Followup to: Rationality: Appreciating Cognitive Algorithms  (minor post)

There's an old anecdote about Ayn Rand, which Michael Shermer recounts in his "The Unlikeliest Cult in History" (note: calling a fact unlikely is an insult to your prior model, not the fact itself), which went as follows:

Branden recalled an evening when a friend of Rand's remarked that he enjoyed the music of Richard Strauss. "When he left at the end of the evening, Ayn said, in a reaction becoming increasingly typical, 'Now I understand why he and I can never be real soulmates. The distance in our sense of life is too great.' Often she did not wait until a friend had left to make such remarks."

Many readers may already have appreciated this point, but one of the Go stones placed to block that failure mode is being careful what we bless with the great community-normative-keyword 'rational'. And one of the ways we do that is by trying to deflate the word 'rational' out of sentences, especially in post titles or critical comments, which can live without the word.  As you hopefully recall from the previous post, we're only forced to use the word 'rational' when we talk about the cognitive algorithms which systematically promote goal achievement or map-territory correspondences.  Otherwise the word can be deflated out of the sentence; e.g. "It's rational to believe in anthropogenic global warming" goes to "Human activities are causing global temperatures to rise"; or "It's rational to vote for Party X" deflates to "It's optimal to vote for Party X" or just "I think you should vote for Party X".

If you're writing a post comparing the experimental evidence for four different diets, that's not "Rational Dieting", that's "Optimal Dieting". A post about rational dieting is if you're writing about how the sunk cost fallacy causes people to eat food they've already purchased even if they're not hungry, or if you're writing about how the typical mind fallacy or law of small numbers leads people to overestimate how likely it is that a diet which worked for them will work for a friend. And even then, your title is 'Dieting and the Sunk Cost Fallacy', unless it's an overview of four different cognitive biases affecting dieting. In which case a better title would be 'Four Biases Screwing Up Your Diet', since 'Rational Dieting' carries an implication that your post discusses the cognitive algorithm for dieting, as opposed to four contributing things to keep in mind.

By the same token, a post about Givewell's top charities and how they compare to existential-risk mitigation is a post about optimal philanthropy, while a post about scope insensitivity and hedonic returns vs. marginal returns is a post about rational philanthropy, because the first is discussing object-level outcomes while the second is discussing cognitive algorithms. And either way, if you can have a post title that doesn't include the word "rational", it's probably a good idea because the word gets a little less powerful every time it's used.

Of course, it's still a good idea to include concrete examples when talking about general cognitive algorithms. A good writer won't discuss rational philanthropy without including some discussion of particular charities to illustrate the point. In general, the concrete-abstract writing pattern says that your opening paragraph should be a concrete example of a nonoptimal charity, and only afterward should you generalize to make the abstract point. (That's why the main post opened with the Ayn Rand anecdote.)

And I'm not saying that we should never have posts about Optimal Dieting on LessWrong. What good is all that rationality if it never leads us to anything optimal?

Nonetheless, the second Go stone placed to block the Objectivist Failure Mode is trying to define ourselves as a community around the cognitive algorithms; and trying to avoid membership tests (especially implicit de facto tests) that aren't about rational process, but just about some particular thing that a lot of us think is optimal.

Like, say, paleo-inspired diets.

Or having to love particular classical music composers, or hate dubstep, or something.  (Does anyone know any good dubstep mixes of classical music, by the way?)

Admittedly, a lot of the utility in practice from any community like this one, can and should come from sharing lifehacks. If you go around teaching people methods that they can allegedly use to distinguish good strange ideas from bad strange ideas, and there's some combination of successfully teaching Cognitive Art: Resist Conformity with the less lofty enhancer We Now Have Enough People Physically Present That You Don't Feel Nonconformist, that community will inevitably propagate what they believe to be good new ideas that haven't been mass-adopted by the general population.

When I saw that Patri Friedman was wearing Vibrams (five-toed shoes) and that William Eden (then Will Ryan) was also wearing Vibrams, I got a pair myself to see if they'd work. They didn't work for me, which thanks to Cognitive Art: Say Oops I was able to admit without much fuss; and so I put my athletic shoes back on again.  Paleo-inspired diets haven't done anything discernible for me, but have helped many other people in the community. Supplementing potassium (citrate) hasn't helped me much, but works dramatically for Anna, Kevin, and Vassar.  Seth Roberts's "Shangri-La diet", which was propagating through econblogs, led me to lose twenty pounds that I've mostly kept off, and then it mysteriously stopped working...

De facto, I have gotten a noticeable amount of mileage out of imitating things I've seen other rationalists do. In principle, this will work better than reading a lifehacking blog to whatever extent rationalist opinion leaders are better able to filter lifehacks - discern better and worse experimental evidence, avoid affective death spirals around things that sound cool, and give up faster when things don't work. In practice, I myself haven't gone particularly far into the mainstream lifehacking community, so I don't know how much of an advantage, if any, we've got (so far). My suspicion is that on average lifehackers should know more cool things than we do (by virtue of having invested more time and practice), and have more obviously bad things mixed in (due to only average levels of Cognitive Art: Resist Nonsense).

But strange-to-the-mainstream yet oddly-effective ideas propagating through the community is something that happens if everything goes right. The danger of these things looking weird... is one that I think we just have to bite the bullet on, though opinions on this subject vary between myself and other community leaders.

So a lot of real-world mileage in practice is likely to come out of us imitating each other...

And yet nonetheless, I think it worth naming and resisting that dark temptation to think that somebody can't be a real community member if they aren't eating beef livers and supplementing potassium, or if they believe in a collapse interpretation of QM, etcetera. If a newcomer also doesn't show any particular, noticeable interest in the algorithms and the process, then sure, don't feed the trolls. It should be another matter if someone seems interested in the process, better yet the math, and has some non-zero grasp of it, and are just coming to different conclusions than the local consensus.

Applied rationality counts for something, indeed; rationality that isn't applied might as well not exist. And if somebody believes in something really wacky, like Mormonism or that personal identity follows individual particles, you'd expect to eventually find some flaw in reasoning - a departure from the rules - if you trace back their reasoning far enough. But there's a genuine and open question as to how much you should really assume - how much would be actually true to assume - about the general reasoning deficits of somebody who says they're Mormon, but who can solve Bayesian problems on a blackboard and explain what Governor Earl Warren was doing wrong and analyzes the Amanda Knox case correctly. Robert Aumann (Nobel laureate Bayesian guy) is a believing Orthodox Jew, after all.

But the deeper danger isn't that of mistakenly excluding someone who's fairly good at a bunch of cognitive algorithms and still has some blind spots.

The deeper danger is in allowing your de facto sense of rationalist community to start being defined by conformity to what people think is merely optimal, rather than the cognitive algorithms and thinking techniques that are supposed to be at the center.

And then a purely metaphorical Ayn Rand starts kicking people out because they like suboptimal music. A sense of you-must-do-X-to-belong is also a kind of Authority.

Not all Authority is bad - probability theory is also a kind of Authority and I try to be ruled by it as much as I can manage. But good Authority should generally be modular; having a sweeping cultural sense of lots and lots of mandatory things is also a failure mode. This is what I think of as the core Objectivist Failure Mode - why the heck is Ayn Rand talking about music?

So let's all please be conservative about invoking the word 'rational', and try not to use it except when we're talking about cognitive algorithms and thinking techniques. And in general and as a reminder, let's continue exerting some pressure to adjust our intuitions about belonging-to-LW-ness in the direction of (a) deliberately not rejecting people who disagree with a particular point of mere optimality, and (b) deliberately extending hands to people who show respect for the process and interest in the algorithms even if they're disagreeing with the general consensus.


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calling a fact unlikely is an insult to your prior model, not the fact itself

Not necessarily. Your model could have been quite reasonable, and yet something weird happened in the world. Sometimes, people win the lottery twice on the same day.

I think EY is pointing to the case of somebody winning the lottery twice in a lifetime, which people would think is incredibly weird, despite it being very normal - see I suspect that the "looks weird" due to having the wrong model is more common than "looks weird" due to being an outlier.

Indeed. The impression I get is that in calling Objectivism "the unlikeliest cult in the world", the intent of "unlikeliest" isn't as a further insult to Objectivism. Rather, it's to show that the author is discussing something exceptional, and therefore interesting.

One person who resisted Ronald was Ayn Rand. As one of the young libertarians (Ronald’s friend Murray Rothbard was another) who were invited to her apartment for intellectual discussions, he was cast into oblivion after a difference of opinion about . . . Rachmaninoff. Guests were asked to say who their favorite composers were, and when Rand’s turn came, she said “Rachmaninoff,” with specific reference to his second piano concerto. “Why?” Ronald asked. “Because he was the most rational,” Rand responded. At which Ronald laughed, thinking it must be a joke. He knew that the composer had dedicated that concerto to his psychiatrist — and anyway, rationality had nothing to do with its greatness. But Ronald’s laughter resulted in exile, and the loss of friends who were dear to him.

From an obituary for Ronald Hamowy.

Thank you for explaining that, I had no idea where he got Ayn Rand from.

(a) deliberately not rejecting people who disagree with a particular point of mere optimality, and (b) deliberately extending hands to people who show respect for the process and interest in the algorithms even if they're disagreeing with the general consensus.

Do you think Dmytry might be a good case study for this? I thought he had some interesting and novel ideas about processes/algorithms that at least didn't seem obviously wrong as well as some technical understanding of things like Solomonoff Induction, and also had strong disagreements with many of us regarding FAI and AI Risk. Should we have "extended our hands" to him more (at least before he became increasingly trollish), and if so how? (How would you taboo "extend hands" generally and in this specific instance?) If not, do you have someone else in mind who could serve as a concrete example?

It's my impression that yes, more hand extension would have been good, but I didn't follow his threads that closely.
I wonder if the trivial inconvenience of him not being that great of a communicator might have put people off from following his threads.
6Eliezer Yudkowsky11y
Does somebody want to post one part of Dmytry that seems new and true? My impression on a quick skim was not favorable.
This comment on a drawback of donating primarily to the charities you think is best lest you make it profitable to invest in being or appearing better by your standards, and various empirical parameters (availablility of honest signals, your ability to distinguish different signals, the quantity of funds allocated by decision rules like yours, the costs of dishonest signals) fall in a narrow region. I am skeptical that this is a real issue in practice (e.g. GiveWell channels to a top charity, rather than diversifying), separate from the problem of assessing evidence (which is normally focused on finding signals that are costly to fake in any case), but it's still an interesting theoretical point which I hadn't seen made on Less Wrong before.

If you're writing a post comparing the experimental evidence for four different diets, that's not "Rational Dieting", that's "Optimal Dieting".

Isn't that as wrong and misleading as using Rational Dieting? Wouldn't Optimal imply that this is the very best way to diet when the article is actually on 'Comparing evidence for for diets'? Same as how 'Rational Dieting' carries an implication that your post discusses the cognitive algorithm for dieting, as opposed to four contributing things to keep in mind and thus you should use 'Four Biases Screwing Up Your Diet' for a title, doesn't Optimal imply the wrong thing? Seems to me like you are committing different fallacies (or errors) when you are trying to fix the previous fallacies (or errors) committed due to the misuse of the word 'rational'.

And, if you want to get technical, optimal implies both an objective function to measure the solution by, and a proof that no solutions are superior. "Optimize your diet" seems better than "optimal diets," but even then "four proven diets" seems superior to both of those.
"A directed search of the space of diet configurations" just doesn't have the same ring to it.
I don't know, that title seems pretty awesome to me. (But my research is also in direct search methods, so...)
Depends. If it's an article describing how to evaluate different diets to pick the optimal one, then it is indeed an article about optimal dieting, even if it doesn't identify an optimal diet.

