A Fundamental Question of Group Rationality

by steven04611 min read13th Oct 201012 comments

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Group Rationality
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What do you believe because others believe it, even though your own evidence and reasoning ("impressions") point the other way?

(Note that answers like "quantum chromodynamics" don't count, except in the unlikely case that you've seriously tried to do your own physics, and it suggested the mainstream was wrong, and that's what you would have believed if not for it being the mainstream.)

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[-][anonymous]11y 9

An obvious one: "Most people are very stupid." My own experience doesn't bear it out. My own impressions and models of the world run precisely the opposite direction. But enough people seem to believe it that I'll give it credence for that reason.

If I recall correctly, your education has taken place at particularly elite universities, which would tend to indicate that you've spent an atypically large amount of time interacting with people of very high intelligence. This may explain some of the disconnect between your impressions and those of other folks.

It's interesting to think about what this might mean, by thinking like a positivist.

Most people are stupid, relative to Old One, and most people are smart, relative to lichen. We need a standard reference point in order to assign a truth value.

But the only salient reference point for the speaker of that sentence is... the speaker of that sentence. Hence, the opinion reduces to:

"I am smarter than most people."

Now, that may be true about the speaker. But when everybody agrees about that... then we're living at Lake Wobegon, "where all the children are above average." Only now they're all below average (except for me, of course).

Scott Adams, on being an idiot:

I proudly include myself in the idiot category. Idiocy in the modern age isn’t an all-encompassing, twenty-four-hour situation for most people. It’s a condition that everybody slips into many times a day. Life is just too complicated to be smart all the time.

The other day I brought my pager to the repair center because it wouldn’t work after I changed the battery. The repairman took the pager out of my hand, flipped open the battery door, turned the battery around, and handed the now functional pager back to me in one well-practiced motion. This took much of the joy out of my righteous indignation over the quality of their product. But the repairman seemed quite amused. And so did every other customer in the lobby.

On that day, in that situation, I was a complete idiot. Yet somehow I managed to operate a motor vehicle to the repair shop and back. It is a wondrous human characteristic to be able to slip into and out of idiocy many times a day without noticing the change or accidentally killing innocent bystanders in the process.

To jump off of what komponisto said, I had a similar reaction when I was at Yale also. Now that I'm a grad student at a less prestigious university I see a lot of dumb undergrads as well as dumb people in some other departments. It seems that the smartest kids at BU are as smart as the smartest Yalies. But there are a lot more dumb kids and the dumbest undergrads are much dumber than the dumbest Yalies.

Classical music is somehow superior to mainstream commercial pop music (such as this).

I find an awful lot of classical music to be rather boring. (There's plenty of classical pieces I do like, though.)

What do you believe because others believe it, even though your own evidence and reasoning ("impressions") point the other way?

I don't know. If I did, I'd probably try to do something about it. But my subconscious mind seems to have prevented me from noticing examples. I don't doubt that they exist, lurking behind the blind spot of self-delusion. But I can't name a single one.

Feynman: "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool."

AI hard takeoff before 2100 might count as an example for me, although the issue is rather complex.

Also, I don't see any reason why things like quantum chromodynamics (or, for that matter, special relativity) shouldn't count, unless you're just trying to rule out a large class of predictable answers.

Ruling out a large class of predictable answers is part of it, but it's also arguably more a case of "impressions don't point anywhere" than "impressions point the other way". If challenged on that point I'd have to think about whether I could make it more precisely, but I was kind of hoping people would intuitively agree about the spirit of the question (which is why I didn't include the second paragraph at first).

I, personally, should prefer that existence to non-existence.

Note that answers like "quantum chromodynamics" don't count, except in the unlikely case that you've seriously tried to do your own physics, and it suggested the mainstream was wrong, and that's what you would have believed if not for it being the mainstream.

ETA: added to main post as per Vladimir's suggestion.

I think you should add this rule to the post itself, in case the post receives many comments.