A Kick in the Rationals: What hurts you in your LessWrong Parts?

A month or so ago I stumbled across this.  It's a blog piece by one Robert Lanza M.D., a legitimate, respected biologist who has made important contributions to tissue engineering, cloning and stem cell research.  In his spare time, he is a crackpot.

I know I shouldn't give any of my time to an online pop-psychology magazine which has "Find a Therapist" as the second option on its navigation bar, but the piece in question could have been *designed* to antagonise a LessWrong reader: horrible misapplication of quantum physics, worshipful treatment of the mysterious, making a big deal over easily dissolvable questions, bold and unsubstantiated claims about physics and consciousness... the list goes on.  I'm generally past the point in my life where ranting at people who are wrong on the internet holds any appeal, but this particular item got my goat to the point where I had to go and get my goat back.

If reading LW all these years has done anything, it's trained me to take apart that post without even thinking, so (and I'm not proud of this), I wrote a short seven-point response in the comments lucidly explaining its most obvious problems, and signed it Summer Glau.  It got removed, and I learned a valuable lesson about productively channeling my anger.

But this started me thinking about how certain things (either subjects or people) antagonise what I now think of as my LessWrong Parts, or more generally cause me distress on an epistemic level, and what my subjective experience of that distress is like so I can recognise and deal with it in future.

I've seen a few other people make comments describing this kind of distress, (this description of "being forced to use your nicely sharpened tools on a task that would destroy them" seems particularly accurate).  Common culprits seem to be critical theory, postmodernism and bad philosophy.  I've also noticed some people distress me in this fashion, in a way I'm still struggling to characterise.

Who else has this experience?  Do you have any choice examples?  What hurts you in your LessWrong Parts?

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Oh, lots of things. "Suspension of moral disbelief," I suppose, causes me to rage the hardest inside, though I rarely get in arguments over it. There's too much inferential distance to close before people change from defense/rationalization mode to actually-goddamn-thinking-about-it mode. So I don't generally go about to my family members screaming "YOUR GOD CONDONES RAPE!" even though every time I hear an argument about how morality comes from god, my blood boils.

I had a dream this post was promoted and got 172 karma, spawning another post calling for DDOS attacks and other cyber-terrorism on Psychology Today by LW. Eliezer promoted that article too, and LW went to war with them. Eliezer got arrested and LW was shut down. It was weird.

Invest in people proportionate to your expected return. Your prior on returns should be very low, most people are a waste of time and resources (Specifically for this particular example, your investment was your emotional reactance to things they do). Low but still positive, so you invest a tiny bit and watch what happens. If you actually get some returns great! Repeat with a slightly larger investment. Otherwise start with a new person.

Your anger is understandable, things are more frustrating when they are close to awesome but then fail in a stupid way than things that were never awesome. These "almost awesome" things give you a glimpse of something amazing before snatching it away. Even though our platonic awesome thing never really existed we still feel loss.

Unless the argument itself is the part you get returns from. I've long admitted that arguing on the internet is utterly pointless. But so is watching TV or playing video games, and this at least makes me smarter sometimes.

Probably the only two examples that I can think of from my personal experience are:

1) A post that one of my old high school classmates made on face book saying (and I paraphrase): "[the existence of a personal god] is literally too good to be true, which is why we should believe it."

2) Being forced to take a class in "critical thinking" which actually turned out to utilize pretty much every dark arts technique in the book to convert you of the professor's political agenda.

2) Being forced to take a class in "critical thinking" which actually turned out to utilize pretty much every dark arts technique in the book to convert you of the professor's political agenda.

That sounds like it could be the final exam in a class on critical thinking.

Another one: In the film Rear Window, the protagonist witnesses a dog sniffing around a flower bed; later, that same dog is found dead. The protagonist responds by having his girlfriend dig up the flower bed, only to find nothing. From this, he concludes that his suspicion that his neighbor is a murderer is correct, and sends his girlfirend to break into said neighbors house. Of course, by authorial fiat, he ends up being right.

Also, anything that ICP has said, ever. But this takes the cake.

"Fog, to me, is awesome," he replies. "Do you know why? Because I look at my five-year-old son and I'm explaining to him what fog is and he thinks it's incredible."

"Ah!" I gesticulate. "If you're explaining to your five-year-old son what fog is, then why do you not want to meet scientists? Because they're just like you, explaining things to people…"

"Well," Violent J says, "science is… we don't really… that's like…" He pauses. Then he waves his hands as if to say, "OK, an analogy": "If you're trying to fuck a girl, but her mom's home, fuck her mom! You understand? You want to fuck the girl, but her mom's home? Fuck the mom. See?"

