I'd like the opinion of Less Wrongers on the extent to which it is appropriate to use Dark Arts as a means of promoting rationality.

I and other fellow aspiring rationalists in the Columbus, OH Less Wrong meetup have started up a new nonprofit organization, Intentional Insights, and we're trying to optimize ways to convey rational thinking strategies widely and thus raise the sanity waterline. BTW, we also do some original research, as you can see in this Less Wrong article on "Agency and Life Domains," but our primary focus is promoting rational thinking widely, and all of our research is meant to accomplish that goal.

To promote rationality as widely as possible, we decided it's appropriate to speak the language of System 1, and use graphics, narrative, metaphors, and orientation toward pragmatic strategies to communicate about rationality to a broad audience. Some example are our blog posts about gaining agency, about research-based ways to find purpose and meaning, about dual process theory and other blog posts, as well as content such as videos on evaluating reality and on finding meaning and purpose in life.

Our reasoning is that speaking the language of System 1 would help us to reach a broad audience who are currently not much engaged in rationality, but could become engaged if instrumental and epistemic rationality strategies are presented in such a way as to create cognitive ease. We think the ends of promoting rationality justify the means of using such light Dark Arts - although the methods we use do not convey 100% epistemic rationality, we believe the ends of spreading rationality are worthwhile, and that once broad audiences who engage with our content realize the benefits of rationality, they can be oriented to pursue more epistemic accuracy over time. However, some Less Wrongers disagreed with this method of promoting rationality, as you can see in some of the comments on this discussion post introducing the new nonprofit. Some commentators expressed the belief that it is not appropriate to use methods that speak to System 1.

So I wanted to bring up this issue for a broader discussion on Less Wrong, and get a variety of opinions. What are your thoughts about the utility of using light Dark Arts of the type I described above if the goal is to promote rationality - do the ends justify the means? How much Dark Arts, if any, is it appropriate to use to promote rationality?


Edit: After reading the comments, I see that this is not crossing into real Dark Arts territory in the traditional sense after all. I wasn't sure how LessWrong would perceive things, so thanks for your feedback!


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I don't think "appealing to System 1" alone qualifies as Dark Arts. So you'll have to be more specific...

I guess that was the nature of the question - is "appealing to System 1" in the way we described worthwhile? In descriptions of Dark Arts strategies, we use some things such as creating cognitive ease through using simple and positive language, having some stories, some flashy language and graphics, and so on. However, we don't want to go too far, so the question is where is a good balance to draw. Are the articles cited above on the Intentional Insights website a good balance?

HPMOR is something that appeals to System 1 (an engaging story/narrative) to advertize for rationality. So I don't think appealing to System 1 per se implicates you as a dark arts practicioner.

Good point about HPMOR - we are also using things such as graphics and metaphors, but that's prolly not a big additional issue. Appreciate the support!

Well, the article in question wasn't even using dark arts to promote rationality. In was using them to promote polyamory, the rationality of which is rather dubious.

The articles we have on the website are quite diverse, including on agency and on dual process theory, as my comments above made clear. The article on poly had a pretty strong focus on using rational thinking to re-assesses cached thoughts about relationships as well as many other life domains. What are your thoughts on the benefits of using rational thinking to re-assess our cached patterns?

The article on poly had a pretty strong focus on using rational thinking to re-assesses cached thoughts about relationships as well as many other life domains.

Where by "rational thinking" you mean examining two scenarios that are meant to rhetorically function as a false alternative.



Source https://archive.today/bJGcu .

Edit: I should point out that this doesn't prove that Gleb paid for upvotes, only that someone with a username of Gleb paid for Gleb to get upvotes. I'm leaving it to the moderator to determine what happened and deal with it.

Hi ike! As a moderator of this website, I would appreciate if next time when you believe you have an evidence of abusing votes, you would (also) send me a private message with the data, instead of contributing to the spiral of strategic downvoting and upvoting. I am usually reading LW almost every day, but I cannot read all articles and all comments.

If there is a pattern of "new users, upvoting Gleb and not doing anything else", it will be visible in the database, and I will deal with it. At this moment, everyone please don't strategically downvote or anything like that. Thanks!

It seems like an attempt to illustrate the issue with someone claiming to do dark arts.

If "Ends Justify Means" there wouldn't be a problem with paying people on Mechanical Turks to upvote posts. On the other hand to the extend that you don't believe "Ends Justify Means" then there's obviously an issue with it.

The account that first accused Gleb in capital letters is newly registered.

It seems like an attempt to illustrate the issue with someone claiming to do dark arts.

