is possible for the Wise Master to be mistaken, you know. He doesn't articulate in that article his reasons for drawing lines where he does, he just says "don't get me started". That makes it not a great article to cite in support of those lines, since it means you are basically just appealing to his authority, rather than referencing his arguments.

What is the current bottleneck on MS-1? Are we better off raiding Neumann's corpse, extracting the DNA and then implanting all the embryos we can make? Or are we better off with the current strategies of sequencing intelligent people to uncover the genetics of intelligence, which would then allow embryo selection or engineering? With the latter, the main bottleneck seems to be the cost of sequencing (since one needs a lot of genomes to discern the signal through all the noise), but that cost is being pushed down by the free market at a breathtaking pace - and indeed, the Beijing Genomics Institute (see Hsu, IIRC) is already working hard on the task of sequencing smart kids.

What is the current bottleneck on MS-1? Are we better off raiding Neumann's corpse, extracting the DNA and then implanting all the embryos we can make?

We can't clone humans at the moment. Even attempts to derive human stem cell lines from cloning have been disappointing, and reproductive cloning would face much higher barriers. Even if it could be made to work Dolly-style, you would still be producing huge numbers of miscarriages, early deaths, and damaged offspring for each success. That would not only increase the economic cost, but be incredibly unattractive for parents and a PR nightmare.

Or are we better off with the current strategies of sequencing intelligent people to uncover the genetics of intelligence, which would then allow embryo selection or engineering?

We can do embryo selection, but the relevant alleles would need to be identified in large studies (with the effectiveness of selection scaling with the portion of variation explained). The BGI study may expose a number of candidates, but I would expect the majority to be captured through linking genetic data collected for other reasons (or as part of comprehensive biobanks) to be matched to military or educational testing data, tax records, and so forth.

With the latter, the main bottleneck seems to be the cost of sequencing

Recent results suggest that much of intelligence variation in middle-class samples can be explained by the SNPs tracked by modern microarrays (used by 23andme and similar companies), without need for whole genome sequencing (which would capture rarer variants). The bottleneck seems to be more a matter of large studies (SNP-chip or whole genome) than whole-genome sequencing as such. BGI is not using whole genome sequencing, for instance.

ETA: Early applications would also remain costly in out-of-pocket terms (although they would easily pay for themselves in lifetime earnings and tax payments): IVF with PGD costs tens of thousands of dollars per successful pregnancy, allowing the selection of perhaps one embryo in six. If embryos could be exactly ranked by cognitive ability or scientific potential (a tall order, near 100% of heritability explained), that could be enough to boost the distribution by a standard deviation of genetic potential. Since environmental factors matter too, that might deliver only 8-12 IQ points. With imperfect knowledge of the genetics of intelligence the gains would be less. Likewise if parents (or governments) also select for other traits (height, appearance, longevity, personality, etc).

A method for producing huge numbers of eggs (from stem cells, or maturing eggs from ovarian biopsies) could make this technique much more powerful (selecting from more embryos per pregnancy, and eliminating the scarcity of eggs from sought-after donors), but that would require advances in biology and reproductive medicine. There are experimental versions, and claims that they will be made to work within a decade, but such predictions have a poor track record in other medical fields.

Even if it could be made to work Dolly-style, you would still be producing huge numbers of miscarriages, early deaths, and damaged offspring for each success.

Yes, this is what I was alluding to: of the 2 obvious routes to reproducing von Neumann levels of intelligence by playing god with genetics, the first one, the one OP seems to be suggesting, is abhorrent and troublesome. The second one seems straightforward and supported by the current state of understanding - but doesn't require the lobbying etc. (as OP proposed) as it's effectively already being done.

What is the current bottleneck on MS-1? Are we better off raiding Neumann's corpse, extracting the DNA and then implanting all the embryos we can make?

BTW, does anyone know of the...status...of said corpse? 'Tis but a purely academic curiosity, I assure you.

While the benefits are clear, it is not so clear that the project would in fact outrun the pace of progress as usual.

