"Deserve" is harmful because we would often rather destroy utility than allow an undeserved outcome distribution. For instance, most people would probably rather punish a criminal than reform him. I nominate "justice" as the more basic bad concept. It's a good concept for sloppy thinkers who are incapable of keeping in mind all the harm done later by injustices now, a shortcut that lets them choose actions that probably increase utility in the long run. But it is a bad concept for people who can think more rigorously.

A lot of these "bad concepts" will probably be things that are useful given limited rationality.

“Are the gods not just?"

"Oh no, child. What would become us us if they were?”

― C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

"Deserve" is harmful because we would often rather destroy utility than allow an undeserved outcome distribution.

Would you also two box on Newcomb’s problem?

3Viliam_Bur7yI'd say "justice" is a heuristics; better than nothing, but not the best possible option. This could be connected with their beliefs about probability of successfully reforming the criminal. I guess the probability strongly depends on the type of crime and type of treatment, and even is not the same for all classes of criminals (e.g. sociopaths vs. people in relative rare situation that overwhelmed them). They may fear that with a good lawyer, "reform, don't punish" is simply a "get out of jail free" card. To improve this situation, it would help to make the statistics of reform successes widely known. But I would expect that in some situations, they are just not available. This is partially an availability heuristics on my part, and partially my model saying that many good intentions fail in real life. Also, what about unique crimes? For example, an old person murders their only child, and they do not want to have any other child, ever. Most likely, they will never do the same crime again. How specifically would you reform them? How would you measure the success of reforming them? If we are reasonably sure they never do the same thing again, even without a treatment, then... should we just shrug and let them go? The important part of the punishment is the precommitment to punish. If a crime already happened, causing e.g. pain to the criminal does not undo the past. But if the crime is yet in the future, precommiting to cause pain to the criminal influences the criminal's outcome matrix. Will precommitment to reforming have similar effects? ("Don't shoot him, or... I will explain you why shooting people is wrong, and then you will feel bad about it!")
0buybuydandavis7yActually, I think that's some of what they are keeping in mind and find motivating.

Bad Concepts Repository

by moridinamael 1 min read27th Jun 2013204 comments


We recently established a successful Useful Concepts Repository.  It got me thinking about all the useless or actively harmful concepts I had carried around for in some cases most of my life before seeing them for what they were.  Then it occurred to me that I probably still have some poisonous concepts lurking in my mind, and I thought creating this thread might be one way to discover what they are.

I'll start us off with one simple example:  The Bohr model of the atom as it is taught in school is a dangerous thing to keep in your head for too long.  I graduated from high school believing that it was basically a correct physical representation of atoms.  (And I went to a *good* high school.)  Some may say that the Bohr model serves a useful role as a lie-to-children to bridge understanding to the true physics, but if so, why do so many adults still think atoms look like concentric circular orbits of electrons around a nucleus?  

There's one hallmark of truly bad concepts: they actively work against correct induction.  Thinking in terms of the Bohr model actively prevents you from understanding molecular bonding and, really, everything about how an atom can serve as a functional piece of a real thing like a protein or a diamond.

Bad concepts don't have to be scientific.  Religion is held to be a pretty harmful concept around here.  There are certain political theories which might qualify, except I expect that one man's harmful political concept is another man's core value system, so as usual we should probably stay away from politics.  But I welcome input as fuzzy as common folk advice you receive that turned out to be really costly.