Meta: I suggest creating a sequence index, and putting a link to the next post in the sequence at the bottom of each post, like you already have for all your other sequences.

Through use of the "seq_epistemology" tag this is possible via the "Article Navigation". Maybe this tag was only added after the comment? However, it works quite well!
Thanks for pointing that out. I forgot to check for tags, so I'm not sure whether it was already there. I still think it should be made more direct, though.

Supplementing potassium (citrate) hasn't helped me much, but works dramatically for Anna, Kevin, and Vassar.

I can't find mention of this on LW and the first few things Google turns up have to do with treating kidney stones, which doesn't seem relevant. What benefits do you get when this "works dramatically"?

The first time I took supplemental potassium (50% US RDA in a lot of water), it was like a brain fog lifted that I never knew I had, and I felt profoundly energized in a way that made me feel exercise was reasonable and prudent, which resulted in me and the roommate that had just supplemented potassium going for an hour long walk at 2AM.

Experiences since then have not been quite so profound (which probably was so stark for me as I was likely fixing an acute deficiency), but I can still count on a moderately large amount of potassium to give me a solid, nearly side effect free performance boost for a few hours.

I had a similar experience the first time I supplemented magnesium. Long lasting, non-jittery energy spike. I felt stronger (and empirically could in fact lift more weight), felt better, and was extremely happy. The effect decreased the next few times. After 4 doses (of 50% RDA, spread out over 2 weeks) I began to have adverse effects, including heart palpitation, weakness, and "sense of impending doom".

I wonder if there is a general physiological response to a sudden swing in electrolyte balance that causes the positive effect, rather than the removal of a deficiency.

Is there a typo/something I'm missing, or who the hell set the RDA that high?
How much is that in milligrams? Googling, I see different values for RDA. Also, I take it you were using some sort of bulk powder? (The gel caps all seem to be ridiculously small, like 99mg when the RDA is >3000mg!)
I think I've been going with 4.7 grams as RDA. And yes, bulk powder. Due to potential digestive upset, I typically don't administer more than 25% RDA now.
Thanks! Did you have any other indication at that time that you might have had a potassium deficiency, such as recent blood work? (I had blood work done relatively recently, which turned up excessive levels of ferritin, but normal potassium at 4.2 compared to a 3.5-5.0 normal range.)
No, but I had been doing Bikram yoga on and off, and I think I wasn't keeping up the practice because I wasn't able to properly rehydrate myself.
Besides my dosage question: have you noticed any sleep benefits to supplementing potassium?
I think a general high water high electrolyte diet has benefited my sleep. I haven't noticed potassium immediately before bed decreasing sleep quality.
Well, I've finished ~2 months of data. The Zeo sleep stats say that there is a major negative effect, so I'm going to chalk up potassium as a failed experiment for me: * *
I also replied on Reddit... but I'm wondering if co-administering magnesium would fix this. Or test if Concentrace (, mostly my favorite commercial supplement and a highly bioabsorbable magnesium, improves sleep quality.
Replied there:
I've just finished my followup experiment: I standardized a smaller dose, blinded consumption, and took it immediately upon awakening. The negative effect was much smaller (as expected) but there was still no apparent benefit.
Hm, interesting.
This question is for anyone who says they saw a benefit from supplementation, not just Kevin. What was your diet like at the time? Were you taking a daily multivitamin?
Besides my dosage question: have you noticed any sleep benefits to supplementing potassium?

Potassium is a major one of the ions moved around in neuron action potential activation, and the RDA is waaay above what almost everyone gets (you would need to eat 12 bananas/day to meet it). The idea is something like that it helps neuron transmission work.

Is that like putting more petrol in your car to make it go faster? Does "low sodium" table salt (mostly potassium chloride) give the same results (whatever they are) as potassium citrate?
I'd think it'd be more like like gold-plating the car's electrical system (imagine you could do that without disassembling the whole thing)
I suppose it's the same kind of reasoning. I can't find any reference about potassium improving cognitive performances. EDIT: It's also worth noting that the RDA for potassium is being disputed, and that any source of naturally occurring potassium, including supplements, contains 0.012% of radioactive K40, which is the largest source of radioactivity in the human body.
It's pretty much unknown in the literature and only researched at all in athletic contexts, but there is a lot of overlap between physically enhancing interventions and mentally enhancing interventions. Whenever I'm lacking in creativity for possible interventions, I can always look at the World Doping Organization's list. I would like to do some research on electrolytes with undergrads eventually, maybe next year. At this point I don't just supplement potassium but try and target a high water, high electrolyte, high trace mineral diet for cognitive enhancing purposes. I'm weary enough about the dangers of potassium to not trust most people enough to spoon it themselves out of bulk potassium citrate bags. Apollinaris is my favorite off the shelf bottled water (check Whole Foods) and Trace Minerals Research makes my favorite electrolyte supplements, particularly Endure and 40,000 Volts, available on Amazon and often Amazon Prime.
0David Althaus11y
What do you mean by high water diet? (I ask, because I'm concerned with my high water intake. Per day I usually drink about 2l tea, 1-2l coffee and 2-3l water. There were times when I drank 3l coke zero in addition to that. Problem is, if I don't drink that much, I get headaches and heart burn. And I love to drink, obviously.) And you really should make a post about your thoughts on supplementation, diet, etc., if you have the time. I think a lot of folks here would be interested.
-1Eliezer Yudkowsky11y
Potassium chloride works, but it tastes worse and the chlorine can do bad things if you take too much of it at once.
Where the extra citrate is mostly just good for you, though too much potassium is still harmful. It's also possible that potassium citrate is more mentally enhancing and potassium chloride is more physically enhancing.
If the effect just depends on the citrate group, then take citric acid, which naturally occurs, along with vitamins and dietary fiber, in most fruits and vegetables. This saves your money and prevents you from messing with your electrolyte balance. Vitamin and mineral overdose is almost impossible if you eat whole foods (other than the livers of certain species), but it's relatively easy if you mess around with supplements. Anyway, until I see some evidence that citrate has cognitive enhancing properties, I'm going with the placebo effect hypothesis.
Well, if you're interested, I recently ordered a package of 00 gel caps and 1lb of potassium citrate powder. If it works for me as it seemed to work for Kevin, I can then do one of my double-blind experiments with dual n-back or something.
The company's website seems to indicate that it is actually potassium iodide (under nutritional facts). Are you aware of this? Do you know if it's accurate?
The product I received matches the Wikipedia article; the labeling on the bag is 'potassium citrate', and the nutritional breakdown per 100 grams matches what the Wikipedia article claims (eg. the bag claims 36.2g of potassium per 100g of powder while WP says "Pure potassium citrate contains 38.28% potassium.", which makes sense if the formula is C6H5K3O7 - as compared to KI). I haven't noticed any of the side-effects which are listed for potassium iodide despite taking what would by now have been a serious dose of potassium iodide. Finally, that description is identical to their informational page for potassium iodide crystals. So my guess is that it's some sort of copy and paste error, but definitely worth me emailing them to ask...
Oh, that's good then. Thanks.
Their rep Jessica Arman replied:
Sounds interesting. A sample size of one would be too small for scientific significance, but it still seems worth trying.
A sample size of one is more than enough for internal validity, assuming I take enough data points to detect an effect. (I typically do 20+ pairs; the stronger the effect, the less you need.) What n=1 threatens is any kind of external validity, that is, whether one would observe the effect or lack of effect in someone other than me. I may find that potassium is fantastic for me, but that tells me very little about whether potassium would help you or anyone else on this page.
4Eliezer Yudkowsky11y
About the same as drinking a cup of coffee - i.e., it works as a perker-upper, somehow. I'm not sure, since it doesn't do anything for me except possibly mitigate foot cramps.
Might be just placebo effect. I don't have a reference at hand, but I recall hearing of a study where they gave the same sport drink to two groups of atletes and then measured their performances. Researchers told one group that they were testing a new, high quality super-duper sport drink, while they told the other group that it was a somewhat subpar product. Guess what happened to the performances of the two groups?
I just got TwinLab capsules because I thought it might be easier to take capsules than get used to something that tastes bad. This might be true even if I take 10 or 20 of them a day, since at least they're smallish. In any case, it's potassium aspartate. Any thoughts about apartate?
I suspect you're replying to the wrong comment.

Good post.

What about using the word 'rational' for alliterative purposes? :)

Does anyone know any good dubstep mixes of classical music

Here's some, but they're not great. As I mentioned in an early draft of How to Fall in Love with Modern Classical Music, Nero's "Doomsday" samples from my favorite piece of contemporary classical music, John Adams' Harmonielehre. Also see Rudebrat's "Amadeus" and this Fur Elise dubstep remix. The best I could find in 5 minutes was Dubstep Beethoven.

As I mentioned in How to Fall in Love with Modern Classical Music,

Wow! Luke, I somehow totally missed that you had an interest in this subject. You even have Ferneyhough on that page! (And Murail -- who was actually a teacher of mine.)

I'm about ready to forgive you for every sin you've ever committed -- maybe even including the use of the word "classical". :-)

SI + $10.

[veering off topic]

So, since you guys know something about music...

I think I have fairly poor taste in music. Perhaps as a result of growing up listening to NES and SNES-era video game music all the time, I have an inordinate fondness for the sound of MIDI files, which are supposed to be one of those things everyone hates. As a matter of fact, I tend to feel that video game music has gotten notably worse as the technical capabilities of game consoles has gotten better. (I have three hypotheses that could explain this. One is that the music has improved but my taste in music sucks. The second is that voice acting competes with music for players' attention, and that it's no coincidence that the music stopped being as interesting at the same time voice acting became more common. The third is that improvements in technology "freed" composers from having to rely on melodic complexity alone to hold gamers' attention, so melodies have gotten less interesting.)

Anyway, what I'm really asking is, are those old game soundtracks actually any good, or do I just have no taste?