Cloning: It is unclear to which extent the truly exceptional ability is a result of just being lucky that the random parts of the development process resulted in right kind of circuitry. I'm not even taking of nature vs nurture. Those clones won't have same fingerprints, won't have same minor blood vessel patterns, etc etc. even if the wombs were exactly identical, as long as the thermal noise differs. See also : http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2691715/ - early in the process, cells create variations of a gene, so that neurons have unique IDs, and don't connect to themselves. The process, while genetic, is largely random. The clones will be bright, no doubt about it, but super geniuses, i dunno.

It is unclear to which extent the truly exceptional ability is a result of just being lucky that the random parts of the development process resulted in right kind of circuitry.

In twin studies this is partitioned out as "non-shared environment." In the central range it explains less variation than genetics, but more than household-level environment.

Do we have reason to believe the average period research engineering couldn't do what Von Neumann did given the same materials and information?

How does more computational power help become more rational? Will this not simply increase the number of irrational decisions made within the group?

There are two kinds of people in the world: Johnny von Neumann and the rest of us.

-Eugene Wigner

If we did reach MSI-3, then the second conjunct of this statement would become redundant.

Unrelated, but from von Neumann's Wikipedia article:

While at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., he invited a Roman Catholic priest, Father Anselm Strittmatter, O.S.B., to visit him for consultation. This move shocked some of von Neumann's friends in view of his reputation as an agnostic. Von Neumann, however, is reported to have said in explanation that Pascal had a point, referring to Pascal's wager.

0_o I knew von Neumann was smart, but I didn't realize he was that smart.

Why is this evidence that he was smarter than you thought rather than dumber than you thought?

Pascal's wager is easy to disregard for bad reasons, and Catholicism is the best religion (and was even moreso back in von Neumann's day).

That would take way too long to really explain; but the short version is, they have very good theology, very good philosophy, good traditions, good hermeneutics, very good architecture, very good spiritual practices, they're very widely accessible, and they have an absurdly good historical track record when it comes to doing good for humanity.

I'm upvoting you, because I think it's very bad practice when people get downvoted for answering honestly, clearly and politely a question they were directly asked.

Even if other people think said answer wrong.

That would take way too long to really explain

I'd be very interested in a post on the subject, whether or not it was "the sort of thing" we're supposed to post about, if you'd like to write it sometime.

I don't have a deep enough understanding. I'm okay with talking semi-nonsense in the comments, but posts give me an air of authority that I don't deserve.

Well, I'm happy to hear nonsense in comment or PM as well. (No implied obligation if you wouldn't find typing it fun, obviously.)

From what I heard the pedophilia rates are less in the church than secular institutions that regularly deal with children. It's just that for various reasons the church gets more media attention.

It wouldn't matter if the priesthood had ten times the expected rate of child abusers. That would just mean that pedophiles were attracted to the job, it wouldn't be the fault of the church as an institution. The problem is that the hierarchy is doing everything it can to protect the abusers from the consequences of their actions, up to and including lying to police, and doing nothing to keep known abusers away from children.

ETA: Here's a good article.

The problem is that the hierarchy is doing everything it can to protect the abusers from the consequences of their actions

So do a lot of the secular institutions.

A lot of secular institutions fought unjust wars and tortured innocents, too. What does this have to do with the church's track record of doing good for humanity?

they have an absurdly good historical track record when it comes to doing good for humanity

The Inquisition and Crusades would seem to indicate otherwise.

Most of what you've heard about them is likely Protestant propaganda far removed from the truth.

Most of what you've heard about them is likely Protestant propaganda far removed from the truth.

You exaggerate slightly, but if anyone with more than a passing familiarity with the history of the Middle Ages were offered the choice between being tried by a civil court or an ecclesiastical court, then they would choose the later without hesitation.

Also, of particular interest to Less Wrongers, the manuals created by Church lawyers for use by Inquisitors are important to the later development of probability theory. They included such topics as how to calculate "grades of evidence" (which can be contrasted with the "proof" or "no proof" methods of earlier Roman law) and even how much to discount witness testimony (taking into account not only whether the witness saw a particular act directly or only heard it happen from a room away, but whether the witness had a grudge against the defendant or other motives for wanting them punished unjustly).

Who knows, perhaps people like Alicorn who "don't think in numbers" would be better served by using a (pre-Pascal) probability theory like the one the Inquisitors made use of that included rigorously defined verbal probabilities such as suspicion, presumption, indication, support, vehement support, and conjecture instead of floating point numbers.