I look blankly at him. "You mean…"

"Now, you don't really feel that way," Violent J says. "You don't really hate her mom. But for this moment when you're trying to fuck this girl, fuck her! And that's what we mean when we say fuck scientists. Sometimes they kill all the cool mysteries away. When I was a kid, they couldn't tell you how pyramids were made…"

"Like Stonehenge and Easter Island," says Shaggy. "Nobody knows how that shit got there."

"But since then, scientists go, 'I've got an explanation for that.' It's like, fuck you! I like to believe it was something out of this world."

I tend to lose interest after encountering something like "Our current theories of the physical world don't work, and can never be made to work until they account for life and consciousness." (The writer is mentally classified as a hopeless case, so no fun to be had.) This is probably a defensive mechanism developed after 5 years in a physics IRC channel.

Yet I still get frustrated when an apparently elementary error is committed by a person who should know better (especially if, after some careful analysis, this person turns out to be me).

And it amuses me when rationalists get frustrated at the elementary errors, and mistakenly think that they "should know better", despite the overwhelming evidence that they don't. It especially amuses me when that rationalist is me. I should know better, and I do upon reflection, but rarely do in the moment.

I calm myself with the idea that if I don't know how to be more intelligent, it isn't reasonable for me to expect people who are less intelligent than I am to know how to be more intelligent.

Fatigue. Large amounts of depressing fatigue.

It's particularly bothersome because I just recently got a very good example of how irrational it makes me. This entire post was originally written before some of the coffee I had kicked in. I was typing up my post, and I read it, and I thought there was a good chance people were going to worry about me being suicidal. And then the caffeine kicked in, and I felt more awake, and I thought "Well, that's not very descriptive. I'm depressed, but I'm not THAT depressed." and then I rewrote everything. And then I realized what I was doing, and then I had to rewrite everything to acknowledge both states.

Basically, the knowledge that "I'm entirely irrational while I'm worn out" and "I'm worn out most of the time." put together, hurts me quite a bit in my Less Wrong parts. Of course, it might just be the availability heuristic. I might actually be less worn out then I remember. But then that brings up "A substantial majority of my recent memories seem to be of me being worn out/irrational." as it's own separate problem.

Using your tool analogy, it would best be described as "My tools are dull. Sometimes, they are VERY dull, to the point where I feel like I'm about to snap them. I would like to sharpen my tools, but I don't usually have the time, because people keep needing those tools NOW, and not later, so I apply chemicals which make them feel sharper, but also feel like they are weakening the blade." I do have a 10 day long vacation coming up for my birthday, which I am looking forward too substantially. I expect I'll feel substantially sharper afterwards. But in the meantime... I am my dull tools.

I know how you feel. I get so much stupider and sadder when I'm tired. Have you found any solutions? I've tried naps and mid-afternoon exercise and dietary changes. The only thing that's ever helped in the long term was giving up coffee 3 years ago - the crashes after the caffeine high were making everything so much worse. It took a lot of nail-biting but it was worth it.

On the plus side, at least you recognise its happening to you so you can try and make sure you don't make important decisions in this state.

Have you found any solutions?

Taking time off of work. Thankfully, paid time off is available to me.

On the plus side, at least you recognise its happening to you so you can try and make sure you don't make important decisions in this state.

Unfortunately, I recognize it's happening only some of the time. But important decisions seem to happen to be so frequently I sometimes wonder if my importance sensor is calibrated incorrectly.

I think I need to learn to pace myself better. I remember feeling in a very similar mood to this a while ago, reading some pointing out that people in this set of circumstances needed to learn to pace themselves better, and thinking something along the lines "Of course! That's exactly what I need to do!" and feeling inspired. And now, here I am, weeks later, complaining of a surprisingly similar problem... I think this is evidence I didn't actually learn the lesson of how to pace myself properly.

Edit: Based on this link, I apparently had this realization about pacing not even two months ago. http://lesswrong.com/lw/aks/emotional_regulation_part_i_a_problem_summary/5z6l?context=1#5z6l So I've updated my earlier comment to "weeks" later, and not months.

Good point. I have a tendency to treat the marathon like a sprint. Any plans for how to improve your pacing?

You've inspired me to come up with a mental list of "warning signs" that I should use as an indication I need to drop my hours for a while. (I'm thinking: skipping meals, drops in concentration and finding it harder to keep my temper).

My current plan is to make an effort to relax, specifically by beating a type of vague fear about "But what if I'm slacking off on X and no one is telling me! I'll (get fired/divorced/socially crushed) I have to work harder on the off hand chance that happens!" that I have periodically, particularly because, I have NO evidence of this fear, which hopefully will make it easier to beat.