Still, making damage to illustrate a point is not a nice thing to do.

I just saw the comments about the Mechanical Turk issue. Thanks for bringing that to my attention, I really appreciate it!

I knew that I might've stirred up some feelings with my discussion of polyamory, and a lot of people have downvoted my comments for no clear reasons.

But I never thought someone on here would go so far as to try and frame me. The Mechanical Turk requester's name was not mine, as my name on Amazon is Gleb11, as reflective of my gmail account (gleb11@gmail.com). I took a screenshot of my account name and uploaded it here as evidence

I'm going to take this whole thing up with the mods before it gets even more out-of-hand. Thanks again!


Good luck. I am sorry to say that existence of an otherwise named Amazon account that you own is not very helpful in clearing your good name, as it's easy enough to own multiple Amazon accounts.

If indeed you are being framed, perhaps it's someone who's strongly opposed to the idea of bringing rationality to the masses (vs appealing only to the highly intelligent who may not have come into contact with explicitly "rationalist" groups yet). This has certainly appeared as a point of friction in previous discussions.

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Ok, I contacted the moderators and asked them to look into the matter. As part of that, I requested that they take away any upvotes on my posts that came from spambot-style accounts. I don't want any upvotes that don't represent the actual good-will and support of the community.


The task statement there (whether or not it's a real Mechanical Turk task, whether or not it was posted by Gleb_Tsipursky) claims that Gleb_Tsipursky can see who has upvoted his articles and pay accordingly. Of course this is not true, and anyone actually setting up such a task would be unable to determine whom to pay, and would end up either paying people who never actually did anything or else not paying people who did.

I think this looks more like a framing attempt than like a genuine attempt by Gleb_Tsipursky to buy upvotes.

[EDITED to add:] Oops, the above is in fact quite wrong, as ike points out: anyone can see what articles any given user has upvoted. I still think it's quite likely that GT is being framed, but the particular reason I gave here is bogus.


That's not actually true. Anyone can easily see any posts I've upvoted here or for that matter see Gleb's upvoted posts here. The Turk task asks for the usernames, which can then be checked to see which posts they've upvoted.


Yow, you're right. So:

  • upvotes on articles are publicly visible (albeit clunkily)
  • downvotes on articles are not publicly visible
  • neither upvotes nor downvotes on comments are publicly visible (other than in the aggregate).

downvotes on articles are not publicly visible

They are too iff the user has “Make my votes public” checked in their preferences. Same with upvotes.

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Oh, hey, another thing I didn't know about. Thanks. Not surprisingly given that it's a non-default preference, it seems not to be used much. (I checked the 15 people in the most-karma-in-30-days list and two had it enabled: NancyLebovitz and Capla.)

Thanks for the support! As I mentioned in this comment, the Mechanical Turk requester's name was not mine, as my name on Amazon is Gleb11, as reflective of my gmail account (gleb11@gmail.com). I took a screenshot of my account name and uploaded it here as evidence. The moderators are looking into this issue now, and I hope it will be resolved soon.

FWIW, I asked them to take away any upvotes on my posts that came from spambot-style accounts. I don't want any upvotes that don't represent the actual good-will and support of the community.


Link doesn't work anymore? Glen is actually extremely socially calibrated. I just say this vid. I thought he would be autistic. Perhaps I've (and we've) unfairly bullied him and are jealous of his writing output. Plus, his wife is super hot. I wish we could get to the bottom of why so many of us feel his writing is 'off'. I think it's just the self-promotion aspect of it - tooting his own horn. But maybe that's okay.


I fixed the link, the period at the end was messing it up.


I saw the comments you left, thanks for pointing it out. I didn't know about mechanical turk previously, so had to research what it was.

I think someone is trying to set me up in a pretty harsh way. I had a lot of my comments and posts downvoted for no good reason, so I suspect someone is trying to get an even harsher reputation blow for me. I suspect some of the discussions about polyamory brought this about.

Of course, I can't prove it. However, based on how I have been engaging with the overall comments, I think you can see that I am not interested in using such underhanded means.

Anyway, appreciate you pointing out this issue, and I'll have to watch out for these moves in the future. Thanks!

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Can you elaborate on what methods of the dark arts you are referring to exactly?

We aim to create cognitive ease through using simple and positive language, having some stories, some flashy language and graphics. That's the main stuff we plan to use.


I think Capla is not asking for more details about what's on your website, but the broader question about whether this should be considered "dark arts" (and how this relates to engagement of "system 1", as other commenters have wondered).