You may want to tell my ancestors in the Rhineland killed during the First Crusade that. I'm not coming from a Protestant perspective. Anyone with passing familiarity with the history of Jews in the Middle Ages knows that pogroms and blood libels occurred in Catholic areas more than anywhere else. While some forms of Protestants were better, the groups who actually treated the Jews well were generally Muslims. The history of Spain is the most extreme example, where in Muslim Spain, Jews and Christians lived as taxed and legally disadvantaged minorities. When the Catholics took control, it didn't take them long to expel all the Jews from Spain, and set up an Inquisition in Spain.

Every single country which expelled the Jews in the Middle Ages (around 15 of them at one time or another) was Catholic, not a single Muslim did so. While some Orthodox and Protestant countries treated Jews very badly, they didn't generally go as far as the Catholics.

Moreover, it is in Catholic England where the blood libel originates, where the claimed victim became a saint with a feast day celebrated throughout England (thankfully no longer).

And focusing on Jewish and Muslim deaths from the Crusades itself is misleading, because there were other groups who the the Inquisition killed almost to the last person, thus making no one pay attention to them today. Few remember the Albigensian Crusade which resulted in the complete destruction of the Cathars.

Edit: To be clear, I'm not arguing that the Catholic Church has never done good, nor am I arguing that they were the most violent group in the Middle Ages, the problem is the claim that the Catholic Church has an "absurdly good historical track record when it comes to doing good for humanity" and in that context, the Crusades and Inquisition are pretty damning evidence.

From your first link:

The massacre of the Rhineland Jews by the People's Crusade, and other associated persecutions, were condemned by the leaders and officials of the Catholic Church. The bishops of Mainz, Speyer, and Worms had attempted to protect the Jews of those towns within the walls of their own palaces, but the People's Crusade broke in to slaughter them. Fifty years later when St. Bernard of Clairvaux was urging recruitment for the Second Crusade, he specifically criticized the attacks on Jews which occurred in the First Crusade. [...] Albert of Aachen's own view was that the People's Crusade were uncontrollable semi-Christianized country-folk (citing the "goose incident", which Hebrew chronicles corroborate), who massacred hundreds of Jewish women and children, and that the People's Crusade ultimately got what they deserved when they were themselves promptly slaughtered by Muslim forces as soon as they set foot in Asia Minor.

So your ancestors were killed by stupid peasants, not the Church.

Few remember the Albigensian Crusade which resulted in the complete destruction of the Cathars.

What? Everyone remembers the Albigensian Crusade. "Kill them all, God will know His own." And if heretics won't repent you should expel them or kill them. I agree with the Church on that one. There are demons who would mislead the people, you can't just let them get away with it. You know what happens when you don't kill the heretics? Communism. And communism killed way more people than the Church ever did.

What? Everyone remembers the Albigensian Crusade. "Kill them all, God will know His own." And if heretics won't repent you should expel them or kill them. I agree with the Church on that one. There are demons who would mislead the people, you can't just let them get away with it. You know what happens when you don't kill the heretics? Communism. And communism killed way more people than the Church ever did.

I see you are fan of Marx and Weber. If Protestantism leads to capitalism and capitalism leads to communism, it makes sense to strike at the root of the evil.

Unfortunately, one fact kills the theory - in Catholic countries, communism was extremely strong and popular, while in Protestant ones communist parties were nearly nonexistent.

I've read little Marx or Weber; that's not really my model. My model is that rejection of politco-religious authority leads to democracy, liberalism, communism, atheism, fascism, uFAI, and a bunch of other evil things; the divine right of kings was the only defensible Schelling point, and when it fell chaos spread. Communism wouldn't have existed if the Catholic Kings had crushed the progenitors of the Reformation the same way they crushed the Cathars.

Communism wouldn't have existed if the Catholic Kings had crushed the progenitors of the Reformation the same way they crushed the Cathars.

Actually communism only seems to have taken hold in monarchies and other right-wing tyrannies that attempted to stifle political speech. Countries like Russia and China and Cuba, as opposed to countries like England and France and the United States, or even countries like Canada and Sweden. Even countries recently threatened to fall under communist control were authoritarian monarchies like Nepal.