The third option is that you like them because you played the game in question. There's two sub-explanations here: the nice one is that you have a strong emotional attachment to the music due to having played the game, and the cynical one is that you just heard the tracks over and over when you played and got used to them. I also like music from the video games I played as a kid, and also think that more recent video game music isn't as good. But listening to the tracks you linked to did nothing for me. On the other hand, my brother (10 years younger than me) thinks that the soundtrack to Skyrim is the best thing ever. So I'm inclined to be skeptical of our music tastes here.
Potential hybrid explanation: Explanation #3 is true in that better sound capabilities have allowed video game composers to focus less on melody, but we only care so much about melody (as opposed to other aspects of the music) in the first place because we grew up playing games with soundtracks that put such emphasis on it. :)
Oh! Let me try! It's the melody that we associate most with a piece of music. It's the aspect that is the easiest to remember. Pop-music is quite melody centric, I think. Older video game music is like pop-music. It's very memorable and we become attached to it, which is why we like to hear it outside of the game. Newer video game music is more like film music. It's less noticeable, but still improves the experience a lot. The function of the music is to support the overall experience, not distract from it, or to be likeable on its own.
Well, unless the piece of music is "We Will Rock You"! :-)
The Firebird. Take Five. Bolero. Mars from The Planets.
I picked those particular tracks because they're from the original Game Boy, which has a far more limited sound capability than the SNES. If I wanted to link to my absolute favorites, I'd have picked something from the Final Fantasy VI soundtrack. This, for example.
Also, here's the orchestral version and in Italian in case the midi puts anyone off.
A counterexample: I noticed and liked the music from Lufia: The Ruins of Lore despite not having played it in childhood, although I don't rank it as being among my favorite soundtracks. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that at least some of my fondness for the Final Fantasy VI soundtrack is the result of playing the game in childhood; the music, in context, is a lot more moving than merely the music alone, and some of that spills over when I listen to the soundtrack. (As far as I'm concerned, Final Fantasy VI is the definitive example of how to use music to enhance a story.) Although that Skyrim soundtrack does seem pretty good, now that I've tried listening to some of it on Youtube... (I've never played the game.)
I grew up listening to classical music because of the influence of my parents, and I was heavily involved in the classical music subculture because I shared a house with a music student. I gradually stopped listening to classic music as I realized I didn't really enjoy it and I merely associated it with high status. Now I almost exclusively listen to chiptunes and 90s electronic dance music. This music is much simpler than music I previously listened to (I also listened to metal and jazz), but I've made a conscious decision to listen to music purely for enjoyment. I now spend far less effort on thinking about music, but I'm equally happy with it, so I think it's a win.
Were you listening to classical music of all periods, or just to "modern" classical music? I personally believe that the latter doesn't cause much pleasure in most people who listen to it, and its (limited) appeal is instead explained largely in terms of self- and public signaling. At the same time, I find that certain works of a few classical composers of earlier periods (such as Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Debussy and Vaughan Williams [click for examples]) induce in me intensely pleasant experiences.
All periods. I still like some of J. S. Bach's keyboard works (especially as MIDI played with FM synthesis), and some minimalist compositions (Steve Reich etc.).
IIRC, J.S. Bach wrote his keyboard pieces for the harpsichord, which, unlike the modern piano, can't change it's volume based on how the performer presses the keys. MIDI is usually played with a similar constant volume, so the MIDI version may actually be closer to how it was intended to sound than the same piece being played by a concert pianist.
If you are fond of synthesized versions of Bach, you should check out Wendy Carlos's "Switched-On Bach" albums. (Wendy Carlos was formerly Walter Carlos and you might possibly find old copies under that name.)
To what extend are you aware of the wonderful world of chiptune music and video game music rearrangements? By video game music rearrangements I mean thinks like symphonic concerts (my favorite is "Symphonic Fantasies", which you can listen to on youtube and is much better than some others, like "Video Games Live" ), the Final Fantasy piano collections,, and the works fans put on youtube. If you have no taste, you are not alone. Nabuo Uematsu is quite popular. Personally I found those exact videos quite annoying, though that might have to do with sound quality and some filters might improve them. I do, however, like the piano arrangements this one guy made to pieces from the same series: Burning Blood and a Legend 1 medley. I also love the Link's Awakening OST and this album, which has a similar (Game Boy) sound. What do you think is a good taste in music? My first answer would be that the concept is quite silly. (That also seems politically correct to me) My second answer would be that it's not about what music you like but about how varied your taste is. It seems to me that one gets more total amounts of enjoyment and different kinds of experiences from liking different kinds of music, and different qualities in music. If you are interested in developing your taste, I'd suggest you listen to this Final Fantasy medley (I'm assuming you are familiar with the Final Fantasy music. For me the Chrono medley from the same concert was the first time I really appreciated symphonic music). Try to recognize the themes. That should be fun (at least it's for me) and you might like the piece better after having concentrated on it. You could then pay attention to different aspects like the variation in loudness (sometimes the music whispers, sometimes it's loud and impressive), which is something pop-music or chiptune don't really have. If you take a liking to this type of music you can then listen to something like Beethoven's 5th and notice that it's really the
I've heard of it, and I've listened to a little bit (it seemed good) but I'm not that familiar with it. These tend to be hit or miss with me. I sometimes like the original version better than the arrangement played on actual instruments. I dunno. The kind of music that doesn't get made fun of by music snobs, I guess. Yeah, my concept of "poor taste in music" is pretty much about social status, but I haven't invested enough time or effort to go beyond the uninformed "I don't know music, but I know what I like" stage. I really don't understand music. I apparently have some talent for performing music, but I can't explain what it is I do that makes the pieces sound good, and I never learned much in the way of music theory. I can talk endlessly about why I like the video games or literature that I do, but I can't do the same for music. If I could actually present arguments for why the music I like actually is good, I'd have an answer to what good taste in music is. I suppose I'm not really all that interested in learning more about it, though. (Does this mean I'm failing at curiosity?)
I found this way more awesome than the original linked to by CronoDAS. I was surprised that my subjective judgement for two different arrangements of the same melody could be that different.
I think a lot of other people have good points. I DO still think video game music is often excellent, but not universally. I think modern video game music is higher variance - games where someone obviously cared about the music have both good melodies AND good instrumentation. But there's a lot of games where nobody cared at all. The best video-game music I've heard recently was from Braid and Bastion. In both cases, the music is clearly a central "character" of the game, obviously cared deeply about by the creator. Braid falls into the "silent protagonist" category. Bastion oddly enough has a lot of dialog, but the narration is intertwined with the audio in a pretty deliberate fashion.
If you have no taste then neither do I.
I didn't enjoy the first two, but I kind-of liked the third one (especially the beginning). More generally, I like the music that makes me instinctively want to move at its rhythm (or to sing along, but that's not applicable to instrumentals).
I don't count as someone who knows anything about music, but I agree with your assessment. Though I find the bit about MIDI files surprising, seeing as MIDI files and chiptunes don't have the same sound (to the extent that MIDI files have a consistent sound). I'm not sure how much this says anything seeing as going by the linked articles there seem to be a number of people who would agree with this. Explanation number two is interesting. I had considered #3 to be the obvious explanation and hadn't really considered any others. Thanks for pointing that out. It seems easier to test than explanation #3.
Do you have a list of your own favorite pieces from the past 60 years? What's your preferred term for this? "New music?"
It's not exactly the same thing, but I did once throw together a "sampler" list of works by currently living* composers. Not everything in there is a favorite, and there are many favorites not included (especially since the list was restricted to academic composers, thus leaving out a lot of Europeans such as Boulez), but it does give an idea of my "orientation". :-) *At the time of writing -- Babbitt has since passed on. "Contemporary art music." (Or "modern", but that might paradoxically suggest older, as in 1900-1950.) "New music" is perfectly fine in a context where it's taken for granted that "music" refers to art music (as opposed to popular music). But "classical" is just as bad when referring to Tchaikovsky as when referring to Boulez; the issue is the terminological collision with the Classical period) in music history.
The phrase "contemporary art music" has its own problems, of course. For example, it suggests that music from the rock and jazz worlds isn't "art" or "artistic music," which would be a weird thing to say of Joanna Newsome, Julia Holter, Elegi, Matthew Shipp, Nels Cline, Carla Bley, Bill Frisell, and many others. I've also heard the term "university music," since nearly all composers of the type you and I are discussing were trained in music at a university, but of course that's also true for lots of rock and jazz composers. Anyway, thanks for the link to your sampler list of works!
On my university popular music course, we were told that the accepted term at that time (ten years ago) was "Western Art Music", but that that covered jazz as well. Possibly "orchestral" music? Although that would then cover stuff like film scores, or rock bands using a symphony orchestra as what amounts to a big guitar, and wouldn't cover solo piano works or someone like Varese...
Symphonic music?
Same problem as "orchestral music": it would exclude piano sonatas, string quartets, solo songs, etc.
I might be sympathetic to that objection except for the fact that it is virtually never raised against the term "art song" -- which is nothing but a special case of the same usage. The idea of "advanced music" (another candidate term, with its own problems) as mainly a university pursuit has historically been mostly an American phenomenon, but has started to spread elsewhere. In Europe the cultural milieu is different, so there hasn't been as much need for such music to "retreat" into academia (as it is sometimes pejoratively phrased). Of course, some composers (notably Babbitt) have explicitly embraced the university as an ideal setting for this sort of music, and don't mind terms like "academic" (considered derogatory by some).
My father, a music reviewer, coined 'learned music'. The crux is careful study of theory, and its full application. This is not restricted to the western tradition, so when relevant, it can be clarified to 'western learned music'. To be sure, pop artists often know their music theory - but I think few would assert that they're applying it to the fullest extent. Some would, and those are cases that don't match 'classical' exactly, but have elements that a classical music fan might perk their ears at.
I fear the battle for the strict sense of "classical" has already basically been lost. For what it's worth, I tend to say things like "classical music in the broad sense" or "classical music in the sense that includes Josquin and Prokofiev as well as Haydn and Mozart". Which is appallingly clunky, but better that than the mere incomprehension that will generally follow if one uses terms like "art music" instead.
"Art music" is a well-established term.
I'm well aware of that. Unfortunately, its well-established-ness is only useful when talking with people who are well informed on this stuff, which most people aren't. See, e.g., the fact that Luke (who is generally well informed about things, and interested enough in this particular topic to be writing evangelistic webpages about contemporary art music) is choosing to use the term "classical" and proposing "new music" as an alternative. So: yes, you can say "art music" when you mean art music. In that case, your usage will be correct and you'll be accurately understood by music experts; but to anyone at roughly Luke's level of expertise and below your meaning will not be clear. Or you can say "classical music" and make, where necessary, appropriate disclaiming noises. In that case, your usage will be incorrect and some music experts will look down their noses at you a bit; but people at roughly Luke's level of expertise and below will have a reasonably idea of what you mean. I generally choose the second option unless I know I'm addressing only experts. I wish there were an option that combines correctness, broad comprehensibility, and conciseness -- but I don't know of one.
Is “art music (popularly known as ‘classical music’)” concise enough?
It's about as concise as the version that puts "classical" first and qualifies it. I prefer to start with the term that will be more widely understood, and then (when necessary) add the qualifier that lets experts know I'm well informed, rather than starting with the term that pleases experts, and then (almost always) adding the qualifier that lets muggles understand what I mean. Others' mileage may vary!
Heh. Informally, though, "classical" music seems to be defined as anything written before the advent of jazz music in the 1920s.
I'd disagree. I think if you played most people works by, say, Britten, William Grant Still, Copland, Philip Glass, John Taverner or Pierre Boulez, they would recognise it as 'classical' music.
What about traditional/folk songs?
Quite. I think the problem here is the attempt to draw an arbitrary boundary around something that doesn't really exist. There is no reasonable way in which, say, Boulez is trying to do the same thing as Bach, but neither are trying to do what the Beatles did. There are people in the pop/rock tradition (like Joanna Newsom or Scott Walker or Van Dyke Parks) who are doing very much the same thing that people from the 'classical' tradition like, say, Gavin Bryars, are doing. It makes far more sense to me to, say, put Boulez with Ornette Coleman, Gavin Bryars with Brian Eno, and the Beatles with Louis Armstrong, than to put Boulez with Bryars because they're both 'classical', Coleman with Armstrong because they're both 'jazz' and the Beatles and Eno because they're both 'pop'.
[pales, ashamed of his musical ignorance] (The only ones of whom I have listened to a sizeable fraction of their works are the Beatles, the only other one of whom I've heard a non-trivial amount is Bach, and the only other ones I've heard about are Armstrong and Eno.) Folk music on the other hand doesn't seem to evolve with time that much -- I've over- or underestimated the age of certain songs by as much as a century. I mean, would you have guessed that "Finnegan's Wake" is [rot13: sebz gur rvtugrra-svsgvrf] whereas "The Fields of Athenry" is [rot13: sebz gur avargrra-friragvrf], just from listening to them?
There's also this EDM remix of Dvorak - Symphonie n°9 Mouvement 4 (Allegro con fuoco). It's really great.
The "Dubstep Beethoven" is very funny, but doesn't actually appear to be dubstep or even slightly dubstep-like. Admittedly, everything I know about dubstep I know from having just read the Wikipedia article about it, so maybe I'm just confused.
Yeah, somebody on YouTube claimed it was "4step," but I don't know what that is.
Apparently dubstep is descended from something called 2-step (which "Dubstep Beethoven" also appears very much not to be). 4-step I've never heard of, and neither has the internet so far as I can see.
4-step is what preceded 2-step. I say preceded, but it's not like 4-step has gone anywhere. It's still the most common beat pattern for electronic music. It's just a steady beat in 4/4 time with a kick drum on each beat, so it just goes boom boom boom boom with each measure, and it's super easy to dance to. Techno and house are pretty much exclusively 4-step. 2-step runs at the same/similar speed as 4-step, and is still in 4/4 time, but the drum beat is split up and made more erratic. You'll often have several drum rhythms going on simultaneously. The effect is that the beat sounds like it is sort of stuttering, sort of like this: boom boom pause boom pause pause boom boom pause boom boom boom (that's three measure's worth there). I think Garage was the only real 2-step going on before dubstep, but I'm not real clear on that part of it. Dubstep gets it beat patterns from 2-step (thus the "step" in the name). The "Dub" comes from the reggae tradition of sampling pop songs to build a record in an afternoon. That's why the vast majority of dubstep tracks are remixes - it's just how you make dubstep. The build ups and drops that are so popular are not necessary for dubstep, and just because a song has that stuff doesn't make it dubstep. They are just a natural fit for DJ's (who like to control the energy of a crowd) and a 2-step beat pattern. It's not really dubstep if it isn't heavily sampled with an erratic 4/4 beat (aka 2-step).

