There is a cultural heuristic (especially in Eastern cultures) that we should respect older people by default. Now, this is not a useless heuristic, as the fact that older people have had more life experiences is definitely worth taking into account. But at least in my case (and I suspect in many other cases), the respect accorded was disproportionate to their actual expertise in many domains.

The heuristic can be very useful when respecting the older person is not really a matter of whether he/she is right or wrong, but more about appeasing power. It can be very useful to distinguish between the two situations.

How old is the "older" person? 30? 60? 90? In the last case, respecting a 90-years old person is usually not about appeasing power.

It seems more like retirement insurance. A social contract that while you are young, you have to respect old people, so that while you are old, you will get respect from young people. Depends on what specifically "respecting old people" means in given culture. If you have to obey them in their irrational decisions, that's harmful. But if it just means speaking politely to them and providing them hundred triv... (read more)

2PhilGoetz7yBut I think that in America today, we don't respect older people enough. Heck, we don't often even acknowledge their existence. Count what fraction of the people you pass on the street today are "old". Then count what fraction of people you see on TV or in the movies are old.
5wedrifid7yMore relevant to the social reasons for the heuristic, they have also had more time to accrue power and allies. For most people that is what respect is about (awareness of their power to influence your outcomes conditional on how much deference you give them). Oh, yes, those were the two points I prepared in response to your first paragraph. You nailed both, exactly! Signalling social deference and actually considering an opinion to be strong Bayesian evidence need not be the same thing.

Bad Concepts Repository

by moridinamael 1 min read27th Jun 2013204 comments

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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.