Not very paradoxically the power of communist regimes to slaughter and oppress tends to derive from the authoritarian mechanisms of the state they inherited.

So I think you have it the other way around.

You are arguing with a religious person about the value of an untestable counterfactual.

So your ancestors were killed by stupid peasants, not the Church.

Peasants who were Catholics, taught by Catholic doctrine and engaged in a Crusade started by the Catholic Church. Yet you don't see such mobs systematically destroying entire Jewish villages in Protestant areas, and you don't see it in Russian Orthodox areas until the 1500s.

What? Everyone remembers the Albigensian Crusade. "Kill them all, God will know His own."

There may be an illusion of transparency here. Very few people remember where that phrase came from even if they've heard some version.

And if heretics won't repent you should expel them or kill them.

Somehow a lot of other religions have managed ok without doing that.

And if heretics won't repent you should expel them or kill them. I agree with the Church on that one. There are demons who would mislead the people, you can't just let them get away with it. You know what happens when you don't kill the heretics? Communism. And communism killed way more people than the Church ever did.

I'm wondering if I'm misreading what you are saying here.. Are you arguing that the Catholic Church should kill Catholic heretics and groups that disagree because otherwise other groups who will be more violent will arise?

Peasants who were Catholics, taught by Catholic doctrine and engaged in a Crusade started by the Catholic Church. Yet you don't see such mobs systematically destroying entire Jewish villages in Protestant areas, and you don't see it in Russian Orthodox areas until the 1500s.

Protestantism didn't even exist until the 1500s. I don't see why/how you're making the comparison.

A bunch of peasants got out of hand, directly went against the wishes of the Church, and killed some people. (Not very many, either, in the grand scheme of things.) When it comes to crimes against humanity, this is about a 1.1 on a scale of 1 to 10 for the Church, maybe about 3 for the peasants.

There may be an illusion of transparency here. Very few people remember where that phrase came from even if they've heard some version.

Hm, fair enough, but I was under the impression that most intelligent people at least knew that the Church had killed all the Cathars, and that's why Cathars don't exist anymore.

And if heretics won't repent you should expel them or kill them.

Somehow a lot of other religions have managed ok without doing that.

Managed what okay? No religion has managed to be as awesome as Catholicism, either. Catholics are responsible for universities.

I'm wondering if I'm misreading what you are saying here.. Are you arguing that the Catholic Church should kill Catholic heretics and groups that disagree because otherwise other groups who will be more violent will arise?

Well, they shouldn't do it anymore, for obvious reasons. But at that time it was a good idea. The Reformation led to a shift in values and political structures that reached one climax with the French revolution, heights never before seen with the Nazi camps and Soviet gulags, and will likely reach yet another climax with uFAI. The rise of atheism was the rise of sheer unadulterated Evil. It might have been better had the Church just killed all the protesters when they had the chance. But this is idle political speculation about counterfactual histories, so I mean, I'm probably horrifically wrong. But I could be horrifically right. It's hard to tell.

(ETA: By the way, I basically never get into "my side is better than your side" fights, and this fight is clearly inconsequential, so I'm mostly just having fun with it. Apologies if you were expecting me to be serious.)

Peasants who were Catholics, taught by Catholic doctrine and engaged in a Crusade started by the Catholic Church. Yet you don't see such mobs systematically destroying entire Jewish villages in Protestant areas, and you don't see it in Russian Orthodox areas until the 1500s.

Protestantism didn't even exist until the 1500s. I don't see why/how you're making the comparison.

So the Protestants had 500 years to do so and they didn't do it. But the really relevant group above is the Russian Orthodox who didn't start heavy persecution of Jews until later, and did so generally after absorbing memes from Catholics.

I was under the impression that most intelligent people at least knew that the Church had killed all the Cathars, and that's why Cathars don't exist anymore.

While most people who know about Cathars probably know that they were wiped out by the Catholic Church, you are likely overestimating how many people know about them at all.

Catholics are responsible for universities.

Actually, similar institutions existed elsewhere, especially in the Islamic world. The House of Wisdom functioned in many ways very similar to a university. By many accounts, Al-Karouine is the oldest university in existence, and clearly predates the European universities. There's a serious argument that Islamic schools played a vital role in influencing the establishment of universities in Christendom (although I think the influence here is probably often overstated).