The deeper danger is in allowing your de facto sense of rationalist community to start being defined by conformity to what people think is merely optimal, rather than the cognitive algorithms and thinking techniques that are supposed to be at the center.

Thumbs up for this; I might even suggest making it a "tl;dr". In print, I think sometimes "very short abstraction - concrete examples - moderate-length abstraction" works well.

I feel like there's a small inferential gap between the Ayn Rand anecdote and the Objectivist failure mode as you've presented it: the anecdote establishes unjustified personal antipathy on the part of a group leader, but, absent context, that doesn't lead inevitably to its target getting voted off the island.

People who've read about the history of Objectivism would probably be able to fill this gap with their own knowledge. People who've internalized Objectivism's reputation as a cult would probably fill it with an assumption (a correct one, as it turns out). But I don't think those sets cover the space of possible readers all that well.

True. I didn't understand how the anecdote related to the article, although Daniel Burfoot's comment helped to clarify.

Does anyone know any good dubstep mixes of classical music, by the way?

Can't say I do. On the other hand, there's always Vocaloid (eg. The Symphonic Pilgrimage of Luka)...

I was amazed to see results from the obvious Google search.
1Eliezer Yudkowsky11y
They don't seem to be good, though.
They don't seem to be woob, though?
As someone who has done David_Gerard's search, I can confirm that Eliezer's claim does have semantic content, and is in fact correct. Most of the stuff out there is pretty post-utopian.
I don't generally listen to dubstep so I can't pull anything from memory, but I found this one by browsing. I think it's pretty good.

This post should really be (also) a part of the Craft and the Community sequence. The insight in conveys seems very relevant and very valuable, and I don't recall it being stated anywhere near as explicitly.

Coming from a hard-core Objectivist, the Objectivist community is unfortunately rife with all sorts of so-called "schisms". I think this is intrinsic in any community of thinkers who are focused on objectivity/optimality/rationality/etc in general, because inevitably people will feel differently on a given issue, and then everyone goes around blaming the other group that they aren't really objective or rational or optimal, etc.

This leads to me having to qualify a statement about some issue X with something like this:

As a result of pretty much

... (read more)

Now it should be said of course that one group is actually right

I think this ignores the whole concept of probability.

If one group says tomorrow it will rain, and another group says it will not, of course tomorrow one group will be right and one group will be wrong, but that would be not enough to mark one of those groups irrational today. Even according to best knowledge available, the probabilities of raining and not raining could possibly be 50:50. Then if tomorrow one group is proved right, and another is proved wrong, it would not mean one of them was more rational than the other.

Even if we are not talking about a future event, but about a present or past event, we still have imperfect information, so we are still within the realm of probability. It is still sometimes possible to rationally derive different conclusions.

The problem is that to get perfect opinion about something, one would need not only perfect reasoning, but also perfect information about pretty much everything (or at least a perfect knowledge that those parts of information you don't have are guaranteed to have no influence over the topic you are thinking about). Even if for the sake of discussion we assume that Ayn Rand (or anyone trying to model her) had perfect reasoning, she still could not have perfect information, which is why all her conclusions were necessarily probabilistic. So unless the probability is like over 99%, it is pretty legitimate to disagree rationally.

I thought it was ignoring the possibility that everyone involved could be wrong. Worse, they could all be not even wrong.
Hm. There's an implicit "...iff the disagreeer has access to better information than she had" here, right?
If the disagreer has access to different information. Or just has different priors. (I want to avoid the connotation "better information" = "strict superset of information".)
You entirely missed the point of my including that statement. My intention was merely to stress that I'm not merely trying to say something like, "nobody can every really know what the right answer is, so we should all just get along," or any such related overly "open-minded" or "tolerationist" nonsense like that. My point was to say that such differences are perfectly fine and meaningful to fight about philosophically, but that you shouldn't use one's position on whatever derivative philosophical issues as the basis for community membership.
That is at least "inevitable" in groups that habitually mistake feelings for something objective. Good grief, how can you do that when there is no agreement about what optimal means?

That being said, identifying optimal, mainstream positions of a given philosophy is absolutely good for the philosophy per se.

Good grief, how can you do that when there is no agreement about what optimal means?


People inevitably feel differently on given issues in any group. Blaming the other side for not really being objective/rational/etc happens no more in Objectivism than any other group. Let me add that there is no inherent propensity in Objectivism to substitute one's feelings for objective evaluations; if that's what you think, you're misunderstanding something. For example, Ayn Rand had an entire branch of her philosophy talking about art, music, and "aesthetics" in general. Her opinion on music wasn't purely based on her trying to pass off her personal feelings for an objective judgment, but rather was indeed a derivative position of her philosophical system. And there's nothing wrong with trying to identify objectively best or optimal music or other things, that's actually perfectly fine to do in philosophy - but if you're going to use differences as a basis for building a community, you're going to produce a horrible mess with schisms and splinter groups galore, which unfortunately hit the Objectivist community pretty badly. Hence: "firewall optimal philosophy from optimal community" Well each person does it for themselves. Naturally the creators and leaders in the philosophy set the mainstream (er, sort of by definition)...
I think you're more likely to get schisms if you generally don't trust people to be willing and able to learn.

You say that paleo-inspired diets "have helped many other people in the community." What percent of people in this community have benefited from those diets how much, and how does this compare with other diets, e.g. DASH?

When I switched to a mostly paleo diet this spring, I stopped needing willpower to prevent weight gain. I suspect I experienced other advantages, but don't have good evidence for them. It will be hard to tell what fraction have benefited, because people who found it hard or ineffective are less likely to write about it.
Maybe I should be more clear. The anecdotes of a few people on this site mean very little to me in regards to the efficacy of a particular diet. There doesn't seem to be any experimental evidence with a reasonable sample size to suggest that Paleo diets actually lead to weight loss (there is evidence that DASH leads to weight loss). The paleo diet is relatively high in saturated fat (and there is a scientific consensus that high saturated fat intake causes heart disease) while DASH is not. Omitting grain and dairy eliminates the sources of some nutrients and I would hypothesize that a significant percent of people switching to a paleo diet don't actually compensate for that loss by getting those nutrients from other sources. It just doesn't make sense to advocate for a paleo diet when there is no evidence of it performing better in the aggregate than diets which are supported by the scientific consensus. If I'm mistaken please link me to some good quality studies.
There is a lot of really bad "science" out there on diet, there was a political decision made in the 1970s to promote low-fat diets, in spite of what most scientists thought. For a detailed story on this, and on what is known about fat and carbohydrates in diet, I suggest Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories. While little about diet is certain, the bulk of the scientific evidence is that "high saturated fat intake," in the context of a low-carbohydrate diet, does not increase real cardiac risk. On the contrary, high-fat low-carb diets, like the Atkins diet, lower cardiac risk factors. The "scientific consensus" described above isn't. This isn't about "paleo diet," as such, except that paleo diets do tend to be high-fat and low-carb. We did not evolve eating grain, and then the grain may be highly processed to remove most fiber, creating rapid absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, requiring, then, fast insulin release to avoid toxic levels. We can eat carbohydrrates, but they were a small part of our diet, generally mixed with fiber, which slows digestion. Fat also does this. It's being claimed with substantial evidence that the "diseases of civilization," i.e., heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, are largely caused by diets with high carb content, especially highly processed carbs. High natural fat content does not seem to be a problem, the opposite. I did the research and am bettiing my life on this. And I wish we knew more than we do. Taubes has started a Nutrition Science Initiative.
Would you mind linking to this research that shows low carb diets lower cardiac risk factors? All I really know about the matter is that in the aggregate people who actually study diet generally conclude that Atkins-like diets are not optimal for health. In particular, the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control, the American Heart Association, and the World Health Organization all seem to conclude that saturated fats directly increase cardiovascular risk. You're also arguing against anything said by these organizations when discussing highly processed carbs. DASH specifically recommends making at least half of grains consumed whole, and the implication seems to be that the ideal would be eating no refined grains.
Okay, read Taubes' article in the New York Times, "What if it's all been a big fat lie?". That's ten years old, there has been research published since then, but nothing to change the basic conclusions. I suggest reading it before the rest here! The organizations are not "scientific." They are largely political creatures, and how they are funded can be an issue. If cholesterol is not the problem, what happens to the statin drug market? But I don't know that recommendations are driven by funding. Taubes is a thorough science writer, a skeptic, and it is indeed science that he's interested in. He is not selling a diet. Taubes covers the history of diet recommendations in the U.S. It's shocking. Something brief: In 1957, the American Heart Association opposed Ansel Keys (the author of the epidemiological study that got the whole fat=bad thing going), with a 15-page report, saying there was no evidence for the fat/heart disease hypothesis. Less than four years later, a 2-page report from the AHA totally reversed that, and, according to Taubes, that report included a half-page of "recent scientific references on dietary fat and atherosclerosis," many of which contradicted the conclusions of the report, which recommended reducing the risk of heart disease by reducing dietary fat.. What happened? Did the science change that quickly? Read Taubes! (i.e, read the book, "Good Calories, Bad Calories." Taubes also has a recent book, less technical, more popular, I think, but I haven't read it.) I could point to studies; the Atkins diet in particular has been studied independently, and it improves cardiac risk factors, it does not make them worse. Yet it's a high-fat diet. So what is the risk? Yes. I'm arguing against a commonly-recommended diet. I'm suggesting that relying on these agencies and their recommendations, without understanding the science, is very dangerous. Taube had written a book about salt, and when he was doing the research, he noticed nutritional "expe
For some of the other side, see a review of Taube's latest book, "Why We Get Fat". The author is Harriet Hall, supposedly a skeptic, but what I can see in the review is a set of assumptions that are, for her, unchallenged. Small example: salt. A few people with high blood pressure may benefit from salt reduction. Most people don't. Some people may be harmed. Taubes again in the New York Times, Salt, We Misjudged You. The summary: This attitude that studies that go against prevailing beliefs should be ignored on the basis that, well, they go against prevailing beliefs, has been the norm for the anti-salt campaign for decades. Maybe now the prevailing beliefs should be changed. The British scientist and educator Thomas Huxley, known as Darwin’s bulldog for his advocacy of evolution, may have put it best back in 1860. “My business,” he wrote, “is to teach my aspirations to conform themselves to fact, not to try and make facts harmonize with my aspirations.” What Taubes encounters: Gary Taubes is a Blowhard Center for Science in the Public Interest These critics have in common that they misrepresent Taubes. He's raising possibilities, not claiming proof. However, what Taubes points to is the possibility that what they have been advocating for decades might be harming people. This is unthinkable. He must be wrong, so they will find every flaw, real or imagined, ignoring the central problem, that sound research has never done more than imply possible harm, and that at best reduced salt, for normal people, may have a tiny effect on longevity, and, in the other direction, may have serious consequences, increasing mortality. People whose entire livelihoods, long-term, depend on the "consensus" that they created and pushed, often against the evidence, often against strong scientific opposition, with retaliation against those with contrary opinions, then imply that Taubes is making it up to make money. When an old pot calls the new kettle black, we may need to stan
This pattern-matches exactly to everything else conspiracy theory related I have ever read, and by that I mean it misinterprets the relative incentives. You speak of organizations that apparently face financial loss if they turn out to be wrong, but you provide no convincing reason for why they would lose funding if they revised their positions due to new evidence. You also don't mention the huge profits an organization would surely make if it provided compelling evidence for how to actually lower the risk of the largest cause of death in the United States. In particular: -I'm not going to read a book rather than reading the results of randomized, controlled trials or meta-analyses of many such studies. -You say you "could point to studies." Then do it.
I pointed to sources that contain huge lists of sources, including such studies. Some of what I pointed to is free. There is no need to reproduce this here. The relevance here is to cascades, which occur without "conspiracies." A common response to a cascade being pointed out is to call the observer a "conspiracy theorist," and that happens even if no conspiracy has been alleged. That people might be unconsciously motivated by issues of reputation and "face" is just what's so for human beings. I mentioned funding and was explicit that I did not know if this had an actual effect on recommendations. Taubes has laid out the history of the "official dietary recommendations," and he makes a persuasive case that some serious errors were made, and that some are persisting in beliefs that are not consistent with what is scientifically known. Anyway, aceofspades asks for studies. He didn't specify the context, but it was that he had written I linked to extensive coverage of that research, by science journalists. However, specifically, and just what I picked up quickly: Weight loss with a low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or low-fat diet. (Blood lipids, i.e., cardiac risk factors, were studied.) Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN diets for change in weight and related risk factors among overweight premenopausal women: the A TO Z Weight Loss Study: a randomized trial. (Lipid profile was studied.) Systematic review of randomized controlled trials of low-carbohydrate vs. low-fat/low-calorie diets in the management of obesity and its comorbidities. (This is a "systematic review," very much on point as to cardiac risk.) Part of my own experience: I was under forty when my doctor, whom I trusted greatly, recommended that I go on a low-fat diet because I had mildly elevated cholesterol. Over 20 years later, the results: I'd gained about 30 lbs, my cholesterol levels were a lot higher. Sure, I wasn't terribly compliant, but I'd shifted the balance greatly towa
I agree that low carb diets are an effective means of weight loss relative to low fat diets for people in the aggregate. I do not agree that they are in the aggregate better for reducing mortality than DASH, and I think my personal health is optimized by eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy, and lean protein and avoiding all else.