All evidence points towards other people letting me know when I get anywhere near a lack of acceptable effort. If people think I'm slacking off, they'll let me know, like they have in the past. I have no need to work at above the pace I can keep at all times on the off hand chance someone might be quietly fuming about me being lazy and going from everything looks fine to unrecoverable/horrible in seconds.

Related to this, what kicks me in the Less Wrong Parts is that I can be in a bad mood and thinking irrationally, be aware that I am in a bad mood and thinking irrationally, and helplessly watch myself continue to think irrationally.

Moods, for me, are very sticky, and any strategy I develop for extricating myself from a foul mood ends up only working within the context for which it was designed. I feel like if I got a handle on my moods, my demonstrated rationality would skyrocket.

It might help to mention that I am not depressed or even unusually moody. In fact, I'm more even-keeled than average. Maybe this is what makes it feel that much worse when I do find myself in a foul mood. It is an unaccustomed state I don't know how to deal with.

any strategy I develop for extricating myself from a foul mood ends up only working within the context for which it was designed.

Have you tried designing strategies specifically so that they wouldn't work in the context where you're designing them, and then running tests on those? Say, leave a post-it note somewhere visible saying "you are in a bad mood, and will respond to this observation with irrational anger," then updating the last bit recursively until it's accurate enough that the tired, stupid version of you is forced to agree, or is at least thrown off-balance enough to break the behavioral pattern.

I wonder why your comment got deleted. Was it potentially inflammatory? Does the website not like people signing things Summer Glau when they aren't Summer Glau? (Unless you are Summer Glau, of course.) Was there a link in it? I don't want to assume they just don't like dissent, but sadly that happens sometimes. If you still have the comment I'd like to see it.

As for examples, I'm currently taking a class in "Science and Religion" that is full of minor instances of this. Yesterday I got deathism and elan vital, plus some arguing by definition over "life". Deathism is more a kick in the morals than a kick in the rationals, but it's the same feeling of "argh this is bad and there's nothing I can do about it".

this particular item got my goat to the point where I had to go and get my goat back.

I am going to steal this phrase.

and signed it Summer Glau.

Awesome. One more xkcd fulfilled, n left to go.

It was very much of the tone "I am now going to explain to you why you are wrong", but it was still civil. Rough outline:

1) Quantum mechanics does not say that.

2) Strong anthropic principle is a bold claim you've failed to substantiate.

3) Saying "our current theories of the physical world don't work" is outrageous coming from a man who attracts other objects towards him with a force proportional to the product of their mass and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.

4) The physical processes underlying organic life are perfectly compatible with a lawful physical universe, and fairly well understood by the standards of many academic disciplines (and you should know that, because you're actually an expert on the subject). To date, no mental phenomena have demonstrated properties that violate the laws of physics.

5) "Tree in the forest" is an artefact of the semantic history of our language, and nothing to do with physics.

6) Remaining few paragraphs are presented in a needlessly confusing way to obfuscate some fairly straightforward ideas. Obviously things we label "optical effects" require optical devices in order to manifest in the way we perceive them. The mapping in the analogies is sunlit_droplet -> skyscraper / rainbow -> sight_of_skyscraper, but the phrasing implies it's rainbow -> skyscraper.

7) It's one thing to point to poorly-understood phenomena and go "woooo...isn't it weird and spooky and strange?" but it's another entirely to deliberately and erroneously subvert pretty well-understood phenomena to try and achieve the same effect. Please stop it.

3) Saying "our current theories of the physical world don't work" is outrageous coming from a man who attracts other objects towards him with a force proportional to the product of their mass and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.

Uh, your mom is so massive she attracts other objects toward her with a force proportional to the product of their mass and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.

(In other words: You do realize this sounds like the nerd version of a fat joke, right?)

That honestly didn't occur to me when I wrote it. It was supposed to be a riff on an Ad Hominem attack, only with a factual statement about a theory of physical law and how he conforms to it.

Here I thought it was a snarky statement about how we can see the success of physical theories with our own observations, and have never observed them to fail. Triple illusion of transparency all the way across the sky!

Its purpose was to demonstrate how physical theories are demonstrably successful. Its delivery was the Ad Hominem riff.

Certainly comes across as condescending and indignant, thanks to the words like "needlessly confusing way to obfuscate" and "outrageous".

(Unless you are Summer Glau, of course.)

Words can not express how awesome it would be if Summer Glau was a LW regular.

Words can not express how awesome it would be

"Sort-of-awesome"?

How regularly would you have to post to be considered a regular?

Are you aware that they might be other people by the same name?

Yes. But it was nevertheless clear which person in the reference set of "People with the name Summer Glau" I was referring to.

