Continuing the discussion thread from the MTG post

byhabryka2y24th Oct 201774 comments


I moved and copies this discussion out of the latest MTG color-wheel post, since I would prefer the discussion on the post to stay on the object-level.

Commentary by Conor Moreton:

[Meta/cultural note: as of this writing, the parent comment I made in reply to CoolShirtMcPants' elaboration on horoscopes is at -2, which I think is a bad sign re: LW culture in general. CSMcP was making a broad claim of the form "categorical psych tools are bad," which is both a) reasonable and b) in context the sort of claim Scott sighs about in his excellent post Yes We Have Noticed The Skulls. It was a knee-jerk, base-rate, cached objection to an entire category of Thing based on that category being generally bad/useless/misleading, when the post in question was about a specific instance, started out with a link to Fake Frameworks, made explicit bids to be treated fresh/in good faith, and was written as the 29th entry in a series of posts that have been generally agreed to contain non-zero value and rationalist virtue.

The comment above implicitly (and maybe clumsily) made the claim "I suspect you're only using your generally sensible prior, and I think it's better in this case to construct a posterior that combines your generally sensible prior in a rational way with awareness of the source and context."

Regardless of whether the posterior ends up being "yeah, still bullshit" or "maybe I'll give this more charity than I otherwise would have," the requested operation "instead of just commenting using your base rate, combine your base rate with your sense of whether a given person has demonstrated 'worth listening to' nature" is one that LessWrongers should absolutely engage in, on the regular.

i.e. I strongly believe that the thrust of the comment ("You're leaving out context that a LWer ought not leave out, and this is somewhat undermining the point you're trying to make") is correct, defensible, and prosocial given the community's goals. I think it was innocuous at worst, and definitely not the sort of thing that ought to be in negative territory. I'm taking it as an instance of a class, and making an impassioned defense of other comments in its class, and saying "Don't downvote these."

If LessWrongers in general are inclined to downvote one member making a request of this sort of another member ("please engage in the kind of double-check we know humans often need and which is not costly to perform"), this does not reflect well on the explicit goal of building a community where solid epistemic norms are incentivized. If LessWrongers in general have a bucket error that makes them e.g. treat the above comment as a status move or a clumsy attempt to argue from authority (rather than as a bid for people to use their System 2 to do Bayesian updating on whether or not a source has indeed demonstrated itself credible, and to what degree, or not), this does not reflect well on the question of whether our average member is Actually Doing The Thing.]

Edit: user Vaniver made an insightful reply to a symmetrical case above, which I appreciated and endorse.

Referenced other comments:


Grouping things into categories seems like a great way to form biases and have a limited scope of how to think about people. Do we really need to have another system that categorizes personalities?

This might seem like a harsh example, but horoscopes is an example of what this system reminds me of.

The overall picture I see with this, is that we are giving limited value to a word that could mean many things, and could be interpreted in many ways, when most things are more complex than this (especially people). Basically, it seems to me to be a vague way to express something. I personally am of the mindset that it's of a benefit to not group people into categories.


So, let's suppose astrologers have come up with 12 personality types, and then they claim to be able to tell which one fits you best by careful consideration of your date and time of birth. It seems to me that the big problem there is with the second half, not the first. (Even bigger problems if they claim to be able to use the information to predict what's going to happen to you, of course.) But the second half is exactly what isn't present in Conor's analysis here.

I don't know whether the advantages of having a small number of personality archetypes and pigeonholing people as combinations of those archetypes outweigh the disadvantages. Nor do I have any opinion worth listening to about whether the particular set of 5 archetypes described here is a particularly good one. But "it resembles one thing astrologers do" is not a good argument against it.


You did mention making useful predictions with your 5 color types, which was why I wasn't afraid to go with horoscopes as an example.

That's paraphrase seems to have taken quite a leap in what I was trying to say. I can elaborate if you'd like. It's just that this post doesn't appear much different from other personality tests that group people into categories. Psychology used to have a similar approach of trying to categorize people, but as they make more advance and learn how different everybody is from each other. They have learned to have a more open approach to people rather than a category to put them in and work from a bias to determine what steps to do next.

Conor Moreton (referenced in comment at the top of this post):

The context that's being neglected in your comment is "Conor's clearly put a lot of thought and cycles into rationality, and staked a specific claim that this one's better/more useful in practice than all the other wrong-but-usefuls."

You're saying "it doesn't appear much different," which is a fine hypothesis to have, but it doesn't engage with whether or not my voucher provides useful Bayesian evidence.

Separate thread:

habryka (reply to comment referenced at the top of this post):

I downvoted your last three comment, but sadly don't currently have time to go into a longer explanation of why, since I expect it would take a while and I have a bunch of deadlines the next few days. But I figured I would be transparent about it.

Happy to double crux about it at any point over the next few weeks, after things are a bit less busy.

Conor's reply to habryka:

I mean, there's not necessarily a need to double crux. LessWrong is what it is, and I'm unlikely to be able to shift or change it's culture, as a lone individual. But if it's the culture described at the end of my above comment, it's not where I belong and it's not where I'll stay.

I do note significant object-level disappointment and dismay that you downvoted the last one. That seems like strong negative evidence to me (since you as a founder do have powerful levers on the culture of this site you have created), whereas the other comments are more ambiguous.

2nd Conor comments:

On second thought, maybe there is a need to double crux, because as I mull and think further, I find myself believing this is perhaps THE crucial point, and suspecting that LW lives or dies based on this thing as a first-order factor—that basically nothing else matters even half as much as this thing.

(To the point that if the long comment is at zero-or-negative after a few days, I will take that as conclusive proof that I should leave and not come back, because I misunderstood what LW was for and who was taking part.)

Reply by gjm:

I am not habryka and claim no particular insight into his attitudes or opinions, but I remark that I see two quite different types of reason why someone might downvote your earlier comment, and that it seems like the conclusions you should draw from them are quite different. (1) Disagreement with what it says: "Conor wants LWers to give one another more benefit-of-the-doubt than I think they should." (2) Disapproval of its methods. "Conor got downvoted, and responded with an indignant complaint about how this looks like a sign that LW as a whole is epistemically messed up; I don't think that's a healthy response to getting downvoted." It looks to me as if you're assuming #1, but as if #2 is actually at least as likely.

(In case it matters: I have not downvoted any of your comments in this thread or, so far as I can recall, anywhere else. I am not sure whether I agree with your criticism of CSMP's criticism; I'm sympathetic in principle but think that if you want to make "generic" criticisms of a specific proposal inappropriate, then you need to do more work explaining why you think the specific proposal addresses or invalidates those generic criticisms. And I do think your responses in this thread seem a bit excessive, drawing grand (albeit tentative) conclusions about the health of the LW community from very slender and ambiguous evidence and threatening to leave if one particular comment of yours doesn't meet with approval expressed by upvotes.)

... And now I see habryka has in fact responded, and that his reason was neither my #1 nor my #2 but (I claim) much nearer #2 than #1.