Moreover, if you want to prevent Less Wrong from becoming a cult like the Objectivists, it may be advisable to absolutely avoid to perform rituals explicitly modeled after religious ceremonies, like this or this.

Mmm. I think it's fairly clear that modeling ceremonies on religious rites (or doing much ritual at all outside a certain narrow scope, for that matter) is more likely than the alternative to lead to undesirable perceptions of LW. And PR is important, yes. But I'm not convinced that they're actually epistemically dangerous to any significant... (read more)

One man's modus ponens is another man's modus tollens: I, for one, found the Pledge of Allegiance really frigging creepy as a kid, and I'm not sure how I feel about it even now.

8Eliezer Yudkowsky11y
I would recite the Pledge of Allegiance ending, "With freedom, and justice, for all except the children." I'm not sure it would be a bad thing if they had a ceremony where those students who wanted to recited the Twelve Virtues once a week, or Frankena's list of terminal values, or the rules of algebra. Repetition is a perfectly good way to install association and thereby skill - you can use it to repeat good things or bad things. It's not much different from printing that way.
Well, sure, repeating the multiplication table or the digits of Pi every day can be quite useful. It helps you memorize products of single-digit numbers and also Pi. But repeating a pledge to obey an institution is, IMO, irrational at best. Imagine that the United States did something insane (well, more insane than all the things it's doing right now), like starting World War III with no provocation whatsoever. Would it still be deserving of your allegiance ? That is to say, would you still do your best to uphold its principles and further its goals, which now include "kill everyone on Earth with nukes" ? Now, if the Pledge said something like, "I pledge to support those institutions who have a reasonably good chance of improving the lives of all humans, and to reform or abolish those institutions that hinder progress toward this goal", then I could probably get behind it. Similarly, I wouldn't pledge to drive my current car to work every day, be it rain, hail, or shine -- but I could reasonably promise to stick with my car while it functions, fix it when it breaks down if fixing it is financially feasible, or get a new car if I can afford it. Such an oath may not sound as solemn, but at least it's practical.
3Eliezer Yudkowsky11y
I agree the Pledge sounds a bit creepy in retrospect - I was only disagreeing with the idea that any possible thing you repeat at the start of class is creepy.
Ah, understood, that makes sense. Repeating the multiplication at the beginning of class would not be creepy at all (unless you also pledged allegiance to it, somehow, I suppose).

I pledge allegiance to the prime number 2, the prime number 3, and the prime number 5. And to their product, 30, and their sum, 10...

I don't think anyone has suggested that 'freedom and justice for all' should mean that children be treated as if they were morally responsible and independent agents. I think children probably aren't capable of freedom in any meaningfully political sense, and it seems like it would be enormously cruel to subject them to everything justice demands of an adult. At the very least, we'd be up to our ears in assault trials: kids are both violent and litigious.
If I believe that a subset of the population ought not receive justice, or is not capable of freedom, then it seems I ought not declare universal liberty and justice among the defining characteristics of the Republic I'm pledging allegiance to.
So, I expect we agree that 'freedom and justice for all' isn't only the proper motto of a republic which lets violent criminals do what they like, and prosecutes children for assault whenever they get into a schoolyard fight. If so, then we agree that 'freedom and justice for all' can be the motto of a republic which makes exceptions of certain classes of people freedom-and-justice-wise. ETA: Clearly not every kind of exception is a fulfillment of the motto. So then the question is just whether or not children should be accorded whatever it is we promise by 'freedom and justice for all'. What do you think?
Well, there's two questions here. The first is, if we don't believe that everyone is entitled to freedom and justice, is "freedom and justice for all" a proper motto for our republic? To which in principle my answer is "no," though in practice I would not, for example, endorse rewriting it to read "freedom and justice for those entitled to it," even if it turns out that's what we actually mean, because the political signalling effects of doing so would be too expensive. The second is, to what degree are children entitled to freedom and justice? That's a much more complicated question, and I'm not sure I can answer it in any detailed way. At a very high level, my answer is "to the extent that granting them those things improves both their experience of life and that of the community, rounded to the nearest Schelling point." That's also my answer for adults, incidentally.
Okay, I think we roughly agree then. Though I'd say that 'freedom and justice for all' can straightforwardly mean 'freedom and justice for everyone capable and worthy of being free and responding to the demands of justice' (where I take that to exclude children, the insane, criminals, etc. but include nearly everyone else). As to the freedom and justice we accord children and adults, we agree at a general kind of level, though in particular cases I don't think the improvement of someone's experience should settle the question of whether or not (or the extent to which) they're entitled to freedom or justice.
If giving someone justice makes their experience of life worse and makes their community's experience of life worse, ought I endorse giving them justice? If so, why?
That's not going to be easy to answer in the abstract. If you'll forgive me answering a question with another, do you think you would argue that we should deny or grant freedom and justice entirely on the basis of an assessment of befits? Is the consent of the person granted or denied these things a nonissue, or does that get rolled into the assessment of benefits? Does anyone have a right to their freedom even if it does harm?
Well, switching from questions about endorsed targets to questions about decision procedures is tricky, because issues of reasoning under uncertainty come into play. In practice, we don't usually know enough about benefits to make those kinds of decisions, so we make them on the basis of other considerations, such as rights, and in general I endorse that. But if we can agree to ignore uncertainty and pretend that we actually know enough to assess benefits, then yes, pretty much. If I am somehow certain that an act will leave you and everyone else worse off, I ought not perform that act; that doesn't somehow become false when issues of consent or of rights are involved.
0Paul Crowley11y
I think there is terminal utility in you getting to do what you want, even if no-one benefits. However obviously other things can outweigh that.
I'll note that "no-one benefits" is different than "it leaves me and everyone else worse off." So, what kinds of things can outweigh that terminal utility, and on what basis do they do so?
2Paul Crowley11y
Oh all sorts of things - I'm not a strong defender of freedom. I'll happily, say, prevent a drunk friend from doing something very dangerous. I don't mean that that's where all or even most terminal utility comes from - I just mean that it isn't literally zero, that there are at least some costs it's enough to outweigh. Assuming as you do that I somehow have certain knowledge, and supposing someone about to die wants to watch a terrible movie that won't make them happy, and I have the option of silently removing it from the list of options so that they end up with a better choice, there is still some value in them getting what they wanted.
Fair enough. For my own part, while there are all sorts of things that might lead me to endorse the watching of a movie that would make someone unhappy -- that is, there are values other than happiness -- and some of those values might be best achieved in practice by letting individuals choose, them getting what they wanted isn't in and of itself one of them.
If only you had ruled Thebes, we would have one more stubborn girl and one less interesting play. You may be right, but political doctrines consist in indefinite descriptions of classes of people, individual cases being the province of judges. So I think our two views are simply compatible: it is possible without contradiction to have as a matter of legal principle that everyone be accorded justice and freedom, while in individual cases, this law is made to fit practical concerns where necessary.
Sure; if we're only talking about legal considerations, I mostly agree with you. And I'm not sure I'd have done any better than Creon.
or the prisoners, or the mentally retarded, or the civilians in the freedoms of war, or the soldiers in those of peace, or those merely bound by their necessities in a worse way than what we consider normal. Actually, now that I think about it, exposing kids to more pragmatism is probably a good idea.
Or those who have too much love for paperclips.
The Pledge being creepy, sure, I can see that. (I wasn't entirely comfortable with reciting it either, after a certain age.) Culty? Not without throwing out any conventional definition of "cult". I may have been a little hasty in implying that there's no epistemic danger in public avowal of shared values; I'd expect it to be a reinforcer of those values and to contribute to unanimity effects, although probably not very strongly. But I don't think it's anywhere near as much of a red flag as V_V seemed to be suggesting.

Expecting small children to give a solemn vow filled with patriotic propaganda every weekday morning that they can't even begin to know the ramifications of, OR ELSE, sounds like something you'd find in a totalitarian state.

It also sounds like something you would find in all sorts of other states that aren't totalitarian.

Maybe, but as one small data point, I was really surprised (and creeped out) to just now infer from MaoShen's comment and check on Wikipedia that the Pledge of Allegiance is recited at the beginning of every school day. In my country, the closest cultural equivalent is done once per year, in "Flag Day", and I had previously assumed the American Pledge was like that, being said on July 4th or similar specially significant moments.