Mass Effect kicks me in the LW.

Quantum entanglement communication. AI (including superAI) all over the place, life still normal. Bad ethics. Humans in funny suits.

Your strength as a rationalist is your ability to scream 'bullshit' and throw the controller at the screen.

Eh. If violations of physics and common sense (never mind unusual cognitive-science concepts) in space opera had the ability to make me angry, I'd have to spend most of my time getting angry. Mass Effect actually seems fairly sane as space opera goes, though its handling of the robot rebellion motif is pretty damned ham-fisted.

The most recent Deus Ex game actually bothered me more, thanks to explicitly tackling transhumanist themes and then completely failing to resolve them in a way that showed any understanding of the subject matter. Very little in media irritates me more than a work rendering complex philosophical issues down into a trite moral quandary and then trying to award itself cool points for knowing about the issue at all.

In what way could Deus Ex: Human Revolution have "resolved" it's transhumanist themes without violating continuity with Deus Ex?

Any rationalist that can't enjoy a simple story... much less resorting to throwing their controller at the screen... has demonstrated weakness, not strength. You have cut yourself out of a huge part of culture, the "human experience", simply so that you can proclaim "bullshit!" and be angry, without affecting any actual change in the world.

sure. I know, I should ignore the stupid things and just enjoy the art, but throwing your controller at the screen is an unfortunate side effect of breaking down compartmentalization and cultivating an aversion to bad thinking.

Maybe I will be able to enjoy fiction again when I reach your level. Until then, it is a cost to be paid.

Ehn. On the other hand, different folks enjoy different stories in different ways. And may even derive some enjoyment from analyzing or looking at stories they themselves didn't actually enjoy. There's also engaging with a narrative critically; "enjoy a simple story" doesn't mean "don't think about this at all" or "have only positive to neutral reactions."

If one genuinely enjoys throwing controllers at the screen, and is well off enough to afford the replacement TVs when one inevitably fractures from the force of the blows, sure.

Personally, I got the rather strong impression that nyan_sandwich was throwing the controller because of frustration, not euphoria.

when one inevitably fractures from the force of the blows

Define inevitably. I don't think I could throw a controller hard enough to damage a CRT or a rear projector. These suggest designs for protective covers (for the former, put the TV behind thick curved glass; for the latter put it behind a durable plastic sheet held in a rigid frame.

Define inevitably.

That was playful exaggeration, sorry ^.^;

I am surprised to hear that a CRT is considered that durable. I can bend deadbolts and I've had friends take a metal door off it's frame, so I was raised on an odd sense of what "normal" strength is.

Large CRTs are made of very thick curved glass. I once did hit one hard enough to chip it, which left a hole several millimeters deep and did not appear to affect the structural integrity of the tube. But I don't know about "that durable" - if you dropped one from a sufficient height it would surely break - but it's more a question of how much force you (or I) can throw a controller with.

My previous basis for it was my electronics teacher talking about a friend taking one in to a shop, dropping it, and having it shatter. This would have been a height of 4-5 feet, since it was held in arms Maybe modern CRTs are thicker / more durable? Given my electronics teacher, it's also entirely possible he just enjoyed dramatic stories...

Well, don't forget that it will hit the ground with a force proportional to its weight. You probably wouldn't want him to have dropped it on your head - it would be a rather more unpleasant experience than having a controller thrown at your head.

Yep. Most mass-market space operas are guilty of this. Despite having knowledge and resources to fly to other planets, humans in them still have to shoot kinetic bullets at animals.

However, stories, in order to be entertaining (at least for the mainstream public), have to depict a protagonist (or a group thereof) who are changing because of conflict, and the conflict has to be winnable, resolvable -- it must "allow" the protagonist to use his wit, perseverance, luck and whatever else to win.

Now imagine a "more realistic" setting where humans went through a singularity (and, possibly, coexist with AIs). If the singularity was friendly, then this is an utopia which, by definition, has no conflict. If the singularity was unfriendly, humans are either already disassembled for atoms, or soon will be -- and they have no chance to win against the AI because the capability gap is too big. Neither branch has much story potential.

This applies to game design as well -- enemies in a game built around a conflict have to be "repeatedly winnable", otherwise the game would become an exercise in frustration.

(I think there is some story / game potential in the early FOOM phase where humans still have a chance to shut it down, but it is limited. A realistic AI has no need to produce hordes of humanoid or monstrous robots vulnerable to bullets to serve as enemies, and it has no need to monologue when the hero is about to flip the switch. Plus the entire conflict is likely to be very brief.)

If the singularity was friendly, then this is an utopia which, by definition, has no conflict.

How is this a utopia?