Well, they shouldn't do it anymore, for obvious reasons.

What obvious reasons? Question: if you somehow time traveled back to 1491 and the pope asked you whether he should endorse a new Inquisition in Spain, would you tell him yes?

Responding to your ETA remark, I think you really don't get the problem. Aside from the potential problem of projection. Essentially you made an extremely positive remark about the Catholic Church and then aren't apparently seriously defending it while claiming that criticism is somehow a "fight' between which "side" is better. But that's not the issue here. The issue here is that you said that the Catholic Church had an "absurdly good" track record. You didn't say that it was better than some others or that on balance it has done more good than harm (both of which are not unreasonable claims), but rather you made a much stronger claim. And that claim simply doesn't hold ground. The Catholic Church like most other religions and long-term institutions is a mixed bag. There's been good and there's been bad. They've helped preserve learning and they've burned books, they've saved lives and they've taken them. That's not "absurdly good" by any reasonable notion of that term.

So in my head I was comparing the Church to, say, communism, which is where I got the "absurdly good" idea. Communists killed roughly 5,000 times as many people as the various Catholic inquisitions. But in retrospect that wasn't a very fair comparison, and so I repent of it. Mea culpa.

What obvious reasons?

If the Catholic Church tried to kill heretics in modern times, it would first have to declare war on the entirety of the United Nations. ...Surely it is clear why this would not accomplish anything useful.

Question: if you somehow time traveled back to 1491 and the pope asked you whether he should endorse a new Inquisition in Spain, would you tell him yes?

Reservedly but emphatically yes. I suspect the Church's involvement in the Spanish Inquisition, however limited, saved many lives and prevented costly wars.

I'm curious if you've read Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature". A major part of how humans have become less peaceful is that we're less willing to kill over ideas, whether those ideas are religious or ideological in nature.

I haven't read it, but I've seen various discussions about it, and I'm most willing to trust Vladimir_M's opinion on the subject.

a shift in values and political structures that ... will likely reach yet another climax with uFAI

What do you see as the causal connection here?

That part seems less controversial than the others--no Reformation and no Enlightenment means no science, which means no GAI, which means no uFAI. Although I'm sure there's multiple disjunctive ways science might have come about, it is rather strange that it took humanity so long.

As it is, LW--or at least Yudkowsky--believes uFAI is more likely than FAI, and is the most concerning current existential risk.

I don't really see how retaining the divine right of kings would have forestalled all the other existential risks, though.

The Reformation led to a shift in values and political structures that reached one climax with the French revolution, heights never before seen with the Nazi camps and Soviet gulags,

It's worth noting that none of these revolutions happened in protestant countries, with the partial exception of the Nazis, and even there the movement started in the Catholic parts of the country.

That is worth noting, but of course looking at the proximate cause can only tell us so much. It's true that Catholics took a (IMO minor) part in the German reaction, but the underlying cause of that was the popular disillusionmnent with American-Marxist mimicry and policy, and the cause of that was the United States' leftist meddling in World War 1 and the armistice that followed.

As far as revolutions in Catholic countries, the Catholics should have more violently put down all threats to politico-religious authority. For that they can be blamed. Even so, it was a sin of omission, and there's little they could have done after the Reformation. The plague of chaos had already begun to spread.

That's my narrative, anyway. I'm not trying very hard to make it accurate, and so I don't trust in it much. I only started thinking about politics like three months ago.

As far as revolutions in Catholic countries, the Catholics should have more violently put down all threats to politico-religious authority. For that they can be blamed. Even so, it was a sin of omission, and there's little they could have done after the Reformation. The plague of chaos had already begun to spread.

And yet Protestant countries don't seem to have this problem despite being even less inclined to put rebellions down violently.

They're also pretty communist and becoming moreso... and they tend to produce a lot of uFAI researchers. ...Political history is hard, let's go shopping.

Political history is hard, let's go shopping.

Here is a good blog post on the history of the relationship between the church and politics.

Cool essay. But dude, check this out. Conclusive proof that, just as I suspected, Lucifer in his guise as Luther was personally responsible for the Holocaust. It's from Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn's Liberty or Equality.

Please don't troll.