Pledge of Allegiance is recited at the beginning of every school day

[Googles for it and reads it] Whaaaaaat??? O.o

Yep. I'm American. My school did it.
Mine, too, though I'd say it worked backwards in my case-- I'm very cynical about formal group-bonding.
For what it's worth, I only remember doing so until fourth grade, or about nine years of age. I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse. I now regret using it as an example, though. Evidently I grossly underestimated its potential sensitivity, and I really should have known better.
Likewise (except now I'm only creeped out, the surprise came a long time ago). I don't recall whether we have one at all. I remember we have a national anthem that we sung occasionally. Something about "wealth for toil" is involved.
For what it's worth, I've never seen it said in any of the US schools I've attended. It's not universal.
Are there countries generally regarded as non-totalitarian, other than the US, where people do anything like that?
If "anything like that" includes reciting prayers, practically all catholic private schools in Europe will count.
Well, that's what I thought too, but in those schools everyone is (supposed to be) a Catholic, and if not you (well, your parents) can choose a different school, whereas if I understand correctly children are asked to say the Pledge in all American schools, so (short of emigrating) you (and your parents) have no choice. (Then again, some otherwise non-confessional schools in Italy keep a crucifix in each classroom -- I think it used to be mandated by law, but it no longer is and a few years ago a Muslim sued his son's school for that and managed to have it removed. But keeping around a sculpture that pupils might not even notice --I honestly can't even remember which of certain classrooms in my high school had one and which hadn't-- is a lot less scary than have everyone pledge allegiance every morning, IMO.)
I actually never was asked to say the Pledge in any US school I went to, and I've never even seen it said. I'm pretty sure this is limited to some parts of the country and is no longer as universal as it may have been once. If someone did go to one such school, they and their parents would have the option of simply not saying the Pledge, transferring to a different school (I doubt private or religious schools say it), or homeschooling/unschooling.
As another datapoint, the pledge was announced over the loudspeaker but students weren't required to recite it at the first high school I went to (though we were required to stand respectfully and most everybody still did the salute even if they didn't recite), and theoretically required for any student that didn't have a religious exemption note at the second high school I went to. I have a funny story about the second situation, too. I'd been one of the ones who didn't say the pledge, before I moved, and decided that I wasn't going to change that unless they made me. The result of this was that the other students in my homeroom class stopped saying it, too - first the ones nearest me, then the ones next to them, and so on across the room. I happened to have a desk in one corner of the room, and by the end of the year a handful of the students in the other corner of the room were the only ones still saying the pledge, and they generally shouted it, raucously or sarcastically depending on their mood. (Makes a pretty interesting complement to the Asch conformity test, come to think of it.)
Yes, FWIW catholic schools in the US do that too.
It is highly likely (that there is at least one). It is a kind of insane practice but it isn't quite that out of character for human social groups that I'd expect it to be a quirk unique to the USA. Do all totalitarian states bother making all the children go to school and recite pledges?
Oh wait... Now that I think about it, Ireland's Irish language policy is probably the biggest thing-like-that in the world. (Yeah, it's saddening that people don't know their great-grandparents' language, but if the Irish government actually cared about preserving Irish, and not just about seeming to care about preserving Irish to an inattentive observer, they could achieve that in waaaaaaay more cost-effective ways.)
What would be better methods of preserving Irish?
AFAIK things are slowly changing for the better, but this is my impression of how they were until recently. (People who have spent more time in Ireland than I have (EDIT: eight months) are welcome to correct me.) 1. Forcing every single school child in Ireland to study it four hours a week fourteen years (even in areas where Irish hasn't been spoken for centuries, and in a way reminiscent of the study of dead languages and that it is nearly useless for actually having conversations with native speakers, or for remembering anything after a few years out of school) is just a huge waste of time and money, IMO. Making it optional would make much more sense, and make sure that only people actually interested will learn it. 1b. They also spend lots of money for translations of official acts hardly anyone will read. Changing the rule from “the public administration must write all documents in both languages” to (say) “the public administration can write all documents in either language, but must prepare a translation in the other language if requested with a thirty days' notice” would save lots of money that could be spent otherwise. 2. They don't even seriously try to assess what the situation in the Gaeltacht is actually like, which IMO is a fundamental prerequisite to fixing it. For example, the 2011 census asked the question “Can you speak Irish?” with possible answers “Yes” and “No” -- cf “How well can you speak English?” with answers “Very well”, “Well”, “Not well” and “Not at all” (I'm told that this one was only added in the last census, but why didn't they do the same with Irish?); and the question “How often do you speak Irish?” has answers “Daily, within the educational system”, “Daily, outside the educational system”, “Weekly”, “More rarely” (IIRC) and “Never” -- and the first two were only split in the last census, after people realized that having an answer “Daily” would inflate the numbers because all school children would pick that. (Why didn't they just
One interesting thing to note is that if you're accustomed to pledging your allegiance to something every day as a child, while you're still unable to enter into legal agreements and aren't thinking about them, it may not occur to you that when you go to school on your 18th birthday, you've just pledged your allegiance in a way that... might be legally binding? Regardless of what sort of government expects it's children to pledge allegiance every day, do you agree with the practice of making people pledge allegiance? Allegiance is kind of vague. It could be interpreted to mean doing normal responsibilities (not being a criminal, paying your taxes) or it might be interpreted to mean total obedience. I'm not sure whether to agree or disagree with the pledge. Maybe I should disagree with it on the grounds that it is too vague and therefore doesn't protect reciters from feeling obligated to obey a tyrant, were one to end up in power.
Of course not. I was stabbing one of our soldiers in the back. Because, frankly, that metaphorical soldier had it coming.
This is actually has been a problem with real-life examples. I've read that the oaths in NAZI Germany were specifically to Hitler himself, and that many members of the military felt bound by their oaths to obey orders, even when it was clear the orders shouldn't be obeyed. I think the critical danger is in giving oaths to an individual (any of which have a very real chance of being corrupted by power, unless they take action to prevent it). I see the difference that the U.S. pledge of alliegence is to the republic and it's symbol, the flag. The saving factors to prevent abuses of power are: The focus on alliegence to the nation as a whole, including all it's members, it's leaders, and it's ideals. The "with liberty and justice for all" line, which is the guarantee of what the State offers in return. The U.S. has to be worthy of the alliegence. The extreme other war example is the U.S Civil War, where many military officers left the army to join the Confederacy. They formed ranks and marched right out of West Point because they opposed the U.S. leadership. And the soldiers who stayed let them go, knowing they were going to help the seceding states fight. Even if they disagreed, it was felt the honorable thing to do was to let them go. This idea shows up specifically in our military training and culture in the definition of lawful orders. The military culture and legal rules define your duty to obey all lawful orders from your chain of command, up to the President. So that if you feel that an order is unlawful it's actually your duty to disobey. Now, of course, that carries with it all the weight of being the first one to be the opposition, so it's no guarantee to prevent abuses of power, but it does exist. I gues my point is that the danger is in making oaths to a person. I agree that it's a form of indoctrination for children. But as long as the trade of alliegence and freedom it describes is a true and real one, I think it's a good thing to keep those princi
Ooh, I like these points, Troshen. You might be right that there's enough "security" built into the pledge. Now you've got me questioning whether it might actually protect us. If nothing else, it would make tyrannical pledges look bad by comparison, perhaps blocking them.
I suppose it could, yet countries don't require you to do anything to place you in such legal binds. They have laws about "treason" that they can apply when people from their population don't act out allegiance, whether they have pledged it or not.
Sure but the people have to enforce those laws (the government is something like 3% of the population from what I understand, which means that the people could overwhelm them easily), so if the concept of allegiance is foreign to them, as opposed to being very familiar and feeling like an obligation, or if they haven't witnessed all the OTHER citizens pledging allegiance, it might feel like an empty word they can safely ignore.
If the concept of allegiance becomes completely foreign to the citizens of a country, than the country effectively ceases to exist.
Fair enough. A more accurate statement would be: "Expecting small children...of, OR ELSE, is a mind-control tactic that I feel is wrong to use on children without the capacity to counter it, which I would expect to find in blatantly controlling nations, and not in a supposedly free nation." I just thought the first version flowed better.
It does flow well, in as much as the first thing (ridiculous pledge obligation) is already opposed by most of the audience and so they can be expected to applaud when the enemy is associated with the hated thing. Unfortunately it is a crude harnessing of a fallacy.
And I would have got away with it, too, if it weren't for your meddling rationality!
6Paul Crowley11y
I have seen footage of a documentary about Cuba, that used kids reciting their allegiance to the State, Party etc as a way of showing what an evil place it was. To this Londoner, yes, the whole thing of kids reciting the Pledge is very creepy.
Yeah. I can pledge allegiance, now, and when I do, I mean it - but coming out of the mouth of a child, it's as meaningless as they all know it is. When I was a kid, I knew it was all kinds of messed up. I suspected that I would agree with it when I was older, and I was right. That doesn't make it valid.

As a child I had to pledge that I will become a law-abiding citizen of my country, and a member of the Communist party.

I have failed to adhere to both parts. The first part, because "my beloved homeland" does not exist anymore. The second part, knowingly and willingly. (Although, as a 6-years old child, I would probably also guess that I will agree with both parts when I grow up. Mostly because of: "if that wouldn't be a good thing, they would not ask me to promise it".)

Or maybe it's just because I had to recite the pledge only once. ;-)
(OK, technically I had to practice it a few times first.)

Also because observations contradicted the belief that your country was good.

I can pledge allegiance, now, and when I do, I mean it

Brainwashing success!

I don't agree with everything the country does, that's for sure. But on the broad strokes, I'm willing to stand for it.
Why? In other words, which parts of the pledge would you keep, and which would you change/remove and why?
What? I'd drop the 'under god' part, but that isn't really what I was talking about. My not agreeing with everything the country does, does not have the pledge as its subject matter. That is, say, the unjustified wars, etc.. The whole laundry list. The particular method of choosing representation in our government - 'plurality of first preference' voting, with closed primary elections, and districts chosen in a partisan way. There's a reason congress is as messed up as it is. But it's my messed-up country.
Why is it your messed-up country? * Because its laws treat you well, and you want to support that system out of gratitude? * Because you've lived there a while, and you're attached to things in it? * Because you were born there, and... that matters for some reason? * Because you have relative from there, and ditto? * Because you have relatives from elsewhere, and it sucked, so you cheer for the least-bad country? * Because bald eagles look awesome and apple pie is delicious, so you have positive emotional associations to the corresponding countries?
I wonder if "rationality of patriotism" has been discussed on LW? Probably in the context of the Prisoner's Dilemma.
Something like that was discussed here.
Because states are still a powerful force for (or against) change in this world, you are limited in the number of them you can directly affect (determined largely by where you and relatives were born), and for political and psychological reasons that ability is diminished when you fail to display loyalty (of the appropriate sort, which varies by group) to those states. Also, apple pie is delicious.
Then the obvious strategy is to start feeling lots of loyalty toward Easily Affected Country, and donate lots to organizations in Powerful Country that effect change in Easily Affected Country. This diminishes your political bonus but the extra leverage compensates. Bot-swa-na! Bot-swa-na! I actually think the apple pie reason is an unusually good one. There's nothing wrong with cheering for things.
6Eliezer Yudkowsky11y
Wouldn't that... if enough people did it... I mean, wouldn't it sort of... work?
Wait, that wasn't serious?
You're assuming that display of loyalty can radically increase your influence. My model was that your initial influence is determined situationally, and your disposition can decrease it more easily than increase it. That said, let's run with your interpretation; Bot-swa-na! Bot-swa-na!
Yeah, but a lot of stuff is meaningless coming out of the mouth of a child. But you have to start teaching them about things like duty and loyalty at some point. The pledge is a reasonable way to get kids to understand that they're part of a country, and that there's a common moral and political activity that they'll one day be involved in.

The pledge is a reasonable way to get kids to understand that they're part of a country,

If the status quo didn't already include the daily recitation of such a pledge, do you think you would suggest it as a way to get kids to understand that?