Data from Star Trek doesn't quite give me the lurching despair I was thinking of when I wrote the original post, but he does make me do a mental double-take whenever a physical embodiment of human understanding of cognition sits there wondering about esoteric aspects of human behaviour that were mysterious to sci-fi screenwriters in the early 1990s.

To be fair, he didn't actually have access to Soong's design notes.

Data's awareness of his own construction varies as befits the plot. My point was that TNG often asked a lot of questions about ethics and cognition and personhood and identity. Data himself talks about the mysterious questions of human experience all the bloody time.

In a world where Data exists, significant headway has been made on those questions already.

This is a special case of a general property of the Star Trek universe: it exhibits a very low permeability to new information. Breakthroughs and discoveries occur all over the place that have only local effects.
I've generally assumed that there's some as-yet-unrevealed Q-like entity that intervenes regularly to avoid too many changes in the social fabric in a given period of time.

The Federation government being deeply corrupt would also explain a lot.

However, stories, in order to be entertaining (at least for the mainstream public), have to depict a protagonist (or a group thereof) who are changing because of conflict, and the conflict has to be winnable, resolvable -- it must "allow" the protagonist to use his wit, perseverance, luck and whatever else to win.

Bwahaha. Have you seen the end of mass effect 3? The "win" is worse than letting the bad guys do their thing.

Can you rot13 the ending for us? I've never played it and never intend to, but I wouldn't mind knowing what you're talking about.

N zvyyvbaf-bs-lrnef-byq fhcrevagryyvtrapr inyhrf yvsr, ohg unf qrgrezvarq gung gur bayl jnl gb fhfgnva yvsr va gur tnynkl vf gb crevbqvpnyyl jvcr bhg nqinaprq pvivyvmngvbaf orsber gurl varivgnoyl frys-qrfgehpg, qrfgeblvat tnynpgvp srphaqvgl. Gb qb guvf, vg perngrq avtu-vaihyarenoyr znpuvarf gung fjrrc guebhtu rirel 50,000 lrnef naq fcraq n srj praghevrf xvyyvat rirel fcrpvrf ng xneqnfuri 1 be terngre.

Sbe gur cnfg srj plpyrf, betnavpf unir znqr cebterff gbjneq fgbccvat gur znpuvarf. Gur fhcrevagryyvtrapr nqzvgf gb lbh gung gur fbyhgvba vf ab ybatre jbexvat, naq bssref guerr pubvprf: (1) betnavpf qbzvangr znpuvarf, (2) xvyy nyy NVf, (3) "zretr" betnavpf jvgu NVf. Arvgure gur tnzr abe gur fhcrevagryyvtrapr vzcyvrf gung pvivyvmngvba jvyy abg frys-qrfgehpg, qrfgeblvat tnynpgvp srphaqvgl.

Gung'f abg nyy gub. Nyy fbyhgvbaf vaibyir gur qrfgehpgvba bs gur pvgrqry naq znff erynlf, juvpu ner gur onfvf bs tnynpgvp pvivyvmngvba. Jvgubhg gurz gur rpbabzl jvyy gbgnyyl zryg qbja, abar bs gur syrrgf jvyy or noyr gb rfpncr gur fby flfgrz, naq ovyyvbaf bs crbcyr jvyy or fghpx va cynprf jvgu ab pbzcngvoyr sbbq. Znff fgneingvba rafhrf.

Naq gung'f vtabevat gung gur qrfgehpgvba bs n znff erynl perngrf na rkcybfvba ba cne jvgu n fhcreabin, jvcvat bhg gur ubfg flfgrz.

Fb onfvpnyyl rirelbar qvrf, naq pvivyvmngvba arire erpbiref.

Vs lbh unq yrg gur erncref fgrnzebyyre pvivyvmngvba, gur arkg plpyr jbhyq unir orra noyr gb qrsrng gurz naq ohvyq n creznanag pvivyvmngvba orpnhfr bs jneavatf cynprq nyy bire gur cynpr ol bar bs gur punenpgref.

Gung'f abg nyy gub. Nyy fbyhgvbaf vaibyir gur qrfgehpgvba bs gur pvgrqry naq znff erynlf, juvpu ner gur onfvf bs tnynpgvp pvivyvmngvba. Jvgubhg gurz gur rpbabzl jvyy gbgnyyl zryg qbja, abar bs gur syrrgf jvyy or noyr gb rfpncr gur fby flfgrz, naq ovyyvbaf bs crbcyr jvyy or fghpx va cynprf jvgu ab pbzcngvoyr sbbq. Znff fgneingvba rafhrf.