It only trolls those who deserve to be trolled; it was dense in information for those who deserve information. My comments have become all things to all men, that they might by all means win some!

You are better than that.

Alas, not really.

This is a counter-factual but I'm pretty sure the world would be a much better place had the US not intervened in the First World War.

How so? Could there ever be reprociation in Europe without a kind of catharsis through another disaster culturally, and American hegemony militarily? I think that on the whole what's surprising about the 20th century is how little we lost in its mind-boggling soul-crushing catastrophes, not that we had them.

Oh, and how was the US "marxist" (in any meaningful sense that makes it such a bad thing) at that point?

  • No Versailles, no National Socialist rise to power, no Hitler, no Holocaust
  • The Soviet Union is much smaller. It seems much less likley to dominate Eastern Europe and that part of the world is under German and Austria-Hungarian domination. Standards of living in Eastern Europe are as a result higher. Ukraine at the very least dosne't experience the Holodomor. Who knows perhaps Germans and Austrians even manage to do what the Entente couldn't and stamp out the Bolsheviks of Russia. In any case the mass slaughter and destruction of the Great Patriotic War are probably fully avoided.
  • Japanese expansion in the Far East is probably more limited, reducing the possibility of a Japanese-American war
  • National humiliation in France and Britian could perhaps result in either a Fascist or Communist take over. But both seem pretty unlikely. Even if they do happen, France in itself is far too weak for any revanchist warmongering, while Britain could only manage this if it was willing to lose its empire. And neither seem that likely to receive American support in such a war unless a US president does a FDR on steroids.
  • The Middle East remains under Ottoman control for the time being, I have a strong feeling that the Middle East several decades later in a alternative 2012 would be much less messed up than it currently is.

The immediate effects seem pretty darn beneficial and hard to beat. The end of the first world war with a Central powers victory basically changes the balance of power making Britain a second rate force decades earlier, preventing a Soviet rise to power, America remains much more isolationist... I have a very hard time seeing anything like a part two to that struggle.

A Stalin like figure might decide to try and invade central Europe but this seems unlikely. An American-Japanese war is still possible, but it seems unlikely to involve a European theatre in itself.

Did I mention we avoid the fucking holocaust and keep large chunks of Eastern Europe away and safe from Bolsheviks at least during their most damaging and bloodthirsty years? It just seems so overwhelmingly likely that this is a better world that I'm mystified why anyone would think it very likley to be worse.

Reducing the relevance of a global Communist vs. Capitalist struggle narrative also seems to much reduce the possibility of global annihilation. Maybe nukes are used in one or two ill though out wars, but then again nukes where used in our time line in a ill thought out war and we didn't turn out so bad.

Ah! You meant German victory! (or, at least, whatever the German masses would accept as victory or an honorable draw); I hadn't even thought about that; my first reaction was "So the French and the British bleed Germany dry on their own and impose an even harsher treaty", and I just went on from there. I'll have to consiider the above in detail, thanks a lot. This indeed sounds agreeable.

Yes I guess I should have stated that without US involvement a Central powers victory seemed to me likely. Things like the Battle of Caporetto, show pretty clearly that positional warfare was slowly coming to an end and that the Central powers where making surprisingly effective tactical innovations.

Germans would probably consider the gains in the East and Serbia being a puppet or occupied by Austro-Hungary to be a victory. Note that both where basically already achieved at that point if just the French and British would stop fighting! With the Russians out of the war and no American support, it seems likely the French and British would at least consider a peace treaty.

They could perhaps secure an independent Serbia in their negotiations but I can't see any further gains. Such a peace treaty would be seen as a German victory and at the very least Germany wouldn't have to become the scape goat for the war and wouldn't be forced to pay massive reparations.

Well, they shouldn't do it anymore, for obvious reasons. But at that time it was a good idea. The Reformation led to a shift in values and political structures that reached one climax with the French revolution

This is the reason why the French revolution happened in Catholic country that followed your advice and extirpated all heresy without mercy.

But the revolution happened after a second round of religious toleration, no? If the French government had kept up its reputation as able to put down threats of politco-religious unorthodoxy then the revolution might never have gotten traction. Or is that not accurate?

How is [...] the best religion?

"It is my religion, there are many of us and our political strength ensures that you will be better off affiliating with us than any of the others."