I think that's a practical question too complicated for me to answer. I would want some kind of voluntary activity like that in place. The pledge isn't great, but it's likely that something better would require more resources. And while I don't think (and would doubt) that the pledge has any kind of 'brainwashing' effect, it would be worth looking into whatever data we can gather about that.

Data point: My home country, Australia, does not have a pledge of allegiance. Overt demonstrations of patriotism were limited to being expected to sing the national anthem in school assembly once a week. I personally feel that there is still plenty of patriotism to go around. However, a common perception of the US is that you guys are over-patriotic.

Thinking a bit more on this, I can't help wondering how much of this can be traced to free voting versus mandatory voting. How much of encouraging patriotism is an attempt to make people care enough to vote?

Something that a lot of people, both inside and outside the US, don't realize is that what patriotism means in the US is not quite the same as what patriotism means in other countries.

I wonder whether the reason why a lot of people don't realise it might be because it's not actually true.

I mean, ESR's argument seems to me incoherent and mostly aimed at finding a way to identify Barack Obama as not only an America-hater but also a freedom-hater. (Step 1: True US patriotism is more about loving the ideal of liberty and less about tribal attachment to the US as such. Step 2: Because for a while Barack Obama chose not to wear a flag pin, he doesn't love his country. Step 3, unstated but I think clearly there: Since true US patriotism means loving liberty and Barack Obama is not a true US patriot, he is opposed not only to the US but to liberty.) It's hard to avoid the suspicion that his characterization of US patriotism may be as much a matter of political convenience as the (absurd) inference he draws from Obama's not wearing a flag pin. Certainly at least one of them must be wrong; it cannot be true both that patriotism for Americans means loving their country "not as a thing in itself, but insofar as it embodies core ideas" and that not wearing a US flag pin indicates "a lack of love for America as it actually is" and therefore a lack of patri... (read more)

That sounds wrong. Certainly people who consider themselves French patriots are likely to say "Speak French, dammit!", "Yeah, maybe it's like that in your country but you're in France now", or "Go Napoleon!", but no more than American patriots are likely to say the analogues. Also, French patriotism is huge on political ideas. Motherland of human rights, French revolution, Resistance, and all that.
3Paul Crowley11y
I would say that many Americans don't properly keep the two concepts separate.
I missed the part where he was identifying Obama as an "America-hater" or a "freedom-hater" - I don't see those words, or any analogues, in the post.
That's OK; I, likewise, missed the part in what I wrote where I said that those words appear in ESR's post. I think he's suggesting it, not saying it. And he comes pretty damn close to saying in so many words that Barack Obama "doesn't love" America, which of course is far from the same thing as hating it but still a pretty serious accusation to level at a candidate for the presidency. As for the stronger claim about hating, though, consider the following bits from what ESR wrote. (Please feel free to verify that the ellipses don't misrepresent his meaning or tone.) It seems to me that (1) ESR is defining "chomskyism" to mean actual destructive hatred of America, and (2) his comments about the significance of Obama's not wearing a flag pin make no sense unless he's taken to be saying that Obama was exemplifying "chomskyism", and hence actual destructive hatred of America. But no, indeed, he didn't actually say it explicitly using the words "America-hater" or "freedom-hater" or any close analogue. (I shall not comment further on the political questions at issue here. The actual point I was making was just that I don't feel any obligation to believe what ESR says about American patriotism as compared with other sorts.)
Yeah, it seems like you're going a bit far to connect the dots. ESR is saying that the "destructive hatred" is produced by "patriotism by dissent" "at its extreme". He didn't actually say that Obama has this extreme sort. It seemed to me that he was just using the flag pin case as an accessible example of this "patriotism by dissent". It didn't seem to me that he was even saying anything was wrong with "patriotism by dissent", other than noting that a lot of Americans seemed to disagree with it. Though he does suggest it's a "pathology", which would normally be a negative term. In the comments, he even clarifies that he was not trying to call any particular person unpatriotic, and repeatedly says that he is trying to do an analysis of American patriotism. Given the sorts of stuff ESR has written on the philosophical side before, I'm inclined to believe him.
Whereas, given the sort of stuff ESR has written on philosophy and politics before, I'm not at all inclined to believe that he didn't (alongside the theoretical stuff, which I'm sure he means sincerely) intend to insinuate that Barack Obama doesn't love his country. But I think taking this further would almost certainly get unproductively political, so I shall leave it here.
According to the article, patriotism-as-dissent is identified as un-American and as Obama's theory. American patriotism is also conceptualized as loyalty-to-freedom, for example in the Franklin quote.
I would expect nearly all patriotic people to consider patriotism to their own country to be different in some fundamentally important way to patriotism to another. The other patriots don't care about Better Seating after all.
Requiring someone to make a mndatory pledge to a flag instills the Love of Freedom how...?

Requiring someone to make a mandatory pledge to a flag instills the Love of Freedom how...?

By making it Capitalized. Actually having the people loving freedom sounds all sorts of dangerous---people may expect you to let them do stuff. If you make them Love Freedom instead you should be able to keep them in line.

That doesn't seem true to me. Do you have anything more solid to back this up? Also, see Esar's comment below that the US is a mess but it's his mess. How is that not regular old tribal patriotism?
Both forms of patriotism exist and are frequently confused, even by said patriots.

First things first: do people have to be part of a country? If the division of humanity into mutually distrustful camps is ultimately a problem, not a solution. (I think it is. My evidence is history. Nothing specific...just open a page at random..) you might be causally defending something that is as bad, or worse, than religious tribalism.

You mean metaphysically? No. Practically? Yes. Having no citizenship is pretty serious problem. And these mutually distrustful camps aren't very mutually distrustful at the moment. Most countries are actually very stable, peaceful, and trusting. More so now then at any other time in history. Other kinds of political organization may be feasible, and that's fine, but this one is working pretty well and changing things would probably result in trouble. From a simple consequentialist perspective, I think it's hard to argue against the present system. Do you have an alternative suggestion?
At one time it was a practical necessity to belong to some religion or other. Just because everyone believes you need one. But does that pass the PKD test? Does that prove that nationalism is good...or that its one the way out? Europe went through a period of religious bloodshed...followed by an era of religious tolerance...followed by a period of irreligion. SWIM? Nations solve the problems created by nations. Up to a point. Does religion "work" when there is a respite in the slaughter? Maybe things are chainging anyway. I'm a citizen of England, and the Uk, and the EU. If you are a Usian, you are also in a federated superstate. In any case you don't have to believe in (qua approve of) something just because you believe in (qua note the existence of) it.
As a teaching tool it seems almost useless; the language is antiquated, way past age-appropriate for elementary school, and while the meaning of the Pledge might be the subject of a third-grade civics lesson I don't recall any substantial effort to break down its text in such a way as to integrate it into working knowledge. Which now strikes me as a fairly clever bit of social engineering. At first I don't think you'd need meaningful content; if you and your classmates are facing the flag, right hand over heart, and quoting from the text in unison, you'd still get group cohesion effects if the text itself was a list of Vedic demons or multilingual translations of the word "pickle". But later, as children learn about concepts like duty by other means, they're supplied with associations left over from their childhood practice. At least in theory; in practice this might be ruined by other associations, as elementary school's usually not a terribly pleasant place for its inmates. The "under God" bit can lead to some unpleasant cognitive dissonance as a secular child, too.
My thoughts exactly. And I agree, 'under God' should be removed. But it's not really a big deal. A substantial part of the value of secularism is in the fact that you have to go against the grain a bit.
The whole thing, though, is a giant "under God" of patriotism. A small nod to religion isn't a big deal compared to that.
Well, not just patriotism (which is good if your country is good) but also the whole 'liberty and justice for all' thing. I think it's kind of nice. I want liberty and justice for all.
Patriotism can also sometimes be good independent of whether my country is good, insofar as it can facilitate cooperation among patriots, who even in a bad country might have good goals which are more readily achieved cooperatively.
That's a good point, but I think there are stricter conditions on the goodness of patriotism than merely consequential ones. I'm not sure how to articulate this, but as a disposition, patriotism is enough like a belief that it ought to be true, and not just beneficial.
Hm. I understand how patriotism might be a beneficial belief if my country is good and harmful otherwise. But you seem to be suggesting that patriotism is true if my country is good and false otherwise. Which suggests to me that we aren't using the word "patriotism" the same way. Am I correct in inferring that, on your view, "X is patriotic" entails "X believes X's country is good"?
It looks more like you aren't using the word true the same way.
Perhaps? I'm content to accept that ""X is patriotic" entails "X believes X's country is good"" => "X's patriotism is true only if X's country is good". This is admittedly an extended sense of "true", to mean something like "does not entail falsehoods," but I'm willing to work with it.
I would accept those, or at least continue the conversation without commenting, although I'd squirm rather a lot at the final one. What I couldn't accept is "patriotism is true".
So I suppose patriotism is a kind of love. We could call a love good if the lover has good reason to think the beloved worthy of love and if the love is on the whole a benefit to lover and beloved. Your initial remark was that that patriotism can be good independently of the goodness of its object, because it can be a benefit. I think this captures one half of the above, both leaves out the 'worthiness' part. In other words, I think patriotism has to involve something like knowledge of the moral goodness of one's country. It's in that respect that patriotism is concerned with truth, rather than just with benefit.
In my experience with it, patriotism usually seems closer to a kind of hate. It does make people feel good about themselves, though.
It's not actually required that children say it; it would, in fact, violate the Constitution to mandate political speech, even from students. But it's expected that students recite the Pledge, and most do.
Because if they don't, they are looked at with suspicion and ostracized.
For what it's worth, another student noticed I wasn't actually saying the pledge and hassled me mildly about it. I gave in immediately and started saying the pledge-- it didn't seem worth the effort of opposition. This didn't increase my (very minimal) sense of patriotism. Oddly enough, I don't think it lowered my sense of patriotism, either.
Except that the OR ELSE, in that case, was "or else don't say it". Though my experience may have been atypical.
Wait, there are rituals? And someone deleted the links to them? Anyone want to tell me what they're talking about?
0Eliezer Yudkowsky11y
The rituals in question were my rationalist marriage ceremony and Raemon's solstice ritual. Obviously I have no objection to these being discussed, though I would strongly recommend doing so in a separate Discussion thread. As this thread is a part of a new sequence that may be used to introduce newcomers to LW, I am especially interested in keeping it clean.
Sure. I saved my thoughts for a different thread where they'll be more on-topic.
The question you asked me on this thread was deleted too. If you happen to ask it again I'll respond.
Many secular institutions perform ceremonies of typically two kinds: Celebrating members who enter, leave or change rank within the organization (e.g. academic graduation, martial art belt change, ...). These rituals seem don't seem to pose an hazard to epistemical or instrumental rationality, and can be actually quite useful to ensure that members of the organization know who the other members are and what their role is. Celebrating anniversaries, typically the founding date of the organization, or some other date related to prominent past members or relevant historical figures (e.g., a physics departement celebrating 100 years from Annus Mirabilis, or a computer science department celebraring the 100th birthday of Alan Turing). Again, these rituals don't seem harmful, and they might be useful to reaffirm the mission of the organization. Making children recite the Pledge of Allegiance, on the other hand, is indeed a form of essentially religious indoctrination, even without the "under God" bit. There is a very thin line between government and organized religion, and instances of crossing it are not unknown of, in one direction (theocracies) or the other (political religions, such as North Korea's Juche or Bolshevism in the former Communist states). Even countries which are in general considered to do a good job at keeping the state separated from religion, like the US, occasionally resort to religious techniques of indoctrination. Religious rituals are effective at indoctrinating people: make people recite your "Truths" until they memorize and chant them mechanically without paying attention to their implications, associate them with all kinds of positive rewards, from large carbohydrate-rich meals to the sense of belonging to a close-knit community, and the effect you get is that you lower people's critical thinking skills and make them more prone to accept your "Truths" without question, and become emotionally attached to them so that they will find rational
Sure, people believing in truths because they've repeated them a lot rather than because they've digested them and updated all their beliefs correspondingly is a problem. But it's also a problem to see a new belief, agree with it, and then not repeat it enough to update all of your beliefs correspondingly. Getting a skill to the 5-second level takes practice, and often a lot of practice.
Sure, but the way to practice these skills is to apply them to actual problems, not to mindlessly recite their principles. Recitation and worship can turn even good rational principles into articles of faith, disconnected from anything else, which you just "believe to believe" rather actually understand and apply.
V_V and Vaniver both make really good points, but the fact is that the U.S was not built to be completely rationalist, and people in general are not rationalists. It's a communal set of rules for a people and a place that's designed to give the members the most freedom while still ensuring stability and order. And it has a really good track record of success in doing that. I agree that it's not an optimal solution in a future, ideally rationalist world. But it's not a tool for teaching children to think for themselves. It's a tool to get them to follow the social rules. And I'll tell you, children want their own way and DO NOT want to follow rules. And if you let them have their way all the time you WILL spoil them. There's a time to teach rules-following (especially rules that protect liberties and freedoms) and a time to teach mistrust of authority and rules-breaking. What other device would you propose for a future, ideally rationalist world? I'm not being fecetious here. I'm curious. Spawned by the Wierdtopia idea, can you think of a better solution? I personally think of it as like teaching an apprentice. Apprentices weren't taught the why's. They were taught the how's. As a journeyman and a master you discovered the why's. Kids are apprentice citizens.