Naq gung'f vtabevat gung gur qrfgehpgvba bs n znff erynl perngrf na rkcybfvba ba cne jvgu n fhcreabin, jvcvat bhg gur ubfg flfgrz.

Fb onfvpnyyl rirelbar qvrf, naq pvivyvmngvba arire erpbiref.

Vs lbh unq yrg gur erncref fgrnzebyyre pvivyvmngvba, gur arkg plpyr jbhyq unir orra noyr gb qrsrng gurz naq ohvyq n creznanag pvivyvmngvba orpnhfr bs jneavatf cynprq nyy bire gur cynpr ol bar bs gur punenpgref.

Tbbq cbvag. Fvapr gur pvarzngvp raqvat fubjrq crbcyr gung unqa'g tbggra fhcreabin'rq, V nffhzrq gurl fbzrubj qvq n tenprshy fuhgqbja ba gur znff erynlf, hayvxr gur Ongnevna fbyhgvba. Ohg rira tvira gung, gurer'f qrsvavgryl n znffvir syrrg fghpx va gur Fby flfgrz naq ab zber vagrefgryyne genqr.

Bu, jryy. Ng yrnfg gur zhygvcynlre'f rguvpnyyl qrsrafvoyr (V tb ol rg wnlarf gurer).

I'm confused as to why this was downvoted - was it because it was an inaccurate summary?

Perhaps because the quote was misformatted or because the poster advertised their multi-player handle.

Now imagine a "more realistic" setting where humans went through a singularity (and, possibly, coexist with AIs). If the singularity was friendly, then this is an utopia which, by definition, has no conflict.

There is Friendliness and there is Friendliness. Note: Ambivalence or even bemused antagonism would qualify as Friendliness so long as humans were still able to determine their own personal courses of development and progress.

An AGI that had as its sole ambition the prevention of other AGIs and unFriendly scenarios would allow a lot of what passes for bad science fiction in most space operas, actually. AI cores on ships that can understand human language but don't qualify as fully sentient (because the real AGI is gutting their intellects); androids that are fully humanoid and perhaps even sentient but haven't any clue why that is so (because you could rebuild human-like cognitive faculties by reverse-engineering black-box but if you actually knew what was going on in the parts you would have that information purged...) -- so on and so on.

And yet this would qualify as Friendly; human society and ingenuity would continue.

The other day someone in a class mentioned that intelligence is in the soul, and that humans are rational beings because of this. I politely interjected, explaining cognitive biases, that humans are not inherently rational, and often fail to analyse situations.

Examples of brain damage patients would also prove your point nicely, perhaps more saliently.

Hemineglect is my personal favorite (boy it feels wrong saying favorite) example of this. Those with hemineglect are largely or completely unaware of the side of the universe contralesional to their brain damage. They can pick up a chair on one side of their body, put it on the other, and when you ask them where the chair is, they say "What chair?" To make matters worse, they also often insist that they have no deficit in function. It's astounding.

Hemineglect might fit with the "are there (true) thoughts we cannot think?" discussion.

Someone I used to know said that the brain-based nature of the mind was brought home to him when he had a stroke and his personality changed. (The only specific example I can remember is that he went from loving science fiction to having no interest in it.)

I enjoy meditation, especially group meditation. It calms me down and helps me stay a bit more focused. I just want to do without the new age hippy bullshit. My eyes start to glaze over when people start to talk about God, chakras, and auras.

I've noticed many people who practise meditation have a strong belief in meditation and the more 'rational' core of Buddhist practices, but only belief in belief about the new age-y aspects. My meditation teacher, for example, consistently prefaces the new age stuff with "in Buddhist teachings" or "Buddhists believe" ("Buddhists believe we will be reincarnated") while making other claims as simple statements of fact ("mindfulness meditation is a useful relaxation technique").

I used to believe in God and pray often.

When I discovered that I had stopped believing, I stopped praying.

In a month or two, I felt the lack strong enough that I felt I needed to do something about it. So I began to go through the motions and find what parts work.

It turns out that I can perform prayer-like-actions without invoking a higher power and get similar results. A couple years have allowed me to refine the process, somewhat, and now I can feel the rightness, acceptance, and love-like-experience I once called 'being filled with the Holy Spirit' much more easily than I could when I had to first abase myself before God's judgement.

And I call that progress.

I wrote a short seven-point response in the comments lucidly explaining its most obvious problems, and signed it Summer Glau. It got removed, and I learned a valuable lesson about productively channeling my anger.

I'd look at what you would have spent your time doing otherwise before you necessarily say (you didn't, but implied) that was a waste of time. Even if exactly 1 person read it (the one who deleted it), you got practice expressing yourself and (hopefully) coherently forming an argument.