It feels to me like a lot of the present discussion is about defending the choices you have already made for promoting your organisation, rather than exploring the issues more broadly and engaging with others' questions about the argumentation that underlies the original post. The core arguments: creating cognitive ease is a form of dark arts; that this is warranted in attracting new people to rationalist ideas; and that the examples on your site engage "system 1" and thus are suitable to achieve this.

Many commenters are raising issues around these themes but it seems your responses are mostly brief brush-offs, or asking a commenter a different question about one of your articles, rather than engaging in the discussion. This isn't likely to encourage others to get involved, and gives a further impression that these posts are really just about further advertising your site/organisation and not about discussing the broader questions that are involved.

Thanks for pointing out these issues, that helps clarify things for me. Communication is hard, damn hard, as Raelifin presented at the Columbus, OH, LW Meetup yesterday.

Let me try to re-communicate what I wanted to say, maybe I can be a bit more clear about it so that I don't screw up my communication efforts again (and fault on me for not communicating more clearly earlier). On Less Wrong, there are descriptions of a whole spectrum of Dark Arts. We are using the "lightest" of what is generally perceived as the Dark Arts, namely simple and positive language, having some stories, some flashy language and graphics.

Some rationalists may not perceive these as Dark Arts. Others do, as clearly shown by the articles I have linked to above posted on Less Wrong and Overcoming Bias about what are Dark Arts. Based on the wide variety of responses, it seems that most Less Wrongers are fine with us as an organization using these moderate Dark Arts to promote rationality. That's the answer to the question that I posed in the original discussion post that prompted this discussion.

Finally, regarding Intentional Insights as an organization and the choices we made. Yes, we made certain choices, but we have an experimental attitude and are very open to updating our beliefs based on evidence. So if there was significant evidence that the choices we made are problematic, we would be quite open to revising the way we are doing things. So feedback is welcomed, and we already have updated our website based on feedback, as exemplified in my comment here.

The posts titled dark arts has both simply language and complex language in it. If you mislead via using simple language that's bad. If you mislead by using complex language that's also bad.

Neither complex nor simple language is inherently dark.

The other two don't contain the term dark arts. Eliezers post on stories doesn't label them dark arts. He does the opposite. He says that in a world where people care about informing people use stories.

He says that they are distant and not a way to signal authority in academia. That's not the same thing as labeling them as dark.

I think you misread Robins article as well. It also doesn't use the term dark arts and explicitly says people practicing dark arts sometimes use language that isn't emotional for singalling purposes.

As far as your use of dark arts goes, saying that System I is mainly the amygdala and System II is mainly the prefrontal cortex.

I'm not exactly sure to what extend that's unsupported neurobabble. To the extend that it is, don't do things like that. Don't simplify complex scienctific issues in a way that ends up with wrong claims. Don't make wrong claims about neuroscience to motivate people to take up rational thinking habits.

Thanks, the feedback is appreciated. It sounds like the crux of the matter is misleading people, whatever the specific strategies involved. We'll work hard to try to avoid making wrong claims in order to motivate people to take up rational thinking habits. I think that's probably the main danger area for us to watch out for, glad you pointed it out.


As others have noted: appealing to things other than political or academic argumentation is not Dark Arts. Dark Arts is using rationality to cause others to come to false beliefs, or worse, rationally strategizing so as to ensure others take action on false beliefs, or even worse, just outright tricking others into doing evil based on false beliefs.

So basically, none of what you're talking about qualifies as Dark Arts.

This blog post on the ethics of teaching debating may be relevant, Uses the dark arts terminology a bit and talks about exploiting biases.

Thanks, that's a great resource, appreciate it - something to think about.

Generally, dark arts should be avoided for decision theoretic reasons - essentially you are defecting on the prisoner dilemma.

Can you elaborate on why using dark arts is equivalent ti defecting on the prisoners' dilemma? I'm not sure I understand your line of reasoning.

Do you think stuff like HPMOR, which uses engaging story-telling, should be avoided, then?

As long as you're not duping or misleading the typical person, or trying to take advantage of the atypically credulous, I think you're probably fine.

But sample materials would be nice; the general question as posed is too vague. Your websites articles aren't substantial enough to extrapolate on fully.

Actually, the materials I cited above, the blogs and videos, are the main way we plan to promote Rationality. We are also working on a book and eventually will have apps, but the blogs and videos are quite representative of what we have.

A lot of charities appeal to system one. Large pictures of suffering children and animals. Do you mean stuff like that? What would comparable things look like for effective rationality (ER)?