"It's rational to vote for Party X" deflates to "It's optimal to vote for Party X" or just "I think you should vote for Party X".

I'm starting to get very confused about what Eliezer means by "deflates to". I thought he meant "has the same meaning as" or "conveys the same meaning as", but now I think maybe he means "most of the time when you want to use the former, you should use the latter instead". Sorry if I'm still stuck on the by-now-not-quite-central topic of semantics, but I don... (read more)

FWIW, I understood "X deflates to Y" in this context to mean something like "most of the time when people say X, their beliefs about the world are such that if their goal was to express those beliefs maximally accurately they should instead say Y." I also expect that Eliezer would say that the bundle of computation to which "should" properly refers includes but is not limited to what "rational" refers to, but I don't think that's relevant to what we're looking at here.
3Eliezer Yudkowsky11y
I had in mind, "I think you were really trying to say X" which is closer to your second meaning, not "This means X under all possible circumstances even when actually used correctly".
I think, in general, these statements amount to the same thing. "It's rational to __" generally means the same thing as the "deflated" statement; the key difference is its use of the word "rational" or "rationality" that ends up weakening the term.

In comments on this thread, the issue of diet and "consensus" came up. Why I consider this topic important here, quite in line with what EY asserted in his post, is shown in this New York Times column by John Tierney.

The issue is not this or that alleged fact. ("Saturated Fat is Harmful," or "Saturated Fat is Good" or even "We don't know") The issue is how we know what we know, and what we don't know, and how individual and social fallacies lead to possible error.

Tierney writes about cascades, social phenomena that c... (read more)

My own thoughts about these and related words are here.

Typo report: there appears to be an underscore rather than a space in the sentence "personal_identity follows individual particles."

The sixth paragraph should probably have "the second Go stone placed to block".
0Eliezer Yudkowsky11y

Is it the intention here to exclude people from the community who have doubts as to the universal applicability of Rationalism, in the general sense? Or someone who argues (even from a non-Rational standpoint) that a non-Rational method is optimal in a specific case? Or even someone who believes that from a Rational standpoint, a non-Rational method is optimal in general?

Obviously someone who uses non-Rational methods to conclude that non-Rational methods are in general superior has nothing to contribute on that subject. How closely do decisions about Rationality have to conform to the local norm for someone to be a real community member?

This community shouldn't be for rational people, it should be for irrational people. That's true in a shallow sense because we're all irrational to some degree. But I think that there needs to be a division between sites that take irrational people and get them on the path of rationality, and sites that take people on the path of rationality and spur them along. I've seen LessWrong as the first kind of site.
I was discussing the community, not the site. The site is clearly intended for people who are open to the idea of becoming more Rational. The community, however, is not identical with the target audience.
And what I'm saying is that the community should have a separate site than the target audience because they're at different skill levels. There should be a place where people go to discuss whether or not certain things are optimal, and there should be a place where people go to learn to distinguish between optimal and not-optimal, and those sites should be connected. LessWrong is the latter type of site, but this post proposes that it firewall itself from discussions of optimalness entirely and I think that is an overreaction. Instead, we should just make a different website that is LessWrong affiliated but which focuses on optimalness overall and pays less attention to rationality - how about
You seem to have misread the post. It is 'rational' that is to be distinguished from 'optimal', not the website which is to be firewalled from discussions of optimalness. Eliezer didn't discourage discussions of optimalness (that is, the application of principles of instrumental rationality to specific scenarios). He merely discouraged excessive judgement of people who don't necessarily agree on what is 'optimal' in all situations.
Dividing into two domains and 'logical websites' has both an isolating effect and increases the costs of participation in both areas. This post proposes that people may disagree with you regarding what is optimal even though everyone involved is mostly Rational. For that matter, they may even disagree about some things which appear to you to be obvious observations.

Many readers may already have appreciated this point, but one of the Go stones placed to block that failure mode is being careful what we bless with the great community-normative-keyword 'rational'. [...] Nonetheless, the second Go stone placed to block the Objectivist Failure Mode is trying to define ourselves as a community around the cognitive algorithms;

I don't think that Go constitutes good metaphor. Go isn't much a game about preventing certain outcomes, It's a game where you trade territory for influence. It's a game about leaving aji open.

One possible strategy for making this easier is explicitly having sub-communities for each optimal thing, that all explicitly include some non-rationalists and exclude some rationalists. Just based on the naive model that people want to identify their behaviour with a community or it will feel odd, and that there is some pressure not to have overlapping signals of membership in different tribes since it be confusing.

I like that idea, but i think there can be too much granularity. The feeling of 'People who agree with me on X also agree with me on completely unrelated Y' is awesome.
The halo effect may be awesome ... but it's deadly!
The halo effect is not necessarily either a cause or a consequence of the quoted phenomenon.
Do you agree then that it is a potential explanation? If so, what's a more plausible one? It may limitations of my imagination, but I don't see one.
I smell a recommender system. Think of what sites like do with "people who like X also liked Y". This is just an observation. I'm not saying that we should go out and build a system to match these people and these Xs and Ys.
I posted a comment with a similar sentiment. I think it's not necessarily important to explicitly include non-rationalists in communities (although I'm not sure that's what you're saying, so forgive me if I misinterpreted you). But I do think it's a good idea to promote rationalist leanings in groups that don't necessarily identify as rationalist. In fact, that's how I discovered LW. I participate in the utilitarianism community, and a large proportion of utilitarians (on the internet, at least) also identify as rationalist. I started reading LW as an indirect result of my reading about utilitarianism. Utilitarians certainly seem to perform better as rationalists, and other communities should, too.

"It should be another matter if someone seems interested in the process, better yet the math, and has some non-zero grasp of it, and are just coming to different conclusions than the local consensus."

I anticipate that helping such people gain a better grasp of the process may well be the best possible demonstration that you care about the process itself. At minimum, providing rationalist adjustments to people's conclusions helps ME feel as though I have regard for the process, even if I'm currently still struggling to implement the process rigorously when deriving conclusions of my own.

[R]ationalist opinion leaders are better able to . . . give up faster when things don't work.

Why is this a good thing? It seems to me that people give up too easily just as much as—if not more than—the opposite, especially when they're trying something that they don't expect to work. You have to stick with it long enough to collect a reasonable amount of data.

The deeper danger is in allowing your de facto sense of rationalist community to start being defined by conformity to what people think is merely optimal, rather than the cognitive algorithms and

... (read more)

May I ask how many people any of you have seen walking around entirely barefoot, as opposed to wearing minimalist footwear of any kind?

I heard an amazing classical performance of Amon Tobin by the cover group for the proper Amon Tobin recently.

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Seth Roberts's "Shangri-La diet", which was propagating through econblogs, led me to lose twenty pounds that I've mostly kept off, and then it mysteriously stopped working...

What does stopped working mean? Your weight got stable? You regained the pounds you lost? You regained more than you lost?


[ Reposting censored comment without the offending material ]

When I saw that Patri Friedman was wearing Vibrams (five-toed shoes) and that William Eden (then Will Ryan) was also wearing Vibrams, I got a pair myself to see if they'd work.

Is Patri Friedman supposed to be a good example of a rational person? From the Wikipedia article on him he appears to be quite a crank.

And yet nonetheless, I think it worth naming and resisting that dark temptation to think that somebody can't be a real community member if they aren't eating beef livers and supplement

... (read more)
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I think preventing "poseurs" requires going to a level deeper in the following ways:

Even though we might think that rationalists should agree if they all have the same information, we need to go deeper by acknowledging that we have no proven method which accomplishes this, and have no clue whether we ever will. It creates pressure to agree. We need to release that pressure and just start where we are, living with the fact that all we can do is keep learning and sharing and improving our methods for these and hope everyone gets on the same page ... (read more)

But of course this whole post is really about playing Go... ;-)


It would be very sad to get lynched by the Greens while discussing the likelihoods of Many Words vs Many Worlds :)

Not to mention overwhelmingly confusing. "I take it back! It's not a tautologically 1:1 likelihood ratio after all! It's... um... hell, I can't even guess something else that you could be wanting me to say as an alternative. Just kill me already, you people are too crazy to even pretend to agree with!"

Not all Authority is bad - probability theory is also a kind of Authority

Authority seems like a bad word to use here. I don't understand what you're trying to say. This is partially because:

  1. Authority is almost always used to describe argumentation based on sources other than logic or evidence. You're using it to describe probability theory which is a kind of logic and evidence.
  2. Authority is practically meaningless as a concept if it includes both accurate and inaccurate foundations of argumentation. Probability theory works, appeals to authority don't.
X is an authority with respect to a proposition P to the extent that X's assertion of P is evidence for P. When someone uses "authority" in your sense #1, I understand them to be referring to something that claims to be an authority but is not actually authoritative. I agree that it's a very common usage though, especially in communities that are imprecise about their use of language. In such communities I might say "expert" instead, or "reliable source," or various other phrases that more-or-less mean the same thing but might differ in their connotations.
The right kind of authority is based on logic and evidence. Most of most people' beliefs have not been personally verified by them. You probably havent' personally proven probability theory from scratch Fortunately, English allows us to qualify nouns with adjectives. Which allows us to distinguish between X-ish and Y-ish authorities. Probability allows you to do things with clearly defined idea and evidence. Getting them clearly defined is the underwater part of the iceberg. That probability theory doens't help with.
I don't think that's true. Most uses of "authority" are not about argumentation at all. The local parking authority, for existence. I'm not sure this even makes sense enough to be wrong. I can't parse "accurate and inaccurate" with respect to "foundations of argumentation". Are you meaning to refer to fallacies, or something? In general, there's nothing wrong with appeals to authority. It's well-understood that there is no formal logical step that takes one from "Authority says x" to "x". Nonetheless, TheOtherDave has it right: It's worth remembering that other evidence screens off authority, but you have to take the evidence that you can get.