Horrible lurching realisation: over the past couple of years, I've avoided unproductive online arguments. This has made me happier. I've also felt, over the past 18 months or so, that my general argument-forming faculties have gotten a little bit shoddy.

This is worrying.

that my general argument-forming faculties have gotten a little bit shoddy.

So long as your truth-discovering faculties are getting enough exercise, that seems like a fair trade.

Since reading Lesswrong, I try to argue more. But not to win, rather, from the point of view that I am trying to understand how they think and to modify how they think. Lesswrong has allowed me to concede points that I don't agree with, because I know that I can't change their mind yet. It's fun.

My choice example is dilettantes who learned from other dilettantes pontificating with supreme confidence about the subject matter they know little about (Hello, MWI!).

Oh, I got another one, mostly confined to this forum: people making up numbers for probabilities of certain events and feeling so much more Bayesian.

I've occasionally been guilty of that, but I see it less as a magical talisman of +1 to prediction skills and more as a means of improving my calibration after the fact: if I discover I've been systematically overweighting (or, much less likely, underweighting) the probability of some category of events, that's a good clue that my thinking about them is flawed in some way. Can't do that if I don't quantify my uncertainty in the first place, although of course the flaw might come in at the quantification step.

This only works if you actually go back and collect that data, though, and I haven't generally been very good about using PredictionBook or any similar tools.

I express completely or nearly-completely subjective degrees of belief as numbers (and hear people doing the same) so often that I sometimes forget that not everybody does that, and take a while to realize why people hearing us talk look startled. (I guess that's what happens when most of the people I hang around with are physicists, and many of those who aren't are into sports bets and/or poker.) I don't think I “feel so much more Bayesian” for that (except to the extent that I know frequentists would feel an even more painful kick), though; I mostly take that to be a figure of speech, as TheOtherDave says.

Possibly related... I developed the mannerism with my husband of answering rhetorical questions with oddly precise arbitrary numbers a while ago, mostly as an expression of dislike of rhetorical questions. (As in "How weird is that?" "Twelve.") It amuses him, lets me blow off steam, and really bewilders listeners.

I've done this for years, and "Twelve" is my go-to number. So much so, that my wife often preempts my retort with "And don't you say 'twelve'!".

Sometimes I throw a "Seven" in there, just because I'm a wild and crazy guy.

I'm amused; my husband and I have precisely that dynamic. And I use seventeen as my alternate meaningless number, in almost exactly the same way.

I use seventeen

Is that because of the humbug?

Possibly related... I developed the mannerism with my husband of answering rhetorical questions with oddly precise arbitrary numbers a while ago, mostly as an expression of dislike of rhetorical questions. (As in "How weird is that?" "Twelve.") It amuses him, lets me blow off steam, and really bewilders listeners.

That's a really good idea. I'm going to make it my new policy!

Oh, I got another one, mostly confined to this forum: people making up numbers for probabilities of certain events and feeling so much more Bayesian.

How are we supposed to get better at quantifying our degree of belief without practice?

You're not, which is why not keeping track of the results is a way of doing it wrong.

(Not that I do it, but then I don't assign spurious numbers to my feelings either. Possibly I should, but if I do then I need to keep track.)

I mostly approach this as a set of jargon words that express finer gradations of confidence than the conventional language.

That is, in normal speech I use tags like "I suspect that X," "I expect that X," "I'm fairly confident that X," "I doubt X", etc. On LW I use "I'm N confident that X" instead, where N is typically expressed to one significant figure (except I use ".99+" to denote virtual certainty).

I endorse that, although I also endorse remembering that what I'm talking about is my intuitions, not reality. That is, when I say I'm .7 confident that it's going to rain this afternoon, I have said something about my mind, not about rain.

I do find that the exercise of thinking more precisely about what my intuition actually is is helpful in encouraging me to pay more attention. That is, trying to decide whether I'm .6 or .8 confident in X (or whether all I can really say is that I'm .6-.8 confident) is a meaningful exercise in clarifying my own thoughts about X that I'm not as encouraged to do if my lexical habit is to say "probably X."

I do this in real life quite often. But I always try to explain that I'm talking about my state of mind. I occasionally get good reactions to this along the lines of whomever I'm talking to not having ever thought about the distinction between rain and what your mind thinks about rain.

This only really irritates me when the person stating the estimate feels obligated to put a "p" somewhere, e.g., "I believe blah with p = 0.04" or "Blah has probability (0.05 < p < 0.1)".

This just signals a confusion of frequentist p-values and subjective-ish Bayesian prior probabilities, and indicates to me no real understanding of either of them.

Some of us do so because we have been or expect to be asked to do so, or both. Some others maybe just want to fit in, as they entirely knowingly affect.

Products of the environment, you know.

Armchair critics are often just as bad. For example, there are all thosepeople who insist that "cryogenics" doesn't work because ice crystals inevitably explode all the cells. The much harder thing to accept however is when experts and public faces of the field fail to correct public opinion on the matter.

One basic thing about MWI is that it is a matter of physical fact that large objects tend to violate 'laws of quantum mechanics' as we know them (the violation is known as gravity), and actual physicists do know that we simply do not know what the quantum mechanics works out to at large scale. To actually have a case for MWI one would need to develop a good quantum gravity theory where many worlds would naturally arise, but that is very difficult (and many worlds may well not naturally arise).

large objects tend to violate 'laws of quantum mechanics' as we know them (the violation is known as gravity)

I cannot agree with this assertion. Except for the mysterious "measurement" thing, where only a single outcome is seen where many were possible (I'm intentionally use the word "seen" to describe our perception, as opposed to "occurs", which may irk the MWI crowd), the quantum world gracefully turns classical as the objects get larger (the energy levels bunch tighter together, the tunneling probabilities vanish exponentially, the interaction with the environment, resulting in decoherence, gets stronger, etc.).

This has not been shown to have anything to do with gravity, though Roger Penrose thinks that gravity may limit the mass of quantum objects, and I am aware of some research trying to test this assertion.

For all I know, someone might be writing a numerical code to trace through decoherence all the way to the microscopic level as we speak, based on the standard QM/QFT laws.

Look up on quantum gravity (or rather, lack of unified theory with both QM and GR). It is a very complex issue and many basics have to be learnt before it can be at all discussed. The way we do physics right now is by applying inconsistent rules. We can't get QM to work out to GR in large scale. It may gracefully turn 'classical' but this is precisely the problem because the world is not classical at large scale (GR).

I am well aware of the QG issues. That was not my point. I will disengage now.

To be fair, a lot of actual physicists feel that way when they hear the word "quantum". It's definitely one of the common cases of things that make people feel this way.

The.thing that gets me is in movies or books or whatever. When they do the thing that makes no sense but holds the plot together my brain screams. Not "hold in that's too stupid to exist" my brain says, "Oh, thia is a movie about stupid people doing stupid things" For example in my head in the movie Avatar was about some incompotent division of a mineing corp useing mickeymoused old bootleg clones to try to mine a terrible little planted off in some desolate corner of nowhere before I they get shut down on safety violations

a movie about stupid people doing stupid things

This is essentially the premise of "Burn after Reading".

Yes, but it has a clever subtext, which makes all the difference. Cf. Jack and Jill.

(I have often have a reaction similar to cloudlicker's when confronted with bad storytelling in books/movies.)

The TVTropes page (which I am not linking to) notes Idiocracy as an example of a plot where everyone in the society is an idiot and the premise works. If that's the actual point of the story, that's different to doing it just to give yourself a plot at all.

The idiot plot, in which every character needs to be an idiot for the plot to work. See also the "second-order idiot plot", in which not merely the characters but everyone in the society needs to be an idiot for the plot to work.

Thank you for linking to Wikipedia and not TVTropes.

Out of curiosity: are you actually grateful, or just saying that as a joke? (I'm asking this because so far I'd presumed such comments were jokes and while TVTropes was addictive, surely it wasn't that bad and you could always close it if you really had to - but I've seen enough of them to start to suspect that they might not all be jokes, and that for some people TVTropes really is that bad.)

Somewhat grateful. It isn't absolutely awful since I can often avoid clicking on the initial TVTropes page, but if I do click on a single TVTropes page I'm likely to get stuck there for a while. In this case, I clicked on the link once without thinking about it and then was happy to see a Wikipedia page.

A friend of mine goes to The North American Institute of Medical Herbalism. Today, she and her classmates tried five different "flower essences" (made in basically the same way as homeopathic medicine) and talked about their reactions in what was described as a double-blind trial. Naturally, they all experienced very similar and significant effects from each essence. It's too bad they can't get anyone to thoroughly document these double-blind trials they keep running on energy medicine!

LW has made me feel this way about general run-of-the-mill Internet stupidity.

Not to mention the pain of the older teen coming out with mindboggling failures of logic when she was studying A-level Philosophy. And not doing too badly on it. (Some LW readers on my Facebook will recall some stunningly scrambled thinking about religion.) Kids, eh.

Kids, eh

Hey, you're the one who sired a human. Don't go blaming her for the resulting failure to think clearly.

She's the loved one's daughter, not mine. My genes are innocent of that one!

Now, the 4yo who is really obviously mine ... she's already got the clever rhetorician skills down pat.

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